National Football League teams that “earn” first overall draft picks all have one thing in common: They all had bad regular seasons. Poor quarterback play often plays a roll in such disastrous campaigns, especially in the modern NFL that is a pass-first league. NFL quarterback is the top position in all of professional sports, and thus teams in need of one use high first-round draft picks to acquire those players every spring.
It often doesn’t work out for player or team.
Not every quarterback taken with the first overall pick in a NFL Draft who doesn’t evolve into a game-changer and an All-Pro should be labeled a “bust.” Sometimes, the relationship between quarterback and team isn’t a fit. In other instances, no QB alone would have been able to save the roster.
Quarterbacks are only human, after all.
Here are the 10 worst NFL QBs drafted 1st overall.
10. Sam Bradford – St. Louis Rams: 2010
Remember, upon getting to this portion of the post, that this piece was created in November of 2014. Nobody can see into the future, and it is entirely possible that Bradford will overcome multiple setbacks, be at least a decent starting quarterback and play his way off of this list over the next several years.
The odds, however, are against Bradford being anything but a draft bust.
Bradford suffered a second torn ACL in under a calendar year this past August. It is widely believed around the NFL that the Rams will cut ties with the former first-choice quarterback this coming winter. Bradford’s future is very much up in the air, but his days in St. Louis seem numbered.
9. Vinny Testaverde – Tampa Bay Buccaneers: 1987
Testaverde went on to have a fine NFL career. He managed to remain an active pro quarterback for 21 seasons. He appeared in 233 games, making 208 starts in the process. Testaverde will never get close to being voted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame for numerous reasons, but he also often does not get the respect he deserves for all of the positive things he achieved.
His Tampa Bay career was a total bust, though, and thus he makes this list.
Testaverde threw a total of 57 interceptions in this first two seasons as starting quarterback of the Buccaneers. He failed to post a winning record in a season while with the club that drafted him. Tampa Bay moved on from Testaverde after the 1992 season.
8. Tim Couch – Cleveland Browns: 1999
Everybody would do well to recall one thing before labeling Couch as a complete bust: The 1999 Browns were, as per the rules of the league for expansion clubs, doomed to failure from the very start. Cleveland could have drafted any quarterback with the first overall pick of the draft that spring. The rookie wouldn’t have had a chance.
That said, Couch was nothing special while in the NFL.
Couch went 22-37 overall in five seasons with the Browns. He tossed 67 interceptions over that time, and he was sacked 166 times during his Cleveland career. Couch has become a respected figure among those in a fan base who understand that the quarterback was basically hung out to dry again and again in contests, so much so that you’ll see Couch jerseys at Browns home games to this day.
7. Bobby Garrett – Cleveland Browns: 1954
The Browns being responsible for NFL Draft busts is hardly a rare occurrence in the modern NFL. That wasn’t always the case. Cleveland was, generations ago, responsible for the top football franchise in the pro game. They won championships and had Hall of Fame players on their rosters.
Drafting Garrett was not a banner moment for the Browns. The club learned that the quarterback stuttered, and that issue made it difficult for Garrett to call plays. He was shipped to the Green Bay Packers, where he made nine appearances in his one NFL season.
6. Randy Duncan – Green Bay Packers: 1959
Duncan was a first overall draft pick taken at a time when football was not the most popular sport in the United States. Rather than play for what became the top franchise in all of pro football, Duncan instead took his talents up north to the Canadian Football League. He reportedly made that choice because “that was Green Bay before Vince Lombardi, and Canada offered a lot more dough.”
My, how things have changed.
Duncan would get his chance in the AFL two years later when he joined the Dallas Texans (the current Kansas City Chiefs). He started two games that season, and he posted a 1-1 record. Duncan tossed a touchdown and three interceptions in those appearances.
5. Terry Baker – Los Angeles Rams: 1963
Baker was an accomplished athlete in several sports. He was a talented baseball player, and Baker performed in a Final Four while with Oregon State. Football was Baker’s specialty, and it is through that game that he entered professional sports. He won the Heisman Trophy, Maxwell Award, and Sports Illustrated Sportsman of the Year for his play in 1962.
Baker could not, unfortunately for him, make the transition into pro football.
Baker made a single start in his three years with the Rams. He had one touchdown in 18 appearances for Los Angeles. After not making it as a pro football quarterback in the United States and Canada, Baker went on to be a lawyer.
4. Jeff George – Indianapolis Colts: 1990
George had all of the physical tools to be a star NFL quarterback. He was listed at 6-foot-4 and 218 pounds. George had a rocket arm, and thus he could spin the ball and fit passes in tight windows. He went on to spend 12 seasons in the NFL.
Only a third of that time was spent in Indianapolis.
George was a turnover machine with the Colts, tossing 46 interceptions in his four seasons in Indy. He lost 35 of a total 49 starts over that period of time. George’s career NFL record was 46-78 when he called time on his playing days after the 2001 campaign.
3. David Carr – Houston Texans: 2002
Carr was hoped to be a winner right out of the gates when he was selected by the expansion Texans in 2002. That, of course, was not the case. Carr is largely remembered for spending much of his time on his back while in Houston, but his failures with the Texans were never all his fault. He routinely played behind terrible offensive lines, and Houston was never capable of giving Carr a true chance to succeed.
Carr never developed into a starting NFL quarterback, but his pro career wasn’t all bad times. He went on to serve as backup for New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning, one of the most durable QBs in the history of the league, and Carr even received a Super Bowl ring after the Giants defeated the New England Patriots in February 2012.
2. John Elway – Baltimore Colts: 1983
Elway is one of the greatest quarterbacks in the history of pro football. He was selected for nine Pro Bowl squads during his illustrious career. He led rosters to five total Super Bowl appearances, and he won the big game on two occasions. Elway was named Most Valuable Player for Super Bowl XXXIII.
He makes this list for what he contributed to the Colts: Nothing.
Elway had no interest in playing for the Colts, so much so that he threatened making a switch to baseball rather than play for Baltimore. The club traded Elway to the Denver Broncos, where the quarterback achieved greatness. Baltimore, meanwhile, did little of merit in 1983, and the team was relocated to Indianapolis the following March.
1. JaMarcus Russell – Oakland Raiders: 2007
Teams spend hours upon hours of time and also loads of money to investigate to-be rookies before each NFL Draft. Organizations look for any warning signs or “character issues” that may prevent a prospect from reaching his highest potential. First overall NFL Draft picks are, as per terms of the current collective bargaining agreement, guaranteed millions of dollars, and teams want to do whatever possible to protect their investments.
The Raiders didn’t work hard enough before selecting Russell.
Russell put pen to paper on a deal that guaranteed him $32 million after he was taken in the 2007 NFL Draft. He was with the Raiders only three seasons before being released by the team, and he hasn’t played in the league since 2009. He ultimately ballooned to over 300 pounds.
Russell is widely regarded as the biggest draft bust in NFL history.