HAS HEATH SHULER FINALLY FOUND HIS CALLING?
Synopsis: It’s good to see that Heath Shuler is getting paid to do what he’s being doing for years – acting. Representing North Carolina’s 11th congressional district in the U.S. House of Representatives from 2007-13, Shuler perfected the ability to act as if he cared about serving his constituents. He supposedly was an NFL quarterback in the mid-1990s, but that was all an act too. Prior to the 1994 Draft, Shuler generally was considered the best prospect at quarterback. He was taken by Washington with the 3rd overall pick that year but failed to live up to expectations. During his NFL career, the former Tennessee Volunteer threw more than twice as many interceptions (33) as touchdowns (15) and compiled an underwhelming 8-14 record as a starter. After four unsuccessful seasons, his act got old so his football days ended. Given his success in college and failure in the NFL, it’s no surprise that Shuler would reminisce about his glory days in a commercial for Dish Network. Come to think of it, that’s the least acting he’s had to do in the last 20 years.
#8 NFL DRAFT BUST: HEATH SHULER
In 1994, Heath Shuler was a 1st round draft pick of the Washington No Names (note: the team’s nickname has been modified to avoid a potential FCC fine) after a stellar season at the University of Tennessee. That year, there were two other outstanding college quarterbacks who also were drafted in the first round. After reviewing the following table, try to guess the draft order of the three quarterbacks.
NOTABLE COLLEGE QUARTERBACKS ELIGIBLE FOR 1994 NFL DRAFT
Won Heisman / Won National Championship
|9-2-1||184||285||2,354||25||8||157.3||#2 in Heisman voting|
Won Sammy Baugh Trophy
Even though the passing yards varied significantly between these players (primarily due to a difference in completions and attempts), their other statistics were fairly consistent. In fact, their efficiency ratings were all within 0.5 points of each other. Regardless of their similar statistics in college, these players had dramatically different professional careers. As a continuation of the guessing game, see if you can identify the players before their names are revealed (note: Heath Shuler is definitely one of them).
NFL CAREER STATISTICS FOR NOTABLE COLLEGE QUARTERBACKS FROM 1994 DRAFT
|Player||Draft Pick||Weighted Avg Value (WAV)||Record||Yards||TD||INT||Rating||
|QB 1||26||0||0-0||0||0||0||0.0||Never played in the NFL|
|QB 2||3||6||8-14||3,691||15||33||54.3||Replaced by 7th rounder|
|QB 3||6||51||58-55||20,518||113||129||70.2||Won Super Bowl|
OK, I’ll admit the previous table was a little disingenuous considering that QB 1 was drafted by an NBA team instead of an NFL team. If you still haven’t guessed it, QB 1 was Charlie Ward, a two-sport athlete at Florida State who was taken by the New York Knicks with the 26th overall pick in the 1994 NBA Draft. Even though Ward had NFL talent, teams were afraid to waste a pick on him because he claimed that he wouldn’t play football if taken after the 1st round. Given that he didn’t have 1st round NFL talent, Ward went undrafted.
While QB 3 certainly didn’t have a career worthy of the Hall of Fame, he was a productive professional player who earned a ring as the starting quarterback for a Super Bowl championship team. Based on this description (i.e. Super Bowl-winning quarterbacks not worthy of the Hall of Fame), many of you should be able to narrow Player 3 down to one of two players: Trent Dilfer who won a title with the Baltimore Ravens in 2001 and Brad Johnson who won a title with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2003. Out of these two, however, only Dilfer was drafted in 1994.
By process of elimination, QB 2 is Heath Shuler. Coming out of Tennessee as a junior, he played well enough to get drafted by Washington with the 3rd overall pick in the 1994 Draft. Only two years removed from a Super Bowl victory at the time, Washington needed to find a replacement for aging quarterback Mark Rypien. Rypien had won Super Bowl MVP honors and led the No Names to a 14-2 record in the 1991-92 season. However, his starting record had fallen to 9-7 and then 3-7 over the next two years. In fact, Rypien had lost his starting job during the 1993-94 season to Rich Gannon, who was 28 at the time but still nine years away from his breakout MVP season. Other quarterbacks arguably had superior credentials (as shown by the table above), but Shuler was the first quarterback selected. Generally, Shuler was viewed as the most NFL-ready quarterback, so his early selection wasn’t a big surprise. In other words, he was no Troy Williamson.
Interestingly, the No Names selected not one but two quarterbacks in the 1994 Draft. After choosing Shuler with its first round pick, the team used its 7th round pick to draft Gus Frerotte. Apparently, Washington had already made up its mind that Rypien was done in D.C. and made sure it had a back-up QB given that Gannon was sidelined with a shoulder injury. In four years at Tulsa, Frerotte threw for 5,480 yards with 32 touchdowns, 38 interceptions, and an efficiency rating of 107.2. Basically, if any GM (other than Mike Ditka) would have used an early round pick on Frerotte, he would have been fired on the spot. However, as a 7th round pick, Frerotte proved to be a solid producer.
Due to on-going contract negotiations, Shuler showed up to training camp two weeks late. In the short-term, the holdout made sense for the rookie quarterback who received a $5 million signing bonus as part of an 8-year, $19.25 million contract. Guaranteed money wasn’t reported back then as it is today, but I would guess the actual value (i.e. guaranteed portion) of the contract was around $8-9 million. That figure doesn’t appear to be outrageous based on today’s contracts but it was for back then. Furthermore, Frerotte already was in camp after signing for the rookie minimum of $108,000/year.
At the time, Washington Head Coach Norv Turner believed that the lost time was only a temporary detour in the team’s long-term plans. Perhaps the holdout had no impact on Shuler’s career, but that specific detour is a common trait among Top 10 Busts. Without the benefit of a full training camp, Shuler began the year as the back-up to veteran John Friesz and switched between starting, back-up and third-string QB throughout the season. After one of Shuler’s starts that year, he got replaced despite losing an overtime game to Arizona by the score of 19-16. In that game, he threw for 158 yards and one touchdown yet somehow was benched for the next game. Oh, did I forget to mention that he also threw five interceptions. Not surprisingly, Frerotte got his first professional start the following week. Somewhat surprisingly, the 7th round pick won the game after throwing for 226 yards with two touchdowns and zero interceptions. Shuler might as well have quit when he was ahead, err less behind.
For the full season, Shuler had a 1-7 record as a starting quarterback (compared to 1-3 records for both Friesz and Frerotte). As the following table shows, he had even worse career stats when compared to other quarterbacks from the same draft year.
HEATH SHULER AND OTHER NOTABLE QUARTERBACKS FROM 1994 NFL DRAFT
|Pick||Weighted Avg Value (WAV)||Record||Yards||TD||INT||Passer Rating|
Note: Rushing stats: Shuler (198 yards / 1 touchdown); Dilfer (853 yards / 5 touchdowns); Frerotte (315 yards / 6 touchdowns); Warner (286 yards / 3 touchdowns); and Garcia (2,140 yards / 26 touchdowns). Based on these numbers, Garcia was the only legitimate rushing threat in the group.
Simply based on WAV, Shuler clearly was the worst quarterback in this table. Furthermore, the only player drafted in the 1st round of the 1994 Draft with a lower WAV was Trev Alberts. Yeah, that’s the same player who was given the Steve Emtman Exemption for suffering career-ending injuries. Unlike Alberts, however, Shuler can’t blame injuries for his limited production on the field.
Despite being a first rounder who held out until getting a contract hypothetically worth almost $20 million, Shuler wasn’t given any special treatment. After suffering an injury in the first game of his sophomore season, he had a hard time getting back on the field. When asked about keeping Shuler on the bench despite recovering from the injury, Head Coach Turner said,
Right now, the question about what happens after the next six weeks, or the next three games, is not important to me. What matters is how do we beat Seattle? The best thing right now is to go with Gus.
Shuler finally did get back on the field but he wasn’t effective with an efficiency rating of only 55.6 for the season. As a point of reference, Eli Manning’s efficiency rating was 69.4 for the 2013-14 season. The Giants’ QB threw for 18 touchdowns and over 3,800 yards last year but he also led the league with 27 interceptions.
Apparently, Turner had seen enough of his two young quarterbacks to start Frerotte exclusively during the 1996-7 season. In effect, Shuler was done as a No Name, despite his lucrative contract. How bad was Shuler? He lost out to a guy who thought it made sense to head butt a concrete wall. OK, the wall had a pad over it, but it was still a concrete wall.
If you skipped the clip, here’s a brief summary: 1) Frerotte rushes for a 1-yard TD; 2) Unaccustomed to being in the end zone, the quarterback throws the ball hard at the wall after crossing the goal line; 3) Apparently still mad at the wall, Frerotte does his best ram imitation; 4) Boy Genius goes to the hospital with a sprained neck and misses the rest of the game. I wonder if the Wonderlic is accurate enough to predict the likelihood of a player making a bonehead play like ramming his own head into a concrete wall. If so, Frerotte and Bill Gramatica probably got similar Wonderlic scores.
Watch Bill Gramatica tear his ACL celebrating a field goal to go up 3-0 in the first quarter of a regular season game.
Once Turner decided to go with Frerotte permanently, Washington traded Shuler to New Orleans for a 5th round pick in 1997 and a 3rd round pick in 1998. Those picks were used for Jamel Williams (a defensive back with 0 interceptions and 20 tackles in his three-year career) and Skip Hicks (a running back with career totals of 13 touchdowns and 1,100 yards). Regardless, the No Names still got the better end of the trade.
As a starter for the Saints during the 1997-98 season, Shuler had a 4-5 record but an abysmal efficiency rating of 46.6. The team’s record is shocking given that he threw seven times more interceptions than touchdowns that year (14 INTs versus 2 TDs). Despite Shuler’s poor performance, the Raiders gave him another shot prior to the 1998-99 season. However, the underachieving QB got injured and never took another snap in the NFL.
HEATH SHULER – THE QUARTERBACK (FIRST CAREER)
Unlike many of the Top 10 NFL Draft Busts, Shuler has been able overcome his terrible professional football career such that it’s only a secondary entry on his Wikipedia page. In particular, Shuler was a three-term U.S. Representative for North Carolina from 2007-2013.
HEATH SHULER – THE POLITICAN (SECOND CAREER)
With his political career presumably over (or at least on hold until the Republicans gain control and mess up again), Shuler has undergone another reincarnation as a commercial actor (literally, an actor in a commercial). Promoting an app allowing subscribers to watch college football games, the DISH Network highlights three former college football stars who perk up at the idea of going back to college. Interestingly, the commercial features two Top 10 Busts (The Boz at #10 and Shuler at #8) as well as one Honorable Mention (Matt Leinart).
HEATH SHULER – THE ACTOR (THIRD CAREER)
I would say that all three deserve credit for being able to laugh at themselves, but they might just be believers in the adage that any publicity is better than no publicity. Just ask Rebel Wilson, the voice actor playing the kangaroo in the clip. Look at her career trajectory: Pitch Perfect (Fat Amy); Super Fun Night (this girl);
and Dish Network commercial (kangaroo at the counter). Fortunately, Americans love sequels so Fat Amy will be back in Pitch Perfect 2. Too bad athletes don’t have the opportunity to bounce back so easily.
Congratulations Heath on your political success (who doesn’t love politicians), but you’re still the #8 NFL Draft Bust.