The 1983 draft is widely considered the greatest draft of all time for quarterbacks. It is the draft that produced John Elway, Jim Kelly, and Dan Marino. It also produced a few other lesser quarterbacks that had decent careers as journeymen in Tony Eason, Todd Blackledge, and Ken O'Brien.
It was an all-around great draft across the board with several other superstar players being selected at other positions as well, to include Eric Dickerson and Roger Craig. Bruce Mathews, Darrell Green and Richard Dent also came out of that draft.
But it is mostly remembered for its quarterbacks since it included three that would be enshrined in the Hall of Fame. It stands alone at the moment as the best QB draft class in history. But, with the Steelers win this year in the Super Bowl and the Giants winning last year, the 2004 quarterbacks have officially passed that draft class in Super Bowl wins 3-2 (both belonging to Elway). The 2004 squad trails the 1983 class significantly in Super Bowl appearances 11-3, which just goes to show the awful records those quarterbacks had in the big game. It was not exactly a great era to be an AFC quarterback. Elway was 2-3, Kelly was 0-4, Marino was 0-1 and Eason was 0-1. If it wasn't for Elway's Super Bowl wins late in his career, the class would have gone 0-11, which would have been amazing for a class that produced three Hall of Famers.
But, it was a historic class since greatness is measured by more than Super Bowl wins. Marino and Elway were superb with Kelly one notch behind them. After that, the drop off was relatively precipitous.
But, I'm wondering if the big three for 2004 will some day be considered even greater. All three of those quarterbacks were in the playoffs this year and, barring the Burress debacle, two of them might have faced off in the big game, something that never happened for the class of 1983 (although its top quarterbacks all played in the AFC). While only Eli Manning made the Pro Bowl out of the three of them this year, both Rivers and Roethlisberger were more deserving than Brett Favre who got in on his name....Rivers for his monster numbers and Roethlisberger for his weekly 4th Quarter heroics in leading the Steelers to the promised land. Rivers might have been the biggest Pro Bowl snub of all this year.
Only time will tell but 2004 is the first draft class with the potential to equal or surpass 1983 as a quarterback draft. Barring injury, these three should be a special trio for the next decade. It could potenially match the 1983 class Hall of Famer to Hall of Famer. It is a special group. Roethlisberger is the Elway of the group, the improvisational master. Eli Manning is closest to the Marino of the group as the pure pocket passer. That leaves Phillip Rivers as the Jim Kelly of the group. As of right now, J.P. Losman looks like the journeyman Tony Eason of the group. Matt Shaub is another interesting name who still has the potential to emerge as a top-notch quarterback.
That might be pushing the comparison a bit too far, but I don't think it is out of the question that the big three quarterbacks from that draft will find themselves continuously squaring off in the biggest games at the end of each season. Not surprisingly, they are constantly compared to each other just as the 83ers once were during that decade. The draft maneuvering and drama that surrounded that draft with the Manning and Rivers trade followed by Roethlisberger sliding all the way to eleven has only made the comparisons all the more common. I still remember Bill Cowher being interviewed right after the Steelers picked Roethlisberger. He had a Cheshire Cat grin on his face the whole interview.
All three quarterbacks will start next season playing for teams picked to not just make the playoffs, but potentially make a deep run into the playoffs. It is possible that this group could finish with 4-5 more Super Bowl wins and several more appearances. If it does, I think it will one day surpass the class of 1983.
Of course both classes pale in comparison to the 1999 class, the class once talked about as perhaps the best quarterback draft class of all time, that gave us such quarterbacking stalwarts as Akili Smith, Tim Couch, and Cade McNown. Ironic that the only quarterback from that class still playing (or at least playing well) is the one who got booed on draft day (Donovan McNabb).