Let’s face it, some great college quarterbacks flat out suck once they reach the NFL. Scouting the quarterback position is unlike any other position in football, making it nearly impossible to find a “sure thing” quarterback in the NFL draft. Scouts take into account a wide-range of variables that can affect a college quarterbacks ability to succeed in the NFL. Some of these variables include the quarterbacks physical attributes (height, hand size, arm strength), their mental make-up (are they committed to success, ability to digest playbook, read defenses), and even the system they played in while in college (i.e., spread offense, pro-style, Run & Shoot). But nothing can determine how a quarterback will actually translate to the NFL game.
This is most evident in the fact that Tom Brady, arguably the greatest quarterback in NFL history, was overlooked by NFL scouts and general managers on his way to being drafted by the New England Patriots in the 6th round. Brady proved all of the doubters wrong and has gone on to win five Super Bowl rings with the Patriots. All of the players on this list had the exact opposite problem. They were all surrounded by hype leading up to their respective drafts due to their mouth-watering measurables and prestigious collegiate awards. Unfortunately for the members of this list, they did not experience the same type of success as Brady and were all relegated to the leagues scrap pile by the end of their career. What formerly highly touted quarterbacks am I talking about? Read below to find out.
15. Rick Mirer
Rick Mirer set numerous passing records as a starting quarterback at the University of Notre Dame in the early 1990s. He left Notre Dame as the school’s all-time leader in career touchdowns (41) and was second all-time in passing yards. Given his outstanding play, it is no wonder that many experts were hailing Mirer as the next Joe Montana (who also graduated from Notre Dame).
Seattle certainly bought into the hype of potentially drafting the next great quarterback when they selected Mirer with the #2 overall pick in the 1993 NFL Draft. Although he had a couple of decent seasons with the Seahawks, he was eventually traded to the Chicago Bears for a first round draft pick in 1997. Mirer settled in as a career back-up and never fulfilled the lofty expectations that surrounded his draft-hype.
14. Brady Quinn
Brady Quinn may be more remembered for his Muscle Milk commercials than anything he ever did in an NFL game and that’s certainly not saying much about the quality of those terrible commercials. Quinn was the all-American quarterback while at Notre Dame in the sense that he had everything going for him: big arm; solid build; good looks; and countless awards.
Many expected Quinn to be one of the first quarterbacks drafted in the 2007 NFL Draft, but he surprisingly fell to the Cleveland Browns at pick #22. Quinn was never able to tap into his immense potential and ended up being a career journeyman around the league, eventually playing for five teams in his eight-year career. I was hoping Quinn would have a solid NFL career and be able to announce his retirement with a simple “Now I’m Done” in reference to his old commercial tagline.
13. Art Schlichter
Not many people outside of Ohio are familiar with the name Art Schlichter, but Schlichter nearly led Ohio State to a National Championship way back in 1979. He was an interesting style of quarterback as a dual-threat with his arm and his legs, although he did have a propensity for untimely interceptions. By the time his career was done at Ohio State, Schlichter was the career leader in total offense and finished with an impressive 85 total touchdowns.
Given his high level of play in college, Schlichter received a great deal of attention leading up to the 1982 NFL Draft. He was ultimately selected with the #4 overall pick by the then Baltimore Colts. However, Schlichter had a nasty gambling habit that surfaced during his time in the NFL and led to multiple suspensions by the league. It was so bad at one point that Schlichter allegedly amassed a $700,000 gambling debt (he later ended up in prison for fraud and forgery). He only played three seasons in the NFL and is widely considered one of the biggest busts in NFL history.
12. Tim Tebow
What is Tim Tebow? Is he human or is he some reincarnation of Hercules here to prove he can play any and every sport imaginable? While Tebow is currently a minor league baseball player for the New York Mets, he used to be a quarterback in the NFL. One of the most iconic college quarterbacks of all-time, Tebow was drafted #25 overall in the 2010 NFL Draft, which many people considered to be a bit of a reach by the Denver Broncos.
However, the former Heisman Trophy winner had his magical moments with the Broncos, most noticeably during a surprise playoff run in which the Tebow led Broncos knocked off the highly favored Pittsburgh Steelers. But the magic was short-lived and Tebow become a liability at the quarterback position. His NFL career only lasted three seasons. Hopefully Tebow can learn to hit a curve-ball and brew up some more Tebow magic in the MLB.
11. Cade McNown
Any time you are named as a first-team All-American and win the Johnny Unitas Award for being the top senior quarterback in college football, you’re going to enter the NFL with a lot of buzz. This is exactly what happened to Cade McNown following his impressive collegiate career at the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA). The Chicago Bears felt strongly that McNown could rejuvenate the franchise so they selected him with the #12 overall pick in the 1999 NFL Draft.
McNown’s NFL career was incredibly short-lasted. Over the course of two seasons with the Bears, McNown would start only 15 games and finished with 16 touchdowns and 19 interceptions. McNown was then traded to the Miami Dolphins and quickly fell to the bottom of the depth chart. He attempted one last ditch effort with the San Francisco 49ers, but injuries would eventually seal his fate. McNown was officially out of the NFL by 2003 and will always be considered one of Chicago’s biggest draft flubs ever.
10. Mark Sanchez
It’s clear you’re a bust when you were a former first round draft pick but the only thing people remember you for is a play titled, “the butt fumble.” Yes, the butt fumble will go down in NFL history as one of the most humiliating plays of all-time, just as Sanchez will be known in NFL history as on the biggest quarterback failures of his generation. Sanchez was drafted #5 overall by the New York Jets (who traded up from #17 to get him) in the 2009 NFL Draft.
The Jets thought they were drafting their future franchise quarterback, but boy were they in for a rude awakening. Sanchez was actually able to mask his lack of skill in his first season and remarkably helped guide the Jets to the AFC Championship game. But then the wheels fell off and it became clear that “the Sanchize” was not a franchise caliber quarterback. He has since bounced around the NFL and is currently on the Chicago Bears.
9. David Klingler
One of the original beneficiaries of the “Run & Shoot” offense at the University of Houston was David Klingler, who held the all-time record for touchdown passes in a single season from 1990 to 2006, before Colt Brennan of Hawaii broke the record. This record breaking season, in which he threw for 50 touchdowns, skyrocketed his draft stock and created a serious buzz around NFL front offices.
Klingler was eventually selected with the #6 overall pick in the 1992 NFL Draft by the Cincinnati Bengals. He ascended to the starting role in 1993 and 1994, but then suffered a serious injury to his throwing shoulder that required surgery. It was rumored that the surgery dramatically reduced Klingler’s ability to throw the ball down the field effectively and resulted in Klingler losing his starting role to Jeff Blake. Although he attempted to remain in the NFL as a backup, it was clear that his arm had lost its power and thus Klingler was sadly forced out of the league by 1998.
8. Joey Harrington
Widely considered the second best quarterback prospect in the 2002 NFL Draft (behind David Carr), Joey Harrington was selected #3 overall by the quarterback needy Detroit Lions. Harrington was viewed as a sure thing given his incredible accuracy and low interception ratio. He quickly ascended to the top of the Lions depth chart and despite his constant struggles, Harrington was actually the starter for all four years he spent in Detroit.
By 2005, the Detroit fan-base had labeled Harrington a bust and wanted the team to go in a new direction, which they did by choosing not to resign Harrington. Incredibly, Harrington was able to gain another starting job in 2006 with the Miami Dolphins and again with the Atlanta Falcons in 2007. Harrington’s career record is an embarrassing 26 wins and 50 losses. He wisely decided to retire from the NFL in 2009 and is living a much happier life as a news broadcaster and musician in Oregon.
7. Akili Smith
Some players are late bloomers and Akili Smith certainly falls under this category in terms of his collegiate career, as Smith remained relatively unknown to NFL scouts until his breakout Senior season at the University of Oregon, in which Smith threw 30 touchdowns in only 11 starts. Due to his impressive performance, Smith was widely considered one of the most highly touted quarterback prospects in the 1999 NFL draft.
Smith was eventually the #3 overall pick by the Cincinnati Bengals, selected only behind fellow quaterbacks Tim Couch and Donovan McNabb. Although Smith was a supreme athlete, he was very undeveloped as a pro-style quarterback and struggled to grasp the intricacies of the Bengals playbook, which kept him on the sidelines the majority of his career. Even when Smith was able to get his shot, he was extremely unimpressive. Smith finished his NFL career with only 5 career touchdown passes before joining NFL Europe in 2003. Something about Oregon quarterbacks and bust… no pressure Marcus Marriota.
6. Matt Leinart
This former University of Southern California heartthrob and NCAA Champion sure broke the hearts of many Arizona Cardinal fans when he failed to live up to his lofty expectations after being selected with the #10 pick in the 2006 NFL draft. Matt Leinart was supposed to be a gift from the NFL gods to the Cardinals when he fell that far in the draft, but instead Leinart displayed an immaturity, weak arm, and injury proneness that limited his career to an uneventful five seasons.
Leinart had everything a young quarterback could ask for in that he was on a team that: (1) needed a quarterback; (2) had Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin at wide receiver; and (3) a brand new, sold-out home stadium. But Leinart seemed more inclined to partying in Scottsdale rather than studying the playbook. For many reasons, Leinart ultimately lost his starting job to Kurt Warner (yes Warner was actually the back-up for Leinart at one point… mind-blowing I know) and then proceeded to hold a clip-board for the rest of his brief career. Congrats Matt, ya blew it.
5. Heath Shuler
When Peyton Manning attended the University of Tennessee, he broke nearly every single passing record at the school before leaving for the NFL. Those records were all previously held by Heath Shuler. Shuler was a standout at Tennessee and finished second in Heisman Trophy voting in 1993, just behind Charlie Ward. Obviously Shuler entered the NFL Draft as a very highly touted prospect.
The Washington Redskins took the bait and drafted Shuler with the #3 overall pick in the 1994 NFL Draft. Shuler was expected to lead the Redskins franchise back to greatness but his poor play led to his benching in favor of Gus Frerotte. Shuler bounced around the NFL for several more seasons before finally calling it quits. Although he is known as one of the biggest bust in NFL history, Shuler is more commonly known for his work in politics as a U.S. Representative.
4. Andre Ware
While playing for the University of Houston, Andre Ware was able to revolutionize the quarterback position, as he flourished in the “Run & Shoot” offense. This high-powered style of offense helped Ware break 26 NCAA records and win the 1989 Heisman Trophy award. In that season he threw for an unbelievable 4,699 yards and 44 touchdowns. He chose to forego his senior season in order to enter the 1990 NFL Draft.
Ware was selected #7 overall and formed a potentially formidable offensive attack with Lions running back Barry Sanders. Sanders had won the 1988 Heisman Trophy award so the Lions actually drafted back-to-back Heisman Trophy winners. Needless to say, there was a lot of hope in Detroit going into the 1990 season. Unfortunately, Ware never panned out as an NFL quarterback and had an extremely forgettable career in the league. Ware is, however, a member of the NCAA Hall-of-Fame.
3. JaMarcus Russell
How could a 6’6″, 260 pound athletic quarterback with an arm that can easily throw a football 70 yards not become a successful NFL quarterback? That is the question the Raiders are still asking themselves when it comes to their former #1 overall selection JaMarcus Russell. The answer, however, is actually very simple.
JaMarcus Russell lacked the one thing that every great quarterback requires: heart. Although Russell fits the physical mold of an NFL quarterback, he lacked the heart, pride, and mental tenacity to become a dominant player in the league. Instead he coasted his way through the league before being released in 2010. Russell was never picked up by another team due to fears over his poor work ethic. Incredibly, Russell made over $35 million in his three years with the Raiders.
2. David Carr
In 2002, the NFL was welcoming a new franchise to the league with the birth of the Houston Texans. The Texans were provided the #1 overall pick in the draft and used the selection to draft their future face of the franchise, quarterback David Carr. Carr was all the rave heading into the draft after his stellar career at Fresno State and seemed like a perfect fit to lead the NFL’s newest expansion team.
Maybe the Texans weren’t aware that quarterbacks (especially rookies) need an offensive line in order to be productive. In his first three seasons, Carr was sacked 170 times. That number is hard to even register what type of beating he was taking. The Texans released their franchise face after only four seasons. Carr bounced around the league and was a suitable back-up for the Giants, Panthers, and 49ers, but he was never able to live up to his draft hype. At least his little brother, Derek Carr, has been able to save face for the family name in the NFL.
1. Ryan Leaf
Incredibly, Ryan Leaf wins the award for being the biggest worst quarterback on this least and the award for being the biggest jerk on this list as well. Leaf will forever be linked with the legendary Peyton Manning after the two were considered the top two prospects in the 1998 NFL Draft. A heated debate swept the nation as to which quarterback would eventually be selected with the #1 overall pick.The Indianapolis Colts eventually settled the debate by selecting Peyton Manning #1, leaving Ryan Leaf to be selected #2 by the San Diego Chargers.
While Manning went on to have an illustrious career and is considered one of the greatest NFL quarterbacks of all-time, Leaf’s career went a drastically different direction. After struggling on the field, Leaf repeatedly lashed out against the media and fans, even confronting a fan who heckled him by saying, “you make Heath Shuler look like an All-Star!” After retiring at the young age of 26, Leaf remained relatively quiet until he was arrested and jailed for burglary and drug charges in 2014. Leaf is commonly referred to as the biggest bust in NFL history given all of his pre-draft hype between he and Manning.
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