Since 1970, there have been 18 quarterbacks taken with the first overall pick of the draft, including five straight from '01-'05. Going back a little farther, to 1936, adds only 9 more—starting with the first quarterback taken first overall, Angelo Bertelli.
From that first passer in 1970, Terry Bradshaw, to the last one in 2010, Sam Bradford, these "franchise saviors" have fared farely well. With a few exceptions of course.
For every Super Bowl winning hero like Bradshaw, Plunkett, Elway, etc., there have been players who have put their franchises in worse shape than before they were drafted. This article is about those colossal failures—quarterbacks that for whatever reason had stellar college careers and turned them into NFL disasters.
It took nine quarterbacks and thirty drafts before we come to our first true "bust". In 1999, the 10th QB taken first overall was Tim Couch out of Kentucky. Tim had a modest college career, but set several Tennessee records, and one NCAA record for completion percentage. (in a game with 40 completions.) He decided to leave school a year early and was selected by the Browns in their first draft since rejoining the league.
Needless to say there was great pressure on Tim as he tried to bring win with an expansion team while trying to learn to play quarterback in the NFL.
While he had some successes, the Browns were terrible and he only lasted four years. He ended up throwing more picks than touchdowns, and his passer rating was always in the mid 70s. He only started 16 games once in his five year career, and battled Kelly Holcomb for starting duties his last two years. He did lead the Browns to one playoff appearance, but broke his leg in the last regular season game and was forced to watch Holcomb lose to the Steelers in the first round.
He was released by the Browns and had tryouts with a couple teams over the next few years, but never could land a spot on an NFL roster again. People inside and outside the NFL questioned his toughness, and those injuries, which seemed minor, in addition to steroid/HGH allegations soured the NFL on Couch forevermore.
Michael Vick was taken two drafts later, by the Atlanta Falcons. Vick, while unquestionably being a rare athletic talent, was hardly a starter for two years at college when he decided to leave early. This is yet another case of a team reaching for a quarterback with the first overall pick who had an average college career and getting burned. What makes it worse is the Falcons traded for the rights to draft Vick first with the Chargers - who took LaDanian Tomlinson - a Hall of Fame candidate running back when he retires.
During his six year stint with the Falcons, Vick never threw for 3000 yards, or more than 20 TDs. He was there to be a dual threat, running and throwing, and proved to be one the best running quarterbacks of all time. However, all of his athleticism rarely translated to success as combined his scored 95 touchdowns throwing and running and committed 79 turnovers.
He also had numerous run-ins with the law - from his early years of herpes, Ron Mexico, and the $20,000 middle finger incident to more serious allegations. In fact, Vick served time in jail for dogfighting and other charges and missed the '07 and '08 seasons. His contract was so bloated that the team couldn't even cut him until later.
Now, Vick is back. Signed by the Eagles as a "reformed man", Vick was the third string quarterback last year. He waited to see if any team would give him a chance to compete to start - none did. He is currently slated to be the backup in Philly to Kevin Kolb.
Shortly after Couch was tabbed as the Brown's savior, Fresno State's David Carr was selected by the expansion Texans as it's own savior. David had a great career at Fresno State, including an amazing 46-9 TD:INT ratio his final season. (plus 5 rushing tds, giving him over 50 for the year.) He was poised for NFL stardom...the Texans were not.
His first year was an indicator of things to come. He was sacked an NFL-record 76 times that year, and the Texans went 4-12. He was sacked 229 times over his five years in Houston. After five losing seasons, a new coach was brought in, and he was released.
Carr then went on to backup for the Giants and Panthers, seeing little game action. He is now slated to back up Alex Smith in San Francisco for 2010. While Carr's failures can be somewhat attributed to the expansion team he was leading, much like Couch, the fact he hasn't been able to reclaim a starting role in the years since has only added to the arguments that he never had what it took to be a star NFL quarterback.
Four players from LSU were taken in the first round of the 2007 draft. Along with Russell, his receivers Buster Davis and Dwayne Bowe plus safety Laron Landry were all selected. The Raiders had fallen on hard times since MVP Rich Gannon led the Raiders to their last Super Bowl. Russell, the cannon-armed QB from LSU appeared to have it all - size, arm strength, etc. But the draft "experts" whiffed when it came to his heart and soul.
Russell began his NFL career by holding out for a monstrous contract, which finally Al Davis gave him. For this, Russell responded by appearing lazy, disinterested, and out of shape and has the worst starting record of any first overall selection at quarterback. He was also the fasted quarterback to be released by his team after being drafted first overall.
In 2009 he was benched for Bruce Gradkowski, a once-upon-a-time started for the Buccaneers. Bruce was a shot in the arm for the Raiders, and the team began winning and being more productive. However, Bruce got hurt, and journeyman Charlie Frye (once a starter for the Browns) got in. However, he was also hurt and the Raiders had no choice but to go back to Russell. However, among qualifying quarterbacks, Russell posted the worst numbers in every category.
He was finally released in the offseason, and considering his initial contract and short tenure, may have passed Ryan Leaf as the biggest bust of all time. He has since cleared waivers, but no team has signed him or brought him in for a physical as of yet. With Russell, it's heart and soul - and until he finds them, he'll never be able to reach his potential.
Taken by the 49ers two years before Russell went to Oakland, Alex Smith was a college superstar. He led Utah to a 21-1 record before heading to the NFL. Smith went through several coaching and coordinator changes and has gone from starter to benchwarmer and back to starter as he tries to learn the NFL game. His five seasons in San Francisco have been shaky at best, with two seasons ending on injured reserve. However, he regained his starting job last year and played excellently, allowing another first round pick, TE Vernon Davis, to finally achieve his own star-studded potential and Coach Singletary seems to have the 49ers poised to once again rule the NFC West. However, should they stumble and Smith fail, he will be added to the list for sure. Right now though, the future is in Smith's hands...
With the first overall selection in the 2010 NFL Draft, the Rams take Sam Bradford, quarterback...
Time will tell how other "saviors" do. The Rams took Sam Bradford in 2010, the Lions took Matthew Stafford in 2009. It seems a lock that a QB will go first in 2011 as well.
There's a chance there will be rings in the future like Bradshaw (4), Plunkett (2), Elway (2), Aikman (3), and the Manning Brothers, Peyton and Eli (1 and 1).
Not every quarterback has to win a Super Bowl to escape that bust status however. Players like Testaverde, Bartkowski, George, Bledsoe and Palmer have all had long careers with Pro Bowls and milestones all their own.
As a side note, going back 30 years, only 3 quarterbacks have been taken second overall, McNabb, Ryan Leaf and Rick Mirer. The latter two of those would have been on this list as well...
To the most recent members of the fraternity of first-overall picks, I wish you luck.