Although life in the NFL seems to be one big party, not everyone gets to reap the benefits of stardom. Coming into the league, many of these young prospects are stamped with lofty expectations! If they meet expert opinions, everyone continues with their day. But, if for some reason, these first-rounders fall short of their projected outlooks, they get classified as NFL busts. Running back is a position that’s often debated when discussing draft picks because the position has been devalued in recent years with many teams now deploying a backfield by committee. On top of that, it’s well known that many running backs will start to slow down by their late 20s and early 30s, making the position a risky investment for a high first round pick.
Today, we will catch up with some of the NFL’s biggest running back busts. While some of them have used their status as a jumping point to a new career, others have wallowed in the failure of their NFL days and are still struggling to this day. Let’s hit the hole with 8 NFL running back draft busts who are doing well for themselves, and seven who are doing terribly.
15. Well – Darren McFadden
“Run DMC” was the head of a three-headed monster in the University of Arkansas backfield, which included fellow NFLers Felix Jones and Peyton Hillis. Whilte the latter backs enjoyed short stints of success in the big league, McFadden never seemed to overcome the learning curve.
While the 30-year-old running back has put together two 1,000-yard seasons, he has never lived up to his fourth-overall pick status. In the beginning of the 2017 season, the Dallas Cowboys released McFadden, passing the torch onto their Pro Bowl back, Ezekiel Elliot.
14. Terribly – Vaughn Dunbar
Dunbar was poised to be a staple in the Saint’s backfield in the early 90s. Per some experts, the Indiana Hoosier’s quick, and shifty play, along with his 5’10”, 200 lb. frame, reminded many teams of Emmitt Smith. Although he lacked the explosive ability that most elite runners possess, he made up for it with “between the tackles toughness.”
New Orleans took the Jim Brown Award winner with the 21st overall pick of the 1992 NFL Draft. Unfortunately, he fizzled out of the league after a few years, but tried to make a resurgence in the XFL in 2001. The gap between playing time was too much for Dunbar, and his toughness turned to timidness.
13. Well – William Green
With the 16th pick of the 2002 draft, the Cleveland Browns selected running back, William Green, out of Boston College. Although he slowly under-performed during his short professional tenure, Green’s story is still one of success. As a teenager, Green lost both his parents to AIDS, a debilitating setback in his life. He overcame the impossible though, and made his way up the ranks in college, eventually becoming a first rounder.
While most busts may sit around in obscurity after their glory days, Green is traveling the country, promoting his Christian values at schools, churches, and events. Although he is widely considered a bust, the guy is clearly doing well for himself today. As for the Browns, we would like to say they’ve seen better times, but it seems mediocrity has made its home in northeast Ohio.
12. Terribly – Trent Richardson
Ah, the classic tale of Trent Richardson. The two-time BCS National Champion went from the top of the world, to actually, the top of the world, as he’s now in the CFL. So, where exactly did this monster of a man go wrong? At first, the Browns third-overall pick looked to be a good fit in Cleveland, running wild against the AFC North. His fellow players even nominated him “71st best player in the NFL” after his rookie year!
Then came the downfall. Cleveland decided to trade the former Alabama running back to the Colts, where his career went downhill. Richardson struggled with injuries and weight issues, and after jumping to the Raiders and the Ravens, he had to move his career to Canada.
In 2017, Richardson had a productive year with the Saskatchewan Roughriders, and is still eye-balling a comeback in the states. Although he remains optimistic, from a top pick standards, Richardson is doing terribly.
11. Well – Blair Thomas
Thomas was set-up to enjoy years of success coming out of Penn State. In 1990, the Jets snatched him off the board with 2nd overall pick, looking to fortify their backfield into the new decade. As a rookie, Thomas looked poised to break out, as he lead the rest of his fellow rooks in rushing. But, after a series of injuries over the next few years, the former Nittany Lion’s carries decreased, and he bounced around the league until 1995, eventually retiring.
While he lives an average life in Pennsylvania, the current insurance salesman still spends his time at youth camps around the world. In 2008, he even made the trek up to the USA’s northernmost town, Barrow, Alaska, to spread his knowledge to the locals. Thomas even stated “the game of football has been good to us and it’s an opportunity to give back, to help kids achieve their dreams.” Good for him!
10. Terribly – Curtis Enis
Another Penn State running back cracks our top ten. The former fifth pick of the 1998 NFL Draft only spent four brief seasons in an NFL jersey, amassing less than 1,500 yards in the process. Well many apologists will claim that Enis was hindered by his torn ACL during his rookie year, the Bears gave him every opportunity to succeed. Cleveland decided to take a chance on the former All-American, but his knee issues persisted, and was forced to leave the league following the 2001 season.
Although Enis was enjoying his retirement, working as an operations manager, he recently was under fire from the law stemming from a fight outside of “The Lion’s Den” bar in State college. As a guy who used to embark on the weekly bar-hopping tours of Happy Valley, I can tell you this is where all the athletes (and jersey chasers) hang out. Enis plead guilty in 2017 for two counts of assault and harassment.
9. Well – Cadillac Williams
The Warrick Dunn – Mike Alstott years in Tampa Bay were ones for the record books. The combination of speed and power had opposing defenses shaking at the goal-line.In 2005, the Buccaneers tried to add another member to their powerhouse backfield, and drafted Cadillac Williams with the fifth overall pick. The former Auburn running back started with promise, but eventually, injuries led to the Rookie of the Year’s demise.
After a few years, the first-rounder fizzled out of the league with over 4,000-yards rushing and 21 TDs. Although his numbers were good, he never lived up to his expectations, making him a bust! While he’s doing well coaching in Georgia, we can’t help to think his talent’s went to waste due to his ever-present ailments. Oh, and he also returned to school and finished his degree in sociology with Auburn.
8. Terribly – Alonzo Highsmith
Speaking of the “Bad News Browns,” let’s take a look at their current Vice President of Football Operations, Alonzo Highsmith. As an NFL running back, the former fourth-overall pick of the 1987 NFL Draft was clearly a bust. The University of Miami speedster only saw the endzone 10 times during his short, five-year career. After the NFL, Highsmith switched sporting disciplines and became a professional boxer, actually finishing with a record of 27-1-2! Maybe he should have went straight from college to the ring, instead of making a mediocre stop on the gridiron.
You are probably thinking to yourself, “why is this guy doing terribly then?” I’m glad you asked that question! It’s because he works for the Browns! With their recent defeated season, I think everyone in that organization is doing terribly!
7. Well – Ron Dayne
The boom of the “Thunder and Lightning” backfield of Dayne and Barber was supposed to be historic. The New York Giants took Dayne in the first-round of the 2000 NFL Draft, hoping his college success translated into NFL rings. Unfortunately, the former Heisman winner’s downhill, between the tackles style fell flat against better competition. Wisconsin’s 5’10, 250 lb. bowling ball of a back, rolled into the gutter after four years in the league.
Nowadays though, the NCAA’s all-time leading rusher is making a name for himself outside the gridiron. Currently living in Madison, Wisconsin, where he is local Badger legend, Dayne spends his days as a marketing liaison for large companies, and pursues charitable opportunities. Although his career ended far too soon, this bust seems to be doing pretty well for himself.
6. Terribly – D.J. Dozier
The third (and actually not last) former Penn State running back on our list is D.J. Dozier. In Happy Valley, Dozier was a dual-sport athlete, but excelled in Joe Paterno’s offense. In 1986, the Virginia-native was nominated as a Consensus All-American, setting his professional career up for triumph.
Just like the rest of the busts on this list, Dozier’s career was cut short due to poor play, gaining only 700 yards in his short five-year career. The Lions’ 14th overall pick tried his bat on the diamond after NFL retirement, but only managed one farm-league season for the Mets in 1992.
Recently, many experts compared the dual-sport bust to Tim Tebow. Just like Dozier, Tebow hasn’t truly excelled in both sports either. Dozier said:
“You got to have that, ‘I can do this.’ Whether you can do it or not, you have to have confidence. I was one of those guys who was blind and deaf enough to believe that I could do it regardless what other people thought.”
5. Well – Tommy Vardell
“Touchdown Tommy” technically enters our list as a fullback, but either way, he was a true NFL bust. The Browns, who have historically made bad draft decisions, took Vardell with the 9th overall pick of the 1992 NFL Draft. Although he had decent rushing numbers, and led Barry Sanders through the hole in his historic 1997-98 season, the former Stanford Cardinal struggled with a litany of injuries over his career, and deserves a spot in our top 5.
After his less than stellar NFL career, Vardell took his money, and started investing. Now, Touchdown Tommy is scoring in the financial market with his private equity company, Northgate Capital. The current California-resident is Managing Director of the investment firm, subsequently making a whole lot of dough! I’d say that classifies the bust as doing just fine!
4. Terribly – Sammie Smith
The spotlight can be a tough place. Just ask NFL bust, Sammie Smith. The Florida State star set several school records down in Tallahassee, and the Dolphins figured they’d keep 6’2″, 220 lb. monster in the “Sunshine State.” Miami took Smith with the 9th overall pick of the 1989 NFL Draft, hoping to surround their MVP quarterback, Dan Marino, with as many weapons as possible.
After limited time in the league, Smith found himself in legal troubles as he was arrested on two counts of distribution of cocaine. The Dolphins’ bust rotted in jail for seven years due to the incident.
Although he makes our list as doing terribly for his arrest, Smith has used his time post-prison to help out fellow footballers with adversity off the field. In 2016, he became the “Fellowship of Christian Athletes Director of Character Development” for Ole Miss. While he originally experienced the aforementioned legal issues, Smith is looking to work his way out of his once terrible situation, and we have to give him credit for that.
3. Well – Larry Stegent
We’ve gotta go back almost half-a-century for our next running back bust. Former Texas A&M ball carrier, Larry Stegent, was poised for a long tenure in the NFL after a productive career as an Aggie in College Station. Stegent was named three-time all-Southwest Conference tailback, paving the path for domination in the pros.
After the St. Louis Cardinals drafted Stegent with the 8th overall in 1970, the running back injured his knee in the preseason, and never seemed to recover. He managed to reel in a whopping one reception for 12 yards during his NFL career.
Nowadays, the 70-year-old still reflects on his status as a bust, but has ore important business to take care of; he’s rich! As the CEO of Stegent Insurance Associates in Houston for the past 44 years, we can say this bust is doing not too shabby!
2. Terribly – Michael Haddix
Our top NFL draft bust doing terribly is Philadelphia’s 8th overall pick in the 1983 NFL Draft, Michael Haddix. While the former Mississippi State tailback had a below average career with the Eagles and Packers, his bust label comes from the simple fact that Philly passed on HOF QB, Dan Marino, for him! Crazy.
After his seven-year career, amassing less than 1,700 rushing yards, and the lowest YPC of any running back with over 500 carries, Haddix faded into obscurity. His son attempted a career in the NFL, but eventually suffered the same fate as his old man.
So, why is this guy doing terribly? Well, first off, you would think a multi-year NFL career would lead to a million-dollar retirement, but not Haddix! Let’s not forget the family drama that went down in late 2017 when his nephew tried to murder his brother with an axe.
1. Well – Ki-Jana Carter
Our top NFL draft bust who is doing well is the fourth, and final, Nittany Lion on our list. Coming off a historic college career, Carter was plucked with the top pick of the 1995 NFL Draft by the Cincinnati Bengals. While many experts consider the former All-American tailback to be one of the top busts of all-time, we can’t ignore the multiple injuries that caused his downfall. With just over 1,100 yards over the course of his career, Carter only played in 59 games, slowly trickling out of the league in the early 2000s.
With a every obstacle comes a new opportunity, and Carter has used his infamous status to build a solid business career in retirement. He is an entrepreneur and even dabbles as a sports blogger in his downtime. Aside from the millions of dollars, and fame, we’ve got a lot in common!
- Ad Free Browsing
- Over 10,000 Videos!
- All in 1 Access
- Join For Free!