Every National Football League franchise, even those deemed as dynasties of certain decades, have been responsible for some NFL Draft busts in history. It’s often said that NFL quarterback is the single most important position in all of professional sports, which is why so many of these supposed draft flops involved signal-callers. The right QB can save a team hassle and headaches for an entire generation. The New England Patriots know all about that thanks to every other team in the NFL passing on the guy who may be the greatest to ever play the position. Meanwhile, the Cleveland Browns are hoping they finally drafted their franchise QB after 20 years of bad play from the position.
The worst part about QB flops usually involves the front offices and coaching staffs responsible for bringing those players to teams knowing that they should have selected at least one of several other available QBs during those classes. In some cases, a future Hall of Famer was on the overall board when a flop had his name called by the league commissioner. Others may have been cases of teams reaching on QBs because of need.
It’s possible that the biggest QB flop drafted between 1990 and 2018 is not named on this list if only because it often takes up to three years to evaluate draft classes. Will any rookies of 2018 be seen as an all-time draft bust?
24 Flop: Dan McGwire (1991, 16th Overall)
The Seattle Seahawks weren’t always known as the franchise that tripped and fell into Russell Wilson, a franchise QB and Super Bowl champ. Back in 1991, the Seahawks used a first-round pick on Dan McGwire, a product of San Diego State that some saw as a reach at that time. Those critics were proven correct.
McGwire didn’t develop into even a serviceable QB during his time with the Seahawks.
Ironically, the franchise gave up on him after a few years, only to draft a different signal-caller who ended up being a flop and, unfortunately, a wasted selection. Those jokes claiming that looking for a starting QB is a lot like searching for love are valid in some instances.
23 Should've Drafted: Brett Favre
Odds are that every team in the NFL would pass on Brett Favre in a draft taking place in 2018 because of character concerns. The Atlanta Falcons actually gave up on Favre after a single season, as the team traded him to the Green Bay Packers. You know how that story ended. Favre became The Gunslinger and one of the greatest QBs in the history of the NFL, a franchise-changing player and a beloved Hall of Fame figure. We can only guess how a rookie version of Favre would have handled life in Seattle. Fans of the team probably would have enjoyed watching that process play out back in the early 1990s.
22 Flop: Rick Mirer (1993, 2nd Overall)
The Seattle Seahawks were once again looking for a hoped-to-be franchise QB when the club used the second overall pick of the 1993 NFL Draft on Rick Mirer. Mirer, like the previously mentioned McGwire, wasn’t the answer for the team. By the time 1997 came around, the Seahawks were willing to trade Mirer’s services to the Chicago Bears, a deal that fans of the Bears view as one of the worst trades in the history of that franchise. His tenure with the Bears ended almost as quickly as it began, but he nevertheless managed to remain in the NFL for over a decade as an active player before he entered retirement.
21 Should've Drafted: Mark Brunell
We understand that Mark Brunell is not one of the greatest QBs of the past 30 years. When at his best and healthy, though, Brunell showed that he was more than capable of leading an NFL offense, as he was a smart signal-caller who could make plays with his arm and his legs.
The Jacksonville Jaguars acquired Brunell after the Green Bay Packers were done with him serving as a backup for Brett Favre, and the rest, as the saying goes, is history.
Brunell became one of the best players in the history of the Jags and an icon of that club. Seattle probably could have used him.
20 Flop: Heath Shuler (1994, 3rd Overall)
The Washington Redskins spent the third overall pick of the 1994 NFL Draft on Tennessee QB Heath Shuler. At the time, it was hoped that Shuler would be the guy who would take the Redskins back to the Super Bowl after a couple of difficult seasons. That was not the case. Fans quickly turned on the first-round selection after watching him play, and the Redskins eventually gave up on him and sent him to the New Orleans Saints.
Football Outsiders referred to Shuler as “the least valuable quarterback of 1997.” We’ll give the guy credit for finding more success in politics than he ever located while in pro football.
19 Should've Drafted: Kurt Warner
It’s easy, two decades after the fact, to blast any franchise for not drafting Kurt Warner back in 1994.
Warner went unselected that year before the Green Bay Packers signed him to be a backup.
The future Hall of Famer didn’t find a long-term home in Green Bay or in the NFL, in general, and it wasn’t until the late 1990s when Warner would prove all doubters wrong and show that he had the talent to lead a team to a Super Bowl. We now know, of course, that Warner is a Hall of Famer and a legendary figure. Odds are any team that would have drafted him would not have realized his talent back in 1994.
18 Flop: Ryan Leaf (1998, 2nd Overall)
It’s been 20 years since the then-San Diego Chargers selected Ryan Leaf with the second pick of the 1998 NFL Draft, and he is still seen as one of the biggest flops in the history of the league.
Leaf, simply stated, was not psychologically or emotionally ready for life in the NFL when he was drafted, and he battled personal demons as he failed to make an impact as a player. The good news is that this story seemingly has a happy ending. Leaf is currently serving as a public speaker who talks about his battles with mental health issues and addiction. Apparently, he had a big fan in Hunter S. Thompson back in the day. Random.
17 Should've Drafted: Matt Hasselbeck
The 1998 NFL Draft was not filled with tremendous talent at the QB position outside of Peyton Manning, the first overall pick of that class. Matt Hasselbeck probably would not have guided the San Diego Chargers to many playoff appearances or a Super Bowl. He is largely remembered for making millions of dollars as a backup late in his career.
Hasselbeck definitely would have been a better option than Leaf, which isn’t saying much about anybody drafted back in 1998. He did help the Seattle Seahawks make it to a Super Bowl, a game affected by curious officiating calls that led some to believe that contest was rigged in favor of the Pittsburgh Steelers.
16 Flop: Tim Couch (1999, 1st Overall)
It’s easy to bash on Tim Couch because of his tenure with the Cleveland Browns. The expansion Browns took the highly-rated prospect with the first pick of the 1999 NFL Draft, but the team failed to pair him with an offensive line capable of blocking a strong breeze off of Lake Erie, let alone pass rushers.
Couch underwent beating after beating while wearing Cleveland brown and orange, and home fans booed him during his poor stretches of play.
It seems that those customers now realize they were a bit too harsh on the QB, as they cheer him whenever he shows up for a preseason contest or an autograph signing.
15 Should've Drafted: Donovan McNabb
It’s likely Donovan McNabb probably would not have worked out with the Cleveland Browns because of the rest of the roster back in 1999. At least McNabb would have been able to elude defensive players with his feet during his younger days. McNabb was a gem with the Philadelphia Eagles during his prime, and he took that club to a Super Bowl that Philly lost to a New England Patriots side that ended up being the best franchise of the 2000s.
Cleveland fans can only dream what could have been had the team taken McNabb over Couch when the club returned to the NFL after the original Browns were stolen away to Baltimore and turned into the Ravens.
14 Flop: JaMarcus Russell (2007, 1st Overall)
All things being equal, JaMarcus Russell may be the worst draft pick and the biggest QB flop in NFL history.
The Oakland Raiders never could have guessed what the club was getting when the franchise selected Russell with the first pick of the 2007 NFL Draft.
Russell was not only a bad player when given opportunities to start under center, but his dedication to the cause was largely questioned, as he battled weight-control issues when he was on the roster. It is difficult to imagine a team making a worst draft pick than Russell. Yes, that’s how bad he was during his short tenure in the NFL.
13 Should've Drafted: Anybody Else?
JaMarcus Russell probably could not have been more of a disaster for the Oakland Raiders or any other franchise, for that matter. Brady Quinn, who wasn’t the answer for the Cleveland Browns, would have been a superior selection. Kevin Kolb or Drew Stanton may have been better fits in Oakland. Even Matt Moore, who went undrafted, likely would have won more games. The Raiders whiffed in a big way at a time when Calvin Johnson, Joe Thomas and a running back named Adrian Peterson were all available. The Russell pick may be the biggest reminder that teams with a first overall selection should not always take the supposed best QB available just because he’s there.
12 Flop: Jake Locker/Blaine Gabbert (2011, 8th & 10th Overall)
We decided to go with a pair of flops and a pair of QBs who should have been drafted in 2011. The Tennessee Titans selected Jake Locker with the eighth overall pick, and it took the team only a few seasons to realize he wasn’t the answer before Tennessee drafted Zach Mettenberger, another QB flop. Meanwhile, the Jacksonville Jaguars acquired Blaine Gabbert two picks after the Titans drafted Locker.
Gabbert looked the part in the uniform and under center until he had to snap the football. After that, things did not go well. Gabbert did have some nice moments while playing for the San Francisco 49ers, so he can always hang his hat on those highlights.
11 Should've Drafted: Andy Dalton or Colin Kaepernick
Some Cincinnati Bengals fans out there would probably scoff at the idea of some other team taking a flier on Andy Dalton, a quarterback who still hasn’t shown that he can routinely win meaningful January games. That’s fair, but Dalton absolutely would have been a better option than either Jake Locker or Blaine Gabbert.
Take protests out of the equation, and Colin Kaepernick is probably the best QB selected after Cam Newton from that draft class.
Kaepernick, a second-round pick, took the San Francisco 49ers to a Super Bowl. The 30-year-old is now more known for what he did during renditions of the national anthem than for how well he played.
10 Flop: Brandon Weeden (2012, 22nd Overall)
The 2012 NFL Draft was responsible for multiple QB busts. The Cleveland Browns were such a mess even back then that fans actually had hope that Brandon Weeden would be the man to take the club to the promised land and out of the basement of the standings. Instead, Weeden became the guy known for getting trapped underneath a massive flag ahead of the playing of the national anthem. He also threw some awful interceptions while with the Browns. He will go down as one of the worst Cleveland draft picks in their history, which is saying a lot considering all that the Browns have gotten wrong since returning to the league.
9 Should've Drafted: Russell Wilson
At least the Cleveland Browns can rest easy knowing they weren’t the only team to pass on Russell Wilson. Wilson fell all the way to the third round before the Seattle Seahawks took him so he could be a backup to Matt Flynn. The future Super Bowl champion wasn’t satisfied sitting behind anybody during his debut season, and he won the job from Flynn and became a championship-caliber offensive CEO. Wilson is not only a wonderful player. He’s an incredible leader any team would be lucky to have. The Browns could be a different franchise today had the team selected Wilson over Weeden six years ago.
8 Flop: Robert Griffin III (2012, 2nd Overall)
At the start of December 2012, the Washington Redskins seemed to have a prize in quarterback Robert Griffin III, believed by some to be better than Andrew Luck, who was selected first by the Indianapolis Colts. Griffin’s rookie season ended up being his best in the NFL.
Injury woes and other issues stalled his career before it really got going, and he is now a backup with the Baltimore Ravens.
Luck, meanwhile, has gone through his own setbacks. He could be viewed as a flop a few years from now if his shoulder is never the same as it was during his rookie year.
7 Should've Drafted: Kirk Cousins
Think how differently the situation could have played out had Washington drafted fourth-round pick Kirk Cousins instead of Robert Griffin III. For one thing, they wouldn't have had to trade up to get him. Cousins, in this simulation, would be the first-choice QB on the depth chart ahead of any golden project beloved by an owner who couldn’t do worse by his team if he attempted to run it straight into the ground.
Maybe Cousins would have been signed to a long-term deal by the Redskins years ago, the team would have done better to build around him and he’d be Washington’s starting QB today. Cousins is an easy guy to root for, and those who don’t cheer for the Redskins can only hope he’ll make his old employer feel regret moving forward.
6 Flop: Teddy Bridgewater (2014, 32nd Overall)
A famous saying in the sports world teaches us that the most important ability for any athlete is availability. Because of that, former Minnesota Vikings quarterback Teddy Bridgewater has to make the list of QB flops. Bridgewater played like a future All-Pro and Super Bowl champion in the early stages of his career, but a near career ending knee injury sidelined him and, ultimately, ended his tenure with the Vikings.
Injuries happen and they are unfortunate, but they also leave general managers wondering what might have been for their teams had they gone in different directions. Unless he experiences a homecoming, Bridgewater will never be a franchise hero for the Vikes.
5 Should've Drafted: Derek Carr
Derek Carr, currently starting for the Oakland Raiders, has gone through his own trials and injuries, but he is still capable of leading his offense onto the field as of the summer of 2018.
Carr has the tools needed to succeed for a decade and more in the NFL, and he would have been a great fit for the Vikings back in 2014.
Had Minnesota drafted Carr and the QB remained able to start four years after the draft, the team would not have needed to guarantee a boatload of money to former Washington Redskins starter Kirk Cousins. Carr probably would have been the cheaper option of the two.
4 Flop: Johnny Manziel (2014, 22nd Overall)
People who have agendas or just don’t like Johnny Manziel sometimes refer to him as the worst pick the Cleveland Browns have made since returning to the NFL. In reality, Manziel wasn’t even Cleveland’s worst draft decision of that year (what’s up, Justin Gilbert?), but he was undeniably a QB flop. Non-football issues prevented the former Johnny Football from matching his collegiate accomplishments in the NFL. As of late September 2018, Manziel is playing in the CFL. The hope is that he is healthy and happy regardless of if he ever makes it back to the NFL.
3 Should've Drafted: Jimmy Garoppolo
Anybody honestly believing that Jimmy Garoppolo is going to be better than Tom Brady after Jimmy G won a handful of games with the San Francisco 49ers should pump the brakes. It is, however, understandable why so many are excited after watching Garoppolo following the trade between the New England Patriots and Niners that sent him out west.
Garoppolo has the size and the arm to win in any stadium, even one located on the shoreline of Lake Erie.
He could be the face of a franchise and a champion. The Browns had a couple of chances to grab Jimmy G in 2014, but it wasn’t meant to be. He’s probably just fine with that.
2 Flop: Literally Every QB Before Pick No. 199 (2000)
The New York Jets drafted Chad Pennington in the first round of the 2000 NFL Draft. He can't be described as a huge flop, as he did lead the Jets to some good years. It’s known he wanted to win while with the Jets. He was a solid leader even though he didn’t have the biggest arm in the league. Here we are, 18 years after the fact, and the Jets and every other team in the NFL are still paying the price for letting a man drop all the way down to the 199th pick of this draft. The greatest draft pick in the history of professional sports changed the landscape of the NFL for two decades.
1 Should've Drafted: Tom Brady
The story of how Tom Brady fell to the New England Patriots in the sixth round of the 2000 NFL Draft is fascinating. Scouts crushed Brady for his physique at the NFL Scouting Combine, and the majority of teams in the league obviously didn’t believe he would ever amount to much of anything, other than a backup at best. Brady will one day enter the Hall of Fame as the greatest of all time and a QB with a resume better than that belonging to any other player. Enjoy watching Brady while you can. Age will eventually catch up with him, and the NFL will be worse off without him in the league.