The NFL has, by far, the most followed and analyzed draft of any professional sport, and that is why it's surprising that there are so many busts each year, with many scouts trying to get it right. Players that are projected to do great in the pros because of their college accolades do not always pan out due to various issues like injury problems, a lack of production, or off-the-field issues catching up with them.
The NFL draft also has an intense and grueling pre-draft process, including the NFL combine that gets factored into teams’ draft boards more than it probably should. That could be a reason there have been so many busts around the league over the years, and why it is so important to hit on high picks because a bust can set a team back for years.
Most of the players that find themselves on the list were taken within the top ten picks and that high of an investment makes them bust worthy. Quarterback is the position that appears on this list the most because there have been so many busts at the spot over the years and teams are so desperate to find a franchise signal-caller. A lot of these busts were also taken in front of Hall of Fame players and that factored into the decision to include them on the list.
Every team would love to have every pick on this list back because in hindsight they are the worst decisions they have ever made while on the clock. Ranked from 32 to 1, these picks are the most questionable selections each NFL franchise has made since the league started the draft back in 1936.
32 Tennessee Titans - Adam "Pacman" Jones (No. 6) 2005
Pacman Jones has had a very long and somewhat successful career in the NFL, but most of his good years in the league came after he left the Tennessee Titans, the team that drafted him. Jones' career with the Titans was filled with numerous off-the-field incidents. After his breakout second season when he showed flashes of talent that made him the number six overall pick, he was suspended for the entire next season for violating the NFL player conduct policy. Jones' overall career puts him on the low end of this list, but the Titans took him ahead of DeMarcus Ware and Aaron Rodgers, who were both legends on their respective sides of the ball.
31 Dallas Cowboys - Bobby Carpenter (No. 18) 2006
The Dallas Cowboys have made some questionable moves over the past two decades, yet they have been one of the better drafting teams throughout their entire franchise's history. Looking back on all of their first-round picks, it is hard to pick out a bust that was selected in the top ten picks. Bobby Carpenter is arguably their worst first-round pick because he had a highly successful collegiate career at Ohio State that included a BCS National Championship, but he failed to have the same success with Dallas. Bill Parcells previously coached Carpenter's father Rob in the NFL as well, and that played a factor in them taking him so high in the 2006 draft.
30 Miami Dolphins - Ted Ginn (No. 9) 2007
Ted Ginn was one of the most electric players in college football during his time at Ohio State, but it was still a reach for the Miami Dolphins to select him in the top 10 in the 2007 draft. Ginn is a great play maker in the slot and in the return game, but wide receivers taken that high in the draft are usually bigger bodied outside receivers. It took Ginn a couple of seasons to adjust to the physicality of the NFL and in his rookie season he had more fumbles than touchdowns. Dropping passes caused him to get benched in his third year and he mainly became a return man after that and was eventually shipped out of Miami for a fifth round pick after only three seasons and only five touchdown catches.
29 San Francisco 49ers - Lance Alworth (No. 8) 1962
Lance Alworth was one of the greatest receivers of his generation, so how could he be included on the list of worst draft busts of all time? The reason is that nearly all of his success came in the AFL with the Chargers and the 49ers drafted him to play in the NFL the same season. Alworth could have had his Hall of Fame career playing for the Niners in the NFL, but he elected to sign with the Chargers instead, and he was one of their best players of all-time. The 49ers basically wasted a top ten pick on a player that never played a down for them, and that makes this pick easily one of their worst ones ever.
28 Baltimore Ravens - Kyle Boller (No. 19) 2003
Since the Ravens came in as an expansion team back in the late 1990s, they have been one of the best drafting teams in all of football. That has mainly been because their general manager, Ozzie Newsome, has proven to have a keen eye for talent and has rarely missed on a pick. One of his worst selections came when the Ravens were still struggling to find a franchise quarterback to go along with their dominant defense of the early 2000s. Kyle Boller had a great college career and even set some records at the University of California, but he failed to produce the same type of numbers in the NFL and was eventually replaced by Steve McNair at the end of his career when the Ravens traded for him.
27 New York Giants - Cedric Jones (No. 5) 1996
It was tempting to include the Giants' first-round pick from a few seasons ago, Ereck Flowers, on this list, since they cut him earlier this season. However, he is not even as bad of a pick as the ninth pick as Cedric Jones was at the fifth pick in the draft in 1996. The Giants have built their successful teams by having one of the best pass rushing units in the league and they thought they were getting another legendary defensive lineman by selecting Cedric Jones at the top of the draft. Instead, he ended up with only 15 sacks in his five seasons with the team and he was taken ahead of impact players like Eddie George, Marvin Harrison, and Ray Lewis, who were all perennial Pro Bowlers and Hall of Famers.
26 New Orleans Saints - Ricky Williams (No. 5) 1999
Ricky Williams had a solid overall career in the NFL and was a two-time rushing champion with the Miami Dolphins, and that is why he is near the bottom of this list. But he is definitely the biggest bust in the history of the Saints because of how much draft capital they gave up to be able to draft him in 1999. Mike Ditka decided to trade the all of the Saints' picks that season to the Washington Redskins for the fifth overall pick. Williams had a legendary college career at Texas, but injuries with the Saints slowed him down and caused him to eventually be traded to Miami for a first and third-round pick, or far less return than what it took to trade for him when he was drafted.
25 Buffalo Bills - Mike Williams (No. 4) 2002
At the University of Texas, Mike Williams was a dominant force on the right side of the line and was a consensus All-American in his senior season. That, combined with his prototypical 6-foot-7, 337-pound frame, made the Bills think he was worthy of the number four overall selection in the 2002 draft. Largely due to weight issues, Williams did not last long as the starter in Buffalo and he was released in 2006 after being relegated to a backup role. The Bills could have had two defensive legends if they would have taken Dwight Freeney or Ed Reed, who were both still on the board when Williams was taken.
24 Philadelphia Eagles - Kevin Allen (No. 9) 1985
In Kevin Allen's first start at left tackle for the Philadelphia Eagles, Lawrence Taylor recorded 4 sacks on him and at that point, the Eagles might have already known they made a mistake taking him ninth overall in the 1985 draft. That game set the tone for the rest of his season and he struggled mightily until fell out of the line up by the end of the year. Personal issues then led to his release the very next season. This pick turned out to be a bad pick on and off the field, and to make this pick even worse, Jerry Rice was still on the board when they took Allen, and he turned out to be one of the best football players of all-time regardless of position.
23 Carolina Panthers - Kerry Collins (No. 5) 1995
Kerry Collins is best known for his time as quarterback for the New York Giants because he led them to a Super Bowl appearance in 2000. But he was initially drafted by the Carolina Panthers as their first pick in their existence, and unfortunately, he was pedestrian during his four seasons with them. He never threw more than 14 touchdowns in a season as a Panther and he threw more interceptions than touchdowns in two out of his four seasons. Four games into his fourth season, he told the franchise that he wanted to be traded and they cut him, upon which he had a long, successful, but not No. 5 overall pick-worthy career. To think they could have drafted Hall of Famers Warren Sapp and Derrick Brooks instead.
22 Pittsburgh Steelers - Tim Worley (No. 7) 1989
The Pittsburgh Steelers are one of the most successful franchises in NFL history and they rarely have had picks at the top of the draft because of it. Even when they have had high picks, they have been able to hit on them most of the time, hence the success, but Tim Worley was not one of those cases. He was an All-American in his final season at Georgia and rushed for over 1,000 yards that season. His first season with the Steelers was promising, as he rushed for 770 yards and 5 touchdowns. However, it was all downhill from there and after his first season, he never found the end zone again. In 1993 the Steelers traded Worley to the Bears for a fifth-round pick, proving he was not worth much at that point in his pro career.
21 Chicago Bears - Cade McNown (No. 12) 1999
In his senior season, Cade McNown starred at UCLA, was a consensus All-American, and was the Pac 10 Offensive Player of the Year. He also led the Bruins to a 10-2 record and a Rose Bowl appearance. That success caused the Bears to select him with the 12th overall pick in 1999, and he was their highest-selected quarterback since Jim McMahon who they had been trying to replace since he retired. However, McNown never lived up to his pre-draft hype and he only ended up throwing 16 total touchdowns and 19 interceptions in his two seasons in and out of the starting lineup. The Bears have still struggled to find a quarterback two decades later, but they might have one now in Mitch Trubisky.
20 Kansas City Chiefs - Todd Blackledge (No. 7) 1983
Todd Blackledge might be better known as a football analyst to fans these days, but he was once a bust for the Kansas City Chiefs at quarterback. In 1983 the Chiefs took Blackledge No. 7 overall in front of Hall of Famers Bruce Matthews, Jim Kelly, Dan Marino, and Darrell Green. Blackledge was fresh off of leading Penn State to a National Championship and winning the Davey O'Brien Award that goes to the best quarterback in the nation. That is probably the main reason why the Chiefs decided to take him over guys like Kelly and Marino, who went on to have legendary NFL careers. On the other hand, Blackledge ended up only throwing 29 career touchdowns and 5,286 yards in his entire career, and both of those numbers were almost eclipsed by Marino in a single season.
19 Denver Broncos - Paxton Lynch (No. 26) 2016
The issues at quarterback have been glaringly obvious for the Broncos since Peyton Manning retired and a big reason for that was because John Elway decided to trade up and draft Paxton Lynch late in the first round in 2016. Even Tim Tebow was a better first round pick at quarterback than Lynch because he, at least, led the Broncos to a playoff victory while he was the starter. Lynch ended up with one career win as the starter and was cut after only two seasons with the team.
Now the Broncos are still struggling to find a competent quarterback and it is because Elway whiffed on this pick. One would expect someone who had so much success at the position to be able to pick one out in the draft, but the quarterback selections during his tenure include Lynch, Brock Osweiler, Trevor Siemian, and Chad Kelly...yikes.
18 Arizona Cardinals - Andre Wadsworth (No. 3) 1998
Andre Wadsworth is one of the biggest busts in the history of the NFL, but lucky for him, he is not even the biggest one from 1998, because he was selected one pick after Ryan Leaf. He was even considered by some to be the best prospect in his class, which included both Leaf and Peyton Manning. He only lasted three seasons in the NFL and the Cardinals selected him in front of players like Charles Woodson and Randy Moss. He also had a long holdout that until the night before the first regular season game of his rookie career and his Arizona stint eventually ended with a knee injury that he never returned from.
17 Jacksonville Jaguars - Blaine Gabbert (No. 10) 2011
The Jacksonville Jaguars have rarely had stable quarterback play during the existence of their franchise, but it was perhaps never worse than when they had Blaine Gabbert as their starter. They invested a top ten pick on him in 2011, but he went on to only win 6 games as the starter in three seasons. His rookie season was so poor mainly due to accuracy issues, and his completion percentage was the second worst only behind Tim Tebow that season. Gabbert's injuries caused him to be let go after only three seasons and he has bounced around the league as a backup ever since.
16 New England Patriots - Ken Sims (No. 1) 1982
Ken Sims was a dominant college defensive lineman at the University of Texas and he was a two time All-American. He was the first Longhorn to ever win the Lombardi Trophy awarded to the nation's best lineman. However, Sims' production never translated over to the NFL and he only got a total of 17 sacks his entire eight-year career. He only started a full 16 games one time in that span and his career-high for sacks was a pedestrian 5.5 in 1985. There have been worse number one overall selections, but this was by far the worst one the Patriots ever made.
15 New York Jets - Ken O’Brien (No.24) 1983
When the draft was consistently held in New York at Radio City Music Hall, the best part of the draft was watching all of the Jets fans whine and complain about their bad first-round selection every year. However, they might have never been more upset than in 1983 when the Jets took Ken O’Brien over Dan Marino. It was initially thought that Marino was going to be one of the top picks of the draft, but off-the-field concerns and a subpar senior season caused him to fall all the way to into the Jets' lap at number 24. Instead, they selected a player out of UC Davis hardly anyone ever heard of. O’Brien went on to play decently for the Jets, but his career was nowhere near the Hall of Famer Marino, who finished as the leader of almost every statistical passing category when he retired.
14 Atlanta Falcons - Aundray Bruce (No. 1) 1988
After back-to-back All-SEC selections and being a first-team All-American selection, the Atlanta Falcons saw enough in Aundray Bruce to make him the number one overall pick in the 1988 draft. However, he never really made the impact that was expected of him when he got into the league. In four seasons with the Falcons Bruce only started 24 games at outside linebacker and never produced at the level of a starter, let alone a first overall pick. He was also picked ahead of three Hall of Famers in his draft class. Tim Brown was taken five picks after him, Michael Irvin was taken 10 picks after him, and Randall McDaniel was taken 18 picks after him, and they all would have been tremendously better options with the number one pick than Bruce that year.
13 Los Angeles Rams - Lawrence Phillips (No. 6) 1996
Despite his character concerns coming out of the University of Nebraska, the late Lawrence Phillips was supposed to be the best running back prospect in a class that included Heisman Trophy winner Eddie George. He was even considered by some to be the most talented player in the draft that year. The then St. Louis Rams took a chance and selected Phillips with the sixth pick in the draft and George went 12 picks later to the Houston Oilers. Their two careers could not have been more opposite. George became one of the best backs in the league and Phillips struggled to deal with off-the-field issues during his two seasons with the Rams and that eventually lead to him being cut.
12 Minnesota Vikings - Troy Williamson (No. 7) 2005
In 2005 the Vikings were in desperate need of playmakers on the outside because they had just traded their best receiver in franchise history, Randy Moss, in the offseason. That caused them to reach in the draft and take Troy Williamson out of South Carolina No. 7 to try and replace him. Williamson ended up not coming close to living up to his expectations and he tied for second in the league in drops with 11 in his rookie season. He continued that trend of dropping the ball throughout his career and he only caught three touchdowns with the Vikings. Williamson was also picked in front of DeMarcus Ware and Aaron Rodgers, so the Vikings passed up on a Hall of Famer on both sides of the ball to draft him.
11 Washington Redskins - Desmond Howard (No. 4) 1992
Desmond Howard has one of the best college football careers of all-time for a receiver at Michigan. He will forever be remembered for striking the Heisman pose after a long punt return that went for a touchdown and bringing home the trophy in his senior season. That legendary success in college caused the Washington Redskins to draft him fourth overall in 1992, which was an incredible reach for a slot receiver and return man.
He only ended up catching five touchdowns in three seasons with the Skins and all five of those came in his third season. Howard did have a shining moment in the pros when he took home the Super Bowl MVP as a kick returner, but by that point, he was a member of the Green Bay Packers.
10 Seattle Seahawks - Rick Mirer (No. 2) 1993
The Seattle Seahawks were in search for a franchise quarterback for a long time before they found a hidden gem in the third round in Russell Wilson. Their biggest bust of all-time and worst selection at quarterback came when they held the number two pick in the 1993 draft and decided to take Rick Mirer from the University of Notre Dame. Mirer definitely underwhelmed as a pro and he never threw more than 13 touchdowns in a season. Mirer was taken ahead of various Pro Bowlers and most notably ahead of Hall of Famers Willie Roaf and Jerome Bettis.
9 Tampa Bay Buccaneers - Vinny Testaverde (No. 1) 1987
Even though he finds a place on this list, Testaverde eventually carved out quite a career for himself and actually has the most yards and touchdowns of any quarterback that is not in the Hall of Fame. But most of those statistics came while he was a Jet and were just piled up because he played nearly 20 years in the league.
As a Buccaneer, he was one of the worst quarterbacks in the league and one of the worst number one overall picks ever. Testaverde has the most losses for a starting quarterback in NFL history and over 6 of those losses came as a Buc in only six years as the starter for them. He was known for being "color blind" and threw 35 interceptions compared to 15 touchdowns in the 1988 season. That year, a Tampa radio station put up a blue billboard that said "Vinny thinks this is orange."
8 Indianapolis Colts - Jeff George (No. 1) 1990
Before the Colts drafted Peyton Manning number one overall in 1999, they drafted one of the biggest busts of all-time at the position in Jeff George. One could also argue the Colts' selection of John Elway number one overall was just as bad because he never ended up playing a game for them. However, George was worse because he only won 14 out of his 49 starts as a Colt and they were one of the worst teams in the league while he was their starter from 1990-93. When George signed his rookie deal, it was at the time the richest contract for a rookie in the history of the league at $15 million. He never lived up to that deal and he was selected in front of Hall of Famers Cortez Kennedy, Junior Seau, and Emmitt Smith.
7 Houston Texans - David Carr (No. 1) 2002
The first pick in Houston Texans franchise history just happened to be their worst one as well. They got off to a very rough start as an expansion team and struggled for years to be a contending team. A big reason for that was because they invested the first overall pick on David Carr, who put up a ton of big numbers in the wide-open spread offense at Fresno State. In Houston, they failed to protect him at all and he was sacked more than any other quarterback by far in his rookie season. That stunted his growth as a player and made him somewhat skittish in the rest of his career. He flamed out as a Texan relatively quickly and was only able to catch on as a backup around the league after he left the team in 2006.
6 Detroit Lions - Charles Rogers (No. 2) 2003
The Detroit Lions drafted a laughable streak of wide receivers in the early 2000s. They drafted three straight busts at the position (Charles Rogers, Roy Williams, and Mike Williams) until they finally got it right by getting Calvin Johnson in 2007. Rogers was the first one of the bunch and he was definitely the worst as well, combining his number two selection with his poor production. He ended up playing in 15 games for the Lions over three seasons and only had 36 catches and 4 touchdowns. That's way less than his 68 catches and 13 touchdowns that he had in his senior season at Michigan State, numbers that he infamously sang to Ray Lewis in a commercial before his rookie season. Personal issues and injuries were the two big reasons for his downfall in Detroit.
5 Cleveland Browns - Tim Couch (No. 1) 1999
The Cleveland Browns probably have the most egregious first round busts since they reemerged back into the league in 1999. Coincidentally, that same season they started off the new era of the Browns with possibly their worst draft pick in the history of the franchise. They selected Tim Couch out of the University of Kentucky, a school more known for producing pro basketball prospects rather than number one quarterback selections. His biggest issue was that he was always injured and spent more time on the couch than the field while he was a Brown.
Couch might have had a better overall career as a Brown than, say, Brandon Weeden, Johnny Manziel, or Brady Quinn, all of whom were also first-round picks by the Browns. Those guys were all taken in the 20s and Couch was the first pick in the draft. Couch led the Browns to the playoffs in 2002, but even then, he broke his leg in the final game of the season and sat out the playoff game.
4 Green Bay Packers - Tony Mandarich (No. 2) 1989
The most hyped offensive lineman prospect in the history of the NFL draft is, for sure, Tony Mandarich. Before the 1989 draft, he was pictured on the cover of Sports Illustrated that was titled "The Incredible Bulk - 6'6", 315-pound Tony Mandarich is the best offensive line prospect ever." All that pre-draft hype lead the Green Bay Packers to take Mandarich with the second overall pick, which is awfully high to take a lineman, but they thought they were getting a sure-fire Pro Bowler with the pick.
Instead, Mandarich turned out to be slow and have poor technique and was more of a workout warrior than a productive player and only lasted three seasons with the team that drafted him. To make things worse for Green Bay, Steve Atwater, Andre Rison, Barry Sanders, and Deion Sanders were all taken after him.
3 Cincinnati Bengals - Ki-Jana Carter (No. 1) 1995
Running backs are rarely taken with the top pick in the NFL draft these days, and Ki-Jana Carter could be the reason why. The Cincinnati Bengals made him the number one overall pick because of his impressive career at Penn State, but he never was the explosive player in the pros that he was in college. He also signed a huge contract worth $19.2 million that included a $7 million signing bonus, which at the time was the biggest deal for a rookie in the history of the NFL.
The main reason why Carter turned out to be such a bust is that he could hardly ever stay on the field for the Bengals. In his rookie season, he injured his knee in his first preseason game and missed the entire year. Two seasons later, he got hurt again and tore his rotator cuff and missed another full season. In his fourth and final season with the team he only played three games and by the next year, he was with Redskins.
2 Los Angeles Chargers - Ryan Leaf (No.2) 1998
When you look up the word "bust" in the dictionary, a picture of Ryan Leaf might be next to it. It is laughable now, but there were a ton of football analysts saying that Leaf was going to be a better quarterback than the one that was selected one pick ahead of him (Peyton Manning) because Leaf had the bigger frame and better arm of the two. The two actually had polar opposite careers, Manning went on to have a Hall of Fame career and Leaf's career is most known for him blowing up on a reporter in a post-game interview and throwing a ton of interceptions. Leaf ended up throwing 14 career touchdowns compared to his 36 interceptions and had a passer rating of 50, which makes it easy to include him at the top of this list.
1 Oakland Raiders - JaMarcus Russell (No. 1) 2007
JaMarcus Russell is easily the biggest bust in NFL history and it is not even really that close. The Oakland Raiders used to draft guys based on their measurables more than any team should have and they loved the arm strength that Russell showed in pre-draft workouts. As such, they made him the number one overall pick in the 2007 draft. He never did anything of value in the silver and black, and there are still stories that are coming out now that show just how bad and lazy Russell was during his time in Oakland.
Earlier this month, a story came out that said the Raiders used to send Russell blank tapes to see if he was watching film and he came back to them and said he watched blitz packages, which was impossible because they had nothing on them. Russell is the biggest reason why rookies do not get paid as much as they used to in the new collective bargaining agreement because the Raiders signed Russell for $68 million and got nothing out of him.