When we think of quarterback play in the NFL, our minds jump to players like Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, and Drew Brees. We imagine beautiful spirals, precision deep throws, and a full understanding and execution of some of the most complex offenses in the game.
The trouble is, of course, that there are 32 NFL teams and only one Tom Brady. Not every team can have an excellent quarterback behind center, some just have to struggle to get by.
So some teams get to start future legends behind center. Others get good, solid quarterbacks who may not end up in the Hall of Fame one day, but can win games in the NFL. Others have average quarterbacks they have to gameplan around, and yet others have poor quarterbacks who limit what their teams can really do.
And then there’s this lot.
There are some quarterbacks who have put up numbers so awful that they tanked their team’s chances of contending before the season ever really got going. There are some quarterbacks who just were not ready for an NFL debut and were thrust into action too soon. Every quarterback goes through growing pains at first—remember, Brady was a third-stringer in his first year and Peyton Manning’s first team went 3-13—but some quarterbacks simply haven’t lived up to what they need to do to succeed in the NFL.
We’re looking at the 15 worst quarterbacks of the past 15 years. Obviously, the truly worst quarterbacks are the ones that never see the field, but we’re looking more for the players who did the most harm on the field. We’re looking for the quarterbacks just good enough to be trotted out start after start or even year after year, but bad enough to make us all cringe and look away. Without further ado…
15 Mark Sanchez (2009-Present)
Mark Sanchez actually put up a winning record as a New York Jet and led the team to two AFC Championship games. When I say led, of course, I mean “was carried there by Rex Ryan’s defenses.” Though his sophomore season in 2010 was actually fairly solid, he’s been on a downhill trend since that point. In 2012, Sanchez threw 18 interceptions to only 13 touchdown passes, finished dead last in Football Outsiders’ DVOA rankings, and, oh yeah, took part in the infamous butt fumble. When fans are clamoring for Tim Tebow to start over you, that’s a problem. He didn’t look terrible in a reserve role in Philadelphia and he’s getting a new start in Denver, so maybe he can eventually play his way off this list, but for now, we can’t let the butt-fumbler off the hook.
14 Brady Quinn (2007-2013)
Everyone was surprised when Brady Quinn tumbled down the draft board in 2007 before falling to the Cleveland Browns with the 22nd overall pick. Perhaps the rest of the league knew something the Browns didn’t, though, as Quinn only started 12 games for the Browns, unable to beat out luminaries like Derek Anderson and Charlie Frye. He suffered benchings and injuries in his time in Cleveland and might have been written off as just another Cleveland draft bust had he not moved on to Kansas City in 2012, being forced into the lineup due to a concussion suffered by Matt Cassel. Quinn was 1-7 as the Chiefs’ starter that year, ending his career with 17 interceptions thrown to just 12 touchdowns.
13 Joey Harrington (2002-2007)
No individual season of Joey Harrington’s was as bad as most of the other players on this list, but it just seemed like the Lions trotted him out game after game and year after year with no end in sight, content with or unable to replace the significantly below average quarterback. Harrington led the league in interceptions in 2003 with 22 and ended his career as the Lions’ starting quarterback with a 18-37 record. No quarterback with at least 1,000 attempts has a lower passer rating over the last 15 years than Harrington does; his is a long, drawn out legacy of poor play.
12 Brandon Weeden (2012-Present)
The Cleveland Browns are not good at drafting quarterbacks, though this will be their last one on this list. Drafting a 29-year-old rookie in the first round—Brandon Weeden got a late start in college due to an abbreviated career in baseball’s minor leagues—is never a good plan, as you’re skipping out on years of a player’s prime. Weeden’s first NFL game saw him throw four interceptions and put up a 5.1 passer rating, and things didn’t get much better from there; he was released after only two years with the team.
11 Craig Krenzel (2004)
For this list, we’re mostly looking at quarterbacks who were bad for multiple seasons, but Craig Krenzel’s 127 passing attempts for the Chicago Bears in 2004 were so bad that we have to stop for a moment and reflect. He completed just 46.5% of his passes, throwing three touchdowns and six interceptions, and somehow managed to absorb 23 sacks in only five starts—some a fault of a leaky offensive line, but learn to throw the ball away, Craig. Only one player over the past 15 years has thrown more passes than Krenzel and still finished with a lower quarterback rating than Krenzel’s 52.5. Krenzel’s five starts were the worst of any short-term starter over the past 15 years.
10 Andrew Walter (2006-2008)
Andrew Walter, a third-round draft pick in 2006, spent most of his Raiders career backing up the likes of Kerry Collins, Marques Tuiasosopo, and Aaron Brooks, and when he did see the field, you could tell why. In 2006, Walter led the Raiders to a 2-6 record, with only three touchdowns compared to 13 interceptions, eating 46 sacks on only 276 passing attempts. He was, by a significant margin, Football Outsiders’ lowest-rated quarterback of the year, playing badly enough that post-injury and far-post-prime Aaron Brooks replaced him multiple times in the 2006 season. He only appeared in three more games after that point before being released.
9 Blake Bortles (2014-Present)
Blake Bortles is only on this list as a function of bad timing. If he has another year in 2016 like he did in 2015, he’d be off this list entirely. If he improves as much from 2015 to 2016 as he did from 2014 to 2015, he wouldn’t make the list of the worst 100 quarterbacks of the past 15 years, much less the bottom 15. As it stands today, however, we have to acknowledge that his rookie season was really, really bad. He was sacked on 10.4% of his dropbacks and his 55 sacks are the sixteenth most absorbed by a quarterback ever—yes, Jacksonville’s offensive line is bad, but some of that falls on the quarterback holding on to the ball for too long. The constant sacks really squashed any of the promise he showed as a rookie and he ate a similar number of sacks last year—that has to be stopped if Jacksonville wants him to develop into a stud quarterback. Bortles’ 2015 was enough to knock him down three slots on this list and a similar year will keep him off this list in the future, but he does have to go out there and continue to erase memories of his rookie season.
8 J.P. Losman (2004-2011)
Not a great start when you’re last name is literally “loss man.” J.P. Losman lived up to his surname, leading the Buffalo Bills to a 10-23 record as a starter. Not every year for Losman was terrible—he showed some signs of life in 2006, and as a part-time starter in 2007, he wasn’t that bad, either. However, he always struggled with accuracy, and the broken leg he suffered as a rookie in training camp certainly didn’t help his development. He only averaged 139 yards per game in his NFL career; an absolutely unforgivable number. When you consider the Bills traded three picks to go get him, it makes things sting all the much more.
7 Kyle Boller (2003-2011)
There was a time when ex-Ravens head coach Brian Billick was considered a quarterback guru. While it was a run of bad players that ended that idea, the failure of Billick in developing the strong-armed Kyle Boller probably sealed it. Despite having a cannon for an arm, Boller spent most of his career as a Baltimore Raven either on the injured list or actively turning the ball over; he ended his career with 54 interceptions and 42 fumbles. The game never seemed to slow down for him; he rushed throws out of the pocket, which led to more interceptions, which led to less patience, which led to more interceptions. Boller finished his career with a 20-27 record, which is hard to do when you have a top-10 defense on the other side of the ball.
6 Jimmy Clausen (2010-2015)
Some analysts had Jimmy Clausen pegged as a first-round pick when he came out of college, but a “cocky demeanor” and “persnickety smirkness” dropped him down to the second round, where the Carolina Panthers grabbed him. His rookie season would soon wipe that smirk off his face, as Clausen went 1-9 as a starter, throwing three times as many interceptions as touchdown passes and getting into fights with star receiver Steve Smith on the sidelines in the process. The next year, the Panthers drafted Cam Newton and the rest is history. Clausen has popped up again in the last couple years as emergency replacements in Chicago and Baltimore, however, nothing in his play has suggested he’s improved significantly from his time in Carolina.
5 Chad Hutchinson (2002-2004)
There actually was a bidding war for the services of Chad Hutchinson in 2002. After struggling in a professional baseball career, the former Stanford star was targeted by Chicago and Kansas City, but it was the Dallas Cowboys who won the rights to sign him as an undrafted free agent. They thrust him into a starting role as a rookie after Quincy Carter was benched. It didn’t work out; he went 2-7 as a starter and barely completed 50% of his passes. After losing his starting role to Carter, he took an injured trip to NFL Europe before emerging back on that same 2004 Bears team that Craik Krenzel struggled for. Hutchinson wasn’t much better, going 1-4 as a starter to finish out the season before ultimately being released.
4 John Skelton (2010-2013)
From 2010 through 2012, the Arizona Cardinals were involved in sort of quarterback shuffle. John Skelton started 17 games in that period, shuffling in and out of the lineup with Derek Anderson, Max Hall, Kevin Kolb, Ryan Lindley, and Brian Hoyer—a motley crew if ever I’ve heard one. Skelton was the worst of the bunch; only one player in the past 15 years has thrown more passes than Skelton and emerged with a worse passer rating. Skelton actually emerged with a winning record in 2011 with some fourth-quarter magic, but it was almost entirely smoke and mirrors; he never put up a QBR over 34 or threw more touchdown passes than interceptions in a season.
3 JaMarcus Russell (2007-2009)
There’s a strong argument that this is too low for JaMarcus Russell, one of the biggest draft busts in NFL history in every sense of the word. No matter what, this is not what you hope to get out of the top pick in the NFL Draft. Russell held out of his rookie training camp and into the regular season, before the Raiders caved in and gave him a $68 million contract and that seemed to be the last time he cared on the field. Indifferent to coaching or keeping his weight down—he ballooned to 290 pounds at one point, looking more like an offensive lineman than a franchise quarterback—Russell never realized a fraction of his talent. A 7-18 record as a starter and a lifetime quarterback rating of just 65.2 only scratches the surface of Russell’s poor play.
2 David Carr (2002-2012)
If we could, for a moment, ignore David Carr’s rookie season as a Houston Texan, than we would see a poor quarterback, for sure, but not even one of the 50 worst quarterbacks of the past 15 years. He actually led the league in completion percentage in 2006 and teams kept signing him as a backup, so there’s still some talent there. His rookie season, however, was the worst single season of any quarterback in the past 15 years, and probably for a lot longer before that. It’s a classic conundrum—did Carr fail because he was thrust into action too soon behind an offensive line that allowed him to be sacked an NFL-record 76 times? Or was he sacked 140 times in his first three seasons because he never developed a sense of when to get rid of the football or any pocket awareness whatsoever? The blame probably lies on both parties, but it says something that Carr couldn’t develop into a solid passer despite getting to work with Andre Johnson.
1 Blaine Gabbert (2011-Present)
Where to begin? If David Carr’s 2002 wasn’t the worst season of the past 15 years, than Blaine Gabbert’s 2011 season in Jacksonville would qualify. There have been 72 quarterbacks that have thrown at least 1,000 passes in the past 15 years. Gabbert has the fewest touchdowns, is tied for the fewest wins, and is in the bottom five in completion percentage, quarterback rating, and yards per attempt. He has the lowest career passing DYAR in Football Outsiders history, making him the worst quarterback ever by their rankings. His footwork is terrible, he has no composure under pressure, and he’s simply too inaccurate. The San Francisco 49ers and Chip Kelly could be starting him this season, too! Maybe Kelly can turn Gabbert around, but even a Pro Bowl-quality season keeps him on this list. Yes, he was young and he came in on a bad team, but there have been other young quarterbacks and other bad teams over the past 15 years. None have been as bad as Gabbert.