Everyone likes to talk about rankings. People are inherently fascinated with order, the relative way in which all things are compared. They're also fascinated with the extremes: the worst and the best. The juicy middle simply does not capture the imagination and the fancy that the fringe does, be it exquisite talent or atrocious dreadfulness.
In going through it, the easier group of the two to look at are the champions; everyone knows that Tom Brady is a stud, Aaron Rodgers is a monster, and that Cam Newton and Robert Griffin are coming to a highlight reel near you. But who is the worst? How is it measured and going further, what does it really mean to be the worst?
Enter nERD. nERD is the numberFire Efficiency Ratings Derivative, and it's what QB Rating should be but sadly isn't. We don't care about passing yards - they're misleading - and we don't even really about TDs or anything like that; we care about efficiency, or to put it another way, the effect a player has on his team's chances to win the game. After all, throwing for a bunch of yards after the game is already over doesn't really matter, unless you're a Carson Palmer owner that is. To put it simply: players with a positive nERD created points for their team; players with a negative nERD took points away.
What nERD measures is a matter of relativity: how good is this player in comparison to a totally average player? Imagine a field in which a team has any player at it's disposal. What happens when you bench the current QB and put in this mythical, Joe Average player? Did the team get better? In the case of the following ten guys, the teams got better. A lot better.
(As a side note, we're just going to talk about the single worst season of these guys' careers. Creating an argument like "worst ever" brings into some debate whether or not it's better to be terrible for a short amount of time versus being bad for a longer amount of time. To avoid that problem, we're going with a singular year of awfulness.)
#10: Cade McNown
We'll start off the list with Cade McNown, scourge of the Midway and the man singlehandledly responsible for a 500% increase in anti-depressant prescriptions in the Chicagoland area. Drafted #12 in 1999 out of UCLA, Bears fans had high hopes that McNown would end a particularly rough run of QBs through the post-McMahon era. Unfortunately for them, McNown turned out to be a lot more like Peter Tom Willis and Moses Moreno than the punky star of the "Super Bowl Shuffle".
Cade makes this list without even factoring in his various indiscretions, which range from a point-shaving scandal at UCLA to getting in a love triangle with No. 8 on this list and a Playboy Playmate. Sure, Cade was bad in his rookie campaign in 1999 but he was truly awful in 2000. With a nERD rating of -59.82, the Bears would have scored ten more touchdowns that season with merely an average QB at the helms. Want to be even more depressed, Bears fans? The most "average" QB that year was Steve Beuerlein. Yikes.
#9: Charlie Frye
Unlike McNown, you want to like Charlie Frye. Whereas McNown was by all accounts a throw-your-teammates-under-the-bus black hole of leadership, Frye was a the small-town kid from the small school who got drafted by and ended up starting for his hometown team, the Cleveland Browns.
While that's a great human interest story though, it doesn't replace talent. Even though our nERD numbers sometimes don't jive with conventional statistics, Frye's are terrible enough to merit mention. 17-47 TD-INT ratio. A career QB Rating of 47.7. Again, yikes.
But is he worse than Cade McNown? Oh my, yes. Frye's 2006 campaign comes in with a nERD score of -72.06, which basically says that as bad as McNown was, Frye was about two touchdowns worse. Not only that, he was about twelve touchdowns worse than Rex Grossman!
(Side note here: I seem to remember one play by Charlie Frye where he scrambled around for about fifteen seconds, and then threw a thirty-yard floater across his body for a truly atrocious INT that was returned for a TD. Anyone else remember this? Mention it in the comments if you do.)
#8: Tim Couch
I'll get the easy joke out of the way first: the only place you'll see back-to-back Browns selections are in a "Worst of.." list. Even without giving him extra demerits for being the No. 1 overall pick - and subsequently dooming his franchise to mediocrity for years to come - his 2001 campaign was truly one for the ages.
Your ol' boy Timmy hits our list with a -75.23, costing the Browns twelve scores against an average QB and about thirty scores against the best QBs of his day. The team's record that year actually wasn't that bad - they went 7-9 - but a negative TD:INT ratio really isn't going to do it any year past when Otto Graham played and frankly, if you're statistically worse than Elvis Grbac, you really shouldn't be allowed to throw for 600 more attempts in the NFL.
#7: Blaine Gabbert
I'll save you some forward reading on this list: Blaine Gabbert is the only one still starting. Somewhat shockingly, he's also still the starter in Jacksonville. How bad does it have to get before someone, anyone is a better option?
Let's walk through Gabbert's 2011 season, shall we? A completion percentage barely above the Mendoza/Rick Mirer line of 50 percent. A yards-per-attempt of 5.4... and this is before the era of bubble screens. A 4-10 record despite a top-five back in MJD, a surprisingly above-average defense, and the second-easiest schedule in the league.
Gabbert's 2011 clocks in with a nERD of -86.44, nearly fifteen touchdowns worse than Tarvaris Jackson. And yet, you few Jaguars fans, he was not only your starting QB for 2012, but also for 2013 as well! Oh, the humanity.
#6: Ryan Leaf
You kinda knew he was coming, didn't you?
Some QBs you root for, some QBs you hate from the get go. Fair or not, the side of public opinion was strictly against Ryan Leaf, be it a function of being pitted against golden boy Peyton Manning or from numerous reports of locker room troubles, practice field mishaps, and general asshattery.
Retrospection always gives people time to reflect and be more fair and in some cases, players who were once reviled now become seen as misunderstood, underrated, or victims of circumstance beyond their control. Not Ryan Leaf however; he was probably even worse than you thought.
Our boy Leaf's 2000 campaign checks in with a truly horrible -87.98, somehow making even Blaine Gabbert and Charlie Frye look competent. "Leading" his team to a 1-8 starting record while getting pulled five different times, Leaf at this point was a lost cause. Not many QBs can say that they got even worse after a season where their TD:INT ratio is 2:15, but Ryan pulled it off. Truly a bum for the ages.
#5: Kyle Orton
This one is borderline unfair since over the years, Kyle Orton has slowly become reasonable, and in some cases, the best option in a clubhouse full of QB dregs (looking at you here, 2011 Chiefs). He's truly an anomaly on this list, being the only one with a winning overall record as a starter - really, he's the only one even close to having one - and he's probably the only one to have ever seen a playoff game from anything other than a worn-out couch from Sears.
Let's take a trip back to 2005, shall we? Yours truly is in graduate school, studying the 400 meter dash with some Computer Science on the side, and the world is for the moment without Lady Gaga and is thus better off for it. A fourth round pick out of Purdue takes advantage of an injury to Rex Grossman and the truly inept play of Chad Hutchinson to be the starter of the Bears. Fast forward to the end of the season, and the Bears find themselves in the playoffs with a 11-5 record. Our boy probably did pretty well, huh?
Uh, no. Orton finished with a QB rating of 59.7, the lowest rating in history for any qualified starter (225+ pass attempts) with a winning record. The coaches reportedly told Orton to "limit mistakes and manage the game"; I don't think of a TD:INT ratio of 9:13 is what they had in mind. Nor was a YPA of 5.1, but I digress. How bad was his nERD you ask?
-99.94. Yes, the average QB - in this case, Steve McNair, and not even early Steve but "I can't throw the ball 20 yards" Steve - would have brought that 11-5 Bears team nearly seventeen more touchdowns. Amazingly, there are four QBs even worse than that!
#4: Chris Weinke
You would think that being 46 years old at the time he was drafted might help the magical, mythical football-throwin' Methuselah but no, Weinke's numbers were bad for anyone who was past the sophomore year of high school.
Much like Drew Henson, Paul Failla, and a host of other names you barely remember, Weinke was one of those tried-baseball-but-it-didn't-take college QBs who found himself flush on a great college team, riding the experience into a starting job in the NFL. I guess batting .186 at the AAA level wasn't really cutting it.
Expectations weren't particularly high: he wasn't a No. 1 pick like Couch, nor was he even a first-rounder like McCown or Leaf. No, he was a middling prospect, just a fourth rounder like Orton. While Orton led his team to a winning record, Weinke led the 2001 Panthers straight to the No. 2 pick in the 2002 Draft, thanks to a 1-11 record. He should thank his stars he played before the YouTube era.
His nERD checks in at -105.24, so bad that Rodney Peete of all people had to come in to clean up the mess in Carolina, while two-time Super Bowl Champion George Seifert never coached another game in the NFL. On the plus side, his atrocity did bring Carolina some hope in the form of Julius Peppers.
#3: Akili Smith
Yet another in the array of "I knew he had to be here!" players, Akili Smith takes No. 3, just like his draft position in the brutal, franchise-murdering 1999 NFL Draft. For all of the sturm und drang that came out of the Donovan McNabb pick at No. 2 by the Eagles, they fared a LOT better than some other teams near them. The Browns got Tim Couch, the Bears got Cade McNown, and the Bengals... well, the Bengals got this guy, and it would be six years before they were above .500.
A quick, athletic, multi-talented bust out of Oregon before that was a hot trend, Smith got his career off on the wrong foot from the get-go, missing valuable training camp time due to contract disputes. Once he did find the field, he mostly ended up finding the ground on an woefully inaccurate ball, or the opponents on yet another back-breaking pick.
Having invested a No. 3 pick meant that for as bad as Akili was in 1999, he was given another chance in 2000 to learn the team's offense again, actually attend training camp, and supposedly mature as a professional. Instead, he put up a 2-9 record as a starter - in between being yanked for Scott Mitchell - while rolling up a nERD of -109.20, costing his team nearly eighteen touchdowns and Bruce Coslet his job.
#2: JaMarcus Russell
Ooh, an upset! You thought he had to be No. 1, didn't you? Who could be worse, right?
There's someone worse - in fact, a fellow No. 1 overall pick even - but let's not worry about that now. Let's toast in the awfulness that is JaMarcus Russell, the pinnacle of the Al Davis "I'm murdering my own team!" Draft-a-palooza.
Taking a page of the Akili Smith playbook, Russell missed camp and then showed up overweight. Not only that, the Raiders allegedly gave him a blank DVD and told him to "study the playbook"; when Russell returned later and said he went through it cover to cover, it was then obvious to the Raiders that he never even turned it on, nor had the interest in doing so.
That was 2007. His worst season however came in 2009, a full two years after entering the league. You think maybe he had learned something by then? (Or, you might wonder, how in the world he was still a starter at that point. But I digress.) No, unless that something is how to sip that sizzurp and throw some picks, little was learned by own man Russell. The numbers are downright brutal: 48 percent completion percentage, a 3:11 TD:INT ratio, and barely over 100 yards a game passing as a starter.
His nERD? A full-on -115.53, nearly an entire touchdown worse than Akili Smith, and count 'em up, five touchdowns worse than Blaine Gabbert at his worst. And still, he's not the worst of the past fifteen years!
#1: David Carr
A shocker. A surprise. I have vague recollections of him being bad but somewhat competent. I have visions of him getting sacked ten, fifteen times a game under some of the worst line play since Len Bias. I seem to even recall him performing well as Eli Manning's backup in NY, both in garbage time and the preseason.
But no, numbers are numbers and Mr. Carr, I'm sorry to say, no single season can truly compare to your remarkably awful 2002 campaign.
All the hallmarks of terrible are there: incredibly low completion percentage, negative TD:INT ratio, abysmal starting record. But where David Carr really, really wins the day is in the turnovers and sacks department. Let these numbers marinate for a second: twenty-one fumbles, seventy-six sacks.
Counting his picks, you're looking at over two turnovers per game, while getting sacked nearly five times a game. In fact, he was sacked nearly 15 percent of the time he dropped back to pass, losing over 400 yards in the process. He was sacked twenty-two more times than the next closest, and that was person was Drew Bledsoe, the living embodiment of a statue.
All told, Carr cost his team 128 points, over twenty-one touchdowns versus even the average QBs. He created so many negative net-value plays, he's actually even two entire touchdowns worse than JaMarcus Russell! Russell was ineffective, but Carr was downright suicidal for his team. Put 2002 Tommy Maddox in there, and the Texans score nearly ten more points per game. Tommy Maddox! If that doesn't scream out "Worst ever!" to you, I really don't know what would.