Ranking All 16 Vikings Starting Quarterbacks Since 1999
By Dan Zinski
Nov 7, 2013; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Minnesota Vikings quarterback Christian Ponder (7) throws during the second quarter against the Washington Redskins at Mall of America Field at H.H.H. Metrodome. Mandatory Credit: Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports
Deadspin released a highly interesting and informative chart on Wednesday showing which NFL teams have used the most starting quarterbacks since 1999. You will not be surprised to learn that the Vikings rank near the top in number of starting QBs used over that arbitrarily-chosen time period. Or near the bottom depending on how you want to look at it.
Most QBs used since 1999? 20 by the Cleveland Browns. If you can name all 20 off the top of your head, you are…a huge Cleveland Browns fan. The Dolphins rank second with 19 starting QBs since 1999, followed by the Bears and Raiders with 17. And then the Vikings with their 16.
Yeah, 16 sounds about right. They’ve used three this year alone. The Vikings are no strangers to the QB carousel as you well know. They also had to use three different starting QBs in 2001. And in 2007. And again in 2010. Their records in those years? 5-11, 8-8, 6-10, 2-8 (so far). Conclusion: not having a set starting QB for the whole season is not conducive to winning. Wow, I am a genius.
It’s probably not that hard for a long-time Viking fan to think of the 16 different guys who’ve started a game at QB for the team since 1999. Ranking those 16 guys is another matter. That one takes some serious pondering. Here’s my stab at it:
1. Daunte Culpepper
This is really not a hard choice. In fact, if you choose anyone else you just haven’t been paying attention for the last 15 years. Yes I know things ended on a sour note with Daunte but that doesn’t overshadow everything he did before then. This dude was a legit top-5 QB during his prime years. The Culpepper-to-Randy Moss hookup was one of the most exciting shows in pro football. It’s too bad the Vikes weren’t able to make a couple legit Super Bowl runs with him at QB. Blame that on cheapskate Red McCombs. If only McCombs had hired a real coach instead of Mike Tice, and spent some dough on defensive talent. Not Culpepper’s fault. Serious bonus points for going into Lambeau in the playoffs and beating the Packers. Speaking of the Packers…
2. Brett Favre
Note: I should point out now that these rankings are based not on overall career but solely on what the players did as starting quarterbacks for the Vikings. So don’t get all outraged that I ranked Culpepper ahead of Favre. Obviously in terms of overall performance, Favre is way above Culpepper.
2010 was a disaster, but 2009 was magic. Yes I know, across-the-body. But Favre was playing brilliantly before that interception. That game turned on fumbles and 12-men-in-the-huddle before Favre had a chance to throw it away. Why am I defending him? I don’t need to defend him. He gave Viking fans their most entertaining season since 1998. Their most legit shot at a Super Bowl since 1998. Of course it ended in heartbreak but if you can’t stand a little heartbreak, don’t be a Vikings fan. My God, Greg Lewis game. How can we forget? Thank you Brett (even if 2010 was a total poopshow).
3. Brad Johnson
Johnson’s 2005 run with the Vikings was so bizarre I still don’t believe it happened. That team looked totally dead in the water after Culpepper blew out his knee. All Johnson did was lead them on a 7-2 run the rest of the way…still not enough to make the playoffs but memorable nonetheless. Things didn’t go quite so well in 2006, Brad Childress’ first year at the helm. Johnson led the team to a 6-8 record, then was benched in favor of Tarvaris Jackson. Tally it up and Johnson went 13-10 as a starter in his second stint with the Vikes.
4. Gus Frerotte
Another guy who had two stints in Minnesota. He went 2-0 in his two starts filling in for Daunte Culpepper in 2003, then memorably went 8-3 in the playoff season of 2008 after taking over for a benched Tarvaris Jackson. Unfortunately Frerotte’s ’08 season ended prematurely with a spinal fracture, leaving Tarvaris Jackson to finish out the season – and get his doors blown off by the Eagles in the playoffs. Frerotte’s single greatest highlight as a Viking was his 99-yard TD pass to Bernard Berrian against the Bears. Poor Peanut Tillman.
5. Jeff George
There’s a theme developing here isn’t there? Numbers 2-5 are all veteran guys who came in for short stints and had success. Jeff George took over for Randall Cunningham in 1999, starting 10 games and winning 8 of them. He threw 23 TDs in those 10 games while passing for 2816 yards. 23 fricking TDs in 10 games! George led the Vikes to a playoff win over the Cowboys, then got shown up by Kurt Warner and the Greatest Show on Turf in the next round. Despite the bad ending to that particular run, fans still have a soft spot in their hearts for George. 23 TDs in 10 games! Ponder only has 37 in his entire three-year career.
6. Christian Ponder
#6 out of 16 doesn’t sound too bad, until you remember this guy was a 12th overall pick who became the starter halfway through his first season. If things had gone right, Ponder would be at least #3 on this list if not #2. #6 behind retread QBs who lasted in some cases only parts of seasons is really an embarrassment for a first round selection. But I can’t justify bumping Ponder up even one more spot. Yeah I know, he had a good four-game stretch last year. But he was out for the playoff game. He will end his career with zero playoff games as a Viking. Unless he somehow catches on with another franchise, becomes a decent journeyman a la Brad Johnson and returns for a Frerotte-like run when he’s 37. Which actually could very well happen.
7. Tarvaris Jackson
I grappled a little bit between Jackson and Ponder. They are so similar as players, it’s really kind of eerie. You could probably do a whole entire long series of posts comparing these two guys’ careers. It boils down to this for me: Jackson has one playoff appearance to Ponder’s zero, but Ponder actually had more to do with the Vikings being in the playoffs last year than Jackson did in 2008. The Vikes in 2008 don’t even make the playoffs if Frerotte doesn’t go 8-2; Ponder started every regular season game in 2012 and was integral to their final-month run, and might have given the Packers a run for the money in the playoffs had he not gotten hurt. Both players benefited greatly in their playoff-run years by having Adrian Peterson on the team. Jackson had a good defense while Ponder had at best an occasionally-adequate one. Advantage Ponder.
I give Ponder the edge overall even though I think Jackson was physically a better player (they are pretty similar in terms of running ability but Jackson threw a better deep ball). Neither one of them can read a defense for crap. Ponder has the edge in toughness (Jackson was a wimp who would tap out after the smallest boo-boo). Jackson gets a serious downgrade because of how badly he played in his one playoff appearance. Also, Jackson gets no credit for his couple of worthy relief appearances. This list is based on starting performance alone. Now if you want to open a whole other can of worms, you can point out that Ponder is a more disappointing player on the whole because of where he was drafted. You can argue that Ponder’s drafting set the franchise back way more than Jackson’s did. Fair…but maybe not entirely relevant to this exercise.
8. Randall Cunningham
Before you get your underwear in a bunch, let me explain: this list is for 1999-2013 only. 1998 doesn’t count. That’s why Cunningham is only #8. Actually, #8 might be a little high given his negligible contribution to the 1999 season. He went only 2-4 that year, and was really awful in those six games he played. That’s why he got benched for Jeff George. Yeah, 1998 was magical and we’ll always love Randall and what he did. But 1999…that was rough.
9. Todd Bouman
Bouman could chuck it around some, no doubt about it. He had great chemistry with Randy Moss too. Looking back, it seems sort of funny how much fans came to love Bouman. There were lots of people who wanted Culpepper run out of town in favor of Bouman (classic case of the #2 QB being the most popular guy on the team). Crazy that we still recall the guy at all given that he started only 3 games with the Vikes, going 1-2. But he threw 8 TDs in those 3 games and still has semi-folk-hero status in Minnesota.
10. Joe Webb
This ranking is based on one game: Tuesday night vs. Philadelphia. The whole legend of Webb is built on that one insane fluky performance under the most bizarre circumstances imaginable. The only other notable aspect of Webb’s starting QB legacy is his atrocious performance in the playoffs against Green Bay. But we know that was Bill Musgrave’s fault for not running more read-option. Sure. They would’ve beaten Green Bay if only Musgrave had known what he was doing. Keep telling yourselves that, Webbheads.
11. Matt Cassel
Cassel is #11? The guys farther down this list must really suck. Yup, they really suck. Cassel at least has a win under his belt. Against the Steelers. In London. He’s a trivia answer forever. And he might not be done starting this season, so look out Joe Webb.
12. Brooks Bollinger
The QB carousel of 2013 is deja vu all over again for those of us who remember 2007. The Vikes used three starters that year too, mostly because Tarvaris Jackson couldn’t stay healthy. T-Jack actually performed decently that year, going 8-4 as a starter – though if you look at his stats you realize that record had more to do with Adrian and the defense than anything T-Jack did. Former Badgers QB Bollinger, one third of the three-headed QB monster, got only one start that year, throwing for 176 yards in a 34-0 loss to the Packers. Yeah, he’s #12. There are four guys worse.
13. Kelly Holcomb
Oh Kelly Holcomb. Brad Childress signed him going into 2007 because he wasn’t sure about Tarvaris Jackson and Brooks Bollinger. Holcomb actually had a decent resume at the time, coming off reasonably successful stints in Cleveland and Buffalo. He was 34 but there was some thought he might be a late bloomer. Didn’t work out in Minnesota though. Holcomb started three games in 2007, losing all of them. His 73.1 QB rating was actually higher than T-Jack’s that year but so what? Being slightly better than Tarvaris Jackson is not an accomplishment.
14. Donovan McNabb
McNabb’s one win as a Viking is more than Brooks Bollinger and Kelly Holcomb combined, yet I have to rank him beneath both of those guys. Maybe it’s just the freshness of the bad memories but in my brain this guy just about epitomizes Viking quarterback suckage. The images are just burned in there forever: Screen passes falling three yards short, McNabb coming off the field panting like he was about to die, McNabb standing on the sidelines with Bernard Berrian looking like he couldn’t give two craps. What makes it more painful is that I actually wanted this guy and was happy when they made the trade. Yeah, I was a moron. So were Leslie Frazier and Rick Spielman. McNabb’s run as a Viking goes down as one of the blackest month-and-a-half periods in franchise history. I wish I could scrub those memories forever.
15. Josh Freeman
Okay this probably isn’t fair. Freeman came in for one start with limited preparation and obvious mechanical issues against a Giants team that was 0-6 at the time but has subsequently shown itself to not be anywhere near as bad as that. So maybe Freeman deserves a break? Sorry but I can’t do it. Freeman was as God-awful as you can possibly be in that one game. Just unspeakable. I truly hope Freeman gets a chance to redeem himself at some point this season, because he seems like a nice kid who is battling hard to get himself right. I don’t want him to go down in history as a worse Vikings quarterback than Donovan McNabb. That would be so sad.
16. Spergon Wynn
Really, there is no other choice. Freeman was terrible against the Giants but there were extenuating circumstances. Spergon Wynn still gets the trophy for worst Vikings starter possibly of all-time. His stats for his two starts late in 2001: 24-59 passing for 200 yards, 1 TD and 5 INTs. QB ratings in those two games: 20.0 and 23.2. Josh Freeman against the Giants at least mustered a 40.6. Hang down your head Spergon Wynn. You sucked worse than Josh Freeman, Donovan McNabb and Kelly Holcomb. Wow. He should get some kind of memorial in Canton.
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