In the NFL, just under half of first round picks end up being busts. Furthermore, about 70 percent of second round picks don't pan out, in general. Yet. every single year fans expects their first round pick to be a star and their second round pick to a quality starter at least. The only time fans don’t have insanely high expectations for their picks is when their team does something profoundly stupid and even then people are quick to talk themselves into it.
Getting overly excited about young players is a big issue for many fans. They get too caught up in the strengths and potential of each player that they struggle to take a step back and look at things from a more objective point of view. They have an idealized version of the upcoming season in mind and there is almost no chance that it actually works out as they hope.
As a result, most fans can think back over the past few years and name a dozen players that were just terribly disappointing to them. Many of these players were high first round picks, but many still are late round picks and undrafted free agents that got a little too much hype in training camp.
But there is always that one player that sticks out in everyone’s mind. A player that the entire fan base believed would be the savior of the franchise. Yet, for one reason or another, they fell well short of expectations. Here is every NFL team’s most disappointing draft pick.
32 Arizona Cardinals – Matt Leinart, QB
Matt Leinart entered the NFL as every fan’s favorite prospect back in 2006. He had wild success at USC, taking home a National Championship as well as the Heisman in 2004. Many felt it was a certainty his abilities would smoothly translate to the NFL.
Once everyone saw him in action, the consensus opinion changed drastically. He quickly became known as someone who couldn’t adjust to the NFL and had little room to grow. He failed to demonstrate anything that could give the coaching staff or the fan base an ounce of hope.
31 Atlanta Falcons – Michael Vick, QB
Michael Vick was one of the NFL’s most dominant quarterbacks in the early 2000s. He revolutionized the position with his insane athleticism and playstyle. The 2001 first overall pick isn’t on this list due to poor play.
In 2007, Michael Vick pleaded guilty to federal charges relating to illegal dog fighting, resulting in nearly two years of prison time as well as becoming one of the most despised athletes in America. One minute he was coming off a historic season, where he scored 22 touchdowns and rushed for over 1,000 yards, and the next he was out of the league and Atlanta.
30 Baltimore Ravens - Kyle Boller, QB
Kyle Boller was selected with the Ravens' 19th overall pick in 2003. He was expected to come in and be a cornerstone for the offense. Instead, he couldn't even take a talented team to the playoffs a single time in four years as the starter.
For his overall career, he has 20 wins and 27 losses, 5.9 yards per attempt, and 48 touchdowns to 54 interceptions. At his best, Kyle Boller simply wouldn't didn't get in the way of a win, rather than actually help the team. It was an absolute disaster of a pick.
29 Buffalo Bills – Tom Cousineau, LB
The Bills had just traded their Hall of Fame running back, O.J. Simpson, to the 49ers in exchange for the 1st overall pick in 1979. They were completely sold on Ohio State’s Tom Cousineau, a highly talented prospect at linebacker.
However, feeling disrespected by the team, Tom Cousineau elected to sign with the Montreal Alouettes on a contract that was twice the value of Buffalo’s offer. He spent several years there and was one of the CFL’s most dominant defensive players.
He did decide to come to the NFL in 1982, three years after being drafted. However, it wasn’t with the Bills, as Cousineau spent the next four years starting for the Browns. He proved to be a very talented player and was named a 2nd Team All-Pro by the Associated Press in 1984.
28 Carolina Panthers – Jeff Otah, T
Jeff Otah is the most frustrating type of player to have on your team. When he was on the field, he was a force for Carolina. The issue was that he was almost never on the field, as he was the literal definition of being injury prone.
The Panthers selected him with the 19th overall pick of the 2008 NFL Draft after trading up with Philadelphia in exchange for their 2008 second and fourth round picks as well as their 2009 first round pick. It was quite a price to pay.
Just four years later, Carolina was trying to dump him off to the Jets for a late round pick. However, he failed his physical and the trade was nullified. The team ended up cutting him shortly after and he never played a down in the NFL again.
27 Chicago Bears – Cade McNown, QB
Cade McNown was selected with the 12th overall pick in 1999. The quarterback was supposed to be one of the most pro-ready prospects in the class, but he ended up being one of the worst players selected. Tim Coach and Akili Smith manage to take most of the criticism for the 1999 NFL Draft, but that doesn’t soften the frustration for Bears’ fans.
McNown only managed to hang around in the NFL for four seasons. In that period, he won just three games for the Bears, losing 12. He had major accuracy issues, often overthrowing receivers and allowing the defenses to get easy interceptions. Though, the worst thing about McNown is that he would place blame on those around him rather than owning up to his shortcomings. It quickly made him one of the most despised players in Chicago sports history.
26 Cincinnati Bengals – Akili Smith, QB
Akili Smith is a fun story. He had a short college career but was an interesting prospect. He looked good in limited action in college and he had the physical abilities required to be an NFL star. The Bengals decided to take a shot on him in hopes of scoring big.
Of course, the cost of drafting Smith wasn’t just the 3rd overall pick. No, the Bengals turned down an insane offer of nine draft picks over the next two years from the Saints, who wanted to draft Ricky Williams. The opportunity cost here factors into the evaluation of this situation. The Bengals chose Akili Smith over the entire Saints 1999 draft class as well as their 1st and 3rd round picks next year.
25 Cleveland Browns – Tim Couch, QB
There are two sides to the Tim Couch draft pick. One group claims him to be among the worst draft busts of all-time. The other says that he wasn’t actually that bad and that his failure was more a result of playing on a talent-deficient Browns team that had just re-entered the league.
24 Dallas Cowboys – Shante Carver, DE
Having an additional force coming off the edge would have been terribly frightening for anyone playing the Cowboys in the 1990s. Thankfully for the rest of the league, Shante Carber was awful.
The Cowboys selected the defensive end at the end of the first round in 1994. However, despite being healthy, he failed to earn any significant playing time for himself in his rookie year. His contribution to the stat sheet was two tackles.
23 Denver Broncos - Ted Gregory, DT
Ted Gregory was the Broncos first round pick in 1988, being selected 26th overall. He made such a bad first impression with the team that they decided to immediately cut their losses. Prior to the start of his rookie season, he was dealt to the Saints. Typically, first round picks will at least get a year or two to prove themselves no matter how bad they look at first. It speaks volumes about Gregory as a player that he was not given the same chance.
22 Detroit Lions – Charles Rogers, WR
The Matt Millen era in Detroit was one of the darkest eras for any sports team ever. It was filled with terrible draft busts and general mismanagement.
The worst of it all came with Charles Rogers, a 6’3” – 202 pound wide out with blazing speed. He was an amazing prospect. Unfortunately, he struggled with marijuana and had failed two drug tests before the draft. Despite the warning signs, the Lions decided to pull the trigger on Rogers with the second overall pick in 2003, skipping over the legendary Andre Johnson, who went to the Texans with the next pick.
21 Green Bay Packers – Tony Mandarich, T
The 1989 NFL Draft:
It is a rough sight for Packers fans. Tony Mandarich seemed unbustable coming into the NFL. He was a massive human being who beat up on every defensive end he played against in college. It wasn’t like he was playing against weak competition either, as he was repeatedly going up against some of the most highly regarded pass rushing prospects in the country and absolutely demolishing them as a tackle for Michigan State
It isn’t hard to see why he was the most highly regarded offensive line prospect in NFL history. However, his downfall was the result of drugs. Part of it was simply steroids. It was something that most NFL teams suspected, but Mandarich had managed to pass every drug test he took in college. When he got to the pros, he decided to cut it off for fear of being caught.
What he failed to end was his addiction to painkillers. To help manage the pain of his intense routine, he was constantly loading his body up with various drugs to get himself through it all. In the end, it isn’t hard to see why that kind of lifestyle isn’t something a player can maintain while having success in the NFL. After three terrible years in Green Bay, he left football and continue to spiral in his personal life.
20 Houston Texans – David Carr, QB
Houston had just joined the NFL and was given the first overall pick to kick things off. With it, they selected David Carr, a promising quarterback out of Fresno St. Unfortunately, he was not what anyone expected. Overall, he struggled greatly at just moving the offense, as things were not smooth with Carr at the helm.
Now, many claim that he got dealt a bad hand, as that the situation in Houston offered no chance to succeed. It makes sense since the team had just entered the NFL and had nothing for Carr to work with. In particular, his offensive line was terrible. Over his first four years he took more sacks than anyone else in the league by far.
19 Indianapolis Colts - John Elway, QB
John Elway is one of the most popular quarterbacks in NFL history. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame after taking home two Lombardi Trophies in back-to-back years and establishing himself as one of the greatest clutch players of all-time.
John Elway wasn't a disappointing player for the Colts and their fans because he was a bust. It was the opposite actually. After being selected with the first overall pick in 1983, he refused to play for Indianapolis. The team was then forced to trade him and they were forced to watch him have one of the all-time great careers in Denver.
18 Jacksonville Jaguars – Justin Blackmon, WR
Justin Blackmon had the potential to be one of the most dominant wide receivers in the NFL. He was very similar to Dallas’ Dez Bryant, as he could physically overpower any defensive back matched up against him. He would routinely put up insane stats with sub-par quarterbacks throwing him the ball and he was everything he was hyped up to be coming out of college in the NFL.
17 Kansas City Chiefs - Todd Blackledge, QB
The 1983 NFL draft has gone down as one of the most talented draft classes in NFL history. Just over 20% of the players selected in the first round went on to be inducted into the Hall of Fame. The Kansas City Chiefs were on of the few teams to lose out here, despite having a premium draft pick.
They selected quarterback Todd Blackledge with the seventh overall pick. He managed to stay in Kansas City for five years, which was fairly impressive given how bad he was. He never managed to start more than eight games in a year. Furthermore, the only season in which he managed a completion percentage above 50% was his rookie year in which he only attempted 34 throws.
16 Los Angeles Rams – Jason Smith, T
Leading up to the 2009 NFL Draft, many analysists were saying the Lions should pass on Matthew Stafford in favor of Jason Smith. The reasoning was that their team was so bad (coming off a historic 0-16 season) that the young quarterback would have no chance to succeed. So instead, they should draft the sure-thing at tackle and go with Sam Bradford next year.
To their credit, the Lions made the smart choice and went with the quarterback. The Rams were happy to snag Jason Smith, who they felt would be able to anchor their offense for the next decade at least. He was that good of a prospect.
As it turns out, Smith failed to earn the starting job in his rookie year, which was highly concerning for a guy who was supposed to be the most talented player in the class. The following year in 2010, the team just handed him the job to see what he could do.
15 Miami Dolphins – Dion Jordan, DE
The Miami Dolphins traded up to the third overall pick from 12th to select edge rusher Dion Jordan. Some analysts questioned the move because the Dolphins ran a 4-3 defense and Jordan seemed like a much better fit in a 3-4 defense.
Critics of the deal turned out to be right. Jordan was unable to earn a spot in Miami's starting lineup, as in two years he was able to earn just one start. He showed nothing in limited action either, recording 3 sacks and 39 tackles in 26 games.
However, what sealed his career has been his inability to stay clean. He opened his second season with a six game suspension, then immediately followed up on it with a 16 game suspension in 2015, both for violations of the substance abuse policy.
14 Minnesota Vikings – D.J. Dozier, RB
The Minnesota Vikings selected Penn State’s D.J. Dozier with the 14th overall pick in 1987. The running back was supposed to power the offense moving forward. However, his rookie season was far and away the best season of his career, in which he recorded a grant total of 257 rushing yards and 5 touchdowns. He averaged 28.6 yards per game and 3.7 yards per carry. It was an absolutely dreadful season, yet that was the best he could do.
All in all, he lasted just four years in Minnesota and performed like a third string running back. He played like a guy on the roster bubble, a guy that most fans aren’t even aware is on the team or how they got there.
13 New England Patriots – Chris Singleton, LB
There was a lot of excitement in New England following the 1990 NFL Draft. They had just turned the 3rd overall pick into the 8th and 10th overall picks; a trade that any fan today would be absolutely ecstatic with.
They completely botched the amazing opportunity. Their 10th overall pick, Ray Agnew, was fine. He didn’t live up to the hype, but it wasn’t a complete loss. On the other hand, 9th overall pick Chris Singleton was a complete loss. The linebacker accomplished nothing in his three and a half years in New England. He was a liability on defense and felt like a stopgap at the position.
12 New Orleans Saints – Ricky Williams, RB
Ricky Williams was a really good football player in the NFL. However, he didn’t quite live up to the expectations of being a generational talent at running back. In addition, Williams only spent three years with the Saints despite the team infamously trading their entire draft class in 1999, as well as their 1st and 3rd picks in 2000 to go get him. It was an absurd price to pay for three years of a running back who averaged about 1,000 yards per year, 3.8 yards per carry, and 5 touchdowns per season.
11 New York Giants – Ron Dayne, RB
Ron Dayne was the 11th overall pick by the Giants in 2000. The running back opened his career with a disappointing rookie season. He played in all 16 games but only started 4 of them. He recorded just under 800 yards, averaging a poor 3.4 yards per carry. It wasn’t good, but it at least felt like something he could build off moving forward.
That isn’t what happened at all. In fact, he slowly declined over the next three years before leaving the city and becoming a journeyman, backup running back. This was a guy the Giants expected to be the future of their offense and power them moving forward.
10 New York Jets – Vernon Gholston, DE
What separates the NFL from College is the athleticism of the athletes. It isn’t hard to see why teams like to pick up great athletes and coach them up to the next level. This is what the Jets attempted to do with Vernon Gholston. The Ohio State edge rusher had inhuman athletic abilities and seemed like a player who could tear apart any offensive lineman.
The Jets believed they were getting the cornerstone of their defense with the 6th overall pick in 2008.
9 Oakland Raiders – JaMarcus Russell, QB
JaMarcus Russell is easily the most famous draft bust in NFL history. The quarterback had such insane physical attributes, that his upside was so high it easily cancelled out any concerns. Any team with the 1st overall pick had to roll the dice on him.
Unfortunately, it failed in the absolute worst way. JaMarcus Russell was just not a good football player. It seemed like he just wasn’t serious about what he was doing. He didn’t enjoy the game and he didn’t care about it.
8 Philadelphia Eagles – Freddie Mitchell, WR
The Andy Reid/ Donovan McNabb era in Philadelphia was one of the brightest eras in the franchise’s history. However, what everyone will remember was the pair’s inability to take home a Lombardi Trophy.
They had almost all the pieces; coaching staff, quarterback, offensive line, and an amazing defense. The one thing they desperately needed was a wide receiver. They briefly filled it in 2004 with the addition of Terrell Owens and it resulted in the team’s only Super Bowl appearance over that period. However, the relationship between Owens and the team quickly soured.
Things would have looked far different had they managed to acquire a legit number one wide out. Freddie Mitchell was supposed to be that player. He was the team’s first round pick in 2001, 25th overall, drafted ahead of Reggie Wayne and Chad Johnson.
7 Pittsburgh Steelers – Darryl Sims, DT
The Steelers had somewhat of a rough time in the 80s. Overall, they were fairly mediocre, hovering around eight wins a season. They had pieces to work with, but were sunk by poor drafting in the first round over the course of the decade.
Of those picks, Darryl Sims was by far the worst. He was supposed to come in and revitalize the defense of a franchise known for its ability to punish offenses. The Wisconsin defensive tackle seemed to be everything the Steelers could want in a defender.
6 San Diego Chargers – Ryan Leaf, QB
The Payton Manning vs Ryan Leaf debate is a fun topic to look back on. There was genuine uncertainty as to who was the better quarterback (though most did favor Manning). Of course, one became one of the all-time greats and the other one of the all-time greatest draft failures.
Fans are very familiar with the concept of a “locker room cancer,” I.E., a player who severely harms the moral of the team. Some fans are okay with these players, others would never want one to set foot in the locker room. Though when discussing these players, you would never typically think of it applying to your starting quarterback. After all, the starting quarterback is the leader of your team. He’s the guy that everyone looks up to.
5 San Francisco 49ers – A.J. Jenkins, WR
A.J. Jenkins is a unique player on this list in that he didn’t actually have relatively high expectations heading into his career. Following the first round of the 2012 NFL Draft, many analysts were somewhat puzzled by the selection of A.J. Jenkins. It seemed like a bit of a reach as most had him as a day two pick.
He earns this spot because no one could have imagined how bad he was. You would never expect your team to blow a first round pick like the 49ers did with Jenkins. In his first season with the team, he only managed to be activated for three games. In those three games, he got just one target and failed to catch it.
4 Seattle Seahawks – Aaron Curry, LB
Aaron Curry was referred to as the safest player in the draft. He was a can’t-miss prospect at linebacker. That didn’t work out. As it turns out, you have to be pretty smart to play in the NFL. Not “book smart” necessarily, but you need to be able to process information quickly. It doesn’t matter how physically gifted you are if you aren’t able to put yourself in position to make a play.
Curry only lasted two years in Seattle and was out of the NFL shortly after. To make things worse, this was before the rookie wage scale. Not only did Seattle draft an “unbustable” prospect who was terrible at football, but they paid over $30 million for the pleasure.
3 Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Vinny Testaverde, QB
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers selected quarterback Vinny Testaverde with the first overall pick in 1987. Over his tenure with the team, he was able to make things happen, but he threw an unreal amount of interceptions. In six years with the team, he threw 112 picks and led the league in that category twice. He also never managed to lead the team to more than six wins in a season. As a result, the team decided to move on from him following the 1992 season.
2 Tennessee Titans - Vince Young, QB
Vince Young was one of the most exciting quarterbacks in college football at the University of Texas. Many expected him to easily transition his thrilling style to the NFL. The hype was likely fueled by the insane success of Michael Vick, who played a very similar style to Young.
His rookie season was somewhat promising. It wasn't amazing, but it was good enough for a rookie (at this time, many still did not expect rookie quarterbacks to take over the starting job immediately). He was expected to improve entering his second year, but let his fans down as he experienced a severe regression. He threw more interceptions, fewer touchdowns and was much less of a threat on the ground.
1 Washington Redskins – Robert Griffin III, QB
Whenever the price for a quarterback prospect is three first round picks, expectations will always be sky-high. To make matters worse though, Griffin looked amazing in his first year. It was one of the all-time great rookie performances.
His biggest strength was his ability to run. Though he was different from every other mobile quarterback in the NFL, as Griffin was able to beat almost every defender to the edge. As a result, it wasn’t enough to just have a linebacker spy him. His running ability commanded an unreal level of respect from defensive coordinators.
When he injured his leg in the playoffs, it had a lasting impact on his ability to run. He was still agile and fast, but he was no longer “special”; he was no longer different from any other mobile quarterback.
From this point, he quickly spiraled downwards. He no longer got respect from defensive coordinators and they were able to effectively game plan for him. It resulted in him going from elite prospect to borderline starter in a single offseason. It was the most extreme drop off any player has experienced in recent history by far.
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