Who Is the Worst Starting Quarterback in the NFL?

Nick KostoraContributor IIIMay 13, 2013

ORCHARD PARK, NY - DECEMBER 30: Mark Sanchez #6 of the New York Jets audibles during an NFL game against the Buffalo Bills at Ralph Wilson Stadium on December 30, 2012 in Orchard Park, New York. (Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images)
Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images

There is no definitive statistic that can measure who is the worst starting quarterback in the NFL. It is a designation left up to judgment and opinion.

Rarely will there be a unanimous belief that one signal-caller is the absolute worst in the business (although Mark Sanchez has recently come close), but we can break down some of the facts and see who is particularly bad.

If you are immediately inclined to believe that completion percentage is the benchmark for quarterback play, then you are sorely mistaken. Yes, bad quarterbacks will traditionally complete a low percentage of their throws. In fact, Sanchez, Josh Freeman and Brandon Weeden were all near the bottom of that category last season.

However, the lowest completion percentage for a starting QB last season belonged to Andrew Luck (excluding Chade Henne, who started six games for the Jacksonville Jaguars). 

Luck had a prolific rookie campaign, with 4,374 yards passing, 23 touchdowns and 18 interceptions. Would anyone declare him the worst starter in the league because of his 54.1 completion percentage? It is unlikely, so what we must do is combine a multitude of statistics and factors in order to determine the league's worst starter.

For instance, can you call Blaine Gabbert of the Jaguars a starter? After all, he was replaced by Henne midseason and will be battling for his spot again this year. How about Sanchez? The New York Jets have brought in David Garrard and drafted Geno Smith in order to put him on the hot seat.

Well, for the sake of this article, let's say Sanchez is still the starter in New York and Henne is the guy in Jacksonville. As for other offseason moves, we now know that Carson Palmer will be starting with the Arizona Cardinals, E.J. Manuel is the guy in Buffalo, Alex Smith is taking the reigns for the Kansas City Chiefs and Matt Flynn is the expected starter for the Oakland Raiders.

Let's take Manuel out of the equation because he will be a rookie and we don't know nearly enough about him yet. So, general consensus would dictate that Sanchez, Henne, Locker, Weeden and Christian Ponder are the top candidates for this dubious honor. Let's compare their stats from last season.

  Touchdowns Interceptions Completion Percentage Passer Rating
Mark Sanchez 13 18 54.3 66.9
Chad Henne 11 11 53.9 72.2
Jake Locker 10 11 56.4 74.0
Brandon Weeden 14 17 57.4 72.6
Christian Ponder 18 12 62.1 81.2


These statistics make two things very clear: Sanchez played terribly last season and Ponder likely does not deserve to be in this discussion. He gets a lot of flack for his work with the Vikings, but that is a team predicated on its rushing game and Percy Harvin missed the second half of the 2012 season. It is hard to truly grow and develop without decent targets to throw to. If Ponder struggles again this season then there is cause for concern, but he is not the worst starter in football.

Weeden was clearly the worst rookie QB to get the starting nod last season and his job security heading into 2013 is obviously in serious question. The new Browns regime, led by Michael Lombardi, cannot be too impressed by the tape of a 29-year-old rookie who did not develop much rhythm within the Browns offense. 

However, most rookies struggle when asked to start immediately upon entering the league. The defenses are faster, the playbooks are bigger and it takes time to learn the nuances of the professional game. Is this an excuse for Weeden? Absolutely not. The play of guys like Russell Wilson and Robert Griffin III showed that rookies can excel right away. It just seems that Weeden should at least be given more leeway than seasoned veterans who struggled.

In other words, there is almost no way to break down the current crop of NFL starters and not find that Sanchez is the worst of the bunch. Henne, Locker and Weeden may have made the discussion interesting last season, but the numbers posted by Sanchez since entering the league have been consistently terrible.

Sanchez has thrown 69 interceptions in four years of action compared to 68 touchdowns. He has never had a completion percentage above 56.7 and has completed just seven passes of over 40 yards in the past two seasons combined.

Will he be the Jets' starter once the 2013 season gets underway? That remains uncertain. He did sign a five-year, $58.25 million contract in March of 2012, so there are plenty of financial reasons to keep him in the fold. His play simply remains too inept to justify a starting position at this point in his career. 

It is interesting to try and compare quarterbacks to find the worst in the league, but in the end Sanchez is truly No. 32 out of 32.