Your favorite NFL team has been there before. With the pressure to win higher than ever and no franchise quarterback on the roster, general managers around the league have decided many times to use the NFL Draft as their hunting ground for quarterback treasure.
The problem? Not all these guys have turned out to be pure gold. Every franchise has been guilty of picking the wrong guy at a valuable spot, so let’s take a stroll down memory lane to see just how much some of these high-valued quarterbacks struggled during their underwhelming NFL careers.
Arizona Cardinals: Matt Leinart
Everyone thought the same thing about Leinart during his time at USC – he was an absolute can’t-miss prospect that was the NFL’s “next big thing” at quarterback. So when the Cardinals took him in the Top 10 in 2006, it seemed as though the franchise was finally set to make its move up the NFL ladder. The only problem, of course, was that Leinart was not the same quarterback that dominated at USC. In fact, he wasn’t even close, and never accomplished much of anything with the franchise.
Atlanta Falcons: Michael Vick
Atlanta fans are still wondering what might have been with the mobile quarterback that had it all. Vick was simply tremendous at times when he was on the field for the Falcons, but it was the whole dogfighting thing off the field that derailed his entire career and left the organization wondering how in the world things veered off course so quickly for the former No. 1 pick. Hey, at least he’ll go down as one of the greatest Madden video game quarterbacks ever. That’s gotta be worth something.
Baltimore Ravens: Kyle Boller
It was pretty clear early on that Boller was not the answer at quarterback for the Ravens. He just didn’t seem to have that “it” factor needed to help the team return to its dominant days of several years prior, and that’s what led to the former Top 20 pick being ousted from his role as a starter after several seasons. Even when Baltimore drafted him, it felt like an interesting choice. But apparently the Ravens brass hadn’t been studying their quarterback bust history notes when taking him so high in the draft.
Buffalo Bills: J.P. Losman
There were a few possible choices for the Bills here, but let’s go with yet another guy that was expected to be the answer to all of Buffalo’s problems at quarterback. Losman was another first round pick that seemed destined to at least give the Bills a decent upswing at the most important position on the field, but instead, all he gave them was a headache for drafting him at such a high spot and getting very little in return. He just managed to reach double-digit wins with the team, compiling 10 for his Buffalo career. Yikes.
Carolina Panthers: Jimmy Clausen
Clausen seemed like far from a sure thing entering the NFL Draft, but that didn’t stop the Panthers from entertaining the thought that he could be as good as he was at Notre Dame. Breaking news: He wasn’t. Carolina took him in the second round and probably has regretted it every since considering that he did absolutely nothing to prove that he was worth that high of a selection. On the bright side, the Panthers wound up following him up with a pretty good quarterback named Cam Newton.
Chicago Bears: Cade McNown
Here’s another quarterback that was straight fire in college and a dumpster fire at the pro level. It wasn’t that McNown was a terrible quarterback, it’s just that he was taken at a ridiculously high spot (No. 12) in a draft that was filled with seemingly sure-fire prospects at the position. The former UCLA superstar wasn’t in the league five years before exiting and leaving Chicago fans with buyer’s remorse.
Cincinnati Bengals: Akili Smith
Hey look, it’s another guy in that 1999 draft class that didn’t pan out. Maybe there was something in water in the green room that day. That’s gotta be it. But Smith seemed to possess all the necessary tools to win big in the NFL and finally get the Bengals franchise where it needed to be. Obviously, that didn’t happen, and Smith averaged about a touchdown per year during his time in Cincinnati. That’s probably a little low for a third overall pick, don’t you think?
Cleveland Browns: Tim Couch
There were probably a lot of jokes about Couch needing to be at home on the couch during some of the games he played for the Browns. It just wasn’t good at times for the Kentucky product, but that might have had more to do with what was around him than anything else. Couch was another guy that tremendous in college and couldn’t figure out how to transition his game to the NFL. Or again, maybe it was just because he was playing for the Browns. He’s not exactly the only major quarterback bust in that franchise’s history.
Dallas Cowboys: Quincy Carter
The fact that Carter fueled the Cowboys to a playoff game is at least worth something in a group of quarterbacks that rarely sniffed the postseason. However, a second round pick is a second round pick, and teams should know they’ve got a sure thing before drafting a quarterback in that particular area of the draft. Then again, it had to seem obvious at the time that replacing Troy Aikman was going to be an impossible task for the former Georgia QB.
Denver Broncos: Tim Tebow
Widely considered one of the biggest quarterback reaches in history, the Broncos took a big chance on Tebow by taking him just 25 picks into the draft. It was not a selection that turned out to be an ideal one for Denver. While Tebow got some playoff experience under his belt and didn’t look half bad at times, it was fairly clear that he wasn’t the quarterback to lead the franchise to the Super Bowl. And when you’re taking a quarterback in the first round, he needs to be that guy. Tebow definitely wasn’t, thus earning him a spot on this prestigious list.
Detroit Lions: Joey Harrington
Man, Harrington was throwing the ball around all over the place at Oregon. Surely he would do the same when the Lions drafted him third, right? Wrong. This may have been another case of a young quarterback not being able to overcome years and years of bad front office decisions, as Harrington was a complete flop and never was able to get Detroit into the mix as a true NFL contender.
Green Bay Packers: Rich Campbell
While the Packers have certainly had success with finding absolute gems at quarterback, that wasn’t the case all the way back in 1981. Campbell was a Top 10 pick for the cheeseheads and didn’t even start a game after proving that taking him that high was a complete mistake. So while we can applaud Green Bay for hitting on a few guys in particular, it might have been this draft bust that made them realize they needed to dive a bit deeper into finding the right future start under center.
Houston Texans: David Carr
It was easy to love Carr during his time at Fresno State. He slung the ball around with ease and was protected nicely by the impressive offensive line that he had there. Enter his time with the Texans, where neither of those happened. He could never make an easy throw due to getting sacked approximately every 2.4 seconds, so it limited his ability to make an impact on the new franchise. With all that said, he still struggled enough to earn the bust label.
Indianapolis Colts: Art Schlicter
We’ve talked a lot about teams taking a gamble on some of these quarterback prospects, but it was another type of gamble that caused Schlicter to make this list. He could throw the ball with the best of them and was impressive enough for the Colts to take him with the fourth pick. However, what the team did not anticipate was him running into gambling problems off the field, and ultimately, being banned from the league for a short time due to those problems.
Jacksonville Jaguars: Blaine Gabbert
Another Top 10 pick, another huge bust. NFL front office people that are reading this list should have a big red stop button when they think about drafting a quarterback in the Top 10, as Gabbert is another example of why that isn’t always a good idea. He struggled mightily for the Jaguars in playing less than 30 games and leading them nowhere near the playoffs. Unfortunately for Jacksonville fans, they’re still learning the hard way how tough it can be to the find the right fit at quarterback.
Kansas City Chiefs: Todd Blackledge
While Blackledge may be one of the best broadcast analysts in football, he was not one of the best quarterbacks in football. Yes, another Top 10 pick (he went seventh) that didn’t pan out. Go figure. But maybe you can’t blame the Chiefs for taking him so high considering how good he looked during his college days at Penn State. Unfortunately, he didn’t even come close to meeting the high expectations, and was out of Kansas City several years later.
Los Angeles Rams: Terry Baker
We’ve seen many times that winning the Heisman Trophy does not mean guaranteed success at the NFL level. That was the case for Baker, who the Rams clearly thought was the best overall prospect in the 1963 draft class. The only problem? He wasn’t. Baker started a single game for Los Angeles and then was out of there in a few years. That type of stat line definitely makes you the biggest bust in franchise history.
Los Angeles Chargers: Ryan Leaf
Here’s one that should shock absolutely no one. Leaf will forever be known as the guy who got picked one spot after Peyton Manning. The problem was that Leaf didn’t come close to being worth that high of a pick. He was a complete bust that is most famously known for his media meltdown, which isn’t ideal when a team takes you at a such a high place in the draft. He was completely out of the league a few years after being pegged as the Chargers’ next superstar.
Miami Dolphins: Pat White
It was pretty apparent in college that White was more of a system quarterback that may have problems adjusting to the pro style system in the NFL. But while that was apparent to me and a lot of other people, it was not apparent to the Dolphins front office. They took White in the second round and proceeded to try to use him in different spots. So while they get an “A” for trying to utilize him in different ways, they get an “F” for swinging and missing so badly on a player that most didn’t see as a second round selection.
Minnesota Vikings: Christian Ponder
There have been some Florida State quarterbacks that have gone on to do big things, and there have been other Florida State quarterbacks that have been total busts. We’ll let you decide which group Ponder is in. Once again, the Vikings thought he was first round quality in taking him at No. 12, but he proved to be little more than average during his short time in Minnesota.
New England Patriots: Tony Eason
If there’s one thing we’ve gotta give Eason credit it for, it’s getting to the biggest game that the NFL has to offer. However, when you play so poorly that the coach takes you out of the game in the biggest spot of your career, it’s usually not good. The good news is that the Patriots didn’t take Eason in the Top 10. The bad news is that they took him in the Top 15, and after six years with them, he was out of there.
New Orleans Saints: Danny Wuerffel
Many people may not realize just how fantastic Wuerffel was at Florida. Just in case they don’t, let me remind you of something: the man was simply fantastic. But that description does not apply when describing his play with the Saints, as it was obvious from the start that he was set to be perhaps the biggest QB bust in the franchise’s history. His time as a starter for New Orleans was short, and that magic he had with the Gators disappeared rather quickly.
New York Giants: Jesse Palmer
Another Florida quarterback makes the list here, and it may be one that’s a little surprising. But a fourth round pick is a fourth round pick, and that’s still a spot where a team expects to get something positive in return. Instead, what the Giants got in Palmer was only three starts in two seasons and only eight games played overall. At least he was able to rebound quickly and hit the reality TV scene before becoming an ESPN broadcaster.
New York Jets: Mark Sanchez
It seems like there are always very high expectations for quarterbacks that come out of USC, and just like Leinart, Sanchez felt that pressure when the Jets selected him in the Top 5. And also just like Leinart, Sanchez was a total bust that could never match the output that he had during his time with the Trojans. Give Sanchez credit for leading the Jets to some playoff appearances, but that high price tag was never warranted.
Oakland Raiders: JaMarcus Russell
Russell was fabulous during his time at LSU, and that led many people to believe that he was a future Pro Bowl quarterback in the making. Noticing a common theme here? All these guys had the perfect skillset needed to thrive in college, but just couldn’t get on track in the NFL. Russell is probably one of the most memorable ones, as he only managed seven wins in three seasons with Oakland. Those 23 interceptions were a problem as well.
Philadelphia Eagles: Kevin Kolb
Here’s another player that wasn’t all that bad at times but just couldn’t justify the high draft choice that a team spent on him. The Eagles took Kevin Kolb with a valuable second round pick in the 2007 NFL Draft, and all that came of it was some frustrating years of shuffling between starter and backup.
Kolb only played four seasons in Philadelphia and managed just seven starts and 11 touchdowns before playing a few seasons in Arizona.
Pittsburgh Steelers: Mark Malone
Malone is another guy that’s had a successful career as an NFL analyst, but could never reach the heights that were expected of him as a player in the league. He lasted longer than most on this list as a start, and the Steelers at least got some value out of him after spending a first round pick on him. However, there just weren’t enough wins from the Arizona State product to keep him out of the bust category.
San Francisco 49ers: Jim Druckenmiller
Following in the footsteps of someone that accomplished Super Bowl success is never easy. If you don’t believe me, just ask Druckenmiller. He was tasked with doing just that in following up the Steve Young era, but it’s safe to say that the Druckenmiller era never really took off. He only managed one start for the franchise and had four interceptions in that appearance, making it rather clear that the Niners had completely whiffed on Young’s predecessor.
Seattle Seahawks: Rick Mirer
Just like Clausen, Mirer was very successful at Notre Dame. He’s still one of the most efficient quarterbacks to ever play for the Irish, and that’s the type of player that the Seahawks thought they were getting when he was selected second overall. What they got instead? You guessed it: One of the biggest QB busts that we’ve ever seen. He threw 56 interceptions in four years as the quarterback for Seattle, officially cementing his status as a major draft bust.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Chris Simms
Perhaps the outlook for Simms was a bit unfair considering who his father is, but that didn’t stop the Tampa Bay Buccaneers from taking a chance on the Texas product and drafting him in the third round. That’s certainly a bit lower than most of the players on this list, but it was still a rather high choice that didn’t pan out due to injuries and on-field struggles. Simms was never the consistent start that most thought he’d be after thriving with the Longhorns.
Tennessee Titans: Vince Young
We go back to back with the Texas quarterbacks as one of the most memorable Longhorns in history takes his rightful place on the list. Young was absolutely spectacular in college, and the Titans raced to the podium to land their future star. The problem was that Young would never find the same success in the NFL as he found in college. He was wildly inconsistent at times under center, and Tennessee had no choice but to cut ties with him several seasons after thinking he was worth that high of a pick.
Washington Redskins: Heath Shuler
Things just haven’t gone well for quarterbacks taken in the No. 3 overall spot. That was the case for Shuler in 1994, and the Redskins didn’t get anywhere near the quality that they were expecting from the former Tennessee star. Shuler only won four games in three seasons and threw 19 interceptions before heading elsewhere. He started nine games with the Saints in 1997 and that was it for his NFL career.