Forty years ago, the Broncos' trade for quarterback John Elway changed the trajectory of the franchise and brought a future Hall of Famer to Denver. But that draft changed the landscape of the league, too, sending fellow Hall of Fame quarterbacks Jim Kelly and Dan Marino to Buffalo and Miami, respectively, and setting up fierce rivalries for years to come.
In a feature on NFL.com, writer Judy Battista delved into the many accomplishments of the quarterback class of 1983 and how they changed the game football fans see today. Six quarterbacks were selected in the first round: Elway, Kelly, Marino, Todd Blackledge, Tony Eason and Ken O'Brien.
"It was noteworthy not just for the quarterbacks' individual achievements -- two Super Bowls won (Elway), nine total Super Bowl appearances between four of them (Elway, Marino, Kelly, Eason), three inductions into the Hall of Fame (Elway, Kelly, Marino), a mountain of passing records shattered (largely by Marino) -- but for how they accomplished them," Battista wrote. "Because so many quarterbacks embarked on successful careers at once, they fundamentally and rapidly shaped what football looked like, accelerating a transformation that led to the game we watch today."
Marino, who won the MVP award and reached the Super Bowl in his second season, gave his insights on how the group impacted the evolution of pro football.
"We felt like we were making a difference in how the game was played," Marino told NFL.com. "All of us as a group, the quarterbacks -- even Troy Aikman and Warren Moon, guys like that who weren't in our class but right around the same time -- the way we played the game was making a big difference in how I think franchises perceived the future and what they need to be successful."
Elway faced off against his fellow members of the class of 1983 regularly in regular season and postseason battles, knocking off Marino and Eason in their playoff matchups but falling to Kelly in the 1991 AFC Championship Game. The group shaped the AFC playoff picture in both the 1980s and 1990s, culminating in Elway leading the Broncos to their first Super Bowl titles in 1997 and 1998.
Bills quarterback Josh Allen reflected on how those quarterbacks and their era of vertical passing has shaped the current game.
"This wasn't dink-and-dunk stuff," Allen said told NFL.com. "It was seam balls, go balls, the deep posts, they were all putting it out there for those guys to catch. People started adopting that play style. You don't see the West Coast dink-and-dunk too much anymore. It's a vertical passing league and you have to be able to push the ball downfield and stretch those defenses out."