- Trading up for a quarterback in the NFL Draft can be a franchise-defining move.
- It comes with a lot of risk, as several big trades have not panned out.
- That said, if a team gets its quarterback of the future, no price is too high to pay.
- See more stories on Insider’s business page.
The San Francisco 49ers traded a boatload of picks for the right to jump up to the third pick in the 2021 NFL Draft.
In a draft loaded with QBs, it’s a move that suggests the 49ers are aiming for the quarterback of their future. A look back at other teams that have traded up into the top of the draft to take a quarterback shows that the gamble can be a risky one.
Below is a look back at every trade from the last 30 years in which a team traded up into the top three picks to select a quarterback.
Colts gave up: 1990 fifth-round pick, 1991 first-round pick, OT Chris Hinton, WR Andre Rison
Colts received: 1990 first overall pick (Jeff George)
George started every game of the Colts’ dismal 1-15 season in 1991 and would leave the team a few years later. He remained in the NFL for over a decade, even leading the league in passing with the Raiders in 1997.
Ryan Leaf is well known as one of the biggest busts in NFL history, having been taken just after Peyton Manning in the 1998 NFL Draft. Adding to the embarrassment for the Chargers is that they parted ways with their second-round pick and the next year’s first rounder to jump up just one spot past the Cardinals.
Chargers gave up: first- and second-round pick in 1998, first-round pick in 1999, kick-returner Eric Metcalf and linebacker Patrick Sapp.
Chargers received: 2nd pick in 1998 (Ryan Leaf)
Leaf was out of the league in four years, leaving the NFL with 14 touchdowns and 36 interceptions to his name.
Atlanta was able to trade up in 2001 after the Chargers couldn’t come to a deal with quarterback Michael Vick, giving the Falcons the chance to take him with the first overall pick in the draft.
Falcons gave up: 5th, 67th pick in 2001, second-round pick in 2002, kick returner Tim Dwight
Falcons received: 1st pick in 2001 (Michael Vick)
Michael Vick would become the most dynamic player in NFL with the Falcons until 2007, when he would plead guilty to federal charges related to dog fighting. After serving his sentence and suspension, Vick would return to the NFL and contribute for the Eagles, Jets, and Steelers. While he would never find the form he once had, he did make it back to the Pro Bowl in 2010.
While the trade didn’t happen until after Manning was drafted by the Chargers, the New York Giants already had a deal in place to send picks to San Diego for the rights to Eli Manning. It helped with their leverage that Manning has stated he’d refuse to sign with the Chargers, but New York still gave up a healthy amount in the deal.
Giants gave up: Philip Rivers, 65th pick in 2004, first- and fifth-round pick in 2005
Giants received: Eli Manning
After two Super Bowl wins, Manning was clearly a blessing for the Giants. He retired after the 2019 season, having started nearly game for the Giants over his 16 years in the league.
Washington moving up to pick Robert Griffin III in 2012 is likely one of the most written about draft trades in league history, with Washington sending the Rams their first-round pick for three straight years in order to move up four spots and secure the services of the Heisman winner.
Redskins gave up: 6th, 39th picks in 2012, first-round pick in 2013, first-round pick in 2014
Redskins received: 2nd pick in 2012 (Robert Griffin III)
While a breakout rookie season left many thinking Washington had made the right decision, a series of injuries sent Griffin’s career off the rails. Griffin spent the latter half of his career bouncing around the league as a backup.
Looking to start fresh with a new coach in a new city, the Los Angeles Rams pulled off an impressive exchange of picks with the Tennessee Titans to move into the top spot in the 2016 NFL Draft and take Jared Goff as their next franchise quarterback.
Rams gave up: 15th, 43rd, 45th, 76th pick in 2016, first- and third-round pick in 2017.
Rams received: 1st (Jared Goff), 113th, 171th pick in 2016.
Goff’s first two years with the Rams were good, leading the team to a Super Bowl appearance in 2019. But after two down years, Goff was traded away to the Detroit Lions.
The Rams weren’t the only team to trade up to get their guy in 2016. The Philadelphia Eagles also orchestrated a massive pick swap with the Cleveland Browns to move into the No. 2 spot and draft Carson Wentz out of North Dakota State University.
Eagles gave up: 8th, 77th, 100th pick in 2016, first-round pick in 2017, second-round pick in 2018
Eagles receive: 2nd pick in 2016 (Carson Wentz), fourth-round pick in 2017.
Wentz also showed flashes of brilliance early, and even looked like an MVP candidate in 2017 before a season-ending injury. But after the Eagles won a Super Bowl with backup Nick Foles, Wetnz didn’t come back the same, and has since be traded to the Colts.
The Chicago Bears traded into the top of the draft in 2017, sending three picks to the San Francisco 49ers to move up just one spot in the draft and select Mitch Trubisky.
Bears gave up: 3rd, 67th, and 111th pick in 2017, and third-round pick in 2018
Bears received: 2nd pick in 2017 (Mitch Trubisky)
Mitch Trubisky was largely a disaster in Chicago, and was eventually traded to the Buffalo Bills to serve as a backup.
After trading up for the third pick in 2018, the New York Jets selected Sam Darnold out of USC.
Jets gave up: 6th, 37th, and 49th pick in 2018, second-round pick in 2019
Jets received: 2018 third overall pick (Sam Darnold)
Darnold struggled for three years as the Jets starter, and the team ultimately decided to move on in 2021, trading him to the Carolina Panthers.