Art Schlichter: #2 NFL Draft Bust

Synopsis: Prior to Ryan Leaf and JaMarcus Russell, Art Schlichter served as the poster child for NFL Draft busts. As a starter for the Ohio State Buckeyes from 1978-81, Schlichter ranked as an NCAA leader in at least one offensive category each year. In addition, he finished 6th or higher in the Heisman voting as a sophomore, junior and senior. Despite his college success, Schlichter failed miserably as a professional. He had approximately 1,000 passing yards with three touchdowns and 11 interceptions during his 13-game NFL career. Furthermore, he never won a single game in six career starts. Adding to his bust status, Schlichter faced numerous suspensions from the NFL for excessive gambling. Never cured of his addiction, he has spent 14 of the last 20 years in prison for gambling-related crimes. With respect to being a Top 10 Bust, Schlichter has it all.


While certainly not the first top 10 overall NFL draft pick to fail, Art Schlichter may have been the first to be recognized as a bust on a national level. Prior to Schlichter, draft busts had limited exposure due to regional media coverage. In the early 1980s, however, ESPN and USA Today changed sports forever by nationalizing coverage of teams and players. As the #4 overall pick in the 1982 NFL Draft, Schlichter faced increased national scrutiny regarding his failures on and off the field. Over the years, Schlichter experienced many gambling-related problems so we continue to remember the true disappointment that made him the #2 NFL Draft Bust.

As a freshman quarterback at Ohio State in 1978, Schlichter proved to be more productive as a runner than as a passer. With almost an equal number of rushing and passing attempts, he ran for 13 touchdowns but only threw for four. Astoundingly, Schlichter had 21 interceptions for a TD/INT ratio of less than 0.2 (yes, zero point two). That ratio is about one-tenth of the ratio for a good quarterback.

Despite having a horrendous freshman year, Schlichter rebounded and had a strong sophomore season. Perhaps the biggest change in his stats involved his TD/INT ratio increasing to 2.3 (14 TDs / 6 INTs) in 1979. As the following table shows, Schlichter continued to become a more accomplished passer while at Ohio State.

  Passing Rushing
Year Comp Att % Yds TD INT Rating Att Yds Avg TD
1978 87 175 49.7 1,250 4 21 93.3 157 590 3.8 13
1979 105 200 52.5 1,816 14 6 145.9 133 430 3.2 9
1980 122 226 54 1,930 15 9 139.7 143 325 2.3 7
1981 183 350 52.3 2,551 17 10 123.8 80 -42 -0.5 6
Total 497 951 52.3 7,547 50 46 126.6 513 1,303 2.5 35

Throughout his four-year college career, Schlichter was one of the most productive players in the entire NCAA. As a freshman in 1978, he ranked 7th with 13 rushing touchdowns. Of note, that ranking included all players and not just quarterbacks. Schlichter also tied for 5th in interceptions, but I highlighted that lowlight already.

As a sophomore in 1979, Schlichter had his best season statistically. Specifically, he ranked 4th with 23 total touchdowns (i.e. combined passing and rushing) and 5th in passer efficiency with a 145.9 rating. At the same time, he led his Ohio State Buckeyes to a #1 ranking and a Rose Bowl appearance against the 3rd ranked USC Trojans. Based on his individual and team success, Schlichter finished 4th in the Heisman voting.

Unfortunately, any chance for a national championship ended for the Buckeyes when the Trojans came from behind to win 17-16. Schlichter played well in the game, but USC’s Charles White overshadowed him for the second time in one month. In addition to winning the Heisman, the Trojans’ running back rushed for a Rose-Bowl-record 247 yards and scored the game-winning touchdown with 1 1/2 minutes to go. Despite the loss, Schlichter stood out as the best sophomore QB in the NCAA and emerged as the early favorite for the 1980 Heisman.

As a junior and senior, Schlichter continued to develop as a quarterback. Each year, he set new personal highs in passing yards and touchdowns. However, his per attempt numbers were down so his passing efficiency actually declined. Regardless, he still ranked in the top 10 in total touchdowns both years. Furthermore, he finished 6th and 5th in the Heisman voting in 1980 and 1981, respectively. Given his development and ultimate success, Schlichter became a highly touted quarterback while playing in college.

The 1982 NFL Draft

Two weeks before the 1982 NFL Draft, contract negotiations fell apart between the Baltimore Colts and quarterback Bert Jones. Even though Jones still produced over 3,000 yards and 20 TDs in each of the prior two seasons, the Colts couldn’t seem to win with him under center. The discussions became overly heated when the team refused to pay the former MVP what he thought he deserved. Less than one hour before the start of the 1982 draft, the Colts sent him to the Los Angeles Rams for a 1st round (4th overall) and a 2nd round pick.

bert jones

Jones went 1-3 with the Rams before suffering a career-ending neck injury. Remarkably, he still had a higher victory total than the person taken with the draft pick given up to get him. In case the math isn’t obvious, the replacement QB never won an NFL game.

Without a starting quarterback because of the trade, the Colts selected Schlichter. Without a legitimate back-up quarterback either, they also selected Mike Pagel with the 84th overall pick. As the fifth quarterback taken in the draft, Pagel went after Schlichter, Jim McMahon (First Team All-America out of BYU and future Super Bowl Champion), Oliver Luck (yeah, Andrew’s dad), and Matt Kofler (a one-year wonder out of San Diego State). The following table summarizes the NFL careers of these five quarterbacks.

  Passing Passer Rushing
Player Pick WAV* Record Yards TD INT Rating Yards TD
Art Schlichter 4 4 0-6 1,006 3 11 42.6 161 1
Jim McMahon 5 57 67-30 18,148 100 90 78.2 1,631 16
Oliver Luck 44 6 3-6 2,544 13 21 64.1 237 1
Matt Kofler 48 3 0-1 1,156 7 11 52.3 159 1
Mike Pagel 84 30 17-36-1 9,414 49 63 63.3 831 4

* Weighted Average Value (WAV) encapsulates a player’s career in one number. The higher the number, the better the player.

As a two-year starter for Arizona State, Pagel didn’t get the same recognition as Schlichter coming out of college. Whereas Pagel never played in a bowl game, Schlichter started in the Gator Bowl, Rose Bowl, Fiesta Bowl and Liberty Bowl. Playing in one fewer game than Schlichter during the 1981 season, Pagel threw for almost as many yards (2,484 vs. 2,551) and connected on 12 more touchdowns (29 vs. 17). Pagel also finished the season with the 5th highest passer efficiency rating (139.4) in the NCAA. In hindsight, perhaps it shouldn’t have been too surprising that Pagel won the Colts’ starting job over Schlichter before their rookie season.

Pagel started all nine games during the strike-shortened 1982 season. In those games, he threw for 1,281 yards with five touchdowns and seven interceptions. Without a seasoned quarterback, the Colts had a league-worst 0-8-1 record. In three games of mop-up duty, Schlichter threw for 197 yards with zero touchdowns and two interceptions. Neither quarterback performed well, but Pagel’s passer rating of 68.4 far exceeded Schlichter’s rating of 40.0.

Pagel performed better than Schlichter, but that does’t say much.

Unbeknownst to almost everyone, Schlichter was a compulsive gambler who had gotten in deep with the wrong type of guys. Apparently, Schlichter notified the FBI and NFL of his situation because he feared that he’d be asked to fix games. If I were a betting man, I’d put money down that Schlichter had already been told to throw games. However, how could he control the outcome with a clipboard and a mop? Once the NFL found out that Schlichter had bet on football games, the league suspended him. If he had played Major League Baseball, his career would have been over on the spot.

Interestingly, Schlichter’s suspension wasn’t even the most exciting news story prior to the 1983 season. Stealing the headlines, John Elway publicly refused to play for the Colts if taken with their #1 overall pick. Considered the best draft prospect that year, Elway threatened to play professional baseball instead of playing for the dysfunctional Colts. Ultimately, the Colts traded Elway to the Broncos for 1983 #4 overall pick Chris Hinton (a 7x Pro-Bowl guard), a 1st rounder in 1984, and back-up QB Mark Herrmann.

Although hard to believe, this George Plimpton lookalike had an 11-year career in the NFL.
The author of The Paper Lion had as many victories in his career as Schlichter did. Look at his jersey if you’re stumped.

Since most of you probably don’t know George Plimpton from the prior reference, the following picture might help

plimpton gwh
Fans of Good Will Hunting should remember Plimpton’s character discussing “putting from the ruff” in following clip.

During Schlichter’s yearlong suspension, the Colts went 7-9 in the 1983 season. With six more starts than in the prior season, Pagel finished with 2,353 passing yards, 12 touchdowns and 17 interceptions. Even though the team did much better than it did in 1982, Pagel apparently didn’t do enough to avoid a quarterback controversy once the league reinstated Schlichter after the season.

The Colts began the 1984 season with a new home in Indianapolis, but the change of scenery didn’t help them change their losing ways. Throughout the year, Colts’ head coach Frank Kush started three different quarterbacks (Pagel, Schlichter and Herrmann) with limited success. Pagel proved to be the most productive, but again didn’t perform well enough to end the quarterback debate.

1984 Summary Stats – Indianapolis Colts QBs
Player Age Record Comp Att Comp % Yards TD INT Passer Rating
Mike Pagel 24 3-6 114 212 53.8% 1,426 8 8 71.8
Art Schlichter 24 0-5 62 140 44.3% 702 3 7 46.2
Mark Hermann 25 1-1 29 56 51.8% 352 1 6 37.8

Somehow, Schlichter earned the starting job for the 1985 season despite never showing that he could play football in the NFL. In the first game that year (a 45-3 loss to the Steelers), he sprained his knee after going 12-25 for 125 yards with zero touchdowns and two interceptions. Based on that performance, Schlichter stayed on the bench even after recovering from the injury. In fact, he never played another game for the Colts because they released him mid-season after finding out that his gambling problem returned. Actually, it turns out that the problem never left.

Despite trying catch on with two other teams, Schlichter never played another down in the league. He signed a contract with the Bills in 1986, but they cut him before training camp after signing Jim Kelly. He tried to sign a contract with the Bengals in 1988 but Commissioner Pete Rozelle refused to reinstate him from another gambling suspension. Given that the NFL was no longer an option, Schlichter reached out to football teams in other leagues.

Art Schlichter – Post NFL Career

Needing money to support his habit, Schlichter signed with the Ottawa Rough Riders of the Canadian Football League for the 1988 season. After five games, during which he threw for 658 yards with three touchdowns and seven interceptions, Schlichter got injured. As soon as he got better, the Rough Riders released him. The team claimed that it based its decision on Schlichter’s poor performance. However, he claimed that they wanted him to play hurt. Regardless, his stint in the CFL was even shorter than his time in the NFL.

Not ready to call it quits, Schlichter went on to play in the Arena League from 1990-92. For the the first time in ten years, he experienced success on the football field. Playing two seasons for the Detroit Drive, he won a regular-season MVP award and went to two Arena Bowls (winning one along with the game’s MVP award). In the middle of his third season in the league (his first with the Cincinnati Rockers), his football career ended for good after getting arrested for writing bad checks and admitting to a gambling relapse. Regardless of his success in the Arena League, Schlichter was a complete failure in the NFL.

Jim McMahon vs. Art Schlichter – Who Ya Got?

Similar to Art Schlichter, Jim McMahon (who went one pick after Schlitchter) had an accomplished college career. As support, the following table summarizes McMahon’s junior and senior seasons at Brigham Young University.

Year Comp Att Comp % Yards TD INT Efficiency Rating
1980 284 445 63.8% 4,571 47 18 176.9
1981 272 423 64.3% 3,555 30 7 155.0
Totals 653 1,060 61.6% 9.536 84 34 156.9


Without forcing you to go back and forth with the table showing Schlichter’s college stats, I can state unequivocally that McMahon’s numbers were much better. Whereas Schlichter finished in the top 10 in certain offensive categories, McMahon led the country in those same categories. For instance, McMahon led the NCAA in total touchdowns in 1980 and in passing efficiency in 1980 and 1981. With more impressive numbers, McMahon finished ahead of Schlichter in the Heisman voting in 1980 and 1981. Additionally, the future Chicago Bear won both the Davey O’Brien Award and Sammy Baugh Trophy as the NCAAs Most Outstanding Quarterback and Passer.

With respect to intangibles, McMahon led BYU to a 46-45 victory against SMU in the 1980 Holiday Bowl after being down by 20 points with 2:33 to go. To complete the miraculous comeback, McMahon connected on a Hail Mary pass as time expired.

Jim McMahon – Hail Mary
Based on the catch, it’s no wonder why this game is referred to as the “Miracle Bowl.”  Do you like the black & white photo?  Well, that’s all that existed in papers prior to USA Today.

With the strongest pedigree of any quarterback in the 1982 Draft, McMahon deserved to be the first quarterback selected that year. However, Schlichter got that distinction instead. When compared to McMahon (who won a Super Bowl as well as 70% of his starts), Schlichter seems to be even more bust-worthy.

Like several other Top 10 Busts, Schlichter proved to be an even bigger bust as a person than as a football player. As a compulsive gambler who lacked the income to support his habit, he stole money from whomever he could. He became an elaborate conman who scammed family, friends and strangers alike. Despite numerous chances to right himself, Schlichter apparently never hit rock bottom. It didn’t matter to him that he lost his job, his family, or even his freedom.

ART schlichter PRISONER
What’s the over/under for Schlichter’s career total for years in prison? My guess – 18.

From 1995 to 2006, Schlichter was in some form of jail or prison for 10 out of 12 years. He avoided trouble for five years but his luck ran out in 2011 when he was incarcerated for fraud. As of November 2014, Schlichter still has seven more years in federal prison from that charge.

Going forward, Schlichter will continue to fade into the background as more recent top draft picks become busts. Regardless, I hope this site will provide the long-lasting recognition that he deserves as a Top 10 Bust.