It’s no secret that playing the quarterback position in the NFL is one of the most difficult tasks for any professional athlete. The sheer amount of physical and mental skill involved at that level is something that few can be counted on to produce. It’s no surprise that so many quarterbacks end up busting in the NFL, but the reason for why they do tend to vary.
Sometimes, it solely comes down to their deficiencies and subpar level of play. No doubt that many quarterbacks just simply couldn’t succeed in the NFL, regardless of their supporting cast. Other times however, the personnel around them, as well as the coaching staff, makes a huge difference in the outcome of their career.
Because just like not everyone is cut out to be an NFL quarterback, not everyone is cut out to be an NFL head coach, general manager or position player that isn’t a quarterback. Sometimes, talented QBs have suffered because of these other factors, when they had a chance to succeed otherwise. Let’s take a look at some of the most notable examples.
Ranked below are 15 NFL quarterbacks whose careers were ruined by their terrible team.
15. David Carr
Drafted first overall in 2002, the eldest Carr was slated to be the quarterback that would be at the helm of the Texans for the long-term. He was considered the best prospect in the draft, and a franchise player that could be counted on for years to come. Unfortunately, the Texans brass wasn’t so keen on providing him with an offensive line, and as a result, Carr’s production suffered mightily.
Had Carr actually had a roster that was capable of making plays, his fate may have been different. As it stands, he was hampered by a lack of talent around him, and after five years in Houston was designated to backup status for the rest of his career. He was dealt a bad hand, and it ended up costing him.
14. Josh Freeman
Once upon a time, Freeman was supposed to be the Buccaneers franchise quarterback of the future. For a while, he did a good job of convincing everybody that he was the guy. A 1st-round pick out of Kansas State, his 2010 season was one of the best by a young quarterback we had seen in a long time. Then a rift with the organization, as well as a drop-off in play, resulted him being released, and then signed with the Vikings.
From there, he never regained his form. By 2015, Freeman was out of the league all together, and there’s no reason to assume that anybody would be interested in a comeback attempt. The Buccaneers had a horrific offensive roster, and it cost them, with an opportunity to take advantage of a young quarterback who had some success in spite of their personnel issues.
13. Jason Campbell
In the right situation, Campbell undoubtedly would have produced consistently, and could have been the long-term solution. He was never going to carry an entire offense on his own skill set, but as a game-manager that was athletic enough to occasionally make a huge play, he definitely could cut it. The Redskins were a mess during his tenure there however, and he was held back from poor personnel and coaching.
There was just never a steady hand to guide Campbell as he came into the league. He was raw, but talented, and a better coach than the likes of Jim Zorn or Joe Gibbs on his second stint with the team could have elevated him. In short, there was just no stability, and Campbell was reduced to a spot starter for other teams. By then, it was too late.
12. Andrew Luck
While it’s still too early to conclude that Luck’s career is on the downswing, the optics of the situation don’t appear to be in his favor. The Colts have done a terrible job of surrounding him with pieces on offense to work with, or defensive pieces to compliment him. On top of that, the injuries he’s suffered over the last few years have taken their toll, and we may be seeing his downfall right before our eyes.
It’s really a shame, because his first few years in the league were some of the most promising we’ve ever seen for a young quarterback. Luck was the sole reason that Indy was able to notch the playoff appearances they did, and the front office’s incompetence likely cost him a shot at greatness. His next move should be to ask for his outright release from the Colts’ roster, in order to save his career.
11. Byron Leftwich
This is perhaps debatable, but Leftwich was always able to show flashes of brilliance, even in his worst NFL seasons. It didn’t help him any that the Jaguars were a travesty of a franchise at the time, and were simply unable to surround him with worthwhile receivers. Sure, he had the likes of Jimmy Smith and Fred Taylor, but for the most part they were past their prime by the time Leftwich was the franchise quarterback.
After his first few years in the league, he was relegated to backup duty, never to be given a true opportunity again. His game wasn’t perfect to be sure, but he could have seen more success in a better situation, which would have been most teams outside of Jacksonville in the early-mid 2000s.
10. Aaron Brooks
As a 4th-round pick, Brooks consistently defied the odds to become a good NFL quarterback. Nobody expected him to be much of a starter, but he certainly was during his time with New Orleans, and led a dynamic offense that was multifaceted, and always giving defenses trouble. The problem was, that the Saints defense was almost always an inept unit that cost the team wins on a regular basis.
This assuredly kept Brooks out of the playoff picture for nearly his entire career. While he was able to elevate the Saints to a great offense, the Achilles heel always proved to be on the opposite side of the ball. There was nothing Brooks could do about this, and when the team decided to make a QB change in 2006, Brooks left for Oakland, playing one more season and then retiring.
9. Vince Young
History has not been kind to Young, but the fact is that Jeff Fisher has ruined many a young quarterback, and this is another legitimate example. Young may not have had the sheer football acumen that other top draft picks at quarterback have had over the years, but his athleticism could have been schemed into something at least posing as successful. Fisher’s rigid system didn’t do him any favors, and in six years, Young was out of the league.
True, Young may have failed even with a more suitable offense to his game, but that’s not a guarantee. The fact is that Fisher’s track record with hindering offenses as a whole is more stated than Young’s inability on the field. Overall, he could have succeeded in a more stable organization, at least to some degree.
8. Nick Foles
Here’s another player who failed to maintain their trajectory under Jeff Fisher, but this time with the Rams. Foles was traded by the Eagles in order to acquire Sam Bradford, and suffered the worst season of his career up to that point. Foles was never going to be elite, make no mistake, but going to a perennially mediocre team also didn’t help him. In an offense that would have made a mediocre quarterback out of anyone, and always did, Foles was just the next in line.
So Fisher’s struggles to develop quarterbacks are well documented. The Rams axed Foles as their starter midway through his first and only season with the team, which sent him spiraling into backup duty, likely for the rest of his career.
7. Tim Couch
Playing for the organization that has ruined so many quarterbacks over the years truly was instrumental in Couch’s failure as an NFL payer. In spite of playing on a roster that was inept, Couch actually led the Browns to a playoff appearance in the 2002 season, and generally wasn’t as bad as history has judged him. Of course, he couldn’t overcome the pit of a team that the Browns were, and he wouldn’t even attempt to, retiring at the age of 26.
No doubt about it, the Browns ruin quarterbacks, and Couch was no exception. He wasn’t a surefire bet as a player, even though he was the 1st-overall pick in 2000, but he would have had a better opportunity for success just about anywhere else. It was simply bad fortune that he ended up in Cleveland.
6. Rick Mirer
Mirer was one of the most renowned Notre Dame prospects of all-time when he was taken 2nd-overall in the 1993 draft. The Seahawks presumed they were getting an elite player that could automatically transform their struggling franchise into one of the greats. Instead, Mirer struggled early and often, but was given no support from the Seattle front office. It was a failure from the get-go, but the Seahawks were a mess in the mid-’90s, so Mirer may have been inconsequential to the outcome.
He never really did get a chance to be a consistent starter anywhere else. Stints with the Bears, Jets, 49ers and Raiders all amounted to essentially nothing. Mirer may never have been the star that many thought he would, but starting his career in Seattle was the more likely death knell to his career.
5. Jeff George
Until the aforementioned Rick Mirer, George was the biggest quarterback prospect of his time, and his career at Purdue seemed to signify much success at the next level. Unfortunately for him, the Colts roster at the time didn’t signify such success, and George struggled to acclimate into the league from the very beginning.
Any flashes of brilliance showed by George were squandered by the inability for the roster to live up to their quarterback’s potential. When he later went to the Falcons, George was actually able to become one of the better quarterbacks in the league, which showed how much Indy had held him back. Disagreements with management would cause him to move around over the next several years however, and despite some great individual seasons, he could never find one team set on making him their long-term starter.
4. Chad Pennington
Pennington came extremely close to living up to his draft status, and the reasons he didn’t mainly have to do with organizational shifts that he had no control over. Coaching changes with the Jets weren’t conducive to success, and by the time he got to Miami, he was only able to have a couple of productive seasons until injuries ended his career.
The Jets ham-fistedly acquiring Brett Favre was the entire reason that Pennington was axed as the starter to begin with, and it just shouldn’t have been. A better offensive coach, or a coach that wasn’t terrible could have gotten more out of him than was produced while in New York.
3. Rich Gannon
Before he became the leader of the Raiders teams that were going on playoff runs left and right, Gannon was stuck in terrible situations for well over a decade. He effectively had most of his career wasted on lost franchises like the early-90s Vikings, and mid-90s Chiefs. Thankfully, Gannon was able to prove he was a very good quarterback later on, but to think what he could have accomplished had he not been held back early in his career is mind-boggling.
Gannon may have had a vindicating conclusion to his career in contrast to many others on this ranking, but to suffer in terrible situations for over a decade is still demoralizing for any player. He finally got to show what he was capable of later on, but was forced to eat it for a long time.
2. Jake Plummer
Plummer was always better than many gave him credit for, and it must be recognized just how bad the Cardinals were in the late-’90s. There was no stability provided to him, and he was essentially asked to just go in and save the franchise automatically. This of course, was unrealistic, and Plummer was under center for some truly bad teams back in the day.
So he became the whipping boy for a franchise that had no clue as to what they were doing for the first half of his career. The latter portion of it was spent in Denver, and although Plummer was able to make a few playoff appearances then, he wasn’t keen on playing much longer in the league anyway. Had he been provided with better support during his early career, he may not have become disillusioned, and could have put his talents into a perennial playoff team instead.
1. Robert Griffin III
The ultimate quarterback sabotage job in history from Jay Gruden, who still resides as the Redskins’ head coach. After selling the farm to move up to the 1st-overall pick to draft Griffin in 2012, Washington should have made every conceivable effort in order to make sure that he worked out for the long-term. A very good rookie campaign while playing for Mike Shanahan was soon forgotten, as Gruden came in and failed to implement Griffin’s skill set in his offense effectively.
While injuries partially played a role in Griffin’s departure from Washington, so did the coaching staff’s actions to pigeonhole him out of the starting job. The shift in coaching regimes, as well as the lack of commitment from ownership, essentially ruined Griffin all by themselves, and he’s currently not on an NFL roster.
In the end, the Redskins are still refusing to sign Kirk Cousins, and are firmly stuck in the league’s purgatory, which has proven to be an extremely difficult hole to dig out of.
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