Biggest NFL Draft Busts: Ranking the 10 Worst Picks Ever Made in NFL History

    Not every top draft pick pans out the way teams hope. Here are 10 of the biggest busts in the history of the NFL Draft.

    Biggest NFL Draft Busts: Ranking the 10 Worst Picks Ever Made in NFL History

    The history of the NFL Draft is filled with a mix of phenomenal picks and spectacular failures. Nowadays, the term “bust” is often thrown around a little too haphazardly. But these 10 players were some of the worst picks in NFL Draft history — they earned their spot in the top 10 biggest busts of all time.

    Top 10 Biggest NFL Draft Busts of All Time | 10-2

    10) Zach Wilson Wilson, QB, New York Jets (2021 – No. 2 overall pick)

    I know what you’re thinking. He’s been in the NFL for two years. Isn’t this a bit premature? No. No, it isn’t.

    Through two seasons, Wilson has started 22 games. In an era where every decent quarterback is well over 60%, he has a 55.2% completion percentage. Wilson has thrown three more interceptions (18) than touchdowns (15). And in his sophomore campaign, he was, at one point, benched for gadget quarterback Chris Streveler.

    9) Ki-Jana Carter, RB, Cincinnati Bengals (1995 – No. 1 overall pick)

    Firmly as a member of the modern NFL fan and analyst, I experience physical pain at the notion of a running back going anywhere near the top of the first round, let alone first overall. But the 1990s were a different era where running backs had way more value.

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    Even in an era where rookies were treated with more kid gloves than they are now, there’s no excuse for Ki-Jana Carter only being able to command 91 carries in Year 1.

    Despite lasting in the NFL for eight years, Carter’s entire career essentially amounted to one very good season. He totaled 319 carries for 1,144 yards and 20 touchdowns in seven seasons, cementing Carter as one of the biggest draft busts of all time.

    8) Tony Mandarich, OT, Green Bay Packers (1989 – No. 2 overall pick)

    There are two positions where a team should never be criticized for taking a shot: quarterback and offensive line. But that doesn’t mean a guy like Tony Mandarich is immune to bust lists, given how his career panned out.

    The hype surrounding Mandarich was real. I can only imagine what social media would’ve been like if it existed back then. The guy was nicknamed “The Incredible Bulk,” which is one of the greatest nicknames of all time. Sadly, Mandarich failed to live up to the name.

    Once considered by Sports Illustrated the greatest offensive line prospect ever, Mandarich was bounced out of the league after just three seasons. He did try and mount a comeback five years later at age 30, but it went just as poorly as the first run. He lasted another three years before retiring for good.

    7) Charles Rogers, WR, Detroit Lions (2003 – No. 2 overall pick)

    I remember Charles Rogers quite fondly. 2003 was the first year I played fantasy football. It was a time when sleepers actually existed. To be fair, the second-overall pick wasn’t exactly sleeping on anyone. Well, except, apparently, the Lions.

    There have been dozens of first-round wide receivers that disappointed. There have been seldom few who failed as spectacularly as Rogers.

    He played just three professional seasons, totaling a mere 15 games. In those games, he caught an unfathomably low 36 of 84 targets for 440 yards and four touchdowns.

    To make matters worse, with the very next pick, the Houston Texans selected Andre Johnson, one of the best receivers of the 2000s. Johnson went on to have a borderline Hall of Fame career. Rogers finds his name in the history books for a very different reason.

    6) Justin Blackmon, WR, Jacksonville Jaguars (2012 – No. 5 overall pick)

    Nine years after Rogers, the Jaguars selected a wide receiver similarly touted with a near-identical career path.

    Justin Blackmon was the next big thing. As the heir to Dez Bryant at Oklahoma State, Blackmon was dubbed the next Dez Bryant. He was a lock to achieve stardom at the NFL level … until he wasn’t.

    Blackmon actually had a strong rookie season, catching 64 passes for 865 yards and five touchdowns. By all accounts, he was going to live up to the hype. Unfortunately, his career was derailed by things that had nothing to do with football.

    Before his rookie year even started, Blackmon was arrested for a DUI. After a clean rookie year, Blackmon’s off-the-field issues resurfaced in 2013. First, he earned himself a four-game suspension for violating the NFL’s substance abuse policy. Then, he got hurt. Finally, a few weeks after returning, during the team’s bye week, he again violated the substance abuse policy.

    Ahead of the 2014 season, Blackmon had more run-ins with the law. In 2015, he was denied reinstatement by the NFL, effectively ending his career.

    5) Vernon Gholston, DE, New York Jets (2008 – No. 6 overall pick)

    2008 was quite the year for fans of the New York Jets. There was so much hype surrounding this team. Brett Favre unretired to join the franchise. And Vernon Gholston was going to be the anchor of their defensive line for the next decade. Unfortunately, things didn’t work out so well for this colossal NFL Draft bust.

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    Gholston played three years for the Jets, amassing 42 tackles and just a single QB hit. He did not record a sack in his 45 games played. Gholston was out of the league after the 2010 season at just 24 years old.

    4) Akili Smith, QB, Cincinnati Bengals (1999 – No. 3 overall pick)

    Before we get to Akili Smith, I want to give an honorable mention to this year’s No. 1 overall pick, Tim Couch. He narrowly missed this list solely because he was at least below average over five NFL seasons. The same cannot be said about Smith.

    Smith was a true prodigy — an athlete unlike we had really ever seen at the time at the quarterback positon. It just never clicked for him at the NFL level.

    Smith played just four seasons in the NFL. He started 17 games, winning just three, with five touchdowns and 13 interceptions. In his career, he completed 46.6% of his passes.

    What makes Smith’s career look even worse is the success of the remainder of the top 10 in the 1999 class. Two of those players have been inducted into the Hall of Fame, while another five made the Pro Bowl at least once in their careers. Essentially, it was difficult to miss in the first round of the 1999 NFL Draft. But the Bengals found one of the two busts in Smith.

    3) Trent Richardson, RB, Cleveland Browns (2012 – No. 3 overall pick)

    You can make an argument for Trent Richardson at No. 1 simply because he managed to be a first-round bust twice.

    It was bad enough the Browns spent the third overall pick on one of the worst running backs to ever play in the NFL. It’s even worse that they traded up to take him. But it was downright inexcusable for the Colts to see on-field proof that Richardson could not play at the NFL level, and then send the Browns a first-round pick for him.

    The former Alabama RB ran for a mere 950 rushing yards on 267 attempts. He likely fooled the Colts by scoring 11 rushing touchdowns. Somehow, despite being woefully inefficient, he was voted 73rd on the NFL Top 100 list.

    Two games into his sophomore season, the Browns had enough. After just 105 yards on 31 carries, the Browns stole the Colts’ 2014 first-round pick. In a true “pay-it-forward” but in the worst way possible scenario, the Browns wound up using that pick in a package to trade up for Johnny Manziel. It seems that pick was destined to bust.

    With the Colts, T-Rich played 29 games. He finished with 977 rushing yards on 316 attempts. His career ended with 2,032 rushing yards on 614 attempts at an average of 3.3 yards per attempt. Given he had two NFL Draft first-round picks spent on him in three years, it is difficult to imagine two busts worse than him. But…

    2) Ryan Leaf, QB, Los Angeles Chargers (1998 – No. 2 overall pick)

    At the time, there was at least a reasonable debate over whether Ryan Leaf or Peyton Manning should go No. 1 overall in the 1998 NFL Draft. Similar to the more modern Andrew Luck vs. Robert Griffin III debate, it wasn’t a real one — everyone knew who was going first. But it was at least a point of discussion.

    In 1998, there was a very, very wrong pick to make. Fortunately, the Colts did not make it. They left the Chargers with no choice but to fail.

    Leaf’s rookie year is arguably the worst in NFL history for a quarterback. And I’m not quite sure anyone will be able to surpass his level of futility. Leaf completed 45.3% of his passes, averaging a mere 128.6 yards per game.

    In 10 starts, Leaf managed to throw just two touchdowns. However, he did manage to throw the ball to the other team an absurd 15 times. One out of every 16.3 passes he threw went to someone not playing for the Chargers.

    Leaf missed the entire 1999 season before returning in 2000 to similar ineffectiveness. The Chargers threw in the towel in 2001.

    Leaf latched on with the Cowboys for one year. They took a shot. It didn’t work. They let him go after the season, and he never played football again.

    Who Is the Worst NFL Draft Bust of All Time?

    1) Jamarcus Russell, QB, Oakland Raiders (2007 – No. 1 overall pick)

    Do you remember the hype around Jamarcus Russell ahead of the 2007 NFL Draft? He wasn’t just an absolute lock to go first overall; he was one of the best quarterback prospects of all time.

    Russell was the next evolution of the quarterback position — a guy poised to revolutionize QB play at the NFL level. Unsurprisingly, the Raiders took him first overall. Unfortunately, the problem started immediately.

    First, Russell missed training camp as a rookie due to a contract dispute. It doesn’t matter how innately talented a player is, you don’t want to miss training camp as a rookie.

    When a quarterback goes first overall, he’s expected to be the immediate starter. Instead, Russell started just a single game as a rookie. He threw twice as many interceptions (4) as touchdowns (2).

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    As a sophomore, Russell threw 13 touchdowns against eight interceptions but completed just 53.8% of his passes.

    In 2009, the bottom truly fell out as Russell’s completion percentage plummeted to 48.8%, and he threw just three touchdowns against 11 interceptions.

    At this point, Russell is most well-known for his vendetta against watching game film. Reportedly, Raiders coaches were so sure Russell never watched film that they gave him blank tapes to watch, and then asked him about them. Russell told them what he saw on film, which, had he actually watched, would’ve been nothing.

    To add insult to insult, immediately after the Raiders took Russell, the Lions took Calvin Johnson, who I have ranked as the second-greatest wide receiver of all time. With the third pick, the Browns took Joe Thomas, who, like Megatron, is also in the Hall of Fame.

    Jason Katz is a fantasy football analyst for Pro Football Network. You can read all of Jason’s work here and follow him on Twitter: @jasonkatz13.

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