Nick Saban is a five-time National Champion, a two-time National Coach of the Year, and by many acclaims, the greatest coach in college football history. Maybe even more impressive than all of those accomplishments; the man has a 9 foot, 800 pound statue in his likeness in front of Bryant-Denny Stadium. Saban is the pre-eminent coach in his sport and, because of his success, he has sent countless numbers of players to the NFL as the head coach of four different collegiate programs (Toledo, Michigan State, LSU, Alabama).
However, not every one of those players has had the same success under Saban as they had once they reached the NFL. Once freed from the shackles of Saban, some of these players have gone on to make headlines for all of the wrong reasons. This isn’t just limited to their play on the field, but their actions off of it as well. That just adds to Saban’s mystique as someone who can get the most out of players while also keeping their heads on straight.
With the NFL Draft just recently passed, it’s time to look back at some of these players. There were more of Saban players drafted this year and they will hope to not make this list in future editions. Here are the top 15 worst football players Nick Saban sent to the NFL.
16 James Carpenter
Carpenter was a two-year starter at left tackle for the Crimson Tide which is no easy task considering the plethora of pass rushers in the SEC. He was projected to be a 3rd round pick but the Seahawks shocked everyone when they took him in the first round of the 2011 draft. And “everyone” includes his college coach, Saban, who happened to be sitting in the draft’s green room when Carpenter was selected. Cameras focused on Saban after the announcement of the pick and Saban clearly mouthed “James Carpenter went first round!” before shaking his head. Perhaps Saban knew something the Seahawks didn’t? Carpenter has gone on to an NFL career that is more associated with a 3rd round pick than a 1st round pick as he was bumped from tackle to guard and has never made a Pro Bowl.
15 Dee Milliner
Milliner was the rare true freshman who started for a Nick Saban-coached team and he would also win two BCS Championships while in Tuscaloosa. In the 2013 draft, he would become the highest-drafted Alabama cornerback in 19 years after he was taken 9th overall by the Jets. However, that is when his inconsistent play and bad luck would begin.
Milliner was tasked with filling the sizeable gap that was created when Revis Island headed to Tampa and he struggled mightily for the Jets. He was benched three separate times during his rookie season and then suffered through a litany of injuries. In the words of Jets beat writer, Rich Cimini; Milliner didn’t just bite the injury bug, he swallowed it whole. He had 7 different surgeries before the age of 24 and is now a free agent after playing in just 8 games over the last 3 seasons.
14 Rohan Davey
Davey was LSU’s quarterback and spent two years under Saban in 2000 and 2001. With Saban, he led LSU to its first SEC Championship in 13 years and he would then be drafted by the Super Bowl champion, New England Patriots in 2002. Being Tom Brady’s backup and playing under Bill Belichick apparently is no match for playing under Saban as the Patriots shipped him off the NFL Europe in 2004. When he returned to the States, Davey apparently didn’t improve enough as he was demoted behind 42 year old Doug Flutie as well as 7th round draft pick Matt Cassel. Davey would then be released which began a journeyman career that concluded in the Arena Football League. But on the bright side, Davey racked up plenty of rings during his career as he won two Super Bowls with the Patriots and won a World Bowl while in NFL Europe.
13 Glen Coffee
You would think that a player who started ahead of Mark Ingram at running back would go on to be a great NFL player, but that wasn’t the case with Coffee. Coffee ran for over 1,300 yards in 2008 at Alabama as Ingram was left for his scraps as his backup. He was then drafted by the 49ers in the 3rd round of the draft and during training camp said playing in the NFL is easier than playing at Alabama. The “easy” part of the game was short-lived, however, as Coffee suffered ankle, hamstring, and concussion-like injuries during his rookie year and would retire during training camp of his second year.
After his one-year NFL career, Coffee planned on becoming a priest, but then decided to become a paratrooper instead so at least his post-NFL career is going better than his football career did. He's recently expressed interest in making a comeback.
12 Andre Smith
The defining image of Smith’s career is his horrific shirtless showing at the NFL combine and one can only imagine the memes that would have sprouted if they were popular back then. After a standout career at Alabama, Smith’s downfall started during his last college game when he was suspended for talking to an agent. Then came the embarrassing performance at the combine and Smith left the event early which set off a bunch of red flags about his character. After going to the Bengals with the 6th pick in the 2009 draft, Smith has had a solid, but unspectacular NFL career. In all, 24 offensive linemen drafted since 2009 have made at least one Pro Bowl, but Smith is not one of them. He has started all 16 games just once in his career and looks to have moved into the journeyman stage of his career as he’s on his third team in three years.
11 Greg McElroy
The first quarterback to win a national championship under Saban at Alabama, McElroy actually arrived in Tuscaloosa before Saban did. McElroy redshirted under former Tide coach, Mike Shula, before playing four seasons under Saban. McElroy was never seen as a great NFL prospect, but he was a smart guy and was drafted by the Jets in the 7th round. However, smart guys often say some dumb things and McElroy did that while in New York. After a season-ending loss during his rookie year, McElroy called some of his teammates (without naming names) “extremely selfish” during a radio interview. Seeing as his NFL career, which lasted two games, was likely coming to an end, McElroy had no problem with burning bridges with other players. He would announce his retirement at the age of 25 and is now an analyst for the SEC Network.
10 Cyrus Kouandjio
If this article was published a while ago, Kouandjio wouldn’t have made this list, but the events over recent weeks have warranted his inclusion. Kouandjio is a backup lineman with the Bills after being a two-time national champion with the Crimson Tide. He seemingly had a yeoman’s NFL career until April 22, 2017. It was on that day that Kouandjio was found in a field in Buffalo…without pants. He had abandoned his vehicle on the highway and hopped an electric fence after seeing the flashing lights of a police car responding to a separate incident. He was not arrested but did need medical attention for an undisclosed condition. Pending further details about this situation, Kouandjio could either be moved up on this list or off it completely.
9 Michael Clayton
Clayton was part of Saban’s first recruiting class at LSU and he would win a national championship under Saban in 2003. After an outstanding rookie season with over 1,000 receiving yards in 2004, it appeared that Clayton was on the way to superstardom. However, after scoring 7 touchdowns as a rookie, Clayton would only score 3 more touchdowns over the remainder of his career. He battled injuries and wasn’t always in the best of shape during his subsequent years, but some reports say that off-the-field issues were the cause of Clayton’s demise. He reportedly enjoyed the nightlife of Tampa while playing for the Bucs and struggled with alcoholism during his playing days. He also made the infamous quote “the check is in the bank” when pressed about his poor play. After a short stint in the United Football League and then with the New York Giants, Clayton retired after the 2011 season.
8 Terrence Cody
Cody is, literally, the biggest draft bust of Nick Saban’s career at 6’4” and 354 lb. He was a two-time All-American at Alabama and won a BCS National Championship in 2010. When he was drafted by the Ravens, many thought he would join their illustrious line of great defenders such as Ray Lewis, Ed Reed, and Terrell Suggs. Well, Cody was able to pick up a Super Bowl ring with those great Ravens but could only crack the starting lineup one season in his five year career.
Things were even worse for Cody off the field as in 2015 he was indicted for animal cruelty as well as drug charges. He had neglected his dog which starved to death, he illegally possessed a “pet” alligator and was in possession of drug paraphernalia with intent to distribute. In 2016 Cody was sentenced to 9 months in jail for the animal cruelty charges and that has effectively ended his NFL career.
7 Rolando McClain
McClain was seen as a can’t-miss prospect coming out of Alabama and is the only inside linebacker to be drafted in the top 8 in the last 10 years. After three frustrating years in Oakland, the losing finally got to McClain and he snapped. He was kicked out of a practice by Oakland’s coach due to an incident and then immediately posted on FaceBook that he was no longer an Oakland Raider and never played for the team again. In the offseason he was traded to Baltimore but would shockingly retire a year later at the age of 23. He would come out of retirement a year later with the Cowboys but his problems matriculated him in Dallas. He has been suspended three times since then for violating the NFL’s substance abuse policy and his latest in December 2016 is for an indefinite length. McClain is allegedly addicted to codeine and that’s not the last time that drug will pop up on this list.
6 Trent Richardson
As a graduate of the same high school as Emmitt Smith, many projected Richardson to put up numbers similar to the game’s all-time leading rusher. He seemed to be on pace while at Alabama as he set the school’s single-season rushing yards mark and tied an SEC record with 24 rushing touchdowns. Labeled a “sure-thing” heading into the draft, the Browns traded up to select Richardson third overall. After just 17 games, the Browns soured on him two weeks into the 2013 season and he was traded for a 1st round pick to Indianapolis. He would somehow perform even worse in Indy and would be demoted to second string by midseason. After the 2014 season the Colts cut Richardson shortly after he missed the walkthrough for the NFC Championship Game without alerting anyone.
Over his last 37 NFL games, Richardson did not have a single 100 yard rushing game. He would then latch on with Oakland and Baltimore but was released by each team without playing a game. Finally, to cap things off, T-Rich was arrested for domestic violence in early 2017.
5 Craig Davis
Craig Davis’ nickname of “Buster” accurately describes his NFL career as he was a first round bust. He had more receptions, receiving yards, and receiving touchdowns in his senior year at LSU than he had during his entire 4 year pro career. In 2003 Nick Saban and LSU had the number one recruiting class in the nation and Davis was a part of that class. However, it would be all downhill for Davis after leaving LSU. The 30th overall selection by the Chargers in 2007, Davis would start fewer games (2) in his NFL career than every other first round draft pick from that year. Two is also the number of touchdowns he finished his career with and it wasn’t for a certain LSU teammate of his (more on him later), Davis would be considered an even bigger bust.
4 Tony Banks
Banks holds the distinction of being the first quarterback coached by Saban to make the NFL as he was the first QB selected in the 1996 NFL Draft. He had a pet Rottweiler named Felony, but Banks fortunately didn’t commit any of those as he preferred to save his misconduct for on the field. He had a losing career record, was cut by four different teams, and never even completed 60% of his passes in any season. “Pretty Tony” put up some ugly numbers during his 10 year NFL career and he nearly dragged Saban with him. After Banks retired, an NFL agent said he gave Banks money while at Michigan State. If that is true (it has never been investigated) then that would have been an NCAA violation and could have cost MSU, and Saban, to forfeit some victories.
3 Dimitrius Underwood
Underwood’s career is one of the saddest in recent history. After playing under Saban at Michigan State, he was taken in the first round by the Vikings in 1999. One day after signing a $5 million contract, Underwood went AWOL after his first NFL practice. He eventually returned but was cut a month later. He would then bounce from team to team, and according to reports, would write about the apocalypse rather than take notes during team meetings. He reportedly joined a cult during his time at MSU and tried to commit suicide twice during his pro career. He was also arrested for failure to pay child support, aggravated robbery, and evading arrest.
It wasn’t until the end of his career that he would be diagnosed with bipolar disorder and mental illness. If the NFL had the same protocols for helping players with mental illness back then as they do now; then Underwood’s career may have played out better.
1 JaMarcus Russell
The biggest bust in NFL history has Nick Saban’s fingerprints all over him. Russell was Saban’s prized recruit at LSU and played two seasons under Saban. Russell redshirted during LSU’s BCS Championship winning year of 2003 and then steadily improved his play during his three subsequent college seasons. While leading up to the 2007 NFL Draft, some scouts said that his on-field workouts were the best they had ever seen and that led him to being the first overall selection by the Oakland Raiders.
Playing under future Saban crony Lane Kiffin in Oakland, Russell was a colossal failure in the NFL. He posted a 7-18 record as a starter, was constantly out of shape, and was cut just three years after being drafted. Just two months after being released, Russell was arrested for being in possession of codeine syrup. Despite several comeback “attempts” since then, no NFL, AFL, or CFL team has signed Russell.
Saban summed up Russell’s lack of post-LSU success with this quote: "The thing that JaMarcus needs is someone to give him a structure of things that will help him be successful.” Russell’s lack of organizational structure (and a poor work ethic) is a big reason why he ended up “first” on this list.