Harrington joins long list of QB busts

ROB LONGLEY -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 8:14 AM ET

Welcome to the club, Joey Harrington.

A little later than some Detroit Lions fans might have liked, the underachieving quarterback appears to be headed down the winding road to oblivion.

When he reaches the dead end, maybe he can share a locker and a laugh with Ryan Leaf. Or Jeff George. Or Heath Shuler and any of the other top-pick quarterbacks to go bust.

Though it's a little early to write off Harrington for good, getting replaced by Jeff Garcia this past weekend certainly hints at the end of his prime time in the Motor City.

And in the process, Harrington becomes the latest case study in the boom or bust gamble of quarterbacks picked at the top end of the draft.

Teams -- and especially their fans -- love to select a quarterback early, even if it can seem a little desperate. Such moves fuel optimism but also create a buzz that can generally be a good tool for a bad team to sell tickets.

It also comes with incredible risk for both parties.

Just as there have been Peyton Mannings and Carson Palmers making it big after being after being taken No. 1, there have been more than a few Joeys.

A look back at every draft since 1990 shows that more high selections have failed than have gone on to stardom. (For purpose of the argument we considered only the top three picks overall in a given year.)

Leaving the "jury still out" sign on this year's top selection, Alex Smith, since 1990, eight quarterbacks have been big fat busts, one more than have gone on to be stars.

The successful group includes the Manning brothers (Peyton, first overall in 1998 Indianapolis) and Eli (first in '04, New York Giants), Steve McNair (third in '95, Tennessee), Donovan McNabb (second in '99, Philadelphia), Michael Vick (first in '01, Atlanta), Carson Palmer (first in '03, Cincinnati) and Drew Bledsoe (first in '93, New England).

The busts: George (first in '90, Indianapolis), Rick Mirer (second in '93, Seattle), Shuler (third in '94, Washington), Leaf, (second in '98, San Diego), Tim Couch (first in '99, Cleveland), Akili Smith (third in '99, Cincinnati) David Carr (first in '02, Houston) and Harrington (third in '02).

Those who have been flops have often been spectacularly so. George was run out of Indy by 1993 and has shuffled around the NFL in various backup spots.

Shuler was out of the game by 1998 after just 22 starts.

Rick Mirer, a darling at Notre Dame was a dud in the pros. He started parts of three seasons with the Seahawks then kicked around to six other teams, often as a third stringer

Few would argue that the most spectacular bust was Leaf, however. A bad attitude went with a suspect arm and terrible judgment. The Chargers basically had given up on him by his second season and after a couple of brief stints with the Cowboys and the Bucs, Leaf retired in 2002.

Not all top picks can make it, of course, and like the teams that picked them, the players are faced with their own glass half-full, half-empty look to the future.

On the one hand, they are instant millionaires. Leaf left the game with more than $20 million US and has lived the high life since. On the other, they almost always go to a team that by definition is terrible. That's why they are picking so high in the draft.

Eventually though, teams have to cut their losses. Harrington, like Houston's Carr who could be next, is in his fourth season and Lions coach Steve Mariucci has seen enough.


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