At the beginning of the 2021 NFL Draft, three Quarterbacks went with the first three picks. It is only the third time that a quarterback would have gone 1-2-3 in the common draft era (since 1967). The first time it happened was 1971 (Jim Plunkett, Archie Manning, Dan Pastorini) and they had very different paths to success.
Jim Plunkett went first overall to the New England Patriots (this was before the Belichick days) in 1971. He spent five seasons in New England, where after winning AFC Rookie of the Year, he struggled. In four of his five seasons, he completed less than 50% of his passes, according to pro football reference. He passed for 9,932 yards, 62 touchdowns, and 87 interceptions, including 25 in 1972, with the Patriots, according to pro football reference.
After being traded by the Patriots and spending two seasons with the 49ers, Plunkett ended up with the Raiders. He saved his career with the Raiders by winning the Comeback Player of the Year in 1980 after taking over the starting from an injured Dan Pastorini and led them to a Super Bowl victory. He led them to another Super Bowl victory in 1983 and had his best season completing over 60% of his passes with 2,935 passing yards, 20 touchdowns, 18 interceptions, and an 82.7 passer rating, according to pro football reference.
Plunkett retired after the 1986 season and finished his career with 25,882 passing yards, 164 touchdowns, 198 interceptions, and a 52.5 completion percentage, according to pro football reference. He is the only two-time Super Bowl starting quarterback to not be in the Hall of Fame.
Archie Manning went second overall to the New Orleans Saints. He was with the Saints for over 11 seasons, made two pro-bowls, and was their best player for several years. He was traded to the Houston Oilers in 1982 and later ended his career with the Minnesota Vikings after the 1984 season. He was inducted into the Saints Ring of Honor and their Hall of Fame after his playing career.
Manning’s career stats are not the best completing 55.2% of his passes for 23,911, 125 touchdowns, 173 interceptions, and a 67.1 passer rating, according to pro football reference. However, the stats don’t tell the whole story as when he was with the Saints, he didn’t have a lot of help. In his 11+ seasons with the Saints, there were only three seasons where someone other than him made the pro bowl, and only one season where it was more than one player.
Dan Pastorini went third overall to the Houston Oilers. He was with the Oilers until 1979, spent one year with both the Rams and Raiders and two years with the Eagles retiring after the 1983 season. He made a pro bowl in 1975 with the Oilers and, along with Earl Campbell, helped the team get to two straight Conference Championships. He was the starting quarterback for the Raiders in 1980 before he broke his leg and Jim Plunkett replaced him.
In his career, Pastorini completed 50.9% of his passes for 18,515, 103 touchdowns, 161 interceptions, and a 59.1 passer rating, according to pro football reference. He never had a season where he passed more touchdowns than interceptions and only one season completing over 55% of his passes, according to pro football reference. However, he also helped the Oilers go from a combined 2-26 from 1972-73 to a winning record in 1975 and getting to the conference championship in 1978 and 1979.
All quarterbacks taken 1-2-3 in 1971 had their share of success, as well as difficulties. Plunkett overcame early career struggles to become a two-time Super Bowl Champion. Manning overcame the talent around him and is in the Saints Hall of Fame. Pastorini, meanwhile, helped his team overcome two terrible seasons and got to two Conference Championships.