When fans of the NFL tune in for the first round of the Draft most of them are seeing a lot of these players for the first time. But for an NFL franchise, the process of selecting a draft pick, especially a first round one, starts seven months, or more, before the draft, when scouts and front office personnel begin looking at the college ranks to find that diamond in the rough.
The process can be grueling and painstakingly detailed but in the end, each team has a war room and inside that war room lies the key to the entire process, the draft board. The draft board is built after all of the scouting, interviews, research, and debating over who should be ranked where. It is the bible to many teams and that board is their own. It is how they make their picks when they are on the clock.
The moment a team decides to make their picks without consulting that board is when mistakes happen and this is something that can occur more often than you would think because of all the chaos inside the war room. Coaches, owners, and scouts sit around coming up with arguments about who to take and when but when the clock goes live, they have 15 minutes.
It sounds like enough time to make a selection but it is just not that simple. The 15 minutes flies by when all of the war room is talking and debating about who to take. Trades are a key factor in this chaos because other teams might move ahead of yours to take a player you always wanted. This leaves teams with a frantic 15 minutes to come up with a new plan.
Some of them work out, others do not. So let’s take a look at the worst draft picks from every year since 1999.
20 1999: Akili Smith, QB, Cincinnati Bengals (3rd Overall)
When Akili Smith transferred from Grossmont College to the University of Oregon, he immediately became the team’s starting quarterback. For two years, he played in 23 games while throwing for 5,148 yards, 45 touchdowns, and 15 interceptions. He also rushed for 367 yards and six more scores.
No one knew much about him until he showed up at Oregon and he managed to go from virtually unknown to scouting combine wonder. The Cincinnati Bengals saw enough to be convinced he was their future and used that third pick on him.
As it turns out, it was a very poor decision and 10 games into his second season, he was benched for Jon Kitna, the epitome of journeyman starting QB in his day. He lasted a total of four years in the NFL putting together a 3-14 record with just 2,212 yards, five touchdowns, and 13 interceptions.
19 2000: Courtney Brown, DE, Cleveland Browns (1st Overall)
As you have already read, some NFL prospects can help themselves out by amazing all the coaches and scouts at the NFL Combine, showcasing athletic skills that can make anyone drool over. Courtney Brown was one of the first prospects to ever do this and has become a legendary draft bust because of it.
The defensive end from Penn State was a beast, standing 6’4” 271 pounds, and could run the 40-yard dash in 4.5 seconds, which he showed off during Penn State’s Pro Day that year. Those are numbers you just do not hear about when talking about defensive ends back in 2000.
It would never amount to much as the Browns would go on to watch their first overall draft pick slowly fizzle away, season after season, as he battled injuries and lackluster performances.
18 2001: David Terrell, WR, Chicago Bears (8th Overall)
Since none of us can predict the future, it is hard to blame the Chicago Bears for taking David Terrell with the eighth pick in the 2001 NFL Draft. He was coming off back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons at the University of Michigan, the first player to ever do that, and was considered a prototypical receiver with size, strength, and speed. He was impressive back in 2001 but struggled to ever become the guy they drafted.
In three of his first four seasons, he played in all 16 games, only missing time in his second year because of injury. So there is no excuse for blaming his injuries; he was mostly healthy. His problem was his inability to get open or hold onto the football.
What makes matter even worse is they could have taken Drew Brees, Reggie Wayne, Steve Smith, Chad Johnson, or Santana Moss instead, but passed on them to go with David Terrell.
17 2002: Wendell Bryant, DT, Arizona Cardinals (12th Overall)
Most of the players on this list became busts for various reasons but not many of them struggled with personal demons like Wendell Bryant did when he got his first major NFL contract. He basically took that money and partied harder than Lawrence Taylor on Spring Break in 1987. The only difference was, his performance on the field was affected by his personal issues and it led to an eventual suspension.
He battled it even after his career ended because of the depression of squandering such a great opportunity simply because he was having too much fun and could not control it. It took almost seven years after he was drafted for Bryant to finally get a grip on said off-field issues.
It is too bad because he was truly a gifted defensive tackle that could have done a lot to help the Arizona Cardinals.
16 2003: Charles Rogers, WR, Detroit Lions (2nd Overall)
The Detroit Lions, and specifically their former General Manager Matt Millen, had trouble drafting the right players, especially in the first round. So when they held the second overall pick in 2003, they used it on this amazingly athletic wide receiver from Michigan State named Charles Rogers.
But they should have seen the red flags, and there were quite a few. That apparently meant nothing to Detroit and they still took him second overall.
He would end up breaking his collarbone, twice, and dealt with more personal issues that kept him from ever returning to the sport after his lackluster run with the Lions. What's worse for Detroit is that they picked Rogers right before the Texans drafted another wide receiver, Andre Johnson, who became one of the league's finest and spent 14 years in the NFL.
15 2004: Michael Clayton, WR, Tampa Bay Buccaneers (15th Overall)
With former Detroit Lions wide receiver Roy Williams also being a part of this year’s draft, it was not an easy choice but when we broke it down, we found that Williams was not as much a bust as former LSU star wide receiver Michael Clayton. He is considered a bust for one reason, his rookie year.
In his first NFL season, Clayton caught 80 passes for 1,193 yards and seven touchdowns. It was such an amazing performance that he became one of the key building blocks for the Tampa Bay offense. However, he would spend the next seven years catching a grand total of 143 receptions for 1,762 yards and three scores. His best season (except for his rookie year) was when he caught 484 yards in 2008. He never even came close to that first-year production and wound up getting worse each and every season.
14 2005: Troy Williamson, WR, Minnesota Vikings (7th Overall)
One of the biggest mistakes NFL scouts ever made was when the Minnesota Vikings scouts did not understand that Troy Williamson had a problem with depth perception. That meant that when the football was thrown to him, especially the deep ones in the air, he had trouble locating it until the last possible second. This caused him to have many drops at South Carolina.
But the scouts did not seem to care about his drops, they must have figured they could fix that part of his game with coaching. They were blown away by his size and speed. He was 6’1” and 203 pounds but could run the 40-yard dash in 4.32 seconds. It remains one of the fastest times ever recorded by a wide receiver over six feet tall.
However, his inability to make the big plays due to his depth perception issues caused him to become a bigger problem than anything else and he lasted just three years with Minnesota.
13 2006: Matt Leinart, QB, Arizona Cardinals (10th Overall)
This was a selection that took a lot of time to analyze before making our selection. But we got down to three names and then decided on one, former USC quarterback Matt Leinart. (Vince Young and Bobby Carpenter were the other two finalists.)
It is not easy to be a starting quarterback in the NFL, so when Leinart started to regularly get injured, it was tough. It became so tough that he started to become synonymous with losing and performing at a below average rate. He was a bore to watch and he did little to help the offense, including score touchdowns, which he managed to only throw 15 of in his short career.
He managed to play six seasons in the NFL but was only able to muster a 8-10 record as a starter, while spending most of his seasons on injured reserve.
12 2007: JaMarcus Russell, QB, Oakland Raiders (1st Overall)
One of the greatest moments LSU fans can remember was the moment JaMarcus Russell was drafted first overall in 2007. They were excited to see their former star quarterback go on to become a superstar at the highest level. But that excitement did not last very long and it went from hope to sadness in a hurry as he turned into the biggest bust in NFL history virtually overnight.
But it had little to do with talent. He remains one of the greatest throwers of a football ever, having thrown it 82 yards on his pro day. His arm strength was something that helped him become a star without having to work very hard. He could throw the ball 50 yards from sitting down (If you do not know how tough it is, give it a try).
So because he spent most of his life being told how great he was, when he was selected first overall by the Oakland Raiders, that mindset carried over to the NFL and he ended up holding out until September 12th of his rookie year when he signed a six-year deal worth $68 million ($31.5 million guaranteed).
After struggling to grasp the concepts and schemes of reading a NFL defense, it did not take long before he was gone from the league. A story recently emerged from a former player that said Raider coaches used to send blank tapes for JaMarcus to watch and study and when he would return to the practice facility the next day, he told them he watched them.
11 2008: Vernon Gholston, DE, New York Jets (6th Overall)
In 2008, the New York Jets made a decision to select a kid from Ohio State that would become one of the biggest draft busts in NFL history. His numbers in college were so impressive that many scouts missed the details. He had 14 sacks in his final season at Ohio State, after putting up 8.5 sacks the year before. So he naturally became positioned as a pass-rushing defensive end.
One of the Jets' biggest needs in the draft was finding a pass rushing outside linebacker for their 3-4 defense but decided they could use Vernon Gholston to fill that gap instead as a defensive end. For the casual fan, it seems simple but is far from it. As a 4-3 defensive end, shifting to a 3-4 outside linebacker is the same as asking someone who throws a baseball right-handed to start throwing it using their left foot.
Over time, he can make that adjustment and play that spot but not after just a few months of practice and no experience in the NFL. If you are a teenager learning to drive, you do not take your first driving lesson on the freeway. But regardless of who is to blame for Vernon’s bust label, he could have tried a little harder to overcome it.
10 2009: Aaron Curry, LB, Seattle Seahawks (4th Overall)
At the NFL Combine, Aaron Curry flew up the draft boards when he showcased his amazing athletic abilities by running a 4.56 40-yard dash and jumping 37” for his vertical. He was already being considered one of the most athletic linebackers of the entire draft class but solidified it with his impressive showing at the combine.
The one thing NFL scouts decided to ignore was the thing that turned him into a bust. They did not care that this amazingly impressive future star linebacker was an outside linebacker that was poor at rushing the quarterback and lousy in zone coverage, two of the biggest parts of a OLB’s job.
To summarize his career, he became a bust because he could never transition his game from college to the pros. He was never able to make the right decisions and was almost always uncomfortable on the field.
9 2010: Rolando McClain, LB, Oakland Raiders (8th Overall)
Rolando McClain was an amazing linebacker at the University of Alabama where he notched 274 tackles, 31.5 of them for a loss, eight sacks, five interceptions, and a defensive touchdown throughout his career. He did all that in just three years and decided to leave school after his junior season to go pro. It looked like a great decision after the Oakland Raiders drafted him eighth overall.
But they ended up signing him to a five-year deal worth $40 million ($23 million was guaranteed). It became very apparent that this kid was one of those rare talents that hated playing football. He played the game his whole life but never really had to work hard to be great at it, until the NFL.
It did not take long for his work ethic to get exposed and it just so happened to occur on the field of play. He was always a step behind the receivers in pass coverage and never seemed to grasp the concepts that the defense was trying to run. He also had a lack of effort. If he got blocked, that was the end of the play for him. He rarely broke free and made a big play.
His off-the-field issues did not help matters and he ended up retiring in 2013 before making a comeback in 2014. He finally called it quits in 2015.
8 2011: Jake Locker, QB, Tennessee Titans (8th Overall)
Jake Locker retired from the NFL on March 10th, 2015 at the age of 26-years-old. He was going to be a free agent but decided to hang up his cleats instead of playing in the NFL any longer. The most games he ever played in a season was 11 games because he was always injured. He suffered four separate injuries in 2012, 2013, and 2014. It led to a decision he made without ever looking back.
The announcement was surprising to fans around the NFL and instead of explaining why he did it, he simply returned back to his home in Washington and kept his silence for nearly four years before he did an interview with Sports Illustrated and explained his decision.
The one thing that makes him a bust is that he was never really that good. He had the talent to be somebody but the one thing he lacked was accuracy. He was never that accurate with the football and it caused him to become mediocre in the NFL.
7 2012: Trent Richardson, RB, Cleveland Browns (3rd Overall)
As dominating as Trent Richardson was under Nick Saban at the University of Alabama, things changed the moment he tore meniscus in his left knee, which required surgery shortly after the 2012 BCS Title game. He would have another surgery in August of the same year, shortly before the start of the season.
There was plenty of things that caused Trent Richardson to become a bust in the NFL and his knee injury is only part of it. He was the last of the great Alabama running backs under Nick Saban to be taken in the first round because no one knew about the amazing offensive lineman that paved the way for him every season.
Many of his issues hailed from having surgery and not being able to return to his former running speed. He was never able to make up for it by adding other facets to his game. For example, he was a scheme runner that went where he was told better than anyone. He lacked the skills to make quick decisions and change his spots. He was traded a year later to the Indianapolis Colts.
6 2013: Dion Jordan, DE, Miami Dolphins (3rd Overall)
As a freshman at the University of Oregon, Dion Jordan was a starter by the end of his first year. He started Oregon’s final six games that season but not as a defensive end, he played as a wide receiver. It was not until his sophomore season that he was turned into a defensive end. It was a great move as he ended up with 14.5 career sacks and 121 total tackles for his career.
The athletic defensive end was not the normal size for his position but he was so impressive in college that it was tough for the Miami Dolphins to pass on him with the third overall pick in 2013. But, as it would turn out, after his rookie season, Jordan was never to become the man they once drafted.
He would end up spending the next three years violating the league’s policies and getting suspended three separate times including in 2015 when he missed the entire season. They released him in 2017.
5 2014: Justin Gilbert, DB, Cleveland Browns (8th Overall)
The Cleveland Browns are already calling Justin Gilbert their biggest draft bust ever. That is a bold statement coming from a team that has two more players on this list and that is not even including another awful selection in 2014, Johnny Manziel.
Although Johnny Manziel was the most popular bust that year, Justin Gilbert was actually the most disappointing. The Browns ended up trading him to the Pittsburgh Steelers just two years after drafting him. But they had to move on because for two years, Gilbert displayed a serious lack of interest in playing football, and it showed.
4 2015: Kevin White, WR, Chicago Bears (7th Overall)
The writing was on the wall back in 2015 when Kevin White ran a 4.35 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine. At 6’3”, 215 pounds, that puts him in a group with Julio Jones and Calvin Johnson. So it is hard to blame the Chicago Bears from selecting him with the 7th overall pick in 2015. They saw something amazing and decided to take a shot at him.
However, what no one saw coming was White’s inability to stay healthy. Right away, he missed his entire rookie season after having a steel rod installed in his left tibia. When he returned in 2016, he played just four games before fracturing his fibula in that same leg and missing the rest of that year too. Then, in the first game of 2017, he fractured his left shoulder blade and was once again done for the year.
He is finally healthy but has missed so much time that he has been unable to get back to that same kid they drafted back in 2015.
3 2016: Paxton Lynch, QB, Denver Broncos (26th Overall)
Where was the debate about who the biggest bust of the 2016 NFL Draft was going to be? Everyone knows it was Paxton Lynch, the 6’7” giant from Memphis that had a NFL-ready arm but got exposed from day one when he was beat out by a guy no one ever heard of (Trevor Siemian), to become the Denver Broncos third-string QB.
As it turned out, it takes much more than a big-time arm and a NFL frame to become a star QB in this league. There is also a need for a high football IQ and a very advanced understanding of the game in order to be able to make quick decisions in seconds at a time. Paxton Lynch was simply not ready for the NFL.
He was not stupid by any means but he played a different style of offense at Memphis that was not even close to the stuff they ran in the NFL. It is not easy to throw the football when you cannot figure out where the defense will be or even where your receivers are going to end up.
2 2017: John Ross, WR, Cincinnati Bengals (9th Overall)
During the 2017 NFL Combine, John Ross ran a 4.22 40-yard dash, which ties with Donte Stallworth for the fastest time ever ran at the event. Although he is somewhat small for that position, he also showed off his 37” vertical jump. This kid is an athlete, no question about it. But is he a NFL player or just another Combine superstar that moved up the draft boards because of his incredible athleticism?
It seems as if he fooled the Cincinnati Bengals because everything the scouts hated about him, coming out of college, has been the reason for his slow start to his career.
Pro Football Focus talked a lot about how he is smaller and can be pushed around a lot, throwing him off his routes. They also talked about how he is not going to make the big plays in traffic because he is not big enough to handle himself against these NFL defensive backs.
1 2018: Hayden Hurst, TE, Baltimore Ravens (25th Overall)
Until now, it looked as if the Baltimore Ravens wasted two first-round draft picks, but Lamar Jackson has finally gotten his first start so it comes down to one, Hayden Hurst, who was a reach, to begin with, but looks like a player that they could have grabbed in the second round.
But it was not so much his talent that has held him back so far, as it was the foot surgery he had right before the season began to repair a stress fracture he suffered during the preseason. That has caused him to become more of a sideline warrior than a superstar on the field. It has prevented him from being anything more than a bad move from a bold draft position.
He was already 25-years-old when he came into the league so the Ravens will not have many chances to get production out of him before he begins to decline. Every game he misses today is a few steps backwards for his career.