Every NFL team looks to the quarterback position to lead them to a championship and carry their franchise for many years. The problem is that for every Tom Brady and Peyton Manning in the league, there has been a Tim Couch and Ryan Leaf. Franchise quarterbacks are hard to come by and sometimes takes a lot of luck to land the right one. Teams like the Green Bay Packers and Pittsburgh Steelers seem to have no problem transitioning from one Hall of Fame quarterback to the next, while the Cleveland Browns have yet to find one since returning to town. Whether you draft a quarterback in the first round or 6th round of the NFL draft, it is no guarantee that either one will pan out to become a superstar.
Many factors go into consideration when labeling a quarterback as a draft bust. For instance, San Diego Chargers 2nd overall pick in 1998 Ryan Leaf was a product of both horrendous play on the field, as well as off the field issues that included criminal charges and time in prison. However, most quarterback busts are normally only graced with one major factor leading to becoming a bust.
Any quarterback can look great in a college offense, but the game completely changes once he steps foot in the NFL. Players often say the biggest difference between college and the NFL is the speed of the game. Some players can keep up the pace while others fall behind and out of the league quickly.
Some busts have been more devastating than others to a franchise, but it is always a hard pill to swallow when a young promising talent sets a team backwards instead of forward.
Here are the 15 biggest quarterback busts since 2000:
15 Tim Couch (1999)
Couch was drafted in the 1999 draft but debuted in the 1999-2000 season. The Cleveland Browns were finally brought back into existence after a three year absence from the league. After making the city’s fans suffer such heartbreak, the franchise was awarded the number one overall pick in 1999. Looking back, the Browns most certainly would have rather had the career of Philadelphia Eagles 2nd pick in the draft Donovan McNabb but many said at the time that Couch was the consensus number one pick.
Like many of the Cleveland Browns on this list, Couch was not given a supporting cast capable of helping him lead the team to the promised land. Couch played just five seasons with the Cleveland Browns, totaling 64 career touchdowns and 67 interceptions. Couch also led the team to their last playoff appearance in 2002, but was unable to play in the game due to injuries which eventually cost him his job.
14 Joey Harrington (2002)
Joey Harrington will forever be remembered as one of the biggest busts in Detroit Lions history which says a lot for a team with 87 years of existence. Detroit held the 3rd pick in the 2002 in desperate need of a franchise leader. Unfortunately for the Lions, the 2002 draft class was one of the weakest in recent memory in regards to the quarterback position. Harrington led the class finishing his senior year at Oregon with 27 touchdowns and an MVP performance in the Fiesta Bowl.
Harrington lasted just four seasons with the Lions without ever eclipsing 20 touchdowns in a regular season. Much like Tim Couch, Harrington was not given any type of supporting cast which many would attribute to his 18-37 record as a starter in Detroit. Hopefully as we continue with the list, it will be easier to blame the quarterback instead the rest of his team.
13 Jason Campbell (2005)
Talk about the ultimate bad luck. The Washington Redskins held the 25th pick in the 2005 draft. Aaron Rodgers was selected 24th overall by the Green Bay Packers. No one would ever know if he was even on the Redskins radar as a top quarterback prospect, but almost anyone could have done better than what Jason Campbell did during his time in Washington. Campbell played his college ball at Auburn, but didn’t seem to have the statistics high enough to be a first round pick.
Campbell’s career in Washington was cut short when was sent to the Oakland Raiders after the Redskins traded for Donovan McNabb in 2010. Even though he finished his career with a positive touchdown to interception ratio with 87 to 60, he never finished a regular season with a winning record.
12 Vince Young (2006)
The University of Texas may never see as dynamic of a quarterback as Vince Young was during his three seasons at the university. Young finished with the most rushing yards for a quarterback in Longhorn history with 3,127. Texas retired Young’s number 10 jersey before the opening game of the 2008 season. The Tennessee Titans selected Young 3rd overall hoping he would bring the franchise back the success that Steve McNair once had them at.
Tennessee might have had an idea that it would not work out with Young after he admitted to considering retirement following his rookie season which culminated in him winning Rookie of the Year honors. Although Young saw initial success with the team, he never started an entire season for the Titans and never saw better statistics following his rookie season. He played his last game with the Philadelphia Eagles in 2011, but officially retired in 2014.
11 Matt Leinart (2006)
Just like many USC quarterbacks before and after him, Matt Leinart was unable to establish any type of success in the NFL following an impressive career in Southern Carolina. Leinart started every game for the Trojans and compiled a remarkable record of 37-2 at the school. After his graduation, the school thanked him for all his success with the team by retiring his number 11 jersey.
The Arizona Cardinals were in desperate need of a starting quarterback when they selected him 10th overall in the 2006 draft. Unlike many of the quarterbacks on this list, Leinart had weapons around him on offense that included future Hall of Fame receivers Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin. After an injury to his collarbone, Leinart never regained a starting job in the NFL. Kurt Warner eventually led the Cardinals to Super Bowl XLIII in 2008 and now many people in Arizona remember the name Matt Leinart.
10 JaMarcus Russell (2007)
The biggest bust in Oakland Raider history belongs to the 1st overall pick from the LSU Tigers Jamarcus Russell. Russell’s only impressive season in college came in his junior year when he led the team to a 41-14 victory over Notre Dame in the Sugar Bowl. He threw for 3,129 yards and 28 touchdowns his junior year and was expected by most scouts to be the number one pick in the upcoming draft.
Once selected by Oakland, Raiders late owner Al Davis thought Russell would be the player to get the franchise back to their winning ways. Could he have been any more wrong? Russell lasted just three seasons with the Raiders and seemed to enjoy drinking Codeine syrup instead of playing football which led to his arrest in 2010. Russell finished with 18 touchdowns and 23 interceptions for his career and was never given an opportunity by another team despite multiple comeback attempts.
9 Brady Quinn (2007)
Another attempt to salvage the quarterback position for the Cleveland Browns proved to be futile with the pick of Notre Dame quarterback Brady Quinn 22nd overall. Quinn set 36 school record during his four years with the Fighting Irish and capped his senior year with 3,426 yards and 37 touchdown passes. After a 4 plus hour wait in the green room, Quinn was finally granted his opportunity in the NFL.
Despite being drafted in the 1st round, Quinn sat out his entire rookie year behind Derek Anderson who led the Browns to their last winning record at 10-6. Quinn played in just 14 games with the Browns from 2007-2009 totaling a mere 10 touchdowns and 9 interceptions. Without a fair shot at a full season as their starting quarterback, Quinn was traded to the Denver Broncos for running back Peyton Hillis. Quinn played with four teams over the next four years and never regained the magic he had with Notre Dame.
8 Kevin Kolb (2007)
The Philadelphia Eagles were preparing for the end of Donovan McNabb’s career when they drafted Kevin Kolb out of the University of Houston 36th overall. Kolb started all four years at Houston and threw for an impressive 30 touchdowns to just 4 interceptions his senior season. Many argued he played against sub-par competition, but Andy Reid still believed him to be the right guy to run his offense.
After sitting behind McNabb his rookie season, Kolb became the first quarterback in league history to throw for 300 plus yards in his first two career starts. Following his second year with the team, McNabb was traded to the Washington Redskins and Kolb was given his shot at the starting quarterback job. Kolb suffered a season ending concussion in the season opener against the Green Bay Packers and saw the end of his career with the Philadelphia Eagles. Kolb suffered two more concussions with the Arizona Cardinals and retired from the league in 2014.
7 Sam Bradford (2010)
Sam Bradford has had the most success of any quarterback on this list, which isn’t saying much. Bradford turned in one of the best seasons by a college quarterback ever during his sophomore season at Oklahoma. Bradford threw for a school record 4,721 yards and 50 touchdowns and added a Heisman Trophy to his resume. After spending most of his junior year injured, Bradford declared for the 2010 NFL Draft and was taken 1st overall by the St. Louis Rams.
Bradford locked the Rams into a hefty deal when he signed a six year, $78 million contract which was the highest ever by a rookie. He showed promise as a rookie starting every game for the Rams and led the team to 7-9 record. However, after a few mediocre years and a torn ACL in 2014, Bradford was traded to the Philadelphia Eagles for Nick Foles and a 2nd round pick. Bradford spent one year in Philadelphia before being traded to the Minnesota Vikings in exchange for a 1st round pick.
6 Jake Locker (2011)
Jake Locker’s NFL journey is more depressing then it is disappointing. Locker spent just three seasons with the Titans before being forced to retire due to lack of interest in playing. Locker played his college ball at the University of Washington and joined six other quarterbacks to be drafted in the 1st round since 2000 with a losing record at 16-24. He drew early comparisons to 49ers’ legend Steve Young with his ability to throw on the run.
It seemed like Locker was constantly on the run with the threat of being crushed by defensive lineman on every play leading to Locker’s to serious injuries. He finished his career with the Titans throwing for 4,967 yards and 27 touchdowns. Things worked out for the Titans anyway after landing their franchise quarterback in Marcus Mariota just a few years later.
5 Blaine Gabbert (2011)
Blaine Gabbert was the highest ranked quarterback prospect heading into the 2011 draft despite only throwing for 16 touchdowns his junior year at Missouri. Gabbert became the youngest player to start 14 games or more for a team at the age of 22 and his age truly showed through his performance. He finished the season with a 50.8% completion percentage, second worst only to the Denver Broncos Tim Tebow. He finished his rookie season with a record of 5-11 but still showed promise as the franchises quarterback.
Due to injuries, Gabbert played in just 13 games over the next two years with the Jaguars and was traded to the 49ers in 2014. Just this past season, Gabbert was named the starting quarterback for Chip Kelly’s team and went just 1-4 as a starter before losing the job to Colin Kaepernick. He is still under contract with the team for the 2017 season.
4 Robert Griffin III (2012)
Does anyone remember when there were actual debates between Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin? Luck has looked like an All Pro quarterback while Griffin is on the verge of unemployment. Griffin showed how explosive he could be with his deep ball arm and his quick speed. He threw for 37 touchdowns while running for 10 which lead to his 2011 Heisman Trophy award. The Redskins selected their first quarterback in the 1st round since Jason Campbell seven years earlier when they took Griffin 2nd overall.
Griffin led the Redskins to a surprising 2012 record of 10-6 while throwing for 3,200 yards and 20 touchdowns. Unfortunately, Griffin tore his ACL in the team’s Wild Card playoff game against the Seattle Seahawks and hasn’t been the same player since. He was limited in games over the next two seasons and lost all of his explosiveness that teams feared his rookie season. Following the 2015 season, Griffin signed with Cleveland, where all quarterback go to ruin their career.
3 Brandon Weeden (2012)
Speaking of Browns quarterbacks, the oldest bust in recent memory was taken by the team in 2012 with the 22nd overall pick. Still in need of a quarterback all these years later, the Cleveland Browns selected the 29 year old out of Oklahoma State. After failing as a professional baseball player, Weeden enrolled at Oklahoma State. He owns several school records including passing yards in a season with 4,727 in 2011.
The Browns had no choice but to play him right away because of his age. Weeden started 15 games for the team his rookie year, but only managed to throw 14 touchdowns and 17 interceptions. After injuries in his second year, the Browns decided to move on from Weeden and give backup Brian Hoyer the keys to the starting job. Weeden has served as a backup for Dallas and Houston over the last three years.
2 EJ Manuel (2013)
EJ Manuel was the first quarterback selected in the 2013 draft when the Buffalo Bills selected him 16th overall. The former Florida State Seminole compiled a record of 25-6 with the school and finished second in most passing yards in a season with 3,392 behind only Chris Weinke’s 4,167. He was compared to former Buccaneer Josh Freeman when coming out for the draft and was noted for inconsistent play at times while at Florida State.
Despite the negative comparisons, Manuel started ten games for Buffalo his rookie year and threw for 1,972 yards and 11 touchdowns. After a poor performance in the beginning of the 2014 season, Manuel was benched for veteran Kyle Orton who led the team to a 9-7 record. Manuel would soon be relegated being used in trick play packages only and was released from the team after the 2016 season. He will now serve as Derek Carr’s backup in Oakland for the 2017 season.
1 1. Johnny Manziel (2014)
It only seems fitting that the list ends with one more Cleveland Brown quarterback bringing their total busts on this list to six. It is difficult to deny the magic that was Johnny Manziel during his time with Texas A&M. In just two seasons with the Aggies, Manziel threw 63 touchdowns while also running for 30. He also became the first freshman in college football history to win the Heisman trophy award when he won it in 2012.
Despite all of these accomplishments, Manziel was still drafted by Cleveland and chose to go out and party instead of taking their quarterback job seriously. Manziel appeared in just 15 games over two seasons with the team and was released following the 2015 season after reports broke of him spending the night in Las Vegas instead of being with the team during their final game of the season. He is still in search of a job after spending 2016 in and out of rehab.