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All time NFL QBs: The Worst Edition

Posted by Chase Stuart on June 23, 2008

Two years ago I wrote up a post about the worst quarterbacks of all time. Today I'll be updating that post, while tomorrow I'll be writing about the best quarterbacks of all time. To save myself some headaches, I've separated out the methodology for ranking the QBs into a separate post. That's pretty much required reading if you want to understand how the rankings were derived.

For starters, it always bugs me how much time NFL fans spend discussing the best quarterbacks ever, and how little time we spend discussing the worst QBs ever. Let's start with the worst single season of all time.

I doubt anyone alive today remembers the name Bud Schwenk. That's what happens when you throw 295 passes, and complete 126 of them to your team and 27 of them to the opponents. Yes, Bud Schwenk averaged an impressive 0.69 adjusted yards per pass attempt, while the league average outside of Scwhenk was 4.25 adjusted yards per pass (After 1969, every QB will be ranked by his net adjusted yards per attempt, but we don't have reliable individual sack data from before then). Schwenk singlehandedly dropped the league average to 3.23 AY/A, which might have misled readers into seeing how bad he really was.

Six years later, Jack Jacobs was nearly as bad, averaging negative yards per pass attempt but on over 100 fewer passes. Ineptitude kept Jacobs from passing (sliding behind?) Schenk.

And the third worst QB season of all time? You need to fast forward 51 years, to 1999. Check out this stat line:

Cmp   Att   Cmp%   Yds   TD  Int   Sk  SkYd  ANY/A  LgAvg ANY/A
201   381   52.8   2111   9   24   27  152   2.38    4.87

Plummer, in 1999, "contributed" 1,017 fewer yards to the Cardinals than the league average QB would have brought to the table. As far as modern seasons go, Plummer's '99 stands as the worst. Here's a list of the 25 worst seasons by any QB:

		year		att	pyd	 ptd	icp	sk-syd	 any/a	RY4.0	Rating
Bud Schwenk	1942	CRD	295	1360	 6	27	-	 0.69	 0	-1243
Jack Jacobs	1948	GNB	184	 848	 5	21	-	-0.26 	 0	-1158
Jake Plummer	1999	ARI	381	2111	 9	24	27-152	 2.38	 0	-1017
Archie Manning	1975	NOR	338	1683	 7	20	49-390	 1.20	64	- 972
David Carr	2002	HOU	444	2592	 9	15	76-411	 3.07	76	- 942
Davey O'Brien	1940	PHI	277	1290	 5	17	-	 2.08	 0	- 917
Bobby Hoying	1998	PHI	224	 961	 0	 9	35-185	 1.43	 0	- 916
Milt Plum	1965	DET	308	1710	12	19	-	 3.17	 0	- 891
Kerry Collins	1997	CAR	381	2124	11	21	27-200	 2.67	 0	- 888
Tobin Rote	1959	DET	162	 861	 5	19	-	 0.35	36	- 885
Joe Kapp	1970	BOS	219	1104	 3	17	27-231	 0.56	 0	- 857
Stan Heath	1949	GNB	106	 355	 1	14	-	-2.50	 0	- 838
Ryan Leaf	1998	SDG	245	1289	 2	15	22-140	 1.85	 0	- 831
Dick Wood	1966	MIA	230	 993	 4	14	-	 1.75	 0	- 818
Vinny Testaverde1988	TAM	466	3240	13	35	33-292	 3.01	36	- 815
Kyle Orton	2005	CHI	368	1869	 9	13	30-190	 2.97	 0	- 815
Dan Pastorini	1981	RAM	152	 719	 2	14	14-149	-0.24	 0	- 813
Dan Darragh	1968	BUF	215	 917	 3	14	-	 1.47	 0	- 813
A.J. Feeley	2004	MIA	356	1893	11	15	23-136	 3.15	 0	- 806
Frank Tripucka	1952	DTX	174	 769	 3	17	-	 0.20	22	- 802
Roy Zimmerman	1943	PHI	124	 846	 9	17	-	 1.38	 0	- 798
Dave M. Brown	1996	NYG	398	2412	12	20	49-276	 3.03	 0	- 797
Jon Kitna	2001	CIN	581	3216	12	22	25-185	 3.57 	 0	- 791
Zeke Bratkowski	1960	CHI	175	1051	 6	21	-	 0.95	 0	- 787
Jack Trudeau	1986	IND	417	2225	 8	18	29-213	 2.87	 0	- 785
Paul Christman	1945	CRD	219	1147	 5	12	-	 3.00	 0	- 784
Jeff Komlo	1979	DET	368	2238	11	23	40-361	 2.33	 7	- 781
Alex Smith	2005	SFO	165	 875	 1	11	29-185	 1.06	 0	- 769
Andrew Walter	2006	OAK	276	1677	 3	13	46-256	 2.69	 0	- 764

How about the worst QB in the league for every season since the merger?

Quarterback		Year    Team    ANY/A   Rating
Trent Dilfer		2007	SFO	 2.09	- 754
Andrew Walter		2006	OAK	 2.69	- 764
Kyle Orton		2005	CHI	 2.97	- 815
A.J. Feeley		2004	MIA	 3.15	- 806
Joey Harrington		2003	DET	 3.56	- 738
David Carr		2002	HOU	 3.07	- 942
Jon Kitna		2001	CIN	 3.57	- 791
Ryan Leaf		2000	SDG	 2.91	- 697
Jake Plummer		1999	ARI	 2.38	-1017
Bobby Hoying		1998	PHI	 1.43	- 916
Kerry Collins		1997	CAR	 2.67	- 888
Dave M. Brown		1996	NYG	 3.03	- 797
Bubby Brister		1995	NYJ	 1.53	- 660
Billy Joe Tolliver	1994	HOU	 3.24	- 473
Mark Rypien		1993	WAS	 3.04	- 598
Stan Gelbaugh		1992	SEA	 2.10	- 700
Jeff George		1991	IND	 3.68	- 650
Troy Aikman		1990	DAL	 3.63	- 548
Troy Aikman		1989	DAL	 2.80	- 508
Vinny Testaverde	1988	TAM	 3.01	- 815
Mark Malone		1987	PIT	 2.68	- 674
Jack Trudeau		1986	IND	 2.87	- 785
Joe Theismann		1985	WAS	 2.43	- 677
Joe Ferguson		1984	BUF	 2.61	- 750
Joe Ferguson		1983	BUF	 3.48	- 597
Joe Ferguson		1982	BUF	 3.06	- 490
Dan Pastorini		1981	RAM 	-0.24	- 813
Phil Simms		1980	NYG	 3.16	- 530
Jeff Komlo		1979	DET	 2.33	- 781
Steve DeBerg		1978	SFO	 1.58	- 681
Randy Hedberg		1977	TAM	-3.21	- 723
Gary Marangi		1976	BUF	 0.72	- 721
Archie Manning		1975	NOR	 1.20	- 972
Bob Lee			1974	ATL	-0.08	- 762
Dan Pastorini		1973	HOU	 1.42	- 732
Jim Plunkett		1972	NWE	 1.94	- 732
Dennis Shaw		1971	BUF	 1.47	- 704
Joe Kapp		1970	BOS	 0.56	- 857

Okay, I know what you're all waiting for. Let's get to the career list.

Quarterback      Att     Rate
Joey Harrington	 2538	-2129
Rick Mirer	 2043	-2081
David Carr	 2206	-1804
Ryan Leaf	  655	-1607
Frank Tripucka	 1745	-1519
Mike Taliaferro	  966	-1501
Gary Huff	  788	-1433
Kim McQuilken	  272	-1392
Alex Smith	  800	-1353
Kent Nix	  652	-1335
Davey O'Brien	  478	-1320
Mike Phipps	 1799	-1299
Kyle Boller	 1311	-1292
Danny Kanell	  956	-1286
Rick Norton	  382	-1277
Trent Dilfer	 3172	-1275
Tim Couch	 1714	-1208
Craig Whelihan	  557	-1151
John McCormick	  555	-1146
Dan Darragh	  296	-1146
Randy Wright	 1119	-1117
Dave M. Brown	 1634	-1100
King Hill	  881	-1081
Joe Kapp	  918	-1078
Bud Schwenk	  662	-1057
Dennis Shaw	  924	-1051
George Izo	  317	-1037
Josh McCown	 1052	-1024
Kelly Stouffer	  437	-1013
Jack Jacobs	  552	-1005
Scott Brunner	 1046	- 995
Dick Wood	 1194	- 993
Dan Pastorini	 3055	- 993
Heath Shuler	  593	- 984
Jack Thompson	  845	- 969
Randy Johnson	 1286	- 951
Akili Smith	  461	- 939
Jeff Komlo	  437	- 916
Stan Gelbaugh	  391	- 913
David Klingler	  718	- 898

There you have it -- no QB has performed so far below the league average for so long as Joey Harrington. To be clear, Joey Harrington probably isn't the worst quarterback of all time in an absolute sense. But in terms of being so far below average, but far enough above miserable to earn more playing time, Joey Harrington hurt his team more than any other QB in NFL history. If Harrington had been worse, he would have played less, and he wouldn't have set back the teams he played on. To put it another way, if you had the choice of getting Joey Harrington for 2,538 attempts, or Roger Goodell for 9 attempts you would certainly choose Goodell. At least after he's gone, your team has a chance.

You might notice that the four worst QBs of all time were all guys from the last fifteen years. Why? Surely it isn't a coincidence that each QB was a top three pick in the draft. I doubt there's much comfort to Texans fans in the words "At least you made the right decision in the Harrington/Carr sweepstakes." But top picks now, more than ever, are given multiple chances to succeed. And when they're bad, that means many, many chances to fail.

In 1962, the Rams took future NFL MVP QB Roman Gabriel with the second pick in the draft. In 1963, the Rams took QB Terry Baker with the first pick in the draft. He threw only 19 passes as a rookie, but in the '64 draft, the Rams took Bill Munson with their first pick, seventh overall. That sort of stuff just doesn't happen anymore, unless Matt Millen's running your team. So while I'm always on the lookout for era-bias in my rankings, I think we've got a legitimate, non-era reason for why the worst QBs of all time are from this era.

Ironically enough, Harrington actually fares much better on the previous list than on the all time list if you discard all sacks data. For all of Harrington's faults, he's done a terrific job at avoiding sacks. Here are the worst 15 QBs of all time when ignoring sack data:

Joey Harrington	 2538	-2596
Rick Mirer	 2043	-1761
Frank Tripucka	 1745	-1519
Ryan Leaf	  655	-1471
Mike Taliaferro   966	-1438
Kent Nix	  652	-1323
Davey O'Brien	  478	-1320
Mark Malone	 1648	-1300
Danny Kanell	  956	-1289
Kim McQuilken	  272	-1271
Scott Brunner	 1046	-1237
Randy Wright	 1119	-1216
Gary Huff	  788	-1200
Craig Whelihan	  557	-1193
Rick Norton	  382	-1179

What if we go go back to including sack data, but both eliminate any rushing bonus and drop the baseline to three-fourths of league average? This, I think, probably gets as what most people think of when they think of the worst passers ever. These are the guys that were just really, really bad. Harrington is actually positive for his career when comparing to three-quarters of league average, so he's nowhere to be seen on this list. If you think Harrington is more like the 200th best QB of all time and not the absolute worst, you might like this list better to crown our worst quarterback of all time:

Kim McQuilken	 272	-989
Rick Norton	 382	-765
Bud Schwenk	 662	-741
Stan Heath	 106	-704
Dan Darragh	 296	-688
George Izo	 317	-662
Kent Nix	 652	-648
Davey O'Brien	 478	-645
John McCarthy	  67	-642
Ryan Leaf	 655	-588
John McCormick	 555	-540
Randy Hedberg	  90	-535
Boley Dancewicz	 238	-514
George Herring	 233	-487
Gary Marangi	 283	-465
Bill Mackrides	 315	-459
Mike Taliaferro	 966	-452
Craig Whelihan	 557	-409
Scott Bull	 193	-405
Tommy Wade	  69	-401
Bob Davis	 324	-399
Gary Huff	 788	-388
Jack Jacobs	 552	-384
King Hill	 881	-383
Will Furrer	 124	-381

Any list where Kim McQuilken ranks as the worst QB of all time sounds okay to me. From 1974 to 1976, McQuilken threw 3 TDs against 28 interceptions, and lost over 300 yards in sacks against just 261 attempts. McQuilken, for the three year span, averaged -1.63 net adjusted yards per pass attempt. Those Falcons teams would have been better off if he ran a QB sneak each play.

Finally, let's close with a list of the worst QBs of all time for each team. Only the stats a QB accumulated for his team are included on here. One more note -- while I used the 100/95/90 sliding scale to rank the QBs on all the normal career lists, I weighted each season equally here. And, believe it or not, Joey Harrington isn't even the worst QB in Lions' history.

Milt Plum		det	-2167
Jake Plummer		crd	-2143
Vinny Testaverde	tam	-1967
David Carr		htx	-1866
Randy Johnson		atl	-1801
Rick Mirer		sea	-1705
Mike Phipps		cle	-1687
Rick Norton		mia	-1544
Kyle Boller		rav	-1530
Ryan Leaf		sdg	-1528
Jack Jacobs		gnb	-1453
Alex Smith		sfo	-1450
Jack Concannon		chi	-1438
Frank Tripucka		den	-1409
Davey O'Brien		phi	-1366
Dave M. Brown		nyg	-1357
Jeff George		clt	-1336
Dennis Shaw		buf	-1314
Dan Pastorini		oti	-1285
Mike Taliaferro		nwe	-1200
Dave Wilson		nor	-1160
Mark Malone		pit	-1125
Kerry Collins		car	-1111
Ralph Guglielmi		was	-1079
Akili Smith		cin	-1067
Todd Blackledge		kan	- 886
Marc Wilson		rai	- 817
Dan Pastorini		ram	- 813
Bubby Brister		nyj	- 660
Quincy Carter		dal	- 588
Spergon Wynn		min	- 402
Steve Beuerlein		jax	- 218

This entry was posted on Monday, June 23rd, 2008 at 6:23 am and is filed under History, Statgeekery. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.