The 1980’s produced a number of good QB’s, many of which were found in the opening round of the draft. The 10 drafts from 1980-1989 produced 2 of the best QB’s in the history of the game – Dan Marino (27th overall, 1983, Miami Dolphins) and John Elway (1st overall, 1983, Baltimore Colts), as well as two guys who have strong arguments for being in the top 10-15 all time: Jim Kelly (14th overall, 1983, Buffalo Bills) and Troy Aikman (1st overall, 1989, Dallas Cowboys). These 4 combined for a record of 490-305-1, with 29 Pro Bowl Appearances and 13 trips to the Super Bowl. The other 14 QB’s drafted in the 1980’s weren’t nearly as successful, though Ken O’Brien (24th overall, 1983, New York Jets), Vinny Testaverde (1st overall, 1987, Tampa Bay Buccaneers) and Jim Everett (3rd overall, 1986, Houston Oilers) had their share of success over careers of varying length.
As with any series of drafters, there were plenty of duds to go along with the Canton bound signal callers. Kelly Stouffer (6th overall, 1987, St. Louis Cardinals) was perhaps the biggest huge flop. While 1987 was one of the weaker 1st rounds in history, nothing can put a good spin on Stouffer’s level of failure. First he held out and forced his way out of St. Louis, then was traded to the Seattle Seahawks and then (after one brief moment of glory in his first ever NFL game) played about as poorly as any QB can in the NFL. His career ended with a 5-11 record, 7 TD, 19 INT and a QB Rating of 54.5. Stouffer’s ineptness was rivaled or, perhaps, surpassed by that of Chuck Long (1986, 12th overall, Detroit Lions), Art Schlichter (1982, 4th overall, Baltimore Colts), Todd Blackledge (7th overall, 1983, Kansas City Chiefs) and Rich Campbell (6th overall, Green Bay Packers, 1981).
However, those guys were mostly remembered either for their huge success or huge failure on the biggest possible stage. While Ken O’Brien and Jim Everett might not be familiar names for younger NFL fans, chances are anyone who followed football in the 1980’s and early 1990’s remembers them as guys who were (at the time) regarded as decent-to-good (though inconsistent) starting QB’s who you never really wanted calling signals for your team despite their moderate success (see: Pennington, Chad for a more modern example). While O’Brien and Everett (best remembered for blowing up in an interview with Jim Rome on TV) are somewhat memorable players, even in a “you had to be there” way, the following guys you might not remember at all unless they played for your team (from most to least memorable):
Jim Harbaugh (26th overall, 1987, Chicago Bears) – Harbaugh might be a guy you know, or have heard of (depending on when you started following football). After all, he played 14 seasons and was a starter for 10 of those years. However, his pedestrian numbers and career mediocrity might have led you to forget that he was a fairly hyped 1st round pick once upon a time ago. His brilliant season in 1995 with the Indianapolis Colts (coming just inches away from a trip to a Super Bowl) was one of the top passing seasons of that decade. However, the rest of his career was totally forgettable. Only 3 times in his career did he lead his team to a winning record in his starts (1990,1991,1995).
Jim McMahon (26th overall, 1982, Chicago Bears) – The guy whom Harbaugh was drafted to replace, Jim McMahon is probably best remembered for his sweatband and babysitting the offense that played alongside one of the greatest defenses in modern football history. Like Harbaugh, McMahon played for a deceptively long time – all the way until 1996. He appeared in 120 games in a 15 year, 6 team career. However, he only played in more than 10 games in 5 seasons. Injuries, mental mistakes and bouts of wildness made McMahon a guy who always found himself a starting job but never holding it for a full season. In 15 years, his highest single season passing total was just 2392 yards (his Super Bowl winning 1985 season). His longevity and the success of the Bears’ defense in the mid 80’s saved McMahon from total irrelevancy.
Chris Miller (13th overall, 1987, Atlanta Falcons) – He had a brief period of success in the Falcons 1991 playoff run and his injury shortened 1992 season (in which he was leading the league in QB rating before getting hurt). Other than that, Chris Miller is one of the most forgettable QB’s of the late 1980’s/early 90’s. He played for 10 years, started 92 games but won only 34. A career 54.6 completion % and 74.9 rating.
Tony Eason (15th overall, 1983, New England Patriots) – The 1983 draft produced 3 of the very best QB’s ever (Elway, Marino and Kelly). Tony Eason was drafted one spot after Kelly and 12 before Marino (with Ken O’Brien in between). At first, he looked like he was going to follow in his class of 83’s footsteps. In his first year as a full time starter, 1984, he put up a very impressive 93.4 QB Rating. Only Marino and Joe Montana were better. Unfortunately, 1985 wasn’t kind to Eason – he put up a very poor 67.5 QBR despite leading the Patriots to the Super Bowl. His performance in the Super Bowl, even considering the quality of the Bears’ defense, was nothing short of appalling (so bad that he was benched early on in the game). He rebounded in 1986, going 10-4 as a starter with a QBR of 89.2 (4th best int he NFL). The Patriots era of bad luck, putrid play and sheer incompetence began in Eason’s lost 1987 season. Their franchise QB separated his shoulder, then suffered nerve damage in his elbow as a result of wearing his sling too tightly. He would go on to miss almost all of 1987 and 1988 and was traded to the Jets in 1989. He started just 10 games after his successful 1986 campaign.
Marc Wilson (15th overall, 1980, Oakland Raiders) – Even in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s, the Oakland Raiders were known to be poor at their early round draft selections (Marcus Allen aside) on the occasions when they actually used them (even then, they liked to trade their 1st round picks away). Marc Wilson was drafted to be the long term replacement for the aging Ken Stabler. Seeing how you’ve probably forgotten (or never heard of) Wilson, it follows that he never became the franchise guy that Al Davis had hoped. Somehow, he managed to stick around with the Raiders for 8 years – far longer than most 1st round flops. He only started 8+ games in 4 seasons and in every one of those 4, he threw more INT’s than TD’s. He had a brief tour with the Patriots in 1989-1990, easy to forget given how terrible those teams were, before retiring in anonymity in 1991.
Mark Malone (28th overall, 1980, Pittsburgh Steelers) – If you watched ESPN for football coverage in the 1990’s, you might remember Malone. Otherwise, you might have forgotten all about him, even if you were a die hard football fan in the 1980’s. Like many mid-late 1st round QB flops, Malone kicked around the league for longer than he should have. Somehow, he ended up playing in 73 games over 9 seasons. His career 50.9 completion %, 60 TDs to 81 INT and 61.9 QBR
tell you everything you need to know about Malone if you had forgotten him like just about everyone outside of Pittsburgh.