Many athletes excelled in college ball but simply couldn’t make it in the NFL. Some didn’t have the work ethic; others’ egos got in the way. And yet some NFL quarterbacks just faded out of the spotlight. Most often it’s the QBs in the highest demand who can’t live up to the hype. Here are the five worst quarterbacks who couldn’t cut it professionally.
5. Andrew Walter, record 3-16
At Arizona State, this quarterback broke Pacific-10 Conference records with 85 touchdowns and 536 yards passing in one game. But, as a pro, Andrew Walter never got it together. Chosen by the Oakland Raiders in the third round of the 2005 NFL Draft, he was the third-string QB in his first year and then suffered a groin injury that required surgery.
Injuries are excusable, but he never earned his way to the first string, appearing only when others were injured or performed poorly. This netted him a total of 15 game appearances. Of those 15, he was sacked 51 times.
4. Heath Shuler, record 8-14
In 1993, the University of Tennessee quarterback was a Heisman runner-up following a 9–2–1 record with 2,354 passing yards and 25 touchdowns. When Washington drafted him third overall in 1994, fans believed Heath Shuler would be the Redskins’ next great quarterback. The young athlete signed a seven-year contract, but he just couldn’t cut it.
As a rookie, Shuler’s record was 1-7. Washington traded him to the Saints two years later. Then, the QB endured a foot injury that required two surgeries. Shuler later signed with the Raiders, but reinjured his foot and bowed out after training camp. In retirement, Shuler served as the U.S. House Representative for North Carolina’s 11th district for six years.
3. Akili Smith, record 3-14
Akili Smith was drafted out of high school — not by the NFL, but by the Pittsburgh Pirates. He played the Gulf Coast League in ’93 and ’94, followed by a stint with the New York-Penn League in ’95. When baseball didn’t work out, Smith attended junior college, then went to the University of Oregon as a standout quarterback.
As a senior for the Ducks, Smith threw 30 touchdown passes in 11 starts. The Cincinnati Bengals selected the QB in the third round of the 1999 draft. Smith spent four years in Ohio and saw only 17 starts. He threw five touchdown passes and 13 interceptions. Smith’s career ended when the Bengals released him.
2. JaMarcus Russell, record 7-18
A standout quarterback during his time at Louisiana State, JaMarcus Russell had a 21–4 record and was also named 2007 Sugar Bowl MVP. The same year, the Oakland Raiders chose him as their first overall pick. Then, Russell signed a contract worth $61 million, with $32.5 million guaranteed. What?
During the next three years, Russell garnered a 7–18 record as a starter, with 18 touchdowns, 23 interceptions, and 38 turnovers. With little to any work ethic, he appeared at training camp overweight and out of shape.
Realizing Russell wasn’t studying game tapes, Oakland coaches gave him a blank tape saying they were blitz packages he needed to see. Russell returned the next day claiming he watched them. The team released him after three years.
1. Ryan Leaf, career record 4-17
QB Ryan Leaf led his high-school team to the Montana state title. Then, he took the Washington State Cougars to the Rose Bowl for the first time in 50 years. As a junior, Leaf finished third for the Heisman Trophy behind defensive linebacker Charles Woodson and fellow quarterback Peyton Manning.
With a need for a quarterback, the San Diego Chargers traded their way to second overall pick in the 1998 NFL Draft and chose Leaf. Big mistake! That night Leaf took the Chargers owner’s plane to Vegas, partied all night, and yawned through his news conference the next day. This should’ve been a sign.
His work ethic was abysmal. Although the Chargers won their first two games of the ’98 season, that’s about all Leaf could do. Then, 20 minutes into the first training camp of the ’99 season, he was out with an injury that required shoulder surgery. After two more years, Leaf’s career was over with 14 touchdowns and 36 interceptions.