FLORHAM PARK, N.J. (AP) — Josh McCown's NFL journey began 15 years ago as the fourth of 16 quarterbacks selected in the 2002 draft.
He's the only one still playing, and it's been that way for a while.
The 38-year-old McCown is a study in perseverance, a guy who has been all over the league — the New York Jets being his 10th team — as a starter, backup and sometimes just a training camp arm. Hundreds of players have come and gone since McCown entered the league, but he's still going strong.
"It's funny, I was just thinking that, 'Man, there's not anybody left of our class,'" McCown said. "I try to tell the young guys all the time that you just don't know. You come in and maybe you're bummed because you didn't get drafted here or maybe you went undrafted. You never know how your story can unfold and turn out."
Some other quarterbacks from that class started in the NFL — Joey Harrington, Patrick Ramsey, David Garrard — while others served mostly as backups, including Rohan Davey, Randy Fasani, Kurt Kittner, Craig Nall and J.T. O'Sullivan. Five never played a snap in the league: Brandon Doman, Steve Bellisari, Seth Burford, Jeff Kelly and Wes Pate. Seventh-rounder Ronald Curry was converted to wide receiver.
Meanwhile, McCown is preparing to start under center for the Jets in their season opener Sunday at Buffalo.
"There are some things in life that obviously you live long enough and older people say this all the time but you live long enough and nothing surprises you," McCown said. "In this league, you play long enough, nothing surprises you.
"I'm glad to be here."
Carolina defensive end Julius Peppers is the only other player from McCown's draft class remaining on an NFL roster.
"Heck of a guy and it doesn't shock me," McCown said. "It's cool to still see him going, for sure."
The same could be said of McCown, who was a third-round pick of Arizona out of Sam Houston State in 2002. He spent four seasons with the Cardinals and started 22 games before signing with Detroit as a free agent in 2006.
Next came stints with Oakland (2007), Miami (2008) and Carolina (2008-09), and then a stop in 2010 with the Hartford Colonials of the United Football League. McCown also coached high school ball during that time, when it appeared his time in the NFL might be over.
He got a look from San Francisco during training camp in 2011, but was cut before the season. Chicago scooped him up and the Bears helped McCown revive his career. He had perhaps his best season to date in 2013, when he threw for 1,829 yards with 13 touchdowns and just one interception while filling in for the injured Jay Cutler.
McCown signed with Tampa Bay as a free agent in 2014, spent the past two years with Cleveland — and now, he's with the Jets on a one-year deal worth $6 million .
"It's such a privilege to get to play in this league, period," McCown said. "To be at this point in a career and to go in and be one of 32 guys that gets to be an opening day starter, is no doubt special. You walk out to the practice field and you go through this week, every minute counts and you make the most of it."
McCown had been the Jets' assumed starter from the moment he joined the team, although New York insisted there was a three-man competition for the job with Christian Hackenberg and Bryce Petty.
Hackenberg struggled for most of the preseason and Petty did little to distinguish himself. So, McCown's the man — for now.
"I'm very, very thankful to be a part of this and be on this team and have an opportunity to go out there on Sunday for another opening day," McCown said. "I look forward to taking it all in, but at the same time just making the most of it, having fun with it and winning that ballgame."
Victories have been tough to come by for McCown, who's 2-20 as a starter over the past three seasons, and 18-42 for his career. McCown's statistics aren't eye-popping, either, with 79 touchdowns and 69 interceptions and a 78.2 quarterback rating.
But it's more than just numbers when it comes to McCown.
Current and former teammates rave about his leadership and love for the game. McCown is also incredibly humble, an egoless competitor in a sport filled with big talkers and larger-than-life personalities. He knows his career is in its twilight, and he's at peace with that.
McCown has always beat the odds, though.
"I always had a goal of (playing) 15 years," he said. "It was really one of those things. I didn't write down a whole lot of things, but that was one of those things for whatever reason. So, yeah, to be sitting here at this time with the opportunity to start, I didn't think, especially with looking back at the twists and turns throughout my career and spending a year out — yeah, it's a little surprising."