Pop quiz: Who’s the biggest NFL draft bust ever? Ryan Leaf, you say? Maybe JaMarcus Russell? Wrong. Bobby Garrett takes the cake. Who? Bobby. Garrett. And there’s no argument.
So who exactly was Bobby Garrett? He was an All-American at Stanford in the early 1950s before the Cleveland Browns drafted him with the first overall pick in the 1954 draft to eventually replace the aging Otto Graham.
But Garrett was quickly shipped to the Green Bay Packers by Browns coach Paul Brown, who realized a secret about Garrett as soon as he got to Cleveland.
Sure, Garrett had a good arm and was a fine athlete, but he came with a stuttering problem. He allegedly couldn’t get the plays out of his mouth in the huddle or at the line.
“We had to crack him on the back so he could spit out the play,” former Packers fullback Fred Cone once told the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel. “He couldn’t say words that started with an ‘s,’ like split left or split right.
“That was a real surprise to us. I think Coach (Lisle) Blackbourn was surprised, too. Bobby had a lot of ability and he was a real nice guy. You kind of felt sorry for him. But a quarterback has to get up there and bark out the signals, and he couldn’t do it.”
Garrett spent two seasons in the military and when he returned to the NFL, was shipped back to the Browns.
Garrett lasted just nine games in the NFL, none of which he started. Even Leaf had 25 games under his belt before he flamed out and Russell played in a whopping 31 contests overall.
Garrett’s career stats in the NFL: 15-30 for 143 yards, no touchdowns and one interception.
Today, thanks to the Wonderlic test, scouting combine and background checks, it’s hard to miss a player’s cavity history, much less his inability to carry out a quarterback’s basic task.
That’s what makes Garrett’s flop so remarkable – the top overall pick, a quarterback, who never started an NFL game. In fact, he never appeared in a game for the Browns.
Not that Cleveland sports needs to feel worse about itself, but that’s unprecedented, especially when the player drafted was a proven commodity from a big-time college program.
OK, Cleveland, we will rub it in. Garrett threw 17 touchdown passes in 1953 – his final college season – and had NFL talent evaluators comparing him to a Hall of Famer.
“The pros thought he was going to be another Sammy Baugh,” the Journal-Sentinel wrote.
Sadly, it didn’t pan out that way. And as if Garrett’s story wasn’t already tragic enough, he passed away from a heart attack in California in December of 1987 at the age of just 55.