There is no more important position in the NFL, maybe in all of professional sports, than the quarterback. A team doesn't win a Super Bowl in the modern era without having at least solid quarterback play in the postseason and in the final game of the year. It's for that reason that so many franchises reach for quarterbacks early on in NFL Drafts, and those sky high expectations are what leads to so many of those players being regarded as busts.
Doug Tozier of Football Nation ranked his top 20 quarterback busts in NFL history in March of 2013. I disagree with Tozier's rankings in several spots, which made using his list to create my brackets an interesting experiment.
I do feel the need to point out that I very nearly added now former Cleveland Browns quarterback Brandon Weeden to the list. Cleveland traded up to draft Weeden back in 2012, and, after going 5-15 in his career, the Browns have parted ways with the 30-year-old. Since there still exists the possibility that Weeden could achieve something positive as a professional quarterback (don't hold your breath), I left him out of the brackets.
Ask me again about the matter, however, in a few years.
3 Elite Eight
#8 Mike Phipps vs. #1 JaMarcus Russell
Mike Phipps is, for me, more the type of player who simply never proved to be worth being taken so high in a draft (third overall in 1970) than he is a real bust. Phipps did retire with 108 interceptions to only 55 touchdowns, and he had an awful career rating of 52.6. He was, on the other hand, part of two winning seasons (one apiece for the Cleveland Browns and Chicago Bears), and he managed to remain in the NFL for twelve seasons.
That's no easy task for a quarterback, especially for one with such lousy stats.
There are no questions about JaMarcus Russell's bust-or-not status. Selected first overall by the Oakland Raiders in 2007, Russell will forever go down as one of the worst draft picks in the history of all of North American professional sports. He started only 25 games in his three-year career, and Russell found himself out of the league after the 2009 season.
What's so disheartening about Russell's brief NFL career is that he was his own worst enemy. He seemingly tried to be overweight while with the Raiders, wasting an opportunity that so few football players receiver. While he did manage to slim down, that day came far too late.
#7 Jack Thompson vs. #2 Ryan Leaf
Jack Thompson, known as the “Throwin' Samoan” during his college days, was, like Phipps, drafted third overall (1979). That he never even flirted with becoming a serviceable starting NFL quarterback would be quite the understatement. He started in only five games in his first two seasons with the Cincinnati Bengals. Thompson wouldn't start again in two seasons before moving on to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
The move down south did little to save his career. Thompson would win only three of 13 games as a starter over two years before calling time on his playing days.
When you type “NFL draft bust” into an Internet image search, a picture of Ryan Leaf is one of the first results you get. While the Indianapolis Colts selected Peyton Manning, who won a Super Bowl while with Indy and who will be a first-ballot Hall of Fame QB, the San Diego Chargers drafted Leaf.
Following a solid rookie preseason, Leaf folded when the games started to matter. He completed under 46 percent of his passes in his first season, and he melted down on the field and in the locker room. Leaf's immaturity and his inability to acclimate to life in the NFL resulted in a very forgettable football career that was, sadly, followed by life choices that landed the former quarterback behind bars.
#6 Joey Harrington vs. #3 Tim Couch
I, to this day, don't view Harrington as a bust as much as I do a product of a terrible Detroit Lions front office reaching for a starting quarterback. It's not as if the 2002 draft class was one filled with QB talent. Harrington is, if anything, more of a miss than a bust. There are even some lists out there that don't mention him as being a bust.
That said, you're about to see your first upset of the bracket here.
I will never, from now until the day I leave this earth, label Couch as a bust. The first player drafted by the so-called “New Browns” in 1999, Couch never had a chance, playing behind bad offensive line after bad offensive line and, in his first year in the league, playing on what I would categorize as the worst NFL team I've ever seen.
Yes, I am aware the Lions once went 0-16. That team could have run the expansion Browns out of the stadium.
#5 Rick Mirer vs. #4 David Carr
This one is, for me, a no-brainer. I could just copy and paste what I wrote about the previously mentioned Couch when writing about Carr. Carr was routinely hung out to dry by his offensive lines during his days with the Houston Texans, and he was the most-sacked QB in the league in three of his first four seasons in the NFL.
Carr deserves credit for the career choice he made in 2008. He signed on with the New York Giants, a team led by a quarterback who literally never misses a start in Eli Manning, and Carr got to hold a clipboard and watch pro football 16 Sundays a year. His body certainly needed the rest after what he went through in Houston.
None of this is to suggest that Mirer did not fail to live up to expectations. Mirer, like Carr when with the Texans, took plenty of shots from pass rushers in four seasons with the Seattle Seahawks before becoming a journeyman quarterback. He didn't begin his pro career with an expansion franchise as did Carr, and that is a big reason why Mirer advances to the Final Four.
2 Final Four
#5 Rick Mirer vs. #1 JaMarcus Russell
Not until I looked Mirer up did I remember that Bill Walsh once called him “the second coming of Joe Montana.” Those are some lofty expectations for anybody coming out of college. Back in 2006, Pro Football Reference named Mirer the worst NFL quarterback ever.
At least Mirer, unlike Russell, tried. When you consider how much prep NFL teams supposedly do before drafts, it's a wonder Russell was even selected at all.
#6 Joey Harrington vs. #2 Ryan Leaf
It would be unfair and maybe even a little mean to compare Harrington with Leaf. Leaf had the physical skills, at least he did on paper, to be a star in the NFL. His breakdown as a player and as a person is one reason why college players who have “character flaws” sometimes fall in NFL Drafts today.
No team wants to be stuck with a Leaf 2.0.
#2 Ryan Leaf vs. #1 JaMarcus Russell
Anybody with knowledge of the NFL could have probably predicted this final. The careers of Leaf and Russell mirror each other in multiple facets.
Short stints in the league? Check. Personality flaws that prevented them from evolving into actual NFL quarterbacks? Check. Off-the-field problems? Check.
Russell is an example of what happens when you give a young man who hasn't yet earned it too much money. Leaf, on the other hand, had more potential than did Russell, and he also had serious psychological issues that, if he was entering the draft today, would likely be spotted by a team.
Winner: Ryan Leaf