HAS HEATH SHULER FINALLY FOUND HIS CALLING?
Synopsis: As a junior at the University of Tennessee, Heath Shuler finished second in the 1993 Heisman voting. Considered the most NFL-ready quarterback, Shuler skipped his senior year and entered the 1994 Draft. Apparently, Washington agreed with that assessment and took him with the #3 overall pick. Despite any lofty projections, Shuler compiled an 8-14 record as an NFL QB. Since hanging up his cleats, he went into real estate before going into politics. Based on his professional choices, Shuler’s role in the Dish Network commercial may have been the least acting he’s done in the last 20 years.
#8 NFL DRAFT BUST: HEATH SHULER
After a stellar season at the University of Tennessee, Heath Shuler got drafted by Washington No Names with the 3rd overall pick in the 1994 NFL Draft. Note, I have intentionally changed the team’s nickname given it’s repulsive origin. My kids think I’m overly sensitive about it (as well as the Cleveland Indians’ use of Chief Wahoo), but they’ll agree with me someday. More importantly, I hope everyone else does.
[August 2018 – Based on a comment submitted almost 4 years after I originally wrote this post, I feel the need to address my disdain for the nickname for Washington’s football team. Of note, a reader called me out recently for questioning the team’s use of a racial epitaph.
As a “whiteskin,” I accept that I’m not best person to address the issue. At the same time, I’ll reference that the Cleveland Indians finally acknowledged the insensitivity of Chief Wahoo and agreed to remove the image on merchandise starting in 2019. I believe/hope Washington’s NFL franchise will recognize its ignorance within the next 5 years. If this site is still accessible 10 years from now (say 2030), you’ll realize how ridiculous any counterargument sounds.]
Two other outstanding college quarterbacks joined Shuler as first round draft picks. After reviewing the following table, try to guess the draft order of the three quarterbacks.
NOTABLE COLLEGE QUARTERBACKS ELIGIBL.OR 1994 NFL DRAFT
|QB 1||12-1||69.5%||3,032||27||4||157.8||Won Heisman Won National Championship|
|QB 2||9-2-1||64.6%||2,354||25||8||157.3||#2 in Heisman voting|
|QB 3||8-4||65.7%||3,815||28||8||157.7||Won Sammy Baugh Trophy|
Even though the passing yards varied significantly for these players, the other statistics stayed fairly consistent. Amazingly, these QBs had efficiency ratings 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.
NOTABLE COLLEGE QBs FROM 1994 DRAFT – NFL STATS
|Player||Draft Pick||Record||Yards||TD||INT||Rating||Weighted Avg Value (WAV)||Highlights|
|QB 1||#26||0-0||0||0||0||0||0||Never played in the NFL|
|QB 2||#3||8-14||3,691||15||33||54.3||6||Replaced by 7th rounder|
|QB 3||#6||58-55||20,518||113||129||70.2||51||Won Super Bowl|
OK, I admit that the table is disingenuous considering that QB 1 played in the NBA instead of the NFL. As a two-sport athlete at Florida State, Charlie Ward (QB1) went to the New York Knicks with the 26th pick in the 1994 NBA Draft. Even though Ward had NFL talent, teams didn’t want 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.
Despite only being a mediocre starting quarterback, QB3 had a Super Bowl victory on his résumé. Based on this description, you should be able to narrow the player down to one of two names: Trent Dilfer and Brad Johnson. Dilfer won his ring with the Baltimore Ravens in 2001 while Johnson won his with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2003. Out of these two, however, only Dilfer went in 1994.
By process of elimination, that leaves Heath Shuler as QB2. As shown above, Shuler didn’t outperform either Ward or Dilfer in college. However, draft experts thought he had the most “NFL-ready” skill set. Clearly, Washington thought so too.
WASHINGTON NO NAMES
Only two years removed from a Super Bowl victory, the No Names hoped to find a replacement for aging quarterback Mark Rypien. Rypien capped off a 14-2 record in the 1991 regular season with Super Bowl MVP honors. However, his starting record had fallen to 9-7 in 1992 and 3-7 in 1993. In fact, Rypien had lost his starting job during the 1993 season to Rich Gannon. Interestingly, Gannon was 28 at the time but still nine years away from his breakout MVP season.
In need of a starting and back-up quarterback, the No Names selected two quarterbacks in the 1994 Draft. After choosing Shuler with its first round pick, they used a 7th round pick to draft Gus Frerotte. In four years at Tulsa, Frerotte threw for 5,480 yards with 32 touchdowns and 38 interceptions, and had an efficiency rating of 107.2. Basically, any GM (other than Mike Ditka) would have been fired on the spot for taking him any sooner.
Due to difficult contract negotiations, Shuler showed up to training camp two weeks late. The holdout made sense for the rookie quarterback based on the $5 million signing bonus he received as part of an 8-year, $19.25 million deal. While that figure doesn’t seem outrageous based on today’s contracts, it was a lucrative sum back then. As support for that statement, Frerotte had signed for the rookie minimum of $108,000/year.
At the time, Washington Head Coach Norv Turner believed that his new franchise quarterback could recover from the lost time in camp. However, Shuler began the year as the back-up to veteran John Friesz. Throughout the season, he switched between starting, back-up and third-string QB.
After one of his starts that year, Shuler got sent back to the bench 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 lost his starting jobb. 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.
For the full season, Shuler had a 1-7 record as a starting quarterback. In comparison, both Friesz and Frerotte went 1-3 in their starts. As the following table shows, Shuler drastically underperformed relative to other quarterbacks in the 1994 Draft.
NOTABLE QUARTERBACKS FROM 1994 NFL DRAFT
|Player||Record||Yards||TD||INT||Passer Rating||Weighted Avg Value (WAV)|
|Gus Frerotte (#197)||45-47-1||21,291||114||106||74.2||56|
- Shuler: 198 yards / 1 touchdown.
- Dilfer: 853 yards / 5 touchdowns.
- Frerotte: 315 yards / 6 touchdowns.
- Warner: 286 yards / 3 touchdowns.
- Garcia: 2,140 yards / 26 touchdowns.
Given these numbers, Garcia proved to be the only legitimate rushing threat in the group.
To the extent you’re unfamiliar with WAV, it’s an all encompassing statistic that represents a player’s production with one number. As a point of reference, a typical top 10 overall pick has a WAV of 55. With a Weighted Average Value of 6, Shuler clearly fell far short of expectations. Furthermore, he had the second lowest WAV for all first round draft picks. Only Trev Alberts had a lower WAV and he had his career cut short because of injuries (a.k.a. The Steve Emtman Exemption) Unlike Alberts, however, Shuler can’t blame injuries for his limited production on the field.
HEATH SHULER – NO SPECIAL TREATMENT
Despite being a top 3 pick with a $20 million contract, Shuler didn’t receive any special treatment. After suffering an injury in the first game of his second 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. Of note, he had a quarterback rating of 55.6 for the season. As a point of reference, Eli Manning had a quarterback rating of 69.4 for the 2013-14 season. The Giants’ QB threw for 18 touchdowns and over 3,800 yards last year but also led the league with 27 interceptions.
ROUGH YEAR FOR ELI MANNING
Apparently, Turner had seen enough of his two young quarterbacks to start Frerotte exclusively during the 1996-7 season. Clearly, Turner didn’t care about Shuler’s contract. Instead, he appropriately viewed it as a sunk cost.
So, how bad was Shuler? He lost out to a guy who thought it made sense to head butt a concrete wall.
GUS FRERROTE – SHOULD HAVE BEEN A RAM
If you skipped the clip, here’s a brief summary.
- Frerotte rushes for a 1-yard TD.
- Unaccustomed to being in the end zone, the quarterback throws the ball hard at the wall after crossing the goal line.
- Apparently still mad at the wall, Frerotte does his best ram imitation.
- 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.
BILL GRAMATICA – SHOULD HAVE BEEN A BRONCO
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 1997 5th round pick in 1997 and a 1998 3rd round pick. The team used those picks for DB Jamel Williams and RB Skip Hicks. Williams had 0 interceptions and 20 tackles in his three-year career. Meanwhile, Hicks had career totals of 13 touchdowns and 1,100 yards. Despite those low numbers, 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 quarterback rating of 46.6. The team’s record was shocking given that he threw seven times more interceptions than touchdowns that year (14 INTs versus 2 TDs). Apparently, the Saints’ defense kept them in those games.
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 Top 10 Busts, Shuler overcame his terrible professional football career. In fact, 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, he’s been 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. Coincidentally, the commercial features two Top 10 Busts (The Boz at #10 and Shuler at #8) as well as one T10B 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 (see the picture below).
REBEL WILSON – GOD BLESS HER
- 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.