Jack Thompson: #7 NFL Draft Bust

Are you thinking about someone else?  Don’t worry, he’s coming.

Synopsis: Jack Thompson was a heralded quarterback from Washington State whose career will always be evaluated in the rear-view mirror of the greatest post-season quarterback in NFL history. As a foreshadowing, the previous sentence can be used to introduce a completely different Top 10 Bust simply by changing the highlighted word. If NFL draft busts were evaluated like NBA draft busts seem to be, Thompson (who was drafted ahead of Joe Montana) would be as well know as Sam Bowie (who was drafted ahead of Michael Jordan). Instead, Thompson hasn’t received his due credit as an all-time bust. With a Weighted Average Value (WAV) of 13 based on career totals of 5,300 passing yards and 33 touchdowns, he has the highest total of any Top 10 Bust. Then again, he had a record of 4-17 as a starter and a total of 45 interceptions so he gained a lot of bonus points. This post should convince you that Thompson, unlike Bowie, was completely unproductive as a professional so his bust status is well deserved.


Jack Thompson was drafted by the Cincinnati Bengals with the 3rd pick of the 1979 NFL Draft. He was selected five spots ahead of Phil Simms (a Super Bowl winner with the NY Giants) and 78 spots ahead of Joe Montana, who beat the Bengals in two of his four Super Bowl victories. Oops. As such, I’m surprised that Thompson has escaped the same attention that Sam Bowie has received for being drafted ahead of Michael Jordan. Unlike the Trailblazers, who have been vilified for passing on Jordan, the Bengals have not faced the same ire for passing on Montana. Perhaps, they have been given a pass due to the fact that every other team overlooked Montana too. In any event, Thompson shouldn’t get a pass because he was a bust independent of the players drafted after him.

The following table shows how Thompson’s NFL career compares with the careers of the two Super Bowl winning quarterbacks who were selected after him in the 1979 Draft.



Player Draft Pick Weighted Avg Value (WAV) Record Yards TD INT

Passer Rating

Jack Thompson #3 13 4-17 5,315 33 45


Phil Simms

#9 91 95-64 33,462 199 157 78.5
Joe Montana #82 123 117-47 40,551 273 139



Rushing totals for these quarterbacks:  Thompson (262 yards / 6 touchdowns); Simms (1,252 yards / 6 touchdowns); and Montana (1,676 yards / 20 touchdowns).  I remembered that Montana was mobile (especially during a certain roll out), but I didn’t realize that was a productive runner too.

Using such a high pick to draft Thompson, the Bengals obviously expected more production from him. As a 3-year starter for the Washington State Cougars, Thompson threw for 7,818 yards with 53 TDs and had an efficiency rating of 122.9. When Thompson’s college career is broken down further, there was a noticeable trend during his three seasons as a starter that may have been overlooked.




Yards TD INT Efficiency Rating NCAA Ranking
Season 1 2,333 17 20 111.2

#7 in Efficiency Rating / #7 in TDs

Season 2

2,372 13 13 124.1 #5 in Efficiency Rating
Season 3 2,762 20 14 134.7

#3 in Efficiency Rating / #4 in TDs


If these seasons were listed in chronological order, one could argue that Thompson was progressing nicely. In reality, these seasons are listed in reverse chronological order. Specifically, Season 1 was his senior year while Season 3 was his sophomore year. Perhaps, the regression in Thompson statistics as well as the Cougars’ poor record (12-20-1) during his three years as a starter should have helped the Bengals reconsider their decision.

While Thompson was generating big, but declining, passing numbers on losing teams, Montana was leading Notre Dame to bowl victories and a national championship. Montana’s penchant for excelling in high pressure moments was best revealed during the 1979 Cotton Bowl between Notre Dame and Houston. Montana’s passing line of 163 yards, one touchdown, and three interceptions wasn’t impressive, but his legend-creating influence on the game cannot be underestimated. Despite suffering from the flu during a game played when the wind-chill factor was negative six degrees, Montana led a dramatic comeback from a 22-point deficit with less than eight minutes left in the game.

The historic comeback started when Notre Dame returned a blocked punt for a touchdown with 7:25 on the clock. Down by 16, Notre Dame went for two, which Montana converted. After getting the ball back with 5:37 left, Montana needed only 1 minute and 22 seconds to culminate a 61-yard drive with a 2-yard touchdown run. Montana then converted another 2-point conversion to leave Notre Dame down by six with 4:15 left. Notre Dame got the ball for a final time with only 28 seconds to go. The comeback was complete with a 6-yard touchdown pass by Montana as time expired. After the extra point (which had some drama of its own), Notre Dame ended up defeating Houston 35-34. Check out the following clip to get an early glimpse of Montana’s true greatness.

chicken soup

Notice how empty the stands were.  Clearly, most fans thought the game was over.

When Thompson was drafted, the Bengals thought he would replace an aging Ken Anderson. After going 37-17 as a starter from 1973-76, Anderson went 11-14 from 1977-78 so it seemed like a reasonable decision for Cincinnati to go after a quarterback early in the draft. Unfortunately, the team took the wrong QB. Even though Anderson continued to perform poorly during Thompson’s first two season with the Bengals, the young quarterback couldn’t replace the old one. Of note, Anderson went 9-18 as a starter with 22 TDs and 23 INTs while Thompson went 1-4 with 12 TDs and 17 INTs. In Thompson’s third season with the team, Anderson found the Fountain of Youth and rebounded with an MVP season while leading the Bengals to the Super Bowl against the 49ers. As Thompson sat on the bench, the guy who was drafted 79 picks later (i.e. Joe Montana) was named Super Bowl MVP.

Given Anderson’s resurgence, Thompson became expendable. As a result, the young quarterback was traded to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who needed a quarterback after Doug Williams went to the USFL due to a contract dispute. Thompson was ineffective as Williams’ replacement, but so was every other Tamp Bay quarterback for the next decade. The following table highlights the stats of Tampa Bay quarterbacks in five-year increments from the late 1970s to early 1990s.




Seasons Record Win % Yards TD INT Passer Rating
Doug Williams 1978-82 33-33-1 50.0% 12,648 73 73


4 Different QBs

1983-87 14-62 18.4% 17,479 97 105 72.6
Vinny Testaverde 1988-92 24-44 35.3% 13,739 72 106


* Only includes quarterbacks with at least four starts during time period


While Williams’ record or stats don’t seem to be particularly impressive, he was substantially better than his replacements. Furthermore, the table doesn’t show that Williams led the Bucs to three playoffs (including one NFC Championship Game) in his five seasons as the starter. Perhaps needless to say, Tampa Bay never sniffed the playoffs for the next decade after Williams left for the USFL. Furthermore, Williams got the last laugh in leading the Washington Redskins to a victory in Super Bowl XXI after earning the starting job in the regular-season finale.


Despite getting a fresh start with Tampa Bay, Thompson fumbled away the opportunity.




Seasons Record Win % Yards TD INT Passer Rating
Jack Thompson 1983-84 3-13 18.8% 3,243 20 26


Steve DeBerg

1984-87 8-29 21.6% 9,939 61 62 73.9
Quarterback 3 1985-86 3-16 15.8% 3,217 11 21


Vinny Testaverde

1987 0-4 0.0% 1,081 5 6



As previously mentioned, Jack Thompson was brought to Tampa Bay as a replacement for Doug Williams. When Thompson didn’t pan out, Steve DeBerg was brought in to become the Bucs’ new starter. Of note, DeBerg had been the 49ers starter before getting replaced by Montana. In case you need me to connect the dots, Thompson was benched for the guy who was benched for the guy drafted 79 spots after Thompson.

DeBerg’s individual stats weren’t too bad, but he just couldn’t win games. As a result, Tampa Bay brought in a Young QB (Quarterback 3) to lead the team. As you can tell, he actually did worse so the Buccaneers decided to take Vinny Testaverde with the #1 overall pick in the 1987 Draft. After the change of scenery, Quarterback 3 actually went on have a productive career. Do you have a guess who he was?



Player Seasons Record Yards TD INT


Quarterback 3 1987-99 91-33 29,907 221 86


Hint:  Quarterback 3 also rushed for 3,581 yards and 37 touchdowns from 1987-99.


If you still don’t know, Quarterback 3 was Steve Young. Interestingly, Young went on to replace Montana and continue the winning tradition of the 49ers with his own Super Bowl MVP trophy. Again, Thompson and Montana can be linked. Young’s success in San Francisco despite failing at Tampa Bay leads to an interesting question. Could Thompson have succeeded in a different situation, such as playing for Bill Walsh? If so, he may deserve the Rich Campbell Exemption.

Alternatively, it may be reasonable to argue that Thompson was drafted ahead of where he should have been given his losing record in college. If so, he may deserve the Troy Williamson Exemption. Some may say that a quarterback who survived six years in the NFL with over 5,000 yards and 30 touchdowns just wasn’t bad enough to be an all-time bust (i.e. the Tony Mandarich Exemption). However, when that player also threw 45 interceptions, had a passer rating below 65.0, and only won four out of 21 career starts, he doesn’t deserve any exemptions. Furthermore, when the player is selected ahead of one of the greatest players ever, the wasted pick becomes even more magnified and worthy of a selection as an all-time bust. For all of these reasons, Jack Thompson earned the #7 spot in the countdown of Top 10 NFL Draft Busts.

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