With great draft status in the NFL, comes great responsibility. Number one draft picks, especially those at the quarterback position, are expected to step in and rejuvenate a franchise in need of an injection of star power. The team’s head coach is tasked with creating a blueprint for that player’s success; the decision of whether or not to start him from day one can impact his confidence level moving forward. Have his spirits broken early, and the dreaded “draft bust” label could be forthcoming.
Luckily for the players on this list, the beast of social media, predominantly Twitter, was nonexistent during their transition from franchise saving player to utter failure. As a result, they were able to escape being the subject of myriad Internet memes, as some of the league’s current “busts” have been forced to endure. Active players Trent Richardson and Darrius Heyward-Bey were slapped with the label early in their careers. In the case of DHB, the Raiders went against the grain, passing on the consensus top wide receiver in the 2009 class, Michael Crabtree. Al Davis loved player measurables, and he became enthralled with Heyward-Bey, who ran the quicker 40-yard dash time. T-Rich and Hey-Bey faltered in their opportunities to redeem themselves in Indianapolis, and are now hoping to turn things around in other NFL cities, though the label has latched onto them and it’ll take a drastic turn of events for them to rip it off. Fittingly, both have links to the Black and Silver franchise that has become notorious for whiffing on highly touted prospects, including one quarterback on this list. The teams picking in this year's draft—especially those at the top—are hoping their selection never becomes categorized with the following group of players.
But we're focusing on where these busts ended up. Most of us fans know who they are by now, but do we know what they're currently up to? We're about to.
Here’s a look at where life has taken some of the NFL’s most notable draft busts.
10 10: Curtis Enis, RB – Chicago Bears
9 “Ki-Jana” Carter, RB – Cincinnati Bengals
Similarly to Enis, Carter took the NCAA by storm during his collegiate career at Penn State. He exceeded Enis's totals, rushing for 1,539 yards and 23 touchdowns in his junior season, including a 227-yard, five touchdown performance against Michigan State. However, Carter was decimated by injuries throughout his short time in the league; he suffered season ending injuries in four out of his first five years.
8 Brian Bosworth, LB – Seattle Seahawks
7 Rick Mirer, QB – Seattle Seahawks
Rick Mirer was picked right after Drew Bledsoe in the 1993 NFL Draft. Mirer never amounted to much in the NFL, playing for five different teams and never looking anything like a franchise quarterback. After the Seahawks gave up on him, Mirer went to Chicago, Green Bay, the Jets, 49ers, Raiders and Lions.
6 Akili Smith, QB – Cincinnati Bengals
5 Tim Couch, QB – Cleveland Browns
Tim Couch was the first player taken in the 1999 NFL Draft, two picks ahead of the aforementioned Akili Smith. He was highly touted following a stellar career at the University of Kentucky, in which he was named a Heisman Trophy finalist. The Browns front office believed Couch was their man of the future, and that he would win multiple playoff games under center in Cleveland. With the Browns about to return to the NFL that year, it was believed Couch would be the face of the new Browns for a long time.
4 Art Schlichter – QB – Baltimore Colts
The Ohio State alum went from fourth overall in the 1982 NFL Draft; two-time Super Bowl Champion quarterback Jim McMahon went fifth. The rate at which he threw interceptions in the NFL correlated with the frequency of his run-ins with the law. Schlicter had severe gambling issues; he blew his entire $20,000 signing bonus before the halfway point of his rookie season, and had accumulated over $700,000 in debt by the end of the 1982 NFL strike. Gambling is illegal for NFL players, and he was suspended for that offense. He admitted to continuing to gamble during his suspension and was subsequently released by the Colts.
3 JaMarcus Russell – QB – Oakland Raiders
Draft scouts salivated over JaMarcus Russell’s shear talent, and were particularly impressed with his arm strength; he had the ability to launch a football 70 yards from his knees. Appropriately, he would spend the majority of his NFL career on the ground. It quickly became evident that Russell would not play the role of savior in the black hole, and the Raiders decided to move on by cutting him after three seasons.
2 Lawrence Phillips, RB – St. Louis Rams
When Lawrence Phillips’s name reemerged last week, it was no surprise—as was the case during his career—that it related to an incident off the field. The former first round pick is the prime suspect in the killing of his cellmate at Kern Valley State Prison in California. Phillips, who is serving 31 years and four months for two previous charges, reportedly strangled the victim.
1 Ryan Leaf – QB – San Diego Chargers
You’d be hard-pressed to find an athlete as synonymous with the “draft bust” label as former Chargers quarterback Ryan Leaf. The second overall pick in the 1998 NFL Draft spent just four seasons in the league—he missed the entire 1999 season due to injury—and finished with a touchdown to interception ratio of 14-36. The fact that the Bolts selected Leaf one pick after the Colts snagged future Hall of Famer Peyton Manning only exacerbated his failures in the NFL. Meanwhile, Manning continues to haunt the Chargers; he did so for 14 years as a Colt, and now does so within the AFC West as a Bronco.
As for Leaf, his life spiraled following his disastrous stint in the NFL. In December, he was released from prison in Montana after serving a two-year sentence for breaking into homes and stealing prescription drugs. Despite his new lease on life out of jail, the ex-Charger will never be able to escape the dreaded label, and teams searching for a franchise quarterback on draft day will forever be wary of getting stuck with the next Ryan Leaf.
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