Who are the top 10 worst quarterbacks of all time? Although this question may sound straightforward, it's far more complex than it seems. The temptation when looking at the worst quarterbacks ever is to pick the poor-performing quarterbacks of recent times, giving a free pass to those who played in the early days of the NFL. However, we here at Bet station have no trouble diving through the archives to find a complete list of the worst quarterbacks of all time.
With that being said, there are several criteria we considered when forming our list. For starters, we looked at their professional record. This includes how many games they played, their passing accuracy, and their win to loss ratio. We also examined their personal life, college football career, and the hype surrounding the player. While there are many players who only played a handful of games and did terribly, we are searching for the big names who grabbed the spotlight but failed to deliver on the main stage.
Below, you will find our list of the worst NFL quarterbacks of all time. At the bottom of the page, we have a section dedicated to the players who narrowly missed out on a top spot. If you are looking for the greatest NFL players, then check out our list of the best quarterbacks ever. Without further delay, let’s get on with the list!
10. Rick Mirer
Rick Mirer was a quarterback for several NFL teams between 1993 and 2004. His career began with the Seattle Seahawks, where he was the second pick in the 1993 Draft. He stayed with the Seahawks until 1996, where he had one season with the Chicago Bears. After this, he joined the Green Bay Packers for a season but did not feature. Mirer then had stints with the New York Jets, San Francisco 49ers, and Oakland Raiders, before finishing his career with the Detroit Lions.
Mirer’s college career set the bar high, earning a comparison with fellow Notre Dame legend, Joe Montana. However, in more ways than one, Mirer was unlike Montana, as he did not set the scene alight by winning multiple Super Bowls. Instead, Mirer had four seasons where he did not play and he never appeared at a postseason game.
In 1993, Mirer signed a 15 million dollar contract with the Seahawks. In his rookie season, he set NFL rookie records for completions, yards, and attempts. Plus, he was only the third quarterback since 1970 to start in every game for his new team, earning him a place on the NFL All-Rookie Team 1993. His career only went downhill from here, where they traded him to the Chicago Bears. He played seven games for the Bears before he requested to be released and joined the Packers, where he never made an appearance. Mirer set the bar high as a rookie, then sailed underneath it for the rest of his career.
- Appearances: 80
- Passer Rating: 63.5
- TD-INT: 50-76
- Passing Yards: 11,969
- Wins-Losses: 24-44
9. Frank Tripucka
Frank Tripucka was a quarterback who spent 15 seasons between the American Football League (AFL) and Canadian Football League (CFL). The Philadelphia Eagles picked him in the 1949 draft, but they traded him to the Detroit Lions during the preseason. Tripucka joined the Chicago Cardinals for a season and a half and then joined the Dallas Texans mid-season. The Texans folded, so Tripucka joined the Saskatchewan Roughriders for a big-money move to the CFL. He coached and played in Canada until joining the Denver Broncos and revived his football career.
Tripucka had a mixed career, starting off in college as a backup to Johnny Lujack. Tripucka still shone, achieving a passer rating of 155.3 in 1947. After Lujack graduated, he became a starter and set a school-record 11 touchdowns, and played in the College All-Star Game. After his bright start in college, his professional career took a downturn. The Eagles immediately traded him and he only stayed at the Lions for the rest of the season before his move to the Cardinals. Even his move to the CFL proved to be miserable, with one season unable to play as the team had too many non-native players.
Only when he returned to the AFL did his professional career finally have an upturn. He led the league in interceptions in 1960, a Denver Broncos record to this day. Tripucka had another fantastic season in 1962, where he led the league with 2,917 yards, 240 completions, and 440 attempts. Although the latter stages of his career were impressive, the majority of his football career was underwhelming. If most of his seasons were half as successful as his stint with the Broncos, Tripucka would have easily avoided our worst quarterbacks list.
- Appearances: 75
- Passer Rating: 52.2
- TD-INT: 69-124
- Passing Yards: 10,282
- Wins-Losses: 17-34-1
8. Jack Trudeau
Jack Trudeau began his professional career with the Indianapolis Colts in 1986. He then joined the New York Jets in 1994 before ending his career with the Carolina Panthers in 1995. During his ten seasons in the NFL, he made 67 appearances, 61 of which were for the Colts. The Jets limited his game time to just five appearances, with the Panthers only giving Trudeau one game in his last season before retirement.
Trudeau was another NFL quarterback who gained a lot of hype thanks to his performance at college level. He was the quarterback for the Illinois Fighting Illini football team, where helped his team become the first “Big Ten” team to beat all nine conference opponents in a single season. He set school records while at Illinois, including 51 touchdowns, 8,416 yards, and 1,151 completions. Trudeau also set an NCAA record for making 215 consecutive passes without an interception.
His rookie season in the NFL did not go to plan. Trudeau started 11 games for the Colts, all of which ended in defeat. It was not all bad, as he led the franchise to their first playoff since moving to Indianapolis in 1984. His best season came in 1989, where he threw 2,317 yards and 15 touchdowns, becoming the Offensive MVP for the Colts. In the 1990 draft, they brought in a new starter and Trudeau made 14 appearances over the next four seasons.
It always feels bittersweet to include a player like Trudeau into a list of the worst quarterbacks of all time. However, if you analyze his stats, you’ll see his best season was a blip on a very subpar journey to early retirement.
- Appearances: 67
- Passer Rating: 63.3
- TD-INT: 24-69
- Passing Yards: 10,243
- Wins-Losses: 19-30
7. Chris Weinke
It’s unusual for an athlete to transition from baseball to football, but that did not stop Chris Weinke. Weinke played minor league baseball for the Toronto Blue Jays affiliate team for six years. When he quit baseball, he enrolled at Florida State University at the ripe old age of 25. He quickly proved to be a force to be reckoned with, becoming a starter leading his team to the 1999 National Championship. He received the Heisman Trophy at 28, making him the oldest recipient.
After his success in college, the Carolina Panthers drafted Weinke in 2001. Unfortunately, he remained a backup for almost the entirety of his time with the Panthers until they released him in 2006. After his four years in Carolina, he spent one more season in the NFL with the San Francisco 49ers. He started one game for the 49ers, a 20-7 defeat to the Cleveland Browns.
While Weinke may seem a little out of place on our list of the worst quarterbacks of all time, he did earn his position. When he was a starter for the Panthers in 2001, his record was 1-15. This featured a consecutive loss streak of 15, which remains the record for the Panthers. Weinke had some significant moments, setting the Panthers Offensive Single-Game Record for completions. He also threw 423 yards in 2006, which was a Panthers record beaten by Cam Newton in 2011.
- Appearances: 29
- Passer Rating: 62.2
- TD-INT: 15-26
- Passing Yards: 3,904
- Wins-Losses: 2-18
6. Rusty Lisch
Rusty Lisch is widely regarded as one of the worst quarterbacks in football history. His career began with the St. Louis Cardinals in 1980, where he was a fourth-round pick. After four seasons with the Cardinals, he had a brief stint with the Chicago Bears before retiring from professional football.
Unlike other players on our list of the worst quarterbacks of all time, Lisch did not shine brightly in college. He was a backup to Joe Montana at Notre Dame for much of his time at the university. He was a starter in 1979 and helped to turn around a 17-3 deficit with his 336 passing yards in the game.
Unfortunately for Lisch, this was the highlight of his career as his NFL stats will show. In 115 attempts, Lisch threw 11 interceptions and one touchdown. His one and only touchdown came in 1983, a single-yard pass to Doug Marsh. The touchdown and extra point proved only to be a consolation as the team lost 31-14 to the Redskins. In his NFL career, Rusty Lisch only started one game, and it ended in defeat.
In 1984 he joined the Chicago Bears where he started a game because of injuries to the other quarterbacks. The coach, Mike Ditka, was furious with Lisch’s poor performance and benched him before halftime. Another injury caused the coach to turn to Lisch later in the game, but he refused to return to the field. In an interview with ESPN, Don Pierson recounted the plane ride home from the game, where Lisch was reading the bible and his coach Ditka said:
I hope there is something in that book about job opportunities, because you'll need one on Monday.- Mike Ditka
- Appearances: 30
- Passer Rating: 25.1
- TD-INT: 1-11
- Passing Yards: 547
- Wins-Losses: 0-1
5. Kim McQuilken
Kim McQuilken has one of the worst passer ratings in NFL history. He began his professional career with the Atlanta Falcons in 1974 as a third-choice quarterback. He then moved to the Washington Redskins in 1978, where they limited him to three appearances. McQuilken left the Redskins in 1980, where he stayed without a team until 1983. He joined the Washington Federals, who played in the United States Football League (USFL), for one season before retiring from professional football.
McQuilken was another player who joined the NFL without the weight of the world on his shoulders. He was a third-round pick in the 1974 draft, where he started two games in his rookie season. Kim McQuilken had a seven-year stint in the NFL, where he achieved a passer rating of 17.9. This is the second-worst passer rating in history amongst players who have 200 or more attempts.
While the expectations around McQuilken were never that high, he certainly underdelivered. He only made four touchdown passes in his career and started seven games. According to McQuilken’s stats, he would have earned -0.7 fantasy points if you had him in your team for his entire NFL career, sealing his place as one of the worst quarterbacks of all time.
- Appearances: 26
- Passer Rating: 17.9
- TD-INT: 4-29
- Passing Yards: 1,135
- Wins-Losses: 2-5
4. Heath Shuler
Now that we are near the top end of our list, we can talk about some real humdingers. Heath Shuler started his professional career as a first-round pick from the 1994 draft by the Washington Redskins. Shuler held out of training until he received a seven-year contract worth just under 20 million dollars. However, he didn’t last long with the Redskins and they traded him to the New Orleans Saints in 1997. Injuries plagued his time with the Saints, causing him to miss the entire second season with his new team. Shuler then joined the Oakland Raiders but suffered a similar injury in training camp, causing him to be cut from the team.
Shuler gained attention in high school as a standout quarterback who won three state championships. His college stats were just as incredible, making ten touchdowns, passing 1,712 yards, and leading the team to nine wins with three losses in 1992. In 1993, he improved in all areas, throwing 2,345 yards and making 25 touchdowns. He held a huge number of Tennessee Volunteer passing records, most of which were beaten by Peyton Manning.
It was a combination of his performances and his potential, which raised expectations for his NFL career. However, Shuler could deliver nowhere near the level he set in college, causing him to be ranked as one of the biggest NFL draft flops of all time. Both the NFL Network and ESPN regard Heath Shuler as a flop and a bust, securing his spot on our list of the worst quarterbacks.
- Appearances: 29
- Passer Rating: 54.3
- TD-INT: 15-33
- Passing Yards: 3,691
- Wins-Losses: 8-14
3. Akili Smith
Akili Smith was a quarterback who began his professional career with the Cincinnati Bengals in 1999. He then unsuccessfully tried to join the Green Bay Packers in 2003 and was also unsuccessful in joining the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2005. Smith moved to the NFL Europe league where he played for Frankfurt Galaxy in Germany. He then moved to the CFL and signed for the Saskatchewan Roughriders, where he retired in 2007.
Smith began as a baseball player drafted by the Pittsburgh Pirates and played for Gulf Coast League Pirates, a rookie-level affiliate of the Pirates. He then made the switch to play football at college but had to improve his grades before joining the University of Oregon. It was his performance as a senior at Oregon that gained him notoriety, throwing 32 touchdown passes in 11 starts. He received recognition for his success with a Pac-10 Co-Offensive Player of the Year award in 1998.
One incredible year at college gave Smith a lot of attention. The Bengals were keen on the unproven rookie, turning down an offer from the New Orleans Saints. His time with the Bengals started with a contract dispute, resulting in a seven-year contract worth $56 million dollars. Smith also pocketed a signing bonus worth nearly $11 million.
Does He Deserve a Top Spot?
Whether it was arrogance or just inability, Smith failed to learn the Bengals playbook and never established himself as a starter. During his four-year stay, he started 17 games and threw five touchdown passes. While the attention he earned might have been overzealous, especially since he only had one strong college season, Smith was an absolute flop. Costing the Bengals way more than he was worth and never even threatened to deliver. Smith deserves a top spot on our list of the worst quarterbacks.
- Appearances: 22
- Passer Rating: 52.8
- TD-INT: 5-13
- Passing Yards: 2,212
- Wins-Losses: 3-14
2. JaMarcus Russell
JaMarcus Russell was going to be a franchise quarterback for the Oakland Raiders. He was the first pick in the 2007 draft after an exciting college football career. However, Russell immediately damped expectations when he held out until the second week of the season for an improved contract. The six-year contract was worth $68 million, and they guaranteed over $30 million.
Because he had missed all of training camp, Raiders head coach Lane Kiffin had to treat his high-value signing differently. In an interview with the East Bay Times Kiffin Said:
There is no plan in place, but when he comes in, it will most likely not be as a starter. That way we can really control what he is doing, play for this set amount of time for this many plays. He doesn’t have to have everything mastered.- Lane Kiffin
His first season was poor, playing in as few as four games. He gained 373 passing yards, two touchdown passes, and four interceptions, hardly justifying his enormous price tag. After this season, they named him as the starter for the Raiders. This was his best season, with 2,423 yards, 13 touchdown passes, and eight interceptions. The 2009 season signaled the beginning of the end for Russell, finishing the season as the worst quarterback in the NFL. He had the lowest completion percentage, fewest passing touchdowns, and the lowest quarterback rating of all qualifying quarterbacks.
How Bad Was He?
In 2010, they reported Russell was incredibly overweight, allegedly 35lbs heavier than when he first signed for the Raiders. The team now had five quarterbacks on the roster, prompting them to release Russell in May 2010. He made 25 fumbles in his short three-year career, twelve of which came in his best season. Russell’s 2009 passer rating was the lowest by a starter quarterback in the NFL since 1998. He left lasting trauma in the Raiders team, as management refused to allow any player to wear the same numbered jersey as Russell until 2013.
Russell tried to make a comeback in the NFL, but his poor work ethic was well known. Even after offering to play for every team in the league for free, Russell did not get the chance to play another down. This sealed his fate as one of the worst quarterbacks ever, and certainly one of the biggest flops in football.
- Appearances: 31
- Passer Rating: 65.2
- TD-INT: 18-23
- Passing Yards: 4,083
- Wins-Losses: 7-18
1. Ryan Leaf
Ryan Leaf is the worst quarterback of all time. Leaf began his career as the second pick in the 1998 draft behind legendary quarterback Peyton Manning. Manning didn’t just become one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time, he also wowed the Indianapolis Colts during an interview before the draft. Leaf did not turn up to his interview. Instead, he signed to the San Diego Chargers on a four-year deal worth over $31 million and an $11.25 million signing bonus; which was the most paid for a rookie at the time.
He spent two years with the San Diego Chargers before unsuccessfully joining the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. His time with the Buccaneers was incredibly short, even though they signed him two days after being released by the Chargers. The Buccaneers asked Leaf to accept fourth quarterback status, which he refused, leading to his release. Leaf, once again, quickly signed with a new team, the Dallas Cowboys, who released him after he failed his first physical. The Cowboys signed Leaf again in October after injury to Quincy Carter but released him in May.
Leaf then signed to another team, the Seattle Seahawks. He had a one-year deal that was tailored to improve his ability and allow his injuries to heal. However, Leaf abruptly retired from football in 2002 at 26. Leaf’s former Chargers teammate, Rodney Harrison, had this to say about the retirement:
He took the money and ran. Personally, I could never rest good at night knowing my career ended like that. You could give me all the money in the world — where’s the peace of mind? Normally, in this game, you get back what you put into it, and he pretty much got back what he put into it.- Rodney Harrison
Was He Really That bad?
Leaf is famous for his poor work ethic and often aggressive attitude. Shortly after signing his contract, he skipped the last day of a symposium, which was mandatory for all NFL draft players, earning him a $10,000 fine. This event set the pace for a short and fiery career, which involved shouting at reporters, trying to fight fans, and playing golf rather than practicing.
If you were to look through Leaf’s stats, you would find several fumbles, a lack of game time, and a series of poor performances. Combine this with the incredible expectation he had after a fantastic college career, and retirement at 26, and you have the absolute worst quarterback of all time. Leaf’s troubles on the pitch spilled over into his personal life once he retired. They arrested him several times for burglary, substance abuse charges, and in 2020 for domestic battery.
While we have judged every quarterback on our list by their ability, or lack of, Ryan Leaf takes the cake by giving up on professional football before his career began. Add the string of drug-related arrests and well-known poor work ethic, and you have the worst quarterback of all time.
- Appearances: 25
- Passer Rating: 50.0
- TD-INT: 14-36
- Passing Yards: 3,666
- Wins-Losses: 4-17
As with any list, there are several individuals who narrowly missed out on a spot. If you did not know, there are many names we could have included in our list of the worst quarterbacks of all time. Some of these players deserve recognition, which is why we have included them in the list below.
- Andrew Walter
- Matt Leinhart
- Babe Laufenberg
- David Carr
- Joey Harrington
- Quincy Carter
- Ryan Lindley
- Johnny Manziel
- John Skelton
- Nathan Peterman
- Tony Adams
- Josh Freeman