Being good at any sport, at any level, isn’t easy. Each jump in the level of difficulty (high school to college to professional) becomes exponentially harder. Still, sometimes we see an athlete that transcends what we imagine is possible and we struggle to understand how they could ever come up short or not succeed at their respective sport. One of the most glaring examples of this is when athletes try to make the jump from the collegiate ranks to the pro ranks.
The difference in athletic prowess between college and the pros is often shocking; it’s why you hear that some players “need to learn the speed” of the new level. These individuals WERE the higher level in college, so how could they not ascend into that echelon at the professional level?
There are a variety of reasons why college players struggle when they make the leap. Some sustained their college success using strategies and playing styles that aren’t conducive to the professional ranks. Some get swept up in the money and aren’t mentally prepared to become a paid athlete. Others get hurt and can’t recover and some just weren’t cut out for the professional levels as a whole.
This column looks at some of the most glaring examples of players that failed to live up to the hype that surrounded them headed into the pro ranks.
15. Johnny Manziel
One of the most polarizing figures in the NFL, Johnny Manziel never found his footing after an outstanding career at Texas A&M. His best college season came in 2012 when he collected the Heisman trophy and the Davey O’Brien award and became the first freshman to ever win either. He would finish his college career with a 164.1 passer rating and would be scooped up by the Cleveland Browns in the first round of the 2014 NFL draft.
Manziel spent a good portion of his first year on the bench before finally getting his crack. It went horribly, as he looked outmatched and many of the flaws draft experts had talked about looked more apparent than ever. Couple his struggles on his field with his off the field problems and Manziel’s career quickly cratered. The Browns would cut him following the 2015 season and he hasn’t appeared in the NFL since.
14. Tyler Hansbrough
Considered the greatest North Carolina Tar Heel in the university’s history, Tyler Hansbrough was the best player in college basketball for a few years. He became the first player in ACC history to be named to First Team All-ACC and First Team All-American in each of his four seasons. He also collected a National Player of the Year and ACC Player of the Year in 2008 and helped North Carolina win the championship in 2009.
Due to his college success, Hansbrough was selected 13th overall by the Indiana Pacers. While Hansbrough has remained in the NBA, he has never come close to capturing the success he had in college. He remains a role player on okay teams, evident by his career 16.9 minutes per game. After averaging more than 20 points per game in college, Hansbrough sports an NBA career average of 6.7 ppg.
13. Rickie Weeks
In three years at Southern University, Rickie Weeks was a monster. During his time there, Weeks slashed .472/.561/1.505 and collected two NCAA batting titles and the illustrious Golden Spikes, the award for the college baseball’s best player during his senior year. Weeks would be selected second overall in the 2003 draft, before players such as Adam Jones and Tony Gwynn Jr.
Weeks would never live up to the hype that surrounded him in the major leagues. He currently has a career slash line of .247/.344/422 and is toiling away on the irrelevant Arizona Diamondbacks. He was named to one All-Star game in 2010, but that was the peak of his career, not the norm. Over his 13-year career, he’s been worth 11.4 Wins Above Replacement, which comes out 1.6 WAR per season. He wasn’t terrible, but he did not come close to being worth the second pick overall.
12. Adam Morrison
Once the face of a budding mid-major college basketball program, Adam Morrison was never able to capture the same success he found with Gonzaga. To be fair to Morrison, it would be hard to match his production, with him putting up 20 ppg, 5 rpg, and 2 apg throughout his college career. His most prolific year came in 2006 when he led the nation in scoring with 28.1 ppg. His scoring helped get Gonzaga to the Sweet 16 and netted him a share of the National Player of the Year.
Morrison would forego his senior year of school for the NBA, where he was selected third overall by the Charlotte Bobcats. Morrison struggled greatly, shooting a ghastly 37 percent from the field before tearing his ACL. He would go on to win two championships with the Lakers as a member of the 2008-09 and 2009-10 teams. He didn’t play much or contribute much, playing in only 39 games for an average of seven minutes a game.
11. Hasheem Thabeet
A behemoth from Tanzania, Hasheem Thabeet helped lead the University of Connecticut to the Final Four in 2009. Thabeet, who measured in at 7’3″, averaged 4.2 blocks across his collegiate career. His best season for the Huskies came in 2009 when he averaged 13.6 ppg, 10.8 rpg, and .5 apg and was co-Big East Player of the Year. He would forego his senior year to enter the NBA draft, where he was promptly selected second overall by the Memphis Grizzlies.
Thabeet’s legendary size would end up being his undoing in the NBA, as he lumbered through a forgettable five seasons in the NBA. Envisioned to be a dominant rim protector, Thabeet’s heavy feet, and slow reactions prevented him from carving out a role in the league. Across 224 games, he averaged an abysmal 2.2 ppg, 2.7 rpg, and 0.1 apg.
10. Travis Lee
After his 1996 season at San Diego State, Travis Lee was awarded the Golden Spikes because he was viewed as the best player in amateur baseball. He would be selected second in the draft by the Minnesota Twins, but would end up signing with the Arizona Diamondbacks due to a contract snafu. He would make it to the majors in 1998 and hit the ground running as he won the NL Rookie of the Year.
Sadly for Lee, that would be one of his only outstanding seasons. Over his nine-year career, Lee would accumulate only seven WAR, which comes out to an average of .77 WAR a year. Seeing as one WAR is considered replacement level, it’s easy to see how Lee was never able to live up to the expectations that came with his high draft pedigree.
9. Christian Laettner
As the face of the back-to-back national champions Duke basketball teams, it’s hard to find a more decorated NCAA athlete than Christian Laettner. Beyond the two national titles, Laettner collected a college player of the year award, an ACC player of the year award, was named to the All-American team twice, and became one of the most hated players in college basketball history. He has also a plethora of NCAA tournament records, including points and games won.
Laettner collegiate success is undeniable, but he was never able to garner the same success in the NBA. He isn’t often considered a bust because of the longevity of his career, as he was able to last 13 seasons in the NBA. Still, he was often traded and could never sustain much success besides his lone All-Star season. Considering his draft pick (third overall in 1992) and his larger than life success at Duke, it’s fair to say Laettner flopped in his transition from college to pros.
8. Tony Mandarich
Dubbed by Sports Illustrated as “the best offensive line prospect ever,” the hype around Tony Mandarich was ludicrous. The man was larger than life in college, measuring in at a ridiculous 6’6″ and 330 pounds, NFL scouts salivated at the idea of drafting the Michigan State offensive lineman. While in college, he was named Big Ten Lineman of the year twice and was selected to the All-American team.
He would be selected second overall in 1989, before Barry Sanders, Derrick Thomas, and Deion Sanders. His career was a massive disappointment as he struggled against NFL talent and many wondered how much of his crazy physical gifts were actually fueled by steroids. He is often referred to as the biggest bust in NFL history, a far cry from the success he had in college.
7. Jimmy Clausen
As one of the main factors in helping to lead Notre Dame to break its NCAA-record nine straight bowl losses, Jimmy Clausen had a rather decorated college career. His best season in college was his junior year, when he completed 68 percent of his passes, tossed 28 touchdowns against only four interceptions, and sported a passer rating of 161.4. He would bolt for the NFL draft after that where he was scooped up by the Carolina Panthers in the second round.
Clausen has struggled to find any success in the NFL, compiling a 1-13 record across four seasons for three different teams. His stats aren’t much better, as he has career passer rating of 61.9 and has thrown twice as many interceptions (14) than touchdowns (7). He has washed out of the league after his abysmal 2015 season.
6. Jimmer Fredette
Recognized as one of the premier scorers in college basketball, Jimmer Fredette was deadly from deep. His nearly 40 percent career three-point percentage helped Jimmer lead the nation in scoring in 2011. He would also be awarded the National Player of the Year that same year. He helped lead BYU to the NCAA tournament. He also holds a variety of school records, such as most thirty and forty point games, three-point shots made, and the most points scored in a season.
His success in college led to the Sacramento Kings acquiring him in the top 10 in the NBA draft. Jimmer never was able to recapture his scoring touch as he has bounced around the NBA and is now waiting for another shot in the D-League. He has an underwhelming career line of six points per game, one rebound per game, and 1.4 assists per game.
5. Matt Leinart
Arriving at USC during the peak of the Trojans’ dynasty, Matt Leinart did his part to help lead the team to more success. During his three-year career at USC, Leinart threw more than 10,000 yards, nearly 100 touchdowns, and sported a passer rating of 159.5. He also collected a Heisman trophy, one BCS National Championships, and another top AP poll ranking. He had all the measurements of a high-end QB prospect and was selected by the Arizona Cardinals tenth overall.
Leinart struggled to ever find NFL success as he lurched his way through an unimpressive six-year career. He flipped between bad starter and incompetent backup, as he only started 18 games of the 33 for which he was active. His final career passer rating was a measly 70.2 and he threw more interceptions (21) than touchdowns (15).
4. Sam Bradford
One of the most prolific college passers in history, Sam Bradford threw for more than 8,400 yards, 88 touchdowns, and sported a passer rating of 175.6 during his three years at Oklahoma. He also collected a Heisman trophy during his stellar sophomore year and led the Sooners to the National Championship game before being bested by Tim Tebow and the Florida Gators. His outstanding college career led to him being selected first overall in the 2010 draft by the St. Louis Rams.
Bradford’s time in the NFL would be marred by inconsistency, injuries, and unwillingness to throw the ball deep. Bradford has a career 6.6 yards per completion, meaning that his average completed pass was less than seven yards downfield. He has also suffered two major knee injuries. He is currently playing for the Minnesota Vikings and has remained the same average player, a far cry from the flame throwing college quarterback.
3. Greg Oden
Often referred as one of the biggest busts in NBA history, Greg Oden was one of the more dominant freshmen bigs in NCAA history. In Oden’s one year at Ohio State, he averaged 15.7 ppg, 9.6 rpg, 0.7 apg, and 3.3 bpg and helped lead the Buckeyes to the National Championship Game. He would be named to the All-American team, becoming only the third freshman to ever earn that honor.
Despite the stellar collegiate career, many will only remember Oden as the player that was selected before Kevin Durant. Selected first overall by the Portland Trail Blazers, Oden struggled to stay healthy and quickly washed out of the league. He was productive when he was on the court, evident by his line of eight ppg, six rpg, 0.5 apg, and 1.2 bpg in less than 20 minutes a game. Still, it’s unlikely Oden will ever wash off the stink of being one of the biggest busts in NBA history.
2. Trent Richardson
After having a magical college career, it’s hard to find a bigger flop than Trent Richardson. While at Alabama, Richardson had 3,860 yards from scrimmage and 42 total touchdowns. He was a key cog in two different Alabama national championship teams and was named an All-American. Some draft experts called Richardson the best running back prospect since Adrian Peterson. The Browns agreed and selected him with the third pick in the 2012 draft.
Richardson had an okay rookie year, collecting 12 total touchdowns and more than 1,300 yards from scrimmage. He was then traded to the Indianapolis Colts and his career spiraled downwards from there. In his 29 games with the Colts, he only had seven touchdowns across two seasons. He finished his NFL career averaging 3.3 yards per carry and is currently out of the league.
1. Tim Tebow
Often regarded as one of the greatest athletes in college sports, Tim Tebow was an absolute monster at Florida. He was a Heisman finalist three years in a row and won it once. He was a mainstay on the All-American teams and All-SEC teams. He helped Florida defeat Alabama and Oklahoma in 2008 to win a national championship. By the time his career at Florida was finished, he held five NCAA records, 14 SEC records, and 28 school records. He would be selected in the first round of the 2010 NFL draft by the Denver Broncos.
Despite a thrilling postseason victory, Tebow washed out of the NFL quickly due to his lack of accuracy. His 47 percent completion rate was terrible, as was his awkward passing motion that made him susceptible to turnovers and having the ball stripped from him. He would only last two seasons before being replaced. He never could stick with another team, despite his immense popularity and success he had in college.
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