Massive Lions draft bust Joey Harrington easily lands on unfortunate list

Due to the situation he was drafted into in Detroit, Joey Harrington had no chance to succeed in the NFL.
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When a quarterback is taken high in the draft, in almost all cases he's landing with one of the worst teams in the NFL from the previous year. A coaching change is possibly in play, and the overall talent level around the quarterback is usually lacking-sometimes severely.

Some make it through a rough rookie season and have a successful career (Troy Aikman is a headliner, and there are others). For a lot of others, a bad situation never gets better and their NFL career never really gets off the ground.

Joey Harrington falls into the latter category. Coming off finishing fourth in Heisman Trophy voting at Oregon in 2001, the Lions took him third overall in the 2002 draft. He didn't win the starting job out camp, but he stepped in late in Week 1 of his debut season and started 12 of the 14 games he played. His numbers were not good (12 touchdowns, 16 interceptions, 59.9 passer rating).

Head coach Marty Mornhinweg was replaced by Steve Mariucci in 2003. Harrington started all 16 games for the Lions over the next two seasons, throwing a tied for league-high 22 interceptions in 2003, with an 11-21 record. He started 11 games in 2005, while being benched for a stretch in favor of Jeff Garcia.

The Lions traded Harrington to the Dolphins in 2006.

Lions' draft bust Joey Harrington easily lands on unfortunate list

Harrington seemingly didn't have what it took to be a good NFL quarterback, so it probably wouldn't have mattered what team drafted him. But being put into the Lions' situation in 2002, with a general manager (Matt Millen) who didn't know what he was doing (and a roster that reflected it), an overmatched head coach in Mornhinweg and an offensive coordinator in Maurice Carthon who never should have been one, he was set up to fail from the get-go.

So Harrington is a natural entry for Pro Football Network's Dallas Robinson on his list of rookie quarterbacks who were put in impossible situations. There's no dethroning Trevor Lawrence from the No. 1 spot, since he was subjected to the Urban Meyer experience in 2021, but Harrington landed at No. 4 on the list.

"While Joey Harrington might’ve been a bust regardless of where he landed, the Detroit Lions certainly didn’t help the Oregon product’s case."

"Az-Zahir Hakim was stretched as Detroit’s top wideouts, while other pass catchers like WR Bill Schroeder and TE Mikhael Ricks were nearing the end of their NFL runs. Running James Stewart eclipsed 1,000 yards on the ground but ranked just 33rd in rushing success rate. The Lions’ offensive line was a problem for the entire of Harrington’s tenure."

"Meanwhile, Detroit’s coaching situation was malpractice. Offensive coordinator Maurice Carthon’s units finished 29th or worse in scoring in four of his six seasons calling plays. Offensive-minded head coach Marty Mornhinweg’s .156 winning percentage is tied for third-worst in NFL history (min. 30 games)."

Harrington started 11 games for the Dolphins in 2006, after Daunte Culpepper was injured. He started 10 games for the Atlanta Falcons in 2007, after Michael Vick was suspended for his role in a dog fighting operation.

Harrington was on and off the New Orleans Saints' roster in 2008 and in the 2009 offseason, before being cut just before the season started and his career was over without playing another snap.

That Harrington started 76 games over six NFL seasons, and at least 10 in each season for that matter, feels like a typo. His 58 games and 55 starts under center for the Lions still rank fairly highly (too highly) in franchise history.

It's hard to truly wonder "what might have been" if Harrington had landed in a better situation to start his career. He mostly just stands as an example of how the situation a quarterback is drafted into matters a lot, and when there's incompetence/inability to fix it all around him, failure naturally follows.


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