The biggest challenge of creating a list of the biggest NFL QB busts is that there isn’t enough virtual paper in the world to accommodate every disappointing college quarterback. The transition from college QB to NFL QB has such a low success rate that you might be better served heading from H&R Block to the NFL. Just ask Johnny Manziel, who after two years of hype, got his first start last weekend, only to fall flat on his face. While it’s not necessarily a portent of things to come, I wouldn’t be investing in Manziel Jerseys right now.
The Heisman Award, given the to the best college football player (normally a quarterback) serves as virtually no indication of a how a QB will perform. Which is why you often see so many linemen taken in the top spots. Their success is much easier to predict, because you really don’t need Wonderlichs and psych evaluations on guys paid to just shove another dude.
So the field is pretty rich in contenders for the biggest NFL QB busts, but we think we’ve got a pretty good group of legendary underachievers here. Some stories have happy endings, some don’t, but that’s the nature of most professional sports careers, regardless of expectations.
Just be nice, OK? These guys worked hard. Well, they worked hard in college, anyway.
I’m a little conflicted about putting Jeff George in here. While he certainly failed to live up to the Colts’ hopes, he did mange to put together a decent, lengthy career, and there was no huge scandal or shortcoming that sidelined him. However, the Colts traded to get him at #1 and paid him more than any rookie had ever been paid. He lost almost 70% of his starts over three years and was dumped off to Atlanta. He lasted 13 years in the league, but certainly failed to meet expectations.
9. Jeff George
Of all the players that the public has actively rooted to fail, the biggest name since Johnny Football was likely another Cleveland draft pick, Brady Quinn. Quinn’s debut raised eyebrows when he sat in the green room of the NFL draft for what seemed like an eternity as the cocky QB was passed up by many, many teams with QB needs. Quinn was third on the depth chart, and ended up stepping in for an injured Derek Anderson in the first game of the season. After getting the starting gig in 2008, a finger injury sidelined him in November. He and Anderson kept trading the starting gig, and injuries kept Quinn from ever holding it or finding a groove. With a whimper, Quinn stayed in second place, and eventually traveled the league looking for a home.
8. Brady Quinn
It’s remarkable that such high expectations could be had for a college player who had one year of starting experience, but both Smith and the Bengals fell victim to the hype machine. After being drafted, he held out during training camp (never a good sign), which prevented him from starting strong. He was athletic, but never showed himself as a leader or a executer, and started only 17 games in four seasons before traveling the league with virtually no success from that point.
7. Akili Smith
Matt Leinart seemed to have all the pieces in place. He had been a QB for most of his life, capable of handling the pressure, and demonstrating some integrity in shunning the #1 pick for a Senior year return to USC. His stock dropped slightly despite returning the team to the national championship game and was picked up at 10 by the Cardinals. Leinart, though being groomed, couldn’t hold on to the top spot, and ceded the starting job to super-veteran Kurt Warner. An injury sidelined Leinart his entire sophomore season, and the public’s attention went elsewhere. After failing to win the starting gig over Warner yet again in 2009, he was passed over in 2010 in favor of Derek Anderson. He’s been touring the league ever since.
6. Matt Leinart
Most of these bust stories, unsurprisingly, don’t have a very happy ending. Fortunately, Heath Shuler’s does. That is, of course, if you consider being a U.S. congressman successful. I don’t know. You may think it’s worse. But you’d have to have a pretty low opinion of Washington to think that station was beneath Schuler’s playing days. He was taken with the third pick of the ’94 draft at great expense to be their QB of the future (sound familiar?), but ended up losing the starting gig his rookie year to Gus Frerotte. Gus Frerrote!
5. Heath Shuler
While JaMarcus Russell isn’t the biggest disappointment on this list (How surprising can your failure be when you’re drafted by the Raiders?) he is pretty much the masters class on how to squander your college talents in the NFL. Russell set the world on fire at LSU, and being 6’5” with good arm strength, he was a pretty strong choice at #1. It was likely that most teams would have taken him with that pick. But there’s little to account for in the way of a player’s headspace. Russell showed up way overweight after holding out through training camp and the first week. After two years of showing just enough competency to be reluctantly handed the starting job, Russell was benched for Brad Gradkowski and was arrested for possession of codeine cough syrup. Whoops.
4. JaMarcus Russell
Yikes. Vince Young seemed to have, in his time at Texas, a remarkable balance of composure and athleticism. However, it was revealed after being drafted by Tennessee that his mental composure may have been drastically overestimated. While he showed many signs of success, he just couldn’t seem to stay focused, with many documented disciplinary issues and mental question marks. He had a strong 2007, but in 2008, he was sidelined for three weeks and lost the starting job to Kerry Collins. Young led the team to a remarkable comeback midway through 2009, but couldn’t parlay it into a career following a violent altercation with the coach Jeff Fisher in the locker room.
3. Vince Young
One of the most glaring examples is one of the most forgotten. In 1991, Marinovich stood out at USC, getting most of his discipline and work ethic from his father, who seemed to shadow him 24/7. When Todd left Daddy for the Raiders, drafted ahead of Brett Favre, mind you, it was clear that Solo Todd wasn’t built for a career in pro football. He quickly succumbed to drug abuse, which surprised few after his arrest for cocaine possession in college. When he couldn’t practically take most drugs due to drug testing, he shifted to LSD (!) because it wouldn’t show up. Needless to say, he wasn’t the steadiest foundation for a team to base around. He was out of the league by 1994.
2. Todd Marinovich
Hey there, Ryan Leaf! Ryan was picked #2 in 1998 by the Chargers, who traded their #3, a future first round, their second round pick, and Eric Metcalf for the right to grab Leaf. Leaf took the team jet to Vegas to celebrate that night and was visibly exhausted the next day for his press conference. Ominous. Leaf had a middling rookie year and sat out his second season with a shoulder injury. That downtime allowed Leaf’s devils to surface quietly. Then, in year three, a wrist injury kept Leaf sidelined from weeks 4 to 11, when he almost immediately strained a hamstring. From their all he had was his reputation, which quickly eroded thanks to substance abuse issues.
1. Ryan Leaf
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