Top 10 Worst NFL Quarterback Draft Picks

by J. M. Pressley
First published: November 30, 2010

A look through history at the worst first-round draft picks wasted on NFL quarterbacks.

A franchise quarterback is arguably the hardest thing to find in the NFL draft. The history of the draft is littered with "can't-miss" prospects who never live up to the expectations. The nineties alone produced some epic failures: out of 20 first-round picks, nine of them (45%) played fewer than 35 games in their entire careers. Peyton Manning—the first overall pick of 1998—may be a lock for the NFL Hall of Fame, but the rest of that decade's crop includes names like Ryan Leaf, Todd Marinovich, Dan McGwire, Cade McNown, and Andre Ware.

In fact, the first round of the 1999 draft may rank as one of the worst for quarterbacks of all time. Five quarterbacks (Tim Couch, Donovan McNabb, Akili Smith, Daunte Culpepper, and Cade McNown) were taken in the first 12 picks. Of those, McNabb is the only one still in the NFL and has had the most success. Culpepper's career began derailing with injuries in 2005, and the other three were out of the league within five years. All in all, a pretty bad showing.

However, the three first-rounders of the 1940 draft played for 68 games combined in their careers. And possibly the worst all-time quarterback draft is the first-round class of 1959, whose aggregate stats comprise 35 games, 240 pass attempts, 11 touchdowns, and 15 interceptions for a 45.3 quarterback rating. Hint: two of those three draftees made this list.

The top 10 worst first-round quarterback picks are presented below.

10. Steve Pisarkiewicz

1977, St. Louis Cardinals

The 19th overall selection in the 1977 draft, Pisarkiewicz was picked as the heir apparent to Jim Hart after a standout collegiate career at Missouri. It didn't work out the way anyone intended. Pisarkiewicz made four starts in 1979 and played in a total of 10 games during his three-year stint with the Cardinals before spending his last season on the Green Bay bench as a backup. His career stat line: 64-for-143 passing (44.8%) with three touchdowns and seven interceptions for a career 49.4 rating. Yahoo! Sports once named Pisarkiewicz as the worst 19th pick in draft history. He also made number 94 on the Deadspin "Worst 100" list of players.

9. Travis Tidwell

1950, New York Giants

Tidwell was a two-time All-American at Auburn and was coming off a Southeastern Conference MVP season in 1949. That magical season saw Tidwell lead the nation in total offense and engineer the first Auburn win over rival Alabama in 40 years. The New York Giants saw something in Tidwell, drafting him with the seventh overall pick in 1950. Tidwell only spent two seasons with the team, playing in 14 games (five starts) and completing only 33 passes with five touchdowns and seven interceptions (quarterback rating: 48.8). Tidwell finished his football career in Canada with the Edmonton Tiger Cats.

8. Terry Baker

1963, Los Angeles Rams

Baker, a three-sport standout at Oregon State, was the overall number one pick in 1963. After winning the Heisman Trophy in 1962, Baker became the only athlete to win the trophy and play in an NCAA basketball Final Four in the same year. Baker's number 11 jersey is retired at OSU, and he's a College Football Hall of Fame inductee (among many honors he received for his body of collegiate work). However, many regard him as the first true Heisman "bust" with the Rams—he made only 21 pass attempts in 18 games over three seasons, passing for no touchdowns and four interceptions with a 40.7 career rating.

7. Rich Campbell

1981, Green Bay Packers

The Packers selected Campbell out of California with the sixth overall pick of the 1981 draft. He was the only quarterback selected in the first round that year after an All-American senior season at Cal. In four seasons buried on the Packers depth chart behind Lynn Dickey (and anyone else with a pulse), Campbell completed 31 of 68 passes with three touchdowns and nine interceptions (quarterback rating: 38.8). Campbell is now an ordained minister and newspaper columnist in Hattiesburg, Mississippi.

6. Jim Druckenmiller

1997, San Francisco 49ers

It is an amazing testament to ineptitude that a player with his career stats and a nickname of "Drunkenmiller" does not land in the top five of this list. Druckenmiller certainly holds the modern-day record for a wasted first-round quarterback pick. The Virginia Tech quarterback was drafted 26th overall in 1997, ostensibly to take the reins from Steve Young at some point. The 49ers gave Druckenmiller a six-year, $5.6 million contract. In the ensuing span of two painful seasons, Druckenmiller managed one start and appeared in six games total. Career stats? He completed 21 of 52 passes for 239 yards with one touchdown and four interceptions, giving him an anemic 29.2 lifetime rating. He was traded to the Dolphins and subsequently released in 1999 without adding to his dubious legacy.

5. Randy Duncan

1959, Green Bay Packers

Randy Duncan of Iowa was the number one overall pick in the 1959 draft (noted above as potentially the worst first-round for quarterbacks ever). He'd led Iowa to two Rose Bowls; in 1958, he earned All-American honors and finished as the Heisman runner-up. Upon being drafted by the Packers, however, Duncan fled to the British Columbia Lions of the CFL for more money. After two years in Canada, Duncan signed with the fledgling Dallas Texans, where he spent one season practicing with the team by day and attending SMU law school by night. His NFL career consists of 14 games with the Texans, completing 25 of 67 passes with one touchdown and three interceptions for a 41.9 quarterback rating. On the other hand, Duncan became a successful lawyer in Des Moines and an inductee into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1997.

4. Bobby Garret

1954, Cleveland Browns

The Cleveland Browns made Stanford quarterback Bobby Garrett the number one overall pick in 1954. Garrett had starred as both an All-American quarterback and a defensive back at Stanford, and the Browns were looking for the next great quarterback to take over from Otto Graham. One problem: he stuttered. As teammate Fred Cone recalled, "He couldn't get the plays out in the huddle. We had to crack him on the back so he could spit out the play. He couldn't say words that started with an 's,' like split left or split right." Cleveland quickly shuffled off Garrett to the Packers, who also had no idea of the quarterback's liability. He only played nine games in one season with Green Bay, throwing 30 passes with no touchdowns and one interception (quarterback rating: 49.7).

3. Stan Heath

1949, Green Bay Packers

A Heisman finalist from Nevada-Reno nicknamed "The Slingshot," Heath was the first-round pick of the Packers in 1949. Unfortunately, coach Curly Lambeau's last season would produce one of the worst teams in Packer history. While Heath and Jack Jacobs shared the quarterback duties, halfback Jug Girard was the leading passer. In Heath's lone season, he made one start and appeared in all 12 games. His stats for that season rank among the worst of all time: a mere 26 completions in 106 pass attempts (24.5%) for 355 yards with one touchdown against 14 interceptions. It gives Heath a mind-boggling 4.6 quarterback rating. He left Green Bay to have more success in the CFL, where he led Calgary to two division titles in five seasons before retiring.

2. Grenny Lansdell

1940, New York Giants

Grenny Lansdell had one of the shortest careers among first-round quarterback picks. As an All-American at USC, he played in two Rose Bowls and was a member of the 1939 national championship team. He holds the distinction of being the first quarterback to be drafted from USC (tenth overall pick in the 1940 draft). In his one season with the Giants, Lansdell appeared in two games, completed two of his three career pass attempts (no touchdowns or interceptions) and rushed seven times for nine yards. He went on to become an airline pilot.

1. Don Allard

1959, Washington Redskins

Don Allard is one of the triumvirate of quarterback failures from the first round of 1959. He seemed poised for a good pro career following success at Boston College, where he starred as a quarterback, punter, safety, and return specialist. He elected to go to Canada when he was drafted with the fourth overall pick by the Redskins, however, spending two years in the CFL. In 1961, he signed with the New York Titans and is credited with appearing in one game. The following year, he signed with the Boston Patriots, credited with appearing in four games. That's five games in a career with two teams—and Allard does not have one single career statistic. Not a pass, not a rush, not a return, not a tackle, nothing. And that simply has to qualify as the worst career for a first-round drafted quarterback ever.