Quarterback is the highest-profile position in the NFL, and it’s also the one that comes with the greatest expectations.
Arizona Cardinals QB Matt Leinart added his name to the list of biggest quarterback draft busts when he was beat out by Derek Anderson for the starting quarterback job prior to the 2010 NFL season.
Leinart, selected 10th overall in the 2006 draft after a stellar career at USC – which included back-to-back appearances in the BCS title game, one BCS national championship, one AP national championship and a Heisman Trophy – received limited playing time during his first three seasons in the NFL, appearing in just 17 games while playing behind Kurt Warner.
Warner retired after the 2009 season, making Leinart the heir-apparent in Arizona, but in the clearest indication of their uncertainty in Leinart’s abilities, the Cardinals added former Cleveland Browns QB Derek Anderson to push Leinart in training camp.
After an erratic preseason, Anderson had stolen the starting job away from Leinart with one game left in the preseason.
The hype that followed Leinart from USC to the NFL, and his inability to capitalize on the chances he’s had with the Cardinals, makes him a prime candidate to be among the NFL’s greatest quarterback busts of the modern era.
Other big busts:
JaMarcus Russell, Oakland Raiders
JaMarcus Russell is the biggest NFL quarterback bust of all-time. The No. 1 overall pick by the Oakland Raiders in the 2007 draft was ineffective and out of shape for the majority of his three seasons with the team. The former LSU star held out throughout training camp of his rookie year before finally signing a six-year, $68 million contract that included $31.5 million in guaranteed funds. After three disappointing seasons with the Raiders, Russell was released in May of 2010; less than two months later, he was arrested at his home in Mobile, Alabama, for possessing codeine syrup without a prescription. In three seasons with the Raiders, Russell threw for 4,083 yards, 18 touchdowns and 23 interceptions, with a 7-18 record as starter.
Ryan Leaf, San Diego Chargers
Entering the 1998 NFL draft, many scouts had Washington State’s Leaf and Tennessee’s Peyton Manning dead even in terms of talent. The Indianapolis Colts picked Manning first overall. Leaf went second to the San Diego Chargers, kicking off a tumultuous three-year run in San Diego. Leaf had very public run-ins with the media and with teammates. The former Heisman Trophy finalist – he finished third in voting behind Charles Woodson and Manning – won his first two games as a Charger before the bottom fell out. He went 1-for-15 for four yards and three fumbles in his third game, and never seemed to recover. He finished the season 111-for-245 with 1,289 yards, two touchdowns and 15 interceptions. He sat out the 1999 season with a shoulder injury, then played 11 games in 2000, throwing for 1,883 yards, 11 TDs and 18 interceptions. By the time the Chargers released Leaf, following the 2000 season, he was 4-17 as a starter. He played four games for the Dallas Cowboys in 2001 before he was released, and never made it back to the NFL.
Tim Couch, Cleveland Browns
After a standout career at Kentucky – during which he established several school records and became a finalist for the Heisman Trophy – Couch entered the draft early and was the No. 1 overall pick in 1999. Couch passed for 2,447 yards as a rookie, 3,040 yards during his third season and 2,842 in his fourth. But the QB was always erratic and plagued by injuries throughout his five NFL seasons; he threw more touchdowns than interceptions only once – during his rookie season of 1999, when he tossed 15 TDs and 13 picks. In 2001, the only season he played a full 16 regular-season games, Couch threw 17 touchdowns but 21 interceptions. His career totals: 11,131 yards, 64 TDs, 67 interceptions.
Akili Smith, Cincinnati Bengals
Smith put together a superb senior season at the University of Oregon, throwing 32 touchdown passes in his 11 college starts. Smith was the third overall pick in 1998, going to Cincinnati after Tim Couch and Donovan McNabb were selected first and second. A contract dispute keep Smith out for much of the 1999 training camp, the first sign of the rocky road ahead for the former Ducks star. Smith started just 17 games over four seasons for the Bengals, going 3-14 and passing for 2,212 yards and five touchdowns against 13 interceptions.
Joey Harrington, Detroit Lions
Harrington was another University of Oregon star who just never panned out at the NFL level, despite receiving plenty of opportunity over six seasons in the league. Drafted third overall in 2002, Harrington struggled mightily with the Lions, who had terrible offensive lines during his tenure and lacked productive skill players at key positions. Harrington played four seasons in Detroit, starting 55 games and throwing for 10,242 yards, 60 touchdowns and 62 interceptions. He went 18-37 as a Lion, losing his starting job to Jeff Garcia for a spell during the 2005 season. Harrington showed flashes of stellar play over the next two seasons with Miami and Atlanta, but was released by the Falcons and, later, by the New Orleans Saints in 2008.
Matt Leinart, Yahoo! Sports
Matt Leinart, USC Trojans
Tim Couch, Wikipedia
JaMarcus Russell, Yahoo! Sports
Ryan Leaf, NFL
Joey Harrington, NFL