Quarterback duds that cost teams dearly…
If you are going to swing and miss in the NFL draft, then you may as well swing big. The biggest swing you can take in the draft is on a first-round quarterback, a pick will result in either boom or bust.
A boom nets your franchise a John Elway or a Peyton Manning. A bust sees the future of the team entrusted to Ryan Leaf.
Here are the worst first-round quarterbacks picked every year this century.
Matt Ryan, Atlanta Falcons, No. 3 Overall, 2008
We start this list with “Matty Ice”, a quarterback that has passed for over 45,000 yards during his career. Ryan is clearly an outstanding quarterback, ranking in our 2018 NFL top-100, but the first-round class of 2008 contains only he and Joe Flacco at the quarterback position. Flacco has a Super Bowl MVP award to his name, so he just edges out Ryan as the better option here.
Don’t worry though, the busts get much worse from here.
Michael Vick, Atlanta Falcons, No. 1 Overall, 2001
Vick makes this list as he was the only passer to hear his name called in the entire 2001 first round. The Virginia Tech product was a player with a skill set that the NFL hadn’t ever seen before, mixing a remarkable arm with track star speed.
Vick obviously had his problems. His dog fighting ring scandal irreparably damaged his image , but the four-time Pro Bowler is clearly one of the best players on this list.
Chad Pennington, New York Jets, No. 18 Overall, 2000
Pennington was another one-man quarterback class. He was unbelievably the only quarterback taken in the first two rounds of the 2000 NFL Draft. The Marshall product had inflated collegiate numbers, having played on the same team as a human cheat code, wide receiver Randy Moss. Pennington parlayed that advantage into an NFL career that saw him pass for over 17,000 yards.
The only knock in this pick is that the sixth round of this draft saw the Patriots select a quarterback out of Michigan named Tom Brady.
Jameis Winston, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, No. 1 Overall, 2015
Winston just gets the nod here over Marcus Mariota, who was picked at No. 2 by the Tennessee Titans. Both quarterbacks have established themselves as obvious starters by 2018, but Winston’s history of questionable decision making will mean he is just one strike away from his spot with the Bucs being in serious jeopardy.
Winston has thrown for 11,636 yards, 69 touchdowns and 44 picks in his first three years in the league.
Jason Campbell, Washington Redskins, No. 25 Overall, 2005
Campbell is the least notable quarterback on this list because he was neither a boom or a bust. Even in his best years with the Redskins he was just sort of a place filler, passing for almost 7,000 yards and hitting 33 touchdown passes in 2008 and 2009 combined.
Being selected behind Alex Smith and Aaron Rodgers, the distinctly average Campbell had to be the choice for 2005.
Mark Sanchez, New York Jets, No. 5 Overall, 2009
It is easy to remember Sanchez purely for the “buttfumble” incident that took place on Thanksgiving night in 2012, but his career is hardly worthy of bust status. While he never lit it up for the Jets, Sanchez did start at least 15 games in each of his four seasons with the team, passing for over 12,000 yards.
Sanchez also led the Jets to the AFC Title game in his rookie year, playing well in the first half before his team lost 30-17.
Kyle Boller, Baltimore Ravens, No. 19 Overall, 2002
You can really take your pick of the worst here, with first rounders Boller, Byron Leftwich (No. 7), and Rex Grossman (No. 22) all failing to deliver to their draft position. Only No. 1 overall pick Carson Palmer had any real degree of NFL success from the 2002 quarterback draft class.
Boller was a perpetual loser in the league, going 20-27 in 47 career starts. Baltimore moved on from Boller with the drafting of Flacco in 2008.
Mitchell Trubisky, Chicago Bears, No. 2 Overall, 2017
Trubisky is the first player on this list where it’s too soon to tell if he will be a star, a serviceable quarterback, or a bust.
The most influential factors for Trubisky to appear on this list are Deshaun Watson and Patrick Mahomes, as they are the only other quarterbacks picked in the first round in 2017. Trubisky has not yet matched their success in the league but is getting some recognition. Trubisky started 12 games his rookie year, passing for seven touchdowns and seven interceptions.
Tim Tebow, Denver Broncos, No. 25 Overall, 2010
We understand it’s controversial to put Tebow’s name on a list like this. In fact, we almost went with the perpetually injured Sam Bradford as the biggest bust of the 2010 draft class. Tebow accomplished everything possible at Florida, leading the Gators to a pair of National Championships before entering the NFL. The first round pick was not ideally suited to the NFL style of play, and he lasted just two years with the Broncos before they acquired Peyton Manning as a free agent and Tebow was traded to the Jets.
Despite his brief career in the NFL, Tebow will always be remembered in Denver for his 80-yard game-winning pass to Demaryius Thomas in overtime of a playoff game against Pittsburgh.
Josh Allen, Buffalo Bills, No. 7 Overall, 2018
It’s too early to have a fully formed opinion of Allen as he plays through his rookie year in 2018. This is especially true given that all indications from draft gurus around the college game suggested that the prototypical pocket passer would need a couple of years to develop his accuracy and timing in the NFL, after playing collegiately at a non-power school in Wyoming.
With the likes of Baker Mayfield, Sam Darnold, and Josh Rosen in his draft class, Allen will have to hope his slow start to life in the NFL is purely the product of him learning on the fly.
J.P. Losman, Buffalo Bills, No. 22 Overall, 2004
Losman was a bad NFL quarterback on a bad NFL team after leaving Tulane in 2004. He passed for 6,271 yards in his career, with 33 touchdowns and 34 interceptions as the Bills tried everything they could to make the selection work.
What really sets Losman back though, is that he was the fourth quarterback taken in 2004. The names called ahead of his were Eli Manning, Philip Rivers, and Ben Roethlisberger.
EJ Manuel, Buffalo Bills, No. 16 Overall, 2013
Manuel was guaranteed to be on this list, as he was the only quarterback drafted in the first round in 2013. Given how his career with the Bills fizzled out though, it is likely that Manuel would have made the list even if four or five other quarterbacks were taken in round one.
Manuel only started double-digit games for the Bills once (as a rookie) before losing quarterback battles to the likes of Tyrod Taylor and Matt Cassel.
Christian Ponder, Minnesota Vikings, No. 12 Overall, 2011
The first round quarterback draft class of 2011 is just brutal. Cam Newton was a home run at No. 1 overall, but Jake Locker (No. 8), Blaine Gabbert (No. 10), and Ponder were all massive busts. The three combined for 87 touchdowns and 82 interceptions in 86 starts for the teams that drafted them, hardly stats you would expect from first rounders.
Ponder had one good season – his rookie year in 2012 – when he was carried by running back Adrian Peterson who was so good he took home the league MVP award.
Brandon Weeden, Cleveland Browns, No. 22 Overall, 2012
Weeden should never have been a first-round selection in the 2012 draft. A former professional baseball player, Weeden entered the draft at 28 years old with the Browns making him the oldest player ever taken in the first round.
The most Cleveland could have expected from Weeden was four or five years of production given his age, but he barely made it two as he was cut following the 2013 season with a 23-26 touchdown to interception ratio.
Johnny Manziel, Cleveland Browns, No. 22 Overall, 2014
The fact that the Browns saw Manziel available in this draft and somehow thought he was a better quarterback choice than Derek Carr, who went to Oakland in the second round, says everything about the state of their organization. Manziel was a star at Texas A&M, but he played quarterback in an undisciplined and erratic way that was never going to work in the NFL.
More trouble off of the field than he was worth, Manziel flamed out of the league in two seasons and was last seen playing in Canada.
Paxton Lynch, Denver Broncos, No. 26 Overall, 2016
The only reason Lynch is not higher on this list, is because he was picked at the latter end of the first round.
After starting just two games in each of his first two years in the league, Lynch watched as Denver signed Case Keenum to a two-year, big money contract to play ahead of him. Lynch was then dropped to third-string quarterback during the 2018 preseason before being released by the team and falling out of the NFL.
Matt Leinart, Arizona Cardinals, No. 10 Overall, 2006
Leinart was a college superstar that somehow became a massive NFL bust. Taken to replace the aging Kurt Warner in the 2006 draft, the former USC star started 11 games in his rookie season and then just seven more over the rest of his career.
Losing quarterback battles with Warner every year until the former Rams great retired, Leinart’s tenure with the Cardinals ended after four seasons, when he couldn’t beat out journeyman Derek Anderson for the starting gig.
Joey Harrington, Detroit Lions, No. 3 Overall, 2002
Harrington was on NFL radars throughout his senior season at Oregon after the Ducks went all in on creating a Heisman campaign for their signal caller. This led to the Lions taking Harrington third overall in 2002, a pick that was a total bust.
In 76 career NFL starts, Harrington went 26-50 and threw 85 interceptions. He never posted a season with a winning record in Detroit, Miami, or Atlanta.
JaMarcus Russell, Oakland Raiders, No. 1 Overall, 2007
It takes a special talent to be the worst quarterback on this list of many misfits. Russell even had to work hard to be the worst in his own class with Brady Quinn stinking up the joint in Cleveland after being selected by the Browns out of Notre Dame.
Russell, though, is easily one of the biggest busts of all time. He had no work ethic, no obvious desire to play the game, and his selection and fat contract set the Raiders back for a decade after he flamed out of the league inside four seasons.