NFL Draft History: Top 20 Quarterback Busts Of All Time
They have heightened our expectations almost instantaneously on draft day before ultimately crushing our hopes as they fail miserably—on or off the field.
You know them as the hot-shot quarterbacks destined to turn a struggling franchise around. Some on this list quietly faded out of the spotlight because they were normal guys that just couldn’t cut it at the next level, while others are remembered for not only failing to fulfill the promise we envisioned for them, but also for the side stories that surrounded their inconsistent play.
I had two main criteria I used for assembling this list:
1. They had to be drafted in the first round.
2. They had to be drafted during or before the 2002 season.
Let’s get started…
20) David Carr—(2002, Houston Texans, First Overall)
If any quarterback on this list has a legitimate argument against being labeled a bust, it’s Carr.
The former Fresno State gunslinger was rudely introduced to the NFL by being sacked 76 times—a single-season record. Carr’s career statistics heading into the 2010 season are nowhere near as bad (65 TD/70 INT, 75.1 Rating) compared to the quarterbacks that follow.
Since he was the No. 1 pick, though, it’s hard to keep him off this list. Perhaps he can resurrect his career in San Francisco at some point during the 2010 season.
19) Tim Couch—(1999, Cleveland Browns, First Overall)
Couch was lauded by recruiting guru Tom Lemming as the best prospect since John Elway. He had a legendary high school career that is considered by many to be among one of the best of all time. To say he was a complete bust in Cleveland would be unfair.
He did lead them to a playoff appearance and battled injuries his whole career after being repeatedly punished behind a porous offensive line.
After Kelly Holcomb threw for over 400 yards replacing the injured Couch in a playoff game, a quarterback controversy was started. He never gained coach Butch Davis’ trust and eventually began his graze in the pasture.
18) Joey Harrington—(2002, Detroit Lions, Third Overall)
To some, he’s known as “Joey Heisman," for the shameless billboard in Times Square touting his deserving to win the 2001 Heisman Trophy.
In Detroit, he soon was given the nickname “Joey Blue Skies,” for his optimistic and cheerful disposition despite his awful performance on the field.
Harrington’s career stats heading into the 2010 season as a free agent are 69 touchdowns against 85 interceptions and a QB rating of 69.4.
He’s made several television appearances showing off his skills as an accomplished pianist.
Harrington even appeared on the The Rachel Ray Show as a special guest chef.
Even though it appears a career making money in football is over, he could always hit up one of his famous cousins—PGA golfer Padraig Harrington or professional poker player Dan Harrington.
17) Jack Thompson—(1979, Cincinnati Bengals, Third Overall)
He was dubbed "The Throwin' Samoan" and when his collegiate career ended in 1978, Thompson was one of the most prolific passers in NCAA history.
After a few years in Cincinnati he headed to Tampa Bay but was quickly unseated by Steve DeBerg.
Poor Cincy fans didn’t even know at the time that this would be the start of a string of first round quarterback busts that wasn’t ended until Carson Palmer came to town.
I had to dig back a little bit for this one since he was before my time.
16) Kelly Stouffer—(1987, Arizona (St.Louis) Cardinals, Sixth Overall)
He didn’t get off on the right foot in St. Louis after sitting out his rookie year due to a contract dispute.
The Cardinals grew tired of his attitude and shipped him off to Seattle. He was a tough guy but wallowed in clipboard duty for the majority of his time there.
Stouffer threw seven touchdowns against 19 interceptions during his stay in Seattle.
Like a few other busts on this list, he is now a broadcaster for college football games on ESPN Plus and Versus. Last I heard, he was also a color analyst for the Minnesota Vikings.
15) Cade McNown—(1999, Chicago Bears, 12th Overall)
He was drafted to the delight of Bears fans to end the misery of a "musical chairs" quarterback situation that involved Steve Stenstrom, Moses Moreno, and Erik Kramer.
McNown had a good career at a school, UCLA, which has produced some solid signal callers in the past.
He had a prickly personality that didn’t make him the most loved or respected guy in the huddle, though. It seemed like the only time he could complete a pass was if a cornerback fell down.
McNown’s career was short-lived in the NFL, lasting only four years.
His two years in Chicago generated 16 touchdowns to 19 interceptions. Not the worst on the list, but pretty bad.
He eventually went to Miami and San Francisco for the next two years and may not have attempted even one pass in the new cities.
14) Jim Druckenmiller—(1999, San Francisco 49ers, 26th Overall)
He was football’s version of the cannon-armed but erratic Ricky "Wild Thing" Vaughn.
Rumor has it that he could throw a football over 100 yards. The Allentown, Pennsylvania native had excellent size at 6'5" and 235 pounds.
After a brief and unsuccessful stint in San Francisco, he was traded to the Dolphins and quickly released.
In addition to the physical qualities, he was even born in PA, the land of quarterbacks.
None of that could take away the fact that he couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn.
13).Dan McGwire—(1991, Seattle Seahawks, 16th Overall)
As if the constant rainfall wasn’t depressing enough, I feel terrible for the dreariness Seattle fans endured due to the drafts of the early 1990s.
McGwire was productive in college, but that was more a product of his collegiate environment.
San Diego State wasn’t exactly a bunch of world beaters, and it reflected in his inflated statistics. Regardless, Seattle needed a quarterback to replace Dave Krieg and tapped Dan to be the man.
He could never adjust to the speed of the NFL and was out of the league after five years.
Two years later, the Seahawks took another QB in the first round that didn’t pan out any better named Rick Mirer.
Some guy named Favre went 17 picks after Mcgwire.
12).Jerry Tagge—(1972, Green Bay Packers, 11th Overall)
Tagge had a terrific college career for the University of Nebraska. He was behind the helm against the University of Oklahoma in the “Game of the Century”.
Jerry had awful statistics in Green Bay with an embarrassing career line of three touchdowns and 17 interceptions.
11) Mike Phipps—(1970, Cleveland Browns, Third Overall)
He had a terrific career for the Boilermakers and had teams vying for his services just before the draft. He was a runner up to the 1969 Heisman Trophy winner, Steve Owens.
Phipps career NFL statistics were bad enough (almost 2:1 INT to TD), but he makes this list for the circumstances surrounding his high draft status.
The Browns traded their only Pro Bowl wide receiver, Paul Warfield, to get Phipps. Yes, the same Paul Warfield elected into the 1983 Hall of Fame class.
10).Todd Blackledge—(1983, Kansas City Chiefs, Seventh Overall)
As a Penn State Nittany Lion, he led his squad to the National Championship in 1982.
There was quite a bit of hype surrounding him coming into the ‘83 draft, the same draft that may be one of the best quarterback drafts ever.
John Elway, Dan Marino, and Jim Kelly were all selected that year.
Heck, even Ken O’Brien was taken and was a decent player for the Jets. Want to know the worst part?
The only QB mentioned above that was taken before Blackledge was Elway.
9) Akili Smith—(1999, Cincinnati Bengals, Third Overall)
Smith was a fine athlete including high remarks as a solid baseball prospect. His high draft selection was based on only one year of production at Oregon.
What he had in physical attributes, he lacked in the noggin. He couldn’t pass the SAT so college was not an option. He opted to play baseball for the Erie Sea Wolves of the Rookie League in the Pittsburgh Pirates farm system.
In the NFL, he could never lock down the playbook and it showed on the field. Early on in his collegiate career, he was almost suspended for failing grades. He also had an assault accusation that occurred on campus.
Even more frustrating for Bengal fans is that the Saints desperately tried to trade up and take this pick, offering a king's ransom.
8) Pete Beathard—(1964 AFL Draft, Kansas City Chiefs, Second Overall / 1964 D
I wanted to make this a thorough list so I had to really do some research to find a good QB bust from way back in the day. Say hello to Mr. Pete Beathard.
He was a bust because even though he had 10 years in the league to build a respectable QB rating, he could never get above 50. He ended his career with a 49.9 passer rating and had practically twice as many completions to opponents as he did to his receivers (43 TD to 84 INT).
I needed to get one for some of the old-school fans out there to bring back some memories!
7) David Klinger—(1992, Cincinnati Bengals, Sixth Overall)
Like his fellow Houston alum Andre Ware, Klingler put up some crazy stats in the backyard style of football they played down in Texas.
He smashed a bunch of college records. He once threw 11 (not a typo) touchdowns in a game. Klingler went on to throw for over 730 yards in one game in college.
He set an NCAA record for touchdown passes in a season with 54 back in 1990. That record stood for 16 years until Colt Brennan broke it.
The transition from the mediocre competition the Cougars faced to the talent level in the NFL proved too much for David to handle.
6) Rick Mirer—(1993, Seattle Seahawks, Second Overall)
He had one of the more acclaimed high school careers in history.
It looked like Mirer was headed towards a successful career when in his debut season he set NFL records for passing yards, completions, and attempts for a rookie.
However, he could never regain that form and thus began his well-traveled career, playing for six more teams and being released by five of them.
To the dismay of Seahawk fans, Mirer couldn’t erase the first round bust memories of Dan McGwire two years earlier.
5) Heath Shuler—(1994, Washington Redskins, Third Overall)
He has found much more success as a politician than he did as a quarterback. It’s hard to blame the Redskins for picking him so high.
As a Tennessee Volunteer he set most of the passing records later broken by Peyton Manning.
He got off to rough start after he was a training camp holdout before signing an almost $20 million contract.
After two dismal years behind the helm, he was eventually replaced by Gus Frerotte.
He once threw five picks in a game. He continued his poor play after being traded to New Orleans and some severe foot injuries eventually led to his retirement. His career passer rating is an abysmal 54.4.
He is now a Democratic member of the U.S House of Representatives in North Carolina.
4) Andre Ware—(1990, Detroit Lions, Seventh Overall)
Even though his impact on record books in the NFL is nonexistent, he does hold a great honor from college: a Heisman Trophy
Unfortunately for the Lions, they didn’t notice his gaudy stats were more of a product of the “Run & Shoot” system his team ran at the University of Houston.
Andre seemed to be able to make every kind of throw at Houston but lost his accuracy in the NFL. He could never unseat Rodney Peete or Erik Kramer in the Motor City and later found a career as a broadcaster for ESPN and the Houston Texans.
3) Todd Marinovich—(1991, Oakland Raiders, 24th overall)
His story is so fascinating and sad, this recap will be a bit longer.
He was almost literally programmed by his obsessive father to be a quarterback from the day he was born. All of his decisions were made for him by his parents and I believe that is what eventually led to his demise in the NFL.
Take this quote Marinovich said as a teenager going into college: "This is the biggest decision of my life. It means not only where I will play football but, most likely, who I will marry, who my best friends for life will be, where I will live. It means everything. And the one thing I know for sure is I'm too young to make this kind of decision by myself."
Sounds like a pretty smart and grounded kid.
When he went to birthday parties as a child, he brought his own ice cream and cake that didn’t have sugar or processed flour. It has been said that he teethed on frozen kidneys as an infant.
His father was stretching his son’s hamstrings when he was less then two months old. The excessive restrictions and eventual pressure to succeed were astonishing.
It eventually caught up to him when he, away from home and on his own, was arrested several times for cocaine possession, suspicion of growing marijuana, and then for heroin possession in 2001.
In 2005, he was arrested yet again in a California public bathroom with drug paraphernalia. His getaway vehicle? A child’s bike. At the police station he stated his profession was that of an “anarchist."
While skateboarding near Newport Beach, California in 2007, he was once again arrested for possession of methamphetamines.
If not the biggest bust, it may be one of the saddest stories in professional sports. Who knows what would have become of Marinovich if he were allowed to have a normal childhood.
Note to overwhelming “sports” parents trying to live vicariously through their children—ease up a little.
2) Ryan Leaf—(1998, San Diego Chargers, Second Overall)
He was almost as bad with the media as he was on the field. He certainly didn’t set himself up to become a fan favorite or media darling.
After signing, at the time, the largest signing bonus ($11.25 million) ever for a rookie, his performance didn’t match the compensation. He stated soon after he was drafted how much he was looking forward to eventually having a parade through downtown San Diego.
Through nine games, Leaf threw two touchdowns and thirteen interceptions. In one game that season, he was 1-15 for four yards with three fumbles.
During his rookie year, he had to be restrained by teammates from going after a reporter.
Another time an obnoxious fan got the best of him and again had to be restrained by teammates from going after the heckler.
When his career was finished, his statistics were putrid. He had 14 touchdowns against 36 picks with a career passer rating of 50. It seemed that he had found some stability recently as a quarterbacks coach for West Texas A&M.
However, that was short lived after Leaf was let go for allegedly asking a player for some pain medication.
1) Art Schlichter—(1982, Baltimore Colts, Fourth Overall)
The former Ohio State Buckeye was the last starting quarterback under legendary coach Woody Hayes.
Even though he was a bust from a statistical standpoint, his legacy is tarnished for another reason.
Like Alex Karras, Paul Hornung, Pete Rose, and more recently Tim Donaghy, Schlichter was a sports figure with a severe gambling addiction. By the midseason of his rookie year, he had blown his whole signing bonus on gambling losses.
During the 1982 NFL strike he amassed at least $700,000 debts in gambling. He turned to rat on his bookies to the feds after they threatened to expose his problematic vice.
A Bloomingburg, Ohio native, Schlichter’s addiction started as a teenager at various horse racing tracks in the Columbus area.
His career passer rating was an embarrassingly low 42.6. In 1987, he was arrested in a huge sports gambling (multi-million dollar) ring.
Pete Rozelle eventually banished him from the league.