When an NFL team makes a first-round selection, they are not just winging it. Almost every NFL team has a scouting staff of anywhere from 7-10 people that are hired for one reason; to find the best college players that would fit perfectly with their franchise. These people spend their entire lives scouting players and ranking them against one another in the pool of talent from each year’s draft.
But even the best of the best NFL scouting personnel mess up from time to time, which is usually not their fault. Sometimes, a player can’t stay healthy or ends up getting badly injured before he even has a chance to prove himself on the gridiron. Other times, it is the personality and work ethic that are tough to scout.
Then there are players who simply cannot handle the workload, the pressure, or the competition for playing time, year after year, and they end up becoming a bust. It happens all the time. When the spotlights come on, some players would rather enjoy the fame and the money instead of busting their tails to get better.
Then again, some players are just not that good. They look good, they practice good, and they test well. They just do not have what it takes to stick around the NFL.
Let’s take a look at the first 32 picks of every NFL Draft and talk about the biggest bust at each slot.
32 No. 1: Bo Jackson, RB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers (1986)
The Tampa Bay Bucs knew they had the first overall pick in the 1986 NFL Draft and they were going to use it on the most talented collegiate athlete anyone had ever seen, Bo Jackson. So they went ahead and invited him to Tampa Bay, on a private jet, to have him visit their facilities and meet the front office.
However, Jackson was an even better baseball player than he was a football star, so he was still playing college baseball for Auburn when they invited him to meet with them. The Bucs officials told Bo they checked with the NCAA and he would not be violating anything by doing so. Unfortunately, he was and the violation cost him the rest of his senior season at Auburn.
He was furious and told them that if they drafted him, he would never play football. They ignored him, thinking he would sign anyways, and drafted him first overall. He lived up to his word and did not sign and went on to play in the MLB instead.
Tampa Bay should have listened to him but disregarded what he said and wound up throwing away the first overall pick.
31 No. 2: Ryan Leaf, QB, San Diego Chargers (1998)
The 1998 NFL Draft was all about two players, Peyton Manning, who would end up being the first overall selection by the Indianapolis Colts, Ryan Leaf, who was also considered a future Hall of Fame prospect at QB, and everyone else.
The San Diego Chargers sat at third overall that year and traded multiple first round picks, a second round pick, and Eric Metcalf just to move up one spot to select Washington State's star QB Leaf. They risked everything to give him the reins of the Chargers offense. That was a little too much pressure for someone with his skill set.
30 No. 3: Akili Smith, QB, Cincinnati Bengals (1999)
Akili Smith is one of those rare prospects that no one really knew about until his final season in college when he rose to fame while leading the high-flying Oregon Duck passing offense with 3,763 yards, 32 touchdowns, and eight interceptions.
In 12 games, he went from a future NFL prospect to a top-three caliber QB that would become the Cincinnati Bengals savior on offense. 12 games? That is all scouts had to work with and they were sold on him?
Did they notice that he completed just 58% of his passes while struggling to lead the Ducks to the Aloha Classic after going 8-4?
29 No. 4: Art Schlichter, QB, Baltimore Colts (1982)
Art Schlichter's life has always been a grand mess because of his personal issues, which were noticeably different from those of many of the other players in this list.
His issues started during his time at Ohio State and they carried over into the NFL when he was signed for all kinds of money after being selected fourth overall in 1982. The influx in cash did nothing to help beat his demons, and things spiraled out of control to the point where he started getting involved in various schemes.
Needless to say, his playing time on the field was cut short because he was more focused on all the money he was losing off the field.
28 No. 5: Justin Blackmon, WR, Jacksonville Jaguars (2012)
The Jacksonville Jaguars front office were apparently well aware of Justin Blackmon's personal issues while he was attending Oklahoma State but decided to take a chance on him anyway because he was big, strong, and ran a 4.46 40-yard dash. He also had some of the best hands of any prospect in 2012. But all that talent was not enough to make up for his major problems.
Just two months after he was drafted, Blackmon's issues rose to the forefront after an incident in Stillwater, Oklahoma. That was the tip of the iceberg as he would end up getting suspended for the first four games of 2013 for violating the league's policies. When he returned, he lasted four games before relapsing and being suspended indefinitely for the same reason.
27 No. 6: Lawrence Phillips, RB, St. Louis Rams (1996)
If you ignored all of the glaring character issues and only focused on the physical aspects of Lawrence Phillips, he was worth much more than the sixth overall pick. There were reports that he could go as high as number one overall that year but none of the teams at the top were willing to take the risk.
On paper, Phillips was an explosive runner that was not afraid to lower his shoulders and push his way through the defense. He was aggressive and there were times in college that he was the scariest looking athlete we had ever seen. But his biggest weakness was his worst enemy – his anger problems. As exciting as he sometimes showcased on the football field, he was much darker off of it, and it ultimately cost him his NFL career.
26 No. 7: Kevin White, WR, Chicago Bears (2015)
Much like Akili Smith (more on him later), Kevin White fooled NFL scouts after just one great season at West Virginia where he caught 109 receptions for 1,447 yards and 10 touchdowns in just 13 games. He then showed up at the NFL combine and ran a 4.35 40-yard dash, the fourth fastest of all the 2015 prospects. But what was even more impressive is that he is 6'3" and was as fast as Julio Jones and Calvin Johnson, who both ran 4.34 40-yard dashes.
So when the Chicago Bears were on the clock, they were drooling over the idea that Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery could be paired up with Kevin White to form the league's most dangerous receiving corp. But it never happened and, although he remains on the Bears roster, Kevin White is all but finished in Chicago.
25 No. 8: Jake Locker, QB, Tennessee Titans (2011)
NFL scouts are still wondering why the Tennessee Titans decided to draft Jake Locker with the eighth overall pick in the 2011 draft. Even if they were in desperate need of a QB, Locker's senior season in Washington should have been a giant red flag to every NFL team.
For all of the excitement he brings to the table, he has major issues with accuracy and playing smart. In fact, he never had a completion percentage higher than 58.4% in college. That alone should have sent him into the second or third rounds.
But the Titans did not care about what he did in college and still risked it all only to see him up and walk away from the game in 2015, a move that no one saw coming. He retired because he had a lack of desire to play anymore.
24 No. 9: Dee Milliner, DB, New York Jets (2013)
It is not fair to draft any NFL prospect to replace a future Hall of Famer from day one. That is exactly what Dee Milliner was expected to do when the New York Jets traded away the NFL's best cornerback, Darrelle Revis, to Tampa Bay, before drafting Dee Milliner with the 9th overall pick in the 2013 draft.
Although he did have multiple nagging injuries for most of his career, he was being labeled as the Jets next best shutdown corner, and, that comes with a ton of pressure. Things got even worse when, during his second year in the NFL, the Jets' other star cornerback, Antonio Cromartie, took his talents to Arizona.
That left Milliner alone to carry the Jets secondary, which was once the league's best, on his shoulders after they lost two future Hall of Famers. Can any 23-year-old kid handle that type of stress while also having to deal with the media in New York on a daily basis? It takes a special kind of person to overcome that pressure and sadly it was not Dee Milliner.
23 No. 10: Jamal Reynolds, DE, Green Bay Packers (2001)
The Lombardi Award is a collegiate award given to the nation's best defensive lineman or linebacker. It has only been given out since 1970 and is one of the most important awards given out because it solidifies you as the best in the nation at your position.
In 2000, Jamal Reynolds won this award and also the Bill Willis Trophy, which is given to the best defensive lineman in the country. He was also named a Unanimous A.A. and First-team All-ACC selection in that same season. He was such a highly touted prospect that the Green Bay Packers traded QB Matt Hasselbeck and their No.17 pick to Seattle to move up for him.
NFL scouts were comparing him to Peter Boulware and the Packers were all over it with the 10th pick. However, he never started a single NFL game after dealing with multiple injuries over the course of his very short three-year career.
22 No. 11: Aaron Maybin, DE, Buffalo Bills (2009)
Mel Kiper Jr. has been wrong so many times that people forget how he spent hours talking up Aaron Maybin as a combo guy who was explosive out the blocks and relentless in pursuing the QB. For some reason, people listen to this guy and trust him when he blindly makes comments about a player he probably never watched play before he said it.
The support of Kiper and many other analysts helped raise his level around the NFL heading into the draft. But even though this guy had an incredible work ethic, he was small and lacked the physical strength to be an NFL-caliber defensive end. He was 6'4" but only weighed about 230 pounds.
The other thing that turned him into a bust was how he used his speed to avoid contact with offensive linemen. In college, it went unnoticed. But in the NFL, it was obvious that Aaron Maybin was a one-hit wonder. If he made contact with a lineman, he was done. He was only useful if he was able to get around them right away, with no contact.
21 No. 12: Wendell Bryant, DT, Arizona Cardinals (2002)
On the field, Wendell Bryant was a disruptive defensive tackle, almost always busting up the running plays or pushing the offensive lineman off their lines. He spent his entire career at the University of Wisconsin using his big frame and massive power to end up becoming the Big Ten Defensive Lineman of the year in his junior and senior seasons.
He had a lot of the intangibles an NFL scout looks for in a defensive tackle. He was big, wide, strong, and quick. It was his quickness that got him into the top half of the first round of the 2002 NFL draft when the Arizona Cardinals selected him.
But he was a completely different person off the field and that hindered him for most of his playing career. In college, he had his share of off-field issues, but they never affected his performance. But when he got to the NFL and got some money, he would eventually let his personal issues escalate until they got bad enough to end his NFL career prematurely.
20 No. 13: Percy Snow, LB, Kansas City Chiefs (1990)
Only four times in collegiate history has a defensive player won both the Lombardi Award, given to the best defensive lineman or linebacker, and the Butkus Award, given to the best linebacker, in the same season. Two of the winners happened recently when Luke Kuechly won them in 2011 and Manti Te'o won them in 2012. Marvin Jones won both in 1992.
But back in 1989, no one had ever won both awards in the same season except for Percy Snow. He was the first defensive player to accomplish this feat and it earned him a high draft selection in 1990.
But the Kansas City Chiefs had little control over Snow's personal life and during the 1991 off-season while riding around in his moped at training camp, he got into an accident and was never able to return to his dominating ways. A moped? Really?
19 No. 14: Michael Haynes, DE, Chicago Bears (2003)
When it comes to the NFL Draft, scouts should pay close attention to certain schools history. Penn State has had 12 defensive players drafted in the first round of the draft and only one of them ended up in the Hall of Fame (Dave Robinson). Although, they did supply the league with superstars like Tamba Hali, Bruce Clark, and Shane Conlan.
However, Penn State has also sent Courtney Brown, Aaron Maybin, LaVar Arrington, and Michael Haynes to the NFL and they all turned out to be busts.
Michael Haynes did not battle injuries or suffer from bad luck like most of the others. He just simply could not play at this level. He struggled to earn a starting spot and only started four games in three years. He was never very effective when he did play and remains one of the Chicago Bears worst draft picks ever.
18 No. 15: Yatil Green, WR, Miami Dolphins (1997)
After winning back-to-back Super Bowls in 1992 and 1993 with the Dallas Cowboys, Jimmy Johnson, head coach, and Jerry Jones, owner and general manager, agreed to mutually part ways, a surprise decision that sent Jimmy Johnson from the sidelines to a becoming an analyst for Fox Sports. He would end up taking a head coaching job with the Miami Dolphins in 1996.
Jimmy Johnson spent his first season with the Dolphins trying to figure out the fastest way to a Super Bowl. As it turned out, he simply tried using the same formula he used before and one of the key components in that formula was a speedy receiver with big-play ability, someone like Michael Irvin. Yatil Green was as close as it got in 1997 to that need and the Dolphins went after him.
But the one thing that can slow down a speedy receiver is knee problems. Green tore his ACL twice, the first time was during the preseason of his rookie campaign and the second time was during training camp the following year. He played his first game as a Dolphin in 1999 but lost that explosiveness and was anything but average.
17 No. 16: Dan McGwire, QB, Seattle Seahawks (2005)
It is hard to blame the Seattle Seahawks for taking a gamble on a guy who stood 6'8" and weighed 240 pounds of pure muscle. He was also the little brother to MLB home run champion Mark McGwire.
His size literally made him stand out among the other prospects in the 1991 draft and after having quite the senior season at San Diego State, throwing 3,833 yards, 27 touchdowns, and just 7 interceptions, he climbed up the draft rankings and became a favorite prospect for the owner of the Seattle Seahawks at that time, Ken Behring.
As the story goes, Behring wanted McGwire, but head coach Chuck Knox fought against wasting their pick on him and insisted on them drafting Brett Favre.
This is why the owners need to stay away from player personnel decisions. Ken forced them to make an awful pick (while missing out on a future Hall of Famer) and the rest is history.
16 No. 17: David Pollack, LB, Cincinnati Bengals (2005)
Before we dive into David Pollack, we should mention that career-ending injuries count just as much when it comes to declaring a player a bust.
At the University of Georgia, David Pollack was a star. He was a three-time First-team A.A. and All-SEC selection while also being named the SEC Player of the Year twice. During his final season, he was also named the SEC Defensive Player of the Year while winning the Chuck Bednarik, Ted Hendricks (two-time winner), and Lombardi Awards. He was also the Lott Trophy winner.
He was one of the most impressive defensive players to ever play in college. But fate had different plans for him and in his second season in the NFL, while making a regular everyday tackle, he broke the sixth cervical vertebrae on his spine, ending his NFL career.
15 No. 18: Rocky Thompson, HB, New York Giants (1971)
Ask any New York Giants fan, not a bandwagon fan that only came around in 2007, who the biggest draft bust in franchise history is and we can all but guarantee you that 90% of those who have been following the team for decades will say it was Rocky Thompson, the running back from West Texas A&M.
The NFL is not for everyone. There is much more to it than simply taking a guy who was a world-class sprinter, Rocky won a championship in the 100-meter dash after clocking a time of 10.1 seconds and putting some pads on them. In fact, we can use Rocky Thompson as a glaring example of how that does not work.
14 No. 19: Steve Pisarkiewicz, QB, St.Louis Cardinals (1977)
If a football player does not have the desired measurements for his position, or the eye-popping skill set, then the other way to get noticed by NFL scouts is to put up impressive numbers. Steve Pisarkiewicz did just that at the University of Missouri, where he led their passing attack for three seasons. He even led the Big 8 in passing yards in 1975 even though he had a subpar (even for those days) completion percentage of 48.7%.
We are going to say this again at some point in this article but NFL scouts sometimes miss the biggest red flags because of a team need at a certain position. They somehow completely ignored his career record of 19-19, his 46.4% career completion percentage, or even the fact that he threw 23 touchdowns but had 22 interceptions.
There was nothing about his production at Missouri that screamed future heir apparent to Jim Hart of the St.Louis Cardinals.
13 No. 20: Jim Detwiler, HB, Baltimore Colts (1967)
In 1967, the NFL and AFL merged to form one league. This caused an increase in the number of first-round pick slots and marked the first time the 20th pick of the draft would be in the first round. That slot was taken up by the Baltimore Colts and they went after the tough running back from the University of Michigan, Jim Detwiler.
What the Colts failed to address was Jim's injury history and the fact that he tore his ACL in 1965, just two years prior to this draft. His knee never recovered fully and he spent his final season at Michigan fighting through the pain on a daily basis.
By the time he got to the NFL, it was too late. His knee was shot and he continued to struggle until he was forced to have more surgeries to repair it until he finally retired without ever playing a single down in the NFL.
12 No. 21: Gabe Rivera, DT, Pittsburgh Steelers (1983)
At Texas Tech, Gabe Rivera starred as the Red Raiders defensive nose tackle for four years where he compiled 321 tackles, 34 tackles for loss, 14 sacks, and 6 fumble recoveries. His performance earned him many collegiate honors including being inducted into the college football Hall of Fame in 2012.
In 1983, it was strange to see a 6'2" defensive nose tackle that weighed close to 300 pounds run the 40-yard dash in 4.8 seconds, but he was one of those freak athletes that were much quicker than one would think.
Sadly, his NFL career ended after just six games when he was paralyzed in a car wreck where he crossed into the wrong lane.
11 No. 22: Johnny Manziel, QB, Cleveland Browns (2014)
Arrogance is not a characteristic that any NFL rookie wants to be branded with, but Johnny Manziel was given that title when Barry Switzer came out and spoke about him to the media. He was not alone either. Many people agreed with him but many people disagreed too. It was wild. Johnny Manziel was either one of the greatest QB prospects ever or the biggest mistake in NFL history.
The Cleveland Browns decided to take a chance on him anyway because they needed to sell tickets before focusing on winning Super Bowls and if they drafted a playmaker like Manziel, people would either love him or hate him. But they would still go to the games to see him and that was enough for the Browns to hope for the best.
Two years later, his NFL venture ended because of personal issues that he no longer had control of at that point.
10 No. 23: Laquon Treadwell, WR, Minnesota Vikings (2016)
After an amazing first season at Ole Miss, Laquon Treadwell ended up making a name for himself as the SEC's next big superstar wide receiver. Even though he had an amazing set of skills, Laquon Treadwell never seemed to be a member of the long list of former SEC wide receivers who have taken over the NFL over the past seven years.
Julio Jones, A.J. Green, Odell Beckham, and Mike Evans are four of the league's top eight wide receivers and they all came from the SEC. Laquon Treadwell has skills but none of them stand out to the point where he might one day become mentioned with the above wide receivers.
As of his third NFL season, he has only played in 36 games while starting in just 13 games. He has never been injured and yet remains in a competition for the third-string wide receiver spot in Minnesota. With such high expectations entering the NFL, he has failed miserably despite showing some improvements in 2018, and will eventually become the bust we are saying he is today.
9 No. 24: Todd Marinovich, QB, Los Angeles Raiders (1991)
Marv Marinovich was a team captain and offensive lineman for USC back in the early '60s when they won the 1962 National Championship. But his career ended in college because of overtraining, which basically made him bigger instead of stronger. That mistake kept him out the NFL as a player, but he would eventually become the first-ever strength and conditioning coach in NFL history when he was hired by the Oakland Raiders.
His obsession with physical training gave him this idea that if he created the perfect environment for his newborn son, he could create a monster of an athlete. So, before Todd Marinovich could walk, he was being taught how to train, what to eat, and how to be the perfect physical specimen, but none of that paid off.
8 No. 25: Johnny Rodgers, WR, San Diego Chargers (1973)
In just three seasons at the University of Nebraska, Johnny Rodgers became a household name after winning the 1972 Heisman Trophy. He was also a two-time A.A. thanks to his ability to play both wide receiver and running back. During his final two seasons at Nebraska, he had 2,592 all-purpose yards and 32 touchdowns. He could also return punts. He was a special talent that lots of NFL teams were thinking about drafting in 1973.
The San Diego Chargers selected him with the 25th overall pick, thinking they had just added an explosive weapon to their offense for years to come. But he surprised everyone when he turned down a career in the NFL to go play in Canada in the CFL. And when he did return home to play in the NFL in 1977, he wasn't anything special.
7 No. 26: Paxton Lynch, QB, Denver Broncos (2016)
While at the University of Memphis, Paxton Lynch started for three seasons, quietly improving year after year until he ended up throwing for 3,776 yards, 28 touchdowns, and only four interceptions during his final year. That was impressive but what really stood out to the scouts was how this 6'7" monster was still quite nimble on his feet and was only sacked 15 times over 477 dropbacks in college. That is insane.
Even with all of the possibilities, Paxton Lynch failed in one very important area – football intelligence. That is not a knock on him, just his inability to play at this level. He was light-years behind what an NFL-caliber QB should be at in order to be successful because of where he came from, a small school not known for its QBs.
6 No. 27: Rae Carruth, WR, Carolina Panthers (1997)
As far as the 25th pick of the NFL Draft is concerned, it is going to be tough for anyone to be a bigger disappointment than the Carolina Panthers' 1997 pick, Rae Carruth.
In his rookie season, Carruth did manage to start in 14 games and even earned himself a spot on the 1997 NFL All-Rookie Team after catching 44 passes for 545 yards and four touchdowns. The list of rookie wide receivers that year was pretty thin, to begin with, but it was still something to use moving forward.
Unfortunately for him, his 1998 season was a bust when he broke his foot in the season opener. He returned in 1999, but that was when his life changed for the worse due to a well-documented case that has kept him as far away as possible from ever playing in the NFL again.
5 No. 28: Andre Woolfolk, DB, Tennessee Titans (2003)
The one thing all NFL teams should consider when drafting anyone is their injury history. If a player has battled injuries throughout his entire career, chances are he is not going to magically heal and stay healthy for an entire NFL career. The NFL is tougher and players hit ten times harder than they do in college.
When the Tennessee Titans decided to go after Oklahoma’s Andre Woolfolk, to help them fill a glaring need on the defensive side of the ball, they should have known he was going to get hurt. But not only did he get hurt, but he also missed 25 games to injury over his short-lived four-year career.
When he was on the field, he barely even made his mark against opponents either. He managed just one interception a year over his first three seasons.
4 No. 29: R. Jay Soward, WR, Jacksonville Jaguars (2000)
It took the Jacksonville Jaguars only one season to become a member of the AFC elite. During the franchise’s second year in existence, they finished 9-7 but would go on to face the New England Patriots in the AFC Championship before losing 20-6 to the eventual Super Bowl winners.
The next three years, the Jaguars would go 36-12, including a 1999 campaign where they posted a 14-2 record before losing the AFC Championship to the Tennessee Titans. They struggled with passing the ball and decided to risk it all during the 2000 NFL Draft by taking R. Jay Soward, an unproven wide receiver from USC with a ton of upside.
Soward had off-the-field issues which would end up ending his career way too soon. His personal battles interfered with his career and caused him to spend most of his time being suspended before eventually being released after just one year.
3 No. 30: Marcus Nash, WR, Denver Broncos (1998)
When it comes to the NFL Draft, the top ten picks are always the most desirable. Fans love to see which top prospects a team is going to take that could end up completely changing the future of their franchise. But the most important picks of the first round are always the back six, picks 27-32.
A lot of times, teams end up reaching for a player in those final few spots just to fill a need. The Denver Broncos did just that back in 1998, coming fresh off a Super Bowl victory when they drafted the University of Tennessee’s star wide receiver, Marcus Nash.
He was fast, tall, and physically intimidating. But that was not enough and he lasted just eight games in Denver before they discovered his reputation was boosted as a result of his QB in college, a guy by the name of Peyton Manning, instead of his abilities.
2 No. 31: Rashaun Woods, WR, San Francisco 49ers (2004)
In 2004, The San Francisco 49ers traded up to the first round to land Rashaun Woods. This after having traded away the future Hall of Fame wide receiver, Terrell Owens, to the Baltimore Ravens for a second round pick.
In other words, Rashaun Woods was being drafted to replace Terrell Owens, who had just spent eight seasons with the 49ers, catching 592 passes for 8,572 yards and 81 touchdowns. Imagine being a 20-year old college kid having to fill that kind of expectations from day one. It was just a bit much for any player to handle.
But his biggest issue was his toughness. A lot of college receivers lack the physical strength to make it in the NFL because they spend most of their careers running away from defenders they are simply better than. In the NFL, however, defenders are faster and stronger. He lasted one season before getting hurt and going to play in Europe.
1 No. 32: David Wilson, RB, New York Giants (2012)
During his final season at Virginia Tech, Junior running back David Wilson propelled himself into the forefront of a long list of NFL prospects heading into the 2012 Draft by rushing for 1,709 yards and nine touchdowns. He only rushed for 953 yards the previous two years combined, so this was a pretty big improvement.
Then he had a great combine and all of a sudden, a weak running backfield led to David Wilson’s name finding its way into the first round of the draft. But what the Giants missed was how he always had trouble holding onto the football. Those fumbling woes kept him off the field more often than naught.
Sadly, in 2013 he ended up with a season-ending neck injury that would end up being spinal stenosis. He had no choice but to end his career after just two lousy seasons of horrible football.