Matt Leinart (2004)
Of all the great players to ever suit up for the Trojans of the University of Southern California, few players truly embodied everything that program was about the way Matt Leinart did. The two-time national champion, two-time First-team All-American, and two-time quarterback of the year was the most successful quarterback in school history, and the savvy maestro of one of the most exciting offenses in college football history.
But Leinart, by his own admission, enjoyed his newfound celebrity a bit too much after getting to the NFL. The success he found in Los Angeles didn’t follow him to Arizona, who selected Leinart in the first round of the 2006 NFL Draft. Between a myriad of injuries weaved in with generally poor performances, Leinart was out of the NFL by 2011.
Ron Dayne (1999)
During his four years at the University of Wisconsin, Ron Day set the the NCAA Division I-A rushing record for total yards in a career, and became one of the most decorated college football players ever. He won the Heisman Trophy, among a slew of other postseason awards, ahead of nominees like Michael Vick and Drew Brees.
But when he got to the NFL, Dayne’s size (approximately 250 lbs on a 5’10 frame) and lack of commitment to keeping his weight down frustrated New York Giants head coach Jim Fassel, who began to phase Dayne out of the offense. Dayne played a total of seven years in the NFL, and never ran for more than 800 yards or seven touchdowns in a given season.
Archie Griffin (1974 and 1975)
To this day, Archie Griffin remains the only player in the history of college football to win the Heisman Trophy two times during his collegiate career. Griffin ran for over 1,400 yards in three of his four seasons in college, and is the only player in college football history to play in four straight Rose Bowl games.
But at the professional level, Griffin had a very mediocre seven-year stint with the Cincinnati Bengals. He never ran for more than 700 yards or three rushing touchdowns at any point in his career.
Eric Crouch (2001)
In his senior year as a Cornhusker, Crouch led Nebraska to an 11-2 record, completing 105 of 189 passes for 1,510 yards and seven touchdowns. Even more impressive were his rushing stats — 203 carries for 1,115 yards and 18 TDs. He was picked in the third round by the Rams, 95th overall in the 2002 draft. The Rams planned to convert Crouch into a wide receiver, but he retired on Sept. 11 without having played a down in the NFL.
Jay Zigmunt, Rams president of football operations, was completely blindsided by his sudden retirement. “It’s pretty shocking,” he said. “We’re as surprised by this as anyone. All I can say is it’s a first for me. Eric was nicked up a bit, but Mike (Martz) felt he was progressing. It certainly surprised all of us.”
Ty Detmer (1990)
Detmer’s 1990 junior season ranks as one of the greatest seasons for a quarterback in college football history. He passed for 5,188 yards and 41 touchdowns in 12 regular season games, and finished the year with 42 NCAA records (and tied for five others).
The highpoint of the season was BYU’s 28-21 upset victory over the top-ranked Miami Hurricanes; Detmer led the Cougars by passing for 406 yards and three touchdowns against the defending national champions. For his performance that season, he was awarded the Heisman Trophy, as well as many other honors including the Maxwell and Davey O’Brien awards.
Detmer was a ninth-round selection by the Green Bay Packers in the 1992 NFL Draft, and then spent the majority of his 14-year NFL career as a backup. He made a total of 26 career starts (including a 1997 wild-card playoff game against the San Francisco 49ers). Detmer completed his NFL career with 34 touchdown passes and 35 interceptions. Not exactly “Heisman Quality” statistics.
Tim Tebow (2007)
There have been many great college football players in recent years, but perhaps none of them have been as famous — for many reasons — as Tim Tebow. The three-time All-American, two-time SEC Player of the Year and two-time BCS national champion won the Heisman Trophy in 2007. However, many NFL scouts believed he would be a very poor fit at quarterback at the professional level, and that Tebow would have to change positions to enjoy a long pro career.
Spurning that idea, Tebow tried his hand at quarterback in the NFL, with very limited success. While he did lead the Denver Broncos to a playoff win in his second season (2011), by 2012, he was out of the league. There was a brief moment where he was signed by the Philadelphia Eagles in 2015 in training camp, but he never made the team’s final roster.
Robert Griffin III (2011)
To borrow his own words, Robert Griffin III’s meteoric ascent in 2011, culminating in him winning the Heisman Trophy (and eventually becoming the second overall pick in the 2012 NFL Draft) was “unbelievably believable.” He had the combination of a rocket-launching arm, and elusiveness of a running back. He was absolutely sensational in his rookie year with the Washington Redskins, leading the team to an NFC East championship and winning the Offensive Rookie of the Year award.
But his conflicts with head coach Mike Shanahan in his sophomore season, and his inability to adapt to Jay Gruden’s offensive philosophy, created an irreparable rift between Griffin and the Redskins, eventually leading to his release after the 2015 season. He signed on with the Cleveland Browns, but suffered a shoulder injury in the Browns first regular season game, likely ending his season.
Danny Wuerffel (1996)
Head coach Steve Spurrier had many quarterback put up some crazy numbers when he coached the University of Florida Gators, but few quarterbacks ran his “Fun ‘n’ Gun” offense as marvelously as Danny Wuerffel. During his time in Gainesville, Wuerffel completed 708 of 1,170 passes for 10,875 yards and 114 touchdown passes, setting SEC records and piling up the second most passing yards in major college history.
But Wuerffel, like many of Spurrier’s quarterbacks, were the modern precursor to the concept of “system quarterbacks.” Wuerffel lacked the arm strength, and the general ability to adapt to the pro game. At one point, people began to call him “Danny Awful.” He played for four teams in six years, the last of which coming in Washington, when Spurrier was the coach of the Redskins.
Desmond Howard (1991)
Desmond Howard came to Ann Arbor with the hopes of playing running back for the University of Michigan Wolverines, but finished his career there as a wide receiver who set or tied five NCAA and 12 Michigan records. After winning the Heisman Trophy in 1991, he was taken by the defending Super Bowl champion Washington Redskins. Hall of Fame head coach Joe Gibbs was quoted as saying Howard “doesn’t have any flaws.”
But Howard never amounted to much more than a return specialist for the Redskins, a position at which he basically made his NFL career. He played for five teams during his nine-year NFL career, highlighted by winning the MVP award in Super Bowl MVP XXXI (as a member of the Green Bay Packers) and a Pro Bowl appearance in 2000 (as a member of the Detroit Lions).
Sam Bradford (2008)
After throwing for more than 4,700 yards and 50 passing touchdowns in just his sophomore season, Bradford won the Heisman Trophy ahead of Colt McCoy from the University of Texas, and Tim Tebow from the University of Florida (the reigning Heisman Trophy winner). He declared for the NFL draft after his junior season, but never got anywhere near living up to the billing of his #1 overall selection.
After stops in Philadelphia, Minnesota and Arizona, Bradford is currently a free agent. Bradford’s career high for touchdown passes in a season is a measly 21 scores. To put that into perspective, it took Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes just seven games to toss 22 touchdowns! In today’s NFL, there’s no place for a check-down artist like Bradford.
Johnny Manziel (2012)
As a redshirt freshman in 2012, Johnny Manziel became the first freshman and fifth player in NCAA history to pass for 3,000 yards and rush for 1,000 yards in a season. “Johnny Football” became a national sensation, culminating with his Heisman Trophy award in 2012.
After leaving Texas A&M, and as he slid down into the latter portion of the 2014 NFL Draft, amidst questions of his reckless personal style(s) on and off the field, he sent a text to then Browns quarterback coach Dowell Loggains, pleading his case for the Cleveland Browns to take him, saying “let’s wreck the league.” Instead, between a total lack of commitment to football, and an alarmingly increased drinking problem, Manziel was out of the NFL by 2015.
Rashaan Salaam (1994)
As a junior in 1994, Rashaan Salaam become just the fourth college running back to run for more than 2,000 yards in a season. With his 24 combined touchdowns, he helped lead his University of Colorado Buffaloes to an 11–1 record, including a 41–24 win over the Notre Dame Fighting Irish in the 1995 Fiesta Bowl, and won the 1994 Heisman Trophy (ahead of Steve McNair and Kerry Collins).
The Chicago Bears took Salaam with a first round pick in the 1995 NFL Draft, but never really got the record-setting running back from Boulder; Salaam’s career was derailed by injuries, fumbling issues, and marijuana use. By 1999, the Bears had discarded him. (Football aside — Rest In Peace Rashaan)
Chris Weinke (2000)
Chris Weinke enrolled at Florida State in 1997, when he was already 25 years old (he spent the previous six years pursuing a Major League Baseball career). As the quarterback of one of the best Seminoles teams ever assembled, he won the Heisman Trophy in 2000, ahead of guys like Drew Brees and LaDainian Tomlinson.
By the time he was selected in the 4th round of the 2001 NFL Draft, Weinke was already a few months away from his 29th birthday. He played five seasons in the NFL, which included a two-year stint where he was out of the league (2003 and 2004).
Troy Smith (2006)
Troy Smith had such an illustrious career as the quarterback of the Ohio State Buckeyes than an ESPN analyst listed him as “Big Ten player of the decade.” In 2006, he accounted for 31 total touchdowns produced by the Buckeyes offense, and led them to the 2007 National Championship game (where Ohio State lost to the University of Florida).
But standing less than six-feet tall, and not really possessing the pure passing skills that NFL teams covet, he never enjoyed anywhere near that level of success at the pro level. He spent his first three years in the NFL as a backup for the Baltimore Ravens, and started a handful of games in his lone season in San Francisco. He spent two more years in the CFL before his professional football career effectively ended.
Andre Ware (1988)
In the run-and-shoot system employed by the University of Houston Cougars in the early 1990’s, Andre Ware threw for 4,699 yards and 44 touchdowns as a junior, setting 26 NCAA records en route to winning the Heisman Trophy.
But Ware quickly became of one of the “poster children” for NFL teams becoming wary of college quarterbacks playing in this style of offense. Between 1990 and 1999, Ware played for seven different football clubs in the NFL, CFL, and even NFL Europe. He actually won the Grey Cup in 1997 — the Lombardi Trophy of the Canadian Football League — as the quarterback of the Toronto Argonauts.
Gino Torretta (1992)
Gino Torretta led his University of Miami Hurricanes to the 1993 Sugar Bowl — where they would eventually lose their shot at the national championship — capping off a two-year college career where the threw for more than 6,100 yards and 39 touchdowns.
But Torretta received little attention from NFL teams during the 1993 NFL Draft; he wasn’t taken until the seventh round. He didn’t play a single snap in his first two years in the NFL, and eventually bounced around five more NFL teams before finally retiring in 1997.