The history of the National Football League is filled with names of men who won Super Bowl championships and other awards as quarterbacks. Joe Montana is seen by some as the greatest player to ever perform on a NFL field due to all that he achieved during his career with the San Francisco 49ers. Maybe New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady deserves that distinction, if for no other reason than he proved that he was able to defeat NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell in a court of law. Dan Marino may be the best ever QB to have never won a Super Bowl championship during his Hall-of-Fame career.
What about the QBs who are at the opposite end of the spectrum? Deadspin once named Rusty Lisch the worst player in NFL history. Was he really that awful? It is widely perceived that QB Ryan Leaf is the worst draft pick ever made by the San Diego Chargers. Leaf, obviously, checks in on the list of the worst starting QBs to ever feature for a NFL team. Leaf is not, as you will see, the only draft bust to be showcased in this piece. In fact, Leaf is probably not the worst draft bust mentioned here. Yes, we are referencing the disaster that was the NFL career of JaMarcus Russell.
The Cleveland Browns are a franchise that is known for being historically bad at picking quarterbacks in draft classes and in free agency. Tim Couch did not win anything of merit while with the Browns, but it should be pointed out that he had little help on the field with him. It is difficult to imagine that those running the Browns at the time believed that Jeff Garcia could be a franchise QB capable of leading the team to the postseason. Johnny Manziel may not be the savior of the Browns, but he has managed to find the end zone multiple times during his brief NFL career. He, thus, is not one of the worst starting QBs in NFL history.
32. Rusty Lisch, Arizona Cardinals
The history of the Arizona Cardinals goes back to the city of St. Louis, and that means that Rusty Lisch is the first player mentioned in the list. Lisch, as was pointed out in the previously mentioned Deadspin piece, tossed a recorded 115 official pass attempts. One of those resulted in a touchdown, and Lisch matched that score with 11 interceptions. Just as noteworthy was that the fourth-round pick never won a game in the NFL before he made an unceremonious exit from the league. Jeff Pearlman of Deadspin gave the following description of Lisch: “But if you have one game you need to lose, and you require a quarterback to take you there, Lisch is — hands down — the man you want.” Ouch.
31. Kim McQuilken, Atlanta Falcons
There is an argument to be made that any team should only expect so much from a third-round pick. That he was not perceived to be a great player does not excuse just how bad a quarterback Kim McQuilken was during his NFL career. McQuilken won just two of his seven starts during his tenure with the Atlanta Falcons, and his career touchdown-to-interceptions ratio was a baffling 4-29. That’s right: Four touchdowns and 29 interceptions. Just as startling is that McQuilken managed to complete under 40 percent of his pass attempts. That he hung around in the NFL for five seasons is astonishing when you examine his stats.
30. Elvis Grbac, Baltimore Ravens
The Baltimore Ravens have only been around for two decades, meaning that the franchise has only had so much bad QB play during its existence. Elvis Grbac wins the award here, if for no other reason than he is probably the biggest single letdown the Ravens have had in 20 years. Grbac was hoped to be an improvement from Trent Dilfer, who fell into a Super Bowl championship thanks to a defense for the ages that dominated the New York Giants in the big game. Not only was Grbac not an upgrade. The product of the University of Michigan threw more interceptions than touchdowns, most notably during a playoff loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers.
29. Bruce Mathison, Buffalo Bills
There are instances when one team’s trash is another team’s treasure. The Buffalo Bills were banking on that mantra in 1985 when the team put Bruce Mathison under center. Mathison did not reward the Bills for that faith, winning just one of seven starts for the Bills. He completed under 50 percent of his pass attempts, and he coupled four touchdown throws with 14 interceptions. That was the only season Mathison would spend with the Bills before the club wisely moved on. Mathison would start only two more games in his NFL career before he had to find other ways to pass the time and make a living.
28. Chris Weinke, Carolina Panthers
It turns out that a quarterback needs more than size and a successful college career to make it in the NFL. Chris Weinke, listed at 6-foot-4 and over 230 pounds, started 15 games in his first season with the Carolina Panthers. He won only one of those contests. Weinke would start just one more game with the Panthers before the club cut ties with the QB. Spoiler alert: He did not win that one, either. In all fairness to Weinke, he was over-drafted by a franchise looking for a winning QB and he was then inserted into the starting lineup well before he was ready to take that task on.
27. Cade McNown, Chicago Bears
Not only did Cade McNown think so highly of himself that he held out for more money from the Chicago Bears, the Chicago Bears actually awarded McNown with a contract worth $15 million, a deal that included a $6 million signing bonus. It is a good thing that McNown was an accomplished negotiator, because he was one lousy NFL QB. McNown started in 15 NFL games for the Bears, and he won only three of those contests before the club decided that it would be best to go in another direction. Congrats on the big payday, Mr. McNown. It was the best move of your NFL tenure.
26. Akili Smith, Cincinnati Bengals
Perhaps choosing bad quarterbacks is contagious in the state of Ohio. The Cincinnati Bengals used the third overall pick of the 1999 NFL Draft to acquire Akili Smith and he proved to be arguably the worst pick in the history of the franchise. Smith won only one of the four starts that he made as a rookie and he ended his career with an unremarkable record of 3-14. He threw only five touchdowns in four seasons, and each of those passes occurred during his first two years with the Bengals. Fans of the Bengals may not always be enamored with Andy Dalton, but just remember that things could be much, much worse.
25. Brandon Weeden, Cleveland Browns
“Brandon Weeden is 28-years old,” they said. “He will be ready to play in the NFL on his first day in the league,” they said. Weeden was not ready, posting a 5.1 rating in his regular season debut. Things would only get worse during his time with the Browns. Whether he was getting caught underneath an American flag during pregame ceremonies or he was tossing wobbly interceptions that made fans groan, Weeden was downright terrible during his two seasons with the club. Weeden now has a chance to resurrect his career with the Dallas Cowboys. Best of luck to him.
24. Babe Laufenberg, Dallas Cowboys
The Dallas Cowboys were not the first team to give Babe Laufenberg a shot in the NFL, but Dallas was the last club to believe that Laufenberg could play in the league. Laufenberg, drafted by the Washington Redskins, started one game for the Cowboys. It did not go well and neither did the rest of his time with the team. Laufenberg threw one touchdown and six interceptions in his one and only season with the Cowboys, and he completed just 35.8 percent of his passes as a member of “America’s Team.” The Cowboys were ultimately able to move on to a guy named Troy Aikman. He turned out to be pretty good.
23. Steve Tensi, Denver Broncos
The phenomenon of teams mortgaging the future on a QB is nothing new. The Denver Broncos gave up two first-round picks in order to acquire the services of Steve Tensi, who had gone winless in two starts while with the San Diego Chargers. Tensi managed to win while with Denver, he just did not do so all that often. His record with the Broncos, by the time things were said and done, was 10-21-1. Tensi did throw 38 touchdowns in his time there, something that others in this list cannot say that they achieved. He unfortunately was picked off 45 times.
22. Jeff Komlo, Detroit Lions
Joey Harrington may have been your first thought for the worst starting QB to ever play for the Detroit Lions, but Jeff Komlo was unbelievably worse. Komlo was given a chance to start during his rookie season and he responded by throwing a total of 23 interceptions during his first year with the club. 12 of his 14 starts ended in losses and Komlo would start in only two games following his rookie campaign. He lost both of those contests. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers decided to give Komlo a go in 1983 and the Bucs soon learned that he was not the answer for the team at the QB position.
21. Randy Wright, Green Bay Packers
It was not always sunshine, rainbows and puppy dogs at the QB position for the Green Bay Packers. Randy Wright had five seasons to prove his worth to the Packers as a NFL QB and what he proved was that he probably shouldn’t have been a QB for the team at all. Wright won only seven of 32 career starts, with four of those wins coming in 1986. He lost 12 games and threw 23 interceptions that same season. Fans of other NFC North teams probably do not feel too sorry for the Packers over the Wright disaster, as the Packers have been able to follow it by playing Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers at QB.
20. Brian Hoyer, Houston Texans
Veteran QB Brian Hoyer was acquired by the Houston Texans during the 2015 NFL offseason to compete for the starting job, a gig that he won during the preseason process. Hoyer did not last even four full quarters before head coach Bill O’Brien saw the error of his ways and pulled the plug on the experiment. The possibility exists that Hoyer could excel in his second chance with the club, if such an opportunity were to arise. Still, a player has to be a special kind of bad to be yanked out of the lineup after starting for less than an hour of meaningful football.
19. Browning Nagle, Indianapolis Colts
How is it possible that a quarterback with a big arm and a perfect record with his club gets featured on the list? When it’s Browning Nagle, a man who went 1-0 with the Indianapolis Colts despite the fact that he completed eight of 21 pass attempts. One of those passes was even picked off. The Colts were so delighted with what Nagle was able to provide the team that he never again started for Indianapolis. An inability to be an accurate thrower of the football made it easy for the Colts to move on and Nagle’s start with the team would be his last before he was out of the NFL.
18. Blaine Gabbert, Jacksonville Jaguars
In all fairness to our selection, the team did not do much of anything to surround Blaine Gabbert with much talent and Gabbert did little with those who took the field of battle with him, winning four of his 14 starts as a rookie. Not only did Gabbert fail to improve, he visibly got worse with every start in Jacksonville. The Jaguars are hoping that Blake Bortles is not Gabbert 2.0, while the former Jacksonville starter is now serving as a backup QB who is, if we are being honest about the matter, fortunate that a team is still willing to pay him a league salary.
17. Todd Blackledge, Kansas City Chiefs
Some of the names mentioned in this piece could spark interesting debates among knowledgeable football individuals. Todd Blackledge is not one of those players, as he is widely regarded as the worst quarterback to ever start for the Kansas City Chiefs. The Chiefs could have had either Jim Kelly or Dan Marino in the 1983 NFL Draft, but the team instead went with Blackledge. Blackledge finished his career with a quarterback rating of 60.2. Kelly and Marino, meanwhile, are two of the best signal-callers to ever play the position professionally. You can’t win them all, KC fans.
16. Rick Norton, Miami Dolphins
Maybe karma is a real thing as it pertains to pro sports. Before the Miami Dolphins posted a perfect season, the team used a second overall draft pick to select Rick Norton. It took Norton four, count ’em, four seasons before he won his first game as a starting quarterback. Even worse, Norton never won again for the Dolphins or for any other NFL team. Norton’s sad stats get even sadder. He completed 42 percent of his pass attempts, he threw seven touchdowns and 30 interceptions, and he was out of the league after five years. Norton won as many Super Bowl championships in Miami as Dan Marino did, so there’s that.
15. Spergon Wynn, Minnesota Vikings
The name of Spergon Wynn is a punchline in the Cleveland area, as it represents the many failed quarterbacks who have played for the Browns. After his time in northeast Ohio, Wynn had a chance to save his career with the Minnesota Vikings. He did not do so. Wynn started twice for the Vikings, losing both of those games and throwing six interceptions in the process. Wynn may have had a strong enough arm to win in the NFL. Too bad that he could not consistently throw the ball to the guys he huddled up with before plays.
14. Mike Taliaferro, New England Patriots
It did not matter if he was playing for the New York Jets, the (Boston) New England Patriots, or the Buffalo Bills. Mike Taliaferro stunk for all of them. Taliaferro did, in his best season with the Patriots, find the end zone a total of 19 times with his arm. His team only won four of the 14 games that he started, though, and Taliaferro also contributed 18 interceptions that same year. The Patriots were plagued by bad quarterback play for years, Taliaferro included, until the team landed a guy named Tom Brady late in a draft. Brady has erased the play of men such as Taliaferro from the minds of New England fans.
13. Heath Shuler, New Orleans Saints
Babe Laufenberg would be getting another shout-out in this piece, but he never started even a single game for the New Orleans Saints before the Saints read the writing on the wall. This honor instead goes to Heath Shuler, who was already a bust with the Washington Redskins when he found a home with the Saints. Shuler threw 14 interceptions in his nine starts with the Saints, and that he managed to win even four of those contests may serve as proof that luck matters a lot in sports. New Orleans would be the last NFL home that Shuler would have and the third overall pick of the 1994 NFL Draft was out of the league after four seasons.
12. Joe Pisarcik, New York Giants
One could easily place Dave Brown ahead of Joe Pisarcik as the worst QB to ever play for the New York Giants. Brown was all kinds of awful during his time with Big Blue, but he was not front and center for what might be the worst single play in the history of the franchise. Pisarcik was running the New York offense when what fans of the franchise refer to as “The Fumble,” a play known as “The Miracle at the Meadowlands” among those who cheer on the Philadelphia Eagles, occurred. That one moment still stings in the minds and hearts of those who love the Giants.
11. Kellen Clemens, New York Jets
Kellen Clemens could theoretically do a lot with his skill set. Win in the NFL was not one of his talents. Clemens routinely convinced the Jets to hang onto him for reasons that baffled fans of the club, as he had a losing record (4-5) during his five seasons with the team. There may come a time when this list is revised and Geno Smith takes over for Clemens, but Smith may still show that he can go in the NFL as a starting QB. There is no such hope for Clemens, who is currently cashing league paychecks as a backup for the San Diego Chargers. Good on him for getting paid.
10. JaMarcus Russell, Oakland Raiders
Every young QB who is drafted in the first round and who is a flop in the NFL will forevermore be compared to JaMarcus Russell. That will be his legacy so long as pro football exists. Everything about Russell, outside of his appetite for food and his bank accounts, was terrible during his brief stint in the NFL. His play was terrible. His work ethic was terrible. His commitment to finding an open gym during off days was terrible. Russell is maybe the worst draft pick in the history of the NFL, not to mention a reason that rookie players receive only so much money from their first league contracts.
9. Joe Pisarcik, Philadelphia Eagles
At the risk of picking on a guy who has already been mentioned in this piece, it should not be forgotten just how poorly Joe Pisarcik played while featuring for the NFC East clubs. Pisarcik moved from the New York Giants to the Philadelphia Eagles after three seasons in the league and it would be five years before he would start for the Eagles. He won one of those three starts, and Pisarcik was out of Philadelphia and the NFL after those starts. Philadelphia fans may love him because of that famous botched fumble, but such adoration has nothing to do with how he performed while wearing an Eagles jersey.
8. George Izo, Pittsburgh Steelers
George Izo was a second overall pick who was a draft bust for the team that selected him by the time that he was signed by the Pittsburgh Steelers as a backup QB. Izo’s two starts and four appearances that he had with Pittsburgh would be his last as an active NFL player. Izo tossed two touchdown passes and eight interceptions during his only season in Pittsburgh, and he completed 43.2 percent of his attempts. That, amazingly enough, was not the lowest completion percentage that Izo posted during a season as a pro. Pittsburgh fans may have forgotten his name for understandable reasons.
7. Dan Pastorini, St. Louis Rams
The St. Louis Rams had to know what they were getting when they had Dan Pastorini take the field as a starting QB in 1981. Those low expectations are not enough to forget how poorly Pastorini played for the Rams. He lost four of his five starts, he completed 42.1 percent of his passes, and he was picked off 14 times. Matching those 14 picks with a pair of touchdowns is yet another reason that Pastorini gets mentioned in this piece. No other NFL team dared to start Pastorini before he was out of the league and the last five passes of his pro career were fittingly incomplete.
6. Ryan Leaf, San Diego Chargers
Of course it is Ryan Leaf here. Was there really any doubt? Leaf was more than just a draft bust who fell flat as a QB in the NFL. He was never equipped with the physical or emotional skills needed to play under the bright lights of the league. One has to wonder what those running the San Diego Chargers saw when they met with Leaf leading up to the 1998 NFL Draft, as there had to be noticeable signs that something was off with the young man who emotionally broke not long after being selected by the Chargers. Leaf’s problems followed him off the field and he has spent time in prison.
5. Chris Weinke, San Francisco 49ers
Those who want to be different may consider putting Steve Spurrier here instead of Chris Weinke. The “Head Ball Coach” at least won some games with the San Francisco 49ers, something that cannot be said about Weinke. Weinke had only one start as a member of the 49ers, a game that San Francisco did not win. While Weinke did not throw an interception in his two appearances with the Niners, he failed to complete 60 percent of his attempts. The 49ers did not believe that Weinke was a QB who could be saved after those two games and he never again signed with a NFL team before becoming a memory of days gone by.
4. Dan McGwire, Seattle Seahawks
Size only matters so much as it pertains to QB play. Dan McGwire was a 6-foot-8 tower of a man on the football field, a QB who could easily see over offensive lines and who could fire the ball to targets. Unfortunately for McGwire, he could not complete over 50 percent of his pass attempts during his NFL career. He threw only two touchdown passes in his four seasons with the Seahawks, and his 2-2 record as a starter in Seattle does not speak to how forgettable a career that he had with the club and in the league. McGwire never started in the NFL again after the Seahawks gave up on him.
3. Jake Locker, Tennessee Titans
While the history of the Tennessee Titans goes back to the days of the Houston Oilers, the franchise’s tenure in its current location is what was examined for this piece. Jake Locker had some bright moments while playing for the Titans, but he could not stay on the field because of the numerous injuries that he suffered while playing in the NFL. Things got so bad that Locker eventually decided that it was better to just quit than to continue to take beatings in the NFL. That was probably for the best, as his four years in the league were literally painful.
2. Josh McCown, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Josh McCown must have a great agent, as he continues to receive contracts that earn him millions of dollars despite never having even one remarkable season as a starting QB. McCown was a bridge to the No. 1 overall draft pick during his one season with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, winning one of 11 starts and throwing 14 interceptions while with the club. The Buccaneers gave McCown his marching orders as the team prepared to draft Jameis Winston and McCown moved on to the Cleveland Browns. McCown was injured on his first drive with the Browns, but his contract remains intact. His agent is a miracle worker.
1. Gus Frerotte, Washington Redskins
Injuries happen in pro football. Offensive players are sometimes victims of crunching hits from opponents and ligaments can be torn or even snapped via one wrong step. Gus Frerotte was a special case, though, as he famously injured his neck after he head-butted a wall in celebration after he scored a touchdown. Frerotte, who was a promising talent, never reached the expectations had for him after that one moment and he is now remembered for being the guy who chose to take on a concrete wall with his dome. Remember, young football players, that a helmet only protects you from so much.
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