So much of an NFL General Manager's job is evaluating the talent available in the annual NFL Draft. Despite the attention paid to the draft by team officials, however, there are still a series of players every year who simply do not live up to their pre-draft expectations. The most frustrating of these individuals, are those taken in the 1st round of the draft. These players are supposed to be the very best from the college ranks, so having your 1st round selection be unproductive can be devastating for the future of the franchise. Some of these draft busts are so terrible, in fact, that their professional careers are ended after only a few years. This list will analyze 15 NFL 1st Round Picks Who Were Out Of The League Within 3 Years.
For a variety of reasons, all the entries on this list were gone from the NFL by the start of their fourth season. Examples of these players can be found for a variety of teams, from the beginning of the 1st round to the very end. The plethora of these 1st round busts explains why teams like Cleveland and Buffalo have been unable to climb out of the basements of their respective divisions.
15 Vernon Gholston - New York Jets
Vernon Gholston is one of the most prolifically terrible top 10 draft picks in the last twenty years. Despite being the 6th overall pick by the Jets in 2008, the pass rushing specialist was never credited with a single sack in his professional career. Most of the busts on our list can credit a series of injuries with contributing to their downfall, however, Gholston missed a mere 3 games during his 3 years with the Jets. Instead, Gholston's short NFL run can be attributed to a simple lack of effectiveness on his part. The Ohio State product never caught up to the speed of the NFL, and in March of 2011 he was released by the Jets. He has never signed a contract with another NFL team.
14 Brian Bosworth - Seattle Seahawks
Oh Brian Bosworth, if ever anyone was meant to be an NFL bust, it was you. Bosworth was a stud linebacker for the Oklahoma Sooners in the 80s, but his infamous attitude didn't fly with NFL executives like it did in college. Despite being drafted by the Seahawks in the first round of the supplemental draft (he was dismissed from Oklahoma for off the field conduct), the Boz was largely ineffective in his two short years in the league. With the negative attention that he brought to the club (coupled with his lack of playing prowess), the Seahawks were likely relieved when Bosworth was forced to retire in 1989 due to chronic shoulder injuries. The former great linebacker lasted only two seasons in the NFL.
13 Aaron Curry - Seattle Seahawks
With every round of NFL draft coverage, there is always a player who the draft experts spend a good deal of time espousing. In the 2009 Draft, this player was Aaron Curry. Analysts like Mel Kiper constantly called Curry the "safest player in the draft", causing the fans in Seattle to erupt when their Seahawks selected him 4th overall. Once again proof that even the greatest of prospects can fail, Curry never amounted to much of an NFL player. Despite signing the biggest non-QB contract ever for a rookie player (6 year/$60 million), the amount of impact plays that Curry made for the Seahawks defense was negligible at best. This caused the franchise ownership to trade him to the Raiders. After playing a year in Oakland he was released, ending his 3 year run with the league.
12 Charles Rodgers - Detroit Lions
Charles Rodgers is one of the most famous 1st round busts of all time because he is emblematic of the organization problems which have plagued the Detroit Lions. After his standout final season at Michigan State, Rodgers was drafted by the Lion 2nd overall in the 2003 NFL Draft. Rodgers career was marred by both injuries and suspensions (violations of the league's substance abuse policy), but even when he was on the field he was far from productive. Rodgers totaled a mere 440 receiving yards and 4 touchdowns for his entire career. Despite lofty expectations, Rodgers was cut by the Lions in 2005, after less than seasons in the league. Rodgers would never sign with another team after being cut by Detroit.
11 Derek Sherrod - Green Bay Packers
Considering the fact that Derek Sherrod was touted as being able to play four positions along the offensive line, the fact that he didn't last a full 3 years in the league has to be embarrassing for the men that drafted him. Sherrod was drafted out of Mississippi State in the 1st round (32nd overall) of the 2011 NFL Draft by the Green Bay Packers. Despite an obvious need at the position (a need that they have failed to fill to this day), Sherrod never managed to log significant starts at either tackle or guard. Injuries were a significant factor in this, as a leg injury sustained in a loss to Kansas City in 2012 set the tone for Sherrod's injury riddled career. Sherrod was cut by the Packers in November of 2014.
10 Huey Richardson - Pittsburgh Steelers
Despite being one of the most successful franchises in NFL history, the Pittsburgh Steelers have had their share of first round busts. Perhaps the greatest of these busts was Huey Richardson, an inside linebacker from the University of Florida. The Steelers selected Richardson with the 15th pick in the 1991 draft, but were so disgusted with his play after one season (especially new coach Bill Cowher) that he was promptly traded. The Steelers appeared to have some buyer's remorse after they were reportedly unprepared to make their pick after their top three choices were chosen in quick succession. Richardson spent the rest of that season with the Redskins and Jets, but was eventually waived by both. The former Gator never played another snap in the NFL after 1992.
9 Trent Richardson - Cleveland Browns
I don't think I've ever seen a player who was so dominant in college become so visibly terrible in the NFL like I have Trent Richardson. Richardson was selected with the 3rd pick of the 2012 NFL Draft by the Cleveland Browns. Richardson was fairly productive in his rookie season with Clevaland (9 touchdowns), but the next year they shrewdly traded him to the Colts for a 1st round draft pick. The Browns must have seen the writing on the wall, as Richardson's career started a steep downslope following his departure from Cleveland. Richardson did not even last a full year as a starter in Indianapolis, he was benched by week 12 in favor of Donald Brown. Following his failures in Indy, Richardson bounced around a few teams practice squads before finally exiting the league in 2016.
8 Rashaun Woods - San Francisco 49ers
I think it is fair to start talking about the curse of Jerry Rice, that is, the inability of the San Francisco 49ers to draft a productive wide receiver in the first round. Whether it be Michael Crabtree, AJ Jenkins, or our next entry, the bay area has more than its fair share of busts in the receiver category. Of these busts, Rashaun Woods might just be the worst. The 49ers chose Woods with the 31st pick in the 2004 Draft, and the Oklahoma State product didn't even come close to returning the value of their investment. Woods had 7 catches for 160 yards and 1 touchdown in his rookie season, but then was on the disabled list for his entire sophomore campaign. At the start of his third season he was traded to and cut by the San Diego Chargers.
7 Jeff Otah - Carolina Panthers
A feel good story in recent years has been the influx of foreign born players in the NFL. While many of these have gone on to have successful NFL careers, others, like Jeff Otah, were largely disappointing. Otah was selected with the 19th pick of the 2008 Draft by the Carolina Panthers. Even more embarrassing for the Panthers, was the fact that they made a trade with the Philadelphia Eagles to move up a few draft slots to ensure they could select him. Otah was unable to reward the teams faith in him, and after 3 disappointing seasons he was traded from the squad. After failing a physical with his new team (the New York Jets), Otah was released, ending his NFL career.
6 Erasmus James - Minnesota Vikings
There is still a common practice among NFL GM's to assume that the Big 10 Conference puts forth better offensive and defensive lineman. While there is some evidence to support this practice, the Big 10 has put out their share of faulty big men. Erasmus James is the perfect example of this, as the Wisconsin defensive end was unable to last 3 years after being drafted by the Minnesota Vikings 18th overall in the 2005 Draft. James was mildly productive during his rookie campaign (28 tackles and 4 sacks) but was injured for the rest of his time in Minnesota. A final stop in Washington provided no redemption for this first round bust. James would eventually sign with the IFL New Mexico Stars in 2011.
5 David Pollack - Cincinnati Bengals
While the play of most of these players was uninspiring, David Pollack is a case more of unfortunate circumstances than he is a disappointing player. Pollack obviously wasn't an all-pro player after being selected by the Bengals with the 17th pick in the 2005 Draft, but going into his second year he had started to make the progress that you like to see from returning early draft picks. This all came to a screeching halt as a vertebrae injury suffered in the second game of the 2006 ended all hopes that the Bengals had for Pollack. Despite rumors that he could recover, Pollack would never play another game in the NFL. This sad case illustrates that there are a variety of reasons why a 1st round pick may not last more than three years in the NFL.
4 Wendell Bryant - Arizona Cardinals
If stories like David Pollack's are tragic, then stories like Wendell Bryant's are plain embarrassing. After being drafted by the Cardinals with the 12th pick in the 2002 Draft, Bryant was on his way to having an acceptable (though not prolific) NFL career. After committing his third strike in the NFL's substance abuse policy, however, Bryant was suspended for the entirety of the 2005 season. Noting his unwillingness to change his ways, the Cardinals decided to release him upon the end of his suspension. The defensive tackle never lived up to the expectations he set while playing at Wisconsin. Instead, his unwillingness to accommodate the NFL's rules caused him to be gone from the league after a mere 3 seasons.
3 Andre Ware - Detroit Lions
If you haven't noticed, up until this point, this list has been noticeably bereft of entries concerning NFL quarterbacks. One of the most prominent positions in football, there are not a lot of first round quarterbacks who found themselves out of the league in 3 seasons. I would guess that the hunger for good QBs in the league has led many franchises to give second chances to draft busts who otherwise would not have received them. An exception to this rule is the 7th overall pick in the 1990 draft by the Detroit Lions, Andre Ware. The original thought was that teaming Ware with previous pick Barry Sanders would make for a potent offense, but this seems to have been quickly abandoned by the Detroit coaching staff. Instead, Ware spent the next three years spot starting behind other players that the Lions brought in, until he was finally released in 1993.
2 Lawrence Phillips - St. Louis Rams
Whether it be Eric Dickerson or Marshall Faulk, the (now) Los Angeles Rams have a long history of talented running backs (though the Rams actually didn't draft Faulk, the got him in a trade with the Colts). This didn't stop them from drafting a major miss in the 1996 Draft in the form of Lawrence Phillips. The Rams drafted Phillips 6th out of Nebraska in the hopes that they would rejuvenate their ailing running game. This never occurred, because Phillips inconsistency combined with his inability to stay out of trouble caused the Rams coaching staff to demote him to second string. Phillips did not respond to this demotion well and the Rams were forced to completely cut ties with him. Despite comeback attempts with the Dolphins and 49ers, he was soon out of the league.
1 JaMarcus Russell - Oakland Raiders
Those of you who are familiar with the annals of NFL busts should be unsurprised to see JaMarcus Russell top this list. Practically drooling over his physical skills, the Oakland Raiders selected Russell 1st overall in the 2007 NFL Draft. The opposite of being the physical specimen he was at LSU, Russell was perennially overweight, causing him to be criticized by both the coaching staff and other players (Russell once famously weighed in heavier than his left tackle). This, combined with perceived laziness, led the Raiders to cut ties with their "franchise player" a mere two years later. Russell has been gone from the league ever since, and has since built himself a reputation as perhaps the biggest bust in NFL history. Hopefully Derek Carr can continue to erase some of these memories.