Photograph by Phelan M. Ebenhack/AP Photo

Will Mark Sanchez Join the Biggest Quarterback Busts?

  1. Mark Sanchez
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    Mark Sanchez

    Having been eliminated from the postseason, the New York Jets decided on Dec. 18 to bench Sanchez, their franchise quarterback. With Sanchez's four seasons in New York, it's become clear to the Jets' staff—and certainly to fans—that he hasn't evolved into the player he was expected to be. He was chosen fifth in the 2009 draft after a promising career at the University of Southern California, where he closed his college career in 2008 by finishing second only to Matt Leinart for a season-high in passing yards and touchdowns. But with the Jets, he has suffered from a tendency to drop the ball or throw it to the other team. Even more painful, Sanchez just last March signed a contract deal through 2016 that includes an $8.25 million guarantee for 2013.

    Where Sanchez plays next season remains an open question—as does the final judgment on his career. The NFL's biggest quarterback busts have suffered from a mix of high expectations, muffed opportunities, bad luck, and poor lifestyle choices.

    Photograph by Phelan M. Ebenhack/AP Photo
  2. Ryan Leaf
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    Ryan Leaf

    In the 1998 NFL draft, the San Diego Chargers wanted Ryan Leaf so badly they traded three draft picks and two players for a chance to sign the college star from Washington State. While it’s hard to believe now, analysts debated whether Leaf deserved to go as No. 1 in the draft ahead of another quarterback, by the name of Peyton Manning. Leaf’s contract—$31.5 million for four years, with a then-record $11.25 million signing bonus—is widely considered one of the worst contract decisions in pro sports. After a middling rookie season, Leaf suffered a severe shoulder injury in 1999 and missed the entire season. Chronic pain led to an addiction to painkillers. All the while, Leaf continued to alienate teammates, coaches, and fans. His work ethic was ridiculed as he was often seen golfing when his team was working. San Diego released Leaf after the 2000 season, and he failed to mount comebacks in briefs stints with Tampa Bay and Dallas. In his four NFL seasons, Leaf threw for 14 touchdowns and 36 interceptions, with a passer rating of 50 percent. In June 2012, Leaf received a seven-year prison sentence after being convicted of burglarizing a home in Montana and possessing drugs.

    Photograph by Patrick Murphy-Racey/Sports Illustrated/Getty Images
  3. Heath Shuler
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    Heath Shuler

    A star at the University of Tennessee, Shuler was considered the kind of quarterback around which a team could reshape its franchise. The Washington Redskins took Shuler third overall in the 1994 NFL draft, and troubles began early as he missed much of training camp holding out for a richer offer. The Redskins and Shuler eventually reached a $19 million deal that included a $5 million signing bonus. Shuler was bedeviled by injuries throughout his five-season pro career, showing a knack for throwing more interceptions than touchdowns in the 19 games he played in Washington. Shuler retired in 1998, two years after he was traded to New Orleans. He went on to serve three terms for North Carolina in Congress.

    Photograph by Susan Ragan/AP Photo
  4. JaMarcus Russell
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    JaMarcus Russell

    At Louisiana State University, JaMarcus Russell certainly looked the part of a quarterback hero: 6-foot-6, 260 pounds, with the arm strength of a lumberjack and calm in the pocket. He crushed Notre Dame in the 2006 Sugar Bowl and landed a contract with $39 million guaranteed as the No.1 pick of the flailing Oakland Raiders. But in the pros, Russell’s calm was revealed to be indifference, and his girth expanded alarmingly. Russell washed out after three years, having delivered more interceptions (23) than touchdowns (18).

    Photography by Jeff Chiu/Ap Photo
  5. Art Schlichter
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    Art Schlichter

    With Andrew Luck tearing up the NFL these days, it’s easy to forget that for much of the 1980s the Colts were a quarterback wasteland. Art Schlichter, a rare passing quarterback from Ohio State University drafted fourth overall in 1982, was supposed to change that. But Schlichter quickly became defined by a gambling addiction. Halfway through his rookie season, Schlichter blew through his $350,000 signing bonus. He was suspended by the league in 1983 and was gone by 1986. Years of bankruptcy and prison followed, capped by an 11-year federal sentence last May for a sports-ticket scam.

    Photograph by Terry Gilliam/AP Photo
  6. Rex Grossman
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    Rex Grossman

    After a stellar college career in Florida, finishing as a close runner-up for the 2001 Heisman award, Grossman spent his first five NFL seasons in Chicago after being a first-round pick in the 2003 draft. Grossman suffered a range of injuries amid inconsistent play, including a penchant for turnovers. After waiting in vain for Grossman to mature into a solid pro quarterback, Bears fans and Coach Lovie Smith grew weary of Grossman’s uneven performance. The team and Grossman parted ways after the 2008 season. Grossman is now a third-string quarterback in Washington.

    Photograph by Evan Vucci/AP Photo
  7. Vince Young
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    Vince Young

    Vince Young came out of University of Texas in 2006 with a reputation as a big-game quarterback, after beating the University of Southern California at the last minute for the national championship. Young did little at first to disprove that with the Tennessee Titans. He led a stirring 24-21 fourth-quarter comeback against the New York Giants and did it again a week later against the Colts and the league’s top quarterback, Peyton Manning. Young was named offensive Rookie of the Year. But that early promise was overtaken by a propensity for interceptions and injuries and questions about poise. A mysterious disappearance in 2008 led his coach to call the police, and a 2010 meltdown saw Young throw his shoulder pads into the stands. Today, after brief backup jobs with Philadelphia and Buffalo, Young is on the outside of the NFL looking in—he took to Twitter on Dec. 9 to pitch himself for a job with the hapless Arizona Cardinals.

    Photograph by Darren Carroll/Sports Illustrated/Getty Images
  8. David Carr
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    David Carr

    The expansion Houston Texans chose Carr second overall in the 2002 NFL draft. He holds the record for the most times sacked in a season, 76, from the Texans' debut 4-12 campaign. Much of Carr’s disappointing performance over five seasons in Houston can be tied to a woeful offensive line—see sack record, above—but Carr also failed to impress during stints with Carolina, San Francisco, and the New York Giants. Carr is now a Giants backup QB.

    Photograph by Julio Cortez/AP Photo
  9. Todd Marinovich
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    Todd Marinovich

    From a young age, Todd was the pet project of his father, football training guru Marv Marinovich—to the point where he couldn’t eat Big Macs and went to birthday parties with his own cake and ice cream to avoid sugar. Marinovich quickly became a star at quarterback mecca USC, but his play suffered from the drugs and alcohol he consumed. Picked in the first round of the 1991 NFL draft by the Raiders—the go-to destination for risky quarterbacks—Marinovich drifted through parties and rehab programs before being cut loose in 1992.

    Photograph by AP Photo/NFL Photos
  10. Tim Couch
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    Tim Couch

    The Cleveland Browns took Couch as the No. 1 overall pick in a 1999 NFL draft that saw two notable busts; Akili Smith was taken third by Cincinnati. (In between was Donovan McNabb, who had a successful career in Philadelphia.) Couch was frequently injured behind a line that could not keep defenders at bay. After five inconsistent seasons, he wasn't re-signed. You could argue that Smith was the bigger disappointment. The Bengals turned down a blockbuster trade to nab him, but Smith started only 17 games and washed out of the league after four years.

    Photograph by Chris O'Meara/AP Photo
  11. Richard Todd
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    Richard Todd

    Todd followed the same legend—Joe Namath—twice, at the University of Alabama and with the New York Jets. Like Mark Sanchez 30 years later, Todd found the comparison daunting. He consistently served up more interceptions than touchdowns in his first five seasons, until leading New York into the American Football Conference championship game in 1982. There, in a muddy mess, Todd crashed and burned with five interceptions. Today the Jets still pine for another championship—and an adequate successor to Namath.

    Photograph by AP Photo/NFL Photos