Every Friday Mel Kiper writes about the NFL through the prism of the NFL draft. For this piece, we asked him to evaluate the biggest quarterback busts since he's been in the business.
I loved Andre Ware. You can ask me right now how I felt about him as a pro prospect, and I'll say it again -- really loved his chances. Yeah, there were concerns about the "Run & Shoot" offense he was coming out of at Houston, but he was accurate, had good enough arm strength and had the necessary height, and his leadership skills were there. In retrospect, you never quite know whether it was the situation a guy was drafted into or if he was forced to start too early or any number of things that contributed to his transition. There are always busts. And you're left wondering if you need to throw away an evaluation method, chalk it up to flukiness or somewhere in between.
I put out my first draft guide in 1978. Since then, the magnitude of the term "draft bust" seems to have grown exponentially. But the reality is still the same: You wonder in every case why it happened and what you may have missed. People discussed my ranking of the best picks from the top 10 a lot, so I thought I'd do a couple pieces on the busts. Let's start today with quarterbacks, from the time I started until now. These are the biggest busts of my time. We'll call it "The Unlucky 13."
Jack Thompson, No. 3 overall to Cincinnati, 1979
Called "The Throwin' Samoan" while on the Palouse, Thompson is one on a long list of quarterbacks Washington State has produced. Unfortunately, a couple of them are on this list. (There are a disproportionate total of busts drafted by the Bengals as well, but more on that next week.) When he left WSU, Thompson was the most prolific passer in NCAA history, but when he finished in the NFL, just five years later, he had about 2,500 fewer yards than he did in his time with the Cougs.
Rich Campbell, No. 6 overall to Green Bay, 1981
At 6-foot-4 and almost 230 pounds on my evaluation, Campbell looked like a big-time prospect out of Cal. But he never really even got started at the NFL level. It's amazing, but a No. 6 overall pick finished his career with just 386 passing yards in four seasons.
Art Schlichter, No. 4 overall to Baltimore (Colts), 1982
Something of a sad case. While Schlichter was a really talented player, there had been whispers he was heavily into gambling during his time in Columbus, and that manifested itself later in life. Famous for throwing the pass that was intercepted and led Woody Hayes to go after Clemson linebacker Charlie Bauman in the Gator Bowl, he was drafted by the Baltimore Colts and, like Campbell, seemingly never got started. He played just three years, threw 202 passes and barely cracked 1,000 yards for his career.
Todd Blackledge, No. 7 overall to Kansas City, 1983
Todd was a winner at Penn State, where he went 31-5 and won a national title. But his pro struggles seem even worse when juxtaposed against a draft class that produced John Elway, Dan Marino, Jim Kelly and Ken O'Brien. He threw for a little over 5,000 yards in his NFL career and never could stay on as a full-time starter.
Kelly Stouffer, No. 6 overall to the St. Louis Cardinals, 1987
Stouffer got off to a terrible start to his NFL career. He sat out the whole 1987 season because of a contract dispute. He got dealt to Seattle, where a mix of injuries and general ineffectiveness saw him throw for just 2,333 yards for his whole career. I wasn't terribly high on Stouffer to begin with but didn't imagine he'd struggle like he did.
Andre Ware, No. 7 overall to Detroit, 1990
Again, I really liked Ware. I thought, given the right situation, he could have had a great career in the NFL. It just never came to be. All the accolades at Houston, the Heisman Trophy, the skill set and the persona, it just never added up. He finished his career with just 1,112 career passing yards and was just another of the quarterbacks that came through Detroit during the Wayne Fontes era, none of them ever able to truly complement the guy they handed the ball off to, Barry Sanders.
David Klinger, No. 6 overall to Cincinnati, 1992
After the troubles experience by Ware, Klingler may have been the straw that helped break the camel's back when it came to evaluators questioning the ability of quarterbacks to adjust after coming out of these fast-break offenses that were popping up all over college football at the time. Like Ware, Klingler had eye-popping numbers at Houston and adequate size, arm strength and accuracy. He got drafted onto a really bad team. He threw for just 3,994 yards for his NFL career.
Rick Mirer, No. 2 overall to Seattle, 1993
The guy who went No. 1 overall in 1993 was from the state of Washington and had great size and a big arm and finished his NFL career with nearly 45,000 yards passing and 251 touchdowns. But Drew Bledsoe wasn't available at No. 2. Mirer didn't have what I'd call a disastrous NFL career, with 11,969 yards passing and 68 career starts, but based on where he was taken he's still in the "bust" category.
Heath Shuler, No. 3 overall to Washington, 1994
No way around it: Shuler was a draft bust. It doesn't help that the next big name out of Tennessee was Peyton Manning, but Shuler finished a brief NFL career with just 3,691 yards and 15 touchdowns. He's since become a congressman out of North Carolina, so his leadership skills clearly didn't go to waste.
Ryan Leaf, No. 2 overall to San Diego, 1998
You'll never find a better case of a guy who really needed to be held back and allowed to develop by the franchise that drafted him as a young man (he came out after his junior year). But Leaf was put in command of a terrible team and fell apart quickly when asked to lead the team and deal with the consequences of losing. Compared to some earlier names on the list, Leaf's weak career numbers don't even look as terrible, but the sound bites and the cameras and the money all added to the effect.
Akili Smith, No. 3 overall to Cincinnati, 1999
Yet another Bengals bust, there were pretty big concerns about the kind of transition Smith would be forced to make, and thrust in as a starter in four games as a rookie, it became clear he needed more time to develop. But he never really did. Four total years in the league, 17 total starts and just five career touchdown passes. They whiffed on yet another quarterback pick.
Joey Harrington, No. 3 overall to Detroit, 2002
I really liked Harrington's chances. He had a lot of what you want to see -- smarts, size, a good arm, a great personality. He was a leader, and I thought he'd be a fit in Detroit. For whatever reason, he could never get comfortable on those Lions teams, which always seemed a little deficient in talent. But he had lots of chances, with 76 career starts. He finished with 14,693 career yards, by no means a disastrous total compared to the company, but part of his inclusion here is based on very high expectations.
JaMarcus Russell, No. 1 overall to Oakland, 2007
Normally it should be impossible to use the word "bust" when talking about a guy drafted so recently. Guys such as Philip Rivers didn't even start games for a couple years. But Russell has been the epitome of a bust. We questioned his passion for the game during the draft process, and those questions seem to have been answered in the worst ways. He has a ton of natural talent, but nothing else has worked.
For more from Mel, check out his annual draft publications.