The 2020 quarterback class was headlined by Joe Burrow, Tua Tagovailoa, Justin Herbert, and Jalen Hurts. You never know how any draft pick is going to pan out, but all four of these guys have exceeded expectations in just their third seasons in the NFL. It got me thinking about how historic this group could end up being if their careers continue along the trajectory that we have seen thus far. Along with where they could stack up compared to the two best quarterback classes of all-time: 2004 and 1983.
For most younger readers, this will be the class you remember as being one of the greatest of all-time. Consisting of future Hall of Famers Eli Manning, Ben Roethlisberger, and Phillip Rivers, the 2004 class helped define the modern NFL for the better part of the last two decades.
After the 2003 season, the San Diego Chargers held the top selection in the 2004 draft. The top prospect, Eli Manning, refused to play for them, citing the Ryan Leaf saga that took place in San Diego not long prior. The Chargers selected him and then traded him to the New York Giants for Phillip Rivers and more future draft capital. Manning would go on to win two Super Bowls in New York, as well as two Super Bowl MVPs, and the 2016 Walter Payton Man of the Year Award. Although he would possess lesser total statistics in many categories when compared to his classmates, his legacy was cemented by beating Tom Brady twice in the Super Bowl.
Ben Roethlisberger was selected by the Pittsburgh Steelers with the 11th pick in the draft and immediately hit the ground running. He would lead the Steelers to a 13-0 record as a starter in 2004, and he won the Offensive Rookie of the Year Award. In his sophomore year in Pittsburgh, he became the youngest quarterback in league history to win the Super Bowl at just 23 years of age. He would win another Super Bowl in 2008 and go on to appear in six Pro Bowls.
Phillip Rivers is one of the most prolific passers in NFL history. As of right now, he is sixth all-time with 421 passing touchdowns and 63,440 passing yards. He would never lead his team to the Super Bowl, but he would make eight Pro Bowls and win the 2013 Comeback Player of the Year Award. Rivers deserves to be an NFL Hall of Famer even though he doesn’t have a ring, and should he make it, the 2004 class would join the next class as the only groups to have three Hall of Famers.
Matt Schaub is the forgotten man of the 2004 class. Schaub was selected in the third round by the Atlanta Falcons. After three shaky years in Atlanta, he would head to Houston, where he would be the starter for seven seasons. He would make two Pro Bowls in his 16-year NFL career. Not bad for a third-round draft choice.
Will any class ever top the 1983 class? I highly doubt it. Headlined by John Elway, Jim Kelly, and Dan Marino, 1983 will likely always be considered the greatest class in NFL history. As of right now, the 1983 quarterback class is the only group to have three Hall of Famers.
After threatening to play baseball, John Elway was selected with the number one overall pick by the Baltimore Colts and then traded to the Denver Broncos. Elway would go on to become a nine-time Pro Bowler, the 1987 NFL MVP, the 1992 Walter Payton Man of the Year, a two-time Super Bowl champion, and an NFL Hall of Famer.
Dan Marino, the best quarterback to never win a Super Bowl, was selected with the 27th pick in the draft by the Miami Dolphins, also attending nine Pro Bowls. He would go on to win the 1984 NFL MVP and the 1998 Walter Payton Man of the Year Award, as well as becoming an NFL Hall of Famer. When Marino retired in 1999, he left as the all-time leader in passing yards and touchdowns.
Jim Kelly would take a bizarre road to the NFL. After stating that he would not like to play in Buffalo due to his dislike of cold weather, the Bills went ahead and drafted him 14th overall anyway. He opted to play for the Houston Gamblers of the USFL. After two successful seasons in the USFL, he reluctantly joined the Bills after the league folded. Kelly would also never win a Super Bowl, despite winning the AFC four straight times with the Buffalo Bills. He was a five-time Pro Bowler and was an All-Pro in 1991.
Ken O’Brien was selected by the New York Jets with pick 24 and while he is a complete afterthought when comparing him to the three Hall of Famers from his class. He would go on to make two Pro Bowls and play a respectable decade in the NFL.
Obviously, it is too early to firmly put the 2020 class in the same discussion as these two groups of elite players, but it isn’t too early to begin discussions about it. Joe Burrow, Tua Tagovailoa, Justin Herbert, and Jalen Hurts have all broken records and accomplished wonders in just under three seasons in the NFL. Assuming there aren’t any catastrophic injuries, knock on wood, or anything unforeseen happening in the near future, this crop of quarterbacks could be the pillars of the NFL for the next two decades. Like the 2004 and 1983 classes were before them, they could even become the class to possess four Hall of Famers.