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.
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10 10: Curtis Enis, RB – Chicago Bears
Curtis Enis rushed for 1,363 yards and a whopping 19 touchdowns in his final year as Joe Paterno’s star tailback at Penn State. As a result, he became the first running back selected in the 1998 draft, but the Bears only wished they had chosen a different one. Former Jaguars back Fred Taylor, a member of the illustrious 10,000 rushing yards club, and prolific wide receiver Randy Moss were selected later on in the first round. Enis’s career was defined by injuries and a lack of production; he played 36 games in three years and scored just four touchdowns. The Ohio-native signed a one-year deal with his hometown Browns at the age of 24, but subsequently retired due to a degenerative condition in his knee. Enis went from being selected in the first round of an NFL Draft to working at a garage door factory. He returned to the game as the head coach at Bradford High School in Ohio in 2010, but resigned from that role in August.
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.
Post-football, Carter has worked to shake the bust label in an entrepreneur capacity by creating “ByoGlobe”- a firm that specializes in eco-friendly sanitizing. He hopes to eventually pursue a career in broadcasting.
8 Brian Bosworth, LB – Seattle Seahawks
“The Boz” as he refers to himself, was easily the league’s most outspoken players in the late 80s. Injuries were as damaging to Bosworth’s career as any other player on this list, forcing him to retire after just three seasons. No longer able to display his swagger on the gridiron, Bosworth took to the big screen, and his filmography is longer than any list of NFL accolades. He appeared in the 2004 remake of “The Longest Yard,” and plays a role in Do You Believe? which will be released later this year. Bosworth also made a cameo appearance in a Dish Network commercial with other NCAA legends Matt Leinart and Heath Shuler, which initially aired in August. The trio of “busts” pleaded for a return to college in a self-deprecating fashion.
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.
To Mirer's credit, his post-football career has been highly successful, as he owns a winery in Napa Valley called Mirror Wine Company.
6 Akili Smith, QB – Cincinnati Bengals
As exciting as it sounds, a quarterback career that begins in the NFL, travels to Frankfurt, and ends in Calgary, clearly did not go as planned. Akili Smith was drafted third overall by the Bengals in 1999, but started just 17 games in four seasons; his excessive amount of partying led to his demise. Since stepping away from football—or being forced to do so—Smith returned to the University of Oregon to finish his degree, and took the quarterbacks coach job at St. Augustine High School in his hometown San Diego. In 2014, he set up a football development company called “Akili Smith Training,” with the intention of steering NFL hopefuls away from his path, and toward stardom.
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.
Instead, he headlines a long list of quarterback busts that have suited up for the Browns. The decision to draft Couch sent the organization back for years, as it still continues to search for its “franchise quarterback.” Couch, the man they believed would fill that role, currently works as a college football analyst for Fox Sports South.
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.
He suffered one of his worst sacks in 2012, when he was sentenced to 10 years and 7 months in prison for stealing millions of dollars in a sports ticket scheme. He was forced to pay $2.2 million in restitution.
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.
The LSU standout eclipsed 300 pounds after his NFL career ended, and despite a highly publicized attempt at a comeback last year, he’s still out of a pro football job. According to TMZ, Russell was seen partying with rapper Rick Ross at a Florida nightclub in January. Drink that bust label away, JaMarcus.
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.
The former Nebraska star played for three teams in four years in the NFL, and his short-tenured pro football career included stops in NFL Europe, the Arena Football League, and the Canadian Football League. His most impressive season came as a member of the Montreal Alouettes in 2002. He rushed for 1,022 yards and 13 touchdowns, and helped the team capture the Grey Cup.
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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