Out of any position on the football field, the most important one to any given team is the quarterback. The offense always runs through them, and in the modern game, having one that you can trust can make all the difference between wins and losses. In other words; it's a premium position at any level of the game. If a team wants any chance of success considering the way that football is played today, it starts with the quarterback position.
Over the years, we've seen plenty of college quarterbacks excel, and make us believe that they were destined for greatness in the NFL ranks as well. All the tools seemed to be there, and the expectation was that there excellent play on the field would simply carry over. This wasn't always the case, and some of the greatest NCAA quarterbacks of all-time have failed miserably in the pros. There are certainly exceptions to this, but many quarterback stat-monsters in college just weren't cut out for the difficulty of the professional game. Here's a look at some of the most notable examples of that.
Ranked below are 15 elite college quarterbacks who turned out to be busts in the NFL.
15 Chris Weinke
His 2000 season at Florida State was the best one of his college career, and launched him into the national spotlight. Weinke was considered to be a really good pocket passer who could transition into the professional game relatively seamlessly. The Panthers ended up taking him in the 4th round, and he was named the team's starter for the 2001 season immediately.
Unfortunately for them, Weinke never did grasp the game at the next level. He had a dismal rookie season, and then was cast off to the bench, never to be a full-time starter in the NFL ever again. For a short time, Weinke was considered to have a bright future in the league, but it never came to fruition, and he fizzled out relatively quickly.
14 Robert Griffin III
RGIII's Heisman-winning season in 2011 made him the most popular collegiate player in the country, and what many thought was a surefire bet to succeed in the NFL. The Redskins infamously sold the farm for him in a trade with the Rams, and selected him with the 2nd-overall pick in the 2012 draft.
After a solid rookie season where Griffin managed the game, and played-mistake free, he really fell off the map quickly. Injuries, along with a strained relationship with the coaching staff made him fall out of favor before his career really got going. Now he's barely hanging on in the league, and his career may be over shortly if he can't find a team willing to take a flier on him, yet again.
13 Ken Dorsey
There's no doubt that Dorsey was under center for some great Miami Hurricanes team of the late-'90s and early-2000s, but he quickly proved that he was nothing more than a game manager. His numbers in college were very good, and while he wasn't the most coveted quarterback prospect, he still received some starting opportunities when he got to the NFL.
Dorsey just didn't have the skill set cut out for the NFL, as many feared. Miami was a defensively-led team back then, and all Dorsey had to do was simply not to turn the ball over. Unfortunately, more is expected of an NFL quarterback than just protecting the ball, and Dorsey never ended up making the grade as a starter. He bounced around the league for a bit, and then was retired by the end of the 2008 season.
12 Colt McCoy
It's strange to believe now, but McCoy was once considered one of the best players in college football, and the outlook for his NFL career was bright indeed. He had four stellar seasons as a Texas Longhorn, and was a 3rd-round pick by the Browns in the 2010 draft. At the time, it seemed like a steal. Now, it seems like a massive reach.
McCoy was underwhelming as a starter in Cleveland, and later for the Redskins. It became obvious that he was going to just be a career backup in the NFL ranks, as opposed to many who believed that he could eventually turn into a franchise player. He still remains on the Redskins' roster as the backup to Kirk Cousins, but that's about the extent of what he's going to do from here on out.
11 Troy Smith
Smith was a dominant dual-threat for Ohio State in the mid-2000s, and he seemed to be the kind of dynamic player that had the ability to succeed at the next level. His efforts for the Buckeyes won him the Heisman in 2006, and he was taken by the Ravens in the 2007 draft. Smith seemed to be on his way to the top.
In limited starting time in Baltimore, he just couldn't cut it. He was woefully inaccurate, and never proved that he his athletic ability was able to translate to the pro ranks. Since he was only a mid-round pick, this bust isn't as egregious and cringeworthy as others. However, since Smith was a Heisman-winner, it's still one of the more notable ones of the 2000s. He would be out of the NFL by the end of the 2010 season, after another ill-fated attempt for the 49ers to find a good QB.
10 Ty Detmer
A big-armed quarterback from BYU, Detmer could sling the ball with the best of them when he was in the college game. He had a stellar 1990 season that landed him a Heisman, and while he struggled at times with accuracy, he was at least considered a solid candidate to produce effectively in the NFL.
Detmer would spend two seasons as the backup in Green Bay, before getting a chance to start for the Eagles in 1996. While he certainly wasn't the worst Philly quarterback from the mid-'90s, he decidedly wasn't going to be the franchise quarterback for the long-term, and thus began his journeyman status, taking multiple jobs as a backup over the next few seasons. A great college career gave way to a mediocre NFL one, a theme all too common for quarterbacks of the era.
9 Graham Harrell
Under center in the pass-happy Texas Tech offense, Harrell posted amazing numbers during his three seasons as a starter. Accuracy, arm strength, big plays; he seemed to have it all, but ended up going undrafted. His only NFL season came as a backup on the Packers in 2012, and when he failed to crack the Jets lineup in 2013, that was it.
Many quarterbacks are able to excel at the college level simply because of the system that they're in. Texas Tech has always had a dynamic offense, benefitting many quarterbacks along the way. Harrell simply took advantage of it more so than most, and his numbers reflect that. If anything, this example just proves how difficult it is to land a starting quarterback job in the NFL, much less actually succeed at it.
8 A.J. McCarron
Just another in a long line of system quarterbacks that have played under Nick Saban, McCarron was the perfect kind of game-manager for his situation. He could make impressive throws at the collegiate level, but he wasn't asked to do it all the time in order to win games. As a result, he was able to let the run-game and defense do much of the heavy lifting.
He now resides as the backup for the Bengals, and it's unlikely that a team is ever going to give him an opportunity to start consistently. McCarron, despite his strong performance at Alabama, just isn't cut out to be a starter on a more level playing field like the NFL. A backup role is about his ceiling, and he ultimately may not even be able to hold on to that.
7 Colt Brennan
When fans talk about the all-time great college quarterback stat monsters, Brennan's name is often forgotten. He put up three amazing season at Hawaii, but in 2006 he set the record for most touchdown passes in a single FBS season with 58. More touchdown passes than anyone. Regardless of the team or conference he played within, that's no small feat.
Unfortunately, despite landing a pick with the Redskins, he wasn't able to transition to the pro game, as is expected with most Hawaii-level quarterbacks. The pass-happy style of football he was used to didn't lend him a helping hand in adapting an NFL-style playbook, and he was really only with the team for a cup of coffee. Brennan's touchdown record is still remarkable though, and he still has that going for him.
6 Matt Leinart
One of the poster boys for Pete Carroll's legendary USC teams of the mid-2000s, Leinart seemed to be on his way to being a franchise NFL quarterback. All the signs were there. He was consistent, accurate, had a high football IQ, and was a Heisman winner in 2004. All of these traits and accolades landed him as the 10th overall selection by the Cardinals in the 2006 draft.
And it was a disaster from the beginning. Leinart was one of the biggest quarterbacks whiffs of his generation. Within a year, he was removed from the starting role, and ended up being a journeyman backup. Quite the contrast from what everybody expected, but he turned out to be just another in a long line of disappointing USC quarterbacks. Ultimately, Leinart was just a mediocre player, and one of the biggest busts of his era.
5 Sam Bradford
While Bradford may hold a starting job right now in the NFL, that doesn't mean he isn't a disappointment as a former 1st-overall pick. A starting-caliber player should be the floor for a player taken with that kind of a pick, and Bradford is barely even hanging on to that with the Vikings.
No denying that his two full seasons at Oklahoma were unbelievable, particularly his 2008 season that pretty much set in stone the fact that he was going to be the 1st-overall selection. But his play in the NFL showed him taking a step backwards. (Don't let 2016's numbers fool you.) While injuries definitely didn't help, Bradford has also been healthy for enough games for everyone to know that he's average at best, and not the true franchise player that he was touted to be when he played for the Sooners.
4 Danny Wuerffel
Wuerffel was simply one of the best college quarterbacks of the '90s while at Florida. His '95 and '96 seasons were among the best of anyone's in the country, and he took home the Heisman for the latter season. While he was only taken with a mid-round selection, he was projected to have a quality pro career, but it shocked just about everybody when that didn't turn out to be the case.
He proved early and often that he was nothing more than a career backup. Wuerffel was drafted by the Saints, and in the roughly 10 games that he did start under center, the results were mediocre at best. New Orleans was struggling mightily at the time, and this set them back even further. For Wuerffel, it cemented his role as a journeyman backup, and he never came close to replicating the great play of his college career.
3 Johnny Manziel
In a college career that was highlighted by unthinkable ad-lib moments, and a penchant for the highlight reel, Manziel was one of the most popular football players in the nation for a few short years. A 2012 Heisman-winner, and one of the most exciting players that college football had seen in years, he was a consensus 1st round pick by just about everybody.
That's when the wheels fell off of both his career, and personal life. Manziel's limited starting time with the Browns was marred by inconsistencies, and an inability to play the position at the NFL level. To make matters worse, his partying and habits off the field had forced him into rehab with 2 years of making it onto an NFL roster. Manziel's story is infamous by now, and should be prime material for a "30 For 30" within the next 10 years or so.
2 Vince Young
Young was on top of the football world when he played for the Texas Longhorns, and was considered to be the new great NFL franchise quarterback. His 2005 season allowed him to be the 3rd-overall pick by the Titans in the draft. The eyes of the football world were upon him, and many believed that he had the capability to turn a bad franchise into a great one.
Instead, his difficulties with the intangibles that come along with the position in the NFL, came to the forefront. Young struggled not only with reading defenses and arm accuracy, but also bickered with the Tennessee coaching staff. Before long, he was out of a starting job, and his career was just about over. Now making his CFL debut this season, it's been a fall from grace for Young, but at least he's found himself back on some kind of a football field.
1 Tim Tebow
The only name that could truly come in at number 1 on this ranking, the Tebow phenomenon was like nothing anybody had ever seen before. Everything from his highlight reel plays to his demeanor on and off the field was enticing to the public, and made him a celebrity even during his time at Florida. He had both his supporters and detractors, and everybody was forced to take a side.
Amazingly, Tebow was able to lead the Broncos to a playoff win, the year after he was taken as the 25th-overall pick. He turned in some jaw-dropping 4th-quarter performances in those games, and everyone was completely enamored. At the same time, it was clear that his mechanics were shaky, and that his style of play wasn't sustainable at the NFL level. That turned out to be correct, because just a few years later he was out of the league for good.
The Tebow era was one of the strangest in the history of the NFL, but it was entertaining all the same. Now, you can catch him on the baseball diamond, where he's trying to make waves in the Mets organization.
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