It’s understandable National Football League franchises would spend first-round draft picks on quarterbacks. Quarterbacks are the faces of NFL clubs and also the most important players for all of the teams in a league that emphasizes passing attacks over any other facet of the game. Take a look at the list of teams that have won Super Bowl championships over the past decade. It isn’t a coincidence that the majority of them can boast about the fact that they feature franchise quarterbacks who have easily earned the money paid to them via their contracts and who have the goods to lead any team to January football games and, in the right situations, to Super Bowl contests. A championship NFL quarterback is worth his weight in gold and any salary cap value attached to his contract.
Obviously, not every quarterback selected in the first round of an NFL Draft becomes a Superstar capable of carrying a team to division titles and championship contests. Some are known as the biggest busts to ever be drafted by any franchise. Two of the biggest draft busts in NFL history are quarterbacks who failed to live up to their potentials and who couldn’t handle being starters for different reasons. Even with those cautionary tales in mind, teams will still take risks on quarterbacks in first rounds so long as the NFL exists. The hope is that such players will turn into versions of Tom Brady, Peyton Manning or even Dak Prescott rather than becoming busts who aren’t worth the investment.
15 Joey Harrington
The Detroit Lions were responsible for a wide variety of horrible draft picks during the early 2000s, and quarterback Joey Harrington was merely one among the lot. Harrington was the third overall pick of the 2002 NFL Draft, but he never came close to earning such a high value via his play. Most notably, Harrington struggled with the concept of throwing footballs to players wearing his team’s jersey other than to opponents during contests and also with winning games.
After he flopped with the Lions, Harrington bounced around a few other franchises before he was out of the league in 2009. Perhaps Harrington could have found more success had he been drafted by a team that didn’t blow picks for the better part of a decade, but we’ll never know.
14 Todd Marinovich
We’ll never know what Todd Marinovich could or couldn’t have been as an NFL quarterback drafted in the first round. It’s now public knowledge, decades after the fact, Marinovich had personal issues and demons even before he entered the league, and the physical talents and skills he had were overshadowed by the addiction problems he struggled with from his early days in the NFL.
Eventually, Marinovich’s habits forced him out of the league and then out of football, entirely, and he's now seen as one of the biggest draft busts in history. The troubled former player has struggled with addiction up through the end of 2016, and the hope is that he will finally conquer his demons with any help or assistance he requires to do so.
13 Vince Young
There was a time when it seemed as if Vince Young, a first-round pick of the Tennessee Titans back in 2006, was well worth that type of investment. If nothing else, his comeback victory versus the New York Giants was incredible to watch for those who aren’t Big Blue supporters.
Unfortunately, Young’s struggles with accuracy never disappeared as he attempted to progress as an NFL player, and he allegedly clashed with head coach Jeff Fisher en route to playing himself off the Titans. Young couldn’t impress while with any other franchise, and he's currently attempting to make one final comeback as a member of the Canadian Football League. Odds are the 34 year old will never again play a down of football in the NFL.
12 Akili Smith
Whenever we discuss first-round busts from the 1999 NFL Draft, we often focus on former Cleveland Browns quarterback Tim Couch (more on him later). Let’s not forget about Akili Smith, the QB selected third overall that year by the Cincinnati Bengals. While the Browns were an expansion team looking to plant their feet in the NFL soil as newcomers, the Bengals were an established team that simply drafted a bad player.
Smith was unable to fully grasp the team’s playbook during his stint with the club, and he never turned tremendous athleticism and promise into a lengthy career with Cincinnati or with any other franchise. He'd probably be known as the biggest draft bust from the final year of last century if not for the Browns.
11 Jeff George
It’s easy to understand why the Indianapolis Colts put a first-round value on Jeff George back in 1990. George had a rocket arm that was maybe the best of his time, but he proved to be more of a headache and a problem than a franchise quarterback capable of routinely defeating the top teams in the league.
While George admittedly had some great moments that made us believe he could become what he was advertised to be early in his career, he never fully evolved as a player until it was far too late. The shame here is that George really could have been a championship-caliber quarterback and also an All-Pro if he wasn’t his own worst enemy throughout his time as a journeyman in the NFL.
10 Robert Griffin III
We have to mention Robert Griffin III among the worst NFL quarterbacks drafted in the first round because the Washington Redskins mortgaged years of the team’s future to select him back in 2012. Griffin had Rookie-of-the-Year talent during his debut season, but his body, specifically his knee and his ankle, failed him before he allegedly became a headache and a castoff in the Washington locker room.
Things got so bad that the Redskins relegated him to practice squad duties during his final year with the club, and Griffin then failed to impress during his single season with the Cleveland Browns before that team cut ties with him. It’s possible Griffin will never again start for any NFL team as of the summer of 2017.
9 Brandon Weeden
“What the heck were the Cleveland Browns thinking?” is a question you could ask just about every year during or after the NFL Draft, and that was the case back in 2012 when the Browns selected Brandon Weeden in the first round even though he was closer to 30 years old than 25 at the time.
Weeden’s top highlight as a member of the Browns involved him getting caught underneath a large American flag before the opening kickoff of the contest, which is a fitting summary for all that has occurred regarding the club since it returned to the NFL in 1999. Perhaps Weeden should have stuck with baseball, because it’s clear he's never going to make it as a starting QB in the NFL.
8 Sam Bradford
At what point will we all be comfortable saying Sam Bradford is a proven draft bust? The first pick of the 2010 NFL Draft unquestionably possessed the physical tools needed to excel in the NFL at a young age, but his body apparently was not built to survive the wear and tear that comes with playing 16 pro games per season.
Bradford has experienced multiple physical setbacks over the years, and both the St. Louis Rams and Philadelphia Eagles gave up on him before he landed with the Minnesota Vikings. The possibility exists Bradford will play himself off such lists, in time, but it more so seems that he'll be regarded as a draft bust who was never worth such a massive investment in the first place.
7 Brady Quinn
Brady Quinn being selected in the first round of the 2007 NFL Draft by the Cleveland Browns seemed like a story that was too good to be true. Quinn, who is from Ohio, grew up a fan of the Browns, and supporters of the club hoped that he would be the franchise savior the team desperately needed a decade ago.
The sad reality here is that Quinn didn’t have the goods to be a winner at the pro level, and he badly flopped while with the Browns before the franchise moved on after only a few campaigns. Quinn made treks to several other NFL teams but failed to catch on as a starter, and he has since become a television analyst. He's one of the many Cleveland draft busts from the past two decades.
6 Tim Couch
One could almost feel sorry for Tim Couch. Couch became the first draft pick of the “new” Cleveland Browns in the spring of 1999, and the hope, at the time, was that he could help lead the Browns back to the playoffs and to relevance several years after the original franchise made the move to the city of Baltimore.
Unfortunately for Couch, the expansion Browns were never able to build an NFL-worthy offensive line to protect him, so any promise that he had never turned into long-term production with the Browns or with any other team. Couch is technically a bust, but one can only wonder if any young quarterback would have been able to prosper playing for those horrible Browns teams that lost more games than they won.
5 Art Schlichter
There are some casual football fans who probably don’t realize or forget Art Schlichter was selected with a first-round draft pick back in 1982. Instead, they probably know Schlichter for his outrageous gambling habits that saw him get banned from the NFL and that ultimately sank his career and also his personal life.
Perhaps the biggest shame about this story is that Schlichter appeared to have the physical skills needed to be a Superstar in the NFL and win at least one Super Bowl, but his demons sank him before he ever really put his talents on display during games. The argument could be made Schlichter is the biggest draft bust in the history of the NFL due to the decisions he made after entering the league.
4 Matt Leinart
It may seem as if it was a lifetime ago when Matt Leinart was a first-round pick hoped to be a future franchise quarterback. The Arizona Cardinals acquired Leinart in the first round of the 2006 NFL Draft, but he never fully earned the starting gig with the team before the club moved on to veteran Kurt Warner en route to completing a journey all the way to the Super Bowl.
Fair or not, it probably didn’t help his cause that Leinart had a reputation for being a partier who cared more about his personal life than about being the face of a franchise. Leinart is now a football analyst who is viewed as a draft bust after attempting to remain in the league with several teams.
3 David Carr
David Carr really never had a chance to excel as an NFL quarterback. The first pick of the 2002 NFL Draft flashed plenty of promise during his early days with the Houston Texans, but he spent far too much of his time with the club on his back because he played behind offensive lines that hung him out to dry and did him zero favors when he should’ve been learning how to play in the NFL.
After the Texans moved on from this experiment, Carr found a home with the New York Giants, where he was able to be part of a Super Bowl team serving as a backup to Eli Manning. History will remember Carr as one of the worst quarterbacks drafted in the first round, but we can’t help but wonder what could have been had he been selected by a team that could’ve properly groomed him.
2 JaMarcus Russell
JaMarcus Russell frustrated fans and football observers for multiple reasons. Most notably, the first pick of the 2007 NFL Draft seemingly had the physical skills to be a starting quarterback in the NFL, but he struggled with remaining in shape and with finding the necessary dedication needed to lead a pro offense.
Russell is only 31 years old, but he has already flopped out of the NFL and is known as one of the biggest busts in NFL history. His multiple comeback “attempts” have ended with little fanfare, and it's almost a guarantee that we’ll never see him take a meaningful snap for any pro team at any level again. Thanks to Derek Carr, the Oakland Raiders are now capable of forgetting the franchise ever drafted Russell.
1 Ryan Leaf
Ryan Leaf will likely go down as the biggest draft bust in the history of the NFL. The quarterback selected directly after Peyton Manning was not emotionally or psychologically prepared for being the face of the San Diego Chargers, and he famously flamed out of the league in remarkable fashion.
Leaf, unfortunately faced personal demons and legal issues after he was bounced from the NFL, but he eventually found peace and now lectures current football players and other individuals about all that he has experienced since leaving college. What could have been a sad story seemingly has a happy ending, and we are glad Leaf is now a positive figure in the sports world and somebody who could help others who are struggling with the fame and fortune that comes with being a first-round draft pick.