Once Bitten, Twice Shy: Recent First Round Quarterback Busts in the NFL

Do you remember Ryan Leaf? Let’s time travel back to 1998. Leaf comes in 3rd for the Heisman Trophy, behind runner-up Peyton Manning and winner defensive back Charles Woodson.  Leaf finishes his junior year at Washington State University, forgoing his senior year to enter into the NFL draft.  Manning, finishing a degree in Speech Communications in 3-years, returned to the University of Tennessee to play his senior year before entering the same draft. Sports experts are in heated debates over who was the better quarterback – Ryan Leaf or Peyton Manning.

AP Photo

AP Photo

Peyton Manning is drafted 1st overall by the Indianapolis Colts. Ryan Leaf is drafted 2nd overall by the San Diego Chargers. Charles Woodson is drafted 4th overall by the Oakland Raiders. But, I digress. Let’s jump back to present day. As we know, Peyton Manning is now playing for the Denver Broncos. In 2013, Manning lead the team to the Super Bowl, losing to the Seattle Seahawks. In 2014, Manning became one of two starting quarterbacks (the other being Brett Favre) in the NFL to beat all 32 teams.  He also surpassed Brett Favre in becoming the NFL’s all time leader in passing touchdowns (509).  And he lead his team to the post season, losing in the divisional round of the playoffs.  In 2015, Peyton Manning (38 years old) is considering playing his 17th year in the NFL.

Sportsworldnews.com Photo

Sportsworldnews.com Photo

Ryan Leaf, on the other hand, is not currently playing in the NFL. In Leaf’s 4-year and 4-team (San Diego Chargers, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Dallas Cowboys, Seattle Seahawks) career, he appeared in 25 games and started in 21.  He completed 317 passes for 3,666-yards out of 655 attempts, 14 TD, 36 interceptions and a career quarterback rating of 50.0.  He ended his career abruptly and without explanation before the 2002 season began.  In May 2012, Leaf plead guilty to charges of felony drug possession and burglary.  He was sentenced to five years, released in December 2014 and is currently on parole.  He is currently living in Montana.

Montana Department of Corrections Photo

Montana Department of Corrections Photo

Which quarterback would you have drafted…then, not now? There’s been an inordinate number of 1st round quarterback busts in the last 5 years.  Let’s take a look.

Player NFL Draft Completions Attempts Passing Yards TD Interceptions
Josh Freeman 2009 1164 2020 13724 80 67

Josh Freeman was drafted by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as the 17th overall pick, behind Mathew Stafford (Detroit Lions) and Mark Sanchez (drafted by the NY Jets and currently playing for the Philadelphia Eagles).  Most of Freeman’s numbers were achieved in 2010 and 2012.  In 2013, Freeman had 3-starts and 3-losses in the beginning of the Buccaneers season.  He was benched for rookie Mike Glennon and released in October of 2013.  A few days later, Freeman signed with the Minnesota Vikings.  Freeman played week 7 completing 20 passes for 190-yards out of 53 attempts.  The Vikings loss 7-23 to the NY Giants.  Freeman became the 3rd string quarterback behind Ponder and Cassel. Freeman failed to latch on to any NFL team in 2014, and is currently an unsigned free agent.

Rantsports.com Photo

Rantsports.com Photo

Player NFL Draft Completions Attempts Passing Yards TD Interceptions
Tim Tebow 2010 173 361 2422 17 9

Heisman Trophy winner, Tim Tebow was the 25th overall draftee selected by the Denver Broncos.  Tebow was known for using his legs rather than his arm.  During Tebow’s career, he had 989-rushing yards and 12-rushing TD.  Although Tebow took the Broncos to the playoffs in 2011, the Florida Gator super star only lasted 3-years in the NFL – 2-years for the Broncos and 1-year for the NY Jets (never starting at QB and ultimately being demoted to a personal punt protector). Currently, Tebow is an ESPN college football analyst. And let’s not forget, he invented Tebowing.

Flickr.com Photo

Flickr.com Photo

Player NFL Draft Completions Attempts Passing Yards TD Interceptions
Jake Locker 2011 408 709 4967 27 22

The Tennessee Titans took Jake Locker as the 8th overall pick in the 2011 draft, signing him to a $12 million dollar contract.  Unfortunately, his 4-years in the NFL were plagued with injury.  In 2011, Locker had no starts, but played in 5 games, throwing for a combined 542-yards and 4 TD.  In 2012, he injured his non-throwing shoulder.  In 2013, Locker injured his right hip in week 4 and suffered a LisFranc (metatarsal bones displaced from the tarsus) injury to his foot in week 10, ending his season.  Locker started five games in 2014, and was benched in late October. Currently on injured reserve after re-injuring his shoulder, it seems unlikely that Locker will return in the upcoming season (at least as a starter).

AP Photo

AP Photo

Player NFL Draft Completions Attempts Passing Yards TD Interceptions
Blaine Gabbert 2011 417 784 4395 23 24

Blaine Gabbert was selected 10th overall by the Jacksonville Jaguars, behind Jack Locker.  He’s never started all 16 games in a season during his career.  In his rookie season, Gabbert was sacked 40 times and fumbled 14 times.  In 2012, he was placed on injured reserve after week 11, forearm and non-throwing shoulder which he injured week 7.  In 2013, Gabbert started the pre-season suffering a broken thumb.  In the season opener, he suffered a lacerated right hand.  In October 6th, he injured his hamstring.  In 2013, Gabbert  played 3 games, had 1 TD and 7 interceptions. Before the 2014 season, Gabbert was traded to the San Francisco 49ers. In his only pre-season game, Gabbert completed 3 of 11 passes for 20 yards, no TDs and 1 interception.  His career in the NFL was bleak. Gabbert did not start a single game during the 2014 season. Although Gabbert is the current back-up quarterback, the 49ers should pray that Colin Kaepernick remains healthy.

Getty Images

Getty Images

Player NFL Draft Completions Attempts Passing Yards TD Interceptions
Christian Ponder 2011 632 1057 6658 38 36

The Minnesota Vikings took Christian Ponder as the 12th overall pick in the 2011 NFL draft.  After struggling through his rookie year, Ponder lead the Vikings to the playoffs in 2012, starting all 16 games, but sitting out the playoff game due to a triceps injury.  In 2013, Ponder would get the 9 starts with a record of 2-6-1.  Ponder was benched in week 4 with a thumb injury, played in week 8 and than benched in week 13 with a concussion.  Ponder finished the season with more interceptions than touchdowns (7 TD/9 INT).  Ponder’s inability to win games placed him 3rd on the Vikings quarterback roster, behind rookie Teddy Bridgewater and veteran Matt Cassel in the 2014 season. Ponder will become a free-agent in March of 2015. His career with the Vikings is uncertain. On a personal note, Ponder married ESPN reporter Samantha Steele in 2012. Steele is the host for College Game Day and the side-line corespondent for Thursday Night College Football.  This was probably the best play Ponder ever made during his career.

Player NFL Draft Completions Attempts Passing Yards TD Interceptions
Brandon Weeden 2012 438 784 5116 23 26

Andrew Luck, Robert Griffen III and even Ryan Tannehill were three QBs drafted before Brandon Weeden (1,2 and 8th overall) in 2012.  Weeden was selected 22nd overall by the Cleveland Browns.  He played two years for the Browns before being traded to the Dallas Cowboys in 2014.  Weeden started 1 game in Week 9 for the Cowboys, completing 18 passes for 183 yards out of 33 attempts with 1 TD and 2 interceptions, resulting in the Cowboys losing to the Arizona Cardinals, 7-28. Weeden’s NFL career has been on a steady decline since his rookie year.  He’ll be lucky to remain a back up in the NFL.

Nextimpulsesports.com Photo

Nextimpulsesports.com Photo

Player NFL Draft Completions Attempts Passing Yards TD Interceptions
EJ Manuel 2013 256 437 2810 16 12

EJ Manuel was selected 16th overall by the Buffalo Bills and was the only QB drafted in the first round.  In 2013, Manuel started 10 games and had 180 completions out of 306 attempts.  In week 5, Manuel injured his knee and proceeded to miss 5 games .  In 2014, Manuel played 4 games (76 completions from 131 attempts; 5 TDs and 3 interceptions).  He was benched for veteran Kyle Orton for the remainder of the season.  Even with Orton retiring, Manuel is unlikely to remain a starter in Buffalo.

Getty Images

Getty Images

Player NFL Draft Completions Attempts Passing Yards TD Interceptions
Johnny Manziel 2014 18 35 175 0 2

Being the first ever freshman Heisman Trophy winner, Johnathan Paul Manziel, aka “Johnny Football” was selected 22nd overall by the Cleveland Browns. But his rookie year was better noted for his off-the-field antics, drunken parties and fights than his performance on-the-field. Manziel had only 2 season starts: In week 15, Manziel made his first NFL start. He completed 10 passes for 80 yards out of 18 attempts, had 2 interceptions and 3 sacks. The Browns lost 30-0 to the Cincinnati Bengals. In week 16, Manziel made his 2nd NFL start. He completed 3 out of 8 passes before he left the game with a hamstring injury.  In December, Manziel was placed on IR, ending his rookie season. But, the story doesn’t end there.

After an outlandish party on Friday at his place and missing treatment on Saturday, Manziel took responsibility for the lack of on-field production and admitted that he hadn’t taken his career seriously in the NFL, never putting in the time needed.  Johnny Manzel is known for his signature “money sign.” If he doesn’t improve, looks like his “money sign” will go the way of Tebowing — the internet meme graveyard.  In February 2015, Manziel admitted himself into a treatment facility.

AP Photo

AP Photo

It’s obvious college success doesn’t guarantee NFL readiness. And, a Heisman Trophy definitely isn’t an indicator of NFL skill. So, why do some players succeed and others fail? We’ll never know. Some careers are undeservedly cut short, but for some of these players, even a year is too long.

By Joanne Kong

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