The NFL draft gives every fan a chance to dream. No matter how bad your team was last season, every pick has unknown potential; the next Patrick Mahomes or Lamar Jackson could fall into your lap. Not every highly-rated player turns into a star, though. Just look at former Detroit Lions quarterback Joey Harrington.
Harrington, of course, went third overall to the Detroit Lions but never truly hit his stride. Despite earning more than $350,000 for every interception he threw—there were plenty of picks—the quarterback doesn’t consider himself an NFL draft bust.
Joey Harrington looked like a sure thing before the NFL draft
While most football fans probably remember Joey Harrington from his time with the Detroit Lions, he made his name at the University of Oregon.
After two uneventful seasons, one of which was spent onto the bench, Harrington started to make waves as a junior. He threw for 2967 yards and 22 touchdowns, leading the Ducks to a 10-2 record. The quarterback’s senior season, however, would be even stronger.
During his final year in Eugene, Harrington threw for 2,764 yards and 27 touchdowns as his team posted an 11-2 campaign. The season culminated in a victory in the Fiesta Bowl; Harrington dominated the game, throwing for 350 yards and four touchdowns. He also garnered plenty of Heisman Trophy attention as a senior, finishing fourth on the final ballot.
A third-overall draft pick isn’t a guarantee of NFL success
Based on his college career, Joey Harrington looked like a clutch quarterback capable of leading his team to victory in tough circumstances. Thar reputation inspired the Detroit Lions selected him with the third overall pick in the 2002 NFL draft; unfortunately, they ended up with something much different.
While Harrington would spend four seasons in Detroit, each campaign seemed like Groundhog Day. At the time, the Lions were a mess from top to bottom; the quarterback wasn’t a star, but he rarely had the tools to succeed. Harrington started 55 games in the Motor City. He only won 18 of them, throwing for 60 touchdowns and 62 interceptions.
The quarterback would spend some time in Miami, Atlanta, and New Orleans, but didn’t do much better. When he called it a career in 2009, Harrington had played 81 career games, throwing for 79 touchdowns and 85 interceptions; he earned just over $31 million in the NFL, which shakes out to roughly $365,000 per pick.
Don’t call Joey Harrington an NFL draft bust, though
It’s safe to say that Joey Harrington’s NFL career didn’t go as anyone imagined. Calling him a draft bust, however, is a bit more complicated.
During his time with the Lions, Harrington was cast as a savior but didn’t have the tools to succeed. The quarterback’s relationship with head coach Steve Mariucci didn’t help matters; Harrington once went to the coach’s office, looking for support, only to have Mariucci start brushing his teeth and leave the room.
Even the most talented player can’t succeed on his own; success requires an organizational buy-in from the front office on down. But, beyond that reality, there’s another factor. Joey Harrington himself considers his time in the NFL to be successful.
“To me, my career was a huge success,” he wrote in 2015. Not so much because of what I achieved or didn’t achieve, but in how it set me up for the rest of my life. In my mind, the only time you can view someone’s football career as a failure is if they didn’t use their success as a platform to better the world around them.”