If you’re just starting, I’d suggest going back to Part I of this series covering 1990-1992. Not because it provides any added context for Part II, but because I like clicks. So go on then, click it. You know you want to. Come on, look at the Shiny Red Button.
Don’t judge me.
With the 2023 NFL draft bringing in a bunch of 1st round QB talent, there’s no better time to look back at how often teams have squandered or succeeded with their first (usually) pick. Or, as this list will show, it can be a mixed bag. But is a mixed bag an acceptable outcome from a 1st round pick? That’s one of many questions I will only slightly answer in this series. Let’s Gooooooo!
1st overall – Drew Bledsoe – Patriots
Imagine the ego blow from being the 1st overall pick, starting as a week 1 rookie through almost every game for 8 years, collecting 3 Pro Bowl nods along the way, signing the first 9 figure contract in NFL history… and then you get hurt and a 6th round pick takes your job and never gives it back.
Granted, that 6th round pick turned out to be quite possibly the greatest player of all time, but still. In that moment, Drew had to be hurting.
But the Pats weren’t. They traded off their prize QB and the remaining 9 years of his contract to Buffalo for a 1st round pick. They knew they had their QB in Brady, and they got a pick that turned into Ty Warren, a regular on their defense for the next 7 years and 2 championships. And thus, the dynasty was born.
Bledsoe got to watch that dynasty from the outside as he struggled through 3 mediocre seasons in Buffalo. After another season-and-a-half in Dallas, he finally hung them up.
On a scale of 1 to this is why contract guarantees matter, I’ll give him a 7.
2nd overall – Rick Mirer – Seahawks
Mirer’s original offer, back before rookie contracts were basically set, was one of the most outrageous contracts ever.
I’ll never forget watching the signing get reported on ESPN and seeing a seemingly unending scroll of escalators he would be rewarded if he hit certain statistics. Ask anyone who followed football closely at that time and I bet you’ll hear the same thing. Just sitting there watching the most micromanaged deal ever scroll down the curved screen of your fat back TV.
By the way, how did we go from those huge fat back TVs to super thin flatscreens with basically no middle ground? There’s a conspiracy in there somewhere.
The contract was so strange that then-Commissioner Paul Tagliabue ultimately had to nix the whole thing. It was essentially an effort by the Seahawks to get around new Collective Bargaining Agreement rules that prorate a signing bonus over the life of a contract.
So instead of giving Mirer a signing bonus, they added a pile of incentives that he was sure to hit. This included a $3 million bonus if the team won more games than the previous season (i.e. more than 2 wins) and it didn’t matter if Mirer even played. One of the more bizarre clauses was the so-called End of the World Clause, which guaranteed his pay under any circumstances “up to and including the end of the world.”
Unfortunately, his career wound up being far less interesting than the contract that never came to be. After 4 years with Seattle, he was traded to the Bears. A year later he was traded to the Packers, then after another year to the Jets, then 49ers, and finally a short stint with the Raiders where he actually got 8 starts. But the team went 2-6 in that time under Mirer’s 64.8 passer rating. Somehow that rating actually increased his career rating.
On a scale of 1 to flatscreen TVs definitely came from aliens, I give him a solid 8. And if those aliens come back to destroy us, Rick still gets paid.
Other Notable QBs from 1993 Draft
- Mark Brunell (5th Round, Pick 118)
- Elvis Grbac (8th Round, Pick 219)
- Trent Green (8th Round, Pick 222)
3rd overall – Heath Shuler – Football Team
Shuler is considered a pretty significant bust, as he came into the league with some special athletic talent. But if there’s one thing that defined QB acquisition failures in the 90s, it was owners and GMs getting excited about a player and forcing him onto a coach who’s not equipped to harness those talents.
Shuler fell off fast, and dipped out of the league even faster.
Statistically, his college days at Tennessee were far from world-beating. In ’92, he actually ran for more TDs than he threw. His final year in ’93 before entering the draft was a 25 TD, 8 INT campaign. Good, but not top 5 pick with generational pocket passer talent good.
His athletic ability, however, was enough to spur legends. Literally. While there’s no record of it, many believed Shuler ran the 40 yard dash in the 4.5 second range, comparable to some of the fastest QBs in NFL history. Before Shuler’s undefeated Volunteers faced undefeated Florida in 1993 (Florida won 41-34, despite Shuler’s 355 yards and 5 TDs), Mike Dame of the Orlando Sentinel put out this piece describing the guy some people actually referred to as Legend:
There’s the story of his first pass during practice at Tennessee. The ball exploded upon impact, hitting a screw on the receiver’s helmet.
That same fall, on a challenge from teammates, Shuler hit the upright of a goal post with a pass – from 70 yards.
Before a high school basketball game, Shuler was still in street clothes when a group of youngsters asked him to dunk the ball. He did, shattering a glass backboard. Two games had to be canceled.Mike Dame, Orlando Sentinel
Unfortunately, that’s as exciting as his football story ever gets. Also unfortunately, at least for Shuler, it’s not as if he can blame college coaching for not preparing him for the NFL. His college coach, Phillip Fulmer, was the same coach who turned next to a young freshman phenom named Peyton Manning. His career worked out pretty well.
Shuler started his professional career by holding out of training camp for 13 critical days. He eventually started 8 games in his rookie year, going 1-7 as the team faltered to a 3-13 season. And DC fans turned on him hard.
His second season started with a separated shoulder, making way for the team’s 7th round pick from the same draft, Gus Frerotte. Shuler made a comeback later in the season, but stumbled through it. In their 3rd year in the league, Frerotte got the nod as the team’s starter, and a year later Shuler was traded to the Saints, where he started 9 games and threw 2 TDs and 14 INTs en route to a 46.6 passer rating. **For reference, throwing the ball straight into the ground on every play is a 39.6 passer rating. I’m not joking.**
He later became a US Congressman for North Carolina and made some rather significant waves on a rather significant piece of legislation, but let’s leave that for the political bloggers.
On a scale of 1 to Chocolate-Thunder-Flying, Glass-Flying, Robinzine-Crying, Babies-Crying, Glass-Still-Flying, Cats-Crying, Rump-Roasting, Bun-Toasting, Thank You-Wham-Bam-I-Am-Jam, I give him a 4.
6th overall – Trent Dilfer – Buccaneers
The perfect combination of failure and success. And then failure. And then success. And then failure again and then success. And then one more time. Seriously, this could be its own article.
The Dilfer Pendulum, Round 1
Dilfer came out of Fresno State with slightly better stats than Shuler, but also slightly less athletic ability. He also played against weaker competition. Because of this, Dilfer spent most of his rookie season, aside from a few spot starts due to injury, learning from the bench behind starter Craig Erickson. But in Dilfer’s sophomore season, he was handed the reins. Though maybe it was still a bit early. He started and played all 16 games in ’95, throwing just 4 TDs, a number that looks even worse next to his 18 picks. Failure 1.
Not to be deterred, and under new head coach Tony Dungy, the Bucs stuck with him, year after year. It finally seemed to pay off in ’97, when Dilfer threw 21 TDs to just 11 picks, leading the team to a 10-6 record and his only Pro Bowl selection. Success 1.
The Dilfer Pendulum, Round 2
But after a mediocre ’98 season and an injury-plagued ’99, the team moved on to rookie Shaun King, who led them to an 11-5 record, NFC Central title, and berth in the NFC Championship Game. Failure 2.
After that season, Dilfer signed with the Baltimore Ravens to be the backup to Tony Banks. However, despite a 5-1 start, Banks put together some rough performances, and the team decided it was time to turn to Dilfer. While putting up similar statistics as Banks, Dilfer led the team to 10 straight wins, followed by a playoff run, followed by a 34-7 thrashing of the Giants in the Super Bowl. Banks had all the game-breaking potential in the world, but Dilfer had what the team needed… a game manager who could keep things moving behind one of the greatest defenses in NFL history and a dominant running game. He finished that year as the Comeback Player of the Year and Super Bowl Champion. Success 2.
The Dilfer Pendulum, Round 3
And then, just like that, Dilfer was left out of the Ravens plans to defend their title, something for which Dilfer still carries some bitterness. After some spot starts in Seattle over the next 4 years, as well as Cleveland and San Francisco over the next 3, he finally left the league as an asterisk. A QB who led a dominant Super Bowl run and then faded into the background, forever seen as one of the worst QBs to have a ring. Failure 3.
His post-career trajectory took off, partly thanks to some guest analysis for NFL Network during his last few years in the league. After his NFL retirement, this helped him land a full-time gig with ESPN in 2008 and he eventually joined Brad Nessler in the Monday Night Football booth. Success 3.
The Dilfer Pendulum, Round 4
While trying to negotiate a new contract with ESPN, Dilfer allegedly made an odd request for a private plane, citing private plane use for the network’s college football analyst, Kirk Herbstreit. The new contract never happened, and when ESPN put together a massive layoff list in 2017, it’s not surprising that the guy who allegedly wanted a private plane in his contract was on it. Failure 4.
After a few stints around the broadcast circuit with NFL Network and Fox Sports 1, Dilfer appears to have finally found a home. After some success at the high school coaching level, he’ll begin the next college football season as the new head coach for the University of Alabama-Birmingham. Who knows, maybe if he gets them rolling in the right direction, Herbstreit will take his private plane to a UAB game. Success 4.
Good luck with the Barons, Coach.
Other Notable QBs from 1994 Draft
- Jim Miller (6th Round, Pick 178)
- Gus Frerotte (7th Round, Pick 197)