The New York Jets Draft: A Look Back at the Class of 1983


Ken O’Brien was a highly debated choice in the 1983 NFL draft.

With the draft just about one day away, I wanted to take a look back at one of the more famous drafts in NFL history. It’s 20 years since this particular draft occurred, and it was known as “the Year of the Quarterback”. No class had been talked about this way since, until last year with Andrew Luck, RGIII and Russell Wilson.

The year was 1983, and the selections made wrote much of NFL history in the years that followed. For my younger readers, six quarterbacks were chosen in the first round, and several were, let’s say about average. The Jets chose a quarterback that year, so that is why we look back today. Here are the six quarterbacks drafted in 1983:

  • John Elway
  • Dan Marino
  • Jim Kelly
  • Todd Blackledge
  • Tony Eason

So, those are the five that didn’t go to the Jets.  Three of those guys were pretty darn good, wouldn’t you say?  That Marino sure had a nice career, a nice career braking Jets fans’ hearts, that’s for sure.  Jim Kelly was another fun face to go up against two times per season as well.

I don’t know about you, but every time we had to watch that “K-Gun” offense take apart our defense, I wanted to bring lunch back up.  John Elway was pretty good, but it took him long enough to win the big one!  Ha,ha the door was wide open for that one.  Elway had a great career that finally got him what he sorely deserved, a Super Bowl ring(2).  Tony Eason played for the Patriots before coming to our team briefly.

Now, let’s look at the 6th quarterback that was chosen in 1983, chosen by our New York Jets.  He was from UC Davis in California.  He was blessed with a cannon for an arm, and pinpoint accuracy to go with hit.  I think we all know who his name is, but just in case you don’t, his name is………


We look at Ken O’Brien as he was chosen to be the Jets’ franchise quarterback for years to come.  They were looking for the next guy after Joe Namath, Richard Todd got close to being the guy, but couldn’t get the Jets over the hump.  Pat Ryan was best in a backup role, so the Jets brought in the strong armed Kenny O’Brien.  And he performed well for a great deal of his career.  Take a look at his stats through the years:

Not a career to be laughed at, that’s for sure.  He performed as well as anyone could have behind an offensive line that was barely equipped to block me.  He had great weapons on the outside in Wesley Walker and Al Toon, and used them as an aid to guide the Jets to nearly the AFC Championship game in 1986, and further back, to the top of the AFC in passing in 1985.

Who can forget 1988, when Kenny let the Jets on a last minute drive to beat the Giants on the last day of the season to knock them out of the playoffs?  It was a great day, was it not?

Take a look at this excellent final drive:

Despite the Jets best efforts to turn his job over to Browning Nagle in 1992, O’Brien was able to earn his job back and lead the Jets to one more playoff berth in his career.

Everyone’s biggest problem with O’Brien was that his name wasn’t Dan Marino. If you look back at that class, you will see that Marino was chosen by the Dolphins four picks later. However, it’s really an unfair comparison to make, as there is no way to guarantee that someone will be an all-time great coming out of college.

If the Jets scouts had issues about Dan Marino at the time, they were correct not to draft him. It’s unlikely that the Jets would have picked someone in the draft that they didn’t have highly ranked. And, don’t forget, when the Jets had an offensive line, Kenny could throw it with any of them.

For their careers, Dan Marino posted a 59.4% completion percentage. O’Brien went 58.6%. Their passer ratings were 86.4 to 80.4 in favor of Marino. We all know that Dan threw a lot more often, so TD’s and INT’s is not a fair comparison. But the point is, in measurables that Ken could compare with Dan, he did, and it wasn’t so unfavorable.

Despite what a lot of people think, this was a good year for the New York Jets. There is no way to have known how good that Marino was going to be. They could not have been faulted for drafting O’Brien.