We've still got well more than two months before the 2018 NFL draft, but as early as now, fans are salivating with excitement at all the first round-caliber quarterback talent available. Josh Rosen, Sam Darnold, Josh Allen, and Heisman Trophy winners Baker Mayfield and Lamar Jackson – their names have all been mentioned as potential first-rounders come April 26. But let's face it – if history is any indication, there's a very good chance that not all of them will go on to have successful NFL careers.
Compared to other positions in football, quarterback probably has the biggest boom-or-bust potential. And while you're probably familiar with the biggest busts at QB in the last 20 NFL drafts or so, we're going to add a little twist to the tried-and-true discussion, as we list 10 QB busts from the 1998 to 2017 drafts, and 10 other quarterbacks who would have done much better to justify getting selected at such a lofty position.
Disclaimer: Just in case you're looking for Tom Brady in this list, we'll spare you the trouble, as he isn't – Chad Pennington was the only 1st-round QB in the 2000 draft, and he was far from a bad player, injury problems and spaghetti arm notwithstanding.
20 The Bust: Robert Griffin III (2012, #2, Redskins)
You should know how this sob story goes by now. Robert Griffin III parlayed his Heisman Trophy, big arm, and freakish athleticism into the 2nd-overall pick in the 2012 NFL draft, as the Washington Redskins selected him right after the Colts made Andrew Luck the top pick. After a tremendous rookie season, RG3 tailed off as a sophomore, dealt with injuries and clashed with coaches, dropped down to third in the depth chart, and after getting cut, last played in the NFL in 2016, as the latest in a long series of failed Browns quarterbacks.
It's highly debatable if RG3 would have blossomed into a bona fide superstar had he not gotten hurt – as has often been suggested, he didn't always seem to have the drive to follow through on his big rookie year. So while no one can take away his Offensive Rookie of the Year award, RG3 is clearly one of the biggest quarterback busts of the last 10 years.
19 Should Have Picked: Kirk Cousins (#102, Redskins)
There were a few others whom the Redskins could have gone with instead at #2 overall. There's Ryan Tannehill (#8), despite last year's injury. Russell Wilson (#75) definitely would make a lot of sense in a re-draft. You could even name this year's Super Bowl hero Nick Foles (#88) as someone who would have done more for the Redskins in a re-draft. But really, why not go with the man the Redskins selected exactly 100 spots after RG3? And to quote him, you'll like that! They may not have expected much out of Kirk Cousins, but as Griffin's injuries piled up and his attitude continued to sour, Cousins (and journeyman Colt McCoy) overtook him on the depth chart.
Despite three and a half big seasons for the Redskins as their starting QB, Washington management never gave Cousins the recognition he deserved. And with the team having just traded for Alex Smith, it would seem that they're ready to move on from their former 4th-rounder-turned unlikely star signal-caller. Probably the Redskins could have avoided the whole saga by drafting Cousins 2nd-overall and treating him like a future superstar from day one.
18 The Bust: Paxton Lynch (2016, #26, Broncos)
The jury may still be out on Paxton Lynch, two years after the Denver Broncos selected him late in the 1st round as their quarterback of the future. But one has to be concerned about his future in the NFL going forward, as he wasn't able to stand out in a quarterback carousel that also featured Trevor Siemian and Brock Osweiler. Those two aren't exactly Joe Montana and Steve Young on those great 49ers teams of old, so it's a little troubling that Lynch can't break out despite being in rather mediocre company.
It's not exactly breaking news – the Broncos have lots of question marks behind center. That's a sharp contrast from the days when John Elway was all the quarterback they needed, or even those years when an aging Peyton Manning still put up excellent numbers, and made up for his terrible farewell season stats by winning Super Bowl 50.
17 Should Have Picked: Dak Prescott (#135, Cowboys)
The Broncos could have avoided all the quarterback problems they're going through these days, simply by taking a gamble on a slightly less-heralded quarterback in the 2016 draft. Of course, we're talking about the guy who eventually started for Dallas in 2016, Dak Prescott, who was essentially a consolation prize for the Cowboys after they failed to trade up for Lynch. And what a consolation prize he was, as he was the Associated Press NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year in 2016, after taking over from an injured Tony Romo.
While Prescott's numbers were substantially less impressive in his sophomore campaign, he was still in the middle-of-the-pack, and didn't falter as poorly as fellow young quarterbacks Marcus Mariota, or even Jameis Winston (despite the deceptively strong numbers) did in 2017. More importantly, he was much better than either Siemian, Lynch, or Osweiler were for the Broncos last season.
16 The Bust: Tim Couch (1999, #1, Browns)
The Cleveland Browns of old had Otto Graham in the 1950s, Bernie Kosar from the mid '80s to early '90s, and a lot of good, reliable quarterbacks in between. The "new" Cleveland Browns had Brandon Weeden, Brady Quinn, Johnny Manziel, a washed-up Jeff Garcia and Jake Delhomme, and all manner of mediocre, disappointing, and/or aging quarterbacks in between. All that failure had to start somewhere, and it started in 1999, when the returning Browns drafted Kentucky quarterback Tim Couch 1st-overall.
While Couch's numbers weren't as bad as those of other epic failure QBs picked in the first or second rounds of the NFL draft, he definitely wasn't worth a top pick, thus putting him safely on most anyone's list of all-time biggest quarterback draft busts. That's especially true if you consider who was selected right after him...
15 Should Have Picked: Donovan McNabb (#2, Eagles)
Contrary to what you may think, not everyone on this list was picked outside of the first round, yet went on to have a much better pro career than expected. Take, for example, Donovan McNabb, who went 2nd-overall to the Philadelphia Eagles, right after the Browns whiffed with 1st-overall pick Couch. You can't argue with six Pro Bowls in 13 NFL seasons, consistently strong performances almost all throughout, and a rather obscure milestone, as the first QB to throw for at least 30 TD passes and less than 10 INTs in a season.
It's not really an inverse take on Peyton Manning/Ryan Leaf with the second pick faring much better than the first, but given all those quality seasons McNabb produced for the Eagles, he could have at least helped the Browns return to the NFL with a vengeance, and helped them avoid becoming the running joke they currently are.
14 The Bust: Akili Smith (1999, #3, Bengals)
The quarterback class of 1999 was said to be the best since 1983, when NFL fans were introduced to future Hall of Famers John Elway, Jim Kelly, and Dan Marino, and a couple others (Tony Eason and Ken O'Brien) who had decent, if not stellar NFL careers. Todd Blackledge (#7) was the only bad apple in 1983's 1st-round bunch. As for the class of '99, the 1st round of that draft had THREE Todd Blackledges, none of whom were worse than Oregon Ducks QB Akili Smith, the 3rd-overall pick.
Basically, what Smith did was to parlay a fluke senior season and impressive combine results into a high draft position. And while was just as athletic as advertised, his actual signal-calling abilities left a whole lot to be desired. Somehow, he lasted four seasons with the Cincinnati Bengals, throwing for only 5 touchdowns against 13 interceptions.
13 Should Have Picked: Daunte Culpepper (#11, 1999)
If we were to do a straight-up re-draft of 1999 and have both the Browns and Eagles select quarterbacks, Daunte Culpepper would have been gone by the time the Bengals were on the clock. But let's assume Couch and McNabb were picked in the top two, as they were in real life – Cincinnati might as well go with the far more proven college prospect and select Culpepper at 3rd-overall. Although the second half of his career was marred by injuries and inconsistency, the big-bodied, big-armed Culpepper was mostly excellent for a five-season stretch from 2000 to 2004, with his career peaking in 2004, as he set a then-record for total yardage for a quarterback.
As he also brought some impressive athleticism to the table, much like Akili Smith did, we can't understand why the Bengals gambled instead on the guy with the fluke season. Culpepper would have been a much better choice, and then some.
12 The Bust: Patrick Ramsey (2002, #32, Redskins)
Maybe he wasn't as big a bust as most others in this list. After all, #32 overall is barely within the 1st round, and expectations aren't as high as they would be if you were picked in the top 10. But you still would expect a regular starting job for any quarterback picked in the 1st round, and if you're in the "game manager" category like Patrick Ramsey was, you'd expect more than QB ratings in the 70-75 range in two short years as a starter.
If you'd recall the 2002 draft, you may remember that Ramsey was a rather surprising pick for the Washington Redskins, who thought he'd make a good replacement for Tony Banks. He's also memorable in the wrong way for holding out for a bigger rookie contract, which reportedly led to him being hazed mercilessly as a rookie, and his offensive line failing to provide adequate protection for him in a game against his hometown New Orleans Saints. (He had 4 INTs and got sacked a whopping 7 times in that game, in case you're wondering.)
11 Should Have Picked: David Garrard (#108, Jaguars)
Technically, David Garrard would have also been a better choice in hindsight than David Carr (#1) and Joey Harrington (#3), who were much higher selections than Ramsey, and more disappointing because of their lofty draft positions. But his career wasn't befitting of a 1st- or 3rd-overall pick, which is why we went with late 1st-rounder Ramsey, then went with Garrard as the guy the Redskins should have gone with.
Interestingly, the strong-armed Garrard became a successful NFL quarterback by replacing another disappointing 1st-rounder, as Byron Leftwich's injuries sullied what had been a promising pro career at that point. While he put up some good numbers for the Jaguars, he was, for all intents and purposes, a middle-of-the-pack QB, and more of a game manager than a game-changer. Still, the Redskins would have preferred someone like him, had they known how mediocre Ramsey would turn out to be.
10 The Busts: Blaine Gabbert (2011, #10, Jaguars), Christian Ponder (2011, #12, Vikings)
We're going to give Jake Locker a pass here, even if his NFL career was definitely disappointing – at least he had the courage to admit he was retiring young because he had lost his desire to play pro football, and didn't want to let down anyone who'd want to take a chance on him. Top pick Sam Bradford, on the other hand, can't be called a bona fide bust. He's proven he can hang in the pros, even if he's hardly ever healthy to do so. That leaves Blaine Gabbert and Christian Ponder as the two biggest flops in 2011's utterly disappointing 1st-round class of quarterbacks.
Although there was a brief period of time when Gabbert seemed to be shedding his "bust" label, he was back to his old mediocre ways in 2016, one season after he replaced Colin Kaepernick as the 49ers' starter and played surprisingly well. Ponder, on the other hand, failed to set the NFL on fire after two meh seasons as the Vikings' starter, and while he's currently a free agent, he hasn't played a down since 2014, despite the fact he was on a few teams' regular season lineups in 2015 and 2016.
9 Should Have Picked: Andy Dalton (#35, Bengals)
Sure, he's oftentimes called out for his lack of playoff success and his failure to deliver in crunchtime, and while he's never had a truly disappointing season in his time in the NFL, those stats can be a bit deceiving. But the Jaguars and Cardinals would probably have preferred to draft Andy Dalton in the 1st round, instead of the flops they ended up with in real life. Heck, you could even say that he's had a better career than Bradford (another so-called "game manager" QB), because he has, at the very least, stayed healthy, missing just three regular season games in his seven-year career.
Despite frequently being rumored to be in jeopardy of getting benched, Dalton has hung on as a middle-of-the-pack starting QB. Again, that's much better than the lower-tier likes of Gabbert and Ponder, and as far as his starting job goes, it looks like the Red Rifle will be hanging on to it for an eighth season, with his backup, A.J. McCarron, having recently hit the free agent market.
8 The Bust: Ryan Leaf (1998, #2, Chargers)
If you're a younger fan, you probably don't remember the time when Peyton Manning and Ryan Leaf were virtually interchangeable as the potential top two picks in the 1998 NFL draft. While Manning was the safer choice, Leaf arguably had the potential to become a bigger star, thanks to his stronger arm. And while the red flags surrounding Leaf kept adding up in the weeks leading to the draft, the San Diego Chargers still saw it fit to trade several draft picks and a proven star (RB/WR Eric Metcalf) to move up and go with the volatile Washington State QB as their 2nd-overall pick.
In the end, the Chargers had buyer's remorse well before Leaf ended his rookie season with a god-awful 2-15 TD-INT ratio, and legions of fans (and teammates too) calling for his head. He was still terrible in 2000, after missing the entire 1999 season with a shoulder injury, and after four games with the Cowboys in 2001, his NFL career was over. Again, dear young'uns, this was supposed to be a guy who could have been better than the great Peyton Manning.
7 Should Have Picked: Matt Hasselbeck (#187, Packers)
More often than not, those wanting to redo the 1998 draft would suggest that Randy Moss go 2nd-overall to the Chargers. Fair enough – he's one of the greatest wide receivers of all-time, and he's arguably right behind top pick Manning (if not ahead of him) as the top product of the 1998 draft. But since our list focuses on better quarterback alternatives to some of recent NFL history's biggest draft busts behind center, we're going to have to go with Matt Hasselbeck here, despite his pedestrian college numbers and lowly real-life draft position.
It was either him or Brian Griese in a QB class that didn't have any potential superstars aside from Manning and Leaf. But while Griese was a more than decent starter more often than not, Hasselbeck beat the odds to make three Pro Bowls and play 17 seasons in the NFL. No, that still might not add up to a Hall of Fame career, but it's hundreds of times better than what Leaf ultimately achieved with the Chargers.
6 The Busts: Vince Young (2006, #3, Titans), Matt Leinart (#10, Cardinals)
No matter how you look at it, former Madden NFL cover athlete Vince Young was a big-time letdown as the 3rd-overall pick in the 2006 NFL draft. Bring up his two Pro Bowl appearances if you may, his Comeback Player of the Year award, and the fact that he was, in 2009 and 2010, a pretty good signal-caller for the Titans. But between his injury and attitude problems, Young was far more trouble than he was worth, and as we recently found out, he wasn't even able to cut it in the CFL.
Seven picks later, the Cardinals drafted Heisman Trophy winner Matt Leinart with the 10th-overall selection, and expected him to start ahead of the aging Kurt Warner, who was basically an insurance policy at that point in his career. And what an insurance policy he was – Warner easily outplayed Leinart time and again, as the Cardinals ultimately went with the proven veteran and future Hall of Famer, as opposed to one of the many highly-touted USC quarterbacks to flop in the NFL.
5 Should Have Picked: Jay Cutler (#11, Broncos)
Let's address the elephant in the room. Jay Cutler will never be confused with Mr. Popularity for a lot of NFL fans. They say he whines too much, runs coaches out of town, gets paid much more than his worth, has a hot celebrity wife, you name it. But if you look at numbers and accomplishments in the pro ranks, you can't argue with the fact that Cutler has achieved much more than Young and Leinart combined. And we're sure the Titans and Cardinals would want to draft Cutler instead of the duds they ended up with, should they be able to go back in time to 2006.
Yes, we do agree that the stats don't tell the whole story when it comes to the pride of Santa Claus, Indiana. But of the three quarterbacks drafted in the 1st round in 2006 (or four QBs, if you count 2nd-rounder Kellen Clemens), Cutler is the only one to have enjoyed a successful and productive NFL career. (Even if that doesn't change the fact that he's massively disliked by pro football fans.)
4 The Busts: Byron Leftwich (2003, #7, Jaguars), Kyle Boller (#19, Ravens), Rex Grossman (#22, Bears)
Well, how about a trifecta of 1st-round busts for this entry? After Carson Palmer went 1st-overall in the 2003 draft, Jacksonville, Baltimore, and Chicago all whiffed with their quarterback selections, going with Byron Leftwich, Kyle Boller, and Rex Grossman respectively. While Leftwich's failures were mostly related to circumstances beyond his control (injuries, that is), Boller and Grossman simply didn't have the combination of tools needed to live up to their 1st-round status, and while they both had fairly long pro careers, these were mostly spent off the bench, as they both ended their NFL runs with six more INTs than TDs.
All told, that's only one successful quarterback out of four picked in the 1st round, and we can only hope that 2018 won't give us a repeat of what happened in 2003. (Or 1999, as detailed elsewhere in this list.)
3 Should Have Picked: Tony Romo (Undrafted)
With senior stats of 34 TDS, 16 INTs, and close to 3,200 passing yards, Tony Romo was one of the best college quarterbacks...for lightly-regarded Eastern Illinois. Nonetheless, he ended up winning the Walter Payton Award for best Division I-AA player in 2002. By all indications, he could have made an intriguing Day 2 selection in the 2003 draft, but instead, all 32 NFL teams passed on him, though the Dallas Cowboys saw enough potential in him to sign him as a third-stringer. Three years later, he was turning Drew Bledsoe into a two-time "Wally Pipp," taking over as starter and unexpectedly rising to stardom.
Sure, he's gotten a lot of flak as someone who "chokes" when it counts the most, and someone who only produces consistently during the regular season. But if the Jaguars, Ravens, and/or the Bears could go back to 2003 and redo their 1st-round draft picks, they'd probably want to take a flyer on that Division I-AA kid named Romo, instead of going with the splashier likes of Leftwich, Boller, and Grossman.
2 The Bust: Johnny Manziel (2014, #22, Browns)
The Cleveland Browns, as well as many NFL fans in general, thought that the notoriously QB-poor team had lucked out when Johnny Manziel, the exciting, talented, and colorful Heisman Trophy winner from Texas A&M, dropped down to #22 in the 2014 NFL draft. Some saw him as a potential top pick, others saw him as not being worth the trouble of a 1st-round selection, but either way, the Browns thought Johnny Football marked the end of years upon years of quarterback woes.
What the Browns got instead was a couple years of stress and headaches that extended well beyond Manziel's pedestrian, inconsistent play on the field. He was extremely immature off the field, as he seemed to love partying far more than he did throwing touchdown passes, and got into even more trouble with the law for allegedly abusing his ex-girlfriend. Nowadays, he's the type of quarterback NFL teams won't touch with a 10-foot pole, and with very, very good reason.
1 Should Have Picked: Derek Carr (#36, Raiders)
To be honest, there are three non-1st-rounders in the class of 2014 (Derek Carr, Jimmy Garoppolo, possibly A.J. McCarron) who'd make better picks than the actual 1st-rounders. But since Blake Bortles somehow escaped big-time bust status in 2017 with a decent season, and since Teddy Bridgewater barely played last season after returning from injury, that leaves Johnny Manziel as the only truly certified QB bust in the 2014 draft. And that means we're going to have to go with Carr as the quarterback the Browns should have drafted instead.
It's always interesting to note that Carr has emerged as a draft steal, about a decade after his older brother David was a draft bust, and the runaway leader as the NFL's most-sacked quarterback during his time as the Texans' starter. Granted, both he and the Raiders had a disappointing 2017, but he's talented enough to come back strong in 2018 as arguably the 2014 draft's best quarterback in terms of pro achievements.
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