Kelly Stouffer: Honorable Mention (NFL)



Synopsis: I’ll readily admit that I only had a vague recollection of Kelly Stouffer before researching players for this site. In case you need a refresher as well, the 1987 #6 overall pick sat out for an entire season after being unable to come to terms with the St. Louis Cardinals. At an impasse for almost a year, the team ultimately traded his signing rights to the Seattle Seahawks.  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 the right decision. Stouffer didn’t have a good NFL career, but should he be considered a bust? Perhaps, but not a Top 10 Bust.


Compared to other Big 4 professional athletes, football players seem to have the worst leverage in their contract negotiations. Of note, only the signing bonus and first-year salary are fully guaranteed. Consequently, football players tend to hold out for maximum upfront money because that’s the only money they may ever see.

Players and teams generally come to terms after each side experiences some pain. Occasionally, however, there’s an 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. However, it’s something else the player overestimates his value and holds out for more than he’s worth. Whether negatively impacted by lost practice time or indicative of an inflated ego, several Top 10 Busts showed up late as rookies.


As a three-year starter at Colorado State, Stouffer started for teams that went 3-8, 5-7, and 6-5. In his final season, the former Ram finished in the top 10 of numerous Western Athletic Conference (WAC) passing categories, and earned All-WAC honors. He even ranked 9th in the NCAA in attempts that year.

Despite these achievements, Stouffer didn’t prove to be 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 started out his college career with two decent seasons. However, his numbers dropped off dramatically during his third season.

Year Comp % Yards TD INT Efficiency Rating
1984 56.9% 2,151 14 13 125.0
1985 59.0% 2,387 15 11 124.9
1986 54.8% 2,604 7 14 112.0
Total 56.8% 7,142 36 38 120.2

From 1985 to 1986, Stouffer’s touchdown total fell by over 50% while his interception total increased by almost 30%. Based on these numbers, his efficiency rating declined from approximately 125 to 112. In comparison to other elite quarterbacks, his 1986 rating was well below average.


Going into the 1987 Draft, ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr. had projected Stouffer as a second or third round pick. Perhaps the most recognized NFL Draft guru around today, he had been the network’s lead analyst for only three years at the time. Despite the assessment, the St. Louis Cardinals took Stouffer with the 6th overall pick.

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. 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 his projected draft position (i.e. a 2nd or 3rd round pick)

[As an update to this post, history seemingly has repeated itself as the St. Louis Rams head to Los Angeles prior to the 2017 season for the exact same reason.] 

Arguably, the Cardinals wanted a cheap way out. At the same time, Stouffer’s poor performance in the NFL justified their stubbornness. Then again, they never would have taken him in the first place if they thought he would be so bad.


One year earlier, 1986 #1 overall pick Bo Jackson spurned Tampa Bay by deciding to play professional baseball. Unlike the Buccaneers, the Cardinals mitigated their loss. Specifically, the team traded 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. As the 17th overall pick in 1989, OL Joe Wolf proved to be only productive pick for the Cardinals. Still, he provided much more valuable than Stouffer ever did 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 got 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.

Clearly, Stouffer underachieved as a 6th overall pick. When compared to other quarterbacks in his draft class, his poor performance stands out even more.

Player (Draft Pick) Record Yards TD INT Passer Rating Weighted Avg Value (WAV)
Kelly Stouffer (#6) 5-11 2,333 7 19 54.5 2
Chris Miller (#17) 34-58 19,320 123 102 74.9 52
Jim Harbaugh (#26) 66-74 26,288 129 117 77.6 78
Rich Gannon (#98) 76-56 28,743 180 104 84.7 99
Steve Beuerlein (#110) 47-55 24,046 147 112 80.3 69

Rushing Stats:

  • Stouffer (75 yards, 0 touchdowns).
  • Miller (814 yards, 2 touchdowns).
  • Harbaugh (2,787 yards, 18 touchdowns).
  • Gannon (2,449 yards, 21 touchdowns).
  • Beuerlein (496 yards, 5 touchdowns). 

None of these quarterbacks could be confused for being a superstar. However, they all were capable starters for many years in the league.


Kelly Stouffer going down
Despite never playing more than seven games in a year, Stouffer still ranked as 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 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 for a league-worst 2-14 record.

Dan is this one . . .
not this one.

From 1991-95, McGwire started five games and appeared in another seven for the Seahawks. In his entire career, he barely had 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. If can’t tell, that’s not good.

During the 1990 college season, McGwire ranked 3rd in yards, 4th in touchdowns, and 4th in passing efficiency for all FBS quarterbacks. Perhaps more impressively, he measured at 6’8″ and 240 lbs. Clearly, the Seahawks were impressed because they took him as the first quarterback in the 1991 draft with the 16th overall pick. Unfortunately, they overlooked a 6’2″ and 220-pound QB named Brett Favre. 

Based on his pathetic career totals, McGwire deserves consideration as a Top 10 Bust. Then again, he qualifies for the Brady Quinn Exemption (i.e. not drafted high enough) and Rich Campbell Exemption (i.e. too few starts). Despite these exemptions, he still deserves recognition as a T10B Honorable Mention.


Any chance for a career with Seattle ended for Stouffer when the team selected Rick Mirer with the #2 overall pick in 1993. Despite a couple 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.

For me, Stouffer just wasn’t good enough as a college player to qualify. He had 2nd or 3rd round talent but went much earlier to a frugal team hoping to find a bargain. Even though he doesn’t qualify as a Top 10 Bust, he certainly has the résumé (early draft pick / pathetic career) to earn an Honorable Mention.

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