Playing quarterback in the NFL is arguably the most difficult position in all of sports. If that is true, it seems logical that identifying and finding players who are able to succeed as a quarterback in the NFL is equally difficult.
As I reflect upon the various NFL drafts over the last thirty years (yes, I would say I have been actively following the NFL Draft since 1983), certain quarterbacks come to mind that still surprise me for their lack of success. Yes, I remember thinking that players like Jeff George, JaMarcus Russell, Tim Couch, Rex Grossman, and Vince Young would not be successful. I remember watching Vinny Testaverde struggle in big games while at Miami (FL), so it did not surprise me that Testaverde struggled in the NFL, despite his NFL career being a lengthy one.
Below are the quarterbacks I saw play well at the college level, yet not become the winning NFL quarterbacks I predicted. Fortunately for me, my mistakes were only at the fan level. For several NFL teams, these players did not pan out for their respective franchises.
5. Matt Leinart (USC - 2006 first round pick; #10 overall selection) ~ Leinart played well at USC under renowned offensive guru Norm Chow. Leinart helped to lead USC to a national championship (since vacated) over Oklahoma, while winning the Heisman Trophy during the 2004 season. Leinart is currently a free agent, after spending last season as a backup in Oakland.
4. Brady Quinn (Notre Dame - 2007 first round pick; #22 overall selection) ~ Quinn thrived at Notre Dame under former New England Patriots offensive coordinator Charlie Weis during the 2005 season. Even Coach Weis believed that Quinn would have a more productive NFL career. A first round pick by Cleveland in 2007, Quinn held out during his rookie season (always a bad move for any quarterback), and never seemed to recover from that holdout. Despite winning the job in 2009, Quinn could not hold it and was eventually traded to Denver prior to the 2010 season. Quinn recently signed as a backup quarterback with Seattle.
3. Cade McNown (UCLA - 1999 first round pick; #12 overall selection) ~ McNown led UCLA to a number one ranking during the 1998 season, until UCLA was upset by Miami (FL) on the final weekend of the regular season. The 1999 NFL Draft had many quarterbacks selected in the first round, among them Tim Couch, Donovan McNabb, Akili Smith, and Daunte Culpepper. I simply believed McNown would be a success based upon his UCLA career, but he was arguably one of the biggest busts from his draft class. McNown was traded by Chicago to Miami by the 2001 season.
2. Steve Walsh (Miami (FL) - 1989 first round supplemental pick; cost the Dallas Cowboys the #1 overall selection in the 1990 NFL Draft) ~ Walsh was the latest in a long line of great Miami (FL) quarterbacks such as Jim Kelly, Bernie Kosar, and Vinny Testaverde. Like Kosar, Walsh had led Miami (FL) to a national championship in 1987 and to the brink of another in 1988. When Dallas used the pick on Steve Walsh, I believed then-Dallas head coach Jimmy Johnson was going to eventually trade Troy Aikman, to make room for Steve Walsh. As it turned out, Walsh was traded to New Orleans during the 1990 season. Walsh had an eleven year career in the NFL, but Walsh never became the quarterback worthy of the high pick used by Dallas.
1. Rick Mirer (Notre Dame - 1993 first round pick; #2 overall selection) ~ Mirer was heralded by former 49ers head coach Bill Walsh as the next Joe Montana. Mobile, with a strong enough arm, and the ability to play well in the clutch, I truly thought Mirer was going to be a great NFL quarterback. I could not have been more wrong. Mirer had a solid rookie season in Seattle in 1993, but was eventually traded to Chicago in 1997. Mirer played for the New York Jets, San Francisco, and Oakland during his twelve year career, but never came remotely close to the forecasts made for him by Coach Walsh...or me.