After Drew Lock’s and Sam Darnold’s performances on Sunday, Drew Lock is now the worst starting quarterback in the NFL. There are 31 qualifying QBs and Lock is 31st in terms of passer rating. If you prefer QBR, then Lock is only 29th of 31 in QBR (44.5), which is currently better than Nick Foles (44.0) and Sam Darnold (35.6). Lock is also 31st in completion percentage, interception percentage, on target percentage, and bad throw percentage. Yep, dead last in those four stats as well.
This got me thinking about two things:
- Who was the worst starting QB in the league each year going back 20 years?
- Did any of these guys ever turn into average or better NFL starter after being the worst in the league? In other words, can Lock improve and actually be the solution at QB for the Broncos?
So let’s look at who was the worst starting QB in the league every season for the past twenty seasons using passer rating as our metric (unfortunately QBR doesn’t go back that far). But before we look at the players and their stats keep in mind that the average NFL QB was much worse in the 2000 season than in 2020.
The average NFL QB in 2000 completed 58.2% of his passes. League-wide there were 634 passing TD and 531 interceptions in the 2000 season. That’s a TD:INT ratio of 1.2. Currently in the NFL the average QB is completing 65.3% of his passes and there have been 639 TD passes and only 301 interceptions (with three games remaining in week 13). That’s a TD:INT ratio of 2.1.
Ok so who are the guys who have the ignominy of being the worst starting QB in the NFL each year - see the table below. Starting QB is defined by total passing attempts with a minimum of something like 250. The least games started for anyone on this list was seven.
|Year||Worst Starting QB in NFL||Passer Rating||Comp %||TD||INT|
So by passer rating it’s really close right now. Drew Lock has a passer rating of 67.1 and Sam Darnold is at 67.2. Darnold has a more difficult path over the last four games. The Jets have the Seahawks, Rams, Browns, and Patriots left on their schedule. All four of those teams are fighting for playoff spots and none of them are going to make it easy on Darnold. The Rams (#2) and the Pats (#7) both have really good pass defenses. The Seahawks are 19th and the Browns are 21st in passer rating allowed.
Drew Lock gets to the face the Panthers, Bills, Chargers and Raiders. They are 25th, 16th, 23rd and 11th in passer rating allowed and only two of those teams are in the playoff hunt. Only the Raiders are good at stopping or slowing opposing passers. It’s possible that Lock ends the season with a better passer rating than Darnold, but it will be something to watch for in the final four games.
So let’s walk back in history to see if there is any “coming back” from making this dubious list.
Andy Dalton, Josh Rosen, DeShone Kizer and Peyton Manning were all at the end of their runs (short runs for Rosen and Kizer) as starting NFL QBs when they made this list. Rosen did make three starts in 2019 for the Dolphins but he was not the “starter” as that was Ryan Fitzpatrick, another dude on this list from a different year. In fact, 2016 Fitzpatrick is fairly good parallel for Lock (experience in the league notwithstanding). He started 11 games for the Jets completing 56.6 percent of his passes for 12 TDs and 17 INTs. Barring injury Lock will have started 13 games by the end of the season and will probably finish with about the same completion percentage and roughly the same number of TDs and INTs that Fitz had in 2016.
Blake Bortles in 2014 was a rookie who was drafted #3 overall. He was the worst starter in the league in 2014, but he played better in 2015, his second season. He actually had his career year in 2015. He only completed 58.6 percent of his passes but he threw for 4428 yards and 35 TDs with only 18 INTs. Admittedly much of this was “garbage time” stats - gained after the Jags were down big and the opposing D was playing “soft”. That being said he improved from a passer rating of 69.5 as a rookie (starting 13 games) to 88.5 in his second season (he started all 16 games that year).
Geno Smith in 2013 was a rookie. He was taken in the second round like Lock. Smith started all 16 games for the Jets in 2013 and led them to an 8-8 record despite being the worst QB in the league. Smith improved in his second season. His passer rating went up from 66.5 to 77.5. He was not the worst starting QB in the league in 2014 (that was Bortles), but he was still one of the worst (29th of 33) and he led the Jets to a 3-10 record in his 13 starts.
In 2012 Matt Cassel started eight games for the Chiefs as he was atrocious. That would be the last time that he started more than 7 games for any team at QB in a season. So 2012 was ostensibly the end of his run as a starting QB, similar to the group of four I mentioned a few paragraphs up.
Blain Gabbert (who was the 10th overall pick) started 14 games as a rookie for the Jags in 2011 and was the worst starting QB in the league. He would improve slightly in second season from a passer rating of 65.4 to a passer rating of 77.4 but he would still be one of the worst QBs in the league in 2012 (25th of 32). Gabbert would essentially become a career backup at that point, he has started 24 more games at QB between 2013 and this season with a high of eight for the 49ers in 2015.
Jimmy Clausen started ten games as a rookie and then only started four more during the rest of his short NFL career.
JaMarcus Russell was only allowed to start one game as a rookie after being drafted first overall in 2007. He started 15 in his second season when he was near the bottom of the league in passer rating (26th of 32). The wheels really fell off in his third year in the league. He started nine games for the Faiders and never started took another NFL snap after that the 2009 season.
Derek Anderson made the Pro-Bowl in 2007 as the starting QB for the Browns. He followed that up by being the worst starting QB in the league in 2008. The Browns actually gave him another shot in 2009. He started seven games for them and would have been the worst starting QB in the league that season if he had enough passing attempts to qualify. His passer rating in 2009 was 42.1. Anderson would be given another chance as the starter for the Cardinals in 2010. He would have been the worst starting QB in the NFL in 2010 were it not for the ineptitude of Jimmy Clausen. Anderson would never be given another starting gig at QB in the NFL, but he would last as backup QB in the NFL for 8 more seasons - making six total starts from 2011 to 2018.
Kellen Clemens was only ever good enough to be the #2 QB. He was forced into a #1 QB role twice in his career and failed miserably both times (in 2007 for the Jets and in 2013 for the Rams). The same could be said of Andrew Walter who was only a starter for one season and that was only because he was “better” than the ghost of Aaron Brooks who tried to play qb for the Faiders in 2006. A.J. Feeley is also in this category of being a career backup who failed terribly when he was forced to be the #1 starter.
Now we come to a familiar name, Kyle Orton. Orton was a 4th round pick of the Bears and was thrust into the starting role as a rookie. He was terrible as a rookie, but was able to gradually improve to the point where he was an average NFL QB by the time he was having trouble with wet balls as the Broncos starting QB in 2009 and 2010.
Joey Harrington and Akili Smith were both highly drafted QBs who never figured it out at the NFL level. Harrington was given lots of opportunity to prove that he was not a competent NFL QB. Akili Smith was not. After he showed just how terrible he was a playing QB in the NFL in 2000, when he was the worst starting QB in the NFL. He would only start two more games in his NFL career (one in 2001 and one in 2002).
Kordell Stewart in 2003 was at the end of his career and his could no longer play the way he had in his early career. In a way you could say that he is similar to Andy Dalton and Peyton Manning in that they were the worst QB in the league because their bodies could no longer do what their minds wanted it to do.
Jon Kitna was a career overachiever (he was an undrafted free agent out of college). The 2001 seasons with the Bengals was his third season as an NFL starting QB. He was bad that season, but it would be the worst year of his remarkably average NFL career. Kitna would finish his career in 2011 after having started 9 or more games at QB in a season for four different teams - Seattle, Cincinnati, Detroit and Dallas. Few QBs can say that. Kitna led the league in passing attempts once, completions once, and interceptions once. He also led the league in sacks taken twice during his career. He would finish his career with almost the exact same number of passing TDs (169) as interceptions (165). He was a strong-armed QB who had a problem locking onto his first read and never really learned to process the field after the snap.
So that takeaway is that of the guys who were the worst starting QB in the league this century, the three that might give us some hope for Lock are Fitzpatrick, Kitna and Orton. This is where we are as a fanbase. We are seeking solace in the career arc of either Ryan Fitzpatrick, Jon Kitna or Kyle Orton.
What player most closely matches your opinion, based on what you have seen, of Drew Lock’s ceiling?
This poll is closed
Peyton Manning - before the foot injury
someone else not named in the poll