What Happened To These Forgotten NFL Quarterbacks?
1. JaMarcus Russell
Expectations were sky-high for Russell when the Oakland Raiders selected him first overall in 2007. Scouts lauded his pre-draft workouts, as Russell’s arm strength and size were put on full display. As it turns out, Russell wasn’t ready to lead a franchise — not even close. After a lengthy preseason holdout, Russell sat for a majority of his rookie year. Once he made his way to the field, the Raiders quickly realized their grave mistake.
Russell lasted just three years in the league — making 25 total starts. He ended his career with more interceptions (23) than touchdowns (18), and completed just 52 percent of his passes. His utter lack of competent decision-making coupled with his unwillingness to improve his conditioning ultimately led to his supreme downfall. Some of the names the Raiders could have drafted instead of Russell include Calvin Johnson, Joe Thomas, Adrian Peterson, Patrick Willis, Marshawn Lynch, and Darrelle Revis.
Since retiring, Russell has attempted multiple comebacks, but to no avail. He was arrested in 2010 for drug possession. Russell now works at his alma mater, Williamson High School, as a quarterbacks coach.
2. David Garrard
During a low point for the Jacksonville Jaguars franchise, Garrard provided stability and leadership. Although the team didn’t enjoy much success in terms of postseason appearances (39-37 career record), Garrard’s play ensured the Jaguars weren’t a complete laughing stock. Garrard is perhaps best known for delivering a dramatic Hail Mary pass to Mike Thomas to defeat the Houston Texans on the final play of a game in 2010.
Garrard’s time in Jacksonville was numbered as soon as the Jaguars used a top-10 selection on eventual quarterback bust Blaine Gabbert. Garrard made stops with the Dolphins and Jets before ultimately retiring in 2013. Since walking away from football, Garrard has become an active voice in the fight against Crohn’s disease. Garrard suffers from Crohn’s disease and frequently speaks at major functions in hopes of advancing research and building awareness.
3. Joey Harrington
Few players enjoyed a more illustrious collegiate career than former Oregon hurler Harrington. After finishing as a Heisman Trophy finalist in 2001, the Lions made Harrington the third overall pick in the 2002 NFL Draft. Detroit immediately regretted its decision. Harrington threw for 3,000-plus yards just once, and ended his career with more career interceptions (85) than touchdowns (79).
Harrington would last four years in Detroit before making one-year pit stops in Miami, Atlanta, and New Orleans. Following his NFL career, Harrington began working for Fox Sports Radio as an NFL and college commentator.
In July of 2011, Harrington was struck by a car while riding a bicycle. Harrington suffered a punctured lung, a broken collarbone, and fractured two of his ribs. Fortunately, he survived.
4. Marc Bulger
Replacing a Hall of Famer is no easy task, but Bulger appeared ready for the spotlight when he took over as the Rams’ starting quarterback when Kurt Warner left for New York. Bulger hit the ground running, winning 18 of his first 21 starts. After his second year, the Rams would re-sign the former backup to a lucrative deal that made him — at the time — the highest-paid player in franchise history. However, teams began to figure out the former Mountaineer, as Bulger would endure a 23-50 record for the remainder of his career.
Although Bulger never lived up to his lofty expectations, he enjoyed a eight-year career in the NFL and is highly respected amongst his peers. Bulger has since moved to Missouri where he lives on a farm with his wife. During his off time, Bulger picked up curling and participated in the 2018 Curl Mesabi Classic which is a featured event on the World Curling Tour.
5. Tim Tebow
Arguably the most decorated player in the history of college football, Tebow was a phenom while at the University of Florida. The dual threat led the Gators to two National Championship wins. In 2007, Tebow became the first ever sophomore to win the Heisman Trophy (Oklahoma’s Sam Bradford, Alabama’s Mark Ingram Jr., and Louisville’s Lamar Jackson have since accomplished the same feat). Despite obvious flaws in his throwing mechanics, Tebow was selected in the first round of the 2010 NFL Draft by the Denver Broncos and instantly endeared himself within the fanbase.
Tebow’s shining moment as an NFL quarterback would come in the 2012 NFL Playoffs against the Pittsburgh Steelers. Enthralled in a brutal overtime battle, Tebow threw the game-winning strike to Demaryius Thomas for a walk-off victory.
Eventually, teams figured out the one-dimensional QB and Tebow promptly flamed out of the league. The charismatic Tebow dabbled in broadcasting for a short time, and made some appearances as a public speaker. In 2016, Tebow made the jump to a different sport, debuting for the New York Mets minor league baseball team. He hopes to one day make the Mets’ major league roster — though he has a long way to go.
6. Tim Couch
In terms of well-known busts, Couch is a player often mentioned among the all-time gaffes. Following a Heisman Trophy finalist campaign at Kentucky in 1999, the lowly Cleveland Browns selected Couch with the first overall pick in the draft. Couch had all the makings of a franchise QB given his immense arm strength and winning pedigree. The Browns would quickly find out it takes more than that to become an elite quarterback in the NFL.
Couch would last just five seasons in the pros as he suffered from poor offensive line play, a lack of receiving depth, and a bevy of injuries. Although many consider him a top bust, some may argue he never received a fair shake in the league. Couch has since joined the announcing booth, commentating SEC games for Fox Sports South.
7. Daunte Culpepper
Make no mistake, Culpepper was a supreme talent. Along with all-time great receiver Randy Moss, Culpepper and the Vikings lit the league on fire during the quarterback’s first years as a starter. Culpepper had seasons of 33 and 39 touchdown passes, and even led the league in passing yards in 2004 with 4,717. Things began to go down hill for Culpepper once he split away from the Vikings, as he failed to put together successful seasons with the Dolphins, Raiders, and Lions. Culpepper lost his last ten games as a pro, and sported an abysmal 20-to-32 touchdown-to-interception ratio over his last 32 starts.
Injuries took a massive toll on the strong-armed QB. Over his last five years in the league, Culpepper made just 31 out of a possible 80 starts. After flaming out of the NFL, Culpepper gave football one last chance when he signed a modest deal with Sacramento Mountain Lions of the United Football League.
8. Brady Quinn
Highly touted coming out of college, Quinn was considered a top prospect during his time at Notre Dame. Expected to be a terrific pro player, Quinn’s career didn’t end up like many originally envisioned. In 20 career starts, Quinn won just four games. After being drafted in the first round of the 2007 NFL Draft, Quinn made his last ever appearance in 2012.
While the former Brown, Bronco, Chief, Jet and Ram didn’t make it on the gridiron, Quinn has enjoyed a nice run off the field. Quinn is married to Alicia Sacramone — an Olympic silver medalist in gymnastics. The former two-time All-American quarterback has found a second career in the commentary booth working for FOX Sports as both a college football and NFL game analyst.
9. Josh Freeman
The Buccaneers thought they had struck gold when they selected Freeman with the 17th pick in the 2009 NFL Draft. The Kansas State Wildcat showed glimpses of elite talent early in his career as he improved in each of his first four seasons in the league. In 2012, Freeman was the unquestioned starter, and was coming off a 4,000-yard, 27-touchdown season. Forming a duo with emerging running back Doug Martin, Tampa’s backfield was expected to lead the Bucs to multiple playoff appearances.
Everything came crashing down early in the 2013 season. After a couple of miserable performances, Freeman was benched for a rookie named Mike Glennon and never recaptured his starting role. Freeman would play for several other teams after being released by the Buccaneers — including stops in the FXFL, the USFL and the CFL.
10. Jake Locker
Several eyebrows were raised when the Tennessee Titans selected Washington QB Jake Locker with the eight overall pick in the 2011 draft. Although Locker possessed plenty of talent, he struggled with accuracy and many questioned if the physicality of his game would translate to the next level. All concerns over Locker’s potential as a starting QB were realized in short order.
Locker was benched in Year 4 in favor of rookie quarterback Zach Mettenberger. After a shoulder injury placed him on the injured reserve in 2014, Locker decided it was time to call it quits and retired from professional football. Locker now lives his days in Ferndale, Washington with his three children. He has no regrets about retiring early, but has stayed close to the game of football. He works as a quarterbacks coach for the Ferndale High Golden Eagles.
11. Byron Leftwich
Leftwich was a legend at Marshall. Every college football fan remembers the 6-foot-5 quarterback suffering a broken shin bone and being carried by his teammates downfield during a memorable 17-point comeback against Akron. In dire need of a top quarterback, the Jaguars picked Leftwich seventh overall in 2003. Gifted with a cannon for an arm, the barrel-chested Leftwich exhibited the eye-popping talent of a franchise cornerstone.
Unfortunately, Leftwich’s greatest strength ended up being a curse. His burly frame led to several soft-tissue injuries, as Leftwich never played a full 16-game season in his career. Following his NFL career, Leftwich found a second-wind as a coach. After interning on Bruce Arians’ staff in Arizona, Leftwich was hired full-time as the QB coach for the Cardinals in 2017. In 2019, he rejoined Arians’ staff and was hired as offensive coordinator for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
12. Kyle Orton
Orton was a lifetime backup during his NFL tenure. No team wanted to fully commit to Orton as a full-time starter, but teams valued his ability to step-in at a moment’s notice. Orton’s best run as a starter came with the Chicago Bears when starting QB Rex Grossman went down with an injury. Orton enjoyed a 10-year career and holds a respectable 42-40 record as a starter.
After hinting at a possible retirement several times, Orton finally called it quits for good in 2014. Instead of holding a big press conference or hosting a big party, Orton quietly gathered his things in his locker room, said goodbye to a few teammates, and walked off into the sunset. He and his wife have since moved to Baton Rouge, and Orton uses his experiences in the NFL to mentor youth football players at every level.
13. Jason Campbell
The once-proud Washington Redskins have fallen on dark times for the past two decades. After three Super Bowl victories from 1982-1991, the Redskins have failed to perform in the postseason. Since then, the Redskins have just three double-digit winning seasons, and haven’t advanced past the Wild Card round since 2005. Much of Washington’s shortcomings have come from shoddy quarterback play. While Campbell wasn’t the worst signal caller to enter Washington’s system, he certainly didn’t reinvigorate the franchise.
Following nine years in the league, Campbell decided to retire in 2014 while playing for his fifth NFL team. Since retiring, Campbell has moved to Atlanta and works as a quarterbacks coach for a local high school football team. Washington expected much more out of the former first-round pick.
14. Jeff Garcia
Among the quarterbacks featured on this list, Garcia may boast the most impressive resume as an NFL starter. In 12 seasons in the league, Garcia made four Pro Bowls and boasts a highly-respectable 87.5 career passer rating. During his last year in the league, Garcia was elected a Pro Bowler and led the Buccaneers to a postseason berth. The following year, Garcia was injured in the season opener, and never fully recovered as he spent the rest of his days in the league serving primarily as a backup.
Even though he couldn’t compete at the highest level anymore, Garcia stuck around football for several years. He joined the advisory board of the United States Football League, and was hired as a consultant for the Montreal Alouettes of the Canadian Football League. In 2007, Garcia married the 2004 Playboy Playmate of the Year, Carmella DeCesare. The couple have four children together.
15. Christian Ponder
First round draft picks are precious in the NFL. The amount of investment — both money and time — a team puts into their first round picks far exceeds any other player on the roster. Needless to say, it’s less than ideal when a former first round pick lasts just four years in the NFL. Former Florida State QB Christian Ponder did just that. After being drafted in 2011, Ponder played his last NFL game for the Minnesota Vikings in 2014. He had made just 36 starts in his career, tallying 1,057 passing yards with a mediocre 75.9 passer rating.
Ponder’s wife, Samantha Steele, has enjoyed far more success in the realm of sports than her husband. Steele works as a reporter for ESPN and hosts the highly-popular show Sunday NFL Countdown.
16. David Carr
Carr entered the league under a vast microscope. The newly-expanded Houston Texans made Carr their first ever rookie draft pick when they selected him first overall in the 2002 NFL Draft. Carr entered a tumultuous situation. The Texans were ill-equipped to protect Carr. In 76 career games with Houston, Carr was sacked a ludicrous 249 times — a near 50-sack average per season. Those early years were enough to derail Carr’s once-promising career, as he made quick stops in Carolina, New York, and San Francisco before calling it quits in 2012.
Carr dabbled in the coaching field for a moment, but nothing really panned out for the former QB. Luckily for Carr, he has found a new career as a quality broadcaster on the NFL Network. David’s brother, Derek, is currently the starting quarterback for the Oakland Raiders.
17. Jared Lorenzen
Lorenzen was an absolute joy to watch during his time at the University of Kentucky. Known for his rocket arm and portly figure, Lorenzen earned the nickname “Hefty Lefty” in his playing career. Lorenzen threw for over 10,000 yards at Kentucky but went undrafted in 2004 due to concerns over his conditioning. He would end up throwing for only 28 yards in the NFL, though he did secure a Super Bowl ring as a member of the 2008 New York Giants team that ended the New England Patriots’ perfect season.
While Lorenzen didn’t get much run in the NFL, he shined in other leagues. He finally ended his football dream following a broken fibula in 2013, and became both a podcaster and a public speaker. In 2017, Lorenzen launched “The Jared Lorenzen Project” which chronicled his battle with obesity. ESPN documented his journey as Lorenzen lost over 100 pounds during the process.
Unfortunately, Lorenzen passed away July 3, 2019 from an infection which was complicated by lingering heart and kidney problems.
18. Drew Bledsoe
The Patriots were completely valid in selecting Bledsoe first overall in the 1993 NFL Draft. The Washington State product was a very good quarterback for the better part of his career — making four Pro Bowl squads and throwing for 44,611 yards in 14 seasons. Unfortunately for Bledsoe, the injury bug always seemed to hit him at the most inopportune times. In 2001, Bledsoe went down with a leg injury in the second game of the season. He was replaced by a guy named Tom Brady. Bledsoe never earned his starting job again.
Bledsoe had a couple of solid years playing for the Buffalo Bills following his ousting from New England. He did earn a Super Bowl ring for his part with the Patriots in 2001 but could never re-establish himself as a top-flight QB in the league. Bledsoe has since entered the wine business and helped co-found the Doubleback Winery. He also serves as an offensive coordinator for Summit High School in Bend, Oregon.
19. Doug Flutie
Few players epitomized ‘grit’ and ‘toughness’ more than the diminutive Flutie. Standing at just 5-foot-10, Flutie lacked the ideal size of an NFL quarterback. His strong play at Boston College earned him the 1984 Heisman Trophy and ultimately led him to being drafted in the 11th round of the 1985 NFL Draft. Instead of battling for a backup role in the NFL, Flutie chose a different route and signed with the New Jersey Generals of the USFL for a then-lucrative five-year/$7 million deal.
The USFL folded just two years into Flutie’s career, but he quickly landed with the BC Lions of the CFL. Flutie would wind up winning the CFL’s Most Outstanding Player award six times, and led the Lions to three Grey Cup victories (the CFL’s equivalent to the Super Bowl). In 1998, Flutie made his long-awaited return to the NFL and became an instant star. Flutie won the Comeback Player of the Year award that season and was elected to the Pro Bowl.
He hung up his cleats in 2005 and now plays the drums in a band alongside his brother, Darren. In 2016, Flutie was featured on Season 22 of the hit ABC program Dancing with the Stars. He and his partner finished in ninth place.
20. Brad Johnson
Johnson was a journeyman before he landed in a opportune spot with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2001. Flanked by a historically good defense and a hotshot coach in Jon Gruden, Johnson served as the ultimate game manager as he led the Bucs to a victory in Super Bowl XXXVII. He serves as an example for teams lacking an elite quarterback. Johnson took care of the football, and allowed Tampa’s star-studded defense to make a difference.
Despite Johnson lacking elite tools as a passer, he managed to throw for just under 30,000 career passing yards and boasts a 72-53 record as a starter. Johnson and his family currently reside in Atlanta. His son, Max, is also a quarterback and is committed to play for the LSU Tigers this upcoming year.
21. Jake Delhomme
Before Cam Newton, the unquestioned best quarterback in Carolina Panthers history was…Jake Delhomme? Believe it or not, it’s true. Delhomme previously held all of the passing records Newton has since obliterated. Both QB’s coincidentally led the Panthers to a Super Bowl — though Newton did so on the heels of an MVP campaign, while Delhomme leaned heavily on one of the league’s top defenses.
Following Delhomme’s run to the Super Bowl, the Panthers rewarded their starting quarterback with a generous $42.5 million extension which included $20 million guaranteed. Delhomme reverted to being a league-average quarterback, and proceeded to throw 37 interceptions in his next 31 starts. Delhomme has since returned to his hometown of Breaux Bridge, Louisiana where he breeds and races horses.
22. Rich Gannon
Gannon was a bit of a late bloomer. After bouncing around the league for the first decade of his career, Gannon didn’t truly breakout until he arrived in Oakland in 1999. Gannon and Raider head coach Jon Gruden instantly clicked, as the nearly 40-year-old QB put together an MVP season and led the Raiders to a Super Bowl berth in 2002. That year would be the pinnacle for Gannon, as his body betrayed him during the last two years of his career. Gannon played just 10 games in those final two seasons.
Gannon quickly landed on his feet post-retirement. He accepted a broadcasting job with CBS Sports and covered NFL games as an analyst. He now co-hosts a daily radio show on Sirius XM NFL Radio. Gannon has two daughters with his wife, Shelley. Gannon and his wife became spokespeople for the Celiac Disease Foundation after their daughter was diagnosed with celiac disease. The family organizes an annual walk in Victoria, Minnesota to help fund-raise for further research.
23. Jon Kitna
The Central Washington product made a nice career for himself after going undrafted in 1996. Kitna stuck around in the NFL until 2013, making stops in Seattle, Cincinnati, Detroit and Dallas. In total, Kitna started 124 NFL games and was just 300 yards short of 30,000 career passing yards. Kitna served as the primary backup to Warren Moon, Carson Palmer, Matthew Stafford, and Tony Romo.
Shortly after retiring, Kitna became a math teacher and head football coach at Lincoln High School in his hometown of Tacoma, Washington. After improving the program tremendously, Kitna accepted another head coaching job at a high school in Dallas.
Kitna’s coaching prowess caught on nationally, as he was eventually hired to be an offensive coordinator for the San Diego Fleet of the now defunct Alliance of American Football — though he would never end up coaching a game for the Fleet.
Kitna now works as the quarterbacks coach for the Dallas Cowboys.
24. Chad Pennington
Originally pegged to be a fourth-string redshirt at Marshall, Pennington burst onto the scene after leading the Thundering Herd to the NCAA Divsion 1-AA title game in 1995. Alongside fellow Marshall alum Randy Moss, Pennington and the Herd went undefeated in 1999 with a 13-0 record. The Heisman Trophy finalist was a first-round pick of the New York Jets in the 2000 NFL Draft, but didn’t truly start making waves in the NFL until 2002.
Pennington was good, but not great for most of his career. Had his arm been a bit stronger — and had he stayed healthy — Pennington could have been considered one of the better QB’s of his era. Unfortunately, Pennington was plagued by injuries — though he did win the NFL’s Comeback Player of the Year award on two occasions (2006 and 2008).
Pennington and his family now reside in Woodford County, Kentucky. He and his wife, Robin, founded the 1st and 10 Foundation which has helped fund programs and schools in Virginia, New York, and Tennessee.
25. Jeff George
George segued a brilliant career at Illinois into being the No. 1 overall pick in the 1990 NFL Draft. The Indianapolis Colts granted George the wealthiest rookie deal in league history ($15 million), and George proceeded to lose 35-of-49 starts as Indy’s starting QB. George bounced around several teams in the league — and even led the league in passing yards in 1997 — but never lived up to the hype of being selected first overall.
Though George had the arm talent to make an NFL roster, no team was willing to give him a chance during his latter years. He fully retired in 2006, and began making television appearances on the NFL Network and local radio stations. George’s son, Jeff Jr., is a quarterback for the Pittsburgh Panthers football team.
26. Vinny Testaverde
Testaverde was one of many star QB’s to play for the Miami Hurricanes during the 1980s and 1990s. After a prolific collegiate career, Testaverde was able to stay local when the Tampa Bay Buccaneers selected him first overall in 1987. Though he never rose to stardom in the NFL, Testaverde carved a nice niche as a journeyman backup who played well for several teams. He would wind up making two Pro Bowl squads, and still holds several passing records for the Buccaneers franchise.
The Brooklyn native loved Florida so much that he still lives there with his family to this day. Nowadays, Testaverde works as a QB coach for Jesuit High School of Tampa — where he coached his son, Vincent Jr. After going undrafted in 2019, Vinny Jr. signed with the Buccaneers practice squad.