8 College Stars Who Failed In The NFL And 7 Unknowns Who Became Stars

The 2017 NFL Draft was held from April 27 through April 29 in front of the Philadelphia Museum of Art at Eakins Oval in Philadelphia. Football scouts dissected collegiate prospects and provided comprehensive reports and evaluations on these players. Despite scouts’ extreme due diligence, executives and knowledgeable fans realize that pinpointing the next superstar is an inexact science. At the quarterback position alone, for every John Elway, Peyton Manning and Andrew Luck, there are busts like JaMarcus Russell, David Carr and Tim Couch.

Moreover, sometimes scouts accurately identify the next gridiron great. Sadly, apathy, negativity, injury, fame, substance abuse or some other issue ruins this player’s potential. For example, Johnny Manziel remains unemployed primarily because of his alcohol addiction and brazen drug usage. Ryan Leaf, who the San Diego Chargers selected with the second pick in 1998, had a boorish and inexcusable demeanor that ultimately caused his implosion. Lastly, former Penn State University running back Ki-Jana Carter, taken by the Cincinnati Bengals first overall in 1995, was undone by an unfortunate series of crippling ailments.

In stark contrast to blue-chip prospects, undrafted players like Kurt Warner and Wes Welker blossomed in the NFL. The 45-year-old Warner will be elected into the Pro Football Hall of Fame this August in Canton, Ohio. This list will review eight college studs who failed in the NFL and seven unknown players who thrived on the gridiron.


15 Failed - TIM TEBOW

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The Denver Broncos chose southpaw quarterback Tim Tebow with the 25th pick in the 2010 draft. The 6-foot-3, 235-pound Tebow became Denver’s starting passer in Week 6 of the 2011 campaign. The 2007 Heisman Trophy winner was an erratic Bronco and he constantly fumbled the pigskin. Nevertheless, despite the legendary Gator’s struggles under center, Tebow managed to make crucial plays and he lifted Denver to the AFC West crown in 2011 and a 29-23 victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers in that season’s AFC Wild Card game. Shortly after his playoff heroics, Tebow was shipped to the swamps of Jersey to become a Jet. Former Jets head coach Rex Ryan permanently grounded Tebow and refused to utilize him in any capacity. The 29-year-old Tebow is presently an outfielder for the New York Mets' Class A affiliate, the Columbia Fireflies.



The New York Jets signed Hofstra University wide receiver Wayne Chrebet as an undrafted free agent in 1995. Chrebet controlled opposing defenses as a Flying Dutchman and tied a college record established by NFL icon Jerry Rice when he caught five touchdowns as a senior in 2004. Luckily for the Jets, due to the native New Jerseyan’s undersized frame, the 5-foot-10, 188-pound Chrebet went completely unnoticed by scouts. Chrebet proceeded to catch 580 pigskins for 7,365 yards and 41 touchdowns over 11 seasons and 152 games as a Jet.

Chrebet’s career ended prematurely at the age of 31 when he suffered a serious concussion versus the San Diego Chargers in November 2005. Chrebet was inducted into the New York Jets Ring of Honor in December 2014.



Lefty signal-caller Matt Leinart, taken by the Arizona Cardinals with the 10th overall selection in 2006, was a legitimate celebrity at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles. Beyond fame and glamour, Leinart was a prodigy on the gridiron who guided the Trojans to consecutive national championships in the 2003 and 2004 seasons. Leinart, the 2004 Heisman Trophy winner and recipient of the Johnny Unitas Award in 2005, will be inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in December at the New York Hilton Midtown.

Unlike his stay in Tinseltown, Leinart crashed as a Cardinal in Glendale. The 6-foot-5, 225-pound Leinart, who was also employed by the Houston Texans, Oakland Raiders and Buffalo Bills, has been out of football since he was a 29-year-old in 2013.


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Marques Colston was another dominant, yet undervalued, wide receiver at Hofstra University. The New Orleans Saints chose the 6-foot-4, 225-pound Colston with the 252nd pick in the 2006 draft. Colston immediately clicked with Saints quarterback Drew Brees and he was named to the 2006 All-Rookie Team. Colston, who helped New Orleans win Super Bowl XLIV in February 2010, compiled 711 receptions for 9,759 yards and 72 scores over 10 years and 146 contests with the Saints. New Orleans axed Colston following the 2015 season and he decided to retire shortly thereafter at the age of 31. Since shelving his cleats, Colston served as the owner and president of the Harrisburg Stampede from 2012 to 2014 and he is currently a minority owner of the Philadelphia Soul.



Lawrence Phillips is one of the saddest, and most disturbing, stories in NFL history. The 6-foot, 225-pound Phillips was an elite physical specimen who overwhelmed defenders with his incredible strength and running abilities. While Phillips astounded on the field as a Nebraska Cornhusker, the troubled athlete also terrorized students across Lincoln’s campus. The Rams overlooked Phillips’ propensity for violence and took him with the sixth pick in the 1996 draft.

Phillips’ demons doomed him from the outset and NFL executives deemed him unemployable following a stint with the San Francisco 49ers in 1999. After briefly revitalizing his career in the CFL, Philips was imprisoned for a slew of savage crimes. Phillips committed suicide in his Kern Valley State prison cell in January 2016 at the age of 40.

10 Thrived: WES WELKER

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Wes Welker is arguably the premier slot receiver in NFL history. The 5-foot-9, 185-pound Welker, a two-time All-Big 12 First Team selection at Texas Tech University, signed with the San Diego Chargers as an undrafted free agent in 2004. Days after the standout Red Raider was released by San Diego, Welker inked a deal to become a Miami Dolphin. While productive in South Beach, Welker became a five-time Pro Bowler and two-time First-Team All-Pro selection after the Dolphins traded him to the New England Patriots in March 2007. Welker sustained a slew of concussions and mercifully retired in 2015 as a member of the Rams. Altogether, with the Dolphins, Patriots, Denver Broncos and Rams, Welker caught 903 passes for 9,924 yards and 50 touchdowns.



The New Orleans Saints drafted Florida quarterback Danny Wuerffel 99th overall in 1997. The 6-foot-1, 212-pound Wuerffel embarrassed defenses in Gainesville and captured every prominent individual accolade during the 1996 season. The native Floridian, a member of the College Football Hall of Fame, was unable to produce in a traditional NFL offense. Accordingly, Wuerffel descended into a journeyman who spent time with the Green Bay Packers, Chicago Bears, Washington Redskins and, in 2000, the Rhein Fire of NFL Europe. Wuerffel tossed 12 touchdowns, against 22 interceptions, for 2,123 yards in 25 games as an NFL employee.

The two-time first-team all-American retired from football in February 2004 to concentrate his efforts on overseeing a nonprofit, faith-based organization that is located in the Big Easy.




The Baltimore Ravens signed Texas Longhorns running back Priest Holmes as an undrafted free agent in 1997. The 5-foot-9, 213-pound Holmes mainly produced in Charm City and carried the pigskin 459 times for 2,102 yards and 10 scores. However, following the emergence of Jamal Lewis, Ravens’ executives deemed Holmes expendable and allowed him to sign a free agent contract with the Kansas City Chiefs in 2001. Holmes matured in the Show-Me State and proved to be one of the league’s preeminent runners. The neglected Longhorn was a three-time Pro Bowler and three-time All-Pro selection as a Chief. Furthermore,

Holmes led the league in rushing yards in 2001 and was named the NFL Offensive Player of the Year in 2002. Holmes, who was plagued by neck ailments, retired as a Chief at the age of 33. In November 2014, Holmes was inducted into the Chiefs Hall of Fame.



Gino Torretta was a remarkable quarterback for the Miami Hurricanes in the early 1990s. The 6-foot-2, 215-pound Torretta was a consensus All-American in 1992 who captured every noteworthy award for his performance that season. Of greater significance, the College Football Hall of Famer led the Hurricanes to the national championship in 1991. Scouts ignored Torretta’s success in South Beach and he wasn’t chosen until the Minnesota Vikings selected him with the 192nd pick in the 1993 draft. Torretta was also employed by the Detroit Lions, San Francisco 49ers, Seattle Seahawks and Indianapolis Colts before he permanently shelved his cleats in 1997 at the age of 26. Over five seasons in the NFL, Torretta recorded a total stat line of one touchdown pass in two contests.


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Chargers tight end Antonio Gates is a surefire first-ballot Hall of Famer. A solid basketball player at Kent State University in Kent, Ohio, the 6-foot-4, 255-pound Gates signed with the Chargers after going undrafted in 2003. Gates quickly developed chemistry with quarterback Drew Brees and became a formidable presence in America's Finest City. Gates, an eight-time Pro Bowler and member of the NFL 2000s All-Decade Team, has 897 receptions for 1,192 yards and 111 touchdowns over 204 games working with Brees and Philip Rivers as a Charger.

Gates inked a two-year contract extension with the Chargers in March 2016 and he will remain one of Rivers’ primary targets in Los Angeles. The 36-year-old Gates will be immortalized in Canton five years after he chooses to retire.



The Chicago Bears selected Penn State University running back Curtis Enis with the fifth overall pick in the 1998 draft. While a Nittany Lion in Happy Valley, the 6-foot, 240-pound Enis averaged 5.8 yards per rush for 3,256 yards and 36 scores. In addition to Enis’ brilliance on the ground, the 1997 consensus All-American caught 57 passes for 506 yards and two touchdowns. Upon becoming a professional, Enis was immediately beset by a host of severe injuries. Following three injury-plagued campaigns in the Windy City, Enis signed a one-year contract with the Cleveland Browns. Unfortunately, a degenerative condition in Enis’ left knee forced him to retire in 2001 at the age of 24. Enis amassed 1,497 yards and four scores in 36 games running as a Bear.

4 Thrived: TONY ROMO

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Former Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo is the most under-appreciated player in the annals of the league. The 6-foot-2, 220-pound Romo signed with the Cowboys in 2003 as an undrafted free agent out of Eastern Illinois University. Following roughly three seasons on the bench, Jessica Simpson’s past lover replaced Drew Bledsoe at halftime of a game against the New York Giants in October 2006. Romo, a four-time Pro Bowl selection who was the NFL passer rating leader in 2014, remained the Cowboys’ starter until he got injured in a 2016 preseason game.

Romo never managed to lead Dallas to its first championship since 1995. Regardless, the numbers don’t lie and Romo was a statistical machine. Romo finished his career with 2,829 completions for 34,183 yards and 248 scores. The 37-year-old Romo is destined for Canton.



Charles Rogers was essentially unstoppable as a wide receiver at Michigan State University. The 6-foot-3, 202-pound Rogers was a unanimous All-American in 2002 who earned that season’s Fred Biletnikoff Award and Paul Warfield Trophy. Incredibly, the lanky Spartan also established a NCAA record by catching a touchdown pass in 13 consecutive games. Following two stellar years in East Lansing, the Detroit Lions chose Rogers with the second pick in the 2003 draft. Much to the dismay of Lions’ executives, Rogers sustained season-ending injuries to his clavicle in 2003 and 2004.

To compound matters, the Michigan native violated the NFL's substance abuse policy on three separate occasions. Detroit released the 24-year-old Rogers in September 2006 and he never again found work in the league.

2 Thrived: KURT WARNER

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If only Kurt Warner became a starting quarterback in the NFL before he turned 28. Undrafted in 1994 out of the University of Northern Iowa, the 6-foot-2, 215-pound Warner stocked shelves at a grocery store for peanuts while moonlighting as a signal-caller for the Iowa Barnstormers from 1995 to 1997. The Arena Football Hall of Famer next moved to Amsterdam where he performed for the Admirals and led NFL Europe in touchdowns and passing yards in 1998. Warner finally received a chance in 1999 with the St. Louis Rams.

Warner instantly shined, earned that season’s MVP Award, and directed the historically pathetic Rams to a 23-16 victory over the Tennessee Titans in Super Bowl XXXIV. Warner had unfinished business and somehow managed to guide the abysmal Arizona Cardinals to Super Bowl XLIII. The 45-year-old Warner will be enshrined into the Pro Football Hall of Fame this August.


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Johnny Manziel is one of the most controversial, disruptive and maddening figures in the annals of the NFL. The 5-foot-11, 210-pound Manziel was an indomitable quarterback in Kevin Sumlin's Air Raid attack at Texas A&M. “Johnny Football” was unshakeable from the outset and he became the first freshman to capture the Heisman Trophy award in December 2012. The diminutive Texan returned to College Station in 2013 and he continued to flourish under center for the Aggies. Approximately four months after Manziel decided to forgo his junior season, the notorious partier was taken by the Cleveland Browns with the 22nd pick in the 2014 draft.

Mainly due to booze and irresponsibility, Manziel was an utter disaster in Cleveland and he was released by the organization in March 2016. The 24-year-old Manziel is currently a free agent who lacks any potential suitors.


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