So You Want To Tank For Tua? A History Of The #1 Overall Pick

Photo: Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

Tank For Tua! The battle-cry of as many as three organizations across the NFL this year can only crown one winner -- meaning there will be folks disappointed by the end of the year. This, of course, isn't to suggest that Justin Herbert, Jordan Love and others aren't viable pro quarterbacks. Heck, there are some who would point to Herbert's ceiling and suggest they may covet that over Tua. And then of course there is the matter of the golden maned passer looming in 2021 to boot. The league's influx of young quarterback talent since 2016 has been pumping star quarterbacks into the NFL at a breakneck pace.

2016 brought Jared Goff, Carson Wentz and Dak Prescott.

2017 brought Patrick Mahomes and Deshaun Watson (...and maybe Mitchell Trubisky? He's running out of time).

2018 brought Baker Mayfield, Sam Darnold and after yesterday, Lamar Jackson (the jury is out on Josh Allen and Josh Rosen is completely snakebitten on another terrible team in 2019).

And 2019 top pick Kyler Murray put on a 4th-quarter show in Week 1 against the Lions that can serve as a reminder to what a dynamic, modern quarterback can yield on any given Sunday.

How many of these guys have had a hashtag the September before their eligible draft? There was no #YakForDak, no #WhoopsForWentz. I don't recall a #HalfBakered or a #WinlessForWatson. Perhaps the biggest fanfare since the infamous #SuckForLuck campaign belonged to Sam Darnold, who ultimately went at #3 overall after a transcendent season from Baker Mayfield at Oklahoma.

But we have a full fledged #TankForTua campaign. And the only fans in football not excited at the prospect of #TankForTua are a subsection of the only fanbase in football actively tanking for him -- the Miami Dolphins, who seemingly would prefer to extend the tank another season to #TankForTrevor. But Tua Tagovailoa is no consolation prize. Let me repeat that.

I don't care how good Trevor Lawrence is, Tua Tagovailoa is not a consolation prize. He is a crown jewel in his own right. Detractors of Tua will point to superficial evidence -- like him being left handed or the color of his college helmet. It doesn't matter. What matters is there's only one of him, and more QB needy teams are starting to bubble to the surface of the NFL's landscape.

The Dolphins are certainly the leaders in the clubhouse. The Bengals played the Seahawks tough in Week 1, but this is a roster that many see fading down the stretch and struggling to keep pace vs. three talented teams in the AFC North. The Jacksonville Jaguars just endured a big loss -- veteran QB Nick Foles will miss approximately half the season with a broken clavicle. The Tennessee Titans won big Week 1, but Marcus Mariota's arm doesn't have the juice it once did -- and Mariota is in a contract year. The Colts had Andrew Luck retire at the midnight hour before the 2019 season kicked off. The Chargers will need to think about life after Phillip Rivers once again this offseason. The Buccaneers may have their hands full if Jameis Winston continues to hand out interceptions like Halloween candy.

And, again...there's only one Tua Tagovailoa.

So you say you want to tank for Tua? I say to you, good luck! Because to successfully guarantee yourself a tank, you need to be really, really bad. As a matter of fact, you can draw a line in the sand firmly at 3 wins.

You read that right. If you win 3 games, you can kiss your hopes of acquiring the #1 overall pick in the 2020 Draft -- or ANY draft, for that matter -- away. Which means the Titans and Chargers are one third of the way to eliminating themselves for contention after *squints* Week 1.

Here's the numbers to back this claim up.

The NFL switched to a 16 game schedule all the way back in 1978. In the 40 NFL Drafts that have taken place since, teams with 3 wins in 16 contests have a one in five (20%) likelihood of successfully securing the #1 overall pick in the NFL Draft. It has happened 8 times:

  • 1988: Atlanta Falcons, 3-12 (drafted Aundray Bruce)
  • 1989: Dallas Cowboys, 3-13 (drafted Troy Aikman)
  • 1990: Atlanta Falcons, 3-13 (traded to Indianapolis, drafted Jeff George)
  • 1994: Cincinnati Bengals, 3-13 (drafted Dan Wilkinson)
  • 1996: New York Jets, 3-13 (drafted Keyshawn Johnson)
  • 1998: Indianapolis Colts, 3-13 (drafted Peyton Manning)
  • 2015: Tennessee Titans, 3-13 (traded to LA Rams, drafted Jared Goff)
  • 2019: Arizona Cardinals, 3-13 (drafted Kyler Murray)

That's it! There have been an additional 32 teams since 1978 who have finished a season with just 3 wins who came up empty handed and without the #1 overall pick in the Draft. The math is pretty simple, if you win 3 games, you have a one in five chance based on league history in the 16 game era of finishing with the top pick.

Two wins? Your odds increase threefold. 32 teams since 1978 have finished the season with a paltry two wins. 18 of them finished the number one overall selection in the following year's NFL Draft. San Francisco most recently went 2-14 and missed out on the number one pick, being outdone by the Browns' paltry 1-15 season in 2016. It happened again in 2014 when the Titans and Buccaneers both finished with 2 wins and the Titans lost the tiebreaker, settling on QB Marcus Mariota with the 2nd overall pick of the 2015 Draft.

Teams finishing the season with just one win haven't always brought home the bacon, but this year's NFL Draft will be safe on that front. The Dallas Cowboys finished 1-15 in 1989 but had surrendered their first round pick of the 1990 NFL Draft as a result of spending it on the Supplemental Draft ahead of the '89 season, instead. Whoops. The other incident? The poor, poor Carolina Panthers of 2001. That team went 1-15 but had to surrender the number one overall pick of the 2002 Draft to the expansion Houston Texans.

But don't feel too bad for Carolina. The Texans drafted David Carr, while the Panthers landed Julius Peppers at #2 overall. There have only been 10 teams in the 16 game era to finish the season with one win. Aside of the Supplemental Draft error by Dallas and the hard luck Panthers, every other team has successfully secured the top pick.

  • 1981: New Orleans Saints, 1-15 (drafted George Rogers)
  • 1990: *Dallas Cowboys, 1-15 (surrendered in 1989 Supplemental Draft)
  • 1991: New England Patriots, 1-15 (traded to Dallas, drafted Russell Maryland)
  • 1992: Indianapolis Colts, 1-15 (drafted Steve Etman)
  • 1997: New York Jets, 1-15 (traded to St. Louis, drafted Orlando Pace)
  • 2001: San Diego Chargers, 1-15 (traded to Atlanta, drafted Michael Vick)
  • 2002: *Carolina Panthers, 1-15 (picked 2nd, drafted Julius Peppers)
  • 2008: Miami Dolphins, 1-15 (drafted Jake Long)
  • 2010: St. Louis Rams, 1-15 (drafted Sam Bradford)
  • 2017: Cleveland Browns, 1-15 (drafted Myles Garrett)

In all, hopes for "Tanking for Tua" comes back to that line in the sand.

Cumulatively, 40 NFL teams have endured a 3 win season since 1978. 44 NFL teams in that same timeframe have endured 0-2 wins. The numbers speak for themselves:

  • 3 wins: 20% success rate of landing #1
  • 2 or less wins: 65% success rate of landing #1

Adjusting for the 1989 Dallas Cowboys (Supplemental Draft) and 2001 Carolina Panthers (expansion team inserted ahead of them), that success rate swells to 69%.

You want to Tank for Tua?

Congratulations, your magic number is two. And even then, you'll have a 30% chance of not landing atop the draft order. This is a dangerous game -- purposefully throwing away your season with no guarantees. Because unless you're willing to be absolutely horrible, the history of the numbers indicates you still might not get the prize at the end of the road.

So perhaps a commitment to outrageously terrible will be the biggest (and only) win of the Miami Dolphins' 2019 season, based on what we watched against the Baltimore Ravens in Week 1.

Written By:

Kyle Crabbs

Director of Content

Director of Content & Senior NFL Draft Analyst for The Draft Network. Co-host of the Draft Dudes podcast. Former NDT Scouting Overlord.

Connect: