Former 1st-Round Busts Are Risky Investments

In what seems to be an annual NFL ritual for many teams, the Houston Texans recently released their former "franchise" quarterback onto the bonepile. Despite paying David Carr an $8 million bonus last season, Texans head coach Gary Kubiak has decided that Carr, 2002's first overall pick, simply does not have what it takes to lead an NFL offense.

Yet, looking at Carr's obvious physical skills and the outrageous number of sacks (249) he suffered in his first five seasons, personnel men around the league are sure to wonder if all Carr needs is a change in scenery. Some quarterback-needy team is sure to offer Carr a second chance, but the stakes of making a correct decision are enormous. For teams like Cleveland, Detroit, Oakland, Miami and Minnesota, putting the wrong guy behind center could cost an entire coaching staff their jobs.

Before risking their reputations backing Carr, I suggest taking a look at a little draft history. After surveying 21 drafts (1982-2002), I counted a total of 24 first-round quarterbacks (other than Carr) who were "busts" for the franchise that drafted them. I did not consider drafts after 2002 because none of those first-round quarterbacks can be accurately judged at this point.

Here is the "bust" list:

Year Pick Player Team
1982 #4 Art Schlichter Baltimore Colts
1984 Supp. Steve Young Tampa Bay Buccaneers
1983 #7 Todd Blackledge Kansas City Chiefs
1986 #12 Chuck Long Detroit Lions
1987 #1 Vinny Testaverde Tampa Bay Buccaneers
1987 #6 Kelly Stouffer St. Louis Cardinals
1987 #26 Jim Harbaugh Chicago Bears
1990 #1 Jeff George Indianapolis Colts
1990 #7 Andre Ware Detroit Lions
1991 #16 Dan McGwire Seattle Seahawks
1991 #24 Todd Marinovich Los Angeles Raiders
1992 #6 David Klingler Cincinnati Bengals
1992 #25 Tommy Maddox Denver Broncos
1993 #2 Rick Mirer Seattle Seahawks
1994 #4 Heath Shuler Washington Redskins
1994 #6 Trent Dilfer Tampa Bay Buccaneers
1995 #5 Kerry Collins Carolina Panthers
1997 #26 Jim Druckenmiller San Francisco 49ers
1998 #2 Ryan Leaf San Diego Chargers
1999 #1 Tim Couch Cleveland Browns
1999 #3 Akili Smith Cincinnati Bengals
1999 #12 Cade McNown Chicago Bears
2002 #3 Joey Harrington Detroit Lions
2002 #32 Patrick Ramsey Washington Redskins


BUST LIST

Steve Young is the crown jewel of this list. Tampa Bay picked Young in the 1984 supplemental draft even after Young had already signed a then-record $40-million contract with the USFL. After the USFL folded in 1985, Young was in Tampa Bay for two seasons before they ditched him in favor of Vinny Testaverde. Young became Joe Montana's unhappy caddy in San Francisco before reeling off seven Pro Bowl seasons, six league passing titles and a Super Bowl win. He is now in the Hall of Fame.

Of the other 23 quarterbacks, I only consider five to be successful "reclamation" projects: Kerry Collins, Trent Dilfer, Jim Harbaugh, Tommy Maddox and Vinny Testaverde. Of the five, only Testaverde and Collins came close to realizing their first-round "potential" with another team. Testaverde spent nine seasons as the primary starter for the Browns, Ravens, Jets and Cowboys, earning two Pro-Bowl berths. Meanwhile, Collins started seven seasons for the Giants and Raiders, leading the 2000 Giants to the Super Bowl.

The other three earned no more than ephemeral success in a starting role. Dilfer was a caretaker quarterback for the 2000 champion Ravens, but has only earned a starting role in one season since (2005 Browns). Harbaugh had a nice three-year run as "Captain Comeback" for the Colts in the mid-90's, while Tommy Maddox started for two playoff seasons in Pittsburgh (2002-2003).

Jeff George is something of a special case. George did enjoy considerable statistical success as the starting quarterback with three different franchises (Atlanta, Oakland and Minnesota). He had big years in 1995, 1997 and in 1999. Yet, at every stop, George was such a head case no one could tolerate him for long. I don't believe you can consider him a success at any stop because he was so disruptive to team chemistry.

The bottom line: reclamation projects have shown a low success rate in the recent past (25 percent). Even if the risk does pan out, the quarterback play you get in return is likely to be both short-term and mediocre. With this track-record, it's easy to see why aged veterans like Trent Green and Jeff Garcia can command dollars and draft picks on the open market despite being near the end of their careers.

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