If there's one thing the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are not remembered for, it's stellar quarterback play.
Throughout the team's history there have been more duds than studs, but that doesn't mean there hasn't been some absolute gems. Everyone knows about the Bucs humble beginnings in the 70s and 80s, but things didn't really start to pick up for the franchise until the 90s.
That's where we're zeroing in when looking at the best quarterbacks to come through Tampa Bay over the years.
One thing to note with some of the specifics in this is that the stats are for games that a quarterback started, not simply games they appeared in. Stats provided here also only go back to 1990, so any stats a quarterback might have recorded in the 80s aren't included.
There's also essentially two sets of rankings, one with guys who started fewer than 10 games with the Bucs and one with guys who did. That's how this is split up, even though we ranked them all in order, the first batch of guys are just dudes who happened to make some starts.
All of it is important though in understanding the context in which Bucs fans have lived from the start of the 90s to where things ended with Tom Brady coming to town in the 2020s.
Also, if you think we missed something then make sure to let us know. This is a shared experience, we all went through this together and everyone’s opinions are valid.
Ranking every Buccaneers starting quarterback since 1990
Carlson’s only game stated for hte Buccaneers was a 27-0 loss to the Chicago Bears where he threw three interceptions. That pretty much tells you all you need to know.
Another one-hit blunder for the Buccaneers, Zeier played one game in 1999 and it was prettty forgettable. Given what happened that season, you’d think his start would have been after Trent Dilfer’s injury against the Seahawks but it actually came four weeks prior in a 20-3 loss to Detroit.
While he might be best remembered for taking the Atlanta Falcons to the Super Bowl in 1998, Chris Chandler’s stint with the Bucs is very forgettable. He started only six games, losing every single one with a 27-0 game being his final start with the team.
Josh Johnson was the last in a very long string of quarterback projects Jon Gruden started but was never able to finish. He might have been one of the more all around talented candidates but he flamed out hard thanks to joining the team when it was at the end of its 2000s run and the beginning of the Dark Ages of the 2010s.
To his credit, Johnson has miraculously stuck around the league for over a decade, playing as recently as the NFC Championship Game in 2023 after the 49ers lost Brock Purdy to an injury. While you wouldn’t have gotten the impression from his time with the Bucs that he’d have that sort of longevity, it’s a testament to his skill that he’s lasted so long and a guy like Kyle Shanahan wanted him in the quarterback room almost 15 years after he was first drafted.
Before he was a Super Bowl-winning offensive coordinator, Byron Leftwich started three games for the Buccaneers back in 2009. It didn't last long, as he was benched after a Week 3 loss and was yet another failed experiment in Jon Gruden's endless quest to atone for the sin of not drafting Aaron Rodgers back in 2005.
DeBerg was a holdover from the 1980s, but we're going to specifically focus on his brief second stint with the Bucs in the 1990s. After playing four seasons with the Kansas City Chiefs, DeBerg returned to Tampa Bay and ended up starting three games over two seasons.
Not exactly what you’re looking for, then again the Bucs weren’t sure what they were looking for during this period either.
He was abruptly released a few weeks into the 1993 season, but was signed by Miami and ended up playing in eight games during the Atlanta Falcons 1998 run to the Super Bowl.
It took six quarterbacks but we've finally arrived at the first on our list to have actually won a game as a starter. Luke is the lesser-known of the McCown brothers to have spent time with the Bucs, but he won his first-ever start with the team in Week 13 of the 2007 season. That start was carried over from the previous week when he replaced an injured Jeff Garcia.
That win over the Saints was the only one he notched, but it kept the Bucs playoff hopes alive. McCown was at least mildly productive and managed to throw more touchdowns than interceptions.
McCown was the first guy on our list to record a win as a starter, and Tim Rattay is the first to not have a losing record. What a turnaround!
Rattay spent one season with the Bucs back in 2006, but closed out an abysmal season where the team finished 4-12 and at the bottom of the NFC South. His sole win was over an even worse Cleveland Browns team, but it still counts -- even if the fact that Rattay started games for the Bucs highlights how rough the quarterback situation was in the mid-2000s.
The last guy on our list who started fewer than 10 games boasts both the best record and is a perfect encapsulation of the season he played in.
Johnson won a Week 8 game over the Panthers in 2002 -- starting for an injured Brad Johnson -- and a Week 17 game on the road against the Bears. Both of those wins featured absolutely zero touchdowns by Johnson, but only one interception which was enough game management to stay out of the way of that iconic 2002 defense.
This is indicative of the entire run that defense had, dating back to the late 90s where it seemed the offense couldn't muster up enough run support to help fully realize the team's potential.