Quarterback is by far the most important position in the NFL. And if one thing’s for sure, it’s that there just aren’t enough great ones to go around. Some teams have to spend years in QB purgatory before finding their franchise stud.
Every team in the league has run a terrible QB out there at some point. For some teams, it feels like there’s never been a time where they weren’t running out an awful signal-caller. Here are some of the most memorable worsts.
New York Giants – Joe Pisarcik
Playing quarterback for one of the New York football teams is no easy task. The media will be brutal on you. Arm strength is also extremely important as the winds swirl at the Meadowlands come November and December.
Joe Pisarcik played in Canada for two years before the Giants brought him in to become the team’s starter in 1977. The move was a disaster. Over his career, Pisarcik only completed 47% of his passes and threw 24 TDs to 48 INTs. He also had one of the league’s most famous fumbles, squibbing a hand-off to lose a game to the Eagles.
New York Jets – Browning Nagle
From the ’60s through the ’90s the Jets had a nice string of quarterbacks. Joe Namath, Richard Todd, and Ken O’Brien had provided the team with competent play for close to 25 years.
Browning Nagle, the team’s second-round pick in 1991, broke that string. In his one and only season as a starter, the Jets went 3-10, he only completed 53% of his passes and threw 7 TDs to 17 INTs. Even more painful for Jets fans is that Hall of Famer Brett Favre was taken one pick before Nagle.
Pittsburgh Steelers – Devlin “Duck” Hodges
The thrid-string quarterback on most teams never sees the field of play. But injuries to Steelers’ QBs Ben Roethlisberger and Mason Rudolph meant that Devlin “Duck” Hodges would start six games for the 2019 Pittsburgh team.
Duck wasn’t horrible, the Steelers went 3-3 in the games he started. The problem is the Steelers have had a nice run at QB stretching back to Terry Bradshaw. Hodges had issues with turnovers, throwing 7 picks, losing 3 fumbles and only tossing 5 TDs.
Tennessee Titans – Billy Joe Tolliver
It wasn’t all that long ago that the Houston Oilers had Hall of Famer Warren Moon throwing to a quartet of extremely talented wide receivers. The team had counted on Cody Carlson and Billy Joe Tolliver as their Moon succession plan.
Tolliver got the chance to start 7 games in 1994. Despite throwing to wide-outs like Haywood Jeffires and Webster Slaughter he couldn’t get it together. The team lost all 7 of those starts with Tolliver only throwing 6 TD passes.
Las Vegas Raiders – Andrew Walter
In the early part of the 2000s, some teams had hit on superstar quarterbacks that were drafted late or weren’t even drafted at all. Think Tom Brady and Kurt Warner. The Raiders hoped they may have stuck similar gold in Andrew Walter who they picked in the 3rd round in 2005.
The former Arizona Sun Devil got the chance to start eight games in 2006 and to say it didn’t go well would be an understatement. Walter only threw 3 touchdowns against 13 picks and lost 10 fumbles.
Los Angeles Chargers – Ryan Leaf
It’s hard for fans who weren’t closely following the sport at the time to understand just how close the 1998 number one pick competition was between Peyton Manning and Ryan Leaf. With the first pick the Colts took Manning the Chargers took Leaf.
Manning, of course, became an all-time great while Leaf was a total bust. In the 24 total games he started, the quarterback completed under 50% of his passes with 36 INTs and 14 TDs.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Steve Spurrier
Sometimes an awful season by a quarterback leads to something beautiful. That was true of Steve Spurrier’s abominable 1976 season with the Buccaneers. While the future head coach was a Heisman winner in college, he was just a so-so NFL QB.
In his defense, the Bucs were awful in ’76. Spurrier lost all 12 games he started, throwing 7 TDs to 12 picks and barely completing 50% of his throws. After the disastrous stint, Spurrier retired to become a coach, and in this role, he became a legend.
Arizona Cardinals – Ryan Lindley
Other than Tom Brady, quarterbacks drafted in the 6th round aren’t expected to be saviors. They’re more likely ticketed for a backup/developmental role. And that is what was expected of Ryan Lindley who was drafted by the Cardinals in 2012.
Lindley was pressed into action during his rookie year with atrocious results. In 4 starts during the 2012 season, the former San Diego State Aztec failed to produce a touchdown. He did, however, throw 7 interceptions and fumbled twice. The quarterback was out of the game by 2016.
Kansas City Chiefs – Brodie Croyle
Some QBs are going to get more rope than others thanks to their alma matter and former coaches. That was the case with Brodie Croyle who played at the University of Alabama under Coach Nick Saban.
Despite pedestrian college numbers, the Chiefs took Croyle in the 3rd round of the 2006 draft. When he hit the field, though, he seemed profoundly unprepared. Croyle lost all 10 games that he started in his career and threw 9 picks compared to 8 TDs.
Los Angeles Rams – Keith Null
The Rams had a really nice thing going on at QB for awhile. Kurt Warner orchestrated the Greatest Show on Turf en route to a Hall of Fame career. Marc Bulger was quite good when he took over for Warner, too.
Keith Null was drafted by the team in 2009 after he put up jaw-dropping numbers at West Texas A&M. That success wasn’t destined to continue in the NFL, though, as Null lost all four of his starts throwing 3 TDs and 9 Interceptions.
San Francisco 49ers – Jim Druckenmiller
Joe Montana and Steve Young had piloted the 49ers to plenty of football glory. When Young had concussion issues near the end of his career the Niners were forced to find a successor.
San Francisco took QB Jim Druckenmiller with their 1st round pick in the 1997 draft. The signal-caller would only start one game for the team, throwing 1 TD against 4 picks. Within two seasons, he was out of the league entirely.
Seattle Seahawks – Stan Gelbaugh
The Seahawks haven’t always been a powerhouse team led by Russell Wilson or Matt Hasselback. In fact, the team struggled to find a top-end QB throughout most of the 1980s and 1990s.
In 1991, the team turned over its reins to Stan Gelbaugh, a 30-year-old with only 3 games of starting experience who had spent time as a punter in the Canadian Football League. The decision did not turn out well as Gelbaugh went 0-8 and threw 11 picks.
Buffalo Bills – Nathan Peterman
The Bills had Jim Kelly back in the early ’90s and he had an incredible run. Other than some fun with Doug Flutie in the late ’90s, the team has been searching for a new quarterback ever since.
Nathan Peterman was a decent quarterback prospect that the Bills selected in the 5th round of the 2017 draft. While some scouts thought he had the traits and tools to be a starter, it hasn’t worked out that way. After a disastrous stint in Buffalo, Peterman is now the Raiders’ 3rd stringer.
Miami Dolphins – Daunte Culpepper
Just because players start their careers as superstars doesn’t always mean that they end up that way. Daunte Culpepper was a star for the Minnesota Vikings from the start. He formed a strong relationship with Randy Moss and made three Pro Bowls.
When he came to the Dolphins, he was just 29-years-old and wasn’t over the hill at that point. He also wasn’t the kind of player he was early in his career. In one season in Miami, Culpepper was often hurt and only started four games, throwing 2 TDs, 3 INTs, and going 1-3.
New England Patriots – Matt Cavanaugh
Few fans can remember a time when the Patriots didn’t have a superstar QB. Tom Brady has been doing legendary things for 20 years. Before that, Drew Bledsoe was an upper-level QB in the league.
But the 1980s were a rougher time. In the early part of that decade, Matt Cavanaugh was the starter. After a promising showing in 1980, he fell apart in 1981 going 1-7, completing 52% of his passes, and throwing 13 picks to 5 TDs.
Dallas Cowboys – Steve Pelluer
The Dallas Cowboys have a long string of incredible quarterback play. From the ’60s until now, the team has employed Don Meredith, Roger Staubach, Craig Morton, Danny White, Troy Aikman, Tony Romo, and Dak Prescott.
Steve Pelluer was one of the bad examples in between all of the good play. He had an all-time awful season in 1986. In nine starts, he went 3-6, throwing 8 touchdowns and a whopping 17 interceptions. He gradually improved over time but not that much.
Philadelphia Eagles – Mike McMahon
The Rutgers Scarlet Knights have mostly been terrible throughout their history. In the early 2000s though, they became a perennial top 25 team and NFL teams thought they might have something in quarterback Mike McMahon, leading the Eagles to make him their backup.
When Donovan McNabb got injured and McMahon got his shot, though, he didn’t show much of anything. In 7 starts, the Rutgers’ product went 2-5 and only completed 45% of his throws. He was out of the league the next year.
Washington Redskins – Heath Shuler
Few teams had a better run in the late ’70s through the ’80s than the Washington Redskins. When the ’90s came, though, everything fell apart. The team was bad enough during the 1993 season that they had the 3rd pick overall in the 1994 NFL Draft.
The two QBs available in the draft were Trent Dilfer and Heath Shuler. Washington chose Shuler and the pick ended up being a disaster as he threw 13 TDs to 19 INTs for Washington. The future congressman spent one more season in New Orleans throwing 2 TDs and 14 picks.
Baltimore Ravens – Kyle Boller
The Ravens are one of the younger franchises in the NFL and the short history they’ve had has been very successful. After a good run with Trent Dilfer and Tony Banks, the team drafted Kyle Boller in the first round of the 2003 draft.
Boller had prodigious skills. He could throw the ball through the goalpost on his knees from the 50-yard line and run the 40 in 4.6. His accuracy was an issue though and as the Ravens starter, he went 20-27 with 48 TDs and 54 INTs.
Cincinnati Bengals – Akili Smith
When the 1999 NFL Draft happened, pundits thought it might end up like the famed 1983 quarterback draft. An incredible five QBs went in the draft’s first 12 picks. Akili Smith went 3rd overall to the Bengals.
Smith had been a star in Oregon’s wide-open offense while in college. The pros were a different deal. The quarterback played in 22 games for the Bengals and only completed 46% of his throws. He later finished his career in the World League and then the CFL.