The 2017 draft is now in the rearview mirror, which means the air is thick with optimism. There's a lingering sense that anything is possible for all 32 NFL teams. No one really knows which of the hundreds of draft picks will actually pan out. Not yet. As we've learned too often in the past, sometimes the safest of bets turn out to be nothing more than pickpockets, stealing hope, money, and opportunities from the teams who drafted them.
Despite the many months of hard work and resources that go into creating each team's draft board, there's no guaranteeing success in the NFL. And occasionally, a highly-rated prospect will turn out to be a total bust.
For the purposes of this article, a draft bust is any player who failed to live up to the expectations that go along with their draft position during their tenures with the team that actually drafted them. If they fail with that team but find great success with another team, they're still a draft bust.
20 Ron Dayne, RB - New York Giants, 11th Overall (2000)
When you're talking about draft busts, it's common to compare said bust to other, more successful players who were drafted after them. And that just might be the most damning reason to include Ron Dayne on this list. A verified stud of a running back in Wisconsin, Dayne would still be the all-time leader in rushing yards in FBS history if the organization bothered to retroactively include his Bowl stats. But unfortunately, once in the NFL, he never came close to matching the staggering 7,000+ yards he accrued in college.
Dayne's pro stats weren't terrible, exactly, as he attained 770 yards in his rookie season while being utilized in tandem with Tiki Barber. But that would be his high mark in the NFL, and his average of 3.5 yards per carry as a Giant simply didn't cut it. New York certainly wishes they'd taken future MVP Shaun Alexander instead, who fell to the Seahawks at #19.
19 Justin Blackmon, WR - Jacksonville Jaguars, 5th Overall (2012)
Alshon Jeffrey, T.Y. Hilton, Michael Floyd. These guys were all drafted after Justin Blackmon, the Oklahoma State wide receiver who played a total of 20 games in the NFL before numerous violations of the NFL's Substance Abuse Policy eventually forced him out of the league entirely. Jacksonville gave away a 4th-round pick to Tampa Bay in order to jump two spots and take Blackmon.
What's most unfortunate about Blackmon's extremely short career is that he flashed a ton of promise in his rookie season, leading all NFL rookies in receptions and receiving yardage. He was on track for an even better sophomore season -- reaching 415 yards receiving in just 4 games -- but his inability to stay on the NFL's good side earned him multiple suspension, and it wasn't long before he was out the door for good. Such a wasted talent.
18 Brandon Weeden, QB - Cleveland Browns, 22nd Overall (2012)
After attempting a career in Major League Baseball straight out of high school, Brandon Weeden enrolled at Oklahoma State. There, the "older and wiser" QB for the Sooners broke a handful of school records during his senior year. Weeden was constantly fending off questions about his age even back then, and the heat only intensified when he became the oldest player ever taken in the 1st round -- at 28-years-old -- in the 2012 Draft.
Cleveland already had a serviceable QB on their depth chart in Colt McCoy and plenty of other glaring needs on their roster when they took the "old" QB at #22. They'd already traded up a spot to nab Trent Richardson at #3 -- who might be considered another bust if the Browns didn't unload him on the Colts the following year in exchange for a future 1st-round pick -- and were sinking another 1st round pick into a QB who would play just two seasons with them. Weeden wrapped up his career in Cleveland with 26 INTs to 23 TDs and a 55% completion rate.
17 Alex Barron, OT - St. Louis Rams, 19th Overall (2005)
It's sometimes hard to figure out the true value of an offensive lineman using analytics. When it comes right down to it, it's a position that should fly under the radar, because if a lineman stands out on tape it's probably not for a good reason. Take, for instance, Alex Barron, the most penalized player in the league during his five seasons with the Rams. Barron got called for so many false starts that you legitimately had to wonder if he was betting against his own team.
To call him a "serviceable" player is stretching the definition of that word more than Barron stretched his opponents jerseys during the outrageous number of holds he was called for. (He led the league in 2009.) When he wasn't being penalized, he was letting defenders sashay right by him. Not the kind of thing you're looking for in a 1st-round offensive lineman.
16 Tim Tebow, QB - Denver Broncos, 25th Overall (2010)
Anyone who argues Tim Tebow wasn't a draft bust simply because he took the Broncos to the playoffs in his first year as a starter is overlooking the big picture: Denver gave up 2nd, 3rd, and 4th round picks to take a quarterback that would play a total of 25 games for their franchise. During that span, Tebow threw for just under 2,400 yards, ending up with a completion percentage that was under .500.
Considering there were more than 20 future Pro Bowlers in the later rounds of this draft, the picks Denver gave up to move up and "steal" Tebow had to sting quite a bit when they traded him to the Jets in 2012. Sure, if the Broncos had made it to the Super Bowl behind Tebow's arm (or, more accurately, his legs), then maybe he'd be out of these bust conversations. As it stands, it's completely warranted.
15 Troy Williamson, WR - Minnesota Vikings, 7th Overall (2005)
The Vikings made the mistake of trading away Randy Moss, one of the greatest wide receivers of all time, to Oakland after a "down" season in exchange for a 1st round pick. At the time it didn't feel like a terrible idea. It seemed like Minnesota had squeezed most of the juice out of Moss, and having two 1st round picks gave them a lot of opportunities.
With the Raiders draft spot, Minnesota picked up Troy Williamson, a receiver out of South Carolina whom analysts expected to instantly replace Moss' production. Except, in his three years with the Vikings, Williamson never topped 500 yards or scored more than 2 touchdowns in a season. Moss, on the other hand, topped 1,000 yards again in his first season with the Raiders. Two years after that, he had a career year in both yards and touchdowns with New England.
14 Justin Harrell, DT - Green Bay Packers, 16th Overall (2007)
Understanding a player's medical evaluation is an essential piece of a scout's repertoire. The way that knowledge is used assess potential health risks can make or break a team's draft board. Just ask the Packers, who took Justin Harrell with their 1st pick of the 2007 Draft only to find out someone had swapped all of his bones with Jell-O cups and tied his muscles into fisherman's knots.
Harrell was recuperating from a torn biceps tendon when he entered the draft, a fact that didn't dissuade Green Bay from scooping him up early. A plethora of injuries -- at least some of which might be attributed to Harrell's inability to maintaining an appropriate weight -- kept him off the field for 50 games over the span of 4 years. This PUP regular contributed about as much to the team as Ernie Hudson did to Ghostbusters II.
13 David Carr, QB - Houston Texans, 1st Overall (2002)
A stellar senior year at Fresno State put David Carr at the top of most GM's radars heading into 2002, and the newly-created Houston Texans franchise jumped at the chance to find their quarterback of the future with their inaugural draft pick. Sadly, Carr never came close to replicating his outlandish 46-TD, 4,800-yard senior season in the NFL.
Carr was doomed to a rough road from the start. It didn't matter if he had all the tools to become an exceptional passer, the pieces simply weren't in place for Carr to walk in and operate the offense efficiently. In his first year as a Texan, he was sacked a preposterous 76 times, which is still the single season record. The Texans' Swiss cheese offensive line kept him under constant pressure from even the most watered-down defenses, Carr was never able to put together a winning season with the Texans, and he finished only two of his five seasons with a positive TD:INT ratio. He was absolutely a bust, considering his draft position and enormous expectations, but one that could have done much better with just about any other team in the league.
12 Joey Harrington, QB - Detroit Lions, 3rd Overall (2002)
Much like fellow 2002 draft pick David Carr, Joey Harrington's lack of production in the NFL wasn't entirely his fault. Harrington's offensive line may have held up all right, but his supporting cast, particularly in the skill positions, didn't inspire much confidence with or without an elite quarterback at the helm.
Still, it's impossible to ignore the downright horrendous stats Harrington put together during his four seasons in Detroit. His TD:INT ratio was 60:62, he never led the Lions to a winning season, and he threw for more than 3,000 yards in just one season. Barely. Harrington is also tied with Mark Sanchez for the worst accumulative passer rating of any QB who started at least four consecutive seasons. Remember Mark Sanchez? Remember?
11 Courtney Brown, DE - Cleveland Browns, 1st Overall (2000)
Of all the disappointing draft picks Cleveland has taken over the years -- and oh my, there have been many -- none has ever nosedived quite like Courtney Brown. A first team All-Big Ten selection and Outback Bowl MVP, Brown received heaps of praise from NFL personnel directors heading into the 2000 Draft.
That hype was sustained through an impressive rookie season, where Brown registered 69 tackles and 4.5 sacks. But the injury bug latched onto Brown early on in his sophomore season -- which started off efficiently enough -- and he was never able to shake it off entirely. First it was a high-ankle sprain, then a ruptured bicep tendon, then a torn knee ligament, and then a torn foot ligament. This plague of injuries kept him from playing with a full toolbox, and Cleveland was never able to get nearly as much out of the #1 pick as they'd hoped.
10 Dexter Jackson, WR - Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 58th Overall (2008)
Tampa Bay scored big in the 1st round of the 2008 Draft, landing probable Hall of Fame cornerback Aqib Talib. Unfortunately, they followed up that success by whiffing hard in the 2nd round on wide receiver Dexter Jackson out of Appalachian State. Despite his lack of big-time college production, Jackson impressed scouts by running the fastest 40-yard-dash of any wide receiver at the combine, which caused him to shoot up the Bucs' draft board.
But on Sundays, Jackson proved to be little more than special teams filler, playing just seven games in a Tampa Bay uniform. In those seven games, he recorded exactly zero catches. That's right, dear reader, you had as much of an impact on the Buccaneers as Jackson did. His complete dearth of production is especially surprising when you consider the Bucs didn't have an especially strong receiving depth chart at the time.
9 Aaron Curry, LB - Seattle Seahawks, 4th Overall (2009)
Considered as a possible #1 draft pick, Aaron Curry was no doubt the top linebacker on most everyone's boards. The Wake Forest product ended up signing with the Seahawks for $60 million -- half of which was guaranteed -- making him the highest-paid non-quarterback in NFL history.
With a paycheck like that, Curry needed to be the greatest linebacker in the league to justify his high pick and even higher salary. But...not so much. He achieved pretty modest numbers in his three years with the Hawks, notching just 5.5 sacks during that span. Those aren't exactly Michael Strahan numbers. Curry ended up being an average linebacker who earned the payday of a superstar.
8 Rolando McClain, LB - Oakland Raiders, 8th Overall (2010)
During his time at Alabama, Rolando McClain was as disruptive as you'd ever need your linebacker to be. First-team All-American, SEC Defensive Player of the Year, Dick Butkus Award winner, Lambert Award winner, and one of the greatest linebackers in Crimson Tide history, it wasn't surprising McClain was taken so high. It was surprising how little he managed to accomplish in the NFL, though.
He proved to be a sloppy open field tackler and wholly unreliable in coverage, which essentially turned him into a one-trick pony who gave coaches fewer and fewer reasons to keep him on the field each week. In his third season, McClain was eventually usurped by rookie Miles Burris, and by the end of the year he was shown the door. He left behind just 6.5 sacks, one forced fumble, and one interception.
7 Alphonso Smith, CB - Denver Broncos, 37th Overall (2009)
Everything about Denver's decision to draft Wake Forest cornerback Alphonso Smith in the 2nd round of the 2009 Draft looks awful in retrospect. The Broncos traded up with Seattle to nab the smallish defender (the guy was just 5' 9"), sacrificing 2010's 1st round pick for him. The Seahawks used that pick the next year to draft Earl Thomas, one of the league's premiere safeties.
There's no doubt the Broncos had a glaring need for defensive backs -- in 2008, they were 29th and 30th in yards and points surrendered, respectively -- but Smith didn't perform well at all at the Combine or his Pro Day, so spending so much on the undersized CB was an odd call. Smith rewarded Denver by logging just 9 solo tackles, defending 3 passes, and acquiring zero INTs in his only season with the team. They promptly traded him to the Lions in exchange for dreadful tight end Dan Gronkowski (Rob's older, less-talented brother) and a bag of chips (presumably). Smith actually had a couple of decent seasons in Detroit, making Denver's draft pick feel like even more of a waste in the process.
6 Johnathan Sullivan, DT - New Orleans Saints, 6th Overall (2003)
When the Saints entered the 2003 Draft, they had two mid-1st round picks in their back pocket, but traded them both to the Cardinals to move up to the #6 spot and take defensive tackle Johnathan Sullivan. Keep in mind, this is a draft class that featured defensive studs like Terrell Suggs, Troy Polamalu, and Kevin Williams, all of whom were taken after Sullivan.
Obviously, Sullivan didn't have a notable career like those greats. In fact, his professional football career resembled the low-end expectations for an undrafted free agent, not a 1st rounder. He recorded 56 solo tackles and 1.5 sacks during his three years as a Saint. As a GM, you know you've made a terrible mistake when your 1st round draft pick from more than 10 years ago still has a shorter Wikipedia page than the puppeteer and voice actor who played ALF, the cat-eating alien from a short-lived family sitcom.
5 Charles Rogers, WR - Detroit Lions, 2nd Overall (2003)
At first glance, 2003 didn't appear to have a very deep draft class at wide receiver, and at second and third glance, that was proven to be a correct assumption. Lions' GM Matt Millen knew he needed to add another set of hands to his struggling receiving crew, and decided to pounce on one of the few supposedly top-tier talents at the position. But he picked the wrong guy.
Charles Rogers's minimal production made Detroit fans start to question their GM's draft savvy. (This would become a habit over the next few years.) Rogers was hamstrung by injuries and, according to his coaches and teammates, his work ethic was abysmal. The receiver who drew comparisons to Randy Moss heading into the draft ended his career with just total 440 yards. That's a pretty stark contrast to the #3 overall pick that year, 7-time Pro Bowler Andre Johnson, an all-time great who racked up more than 14,000 yards in his 14 year career.
4 Mike Williams, WR - Detroit Lions, 10th Overall (2005)
Matt Millen really liked wide receivers. Like, to an abnormal degree. Like, to the point where he probably at a weird number of posters of wide receivers hanging up in his basement/creepy lair. Why else would the GM draft a receiver in the 1st round three years in a row?
Setting aside the fact that Mike Williams was the third consecutive "top tier" receiver brought into the organization, this draft choice was still a weird one. Williams only played through his sophomore season at USC before he decided to declare for the NFL Draft. The problem was that a player has to be three years removed from high school before they're allowed to do that. So Williams was left in limbo for a full year before entering the 2005 Draft, at which point he was wildly out of shape. The Lions picked him up anyways, and like Charles Rogers before him, Williams went on to have a thoroughly disappointing couple of seasons in Detroit.
3 Vernon Gholston, DE - New York Jets, 6th Overall (2008)
The defensive end was a sack machine during his time at Ohio State, setting the school record for most sacks in a single season (14.5) and ending up 5th all-time for career sacks in program history. So coming into the 2008 draft, Gholston was viewed as an obvious Top 10 pick.
The Jets looked to shore up their defensive unit by taking Gholston at #6 overall, enlisting him as an outside pass rusher. But the former quarterback predator was unable to add any more heads to his trophy case during his three years in the NFL, ending his tenure with as many sacks as Barry Bonds or Michael Jordan. That's to say...not a single one. (By the way, that's literally the only way anyone will ever equate Gholston to those other sports legends.) What makes the Jets' choice sting even more is that the Cardinals drafted Calais Campbell at #50 that same year, while the Lions took Cliff Avril at #92.
2 JaMarcus Russell, QB - Oakland Raiders, 1st Overall (2006)
Any number 1 draft pick is going to be burdened with outrageously high expectations, but quarterbacks are held to a nearly impossible standard. Former LSU QB JaMarcus Russell found that out the hard way when the Raiders took him off the board first in the 2006 Draft. Despite initial analysis that both Russell and Notre Dame QB Brady Quinn were worthy of the top spot, both signal callers failed to become NFL-caliber players.
Even though Quinn fell to #22 in the draft, it was Russell whose stock fell the hardest once on the field. In the same game that he threw his first career touchdown pass, he also racked up 3 interceptions, a lost fumble, and a miserable 7 completions out of 23 attempts. The rest of his NFL career followed a similar trajectory, as he found himself riding the bench for significant stretches of time due to poor play and issues maintaining an acceptable weight. Ultimately, Russell was released by the Raiders after three seasons in which he accumulated a 18:23 TD:INT ratio with an additional 22 fumbles. Despite numerous comeback attempts, he hasn't played in the NFL since.
1 Pat White, QB - Miami Dolphins, 44th Overall (2009)
There's no shortage of disappointments when it comes to high-round quarterback draft picks, partially because the expectations are insanely high for the position and partially because they have perhaps the toughest transition to make from college to the pros. While guys like Ryan Leaf and JaMarcus Russell are widely perceived to be the biggest quarterback busts of all time, a lot of folks inexplicably give West Virginia QB Pat White a pass.
White was taken by the Dolphins in the 2nd round, and was the 4th quarterback off the board in total. But whereas #5 pick Mark Sanchez has had a mediocre career thus far, it would be generous to say White had a career at all. In his one year in the NFL, he literally never completed a pass. Not one. The Dolphins apparently brought him in to use exclusively (and sparingly) in the wildcat formation, where he logged a meager 81 yards rushing. That's the totality of what Miami's 2nd round draft pick accomplished in the NFL.