Quarterback is undeniably the most important position on the football field. When your favorite team has a good quarterback, you almost tend to take it for granted. It’s easy to think the days of having a reliable player under center are never going to end. For some teams that can be the case. Colts fans have enjoyed the transition from Peyton Manning to Andrew Luck, but that’s really the exception more than the rule. Just ask Miami Dolphins fans about finding a quarterback to replace Dan Marino or Bills fans about life since the Jim Kelly era.
Most teams try to land a quarterback via the draft, which is really the best place to find one with franchise potential. However, pegging that franchise guy, or even a reliable starter, is tricky. Despite all the scouting, research, interviews, combines, pro days and background checks that go into the NFL Draft, it remains an inexact science. Every year we see quarterbacks taken in the first round of the draft. Many times teams reach for a QB because they just need one so badly. This results in some downright terrible selections, ones that set organizations back years. That’s the biggest problem with taking a quarterback and missing, the time it takes to come to terms with the reality that you screwed up. Here are the 15 worst NFL QBs drafted in the first round since 2006.
15 Ryan Tannehill
The Miami Dolphins used the eighth overall pick in the 2012 NFL Draft to select Ryan Tannehill to be the quarterback of the future. When he won the starting job in training camp, beating out veteran Matt Moore, it looked like the former wide receiver was ahead of schedule in the development department. After all, this was a guy that had only been playing the quarterback position for a few years.
Tannehill was predictably mediocre in his rookie season, but he was by no means terrible. The next three years saw incremental improvement, though nothing that would suggest he’s destined to be a special player. His propensity to check down and dump the ball off still limits his upside and it makes his completion percentage look more effective that it actually is. Thus far this season, he’s throw seven touchdowns and seven interceptions in seven games and his limitations have forced Miami to reinvent themselves as a power running team. Tannehill isn’t terrible, but after more than four years, he is what he is.
14 Robert Griffin III
Just four years ago, Robert Griffin III was the sensation of the National Football League. The Redskins looked to have found something special when they used the second overall pick in the 2012 NFL Draft on the Baylor QB, as he had a great rookie season and led the team to a playoff appearance.
It appeared as though the team had finally found a franchise quarterback and Washington fans rejoiced. That seems like a million years ago now, though, as RG III failed to develop as a pocket passer and struggled to protect himself from big hits. Limited accuracy and injuries quickly derailed his career, forcing him to sign with the Cleveland Browns last off-season. Cleveland is not exactly known for being the home of great quarterbacks and RGIII found a way to get hurt in the very first game of the 2016 season. It doesn’t look like it’s ever going to happen for the guy.
13 Mark Sanchez
Mark Sanchez left college too early and it’s likely the biggest factor in his pro struggles. When Sanchez declared for the 2009 NFL Draft, his college coach didn’t give him the standard vote of confidence. In fact, then USC-coach Pete Carroll criticized the decision publicly. That did not bode well for Sanchez’s future, but it didn’t stop the New York Jets from trading up to get him with the fifth overall pick. The former Trojan quickly showed himself to be overwhelmed by the pro game, throwing 20 interceptions and fumbling the ball 10 times in his rookie campaign. Add in a completion percentage under 54 and there was not much to like about his prospects.
The Jets would make a pair of AFC Championship Game appearances with Sanchez at the helm, but he was far from the biggest reason for that. He’s remained a turnover machine that can’t complete a reasonable percentage of his passes throughout his career and likely lost his last chance to win a starting job when he ceded the Denver gig to Trevor Siemian in the preseason.
12 Brady Quinn
If you simply looked at Brady Quinn on the surface in 2007, he looked like the prototypical quarterback. He was big, strong, good-looking and had just played for one of the most prestigious collegiate football programs at Notre Dame. He’d also played in a pro-style offense during his Irish tenure.
However, Quinn was the classic case of the quarterback that slid down the board on draft day before being scooped up by the Cleveland Browns, 22nd overall. A quarterback being drafted by Cleveland has been a big red flag for years, as you’ll see in this list. Quinn’s measurables did not translate to success on the NFL field, as he struggled to secure and retain the starting job for a team desperate for a quarterback than can make a play. He lasted just three seasons for the Browns and last threw a pass for Kansas City in 2012, going 1-7 in eight starts with the Chiefs. He owns a 53.8% career completion rate.
11 Matt Leinart
Had Matt Leinart declared for the draft in 2005, he probably would have been the number one pick. Instead, Leinart elected to return to USC for another year of the college experience and who can blame him? Well, he didn’t quite meet expectations in his final season with the Trojans, which resulted in him going to Arizona at the 10th pick in 2006.
The Heisman winner started 11 games as a rookie and looked halfway decent, and Arizona fans hoped they had a franchise quarterback. However, Leinart could not wrestle the starting job away from Kurt Warner and Warner would eventually lead the team to a Super Bowl appearance. Leinart never really got a shot to start for the Cardinals again and rumors of a lack of dedication to the game swirled. He bounced around for a couple of years before seeing his last action in 2012. He has since appeared in a TV ad making fun of his lack of pro success, so at least he has a sense of humor about it.
10 Brandon Weeden
Any time you can use a first-round pick on a 28-year-old quarterback, you have to do it, as long as you’re the Cleveland Browns. After a failed attempt at a professional baseball career, Weeden elected to return to college and excelled as a quarterback for the Oklahoma State Cowboys. The Browns took him in the first round of the 2012 NFL Draft, 22nd overall, in their longtime search for a viable starting signal caller.
Shocker of the year: Weeden did not pan out. More than 20 turnovers marred his rookie season and he was run out of town after two terrible seasons with the Browns. He settled in as a backup to Tony Romo in Dallas, and an injury to Romo thrust Weeden into the starting spot. Weeden was awful yet again and didn’t even make it through the rest of the year before the Cowboys decided to release him.
He is not good at football.
9 Josh Freeman
The Tampa Bay Bucs picked Josh Freeman with the 17th pick in the 2009 NFL Draft and he started nine games in his rookie season. A staggering 18 interceptions and 10 fumbles should have served as a harbinger of more poor play to come, but Freeman actually played really well in his second year. The former Kansas State QB threw 25 TDs to just six interceptions in 2010, looking like a young star on the rise.
However, year three saw significant regression, as Freeman threw 22 interceptions to just 16 touchdowns. A turnover-riddled 2012 season seemed to seal his fate and he clashed with then-head coach Greg Schiano. Freeman was out of the league not long after a failed effort to revitalize his career with the Minnesota Vikings. Freeman is an odd case of a young quarterback that experienced significant success before falling out in a big way.
8 Christian Ponder
Christian Ponder actually looked like a pretty safe pick when the Minnesota Vikings used the 12th pick in the 2011 draft to pick him. His numbers at Florida State didn’t jump out at you, but he completed a high percentage of passes and avoided turnovers, two things that are paramount in the pro game. While Minnesota seemed to reach for Ponder a bit at the time, it looked as though they had a young quarterback with a lot of promise.
The FSU product struggled in year one, but that’s a common tale among rookie quarterbacks. His sophomore campaign with Minnesota looked much more encouraging, as he completed more than 60% of his passes while throwing 18 TD to 12 INT on his way to ten victories. However, opposing defenses quickly discovered that Ponder was resistant to throwing the ball down the field and it was his terrible yards-per-attempt numbers that ultimately doomed him. He lost his starting job in 2013 and has never been given another chance. He started the 2016 season as the third-string QB for the San Francisco 49ers, currently playing behind the next guy on our list.
7 Blaine Gabbert
Blaine Gabbert looked to be the prototypical NFL quarterback when he was coming out of Missouri. He had size, arm strength and seemed to be the kind of a hard worker that excels at the pro level. He looked good enough to convince the Jacksonville Jaguars to use the 10th pick in the 2011 Draft on him.
Gabbert seemed over-matched in his rookie season, starting 14 games but barely completing more than 50% of his passes and averaging less than six yards per attempt. Year two showed signs of progress, but in reality his second season resembled what would be considered a mediocre rookie year. Gabbert started three games in 2013 and was awful, which pretty much ended his Jacksonville tenure. He caught on with San Francisco and eventually took over the starting gig in 2015. Despite looking decent in 2015 and earning the starting job to begin the 2016 season, he quickly remembered he was Blaine Gabbert, playing poorly and losing yet another job.
6 EJ Manuel
Buffalo used the 16th pick in the 2013 Draft on EJ Manuel, which even at the time seemed like a terrible reach. Most scouts and draft experts had a second round grade on Manuel and even his biggest supporters seemed to think the end of the first round was his ceiling. The Bills consistently seem unaware that you can trade down in the draft, collect an extra pick or two and still get the guy you want. The Patriots, a division rival of Buffalo, do this almost every year but the Bills apparently have not noticed or don’t understand the concept. Still, Manuel had some traits that were promising, mostly his mental acumen.
However, it quickly became apparent that Manuel is terrified of throwing the ball downfield, as his career average of 6.5 yards per attempt suggests. He had every opportunity to become the long-term starter in Buffalo but kept checking down his way to a backup role.
5 Jake Locker
Had Jake Locker entered the NFL Draft in 2010, he probably would have been the number one pick. Instead, he opted to stay at Washington for one more season and come out in 2011, when he was selected eighth overall by the Tennessee Titans.
Locker was the classic case of a physical freak that scouts fell in love with. He was big, strong and fast. There was one problem, though; he couldn’t throw a football. A 54% completion rate in college is really bad and it should have been a huge red flag for the Titans. However, his combine numbers seemed to outweigh the most important thing a quarterback can do and Tennessee tagged him as their franchise guy. Fast forward four years later and Locker retired after never maintaining any semblance of throwing accuracy. He serves as yet another cautionary tale of the dangers of falling in love with physical traits more than the ability to actually play football.
4 Tim Tebow
God’s favorite quarterback is one of the most polarizing figures in the history of the National Football League, which may seem a bit odd for a guy that only started 16 games in his pro career. Tebow was one of the best college football players ever but it still came as a surprise when the Denver Broncos used a first round pick, 25th overall, on the Heisman winner. Like Locker, Tebow possessed a lot of physical ability but had a hard time hitting receivers. His drawn-out delivery and downright abysmal accuracy would not work in the NFL and many scouts were warned, but the hubris of a young Josh McDaniels won out in Denver.
Tebow saw a run with the Broncos that was filled with passes bouncing at the feet of receivers, but also one gorgeous slant route to Demaryius Thomas to win a playoff game. Tebow was winning, but winning ugly. Broncos executive John Elway was perhaps the only guy in Denver history that could get rid of Tebow without being crucified, but bringing in Peyton Manning to replace him certainly helped. Tebow never got another chance in the NFL and is now a sideshow for a minor league baseball team.
3 Vince Young
If you watched the 2006 Rose Bowl, you probably thought Vince Young was the best quarterback you’d ever seen. He was amazing in that game and it definitely helped him get drafted third overall in 2006.
Like Locker and Tebow, Young was an athlete, not a quarterback. You can get away with that in college, but not in the NFL. Young’s career began with a trip to the Pro Bowl after he started 13 games as a rookie. However, he completed less than 52% of his passes and threw more interceptions than touchdowns. Yeah, that’s where we’re at with the Pro Bowl.
Young was labeled a “winner” despite the fact that he was terrible at throwing the ball. He had a sidearm release that killed his accuracy and couldn’t read a defense if his life depended on it. Tennessee eventually figured this out and Young went to join what he dubbed the “Dream Team” in Philadelphia. His QBR there was under 35 and he’s now out of the league and bankrupt. Nailed it, Vince.
2 JaMarcus Russell
JaMarcus Russell stands as one of the biggest busts in the history of sports. It began with a great college career at LSU that was capped off with what was considered to be one of the most impressive pro days ever witnessed. Scouts were raving about Russell heading into the 2007 draft and the much-maligned Oakland Raiders were waiting to scoop him up with the first pick.
His pro career started with a holdout that actually stretched into the season in the first step of many terrible ones that would result in his demise. Russell quickly became notorious for having little to no work ethic and his play on the field reflected his lack of commitment. His weight swelled, he looked lost on the field and drew the ire of teammates and fans. Then he got really into cough medicine, watched Fantasia a lot and it just clicked.
After three years and many turnovers, Russell was out of the league in an impressively awful fashion.
1 Johnny Manziel
How could anyone be worse than JaMarcus Russell? Welcome to the land of Johnny Football. Johnny Manziel was college football’s biggest star when he was with Texas A&M, winning the Heisman Trophy and becoming convinced that he was the most important human being on the planet. Manziel is a tragic case of what fame can do to a fragile person. He’s the like the child actor of quarterbacks.
Once again, we have to thank the Cleveland Browns for allowing a QB to make this list, as the team used the 22nd pick in the 2014 Draft on Manziel. His two years with the Browns are riddled with offenses, from showing up practice drunk to allegedly assaulting his girlfriend to his own father publicly calling him a “druggie.” Do you know how badly you have to burn bridges for your own father to tell the media you’re better off in jail?
Manziel is out of the league and there seems to be very little chance we ever see him again outside of a police blotter.