Rich Campbell Exemption (Not Given a Fair Chance)

Synopsis: Any way you cut it, Rich Campbell failed miserably as an NFL quarterback. To start, the 1981 #6 overall pick never started even one game during his four-year career. Furthermore, he only threw for 386 yards with 3 touchdowns and 9 interceptions while appearing in a total of seven games. Despite his historically bad numbers, the former Cal Weenie falls short of qualifying as a Top 10 Bust. Of note, he never got a fair chance to prove himself on the field. Without that proof, I just can’t put him on the level of  other all-time busts.


When determining potential Top 10 Busts, I developed five criteria as a way to discriminate against less deserving candidates. To be clear, the players highlighted below qualify as busts. However, they just don’t make the grade as all-time busts.

  1. The player needs to be a top 10 overall draft pick (a.k.a. The Brady Quinn Exemption).
  2. The player needs to be a bona fide superstar coming out of college (a.k.a. The Troy Williamson Exemption).
  3. The player’s on-field performance needs to be historically bad (a.k.a. The Tony Mandarich Exemption).
  4. The player’s unproductive career cannot be the result of an injury (a.k.a. The Steve Emtman Exemption).
  5. The player needs to receive a fair chance to compete on the field (a.k.a. The Rich Campbell Exemption)

Despite being the 1981 #6 overall pick, Rich Campbell never started even one game during his four-year NFL career. In seven games of relief duty, the former Green Bay Packers quarterback put up pathetic totals of 386 passing yards with 3 touchdowns and 9 interceptions. Fortunately for him, he played in a pre-Twitter world so he received limited notoriety.

Campbell was historically bad. Still, it’s reasonable to argue that he never got an opportunity to prove himself. For this reason, I established the Rich Campbell Exemption. Specifically, I only want to include busts who had sufficient opportunity to disprove all doubters. Otherwise, the players conveniently could provide one of the following excuses.

Excuse #1: Inferior coaching
Exhibit A: Steve Young
Steve Young - Greatness in Waiting
Wow! What a collection of all-time greats!

As a starting quarterback for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 1985 and 1986, Steve Young had a 3-16 record with 11 touchdowns and 21 interceptions. Poised to select Vinnie Testaverde with the #1 overall pick in the 1987 Draft, the Bucs decided to dump the former BYU star. Lucky for him, Young ended up in San Francisco, where he had to opportunity to shadow Joe Montana and learn from Bill Walsh. While playing for the 49ers from 1987-1999, Joe’s protégé won a Super Bowl and had a 91-33 record with 221 touchdowns and 86 interceptions.

I don’t want to imply that Young would have been a bust had he stayed in Tampa. However, I don’t think he would be in the Hall of Fame either. Instead, he probably would be considered similar to Archie Manning (i.e. a talented quarterback who couldn’t win games because of the team around him).

Exhibit B: Matt Cassel
Where’s the other Bill?

Now an NFL journeyman, Matt Cassel once showed flashes of brilliance. Filling in as New England’s starter after a season-ending injury to Tom Brady, Cassel made the most out of the situation. In particular, he threw for almost 3,700 yards with 21 touchdowns and 11 interceptions during the 2008 season. For his efforts, the Patriots rewarded him with a trade to the Kansas City Chiefs.

Immediately after the trade, Cassel’s numbers dropped substantially. Specifically, he threw for less than 3,000 yards with 16 touchdowns and 16 interceptions in 2009. Furthermore, his record as a starter went from 10-5 with the Pats to 4-11 with the Chiefs.

In 2010, Cassel regained his form and had his best statistical season with 27 touchdowns and 7 interceptions. Interestingly, Charlie Weis (a Belichick protégé) took over as the Chiefs’ offensive coordinator that year. Excluding seasons played under the Belichick coaching tree, Cassel’s career record of 33-38 becomes 13-28. In addition, his career Weighted Average Value of 44 becomes 17. In essence, his value goes from that of an average 1st round pick to an average 4th round pick.

Both Young and Cassel had more success under better coaches. Young probably would have been very good elsewhere, but he became great in San Francisco. On the other hand, Cassel escaped mediocrity to make a Pro Bowl when playing under a better system. Regardless of how good a coach might be, I can’t imagine him being able to transform a bust.

Excuse #2: Inferior offensive line

In the late 1990s to early 2000s, the Denver Broncos seamlessly went from Terrell Davis to Orlandis Gary to Mike Anderson to Clinton Portis to Reuben Droughns without breaking stride. Whether because of strong blocking or effective schemes, Broncos’ running backs put up impressive numbers. To the extent you’re unfamiliar with that claim, the following outline should remove any doubt.

1998 – Terrell Davis

  • 6th round pick in the 1995 Draft.
  • Rushed for over 2,000 yards and scored 21 touchdowns.
  • Won the league’s MVP award based on his production.

1999 – Oladis Gary

  • 4th round pick in the 1999 Draft.
  • Ran for almost 1,200 yards and scored seven touchdowns as a rookie.
  • Became starter for final 12 games after Davis suffered a season-ending knee injury.

2000 – Mike Anderson

  • 6th round pick in the 2000 Draft.
  • Ran for almost 1,500 yards and scored 15 touchdowns as a rookie.

2001 – Terrell Davis and Mike Anderson

  • Splitting time in the backfield, each rushed for approximately 700 yards.
  • Davis accumulated his total despite missing eight games while recovering from knee surgery.

2002 & 2003 – Clinton Portis

  • 2nd round pick in 2002
  • Ran for over 1,500 yards with 15 touchdowns as a rookie in 2002.
  • Had almost 1,600 yards rushing and 14 touchdowns in only 13 games in 2003.
  • While in Denver, Portis averaged 5.5 yards per carry.
  • Traded to Washington prior to 2004 season, he never surpassed 4.3 yards per carry in any other season.

2004 – Reuben Droughns

  • In his first year as a starter, Reuben Droughns rushed for 1,240 yards and averaged 4.5 yards per carry.
  • He never averaged more than 4 yards per carry for a season in his career 

2005 – Mike Anderson / Tatum Bell / Ron Dayne

  • Returning as the Broncos’ primary back, Anderson rushed for over 1,000 yards and scored 12 touchdowns during the 2005 season.
  • At the same time, he split duties with rookie Tatum Bell.
    • As a 2nd round pick out of Oklahoma State, Bell rushed for over 900 yards with eight TDs.
  • With an average of 5.1 yards per carry, former Heisman Trophy winner Ron Dayne averaged in excess of one yard per carry more than he did for any other team during his career.

Clearly, the Broncos had a superior rushing attack. Based on numerous examples, running backs could expect to get an extra yard per carry in Denver. While that difference might not seem significant, it can add up to a meaningful amount at the end of a season, or a career.

Excuse #3: Inferior quarterback

Immediately prior to Peyton Manning’s arrival in Indianapolis, Marvin Harrison had 73 receptions for 866 yards and 6 touchdowns. In their first full season together, the receiver’s production increased to 115 receptions for 1,663 yards and 12 touchdowns. With an all-time great quarterback throwing him passes, Harrison became an All-Pro receiver. In fact, he made eight consecutive Pro Bowls while playing with Manning.

Apparently, the “Manning Effect” worked in reverse as well. For instance, Reggie Wayne had 111 receptions for 1,355 yards with Manning under center in 2010. Due to an injury to Manning, Wayne had only 75 receptions for 960 yards from a combination of Curtis Painter, Dan Orlovsky, and Kerry Collins in 2011. As further support for the impact of a star quarterback, Wayne’s numbers rebounded in 2012 (106 receptions for 1,355 yards) after Andrew Luck became the starter.

As highly touted first round draft picks, both Harrison and Wayne took advantage of playing with one of the greatest quarterbacks of all-time.

Manning vs. Brady
Who wouldn’t want to be a receiver for either of these two?

In contrast, Wes Welker and Julian Edelman came out of college as uncelebrated receivers. Yet, they took advantage of playing with perhaps the greatest quarterback of all time.

Undrafted out of Texas Tech, Welker went from being a decent receiver with the Dolphins to an All-Pro receiver catching passes from Tom Brady. In six seasons with the Patriots, Welker made five Pro Bowls while averaging 112 receptions for over 1,200 yards. As Welker’s replacement last season, Edelman had 105 receptions for 1,056 yards. Nothing against Edelman, but I can’t imagine the former 7th round pick out of Kent State starting for any other NFL team.

Excuse #4: Inferior Defensive Schemes

Even after the Steel Curtain fell in the early 1980s, the Steelers consistently developed Pro Bowl defenders regardless of draft position.

  • Troy Polamalu made eight Pro Bowls as a 1st round pick in 2003.
  • Joey Porter made three Pro Bowls as a 3rd round pick in 1999.
  • Greg Lloyd made five Pro Bowls as a 6th round pick in 1987.
  • James Harrison made five Pro Bowls as an undrafted rookie in 2002.

As Seattle’s victory over Denver in last year’s Super Bowl confirmed for the umpteenth time, defense wins championships. On a similar note, Pittsburgh has won so many championships with consistently strong defenses. Can a strong defense cover up the deficiencies of any one player? I say, “Yes.”


A player’s success can be positively impacted by his situation. Of note, mediocre players can turn into very good players while very good players can turn into great players under the right circumstances. Regardless, it’s hard to imagine that a bust can be converted into anything more than a marginal player. At a minimum, however, a player needs to be able to play enough to establish a basis for comparison.

As previously mentioned, Rich Campbell didn’t get an opportunity to prove himself despite being a high draft pick. Still, he must have been good enough to warrant a top 10 overall pick, right? Well . . .  maybe. While starting for Cal-Berkeley from 1978-1980, Campbell showed glimpses of being a good NFL prospect. However, he didn’t perform well enough to to answer the previous question definitively.

Year Comp Att Comp Pct Yards TD INT Efficiency Rating
1977 1 3 33.3% 2 0 0 38.9
1978 164 293 56.0% 2,287 14 19 124.3
1979 241 360 66.9% 2,859 15 12 140.7
1980 193 273 70.7% 2,026 6 11 132.2
Total 599 929 64.5% 7,174 35 42 132.7

At first glance, these numbers seem contradictory. In particular, Campbell had an impressive career completion percentage of 64.5%. However, his career TD/INT ratio of 0.8 didn’t seem consistent with a top NFL prospect. One stat reflects great accuracy while the other reflects the opposite.

Upon further reflection, these seemingly schizophrenic results make more sense given Cal’s West Coast offense. Under the system made popular by Bill Walsh while at Stanford, a quarterback’s completion rate can be skewed by dumping the ball close to the line of scrimmage. Arguably, Green Bay should have ignored this stat and worried more about Campbell’s inability to avoid turnovers.


Despite being interception prone, Campbell still proved to be one of the most prolific passers during his last three seasons in college. As a junior in 1979, he ranked as an NCAA leader in completions (2nd), passing yards (3rd), and passing efficiency (7th). With those rankings today, he likely would have skipped his last year of school and entered the NFL Draft. Without the same financial incentive, he stuck around.

As a senior, Campbell regressed in almost every statistical category. Still, he led the country by completing over 70% of his passes and ranked in the top 15 in passing efficiency.

Whereas Campbell’s familiarity with the West Coast offense might be more desirable today, it probably wasn’t best suited on the frozen tundra of Lambeau Field. Regardless, the Packers needed a starting quarterback and he had the best pedigree.

At the time of the 1981 Draft, Green Bay’s starting quarterback was 31-year-old Lynn Dickey. Given Dickey’s age and career record of 14-32-1, it wasn’t too surprising that the team took a quarterback early. 

Rich Campbell photo
Guess not.

As the 3rd string QB during his rookie season, Campbell only saw meaningful time in one game. In a 37-3 blowout loss to Tampa Bay, he went 15-30 for 168 yards and four interceptions (including a pick six). Granted, Campbell played horrendously that day. However, he never got a chance to throw another pass in a game during Bart Starr’s remaining three years as the Packers’ head coach.

As a 2x Super Bowl winning quarterback, Starr earned a bust in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. However, that magic didn’t extend to the sidelines. Still, Starr somehow survived as Green Bay’s head coach for nine years with a record of 52-76-3. 

Perhaps, Starr’s success on the field deserves more scrutiny as well. Of note, he benefited significantly when playing for Vince Lombardi. In three seasons before the legendary coach’s arrival, Starr had a record of 3-15-1. In four seasons after Lombardi retired, the presumed legendary QB had a record of 14-19-1. During the nine seasons in between, he had a 77-23-4 record with five NFL titles. Apparently, Lombardi offers another example of a great coach who helped drive the legacies of their quarterbacks.


Overall, Rich Campbell lasted four seasons in Green Bay. In his one year playing for head coach Forrest Gregg, the quarterback had his one shining NFL moment. In particular, he threw a 43-yard touchdown with 46 seconds remaining to give the Packers a 20-14 victory against the Bears in the penultimate game of the 1984 season.

Despite his late-game heroics, Campbell didn’t earn a start in the season finale. As a 2nd half replacement, he threw one touchdown and three interceptions (including a pick six). Apparently, that was all she wrote because it signified the end of his career.

During Campbell’s time with the Packers, Dickey fended off all challenges from the early first round draft pick. As the starter for 53 games, Dickey had a 26-26-1 record and threw for over 12,000 yards with 86 touchdowns and 77 interceptions. While those numbers weren’t bad, they shouldn’t have been good enough to keep a #6 overall pick on the bench for four years. 

Player Draft Pick WAV Record Yards TD INT Passer Rating
Rich Campbell #6 2 0-0 386 3 9 38.8
Neil Lomax #33 70 47-52-2 22,771 136 90 82.7
Wade Wilson #210 51 36-33 17,283 99 102 75.6

Rushing stats:  Campbell (2 yards, 0 touchdowns); Lomax (969 yards, 10 touchdowns); and Wilson (1,025 yards, 9 touchdowns). 

Given Campbell’s horrendous career, some sites have named him the biggest bust in Packers history. The quarterback responded with his own post by admitting that it hurts to outrank fellow Honorable Mention Tony Mandarich. Sorry Rich, but I agree with them.

Interestingly, Mandarich and Campbell both have Top 10 Bust exemptions named for them. With a career resurgence after an early flame-out, Mandarich just wasn’t bad enough. Arguably, Campbell could have earned an exemption for not being good enough to warrant a high pick (the Troy Williamson Exemption). Instead, he deserved it more for not being given a fair shot.

During his four-year career, Campbell never started a game and only had five games with at least one passing attempt. His numbers in those games were bad, but no worse than those posted by Eli Manning during numerous mini slumps in an illustrious career. Since it’s fair to argue that the former Green Bay back-up may have benefited from a different setting, he’s responsible for the Rich Campbell Exemption.