The NFL draft is full of more failure and misery than Cleveland’s Dog Pound on a given Sunday. There have been plenty of hits of course, but you’d be surprised at how many huge busts were taken in the first round alone. It’s not just obvious busts like JaMarcus Russell either, we’re talking guys like Rashaun Woods and Jim Druckenmiller here.
The NFL drafting process is so inconsistent that there’s been a terrible player taken in all 32 spots. We’re going to be sharing with you the worst pick at every one of those slots, but there’s one important thing to know. Despite what I said earlier about the surprising number of busts, there’s another surprise; how many spots haven’t had a truly awful player taken in them.
That’s not a contradiction, there’s been a bad player taken everywhere, but it’s the numbers that makes quantifying this list so hard. Some places you have a dearth of options like the top five, but when you get to the late 20s and 30s, your options for a true big time bust become limited. So keep in mind not everyone on this list is going to be Ryan Leaf, but you can bet they’re all solid busts.
32 JaMarcus Russell – Raiders, 2007
Don’t expect too many surprises with the first ten or so picks. They’ve all – JaMarcus Russell in particular – earned their place on this list. In fairness, Russell isn’t actually the worst draft choice of all-time, but going first overall and having the kind of career and off the field issues he had will get you that reputation.
In his rookie year, he failed to reach a contract with the Raiders until after Week 1 of the regular season and was massively behind as a result. Because of this, he played sparingly later in his rookie campaign. His second year wasn’t actually that bad, throwing 13 touchdowns to 8 interceptions and rushing for another touchdown. But that was as good as it ever got for Russell.
31 Ryan Leaf – Chargers, 1998
Now here’s someone worthy of the term “biggest bust of all time,” regardless of sport.
Ryan Leaf came into the NFL with an attitude and drug problem. After a train wreck of a first season, throwing 15 interceptions to 2 touchdowns, Leaf missed the entirety of his second season due to a training camp injury. That year he famously almost got into a fight with a fan and yelled at a reporter in the locker room.
30 Bruce Pickens – Falcons, 1991
Few remember the name Bruce Pickens, but there isn’t much reason you would. He was a cornerback out of Nebraska and the New York Times described him as having the “best physical skill of the DBs” that year. His five year career saw him playing for four teams and he had only two interceptions to his name.
That New York Times article, mentions something more important however. “A junior-college transfer who hasn't been exposed to top passing offenses and is somewhat raw in overall development.” That’s an interesting point, not only on the field, but off it as well.
29 Aaron Curry – Seahawks, 2009
This may be hard to believe, but there was a time when the Seahawks weren’t very good, especially on defense. They drafted linebacker Aaron Curry out of Wake Forrest with the fourth overall pick hoping to turn things around. That didn’t happen though, because the “safest pick in the draft” according to Mike Mayock turned out to be a huge bust.
In less than two and a half seasons for the Seahawks, Curry racked up 5.5 sacks before being traded to Oakland where he played even worse. Perhaps the problem, according to Curry himself, was that he was selfish.
“I knew I could do it,” Curry said after an attempted comeback with the Giants. “I knew I would do it. At the time, I wasn’t motivated to do it. Football wasn’t my top priority, to be honest.”
28 Justin Blackmon – Jaguars, 2012
Justin Blackmon was a star receiver at Oklahoma State, but there were warning signs early. He was arrested for DUI shortly after being drafted and was slow to catch on, catching his first touchdown pass in November. When he did finally find his groove, he exploded for a massive 236 yard game against the Texans.
But that would more or less be the end of Blackmon’s career. He was suspended the first four games of the 2013 for violating the NFL’s substance abuse policy and, after playing only four games, was suspended again for the same thing, this time indefinitely.
He was then arrested for procession of marijuana before the start of the 2014 season, which kept him out all of that year and 2015, and another arrest in December 2015 is likely what’s keeping him out of the 2016 season as well.
27 Vernon Gholston – Jets, 2008
How bad was Vernon Gholston during his three years with the Jets? Well, despite being coached by defensive mastermind Rex Ryan and playing for one of the best defenses in the NFL, Gholston never recorded a single sack in his career.
It’s shocking now to think that anyone could be high on Gholston, but much like Aaron Curry, Gholston was seen as a surefire bet by everyone. But after just three seasons and only 34 tackles to his name, Gholston was out of the NFL completely. Those 34 tackles really are his only stats. As well as failing to get a sack, he didn’t have a single forced fumble, fumble recovery, or interception. It was like he just stood there in the middle of the field, waiting for someone to run into him.
26 Troy Williamson – Vikings, 2005
Troy Williamson was supposed to be a flashy speed guy. He played track and field in high school and college, and was supposedly one of the fastest guys in the draft. But speed isn’t everything, as the Vikings learned when the drafted him in 2005.
In his rookie season, Williamson started just three games, recording 372 yards and two touchdowns. Things didn’t improve much his second season, where he started 11 games but was still held to under 500 receiving yards and, this time, zero touchdowns. After just two years, it was clear he had no place in the NFL.
25 Leonard Coleman – Colts, 1984
Leonard Coleman’s career is most interesting for anything other than his play on the field. He was the first player drafted by the Colts after their move to Indianapolis in 1984, but he almost wasn’t the first draft choice to play for them.
Coleman sat out the entire 1984 season, instead playing in the USFL after holding out. In fact, it was made even worse when then owner Bob Irsay said Coleman wasn’t worth the price he was asking for. While this turned out to be true in the long run, saying it out loud did no one any favors.
When Coleman finally did sign with the Colts, he didn’t do much. He had four interceptions in three years with the Colts, all coming in his second season. For whatever reason, he was benched the following year, playing in only four games and starting none. After his third season, he was traded to the Chargers, where he played another two years before he was cut.
24 Kevin Allen – Eagles, 1985
How about some love – hate, in this case – for the offensive line? You never realize they’re there until they screw up, something Kevin Allen did a lot of for the Eagles in 1985, and then never again.
In Allen’s first regular season game, the Eagles gave up eight sacks against the Giants. As you would expect, he was benched quickly, seeing limited use on the special teams. He was then cut at the start of training camp in 1986, but not for being a bad football player, for being a bad human being.
23 Jamal Reynolds – Packers, 2001
Jamal Reynolds was a star coming out of Florida State, racking up 12 sacks his final season, earning him the #10 overall spot with the Packers. Reynolds was supposed to bolster a mediocre Packers defense, but that didn’t end up happening.
Reynolds was plagued with injuries his rookie season, which forced him out of the first 10 games that year. When he did play, he only recorded two sacks and four total tackles. But there was another problem for him: the emergence of Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila, himself only a second year player. He gained 13.5 sacks while Reynolds sat on the sideline.
22 Russell Erxleben – Saints, 1979
Russell Erxleben is a kicker. Taking a kicker at #11 overall is probably all the info you need to realize this pick was going to be a bust no matter what, but there’s even more to it than that.
He played six seasons, five with the Saints and one with the Lions, and attempted just eight field goals. No, you didn’t read that wrong: the 11th overall draft pick in 1979, who happened to be a kicker, attempted just eight kicks in his entire career. That would be pretty weird on its own, but when you combine that with the fact that he was with the Saints for five years, you realize he was a backup kicker. Who has a backup kicker and who drafts them 11 overall?
21 Cade McNown – Bears, 1999
Former UCLA quarterback Cade McNown isn’t the worst in the world at his position, he’s not even the worst quarterback the Bears have ever had. But McNown’s awfulness should not be taken for granted.
He played only two years for the Bears. Think about how long teams hold on to their first round, even second and third round quarterbacks these days. Imagine any of them giving up on the guy after just two seasons. Chicago probably did the right thing though. In a little over a year and a half as a starter, McNown threw 16 touchdowns to 19 interceptions and fumbled 14 times. He was eventually replaced by Jim Miller and then Shane Matthews.
20 Percy Snow – Chiefs, 1990
Percy Snow’s failure in the NFL may not be entirely his fault, depending on how you look at it. He had a rough rookie year, recording only two sacks and an interception in 15 games. The Chiefs expected him to rebound the next year though, until a freak accident in training camp.
While riding around town during training camp on a moped, Snow got into a crash. The crash caused him significant injuries to his knee and ankle. The injuries were so bad he had to sit out the entire 1991 season and, when he returned, he clearly wasn’t his former self. He barely played in 1992 and was cut after the season. Like many other busts, he tried to mount a comeback, but it didn’t amount to much.
19 George Amundson – Oilers, 1973
What is there to say about a running back who rushes for under 200 yards in two seasons?
Amundson was drafted by the Houston Oilers (now Tennessee Titans) out of Iowa State, after rushing for over 2,000 yards his senior year. He was also part of the track and field team at Iowa State as well. He was tall for a running back at 6’3” but was pretty speedy anyway.
18 Yatil Green – Dolphins, 1997
Yatil Green might be the most unlucky player in NFL history. It’s hard not to feel sorry for him, because he never had a chance.
Green was a Florida guy through and through. He was born there and played college football at Miami. When the Dolphins drafted him in 1997, he was supposed to be the hometown hero coming in to breathe new life into Dan Marino’s waning career. That didn’t happen though, because in his first two training camps in the NFL, he tore his ACL and missed the entirety of his first two season.
17 Dan McGwire – Seahawks, 1991
Perhaps it’d be easier to give you a list of guys former San Diego State quarterback Dan McGwire couldn’t beat for the starting job. In his four years in Seattle, he backed up Dave Krieg, Stan Gelbaugh, Kelly Stouffer, and eventually Rick Mirer.
He played in only 12 games while in Seattle, seven of those coming his final season. He threw six interceptions to two touchdowns in his entire career, and his highest passer rating came in 1993 when he threw only five passes.
He was so bad the Seahawks thought Rick Mirer would be better, drafting him just two seasons after McGwire. While Mirer didn’t turn out any better, they still let McGwire go after ’94 and, after backing up Dan Marino in Miami for one season, his career was over.
16 Clyde Duncan – Cardinals, 1984
This pick is so old it was actually made not by the Arizona Cardinals, but the St. Louis Cardinals. Ah well, at least St. Louis still has the Rams. Oh, sorry.
Clyde Duncan was the typical receiver of the 80s and 90s, someone Al Davis would have loved. He was 6’1” and had speed to boot, so theoretically he could make all the catches and still be able to get into the end zone after the fact. The Cardinals had a decent quarterback too, Neil Lomax, who threw for over 4,600 yards in 1984, an astounding number back then.
15 Steve Schindler – Broncos, 1977
In college, Steve Schindler was one of the best in the game. He was a three year starter and All-American at Boston College. The Broncos hoped he could play up to that level in the NFL and took him 18th overall in 1977. His job would be to protect newly signed starter Craig Morton, who he sadly did a very poor job of protecting.
14 Harry Jones – Eagles, 1967
Less than a year after the NFL and AFL merged, the Eagles selected a promising running back out of Arkansas. He was a versatile player if nothing else, playing running back, wide receiver, and even defensive end for the Eagles during his four year career. But he struggled to find consistency at any of those positions.
At his main spot of running back, he ran the ball 44 times for 85 yards and no touchdowns over four years. We'll do the math for you, as he only managed a paltry 1.7 yards per attempt. He had a little more success at receiver, catching for 131 yards, but still not a single touchdown to his name. Without producing any results, he was let go from the team after 1970.
13 Ken Novak – Colts, 1976
If you haven’t noticed, we’re running out of things to say about some of these guys. Some of their careers are just so unremarkable and happened so long ago, there’s only so much to say. Take for instance DT Ken Novak, drafted by the Colts in ’76.
12 Clifford Charlton – Browns, 1988
Clifford Charlton was a linebacker out of Florida and had the potential to start right away for the Browns. That didn’t happen though. Instead, he started just one game in two seasons with the Browns before getting jettisoned from the NFL.
In 1988 in training camp, he infamously said, when asked about potentially being named starter:
“I don't want [the Browns] to hand me anything, I want to earn it. Come game day, and they tell me I'm starting, then I'll be satisfied.”
11 Johnny Manziel – Browns, 2014
You might say it’s too early to put Johnny Manziel on this list, given its only been two years and he theoretically has plenty of time to prove himself. But that’s absolutely not true, as Manziel has proven to be one of the biggest busts of the last decade and his fall to #22 overall helped him avoid being the biggest.
Manziel has an attitude and a drinking problem. He’s been arrested for drinking and driving and beating his girlfriend, and that’s why he’s not in the NFL right now. Reports have recently surfaced in which Manziel says he’s hit rock bottom and that he’s given up on playing this year. You don’t say, Johnny?
On the field, he hasn’t looked much better. He’s played 14 games over two season for the Browns and has seven touchdowns to as many interceptions, while fumbling seven times. He looked good running the ball, but he struggled when it came to passing.
10 Rashard Anderson – Panthers, 2000
A cornerback out of FCS Jackson State, Rashard Anderson was a huge gamble, but his size and speed persuaded the Panthers to take the risk. It turns out he wasn’t worth the risk. He played two seasons in the NFL, appearing in 27 games and grabbing just one interception, though he did manage to score a touchdown a fumble recovery. Let's hope he kept the football.
Before the start of the 2002 season, Anderson was suspended a year for violating the league’s substance abuse policy. He was then suspended indefinitely in 2003 for failing again, prompting the Panthers to cut him loose.
9 Todd Marinovich – Raiders, 1991
The story of Todd Marinovich is so long and tragic ESPN went so far as to dedicate an entire episode of 30 For 30 just on his road to the NFL. The gist of it is that his father, one of the first ever strength and conditioning coaches in the NFL, Marv Marinovich, was a terrible father. He forced his son at a young age to spend every waking moment on training to one day be an elite quarterback. As you could imagine, this kind of screwed up Marinovich as a human.
By the time he finally got to the NFL, he was hopelessly addicted to drugs and alcohol. He sat most of his rookie season, but played well when he did hit the field. It all unraveled in his second year, however, when before one game his blood-alcohol level was four times the legal limit. The Raiders staged an intervention and put him in rehab for 45 days.
8 Tim Tebow – Broncos, 2010
Yes, Tim Tebow. I’ll spare you too many words on ESPN’s favorite son, but Tebow deserves a spot on this list. Despite some projections placing him going in the third round at best, then-Broncos head coach Josh McDaniels selected him in the first round anyway. When it turned out their current quarterback Kyle Orton was pretty good, Tebow saw limited action.
7 Jim Druckenmiller – 49ers, 1997
No, his name isn’t “Drunkenmiller,” but even still it may not surprise you to hear that this guy only attempted 52 passes in his entire career. At least Tebow got to fail with some dignity, but this guy didn’t even get to see the field.
Druckenmiller was supposed to be the quarterback of the future after Steve Young retired. He got his chance early in his career, week 2 of the 1997 season when Young hurt his hand. In his first start, Druckenmiller went 10 for 27 for 102 yards, a touchdown, and three interceptions. He went on to play in five more games in his career before the 49ers decided he was so bad they wanted nothing to do with him.
6 Rae Carruth – Panthers, 1997
Rae Carruth wasn’t very good in the NFL. His first season for the Panthers was okay, netting over 500 receiving yards and 4 touchdowns. But over the next two years, he played in 7 games and caught 18 passes.
5 Andy Katzenmoyer – Patriots, 1999
This got dark real quick, didn’t it? Let’s go back to looking at failures on the football field then. That’s not fair, Andy Katzenmoyer is a bust simply because he got injured. But wait, he was arrested for domestic assault in 2013 so that makes this… incredibly depressing again.
A linebacker taken by the Patriots out of Ohio State, Katzenmoyer was supposed to be a defensive rock, which he briefly was. He recorded 3.5 sacks and an interception in 11 games. But he suffered a brutal neck injury in his first season, which caused him to sit until halfway through the following season as well. When he did finally come back, he was limited to three starts.
4 R. Jay Soward – Jaguars, 2000
The Jaguars selected wide receiver R. Jay Soward out of USC in 2000 to bolster their receiving core. He didn’t have the most explosive college career, achieving national fame after a four touchdown game his freshman season before going mostly dark the rest of his time there.
When he did reach the NFL, he continued to under-perform. In his rookie season, he had 14 catches for 154 yards and a single touchdown. And that was it, his career was over after that.
3 Craig Powell – Browns, 1995
Craig Powell practically doesn’t exist according to the NFL and the internet. He played college ball at Ohio State and was drafted by the Browns in 1995. He played three seasons in the NFL and the only stat to his name is a single tackle. The only notable thing about him is that he’s the Browns last first round pick before they moved to Baltimore.
Other than that, he’s dropped off the face of the Earth. Could you really blame him though? Here’s a first round draft pick that only has a single tackle to his name in four seasons.
2 Rashaun Woods – 49ers, 2004
Unlike many guys on this list, Rashaun Woods is a good example of a guy who just wasn’t cut out for the NFL. It wasn’t drugs, alcohol, or violent crime that brought him down. You can respect Woods for that, at least.
The 49ers drafted Woods to help new starting quarterback Tim Rattay in the passing game. He was an All-American twice at Oklahoma and looked to be a big threat on the outside. It didn’t quite work out that way though. In his first season in the NFL, Woods caught seven passes for 160 yards and one touchdown. Like so many others on this list, there was no second chance for Woods.
1 Derek Sherrod – Packers, 2011
Believe it or not, there aren’t many big busts with the last pick of the first round. It’s not the most valuable pick in the world and, by this point, most of the big “boom or bust” players are off the board and there have been a lot of great picks in this slot.
The only real option here is Derek Sherrod, a tackle out of Mississippi State. He didn't start a game for the Packers in 2011 and missed the 2012 season due to a broken leg he suffered at the end of this rookie season. According to his family, he suffered many complications due to the surgery and wasn’t fully ready to play in 2013.
Maybe that’s why Sherrod never got a fair shake, and why his former coaches with the Packers refused to say a negative thing about him when they released the tackle after 2014.
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