The 2023 NFL Draft is quickly approaching, and the excitement is building for the three-day event. Fans and pundits are in bliss as this year’s rookie class finds out where they’ll begin their careers. But every team has a slew of bad picks they’d love to have back and get another chance.
Sometimes a pick doesn’t work out due to poor scheme or culture fit, and a player does well elsewhere. Other times, it’s about reaching for an individual over another and seeing the other player blossom while their own pick flounders. Rarely are any two situations the exact same, and it’s easy to second-guess with hindsight.
We’ve found the worst first-round draft pick for every team — along with the runner-up — since the 2000 draft class. Even the best franchises miss because the draft is a gamble, and football isn’t easy to project.
Worst First-Round Picks Since 2000
Arizona Cardinals: Wendell Bryant (2003)
The Cardinals have struggled to draft in the last decade, so it was difficult to choose who their worst pick was. Josh Rosen was traded just one year into his career, but at least the Cardinals were able to get a second-round pick back.
But Arizona’s second first-round pick in 2002 takes the cake after playing just three seasons. Wendell Bryant produced only 44 tackles over three seasons and was then suspended for his fourth and final season for violating the league’s substance abuse policy. He tried getting back into the league but never earned more than a tryout.
Robert Nkemdiche had injury and character concerns, falling to the end of the first round. He produced just 4.5 sacks for Arizona and was drafted before Chiefs defensive tackle Chris Jones and Dolphins cornerback Xavien Howard. Nkemdiche flamed out despite being an intriguing prospect in college.
Runner-up: Robert Nkemdiche (2016)
Atlanta Falcons: Peria Jerry (2009)
Atlanta’s track record of early-round picks is impressively strong. They haven’t completely whiffed on a first-round pick to the point where the player was worthless and out of the league before the end of their first contract. They’re one of the very few teams capable of claiming that.
Their search for a primary pass rusher has been rough, though. 2009 first-rounder Peria Jerry barely played through his first four seasons, totaling just 64 tackles before his career-best season in 2013. Jerry was 25 as a rookie but was nowhere near ready to help a team making a playoff push.
Takkarist McKinley, who produced 13 sacks by his third season, flamed out quickly despite the solid start to his career. He wasn’t a bad pick in comparison to many others’ busts.
Runner-up: Takkarist McKinley (2017)
Baltimore Ravens: Kyle Boller (2003)
Even as one of the most successful franchises over the last decade, the Ravens had several big whiffs. There’s no bigger miss than when a quarterback flames out. Kyle Boller completed only 56.9% of his passes in Baltimore over five seasons, producing only one more touchdown than interceptions in that time.
He was truly awful and was one of the worst first-round QBs taken in NFL history.
The Ravens, until they signed Odell Beckham Jr., still lacked a true superstar receiving threat for far too long. Tyler Lockett and Stefon Diggs were drafted far after Perriman and have been much better playmakers. Imagine Lamar Jackson with one of those big-play pass catchers.
Runner-up: Breshad Perriman (2015)
Buffalo Bills: EJ Manuel (2013)
One of the more shocking moments of the NFL Draft over the last decade was hearing EJ Manuel’s name called in the first round. Scouts and media members alike were far from impressed with Manuel’s lack of arm talent and polish while at the 2013 Senior Bowl, let alone middling film work. The Bills quickly found out what others had known about his talent level.
Manuel started 10 games as a rookie and just eight more over the course of four seasons. They had seen enough to essentially give up on him after his first 10 games, where he completed 58 percent of his passes for a measly 1,972 yards, 11 touchdowns, and nine interceptions. He’s one of the biggest whiffs of the last two decades.
Runner-up: J.P. Losman (2004)
Carolina Panthers: Rashard Anderson (2000)
Carolina benefitted from having the same regime in place for much of the last decade, and they did relatively well with their early picks. Many produced at least one quality season, even if guys like Devin Funchess and Kelvin Benjamin failed to be stars. There was one clear big miss on their résumé with Rashard Anderson.
Anderson was just the seventh first-round pick in franchise history, but he made zero impact. He played in 27 games, totaling 75 tackles and one interception. He was suspended for two seasons for repeated violations of the league’s substance abuse policy, effectively ending his career.
Despite having quality defensive tackle depth and the overall value of the position being low, the Panthers spent a first-rounder on Vernon Butler. His tape was never too impressive, but his Combine numbers tricked teams into thinking he could be more than a gap-eater. He simply wasn’t someone who moved the needle.
Runner-up: Vernon Butler (2016)
Chicago Bears: Mitchell Trubisky (2017)
Few teams have a worse résumé of drafting over the last 22 years than the Bears. The little success the franchise has enjoyed over that span was often in spite of missing on their most valuable picks. They had a particularly damaging stretch from 2008 through 2012 where they missed on their 2008 (Chris Williams), 2011 (Gabe Carimi), and 2012 (Shea McClellin) picks, and traded their 2009 and 2010 selections for Jay Cutler.
The easy choice here is Mitch Trubisky. Relegated to a backup in Pittsburgh, Trubisky was clearly behind Deshaun Watson and Patrick Mahomes on film. The cherry on top was the Bears trading up to select the one-year wonder who struggled under pressure instead.
Runner-up: Kevin White (2016)
Cincinnati Bengals: John Ross (2017)
One of the most loaded classes in recent years was the 2017 group. The Bengals were justified in believing they needed a big-time speed option, but John Ross was a massive disappointment almost immediately. The blend of not fitting in with two coaching staffs and lack of on-field consistency cost him an extended tenure and a real impact in Cincinnati.
Ross was also drafted before Mahomes, Watson, Marshon Lattimore, Marlon Humphrey, and T.J. Watt, among many others. The Bengals are great now, but missing on Ross hurt.
There are several other notable misses for the Bengals over the last 22 years, with Chris Perry, Peter Warrick, Cedric Ogbuehi, and Dre Kirkpatrick landing somewhere on the bust spectrum. However, David Pollack played just two seasons before retiring after an awful neck injury that included six broken cervical vertebrae. It’s no one’s fault Pollack was injured, but in terms of production, the selection didn’t work out.
Runner-up: David Pollack (2005)
Cleveland Browns: Johnny Manziel (2014)
Trying to pick between these two selections for the Browns was almost impossible. Phil Taylor (2011), Trent Richardson and Brandon Weeden (2012), Barkevious Mingo (2013), Danny Shelton and Cameron Erving (2015), and Corey Coleman (2016) would almost be easy choices for half the league but are merely write-in candidates for the Browns. Thankfully, the franchise has moved past these blunders.
Manziel was a known problem child by NFL executives and was a massive headache to deal with. Outside of a brief exciting moment, Manziel was a sideshow for the Browns for just two seasons before being released and exiled from the league. He was also released from the Montreal Alouettes and “barred” from signing with other CFL teams after a brief stint brought more trouble.
Runner-up: Justin Gilbert (2014)
Dallas Cowboys: Bruce Carter (2011)
There are plenty of picks the Cowboys have mishandled over the years, but this franchise has made its money in the early rounds of the draft. Their first-round picks are rarely disappointments, and they’ve built solid depth on Day 2. The eyesore pick on their résumé goes all the way back to 2011.
Carter had a lot of hype leading up to the draft as the next-big pass rusher. His speed was impressive, but he lacked the strength and physicality to win off the edge consistently. He had just five sacks in eight years with four teams as a linebacker.
Runner-up: Taco Charlton (2017)
Denver Broncos: Paxton Lynch (2016)
Missevaluating a quarterback is especially costly in the NFL due to guaranteed rookie deals and the time it takes to develop the position. The Broncos didn’t need much time to figure out Lynch didn’t have the mental makeup to be a star, though, with the former Memphis gunslinger being done after only 128 passes in two seasons.
No one else even rolled the dice on the athletic passer after his short stint, and he’s been bouncing around the various spring leagues that have popped up. He was even on the inactive list on gameday for the Orlando Guardians, reaching the lowest point of his professional career. Lynch notably “failed to take the reins” of Denver’s offense but was never able to piece together his physical gifts into one complete package.
Runner-up: Shane Ray (2015)
Detroit Lions: Charles Rogers (2003)
The Lions have been surprisingly adequate at avoiding outright busts considering their on-field struggles. Their issue since the early 2010s has been getting stars outside of Calvin Johnson, Matthew Stafford, and Ndamukong Suh. However, there were several tragic tales before that.
Both the two biggest first-round Lions busts had personal and professional tragedies affect the outcome of their career. Charles Rogers and Jahvid Best were incredibly explosive talents who were worth their investments in terms of ability. Unfortunately, Rogers played only two seasons in Detroit before an addiction to pain pills derailed his career, and Best retired after two years due to multiple concussions.
Joey Harrington certainly could earn a nod here as well. He had only one year in six career seasons with more touchdowns than interceptions. Detroit gave him almost four full seasons before cutting bait.
Runner-up: Jahvid Best (2010)
Green Bay Packers: Justin Harrell (2007)
Green Bay has been one of the model franchises when it comes to accumulating depth and quality alike through the draft. They don’t spend often in free agency, and it’s an issue potentially holding them back, but they can’t be knocked often for draft misses. Most of their misses are easily explainable.
However, the two glaring immediate misses from the last 22 years are Justin Harrell and Jamal Reynolds. The two combined for 45 tackles across six seasons played. It’s hard to find any team that saw such a poor return from any two first-round picks within the same timeframe since these two simply never saw the field.
Runner-up: Jamal Reynolds (2001)
Houston Texans: David Carr (2002)
The Texans haven’t had a ton of early draft picks due to trades, but the previous regime under GM Rick Smith consistently drafted well enough. Guys like Jadeveon Clowney, Kevin Johnson, and Will Fuller didn’t fulfill their potential but were productive and solid when on the field. Injuries robbed each of them of impact, and Houston couldn’t have accounted for that with each.
We have to go all the way back to their beginning years to find two full-fledged busts. David Carr might’ve had a chance if the Texans didn’t surround him with a legendarily bad offensive line, but instead, he finished his career in Houston after five years, throwing 59 touchdowns and 65 interceptions. It’s especially tough to see that Houston passed on Julius Peppers and Dwight Freeney as franchise building blocks.
Defensive tackles Travis Johnson and Amobi Okoye are close to each other for second place despite each being somewhat serviceable, even if not massive difference-makers.
Runner-up: Travis Johnson (2005)
Indianapolis Colts: Bjoern Werner (2013)
The Colts had a near-unbeatable stretch of first-round drafting that began with Marshall Faulk in 1994 and went through 2003. Their hits were fantastic, but their misses were quite painful. After trading their 2014, 2019, 2020, and 2022 firsts, though, we’re parsing through some great picks for misses.
The most glaring missed pick was former Florida State edge rusher Bjoern Werner. Stiff and relatively unathletic, Werner relied on pure strength to win against smaller blockers in college. That strategy utterly failed in the NFL, and he was gone just three years later. Xavier Rhodes, DeAndre Hopkins, and Darius Slay highlighted some of the following selections.
Second place was a close call between Phillip Dorsett and Anthony Gonzalez. Dorsett was out of Indianapolis after only two years due to poor play, whereas Gonzalez enjoyed a promising first two seasons before injuries limited him to 11 games between 2009-2011.
Runner-up: Phillip Dorsett (2015)
Jacksonville Jaguars: Blaine Gabbert (2011)
Like the Bills, the Jaguars’ two worst first-round picks were quarterbacks. While they were justified in addressing the position, they passed on multiple Hall of Fame-level contributors to reach for two well-below-average quarterbacks. Neither had especially good physical traits or accuracy.
J.J. Watt, Cameron Jordan, and Andy Dalton went shortly after Gabbert. Khalil Mack, Mike Evans, Aaron Donald, and Odell Beckham heard their names called after Bortles. Imagine what the Jags could’ve been with one of these stars instead of taking a terrible quarterback.
Runner-up: Blake Bortles (2014)
Kansas City Chiefs: Jonathan Baldwin (2011)
Winning a Super Bowl and competing year in and year out requires strong drafting over an extended period of time. The Chiefs have consistently found quality players despite missing the occasional first-round pick. Their biggest misses were far and away the lone early picks who didn’t offer any impact at all in their time with the franchise.
Jonathan Baldwin caught only 41 passes for 579 yards and two scores before being dealt to San Francisco. He was lumbering and slow, unable to create any separation. It’s amazing they were able to get anything for him in a trade.
Runner-up: Ryan Sims (2002)
Las Vegas Raiders: Damon Arnette (2020)
Las Vegas was a disaster under Mike Mayock and Jon Gruden. Their picks show a complete misunderstanding of value relative to the rest of the league. They valued old-school players with premium picks instead of high-impact talent.
And yet, trying to pick their worst selections of the last 22 years is similar to Cleveland’s atrocious run. Of their last 25 first-round picks, 16 could be considered an outright bust. Their most recent run since 2013 has given the team very little help.
In terms of production returned, no two players were less productive than Damon Arnette and Alex Leatherwood. Arnette was released after playing in only 13 games after he made a death threat in a video. Leatherwood was traded after one season to Chicago.
Runner-up: Alex Leatherwood (2021)
Los Angeles Chargers: Craig Davis (2007)
Injuries aside, the Chargers are arguably one of the strongest first-round drafting teams of the last two decades. The franchise has been snake bitten by the injury bug, though, costing wins and careers along the way. A rough three-year stretch from 2007 through 2009 helped give us an answer.
Former LSU wide receiver Craig Davis had only 588 yards in four years, missing the vast majority of his career with injuries or not pushing into the rotation. There’s not even a clear challenger to Davis despite flameouts from Larry English, Antoine Cason, and Jerry Tillery.
Runner-up: Larry English (2009)
Los Angeles Rams: Greg Robinson (2014)
The 2014 class was a legendary group of stars, but the top of the class was hilariously mishandled in retrospect. The Rams landed the best player in Aaron Donald, but their earlier first-round pick was one of the biggest busts.
Robinson was a dominant run blocker at Auburn with great athleticism for his size. But his lack of technique in pass protection doomed him as the league transitioned to a pass-happy attack. Robinson is still around as a depth piece, but the Rams would’ve rather had one of the numerous All-Pros taken after him.
There were a deep host of candidates for runner-up, including 2000’s Trung Canidate and 2013’s Tavon Austin, but Jason Smith at No. 2 was another example of a missed opportunity to add a Pro Bowl talent with a premium asset.
Runner-up: Jason Smith (2009)
Miami Dolphins: Dion Jordan (2013)
The 2013 class was bad for half the league, but Miami’s trade-up for Jordan was one of the more egregious misses. Jordan flamed out of Miami after two lackluster years, a season-long suspension, and a knee injury. It also hurts he was picked right before Lane Johnson and Ezekiel Ansah.
MORE: 2023 NFL Draft Big Board
Miami has a few other candidates for second place, but Charles Harris stands out after producing only 3.5 sacks over three seasons. Harris relied on his ability to time the snap to beat blockers off the line, but his lack of high-end traits was immediately exposed in the NFL.
Runner-up: Charles Harris (2017)
Minnesota Vikings: Christian Ponder (2011)
The Vikings enjoyed a generally solid run of drafts from 2001 through 2014 before entering a tougher stretch since 2015. They find high-floor players and occasionally have hit real stars. But like most teams, their busts have shown their colors quickly.
Easily their two worst picks were Christian Ponder in 2011 and Laquon Treadwell in 2016. Neither lasted long as starters despite their billing and résumés. Ponder had a noodle arm and barely had more touchdowns (38) than interceptions (36) over his four-year career. Like Manuel, it was stunning to hear his name called so early after seeing his physical limitations in college.
Runner-up: Laquon Treadwell (2016)
New England Patriots: N’Keal Harry (2019)
Even the best coach of all time has a plethora of questionable picks to choose from for this exercise. New England’s dominance was largely due to Tom Brady’s ability to lift playmakers around him and Belichick’s elite defensive mind. I’d argue their first-round picks from 2014 through 2019 were busts, with Isaiah Wynn being the closest to a hit.
Harry has been the worst, though, because of who was taken after him. Brady might still be a Patriot if DK Metcalf was the selection. Harry was dealt to Chicago for a conditional late-round pick and failed to make an impact on another awful depth chart.
Runner-up: Dominique Easley (2014)
New Orleans Saints: Johnathan Sullivan (2003)
More recently known for their current cap situation and strange infatuation with Taysom Hill, the Saints built their foundation in the draft over the last two decades. This roster has continued to be filled with quality on both sides of the ball because they generally hit on a few picks each year. We had to go way back to find two clear first-round busts.
Despite being productive and a good athlete for his size, Johnathan Sullivan contributed only 1.5 sacks and 78 tackles over three seasons before being released. They traded the 17th and 18th overall picks for the sixth pick in order to land Sullvan. He immediately struggled with his weight in the NFL, ballooning to 350 pounds after weighing 313 at the Combine.
Instead, they could’ve taken Troy Polamalu, Terrell Suggs, or Kevin Williams.
Runner-up: Stephone Anthony (2015)
New York Giants: Deandre Baker (2019)
In general, the New York Giants’ drafts have brought back either a solid player or a non-contributor over the last 22 years.
The worst two picks by the franchise were significant misses, even considering their track record. Baker played poorly as a rookie due to limited athleticism, had off-field issues, and then had a gruesome non-contact knee injury. He was the first player drafted in the top 64 released from his class.
The Giants’ 2012 first-rounder, David Wilson, ran for only 504 yards in two years with the team before injuries sunk his career. He was taken before Mitchell Schwartz, Janoris Jenkins, and Alshon Jeffrey.
Runner-up: David Wilson (2012)
New York Jets: Vernon Gholston (2008)
If there was a Mount Rushmore of awful picks from the last 22 years, New York Jets’ 2006 first-rounder Vernon Gholston would certainly be on it. The former Buckeye seemed like an awesome prospect with his 6’4″, 258-pound frame and great explosiveness. Instead of being a franchise cornerpiece, he produced zero sacks in three seasons and is an all-time draft bust.
Meanwhile, Dee Milliner enjoyed one quality season before injuries took away the explosiveness needed to be effective. It was a tough blow to Rex Ryan’s defense, which badly needed a shutdown corner. He played just 21 games over three years, helping him edge out other bad picks like Sam Darnold, Calvin Pryor, and Darron Lee.
Runner-up: Dee Milliner (2013)
Philadelphia Eagles: Danny Watkins (2011)
One reason scouts look for players who love the game of football with vigor is the story of Danny Watkins. The 27-year-old rookie had phenomenal film in college and should’ve dominated with his fantastic athleticism. But the talented athlete knew he was meant to be a firefighter, and his lack of desire to be an NFL star led to a short-lived NFL stint.
Marcus Smith is the other eye-popping poor pick over the last two decades for the Eagles. Smith was a speed rusher who didn’t have another move in his arsenal. He produced 6.5 sacks over five years with three teams.
Runner-up: Marcus Smith (2014)
Pittsburgh Steelers: Jarvis Jones (2013)
The 2013 class was one of the worst in recent memory, and the Steelers were another team to fall victim to over-drafting a bad player. Jarvis Jones was a stiff, linear edge rusher who never had a chance at being more than a rotational piece in the NFL. His production at Georgia clearly came from physicality and scheme, yet the Steelers still selected him 17th overall over Kyle Long, Desmond Trufant, and Xavier Rhodes.
The Steelers switched their strategy to get more athletic players shortly after the Jones debacle, but their 2019 pick of Devin Bush overcorrected. Bush has posted a few decent tackle totals, including his rookie total of 109, but doesn’t impact the game at all.
Runner-up: Devin Bush (2019)
San Francisco 49ers: Solomon Thomas (2017)
Like the Bears, the 49ers will forever regret passing on Mahomes in the 2017 class. At least the Bears identified the correct position to address, but the 49ers rolled the dice on a raw pass rusher. Solomon Thomas has been a massive disappointment as the former third overall pick, totaling just 155 tackles and 10 sacks in six years.
We have to go back to 2012 to find the next huge miss from San Francisco with A.J. Jenkins. The former Illinois receiver lasted only one year after being targeted just once with the franchise before being dealt to Kansas City. He’s the second-least productive first-round pick of the entire decade, making him an easy choice for one of the worst picks since 2000.
Runner-up: A.J. Jenkins (2012)
Seattle Seahawks: Aaron Curry (2009)
The last two decades have been good to Seattle fans, but that doesn’t mean they’ve grown to expect home runs on draft day. From 2004 through 2012, the team hit on Earl Thomas and Russell Okung but also missed on Aaron Curry, James Carpenter, Kelly Jennings, and Lawrence Jackson. The picks were either great or unable to help at all.
Curry is an all-time draft bust. Like Vernon Gholston, Curry had the tools to be great but mentally never seemed to string his gifts together to produce like it. Taking him fourth overall over future Pro Bowlers will always sting.
Runner-up: L.J. Collier (2019)
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Gaines Adams (2007)
One of the better-drafting franchises over the last two decades, the Buccaneers have swung big and often find success. However, those big swings haven’t always paid off. Most notably since 2000, missing on Gaines Adams, Josh Freeman, Vernon Hargreaves, and O.J. Howard has been somewhat surprising.
Adams and Howard had very little NFL success despite being fantastic athletes at positions that require that to be a difference-maker. Adams, who was traded in his third season to Chicago, did produce 12.5 sacks over his first two years. But he tragically passed away shortly after the 2010 season ended due to a heart attack.
Runner-up: O.J. Howard (2017)
Tennessee Titans: Isaiah Wilson (2020)
The last decade has brought some success for the Titans, but their early-round picks have largely been bad decisions. The franchise should stay away from players with character concerns considering their track record. No player embodied that more than Isaiah Wilson.
He’s already out of the league after playing in victory formation in one game as a rookie. Miami traded a seventh-round pick for him but subsequently released him. Nonetheless, he’s the worst first-round pick of the last decade and one of the worst of all time.
The other clear pick is Jake Locker. An athletic passer who couldn’t hit open targets with accuracy, Locker never saw the improvement needed to become more than a journeyman. He retired young and left many wondering if there was still an upside he never reached.
Runner-up: Jake Locker (2011)
Washington Commanders: Dwayne Haskins (2019)
Missing on a quarterback always stands out above everything else. Dwayne Haskins was a good collegiate quarterback at Ohio State, but word quickly spread as he landed in Washington that they wanted to see more of a work ethic from him. His lack of mental development on the field showed as he struggled to adjust to NFL defenses. Washington gave up on him quickly, and Haskins tragically passed away in April 2022.
Washington’s done well with early picks, but their runner-up comes down to the final pick of the 2002 first round, Patrick Ramsey, or 2016’s Josh Doctson. Ramsey wins out due to being a quarterback who completed just 55.7% of passes for 34 touchdowns and 29 interceptions over four seasons.
Runner-up: Patrick Ramsey (2002)
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