We all know that the NFL Draft has produced some all-time busts and big-time disappointments over the years. A player who any given team may think will be an elite producer for years to come sometimes fizzles out into mediocrity, never reaching their potential or even coming close to it. Sometimes, this is just a matter of a pure lack of talent; the inability to play at the NFL level. Other times, it’s more a matter of circumstance. For example, a player may be drafted to an unstable organization with no complimentary pieces to help him succeed.
This is why the raw statistics of the numerous draft busts we’ve seen over the years don’t always reveal the full story. In many cases, these first round draft failures were drafted to teams who were organizational dumpster fires, and never were able to recover from the lack of cohesion and stability. Quality second chance opportunities are few and far between in the NFL, and it’s difficult to rebound after a misstep. Nobody knows that more than the names on this list, all of whom were first round selections who never could quite put it all together with their original team.
Ranked below are 15 NFL draft failures and where they should have been taken in the draft.
15. C.J. Spiller: 4th Round
Drafted ninth overall by the Bills in the 2010 draft, Spiller has had one great season, one good season, and a whole lot of nothing after that. After stinking it up with the Saints last season, he was cut early into the 2016 campaign, pretty much shutting the door on any hope of first round productivity for the rest of his career, if it even continues to begin with. Spiller’s skill set applies well to the NFL game on its face, but he hit a wall midway through his stint in Buffalo and hasn’t been able to recover from it since. Had he been drafted somewhere around the 4th round, his services would have been more standard for the price, but as it stands, he’s an underachieving RB who never quite found his niche, outside of an isolated season in 2012.
14. Brandon Weeden: 7th Round
Weeden’s abilities were always suspect, even as a shockingly old 26-year-old QB at Oklahoma State. This is another Browns selection at 22nd overall in the 2012 draft, and an equally terrible one. After fizzling out in Cleveland, Weeden took his lack of talent to Dallas, as Tony Romo’s backup for the 2014 and 2015 campaigns. Further failure ensued, and he’s currently riding the pine for the Texans, who undoubtedly hope that he never has to see the field. He would have been acceptable as a 7th round selection, but taken in the first, he’s been a complete bust, as per usual for the Browns. It’s unlikely Weeden ever has a starting role again, but at least he’ll save himself the embarrassment.
13. Barkevious Mingo: 5th Round
Mingo’s underwhelming career up to this point can partly be attributed to the team he was drafted by, as well as a lack of talent. Seven sacks in three NFL seasons just isn’t going to cut it for a sixth overall pick, even on a team as woefully inept as the Browns. An OLB who can’t rush the passer is pretty much worthless at that draft position, and Mingo has followed suit with that categorization. Now serving as a depth player on the Patriots, he has a slightly higher chance of success, due to more stability, and complimentary players, but he is still unlikely to fulfill anything higher than mid-round production for the rest of his career. This typically happens to the Browns, and you’ll them mentioned plenty on this ranking.
12. Darren McFadden: 4th Round
Much like the aforementioned C.J. Spiller, McFadden has had a quality season or two, and been almost completely anonymous for the rest of his career. Drafted fourth overall by the Raiders during the senile years of Al Davis’ ownership, McFadden was presumed to be the next stud RB coming out of Arkansas. The results were anything but that estimation, and after seven mediocre seasons in Oakland, he went to the Cowboys last year, where he had (somewhat) of a brief resurgence, before essentially being benched for rookie Ezekiel Elliott. Had he been selected in the 4th round, the return on the investment would have been adequate, but McFadden never lived up to his elite potential, and his days in the NFL seem to be numbered.
11. Dion Jordan: Undrafted
One of the marquee busts of the last 10 years, Jordan was drafted by the Dolphins with the third overall pick in the 2013 draft. Purporting to help solidify Miami’s pass rush into an elite unit, Jordan instead bellied up, and contributed just three sacks in his first two seasons. If that wasn’t bad enough, he was suspended for the entire 2015 season for a diluted sample of a drug test. Now? Nobody really knows. It’s going to be an uphill battle for the former Oregon product, and it’s really unlikely that he’ll ever live up to his top-ten selection. Unfortunately for the Dolphins, it was a pick they could have used to turn their usually-mediocre fortunes around. For Jordan, his production level suggests that he never should have been drafted to begin with.
10. D.J. Hayden: 6th Round
While Hayden hasn’t been a complete trainwreck, he hasn’t lived up to the hype, after being drafted 12th overall in 2013. Now that the Raiders actually seem to have compiled a somewhat competitive roster, Hayden looks decidedly out of place. While he hasn’t been awful, he’s just been so mediocre that a 6th round selection would have been more appropriate. For a long time, the Raiders, much like the Browns, could never hit on their prime draft selections, and Hayden represents the tail end of that misfortune. With the team turning a corner and playing well, it’s difficult to see how Hayden fits into the long term picture. Unfortunately for Oakland, they found out why CB is such a risky position to take high in the draft, and they paid the price for a while.
9. EJ Manuel: 6th Round
Miraculously, Manuel is still in the league, and has remained with the Bills, who drafted him 16th overall out of Florida State. He had all the flash and promise coming into the league, but has been one of the larger QB disappointments of the last ten years. He went from a starter in 2013, and was promptly demoted for his poor play, but somehow has hung onto the backup role for several years now. His statistics, which include almost as many INTs as he has TD passes, warrant him as a late round selection, but Buffalo ended up massively overpaying for him. With any luck, Manuel is a career backup in the NFL, and that’s the best case scenario. He doesn’t have the tools to be a consistent starter, as the Bills are well aware of at this point. Another Florida State QB in Jameis Winston would fare much better just several years later.
8. Ted Ginn Jr.: 4th Round
While Gin had a brief resurgence last season as a member of the Panthers, largely taking over for the injured Kelvin Benjamin, there’s no denying that for most of his career, he’s been a flat-out bust. Ohio State wide receivers are usually reliable, but Ginn hasn’t lived up to that billing. Another Dolphins gaff of a pick, he was taken ninth overall in the 2007 draft, as Miami was mesmerized by his blinding speed on the outside. Unfortunately, it was a complete farce, and Ginn hasn’t once posted elite number as a receiver. Still, he’s remained in the league, albeit as a member of numerous teams,so a 4th round selection would have been the most fitting. Not a complete liability, but definitely a bust as far as top-ten picks are concerned. Always be wary of the fastest guy on the field.
7. Morris Claiborne: 6th Round
Selected sixth overall by the Cowboys in 2012, Jerry Jones likely assumed that Claiborne would be the second coming of Deion Sanders, and once again give the Cowboys a lockdown CB that they could depend on. That didn’t happen. Often injured, and always unreliable, Claiborne never lived up to the hype, and has recorded less INTs than he has seasons played in the NFL. Unbelievably, but understandable due to the Cowboys’ reluctance to address their secondary, Claiborne is still starting for Dallas, but the ship has probably sailed on getting the desired production out of him. Had he been a late round selection, he would have been a steal, but as it is, he’s just another corner on the list of highly-touted busts.
6. Justin Blackmon: Undrafted
One of the most tragic NFL Draft stories in recent years, Blackmon was a top-ten pick of the Jaguars in 2012. After producing at a high-level for one season, substance abuse overtook him, and after a bevy of suspensions, he hasn’t played in the league since. He had all the potential, but the fast life wasn’t sustainable, and he burned out far too quickly. Earlier this year, he was arrested for DUI, showing that he’s still dealing with numerous issues that will probably prevent him from ever playing another snap in his life. All in all, it would have been better had he not been selected at all, and entered a profession that may have been less conducive to reckless behavior. One of the true “what if?” stories in the past ten years of the NFL.
5. Trent Richardson: 7th Round
Far and away the biggest RB bust of the last five years, Richardson seemed to have all the tools coming out of Alabama. He was selected third overall by, you guessed it, the Browns, and his time there was over seemingly before it even began. After a rookie season that was only marginally successful, he quickly fell off the map, and never was productive again. He went to the Colts after leaving Cleveland, to even worse fortunes. Currently a free agent, it’s unlikely that Richardson ever plays another snap in the NFL, and his production has rounded out to warrant a 7th round pick. More misfortune for the Browns, who never seem to get their high draft picks right, and it’s undoubtedly cost them in the win column, since, well… seemingly forever.
4. Justin Gilbert: 3rd Round
Another Browns top ten pick, and yet another failure. This time it was the eighth overall pick in 2014, and Gilbert provided nothing in the Browns secondary, and was unable to be the compliment to Joe Haden, probably the one good pick that Cleveland has made in the past 17 years. Gilbert actually probably has the most transferable skills of any Browns player on this list, and now with the Steelers, he seems to have a more reasonable chance of being successful. The jury is still out on his career in full, and still has time to prove that he could have been worthy of mid-round selection, even though he’ll likely never produce at a first round level. Coming into an unstable situation didn’t help him, and if he can’t succeed with Mike Tomlin as a head coach, he was doomed to be a bust regardless.
3. Marcus Smith: 4th Round
Smith couldn’t get on the field in Philadelphia during his first two seasons, but that may have had more to do with the scheme, and the fact that he was moved out of his natural position at DE. Now back at his original position in a new scheme, it’s possible that he can salvage some of his career, although he’s definitely been a bust up to this point. Time will tell if he can turn his career around, but when it all shakes out, his numbers could point to mid-round status. Even so, for a first round pick he hasn’t lived up to his potential at all, and was a pretty rotten pick overall for the Eagles.
2. Johnny Manziel: 6th Round
Despite Manziel’s reckless tendencies, frat-boy mentality, and questionable arm strength, one has to wonder if he would have been more successful somewhere else other than Cleveland, on a team with a more stable QB, coaching and organizational landscape. He clearly has discipline problems, but those could have been reduced on a team like, say, the Patriots, who seem to have to thrive on reclamation projects, and players with character concerns. He still shouldn’t have been drafted in the first round, but he was enough of a playmaker in college to warrant a late-round selection, and sit behind a starting QB for a few years. It’s unlikely that any team would even take a flyer on him now, but the scenario is still interesting to think about.
1. JaMarcus Russell: Undrafted
Widely considered the biggest QB bust of all-time, Russell was taken by the Raiders with the first overall pick in 2007. He was purported to be a generational talent, with a size, speed and arm combination never before seen in an NFL QB. As we all know by now, that wasn’t the case for Russell, and it was clear that he didn’t have the acumen to play in the NFL, and his accuracy was atrocious. It was a clear miss for the Raiders, and signaled several years of perennial losing that they only recently seem to be recovering from. All things considered, Russell never should have been drafted at all, and wouldn’t have made even a suitable backup. It’s one of the biggest miscalculations in NFL Draft history, and one that Oakland paid the price for.
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