You probably clicked on the link to this piece out of curiosity. USC Quarterbacks being historically overrated? No way! Sam Darnold will be the best quarterback the NFL has seen in years! We have never said that about any other USC quarterbacks, have we?
Think again. This article is going to share with you the sad history of the “Quarterback U” and how they have ended up playing in the NFL.
USC Quarterbacks are Historically Overrated
We’re going to start in the first round. Before Sam Darnold, six USC quarterbacks had heard their names called in the first round of the NFL Draft. Let’s go player by player and look at how they were perceived exiting college and then how their careers ended up.
1945: Jim Hardy, 8th Overall, Washington Redskins
Jim Hardy was a homegrown talent in Los Angeles, California. No, he wasn’t the character from the book series, fighting crime. From when he was eight years old, he knew he wanted to quarterback the Trojans. He tore apart the Tennessee Volunteers in the 1945 Rose Bowl game, and was named the MVP. The Redskins took him 8th overall, 8th overall, because they weren’t sure if Sammy Baugh would be able to return from his injury.
Hardy didn’t want to move his pregnant wife across the country, and asked to be traded to the Cleveland Rams, who had announced that they were moving to Los Angeles. Unfortunately, his ex cross town rival at UCLA, Bob Waterfield, was the incumbent starting quarterback. It didn’t work out for him in 1945, and he didn’t play a game until 1946, in mop up duty.
He would fight with Waterfield for the starting job, never winning it, before being shipped to the Chicago Cardinals in 1949. He became the starter there immediately, and set a record that has yet to be broken there in 1950 when he threw eight interceptions in a single game. Hardy led the league that season with 24.
Back then, interceptions weren’t considered such a horrible thing. He went to the pro bowl that year, the only year he would go. He finished his career after the 1952 season with a 46.4% career completion percentage, 5690 yards and 54 touchdowns to his 73 interceptions.
The Verdict: Overrated
1964: Pete Beathard, 5th Overall, Detroit Lions
Pete Beathard was a hot commodity in 1964. He was taken 2nd overall in the AFL Draft by the Kansas City Chiefs, and by the Detroit Lions in the NFL Draft.
Beathard was a dual threat quarterback, the headman of the triple option offense that USC ran back in the 1960’s under legendary coach John McKay. Under Beathard’s leadership, USC won a national championship in 1962, where he threw 10 touchdowns and ran for another 5, with only 1 turnover.
The NFL Draft process wasn’t like it is now back then. If there was a good college player, pro teams drafted them. There wasn’t a lot of knocking on prospects, and there were over twenty rounds, so they had a never-ending list of talent to choose from.
Beathard decided to join the AFL over the NFL, and never won the starting job for Kansas City, who had legendary quarterback Len Dawson. He was traded to the Houston Oilers in 1968 where he became the starting quarterback and led them to a 7-2 record over his 9 starts.
As soon as the AFL merged with the NFL, Beathard was traded to the Saint Louis Cardinals and bounced around the league for the remainder of his career. He finished his career with a 44.9% completion percentage, 8176 yards passing and 43 touchdowns to 84 interceptions.
The Verdict: Overrated
1991: Todd Marinovich, 24th Overall, Oakland Raiders
A two-year starter at USC from 1989-1990, Marinovich was considered a very gifted quarterback. He threw for 5000 yards and 29 touchdowns in college, and led the team to a 17-6-2 record as the starter. A month after the team’s Sun Bowl loss to Michigan State, 17-16, he was expelled from USC after being arrested for cocaine possession. He entered the NFL Draft and was taken by the Raiders 24th overall.
Marinovich never got it together. He appeared in 8 games between 1991 and 1992, throwing for 1102 yards and 8 touchdowns. He completed 50.7% of his passes.
In 1993, the Raiders released him for repeated drug use. He would stay out of football until he entered the Arena League in 2000, only to get cut again in 2001 for heroin use.
The Verdict: Overrated
2003: Carson Palmer, 1st Overall, Cincinnati Bengals
Carson Palmer had a glorious career at USC. A three-year starter, Palmer won the Heisman Trophy as a senior in 2002. He left USC with every major passing career record, throwing for 11,818 yards and 72 touchdowns. Palmer was the man.
NFL Draft experts were unsure of who was the best quarterback prospect late into the draft process. Palmer was being weighed with the likes of Chris Simms, Kyle Boller, Byron Leftwich and Rex Grossman. Most scouts assessed him as a “No-risk guy” and “mechanically sound,” even earning the comment “almost too mechanical… Robo-Quarterback.”
The Bengals took him with the 1st overall pick, and Carson tore his ACL in training camp. He missed the entire 2003 season. When he did play, man he was good. He would spend his career with the Bengals, Raiders and Cardinals, retiring after the 2017 season.
Palmer finished his career with a 62.5% completion percentage, 46,247 yards, 294 touchdowns and a passer rating of 87.9. He was a three-time pro bowl player, and according to the Pro Football Reference similar player charts, his career compared best to Matt Hasselback and Troy Aikman.
The Verdict: As Advertised
2006: Matt Leinart, 10th Overall, Arizona Cardinals
Matt Leinart was a Heisman winning quarterback as a junior, a consensus All-American, the Walter Camp Player of the Year and Manning award winner in 2004 and the Johnny Unitas Golden Arm of 2005. Matt Leinart had won pretty much any award he could individually, and had proven he was a winner with a National Title on his belt.
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The NFL was drooling over this guy. Leinart was receiving Tom Brady and Peyton Manning comparisons, people saying he made good decisions and read defenses well. His mechanics were considered solid, and Robert Davis of footballsfuture.com considered him one of the “most polished passers since Peyton Manning.”
Leinart was selected by the Arizona Cardinals as the 10th overall selection. He spent seven years in the league, appearing in just 33 games while making 18 starts. He spent time with the Cardinals, the Houston Texans and the Oakland Raiders. Leinart finished his career with 4065 passing yards, 15 touchdowns to 21 interceptions, and his passer rating was 70.2.
The Verdict: Overrated
2009: Mark Sanchez, 5th Overall, New York Jets
Mark Sanchez was only the starter at USC for just one full season before declaring for the NFL Draft. During that one season, Sanchez looked phenomenal. He threw for 3207 yards and 34 touchdowns, with an efficiency rating of 164.6. His early declaration surprised many people, including his head coach Pete Carroll.
Entering the Draft, people loved Sanchez for his mobility, proficient passing and accuracy. Most places believed he was the most intelligent prospect in the draft. He even drew a Aaron Rodgers comparison from WalterFootball.com. Bleacher Report’s Brian Wagner ran a piece about why Sanchez was a bargain as the first overall selection.
Matthew Stafford from Georgia ended up going first overall to the Detroit Lions, while Sanchez fell to fifth.
Sanchez was the starter in New York for four years, and did not earn his fifth year option. He ended up bouncing around as a back-up quarterback, and was given a four game suspension this season for PED’s despite not actually being employed in the league.
He ended with 15,219 yards, 86 touchdown passes to 74 interceptions, and a passer rating of just 73.9. His career is over.
The Verdict: Overrated.
A Brief List of the Rest
Now that we have broken down each quarterback selected in the first round, let’s briefly look at each other quarterback selected out of USC (first 7 rounds).
1953: Rudy Bukich,Los Angeles Rams, 24th Overall: Rudy played in 103 games over a 15 year career in the league as a back-up quarterback. Finished with a hellish 66.6 passer rating. The Verdict: Overrated.
2016: Cody Kessler, Cleveland Browns, 92nd Overall: The jury is still out on Kessler, who is currently the back-up quarterback to Blake Bortles in Jacksonville. So far is 0-8 as a starter and has appeared in 13 games in three seasons. The Verdict: Too Soon.
1980: Paul McDonald, Cleveland Browns, 109th Overall: Started one season (1984) in Cleveland. It was awful. Lost his job, the Browns went 5-11 and never attempted another pass in the NFL. The Verdict: Overrated.
1995: Rob Johnson, Jacksonville Jaguars, 99th Overall: Selected to be the backup quarterback to Mark Brunell, Johnson started one game for the Jaguars in 1997. Signed away to Buffalo where he was an on and off starter and backup quarterback until 2003. Finished his career with 29 starts and had a respectable NFL Career. The Verdict: As Advertised.
2013: Matt Barkley, Philadelphia Eagles, 98th Overall: Barkley had first round grades attached to him at one point of his college career, but quickly expired those expectations. Started six games for the Chicago Bears (his third team) in 2016, which were all horrible. He’s currently the third string quarterback for the Cincinnati Bengals behind Andy Dalton and Jeff Driskel. The Verdict: Overrated.
1978: Rob Hertel, Cincinnati Bengals, 131st Overall: Appeared in three games before walking away from the game to play baseball after the 1978 season. The Verdict: Overrated.
2008: John David Booty, Minnesota Vikings, 137th Overall: Never took an NFL snap. The Verdict: Overrated.
1977: Vince Evans, New England Patriots, 140th Overall: Had a very respectable career as a long time backup, playing for the Chicago Bears and the Los Angeles Raiders. Appeared in 100 games and started 39. Finished with a career passer rating of 63.0. The Verdict: Better Than Advertised.
1989: Rodney Peete, Detroit Lions, 141st Overall: Peete became the unexpected starter his rookie season, and played well. He ended up becoming a bounce around high-end back-up, starting 87 of his 104 games. Peete attempted his final pass in 2004 with the Carolina Panthers. The Verdict: Better Than Advertised.
1975: Pat Haden, Los Angeles Rams, 176th Overall: Haden won the starting job for the Rams in 1976, where he played as the starting quarterback until 1981. Went 35-19-1 as a starter. The Verdict: Better Than Advertised.
1996: Kyle Wachholtz, Green Bay Packers, 240th Overall: Never took an NFL snap. The Verdict: Overrated.
2005: Matt Cassel, New England Patriots, 230th Overall: Took over as the starting quarterback when Tom Brady went down hurt in 2008, got himself a huge contract with the Kansas City Chiefs. Is 36-45 as a starter. Currently is the back-up quarterback for the Detriot Lions. The Verdict: Better Than Advertised.
The fact of the matter is that USC has put quarterbacks into the NFL, and most of them were not of quality. Five of the six quarterbacks taken before Sam Darnold were overrated and never produced at the level that was expected of them. It continued deep into the draft, too.
Should we consider USC the “Quarterback U?” Is quantity more important then quality? It shouldn’t be. I beg to differ with the opinion that USC gives the NFL quarterbacks.