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NFL Draft History: Quarterback Busts


By Matt McGuire


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Last week, the most epic NFL Draft debate of all-time took place on ESPN. As always, it was Mel Kiper versus Todd McShay, and they were talking about what they would do with the No. 1 overall pick in terms of selecting Georgia quarterback Matthew Stafford or another player.

Mel Kiper Jr. was campaigning for Stafford, implying how a quarterback's positional value is so important in football. Since Stafford is worthy of a No. 1 pick talent-wise, he should be taken.

Here was McShay's argument against Stafford, "If you don't love a guy and think he is going to be the No. 1 quarterback and can lead your franchise, you don't draft him at No. 1 (overall). History tells you that's the biggest mistake you can make."

The debate basically boiled down to McShay not thinking Stafford has enough value to be taken No. 1. McShay doesn't think being a quarterback increases your value on Draft Day.

Meanwhile, I have always maintained, "If you do not know where you have been, you have no clue where you are going."

In this article, I am going to break down why quarterbacks bust and how to spot future busts. We will then analyze Matthew Stafford and determine if he is worthy of being a No. 1 overall pick.

Basically, there are three reasons a quarterback will bust, two of which can be avoided in foresight:

1. System Quarterback
2. Lacks Intangibles
3. Lacks Offensive Line


1. System Quarterback

Let's take a look at the first way a quarterbacks can bust, and this is being a system quarterback. There are a few offenses that can make a quarterback produce better numbers than his talent level indicates.

Keep in mind that this does not mean every quarterback coming out of a spread option or run n' shoot will bust in the NFL. It just means you have to do your homework on the prospect.

Being in a gimmick offense in college can hinder a prospect's chances in the NFL. The terminology is much easier in a gimmick offense. You do not have to understand pass protection schemes, you are forced to learn a bigger playbook, and the familiarity level is very low compared to an NFL spread or West Coast offense.

These offenses generally always are shotgun-oriented, so a quarterback's vision is greatly decreased when he gets to the NFL. He has to learn how to work his progression reads under center while dropping back. He has to be able to see over the line of scrimmage and identify hot routes.

In the shotgun, you are not moving very much and your head and eyes are still. This makes your quarterback vision look better than what it really is. Also in the shotgun in college, pass protection becomes easier. Your offensive line has more time to anticipate the rush in the two point stance, and in a gimmick offense you get rid of the ball much more quickly, decreasing the odds of getting sacked or hurried.

Also in a gimmick offense, the routes are shorter and your arm strength is not exposed. Arm strength must be evaluated heavily by NFL scouts and personnel. Arm strength is not everything (like any other skill), but it is very important.

Based on my research, here is a list of quarterbacks who busted that played in a spread option, run n' shoot, etc. and were taken relatively high in the first round:

  • Jerry Tagge (1972)
  • Rich Campbell (1981)
  • Todd Blackledge (1982)
  • Kelly Stouffer (1987)
  • Andre Ware (1990)
  • David Klinger (1992)
  • Heath Shuler (1994)
  • Tim Couch (1999)
  • Akili Smith (1999)
  • Cade McNown (1999)
  • Alex Smith (2005)
  • Vince Young (2006) is potentially a bust


  • If you can really do your homework on these gimmick-offense quarterbacks in college and ensure they have the proper arm strength, talent level, and football intelligence to play the position, then you will not end up with a bust for this reason.



    2. Lacks Intangibles

    To be a capable starting quarterback in the NFL, you must have the appropriate mental makeup and work ethic to play the position. If you have a bad attitude, the coaching staff and locker room will not respect you. You need to be able to overcome adversity and be somewhat of a leader. You do not have to be a lights-out intangible guy such as a Peyton Manning or Ben Roethlisberger to be successful in the NFL.

    However, if you do not have the work ethic or leadership skills necessary to play the position, you will bust. Here is my list of quarterbacks who busted in the NFL because they simply lacked the intangibles even an average quarterback has:

  • Art Schlichter (1982)
  • Jeff George (1990)
  • Andre Ware (1990)
  • Dan McGwire (1991)
  • Todd Marinovich (1991)
  • Tommy Maddox (1992)
  • Rick Mirer (1993)
  • Jim Druckenmiller (1997)
  • Ryan Leaf (1998)
  • Tim Couch (1999)
  • Cade McNown (1999)
  • Joey Harrington (2002)
  • J.P. Losman (2004)
  • Vince Young (2006) is potentially a bust
  • Matt Leinart (2006) is potentially a bust
  • JaMarcus Russell (2007) is potentially a bust


  • You must find out if your quarterback prospect has the work ethic, poise and leadership to be a successful NFL quarterback. If you do not and you draft him high, he will end up on the above list.



    3. Lacks Offensive Line

    I went on the Tulsa Sports Animal in January for an interview. I made this statement and stand by it, "You could put together the prototype for the position at quarterback, and if he doesn't have people blocking for him, then he is going to bust - period."

    If you do not have time in the pocket to make your progression reads and get the pass off, you will struggle in the NFL. Not only this, but if you get pressured too much, your confidence will drop like a rock, and in some cases it'll never recover.

    Here is a list of quarterbacks who busted in the NFL because they were not given they offensive line they needed at the next level, and as a result their confidence was shot:

  • David Klinger (1992)
  • Tim Couch (1999)
  • David Carr (2002)
  • Joey Harrington (2002)
  • Alex Smith (2005)


  • Now, we have discussed just about every quarterback bust in NFL history, and as you can see, they all fall under one or more of the three factors as to why a quarterback prospect could bust in the NFL.

    As an extension of the epic Kiper vs. McShay debate, I will investigate Stafford into these three categories and determine his probability of busting in the NFL, since that is what McShay and Lions fans are so scared of.

    1. System Quarterback: This does not apply to Stafford in any shape or form. He ran a very pro-style West Coast offense at the University of Georgia. Stafford also has elite arm strength and physical tools. He is not a product of the talent around him. He is said to have high football intelligence and can pick up an NFL playbook as well as learn the extensive playbook terminology.

    2. Lacks Intangibles: From everything I have heard about Stafford, he has very high intangibles. He is a leader for the Georgia offense and willed the Bulldogs to a few wins last season in the SEC. He can overcome adversity and he's tough in the pocket.

    3. Lacks an Offensive Line: The Detroit Lions are not limited to just the No. 1 overall pick. They can invest in a left tackle such as Michael Oher or William Beatty at No. 20 and solidify their offensive line. Jeff Backus will kick inside to left guard. The Lions re-signed Stephen Peterman. They invested a first-round pick last year in Gosder Cherilus. They can acquire a center in the draft or free agency.

    Also, keep in mind Stafford will only be a 21 year-old rookie. He might not be ready to go early on, which is fine. You can develop the offensive line in the draft and free agency. If you have to sit Stafford for one season like the Bengals did with Carson Palmer, then that is OK. If Detroit drafts a left tackle at No. 20, the offensive line should not be an issue with Stafford's development.

    Based on my research, Stafford has an extremely low probability of busting if Detroit gives him an offensive line. This would not be the first team drafting No. 1 overall who eventually put the offensive line in place for their quarterback to succeed, and it will not be the last.

    There is more to a quarterback busting than just being drafted high. We can see there are three factors that go into a quarterback's bust factor, and Stafford simply does not fall into the typical bust mold.

    I don't know. Maybe McShay will get the memo soon, but as for now, history tells me the biggest mistake you can make is not actually studying NFL Draft history.



    NFL Draft History Archive:

    NFL Draft History
    Ten Reasons Why the Detroit Lions Must Draft Russell Okung - 4/5/10
    How Often Do Offensive Tackles Bust? - 4/5/10
    Are Safeties Worth a Top Five Draft Pick? - 3/27/10
    Do Quarterbacks Bust More Than Other Positions? - 2/28/10
    Do Defensive Coaches Draft Offensive Players? - 2/15/10
    Top Three NFL Draft Pick History - 2/15/10
    New Regimes Mean New Quarterbacks - 2/15/10
    Andy Reid's NFL Draft History - 2/15/10
    NFL Draft Quarterback Busts: How to Spot Them
    Linebacker Draft History








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