It isn’t easy to become a starter in the NFL.
To make it, a player must be the best of the best. He also has to have a little bit of luck to avoid injury and to wind up with a team that isn’t already deeply talented at his position.
Occasionally, though, players slip through the cracks and manage to start games even though they have no business being on the field at all.
Sometimes they’re there out of respect—grizzled veterans who have earned their positions and will never give them up. Sometimes the problem is positional depth—thanks to injury or some other factor, teams have no one else to start so they go with whoever is available.
For some starters, though, it’s anyone’s guess how they got there and why they remain week after week.
Over the next six slides, we’ll talk about some of the antiheros on the field, otherwise known as the NFL’s worst starters.
There’s no question that the Miami Dolphins are front-runners for the dubious honor of being the worst team in the NFL. They can’t seem to catch a break, particularly when it comes to injury.
When Chad Henne elected to have season-ending shoulder surgery, Matt Moore was brought in to take his place.
Moore helped carry the Carolina Panthers part of the way to a 2-14 season in 2010, at times playing so poorly that he was benched and replaced by his rookie backup.
With the 2011 Miami Dolphins, Moore hasn’t shown much improvement. He’s thrown just one touchdown pass in three games, compared to three interceptions (and a lost fumble for good measure).
Although Indianapolis Colts fans had a ray of hope after Curtis Painter’s surprisingly good debut in the league, that hope has become slimmer each week.
Right now he’s got an average quarterback rating of 85.2 for the 2011 season. That’s not too shabby, but it’s been dropping slowly for the past several weeks thanks to low quarterback ratings against Cincinnati and New Orleans.
The fact is that Painter simply isn’t very good.
He was brought on in Indianapolis to be a second- or third-string quarterback during a time when Peyton Manning missing a game was nearly unimaginable. Painter was never meant to be a starter.
Unfortunately for the Colts, it turns out that Painter is starting. And Coach Caldwell seems to content to let that status quo be.
Not to pick on quarterbacks only from losing teams, let’s talk about Mark Sanchez for a moment.
When you include the seven games he has started this year, Sanchez has just a 72.9 passer rating and a 54.7 percent completion rate. In addition to being embarrassingly inaccurate, he has thrown 41 touchdown passes and 39 interceptions over his career.
Put another way, every time he throws the ball he is almost as likely to put six points on the board as he is to give the ball up to the defending team.
Is that the type of quarterback you want acting as the face of your franchise?
I didn't think so.
Setting aside all of the news around Cedric Benson’s suspension and jail time for misdemeanor assault charges, it’s time to get real about Cedric Benson on the field.
Sure, he had a pair of back-to-back 1,000 yard seasons. That was because in 2009 and 2010 the Bengals seemed to have very few offensive plans besides handing the ball off to Benson.
In 2009, Benson averaged 4.2 yards per carry and helped take his team to the AFC playoffs.
In 2010, Benson averaged a much more modest 3.5 yards per carry, and the Cincinnati Bengals’ record reflected his mediocrity (4-10).
This year, Benson has done his team no favors.
Six games into the season, he’s averaging a slightly better 3.9 yards per carry. He’s only found the end zone twice. Those numbers—not to mention his extracurricular problems—won’t help his team to a resurgence in 2011.
To understand the full horror that is Levi Brown, you must take a look back in time to 2007, when the Arizona Cardinals had the No. 5 draft pick.
At that point, Adrian Peterson was still available.
Instead of picking up the future best running back in the NFL, the Cardinals instead went with offensive tackle Levi Brown of Penn State. He was promising in college, but his time in the NFL has been a huge disappointment.
In 2010, the Cardinals’ entire offensive line gave up 50 sacks. Brown contributed mightily to the cause, allowing an NFL-worst 50 quarterback pressures. He also gave up 10 sacks and 10 hits.
Brown is on pace to have an equally horrible year in 2011. In fact, a fair argument could be made that many of Kevin Kolb’s struggles are exacerbated my Brown’s unreliable play.
Sometimes, good people don’t know when to call it quits. Such is the case with Al Harris, starting cornerback for the St. Louis Rams.
Released by the Green Bay Packers midseason in 2010, Harris left Milwaukee in the classiest way possible—by taking out a half-page ad in the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel to thank his fans for their dedication to him.
Harris found a new home in Miami, where he signed a deal contingent upon staying healthy. He was not able to finish the season.
Instead of accepting that age and injury had finally caught up to him and exiting his career gracefully, Harris instead returned for another year with the St. Louis Rams.
Despite his veteran status and excellent stats during the heyday of his career, he was not named a starter until both of the Rams’ cornerbacks suffered season-ending injuries. He has shown little to distinguish himself thus far this year.
Truly, the Rams may have been better off looking for fresh talent in the form of an unsigned free agent, as other teams in their position have done.