Quarterback is the most important position in the NFL—and when your favorite team drafts one, all of the fan base’s hopes and dreams are tied into that guy.
And if that pick becomes a bust, it is devastating.But what makes it even more painful—is if the guy gets his career off to a good start, maybe even looks like he could become a star in the league—and then, next thing you know, it all turns to dust!
Let’s charge out of the gates hot here, with one of the most extreme examples we’ve seen—Tennessee Titans dual-threat quarterback, Vince Young.
Vince is actually a somewhat unique case in that there was hype building around him long before he ever got to Nashville and captured Offensive Rookie of the Year honors…
He was one of the most well-known Texas high school football players of his generation—and if you know anything about high school ball, you know that’s saying something.
And after lighting up opposing high schools in the greater Houston area for three years, he took his talents to the University of Texas, where he thrived under Mack Brown.
Young set all sorts of records and led the Longhorns to a victory in the 2005 National Championship Game against the USC Trojans, who were riding a 34-game win streak that included the previous national championship. One of the rare powerhouse match-ups that delivered against the media’s expectations.
As did Vince—accounting for 467 yards of offense and scoring the game-winning touchdowns with 19 seconds left to secure a 41-38 victory.
He parlayed this performance into getting selected third overall in his draft…
Needless to say, there were few rookies that have ever garnered as much excitement as number 10 did.
Though he was inconsistent as a passer his rookie year—he led his team to a number of come-from-behind victories—and made the Titans exciting in a way that they hadn’t been since Steve McNair was under center, earning himself the aforementioned Offensive Rookie of the Year honors—and a Pro Bowl selection.
He was even put on the cover of Madden. That’s when you know the hype is getting real!
But… Like many Madden cover athletes before him—misfortune struck—and his career just sort of seemed to unravel. He started to battle injuries—which only further strained his relationship with Titans head coach, Jeff Fisher, who apparently never wanted Young in the first place.
After his second season in the league, Young never started more than 10 games in a year—and was out of the league entirely by the conclusion of the 2011 season, which was completely unthinkable after the way he started!
Robert Griffin III
Young’s tragic downfall is actually not all that different from what we saw transpire in the Nation’s Capital with Robert Griffin III back in the early 2010s.
After a dynamite college career at Baylor, RGII emerged as a shocking ‘number one contender’ to Andrew Luck, who was all but guaranteed to go 1,1, to the Colts in the 2012 draft.
The Colts ended up sticking to their guns and took Luck first overall…a decision that Griffin seemed destined to make them rue as he was a monster, finding unprecedented success in Mike Shanahan’s system as a rookie.
As the youngest starter in the league, he set a number of records including: highest rookie passer rating and touchdown–interception ratio, all while leading Washington to their first NFC East crown since 1999.
To top it off—he earned Offensive Rookie of the Year and Pro Bowl honors. The sky was the limit for Griffin… Until… it wasn’t.
The explosive dual-threat quarterback suffered a nasty knee injury during the playoffs his rookie year—and was never truly able to regain his true form. He lost his starting job in 2015—to Kirk Cousins of all people—and then bounced around to Cleveland, then Baltimore, until he was out of the league entirely.
Quite a fall from grace for a man that looked ready to re-write the record books, all while he changed the way the position was played!
There is one more guy on this list, who played well enough during his first year in the league to win Offensive Rookie of the Year honors, only to have it all come undone for him not too long after.
And while he wasn’t the athletic freak that Vince Young or RGIII was, Sam Bradford was actually taken even higher than both of them. The then St. Louis Rams took him with the first overall pick in the 2010 draft, even after enduring a shoulder injury during his final year on campus at the University of Oklahoma.
Though the decision was somewhat controversial, Bradford seemed to have vindicated the Rams organization with his performance during his rookie year. He completed 60-percent of his passes for 3512 yards and 18 touchdowns to 15 interceptions.
The team as a whole also improved, finishing seven and nine just a year removed from being at the bottom of the standings…
Unfortunately, that was kind of where the excitement around Sam ended—because he was never really able to expand upon what he did that first year… It was a great season for a rookie, but it came with expectations—and Bradford simply didn’t improve.
He continued to battle injuries, starting 16 games just one time in the next eight years of his career—and he never threw over 21 touchdowns or finished a season over .500 as a starter. With this in mind, it’s hard to consider him as anything other than a bust.
I mean… Blake Bortles, the next entry on our list, accomplished both of those feats!
Jacksonville took Bortles third overall in the 2014 draft and the former UCF QB gained some notoriety, putting up some solid counting numbers, including a 4400-plus-yard, 35-touchdown sophomore season.
Albeit a good chunk of those numbers came in garbage time, considering he played for a Jags team that won just 11 combined games over his first three years… But I digress.
Bortles looked like he could be destined for stardom.
Especially after the run that he and Jacksonville went on in 2017, finishing 10 and six—and climbing all the way to the AFC Championship Game, where they suffered an extremely controversial loss to the Evil Empire that was the New England Patriots.
It all fell apart for Bortles after that loss. He went three and nine as a starter the next year, before losing his job—and he would attempt just two passes over the final three years of his career.
Oh, the highs and lows of trying to make it in the NFL!
Now… Let’s shift gears to a couple of old-school names—starting with Rick Mirer, who coming out of Notre Dame was widely regarded as potentially being “the next Joe Montana.”
His numbers won’t wow you—but his rookie season was something to behold at the time it happened…
In part—because it was rare to even see a rookie quarterback crack the starting lineup, so much so, that Mirer was just the third in history to start all of his team’s games. Luckily for Mirer, a side effect of this was setting a slew of records under Tom Flores, who was happy to let his young QB air it out—and smash the rookie attempts, completions, and yards records.
Mirer, unfortunately, was never really able to improve upon his 2833 yard, 12 touchdown debut campaign. In fact, after year 2 it really fell apart for him, as his performance continued to tank.
He lost his job partway through the ’96 season and never really had a chance to be a full-time starter again.
Mirer would play just 25 games over the next nine years, as he bounced around the league until he mercifully retired with a 50 to 76 career touchdown to interception ratio, making him one of the biggest busts we’ve seen—in spite of his decade-plus long career.
Quite a fall from grace after a record-setting rookie year.
Rounding out the olden days portion of the program—we have two guys who were actually members of the same, legendary 1983 draft class: Tony Eason and Ken O’Brien.
O’Brien and Eason were two of the six quarterbacks selected in the first round—taken 15th and 24th respectively… After Hall of Famers, John Elway and Jim Kelly, but before Dan Marino—a decision that I’m sure both the Patriots and Jets front offices regretted rather quickly…
Or—at least after their young quarterbacks’ promise started to fade.
In Eason’s case, his best years came between ’84 and ‘86. Statistically speaking, 1984 was probably his best year. He finished third in the league in passer rating—and completed 60.1% of his passes for 3228 yards.
But in 1985—he led the Patriots to a shocking Super Bowl appearance, which, unfortunately, ended with him getting eaten alive by the fearsome ’85 Bears defense—and ultimately given the hook in the second quarter of the game…
He played well the next year, but soon started to fall out of favor with the New England staff—and was demoted during the 1987 season. He grew to be a malcontent over the next two years getting, toggled in and out of the starting lineup—before getting shipped out of town to New York midway through the 1989 season.
Eason, however, never regained his footing in the league and ultimately flamed out at the end of the following season, having started just 10 games over the final four years of his career.
Can’t imagine that’s what he envisioned for his career after leading New England to a Super Bowl during his second year as the regular starter!
Ken O’Brien, on the other hand, didn’t get a chance to start until 1985—but once he did—he did well to quiet his draft day doubters, of which there were many. At least for the time being!
The Jets won 11 games and O’Brien found himself as the highest-rated quarterback in the league, even earning Pro Bowl honors. The Jets even managed to find their way into the postseason for the first time since 1982, where they coincidentally lost to Eason and the Pats.
While O’Brien would eventually earn another trip to the Pro Bowl six years later, his success was largely a flash in the pan, somewhat akin to Nick Foles—only if Foles had been taken in the first round, and just ahead of one of the greatest quarterbacks to ever step on an NFL field!
That is a fast track to being deemed a bust—even after a promising start to your career!
Kind of like another Jets quarterback, who burst onto the scene 15 years later—Chad Pennington.
While he never put up the massive counting numbers that he did at 1-AA Marshall, Pennington did manage to ball out in 2003, when he finally got the chance to start for New York after making just three appearances during his first two seasons in the league.
Chad overtook Vinny Testaverde five games into the year—and the Jets responded, finishing nine and seven after a lowly one-and-four start, largely on the strength of Pennington’s breakout year.
Unfortunately, it is hard to talk about the rest of Chad’s career with our mentioning the I-word that no player wants to hear… Injuries.
It started with a dislocated hand in ’03, then it was a shoulder the following year—and that’s largely how the Chad Pennington saga went in New York.
Both quarterbacks were taken super high in their respective drafts—Wentz was taken by the Eagles second overall in the 2016 Draft—and two years later the Browns took Baker first overall.
And both put up solid numbers during their rookie years… Mayfield threw 27 touchdowns in just 13 starts, which, as it stands is still his career best… Wentz was a little more modest, going for 3782 yards and 16 TDs to 14 interceptions, but it was more than enough to get Philly to buy in.
Wentz, of course, also had that legendary 2017 campaign in which he had the Eagles at 11 and two—and was a front-runner for MVP before a devastating ACL tear during Week 14.
Unfortunately, neither of them has been able to find any sustained success in the league—and both are looking like they could go down in the history books as busts.
Baker Mayfield’s best year came in 2020 when he led the Browns to an 11 and five record—and a playoff appearance. But he struggled mightily the following season—and has now been on three different teams since.
Carson, on the other hand, never seemed to psychologically recover—either from the injury or from his team winning the Super Bowl without him…
He played okay for Philly over the following two years, but really unraveled in 2020, going 3-8-and-1 as a starter before losing his job… And after seeing how his stints in Indy and DC went in subsequent years—it now seems safe to say he’ll never live up to the hype that he built up in 2017.
Which other NFL quarterbacks suffered an epic downfall after showing so much promise? Did we miss anyone?
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