Anyone that has been an NFL fan for long enough can relate to the feelings of anger and disappointment associated with watching your team send out poor to mediocre players on to the gridiron week in and out. You scream at the TV, venting your frustration. "Why do we keep playing this running back that can't hold on to the ball?!" "This kicker missed three field goals last week. Why is he still playing?! Isn't there anyone better?" Given the relative ups and downs of every team, if you follow the league for long enough, you're bound to experience this pain. But perhaps the worst sensation is knowing that your team leader, the play caller on offense, your quarterback, would be second string at best on a playoff contender.
While football analysts are quick to laud the accomplishments of the great hurlers of the game, less attention is paid (and perhaps rightfully so) to those that languished in mediocrity before making a quiet exit from the big stage. This list "honors" some of the least deserving men to lead an offense onto the field. We all have opinions on the worst to lead our respective teams, but here I attempt to parse out some of the most undeserving starting quarterbacks of all time.
To be fair not all of these players necessarily rank among the worst to ever play their position. In fact, several were able to lead their teams to the playoffs at one time or another. What makes them undeserving is not necessarily solely poor performance. Rather, some served on teams with better players waiting for their chance, others were past their prime and continued to start to the detriment of their teams, and others, still, may have been rushed into the job. Whatever the reason, these players should not have been trotted out to the field at critical points for their teams. Without further ado, the 12 least deserving quarterbacks of all-time:
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15 Kyle Orton
Kyle Orton was just about the perfect medium between quality backup and borderline starter throughout his career. However, as time wore on, teams should have figured out that starting Orton would only get you so far. With a record of 42-40 in his career, Orton was never able to lead his team to sustained success. His stint in Denver is a good example, as Tim Tebow, against all logic mind you, gave the team a spark after an uninspiring run from Orton. Last year in Buffalo, the Bills opted to start Orton as well, hindering E.J. Manuel's development as a quarterback. The bottom line is no team should have ever gone into their season thinking: "we can go far with Kyle Orton as our starter."
14 Derek Anderson
Derek Anderson had all of one good season in his days as a starter, leading the Browns to a 10-6 season in 2007. Unfortunately, Anderson was never able to replicate that form, but the Cardinals still chose to bring him in as their starter for the 2010 season, coming off Kurt Warner's retirement. This would be the beginning of coach Ken Whisenhunt's downfall in Arizona, as Anderson would soon be benched in favor of Max Hall. If the team thought so poorly of Leinart, perhaps they should've made a stronger effort to find Warner's replacement.
13 Matt Leinart
While Matt Leinart was eventually beaten out by Kurt Warner for the Cardinals' starting job, the team may have had a chance at competing far earlier had they just signed Warner and let Leinart sit a few seasons. After Warner retired following the 2009 season, it was expected that Leinart would be named Arizona's starter, but he lost the job to Derek Anderson in training camp.
12 Elvis Grbac
This one is an interesting and perhaps controversial choice precisely because he did have fairly decent numbers for portions of his career. However, his final stop – Baltimore – was perhaps a poor choice on the part of the Ravens’ management and coaching staff. Coming off a victory in Super Bowl XXXV, the Ravens opted to release quarterback Trent Dilfer. This would mark the only time in NFL history that a Super Bowl winning quarterback was released the following season.
Sure, Grbac was coming off of a solid season with the Chiefs, and he would post a winning record for the Ravens. But the methodical, game management style of Dilfer may have been better suited for the defense-oriented Ravens, who fell to the Steelers in the Divisional Playoffs.
11 Jimmy Clausen
This one is tricky because Clauson really only served as the official starter for one NFL season, but the evidence suggests that it was one season too many. Clauson posted a 1-9 record in 10 starts for the 2010 Carolina Panthers, who definitely didn’t pull the plug early enough. The Panthers probably shouldn’t have released Jake Delhomme (in spite of some rocky play in the 2009 season) and once starter Matt Moore went out with an injury it may have been more prudent to look for someone else to man the helm. Needless to say, Clauson’s three touchdown passes in 10 starts certainly demonstrate why he had no business starting.
10 Geno Smith
The young Jets quarterback has a rough 27-35 touchdown to interception ratio in just his third season in the league. He inspired hope by producing an 8-8 season for New York in 2013, but followed it up with an abysmal 3-13 effort the following year. Somehow, in spite of his horrendous performance, he was still slated as their starter heading into the 2015 season.
Thankfully, failure to pay a debt got him a broken jaw and he lost his job to Ryan Fitzpatrick. We thought there was a chance he might take back the job, but he is so bad that the Jets just opted to start a QB with a broken hand rather than entrust the offense to Smith. Fitzpatrick has surprised many with his strong play, though it may simply look impressive when stacked up next to Smith's "accomplishments."
9 David Carr
It’s always difficult starting out as a new franchise, and one certainly doesn’t expect immediate success, but the Texans rode the David Carr train for about two seasons too long. Part of the problem may have simply been entrusting a rookie to come in and make an immediate impact. After all, the Texans had veteran backup Tony Banks on the roster from 2002 to 2005.
Perhaps giving Carr the opportunity to serve as back-up and learn the pace of the NFL would have helped him avoid his atrocious 22-53 record. This goes down as an excellent argument for easing rookies into the starting job, as mastery of the college game does not necessarily make players deserving of immediate NFL playing time.
8 Kerry Collins
Kerry Collins was actually a very serviceable starter for a variety of teams, but his time in Tennessee lasted a bit too long (thus qualifying him for the “undeserving” moniker). The Titans lost their first six games of the 2009 season before Collins finally gave way to Vince Young. Young led the team to an 8-2 record in the final 10 games but they fell just short of a playoff berth.
This is a classic case of not making the switch early enough, and it seems pretty obvious, in hindsight, that, had Collins been pulled after three or four losses, the Titans may have been a playoff team that year.
7 Matt Cassel
Matt Cassel is an interesting story because he only played garbage minutes in college at USC, was a late draft selection, then had a surprisingly impressive season in relief of an injured Tom Brady. It appears, however, that his brief success was more demonstrative of Bill Belichick's genius than Cassel’s ability. Take away his one season in New England and Cassel has a career 24-36 record.
The pinnacle of his undeserving time as starter came in Minnesota when he was given the nod ahead of younger and much more talented players in Christian Ponder and Teddy Bridgewater.
6 Mark Sanchez
This guy just keeps hanging around the league in spite of his incredible propensity to throw the ball to the opposing team. While he doesn’t currently hold a starting QB position, he started 70 games for the Jets and Eagles, even twice “leading” New York to the AFC championship (but, really, it was almost entirely their great defense). His last season as New York’s starter he won 6 of 15 games. He was 8-8 the previous year.
His best year was 2010, when he led the Jets to an 11-5 record and the AFC Championship. Still, he only managed 17 touchdown passes in his 16 regular season games. In 2009, they won nine regular season games but reached the AFC Championship, no thanks to Sanchez’s TD:INT ratio of 12/20. The backups in New York weren’t necessarily superstars in waiting, but I’ve got to believe that some combination of Mark Brunell and Kellen Clemens would have been safer plays.
5 Chad Henne
What about this guy’s 18-35 record or his sub-one TD-INT ratio made coaches in the state of Florida (Dolphins and Jaguars) think that he was starter material? Henne was thrust into the starting role in Miami after an injury to Chad Pennington cut his 2009 season short, even though initial sentiment was that backup Pat White should get the nod. Again Henne earned the starting job in 2010 in spite of a potentially more talented backup in Tyler Thigpen (a guy that played on some poor teams but still managed 21 TDs to 18 INTs).
Henne was then picked up by Jacksonville, where he replaced equally ineffective Blaine Gabbert and managed to eke out five wins in 22 games. At least Gabbert could blame youth and inexperience for his woes. What was Henne’s excuse?
4 JaMarcus Russell
Russell is famously known as one of the biggest draft busts in NFL history, but the former no.1 pick actually didn't start the majority of games his rookie season because the Raiders wanted to ease him into the NFL (something I argue the Texans should have done with Carr), but he was so ineffective once he fully claimed the job in year two that his nine starts in his third season certainly reflected a stubborn refusal to make the switch given their investment in him, rather than any intelligent coaching/management decisions.
Russell was 5-10 as a starter in 2008 and 2-7 in 2009. His lack of any work ethic (showing up each year to training camp significantly overweight) also didn’t lend himself to any argument that he deserved the starting role.
3 Rob Johnson
Rob Johnson played a lackluster nine seasons in the NFL, starting a total of 29 games (and playing in another 19). This makes his total numbers of 30 touchdowns and 21 interceptions particularly unimpressive. Johnson saw the majority of his starts in Buffalo, which many analysts found odd given that for three seasons he was vastly outplayed by “backup” Doug Flutie. Flutie even gained the starting job during an 11 game stretch (going 9-2) before head coach Wade Davis inexplicably opted to bench him in the playoffs in favor of Johnson. Unsurprisingly, Johnson lost that game too.
2 Josh McCown
This Dolph Lundgren look-alike has had a mediocre 12-year career in the NFL, often failing to make his way off of practice squads, yet he has somehow amassed over 50 starts. Not surprisingly, he has a TD-INT ratio barely over one (63-60). In 2014 he started 11 games for Tampa Bay and won once. In fact, over the last five seasons (including five games through this year), the 36 year-old has only five wins in his last 22 starts.
McCown has been given the starting nod in Cleveland this year in spite of his poor play and, even more perplexing, the presence of highly touted second-year quarterback Johnny Manziel on the roster. It appears, however, that his time holding the reigns may finally (and mercifully) be coming to an end, as a recent injury has sidelined him in favor of Manziel.
1 Mike Phipps
This longtime Browns quarterback is a perfect representation of the institutionalized failure associated with Cleveland sports franchises. This guy had no business starting at quarterback and, yet, played seven seasons in Cleveland, starting 51 games. It’s not enough to mention that Phipps holds the second worst passer rating of all time (minimum 1500 passing attempts) with a whopping 52.6.
What really makes this confusing is that he replaced a quarterback (Bill Nelsen) who had five consecutive seasons with double-digit touchdown passes and was, probably a couple of years too late, replaced by a player (Brian Sipe) with five of six seasons throwing over 10 TDs (the other season he had nine). Meanwhile, Phipps, in 12 lackluster seasons, achieved the feat only once (and still threw more interceptions than touchdowns that year).
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