The Top Ten QB Draft Busts of the Last 20 Years
This will be the first in a series of articles reflecting on the last 20 years of the draft (1990-2009), and the biggest draft busts per position.
We’ll start with the obvious, the quarterback. So, what constitutes a bust?
Well, first off, you have to be a first round draft pick, the higher in the round the better. Any player, especially QB, taken later than the first round is merely a source of hope, but a first rounder is regarded as a savior.
Also, the higher the pick, the bigger the bust, meaning if two players have a similar career path, but one was a third pick and the other a 24th, then it’s obvious who the bigger bust will be.
The quarterback might have a higher bust per draft pick ratio than any other position in football. Many very notable names will not even make the top ten, and without further adieu, here is the list.
Before we get to number ten, here are some honorable mentions. Four top overall picks find themselves on this list, Jeff George, Tim Couch, Alex Smith and David Carr. Also on the honorable mention list is Rick Mirer, Joey Harrington, Patrick Ramsey, Rex Grossman and J.P. Losman.
Here we go…
#10 – Jim Druckenmiller - 26th pick, 1997 draft – 49ers
Perhaps the beginning of the end for the run of quarterbacks that the San Francisco 49ers enjoyed. Along with later selecting Alex Smith, the 49ers are one of several teams with two candidates for the list, perhaps explaining their fall into NFL mediocrity over the last decade.
Druckenmiller was selected 26th overall out of Virginia Tech. The late selection saved him from being higher on this list, as no other QB has a less impressive stat line. Druckenmiller managed a stellar six game career, completed 40% of his passes, amassed 236 yards and threw for one touchdown, while tossing four interceptions.
The one saving grace for San Francisco was this, only Jake Plummer had himself even a marginal career from this class of QBs. The only other QB even worth mentioning was Koy Detmer, a 7th round selection of the Philadelphia Eagles.
#9 – Dan McGwire - 16th pick, 1991 draft – Seahawks
How bad was Dan McGwire? Seattle drafted him in the first round of the 1991 draft, and by 1993 already decided to draft another first round QB, Rick Mirer. Not that Mirer fared all that much better.
McGwire has a bigger claim to fame, of course. He is the brother of baseball slugger Mark McGwire, and I think the Seahawks would have preferred to have Mark. McGwire was the first QB selected in 1991 out of San Diego State after two seasons at Iowa, and his career stat line was obviously pathetic. McGwire managed to show up for 13 games, only passed for 745 yards, and had a stellar TD:Int ratio of 2 to 6.
So, who did the Seahawks miss out on? In what was otherwise another extremely weak class for QBs, the 33rd pick that season was Brett Favre.
#8 – Cade McNown - 12th pick, 1999 draft – Bears
Like the 49ers and Seahawks , Chicago also has the privilege of two great candidates for the bust list, McNown and the later selection of Rex Grossman. 1999 was supposed to be the reincarnation of the 1983 draft for QBs, one that gave us three Hall of Famers, Elway, Marino and Kelly.
However, a decade later we see that there is no comparison from that class to this one. That draft’s first round also included the likes of Todd Blackledge, whose only claim to the Hall is that he’s born in Canton, Ohio. McNown could be compared to Blackledge in that nature. Cade, out of UCLA was the 12th overall selection that season, but already the fifth QB off the board. He ended up playing in 25 games and amassing 3,111 yards with 16 TDs and 19 Ints.
After two seasons in Chicago, the Dolphins and 49ers quickly gave up on him also, and McNown was out of the league by 2003. While certainly not world beaters, the Bears could have ended up with Shaun King, Brock Huard, Aaron Brooks or Michael Bishop that season.
#7 – David Klingler - 6th pick, 1992 draft – Bengals
We will now enter the Bengals/Raiders section of the countdown, beginning with this gem by Cincinnati. Klingler had a stellar career at the University of Houston, and lost the 1991 Heisman Trophy to BYU signal caller Ty Detmer, who ironically was the last QB selected in this draft, yet had a better career than Klingler, selected 224 slots earlier.
As Boomer Esiason’s career was coming to its end, the team was high on Klingler continuing what Boomer started in the 80’s. Instead, he was perhaps the biggest reason Cincinnati ended up losing more games than any other NFL team in the 1990’s. Klingler’s NFL career consisted of 33 appearances, finishing his career six yards shy of 4,000 yards, and had 16 TDs compared with 22 Ints.
Other than Detmer, who could the Bengals have been better off with? Well, again, no world beaters, but the list includes Tommy Maddox, Craig Erickson, Casey Weldon, Jeff Blake, and Brad Johnson.
#6 – JaMarcus Russell - 1st pick, 2007 draft – Raiders
While I don’t necessarily like to put players who still have a chance to improve their lot in life on a countdown like this, I’ll make an exception for this former LSU Tiger.
What makes Russell’s career so interesting is his regression. A completion percentage of 54.3% in his rookie season has been followed by 53.8% in 2008 and 48.8% last season. After a 2008 season that saw him throw for a respectable 13 TDs and 8 Ints, he turned that around nicely a year later, throwing only three touchdowns with 11 picks.
I think Russell’s spot on this list is fairly well cemented, but, of course, he can still prove me wrong. Good luck!
#5 – Todd Marinovich - 24th pick, 1991 draft – Raiders
Continuing with the Raiders theme, we now come to Todd Marinovich, Southern Cal standout. Marinovich was much attended to even in high school, and had a much higher than normal profile by the time he reached the league, even when compared to other first round draft picks. Marinovich only ended playing (and starting) eight games for the Raiders over the course of two seasons, completing half of his passes for 1,345 yards, 8 TDs and 9 interceptions.
Starting (at least) his rookie season and continuing on through today, Marinovich has had a string of run-ins with the law, mostly related to his drug use, ranging from Marijuana to amphetamines to heroin. He did have a short but successful stint in the Arena League, but in the end, Marinovich is just another child prodigy whose life went awry.
#4 – Akili Smith - 3rd pick, 1999 draft – Bengals
Did I mention this was the Bengals/Raiders section of the countdown? The last four players mentioned were drafted by those two teams, and Akili Smith also joins fellow Class of ’99 busts Cade McNown and Tim Couch.
A highly regarded dual threat QB coming out of Oregon, Smith was selected third overall, behind Couch and Donovan McNabb.
And, well, that’s about it. He played four years in Cincinnati, but was pretty much given up on after his second season. For his career, Smith appeared in 22 games and amassed 2,212 yards with all of five touchdowns and 13 interceptions.
Add Daunte Culpepper to the list of alternative QB’s mentioned earlier with Cade McNown. And that concludes the Bengals/Raiders section of the countdown. While Seattle, Detroit, Washington, San Francisco and Chicago all had two candidates, only Cincinnati and Oakland managed to put both in the top ten. Congratulations!
#3 – Heath Shuler - 3rd pick, 1994 draft – Redskins
Coming out of the University of Tennessee, Shuler was one of the highest regarded QB’s to enter the draft in recent history, perhaps falling second only to Drew Bledsoe during the mid 90’s. Drafted third overall by the Redskins in ’94, Shuler didn’t last long. He was paired with another rookie, Gus Frerotte, who Washington selected in the 7th round, 194 spots behind Shuler. Heath Shuler is likely the only first round rookie QB to finish the season behind a 7th round rookie on the depth chart.
Shuler managed to play in 29 games for Washington and New Orleans, finishing his career with 3,691 yards, 15 touchdowns and 33 interceptions. At least Washington hedged their bet with the Frerotte selection, the only other QB to have an NFL career out of that draft class was Trent Dilfer, and he too is a borderline candidate for this list.
#2 – Andre Ware - 7th pick, 1990 draft – Lions
It worked so well for Detroit in 1989, somehow not so much a year later. Detroit joined Tampa Bay (Bo Jackson, Vinny Testaverde) as the only team to select the Heisman trophy winner in the first round in consecutive drafts. But what was a homerun in Barry Sanders quickly became an unassisted triple play with this Houston Cougar.
Perhaps the beginning of the end for the Lions franchise, who, while never that successful, were also not the laughingstock of the league that they are now. That title belonged to teams like the Bucs and Bengals during the 80’s and 90’s. Andre Ware started his first game for the Lions in 1992 and his last in 1993. In his 14 game NFL career, Ware managed 1,112 yards, five touchdowns and eight interceptions.
While the 1990 draft was yet another weak one for QBs, players like Neil O’Donnell, Scott Mitchell (came to Detroit in ’94 after failed Ware career), and John Friesz all had at least somewhat better careers.
#1 – Ryan Leaf - 2nd pick , 1998 draft – Chargers
I tried, I really did. When I came up with the idea for this piece, it was with the plan to convince myself, and you, that Ryan Leaf was, in fact, not the biggest QB bust of the last two decades. Going into the list, my odds on favorite was Shuler, with Ware closely behind. And while those two certainly finished high on the list, I could not get myself to put either of them ahead of Leaf on the final list.
In 1990, the Indianapolis Colts had the #1 draft pick and selected Jeff George, bust. Eight years later and we’ll never know just how close they came to making the same mistake.
But, instead, Indy grabbed Peyton, and the rest is draft bust history. The Chargers entered the off-season with the #3 selection, but spent two first rounders, a second rounder and All-Pro returner Eric Metcalf to Phoenix in order to secure themselves one of the QBs.
Well, they certainly didn’t get fair market value in return. In addition to his many media blowups, Leaf played only three seasons in San Diego and added one in Dallas before calling it a career. Leaf appeared in a mere 25 games, threw for 3,666 yards, 14 touchdowns and an astonishing 36 interceptions. His 48.4% career completion percentage and 50.0 QB rating are topped on this list only by Druckenmiller.