Failure in the NFL is inevitable. It’s simply too competitive of a league to have everybody succeed, even on a limited basis. Moreover, a sizable portion of the busts in the league are actually players who were supposed to be productive over the long-term. Their careers didn’t pan out the way that they wanted them to, and that much has been obvious. However, their NFL career is only one chapter in their lives, and eventually they’ve been all forced to move on, one way or another.
Needless to say, some handle it better than others. While failure in the NFL is something that they won’t forget for the rest of their lives, the ones who are able to compartmentalize it usually fare much better during their post-professional football career. The ones who don’t, generally are bound to have some kind of problems, as the mental toll of being a draft bust can create many internal issues that are difficult to resolve. Let’s take a look at some notable examples of both, and why they may have gone in the direction they did.
Ranked below are 8 NFL draft busts doing well for themselves, and 7 who are doing terribly.
15. Tim Tebow (Doing Well)
The phenomenon that was Tim Tebow is etched in football history as one of the most unique trends in recent memory. Whether you liked him or not, there was something encapsulating about him as a person, and that translated to both the college and NFL level. What didn’t translate however, was his ability to play QB, and he was quickly exposed as a player who just didn’t have what it took to make it in the pros.
Thankfully for him, Tebow has been able to parlay his football likability into broadcasting, and he’s been a solid college analyst for a while now. He’s also in the middle of a stint as a minor league baseball player, meaning his plate has been full since his NFL retirement in 2015, and he’ll continue to be a public figure in the world of sports for the foreseeable future.
14. Vince Young (Not Doing Well)
While at Texas, Young was considered to be a can’t-miss quarterback prospect, and all eyes were upon him to succeed in the NFL early on. Blame it on an inept Titans coaching staff led by Jeff Fisher, or blame it on Young himself, but his NFL career quickly sprialed out of control, and he was left to a mediocre career with several teams before he ultimately departed.
Several attempts at an NFL comeback were stalled several years ago, and most recently Young was cut from the CFL’s Saskatchewan Roughriders, which clearly isn’t a good look. All in all, if Young’s playing days are indeed over with, it’s been a rough way to end them, with multiple failed situations over the past five years.
13. David Carr (Doing Well)
A former 1st-overall pick, Derek Carr’s older brother David was supposed to be the franchise quarterback for the Texans when he was drafted in 2002. He was considered to be the best quarterback in the draft class, and a certainty to be the kind of player that could make a team a contender right away. Unfortunately, his career didn’t go as planned.
The Texans were less-than stellar on their offensive line at the time, and consequently, Carr received very little protection. He was one of the most sacked quarterbacks in the league during his formative NFL years, and quickly was reduced to a marginal talent. His broadcasting career has been better than his playing career, however, and he’s currently working for the NFL Network.
12. David Terrell (Not Doing Well)
A standout at Michigan during his college days, Terrell was considered to be the next great NFL receiver when he was drafted 6th-overall in 2001 by Chicago. The career didn’t go as many had foreseen, and Terrell was nothing more than a marginal player during his four NFL seasons. Needless to say, he was a disappointment, and quickly retired following the ’04 campaign.
It took a while for Terrell to fully give up his NFL dream. He tried out for the Chiefs, and attempted comebacks with the Broncos and Patriots as well. Nothing ended up working. Ultimately, he was convicted of a felony marijuana distribution charge, and a battery charge on top of that, in 2014. Terrell seems to have spiraled downward since his once-promising NFL career.
11. Jake Locker (Doing Well)
The 2011 quarterback class didn’t go on to he great heights that many thought they were going to, and Locker was arguably at the top of the list as far as busts from that class go. The former Washington quarterback was taken by the Titans in the 1st-round, and was thrown in as the starter almost immediately. It was clear however, that he was simply overmatched at the NFL level, and quickly achieved “bust” status. By the time he got to his 3rd-year in the league, it was clear it wasn’t going to work out, so he retired at the very young age of 26.
Luckily for Locker, his post-NFL career has been stable and relatively happy. He has a family, married with several children, and lives a quiet life with them, generally away from the public eye. There are certainly worse things he could be doing right now.
10. Trent Richardson (Not Doing Well)
There hasn’t been a running back bust the caliber of Richardson’s since it initially happened when he was drafted in 2012. Expected to be the next great NFL rusher, he instead was nothing more than an utter liability. Richardson couldn’t play effectively at the NFL level, despite stints with both the Browns and Colts. He was a slow, lumbering runner with no vision for running lanes.
He tried to catch on with the Raiders in 2015, but they cut him before the end of training camp. Ditto with the Ravens. Most recently, he’s been playing in the CFL for the aforementioned Saskatchewan Roughriders, which is a decided step down from the NFL for a former 3rd-overall draft pick. That can’t be weighing well on Richardson’s mind, as he realizes that he’s one of the biggest NFL letdowns in recent memory.
9. Akili Smith (Doing Well)
Attempting to get on the trend of acquiring the new franchise quarterbacks of the late-90s, the Bengals decided to take Smith with the 3rd-overall pick in the 1999 draft, and it was a disaster from almost the very beginning. Smith’s limitations that had once been overlooked playing in the PAC-12 for Oregon were now on full display at the NFL level. He was completely inept playing in a pro-style system, and the Bengals suffered greatly as a result.
While his last football action came in the NFL in the late-2000s, he was able to turn his post-playing career into a productive one. He became a high school quarterbacks coach, and contributed to California’s offensive staff at the college level. It’s good that he found a way to put his skills to good use, even if it wasn’t on an NFL playing field.
8. Charles Rogers (Not Doing Well)
This one has been forgotten with the passing of time, but in 2003, there wasn’t a better receiving prospect on the market for the NFL draft. Not surprisingly at the time, Rogers was taken with the 2nd-overall pick, and promptly was proven to be ill-suited as an NFL pass-catcher. His production was middling, then he got hurt, and multiple violations of the substance abuse policy followed.
It was all downhill from there. Rogers was out of the league quickly after the substance abuse violations, and subsequently had legal problems for years as a result of his habits. What was once a bright future for a seemingly talented player turned into a nightmare, both on and off the field.
7. Blaine Gabbert (Doing Well)
While Gabbert is assuredly an NFL bust, as a part of the horrific 2011 quarterback class, he’s actually somehow been able to hang on in the league. Certainly, playing on a dysfunctional Jaguars team (at the time), definitely contributed to his inefficiency, and he never did have the greatest coaching by his side. Amazingly, he was able to overcome it to some degree, and remains a backup on the Cardinals’ roster to this day.
Given the circumstances surrounding him in Jacksonville, this is probably the best case scenario for Gabbert as it stands right now. He showed that he isn’t a great NFL talent, but he’s played to his strengths, and has carved out a reasonably role for himself at this point in his career. That’s a victory, all things considered.
6. JaMarcus Russell (Not Doing Well)
The failure of Russell as the 1st-overall pick in the 2007 draft made everybody more wary about drafting a certain type of quarterback to be the franchise player. Russell’s charts and intangibles were off the map, but he just didn’t have the decision-making and acumen to play quarterback at the highest level. He was out of the league within a few years, and the Raiders were left with a hole at the position, and they’ve only recently recovered from that.
Russell has attempted a comeback numerous times over the years, and at this point it’s getting a little embarrassing. He penned a letter to all 32 NFL teams in 2016, requesting. the opportunity to play for free. No dice. Nobody is interested in Russell’s services anymore, and for his sake he should just hang up any future desire to play in the league. He’s demonstrated a lack of the ability to cope with his disappointing career, and combined with the numerous times he’s tested positive for codeine, there’s just no future left in football for the former LSU standout.
5. Joey Harrington (Doing Well)
Just like the aforementioned Akili Smith, Harrington was an Oregon quarterback product who was supposed to be the next primetime player in the league. Taken with the 3rd-overall pick by the Lions, he was seen as the catalyst that would finally get them over the hump, even if they were still getting over the retirement of Barry Sanders.
Harrington instead was a washout relatively early on, although he did hang on as the starter in Detroit for four seasons. His NFL career ended a few years later, but his career hangover didn’t last long, and he became active in broadcasting for Fox, as well as a color commentator for his alma matter, Oregon. He’s also completed a ton of charity work, which is always a good thing. Harrington, was able to shake off a not-so-successful career rather well, in the end.
4. Robert Griffin III (Not Doing Well)
When the Redskins sold the farm to move up and acquire Griffin, who was the hottest quarterback in college football at the time, most believed that the end result was going to be worth the humongous investment. That didn’t turn out to be the case, and through unfortunate injuries, and bickering with the coaching staff, mainly Jay Gruden, at the time, Griffin was ousted as the starter in Washington just three years into his career.
He was supposedly going to see a career resurrection in Cleveland before 2016, but promptly got hurt and missed the entire season. Now, Griffin is a free agent, and the future of his NFL career is looking grim. He’s injury-prone, and poor coaching has ruined any chance he may have had to live up to his draft position. We’ll have to see how he does down the line, but right now he can’t be feeling very positive about his career prospects.
3. Rick Mirer (Doing Well)
The former Notre Dame standout was supposed to be the future franchise quarterback of the Seahawks, and was taken number two overall with the assumption that he would turn into it relatively quickly. The results in Seattle were horrific instead, and Mirer only lasted a few as a starter in the 1990s, before it became obvious that he was a backup at best in the NFL.
To be fair, he did finish out his decade-plus long career with his head held high, and was able to move on from the game with about as much integrity as possible. He now co-owns a winery in California, so it seems as if he’s made the best of his post-playing days. He donates some of the proceeds to his personal charity foundation.
2. Johnny Manziel (Not Doing Well)
The one quarterback disaster to end them all, Manziel’s failure in the NFL can be complicated from a psychological perspective, but it was easy to determine from an observational one. He simply didn’t care enough to put in the work at the highest level. A partier of the highest order, Manziel wasn’t interested in learning the nuances of the playbook, and it wasn’t long before it cost him his job.
While it’s good that he eventually decided to pursue counseling for his problems, the general feeling is that this is going to be an uphill battle for the rest of Manziel’s life. When you have as many off-field incidents as he did during his career, it’s safe to assume that he won’t be interested in putting in the work for any field. There are multiple things in play here, and it could be a long time before he is healthy from a mental standpoint. Time will tell on this one.
1. Ryan Leaf (Doing Well)
Considered by many to be the biggest quarterback bust in recent memory until Manziel, Leaf has suffered through many trials and tribulations through not only his career, but his life in general. While it was a difficult start to his post-NFL career when he was drafted right behind top pick Peyton Manning in 1998, he’s been able to rectify his problems, and has turned his life around. He’s kicked his problems with substance abuse, and has dedicated a large portion of his life to helping others with the same issues.
He’s written memoirs, and now also does quite a bit of public speaking on the issue. It’s an admirable thing to do, especially after being in the public eye as an NFL quarterbacks for several years. Leaf’s career may not have worked out the way he desired, but the fact that he’s been able to be productive later in his life is a victory in and of itself.
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