No position on an NFL field is more glorified than that of the quarterback. It’s the one position that is a necessity to make an offense run at optimum performance, and with that comes the most responsibility out of any one position. We’ve seen some quarterbacks who have been able to handle that responsibility at the NFL level, and others that couldn’t. It’s so difficult to successfully draft a quarterback, and we’ve seen some of the best and worst in league history since the 2010 draft. Always notable however, is the subject of quarterbacks who were flat-out busts since their selection on draft day.
While we have indeed seen plenty of these in recent history, some of them have been able to salvage some kind of a continuous NFL career, while others have dropped out of the game altogether. Each of them have their own unique situation after they achieved the bust-status, but these quarterbacks had to re-arrange their plans after it was clear that they weren’t going to be the franchise player for the team that originally drafted them. Let’s take a look at the most striking examples.
Ranked below are the top-15 biggest quarterback busts since 2010, and what they’re doing now.
15. Christian Ponder
The 2011 quarterback class was thought to be stacked at the time, and that turned out to be a massive misnomer. Ponder was the third quarterback taken in the 1st round of that year (12th-overall pick), and was expected to become the long-term answer for the Vikings (yet again) at the position. Almost from the beginning however, it was a disaster in Minnesota.
Ponder, just like the rest of that 2011 quarterback class, wasn’t as good as advertised, and the Florida State product struggled to carry the Vikings offense, despite being given ample opportunity in three different seasons. He’s been on a preseason rosters since then, but hasn’t thrown a pass in a regular season NFL game since the 2014 season. He remains a free agent at the moment.
14. Geno Smith
The Jets have had such rotten luck with quarterbacks over the years, and Smith is just another in a long line of failures. Drafted in the 2nd round of the 2013 draft, he was immediately slotted in as the starter for the team, and optimism was high. He had a great career at West Virginia, and was finally thought to be the one to end the Jets’ quarterback woes. An underwhelming rookie season gave way to even more inconsistency, and by 2015 Smith had lost his starting job in New York.
Now, Smith is trying to make the Giants’ roster as Eli Manning’s backup, but that’s still up in the air. There’s a good chance that he’ll bounce around from roster to roster over the rest of his career, and never maintain any kind of a starting job. Once a quality prospect, Smith is now on the outskirts of the league’s quarterback landscape.
13. Jimmy Clausen
Coming off a stellar senior season at Notre Dame, Clausen was taken by the Panthers in the 2nd round of the 2010 draft, and was named their starter for the upcoming season. It was one of the most disastrous rookie seasons for a quarterback in recent memory, and it was enough for the Panthers to go after Cam Newton as their franchise player the following season. Clausen miraculously managed to start 10 games, despite struggling in just about every facet of the position.
He was out of the game for a few years, before getting another shot as a backup with the Bears, and while he played marginally better in limited action, it wasn’t enough to win a starting job. Now he’s a free agent, and most likely will be off an NFL roster forever, barring some kind of late-season emergency.
12. Tim Tebow
Tebow-mania was all the rage for a few years, but it was clear that the National Championship-winning Florida product wasn’t cut out for the NFL game. Despite actually winning a playoff game with the 2011 Broncos, Tebow looked awkward and ham-fisted on a pro field, even if his personality and celebrity status had catapulted him to superstardom all on its own. That didn’t excuse him from criticism for his on-field player, however.
So Tebow eventually fizzled out of the league, did some college football analysis for a while, and is now taking a stab at minor-league baseball for the Mets organization. Currently hitting at a sub-.250 clip, it’s safe to say that he won’t be usurping any major league players of their job anytime soon. Can’t fault him for trying, though.
11. Brock Osweiler
The fiasco that has been Osweiler’s career is entertaining, but it’s one that has so many bad decisions associated with it. After being Peyton Manning’s backup for three seasons, he was able to land some starting time in 2015 during the Broncos’ Super Bowl run when Manning’s play faltered by mid-season. A solid performance saw his stock rise, and then the following season he was given a massively inflated contract, courtesy of the Houston Texans.
That’s when the wheels fell off, and Osweiler was mediocre during the 2016 season in Houston. For four years and $72 million, that wasn’t going to cut it, and the Browns were able to buy out his career with the aid of their near-infinite amount of cap space. Osweiler now competes for a spot on the Browns’ roster. While he’ll make the team, it’s unlikely he remains the starter for very long, if at all.
10. Brandon Weeden
Since he had previously played minor league baseball for several years, Weeden was 26-years-old when he played his senior season at Oklahoma State, and was taken in the 1st round by the Browns, in yet another attempt to fix their quarterback position. Expected to be a fully-formed talent because of his advanced age as compared to other rookies, Weeden was anything but that. Cleveland moved on after a pair of dismal seasons, relegating him to perennial backup duty.
Currently residing as a backup for the Texans, Weeden has actually found a decent gig for himself. He’s going into his third season with the team, and while aspirations of being a full-time starting quarterback have gone out the window, he still was able to able to win a playoff game last season when he was forced into duty. He’s actually in a better place than many on this list, surprisingly.
9. Sam Bradford
OK, so Bradford may not be the most egregious examples of a quarterback bust, but he’s still a massive underachiever considering he was a former 1st overall pick. The first player taken in any draft is expected to be a near-generational talent. Someone that a team can count on to produce at an elite level on a perennial basis. Bradford hasn’t lived up to that billing, and is now fighting to keep any kind of starting job at all.
The upcoming season with the Vikings will determine whether or not he’s destined to stay in the league as a starter. He’s had a chance with the Rams, then the Eagles, and now it’s time to prove that he can elevate an offense to the point of playoff success. Bradford has never been on a team that has won more than 8 games in a season. He may not be an outright failure like some others on this ranking, but he’s toeing the line to be sure.
8. Jake Locker
There was actually some skepticism about Locker as a 1st-round pick when he was coming out of Washington. He didn’t post stellar college numbers, and some thought that he wasn’t destined to be an all-time great in the NFL. It turned out he wasn’t even destined to become a competent NFL starter, and the Titans suffered through four years of mediocrity from Locker, and three as a starter.
Locker would retire after the 2014 season, purely to just get away from football all together. He remains out of the league in all capacities today, and is married to a former Washington softball player. Laying low was probably a good move all along for him, as being an NFL starter absolutely wasn’t.
7. Colt McCoy
A quality passer during his time with the Texas Longhorns, McCoy wasn’t the most highly-touted prospect in the 2010 draft, but he was still notable enough that most people expected him to have a solid NFL career. Yet another Browns pick, he started 21 games over his two seasons with the team in 2010-11, and was axed from the starting job.
He’s settled on being a backup for Kirk Cousins on the Redskins over the past three years, which isn’t at all a terrible gig for someone who was a 3rd-round pick. He’s probably content with an understudy role, as he wasn’t a 1st-round pick who was necessarily expected to be an elite player right from the start. Still, McCoy was a good enough prospect that his career is a disappointment.
6. Teddy Bridgewater
It’s hard not to feel bad for Bridgewater, who had the Vikings starting quarterback job all but locked up for the long-term when he suffered a devastating injury that kept him out for the entirety of last season, and will for this one as well. Still, he had a ways to go before he established himself as a quarterback that didn’t have to rely on his defense. While it may be a misnomer to call him a “bust”, he definitely was a game-manager, and that doesn’t cut it for a 1st-round pick.
The Vikings will keep Bradford on their roster if performs up to expectations this year, but it’s not out of the question that Bridgewater could land a starting job somewhere else. Minnesota declined the 5th-year option on his contract, so he’ll likely be a free agent after this season concludes.
5. Blaine Gabbert
Unfortunately for Gabbert, he was drafted onto a mess of a roster in Jacksonville, and they were never able to develop him past the very early stages of a consistent NFL quarterback. Three seasons of mediocrity with the Jaguars gave way to a backup and spot-starter role with the 49ers, where he did little to improve. Gabbert’s stock was through the roof in the aforementioned 2011 draft, and many thought that the Missouri product would be a franchise player in the NFL.
Currently, Gabbert is trying to make the Cardinals roster, and actually just might as a backup. It’s unlikely that he’ll be an option as a full-time starter, but Carson Palmer is getting up there in age, and Gabbert is young enough to take a chance on if they need a stopgap. It’s an interesting situation, but Gabbert has proven that he’s a liability if forced into consistent starting time.
4. Blake Bortles
It may be a stretch to call Bortles a confirmed bust, considering that he has actually had a good season (2015), but time is wearing thin for the Jaguars and their evaluation process to find out how good he can be on a consistent basis. Time and time again, Bortles has thrown inexplicable interceptions, and exhibited poor decision-making. His inherent skills are good, but he just can’t seem to show that he has the “X factor” necessary to be a great NFL quarterback.
He’ll start for the Jaguars this year, but with a new head coach in town in Doug Marrone, it wouldn’t be surprising if Bortles got the axe sometime during the season. Point is, he needs to improve to keep his starting job, and quickly. As a former 3rd-overall pick, it would definitely be one of the most notable busts in recent history if it didn’t work out in Jacksonville for Bortles.
3. E.J. Manuel
The Bills may have thought they were getting a franchise quarterback in Manuel when they took him at 15th overall in 2013. Finally, they thought they were going to get the young franchise player that they could build around and end their playoff-win drought, which has stood since 1999. Instead, Manuel turned out to be another overrated prospect, who faltered almost immediately in the NFL.
Like so many others, once Manuel initially lost his starting job, he hasn’t been able to regain his footing in the league. Having just signed with the Raiders, it seems like another pit-stop that isn’t even likely to result in a roster spot. Manuel is on thin ice right now, and could be retiring all together soon.
2. Robert Griffin III
Simply a dynamic college quarterback at Baylor, there was no question that Griffin was the consensus best quarterback option in the 2012 draft. The Redskins traded up a king’s ransom to get him at the 2nd-overall pick, and Griffin actually led them to a playoff-berth in his rookie season. From there however, it was all downhill, and tensions between Griffin and the Redskins brass mounted until he was cast out of the starting role.
In some ways, Griffin was the product of a poor front office and leadership structure in Washington, but in other ways, the pro game wasn’t ideal for him either. Either way, now he’s on the free agent market after being named the Browns starter in 2016, and promptly being put on IR after the first game of the season. The guy just can’t catch a break.
1. Johnny Manziel
Without question, the most egregious quarterback bust since 2010 has been Manziel, and everything that came along with him off the field only makes it more obvious. He ran around like a maniac at Texas A&M, had highlight reel plays ever week, and had the kind of boisterous personality that was infectious to casual fans of the sport. There were warning signs, but most thought he would be a 1st-round pick, so nobody was surprised when the Browns took him 22nd-overall.
Whether it was his incessant partying, and making of the headlines for all the wrong reasons, or whether he just couldn’t grasp the NFL game in its scope, Manziel struggled early and often. And he never seemed to understand the magnitude of importance that being a franchise NFL quarterback inherently has. For every “money sign” he gave, it seemed like he would throw an interception directly afterwards. Manziel was just a mess overall, and the biggest quarterback bust since the 2010 season.
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