Of all of the positions in sports, there is none more important than the quarterback in football. If you have a good one, it doesn’t really matter what the rest of your team looks like, as a franchise quarterback can lead your team to the postseason. If you have a bad one, well, then you are probably setting your franchise back several years.
A lot of time and money is invested into quarterbacks, and for good reason. Sometimes big name stars in college end up finding success in the NFL while others flame out fast and hard. You also get some surprises where guys who weren’t expected to be NFL stars have become Hall of Fame worthy quarterbacks.
It’s a mixed bag, and there’s always going to be a debate as to who the best quarterback to ever play the game was. The discussion that doesn’t get brought up too much, however, is the worst quarterback of all-time. That’s what we want to focus on today as we take a look at the 15 worst quarterbacks in NFL history. Some of them never had a chance, while others were undone by their own lack of talent. Here is our list.
When the Houston Texans became a franchise in 2002, their first selection in the NFL Draft was Fresno State quarterback David Carr. Carr was believed to be a victim of the expansion roster that lacked a lot of talent, but Carr hasn’t had any success as a starting quarterback anywhere else, either. Carr had a career record of 23-56 in his 79 games as a starter, and a statline that includes 65 touchdowns and 71 interceptions. Perhaps Carr was rattled from having a poor offensive line, and he was sacked 267 times, an average of 3.4 times per game.
Back when there were a ton of rounds in the NFL Draft, Karl Sweetan was taken in the 18th out of Wake Forest by the Detroit Lions. Sweetan didn’t have a long career in the NFL, but he sure did have a bad one. Sweetan’s main accomplishment was throwing for a 99-yard touchdown, but the rest was awful. He finished his career with a record of 6-10-3 (back when ties were more common) with 17 touchdowns and 34 interceptions. Perhaps the worst stat is the fact that Sweetan only connected on 45.6 percent of his passes.
Some of you might actually remember Dave Brown since his career didn’t end until the 2001 NFL season. Brown was taken first overall in the 1992 Supplemental Draft after playing at Duke, and was supposed to be the one that followed Phil Simms as the Giants quarterback after Simms’s retirement. Brown had a decent rookie season where he went 9-6, but it was all downhill from there. Brown finished his career as a backup for the Cardinals after failing to live up to expectations, and his career record was 26-34 with 44 touchdowns and 58 interceptions.
The story of Todd Marinovich is a sad one. The high school sensation was recruited by just about every team. Marinovich had a rough upbringing, with his father hounding him to be an NFL quarterback, prompting him to say that he didn’t even want to be Todd Marinovich anymore. Still, the Raiders took a chance on the USC product in the first round of the 1991 NFL Draft and didn’t get much out of him due to drug use. Marinovich played just eight games in the NFL (all with the Raiders), and he finished with a 3-5 record. Marinovich also threw for eight touchdowns and nine interceptions, with a 50.7 completion percentage.
Drafted out of Maryland in the sixth round of the 1975 NFL Draft, Bob Avellini played for a decade with the Chicago Bears and then one year with the Jets, but only started 50 games. Avellini had plenty of chances to take the reigns as a starter, but proved that he just wasn’t ready to be a franchise quarterback. He was incredibly mediocre for his first two seasons, good for one season and then derailed. Avellini’s career record isn’t awful at 23-27, but he also threw for just 33 touchdowns and a whopping 69 interceptions.
Jack Trudeau wasn’t expected to be a franchise savior, but was given a chance by the Colts in the mid 1980’s to do so. Trudeau was drafted in the second round in 1986 by Indianapolis, and got playing time almost right away as a rookie. Trudeau was 0-11 in that rookie season, throwing for eight touchdowns and 18 interceptions. Things would get a little bit better as he had a .500 record afterward, but his career statline is still nothing that will get him to the Hall of Fame. Trudeau finished with a 19-30 record, 42 touchdowns and 69 interceptions, ending his career with Carolina in 1995.
Younger fans will still remember Joey Harrington, and Lions fans are still trying to forget him. Harrington was thought to be a surefire prospect coming out of Oregon in 2002 when the Lions selected him third overall. Although he was a really nice guy, Harrington just couldn’t get the job done on an NFL field. The Lions gave Harrington four years as the quarterback to get it figured out, but he ended up having an 18-37 record in Detroit before moving onto Atlanta and Miami for one year each. Harrington finished with a 26-50 record, as well as 79 touchdowns and 85 interceptions.
The farthest back you have to go in time on this list to find a quarterback is Mike Phipps, who was drafted third overall out of Purdue by the Browns in 1970. Phipps spent seven years in Cleveland, as well as five in Chicago. Although Phipps’s record is solid at 38-31-2, most of that came off of two good years where his teams went 10-3 and 9-1. Phipps was not an efficient passer at all, completing less than 50 percent of his throws while tossing 55 touchdowns and 108 interceptions. Times were a bit different back then, and Phipps was a serviceable quarterback, but those numbers are terrible.
The Cincinnati Bengals were in need of a new franchise quarterback after the retirement of Boomer Esiason, so they selected David Klingler with the sixth overall pick in 1992. The record setting college quarterback was highly touted, but he flopped right away in the NFL, failing his way to a 3-17 record in his two years as a starter. Klingler was then demoted to the bench and spent two years in Oakland as a backup before calling it quits. By the time Klingler was done, his career record was a depressing 4-20 with 16 touchdowns and 22 interceptions, and will always be known as a huge bust.
Rick Mirer was supposed to be the new Golden Boy out of Notre Dame, who was a local hero after growing up just a few miles from South Bend and putting up some solid stats in college. Mirer was taken second overall in the 1993 NFL Draft by the Seahawks, and he got off to a shaky start, but still won the Rookie of the Year Award. Expectations were high for Mirer, but he failed to live up to the hyp, only regressing further every year. Mirer bounced around the NFL, playing for the Bears, Jets, 49ers and Raiders in his career that ended with a record of 24-44. Mirer would only throw for 50 touchdowns and 76 interceptions, averaging less than 150 passing yards per game.
The Redskins story hasn’t changed much since their last Super Bowl win in the 1991 season, they need a franchise quarterback. Many have tried and failed over the years, but the most notorious bust has to be Heath Shuler. Shuler was the 1993 Heisman Trophy runner-up, and he was selected third overall by the Redskins in 1994. Shuler had a rough start out of the gate, finishing with a record of 1-7. Shuler would get his chance again next year, but played in just five games, going 3-2 with three touchdowns and seven interceptions. Shuler was eventually benched in favor of Gus Frerotte (seriously), but was given another chance in New Orleans. Shuler played just four total seasons, with a record of 8-14, including 15 touchdowns and 33 interceptions. At least his political career has gone better.
Carolina was a mediocre team in 2000, and they were still searching for a long-term solution at quarterback. For whatever reason, they decided to draft Chris Weinke in the fourth round of the 2001 Draft, despite the fact that Weinke was only a couple of months away from his 29th birthday at the time. Weinke was a Heisman winner at Florida State, and was given the chance to start 15 games in his rookie season, and he lost 14 of them. All in all, Weinke finished with a record of 2-18 (including one loss with San Francisco) and was out of the league in 2007, with 15 touchdowns and 26 interceptions.
After David Klingler and Jeff Blake didn’t work out for the Bengals, they were still searching for their next Boomer Esiason, which is where Akili Smith comes in. Smith was drafted third overall in 1999 out of Oregon, but only started in four games during his rookie season. Smith played just four years in the league (all with the Bengals), and had one season where he started 11 games, with the other three seasons combining for six starts. Smith went 3-14 in those games with five touchdowns and 13 interceptions, making him a huge bust. Smith’s accuracy was terrible, and his athleticism couldn’t make up for it.
We now get to the elite tier of bad quarterbacks with the top two, starting with Ryan Leaf. Leaf was one of the finalists in the famed 1997 Heisman Trophy candidate group, but was the only one that didn’t have a stellar NFL career. Leaf was taken directly after Peyton Manning in the 1998 NFL Draft and was benched halfway through his rookie season before missing the next season with shoulder surgery. Leaf butted heads with everyone he met, and played just one more season in San Diego before getting a few start with Dallas in 2001 and then he was out of the league. Leaf finished with an awful record of 4-17 with 14 touchdowns and 36 interceptions, and Chargers fans still curse his name to this day.
In terms of just being in physical pain when trying to watch someone play the quarterback position, Jamarcus Russell has to be the first thought. Russell was the first overall pick for the Raiders out of LSU in 2007 after scouts said he was a sure thing because of his size and athleticism. Little did they know the size would keep increasing while the athleticism did not. Russell started one game in his rookie season, but 15 in his second year. After his third season in the league, Russell was gone, leaving with a 7-18 record and setting the Raiders franchise back for years. Russell also threw just 18 touchdowns against 23 interceptions and didn’t even put up the impressive rushing stats that many thought he would.