Honorable Mention

Kelly Stouffer: Honorable Mention (NFL)



Synopsis: No, Kelly Stouffer is not the 11x World Champion surfer. Rather, he is a former 6th overall pick remembered best for sitting out the entire 1987 NFL season after being unable to come to terms with the St. Louis Cardinals. At the time, the Cardinals were one year away from relocating to Phoenix because the “Gateway to the West” let their team head west instead of paying for a new football stadium. [As an update to this post, history seemingly has repeated itself as the Rams head to Los Angeles for the 2016 season.] In anticipation of the relocation, Cardinals owner Bill Bidwill didn’t want to spend a lot on payroll. Known for being frugal, the owner presumably agreed to select Stouffer thinking that the player would accept a deal based on projected versus actual draft position. At an impasse for almost a year, the team ultimately traded its first round pick to the Seattle Seahawks before losing his signing rights. Given the quarterback’s starting record of 5-11 and career totals of 2,300 passing yards with seven touchdowns and 19 interceptions, the Cardinals made a good decision to get rid of him. It’s clear that Stouffer didn’t have a good NFL career, but should he be considered a bust?  Read more to find out.


When compared to other Big 4 professional athletes, football players seem to have the worst leverage with respect to contract negotiations. Unlike baseball, basketball and hockey salaries, football salaries usually aren’t guaranteed. Instead, the only guaranteed portion of a football contract typically is the signing bonus and first-year salary. As a result, football players tend to hold out for maximum upfront money because that’s the only money they may ever see. Generally, players and teams are able to agree to terms after each side experiences some pain, but occasionally there is an unfortunate impasse when both sides misread the situation. As a case in point, Kelly Stouffer sat out the entire season after being drafted by the St. Louis Cardinals with the 6th overall pick in the 1987 NFL Draft.

It’s hard to argue with a player trying to get what he deserves, but it’s another thing when the player overestimates his value and holds out for more than he’s worth. Whether negatively impacted by lost practice time or indicative of a personality flaw (e.g. excessive pride and/or greed), several Top 10 Busts were late arrivals as rookies. Another common trait for several Top 10 Busts was a noticeable decline in performance during college. In Stouffer’s case, both alarms were sounding.

As a three-year starter at Colorado State, Stouffer was under center for teams that went 3-8, 5-7, and 6-5. The former Ram finished in the top 10 of numerous Western Athletic Conference (WAC) passing categories, and was named All-WAC in his final season. As a senior, he even ranked 9th in the NCAA in attempts. Despite these achievements, Stouffer wasn’t an efficient passer. For example, he had twice as many interceptions (14) as touchdowns (7). In fact, he would have had to double his touchdown output to finish in the top 20, but only needed one more interception to rank in the top 10.

As the following table shows, Stouffer’s first and second years as a starter were decent, but his third year showed a dramatic drop off in performance.

Year Comp Att Comp % Yards TD INT

Efficiency Rating


168 295 56.9% 2,151 14 13 125.0
1985 204 346 59.0% 2,387 15 11



205 374 54.8% 2,604 7 14 112.0
Total 577 1,015 56.8% 7,142 36 38



Of note, it should have been concerning that Stouffer’s touchdown total fell by over 50% (15 to 7) while his interception total increased by almost 30% (11 to 14) from 1985 to 1986. Based on these numbers, his efficiency rating declined from approximately 125 to 112, which was below average relative to the elite college quarterbacks..

Going into the 1987 Draft, Stouffer was projected as a second or third round pick by ESPN’s Mel Kiper. Today, Dr. Kiper is well-known, but he only had been the network’s lead NFL Draft analyst for three years at the time. Despite the assessment by the most recognized football draft guru, the Cardinals took Stouffer in the first round with the 6th overall pick. Presumably, Cardinals owner Bill Bidwell selected Stouffer as high as he did because he thought the quarterback would accept a contract based on projected versus actual draft position. Granted, the Cardinals were looking for a cheap way out, but the team’s stubbornness ultimately was justified by Stouffer’s performance in the NFL. Then again, they never would have taken him if they thought he would be so bad.




Draft Pick Weighted Avg Value (WAV) Record Yards TD INT Passer Rating
Kelly Stouffer #6 2 5-11 2,333 7 19


Chris Miller

#17 52 34-58 19,320 123 102 74.9
Jim Harbaugh #26 78 66-74 26,288 129 117


Rich Gannon

#98 99 76-56 28,743 180 104 84.7
Steve Beuerlein #110 69 47-55 24,046 147 112


Rushing Stats:  Stouffer (75 yards, 0 touchdowns); Miller (814 yards, 2 touchdowns); Harbaugh (2,787 yards, 18 touchdowns); Gannon (2,449 yards, 21 touchdowns); and Beuerlein (496 yards, 5 touchdowns). 


As the #1 overall pick in the 1986 Draft, Bo Jackson spurned Tampa Bay by deciding to play professional baseball instead of football. Unlike the Buccaneers, the Cardinals were able to mitigate their loss. Specifically, the team was able to trade Stouffer to the Seahawks, which presumably needed a quarterback to replace an aging Dave Krieg. Faced with a decline in Krieg’s performance from 1984-87, Seattle decided to give up a 1st round pick (in 1989) and two 5th round picks (in 1988 and 1989) for the right to sign Stouffer. Only one of these picks (OL Joe Wolf) was even somewhat productive (WAV of 24 in 94 games) for the Cardinals, but he still was much more valuable than Stouffer ever was for the Seahawks.

In retrospect, Seattle overreacted because Krieg responded with Pro Bowl selections in both 1988 and 1989. Given Krieg’s resurgence, Stouffer only was able to get 16 starts from 1988-92. With 7 touchdowns, 19 interceptions and an efficiency rating of 54.5 during that time, it’s not surprising that he never became the full-time starter.

Kelly Stouffer going down
Despite never playing more than seven games in a year, Stouffer still was an NFL statistical leader in two categories – times sacked and fumbles.

Even after Krieg left Seattle in 1992 to play for the Kansas City Chiefs, Stouffer couldn’t separate himself from the pack. Left with a trio of ineffective quarterbacks that included Stouffer, Stan Gelbaugh (a 6th round pick with a career 1-11 record) and Dan McGwire (Mark’s brother), the Seahawks finished the 1992 regular season tied with the New England Patriots for a league-worst 2-14 record.

not this one.
Dan is this one . . .

As an aside, McGwire (who was the 16th overall pick in the 1991 Draft) started five games and appeared in another seven for the Seahawks from 1991-95. In his entire career, he threw for fewer than 200 more yards than his brother had home runs (745 vs. 583). With two touchdowns, six interceptions and a 50% completion percentage, the younger McGwire had a 52.3 career passer rating. In case it wasn’t obvious, he wasn’t good.

McGwire’s poor results were surprising (especially to the Seahawks) given that he ranked 3rd in yards, 4th in touchdowns, and 4th in passing efficiency for all NCAA quarterbacks during the 1990 college season. Based on his strong performance at San Diego State that year, he was taken before every other college quarterback, including Brett Favre. Then again, 23 other teams passed up on the future Hall of Famer at least once so Seattle can’t be faulted too much. But for the Brady Quinn Exemption (i.e. drafted outside the top 10 overall picks) and Rich Campbell Exemption (i.e. too few starts), McGwire’s pathetic NFL career would have made him a likely Top 10 Bust. Come to think of it, he still deserves an Honorable Mention.

Back on point, any chance for a career in Seattle ended for Stouffer when the team selected Rick Mirer with the second overall pick in the 1993 Draft. Despite a couple of tryouts with other teams, the former Cardinals’ holdout never played in another NFL game. He’s often referenced as an all-time bust, but doesn’t satisfy the criteria established for a Top 10 Bust. In particular, he just wasn’t good enough as a college player to qualify. Stouffer had 2nd or 3rd round talent but was drafted by a frugal team hoping to use an early pick to find a bargain. Even though Kelly Stouffer doesn’t qualify as a Top 10 Bust, he certainly had the high draft status and pathetic career to qualify for an Honorable Mention.

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