In many ways, the 2015 NFL Draft is just beginning. Yes, the event has come and gone, but for the draft itself, which consists of the players who will soon have the hopes and dreams of entire cities put on their shoulders, their journey through the NFL is just beginning. They’ll have to contend with one of the hardest jobs in the entertainment industry. If they fail, they’ll have let an entire city down, as well as become a laughing stock for decades to come. In the NFL, it doesn’t matter if you’re having a bad day or if you tripped down the stairs and broke your arm. The league will move on without you.
Every NFL team has at least three or four busts under their belt, from legendary teams like the Steelers or 49ers to new teams that have yet to cement their legacy like the Jaguars or Texans. Whether you fail because of poor play, off the field troubles or injuries, there are a lot of hurdles facing NFL teams and rookie players alike.
NFL teams usually start at the quarterback position and if a team drafts a QB high and he fails, it can ruin a team for years to come. Get ready to see a lot of QBs on this list, as well as other failed players, injured prone athletes, and unfortunately, those who’ve had run-ins with the law.
32 Chicago Bears – QB, Cade McNown (1999)
The Bears took UCLA standout QB Cade McNown 12th overall in 1999, still looking for a replacement to Jim McMahon who left eleven years prior.
McCown started in 15 games over two years, amassing 16 touchdowns against 19 interceptions and a whopping 14 fumbles. In his rookie year, in a game against the Rams, McCown played so poorly in the first half he decided to bench himself for the second half.
McCown was traded after his second season, although his poor performance isn’t the only reason he was traded away. Reports indicated that he bragged about his $6.1 million signing bonus to teammates who were making the league minimum. He also suggested that his poor performance wasn’t his fault, but rather that the fault of his receivers because they were too tired.
31 Cincinnati Bengals – QB, Akili Smith (1999)
The 1999 draft also saw Mike Ditka trade away the Saints entire draft class to the Redskins so they could select Ricky Williams (who almost made this list). Involved in the trade were the Chicago Bears, who would use one of those picks on Cade McCown. Funny how that works out, huh?
The Bengals were not involved in the trade, but they could have been. The Saints originally offered their entire draft to the Bengals, but ownership said no. Instead, they invested the third overall pick in a franchise quarterback; Akili Smith.
30 Buffalo Bills – QB, J.P. Losman (2004)
Losman was drafted out of Tulane with the 22nd overall pick of the 2004 draft. The same draft that featured Eli Manning, Philip Rivers, Ben Roethlisberger, and Matt Schaub, all QBs who went to multiple Pro Bowls. In case you were wondering, no, the Bills were not good enough in 2003 to earn the 22nd overall pick, as they picked Lee Evans earlier in the draft and gave up a second round pick to get Losman.
Jonathan Paul was meant to be the future, an understudy to Pro Bowler Drew Bledsoe. As training camp started, Losman broke his leg and it limited his development as a rookie.
Regardless, the team cut ties with Bledsoe the following year and named Losman the starter. He ended up having two decent years in his sophomore and junior campaigns, but he never developed into the player that could stand alongside other QBs taken in that year’s draft.
29 Denver Broncos – QB, Tim Tebow (2010)
Yes, the Broncos won a playoff game with Tebow under center. Yes, he’s incredibly popular for no particular reason. Well, Trent Dilfer won a Super Bowl and no one’s calling him great.
Tebow was taken with the 25th overall pick in 2010 by coach Josh McDaniels. The thing is, he was predicted to go anywhere from the third round to not being drafted at all. Even if the Broncos thought he could be their quarterback, there was no reason to take him so high.
28 Cleveland Browns – QB, Brady Quinn (2007)
Remember when Quinn took a nosedive in the 2007 draft and Commissioner Roger Goodell took him to be in his private green room away from the cameras? The Browns supposedly got a steal when they traded up to take him with the 22nd pick.
The plan was for Quinn to sit on the bench and learn the game while Derek Anderson took all the hits. The plan didn’t call for Anderson to have as much success as he did. Anderson went to the Pro Bowl that year and led the Browns to their first playoff berth since dinosaurs roamed the earth.
27 Tampa Bay Buccaneers – RB, Bo Jackson (1986)
Bo Knows. He knows how to play football and baseball, and he knew he was never going to play for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The Bucs knew that too, but that didn’t stop them from taking him #1 overall in 1986. Jackson wanted to play baseball and football, but the Bucs wanted to relegate the running back to football only. Jackson didn’t like the ultimatum, so he went to play in the MLB instead.
The Bucs were arrogant for thinking they could force him to play for them and their arrogance cost dearly, as they didn’t make the playoffs for another decade.
26 Arizona Cardinals – QB, Matt Leinart (2006)
The Heisman Trophy winner was selected 10th overall in 2006 by the Cardinals. He was expected to push Kurt Warner for the job, who had a terrible 2005 season. Warner was benched after five games and Leinart was forced into action. Leinart wasn’t ready, as his poor performance showed. In 12 games, he threw 11 touchdowns to 12 interceptions. After that, he never really played again.
25 San Diego Chargers – QB, Ryan Leaf (1998)
The worst draft pick in NFL history has truly earned his seemingly hyperbolic title (though a QB drafted by Oakland might have sometime to say about this). Taken with the #2 pick in the 1998 NFL draft, Leaf was taken one pick behind Peyton Manning. Playing in 10 games his rookie season, Leaf compiled 15 interceptions, 8 fumbles, and was sacked 22 times while throwing 2 touchdowns.
His terrible play on the field took a back seat to his life off the field. He skipped the last day of the NFL’s mandatory rookie symposium, blamed his lackluster performance on teammates, lashed out at media, and often took time off of practice to play golf. All that occurred in his rookie season. He would follow it up by starting a fight with a fan, verbally confronting his GM and coaches, and going on IR the following season.
24 Kansas City Chiefs – QB, Todd Blackledge (1983)
It’s hard to believe the Chiefs took QB Todd Blackledge ahead of Jim Kelly, Dan Marino, or even Tony Eason. Taken 7th overall in 1983, Blackledge had a decent career at Penn State, though his record was bolstered by a great coach and equally great defense.
Blackledge was suddenly forced to be the leader for his team and he didn’t have a great defense to rely upon. He never played a full season, going 15-14 as a starter, though he did have one decent year in 1986, losing in the first round of the playoffs.
23 Indianapolis Colts – DE, Steve Emtman (1992)
Steve Entman was selected as the #1 overall pick in the 1984 draft and sadly gave the Colts three seasons very little due to a variety of injuries that he suffered.
Emtman was off to a promising start in his rookie season, but blew out his knee halfway through. The following year, he ruptured a disk in his spine that left him unable to clench his fist, yet miraculously he still played three more games.
22 Dallas Cowboys – CB, Rod Hill (1982)
With the 25th pick in 1982, the Cowboys sought a nickel corner and kick returner. In came Rod Hill, a celebrated playmaker at Kentucky State, and out he went just as quickly.
Hill lasted two years in Dallas, picking off two passes and collecting 234 kick return yards.
21 Miami Dolphins – RB, Sammie Smith (1989)
The Dolphins reached for Smith with the number nine pick, and everyone knew it, but they were desperate for a running back to give some relief to Dan Marino.
20 Philadelphia Eagles – WR, Freddie Mitchell (2001)
The Eagles were looking for a weapon for Donovan McNabb and they thought they found one in “Fast” Freddie. Taken 25th in the 2001 draft, Mitchell finished his four year career with 1,263 yards and five touchdowns.
Averaging 300 yards per year wasn’t what sealed his fate. Instead, it was his mouth. In 2004, prior to the Super Bowl in which he played no part in helping the Eagles reach, he said “he had something for” Rodney Harrison and stated that he didn’t know any of the Patriots secondary.
Want to know what he had for the Patriots? One catch for 11 yards. The Eagles lost the game despite Mitchell’s Herculean effort and the following year Mitchell was cut from the team.
19 Atlanta Falcons – OLB, Aundray Bruce (1988)
Three future Hall of Famers, Michael Irvin, Tim Brown, and Randall McDaniel, were available in the 1988 NFL Draft. Several high caliber players were also there, like Neil Smith, Sterling Sharpe, and Ken Harvey.
The Falcons didn't take any of them first overall. Instead, the Falcons selected Aundray Bruce, who averaged less than three sacks a year in his 11 year career, four of which were with the Falcons. Aundray Bruce never went to a single Pro Bowl, while 15 of the 28 first round picks did.
18 San Francisco 49ers – QB, Giovanni Carmazzi (2000)
One can be forgiven for never having heard of Giovanni Carmazzi. He’s not often on a typical “biggest draft busts in NFL history” list. The unassuming Hofstra quarterback was taken by San Francisco in the third round with the 65th overall pick in 2000. Oddly, he was still the second quarterback taken that year, behind Chad Pennington.
You would think being taken late in the 3rd round would exclude a player from being a bust, because the later rounds allow more flexibility and creativity in a team’s choices. As long as the pick plays and contributes something to the team, anything, they can be considered a decent pick.
Carmazzi never played a single down. That’s right; your dog has as much NFL experience as someone who was actually drafted by the NFL.
Carmazzi was beaten out of a backup QB job by the 49ers 7th round pick, Tim Rattay. After one season as a third stringer, the 49ers cut Carmazzi and sent him to the practice squad. He would go on to play in NFL Europe and the CFL, but even there he didn’t play well, playing three seasons before retiring altogether.
17 New York Giants – QB, Dave Brown (1992)
Brown was taken in the Supplemental Draft in 1992, meaning the Giants gave up a first round pick in the 1993 draft. It was an odd selection, considering the Giants already had three quarterbacks on their roster, including Phil Simms and Jeff Hostetler.
Perhaps the Giants could see the future, as early in the season all three quarterbacks went down to injury, forcing Brown to step in for a game. Strangely, he too was injured in the game, and missed the rest of his rookie year. The following season, he didn’t see a single snap.
16 Jacksonville Jaguars – QB, Blaine Gabbert (2011)
The Jaguars best quarterback in franchise history is Mark Burnell. Granted, even though they’re still a young franchise, that problem needs to be fixed. The Jaguars thought they had the solution with the #10 pick in Blaine Gabbert.
Gabbert was mediocre in his first season, especially compared to the first overall pick, Cam Newton, who was lighting the league on fire. He ended up throwing for a little over 2,000 yards with 12 touchdowns and 11 picks in his rookie year. He didn’t do much, but he did lead the league in one area: fumbles, with 14 of them. He was also the third most sacked quarterback in the league with 40.
In his third season at the helm, he threw 1 touchdown and 7 interceptions, and NFL pundits and writers called him scared; scared to get hit and scared to throw the ball beyond five yards.
15 New York Jets – OLB, Vernon Gholston (2008)
Rex Ryan’s vaunted defense needed help at the linebacker position in 2008 and Gholston seemed like a perfect fit, as he was known for his ability to get to the quarterback.
The Jets took Gholston with the #6 pick and in 45 games during his three year career, Gholston never recorded a single sack. Not one. Gholston didn’t have any sacks, any interceptions, any forced fumbles and made only 34 tackles. Gholston was cut after the 2010 season and bounced around a couple of teams, though he never made it back onto the field.
14 Detroit Lions – The Entire Matt Millen Era (2001-2008)
Is it fair to count one GM on this list? Is it a bit silly or even hyperbolic? Yes, but if anyone’s earned it, it’s Millen.
During his time with the Lions, Matt Millen (who had no experience as a GM before being hired) drafted bust after bust. NFL deadbeats such as Joey Harrington, Charles Rogers, Mike Williams, Drew Stanton, Ikaika Alama-Francis... the list doesn’t seem to end.
Millen became known for reaching on wide receivers, taking them frequently. The lone good move he made was taking Calvin Johnson in 2007, but that was only because of his “pick a wide receiver and ask questions later” philosophy.
13 Green Bay Packers – OT, Tony Mandarich (1989)
Tony Mandarich entered the league as the second overall pick under a whirlwind of negative publicity. Rumors were rampant of steroid use, he held out of signing until one week before the regular season started, and he had an attitude problem.
"I am not like other players, I am Tony Mandarich,” he said not long after being drafted, “and they have to understand that. If they don't like it, that is just the way I am and they are going to learn to like it."
The Packers didn’t like it.
Mandarich, because of missing all of training camp, spent his rookie year on special teams. His next two years were abysmal, but since the NFL didn’t keep stats about offensive lineman back then, it’s hard to quantify his awfulness. Lucky him.
12 Carolina Panthers – WR, Rae Carruth (1997)
The Panthers went 7-9 in their first year in 1995, the best record ever by an expansion team. The next year, they beat the Dallas Cowboys in the playoffs on their way to the NFC Championship. They could do no wrong, they were destined to be an all-time great team.
Then they selected Rae Carruth with the #26 pick in 1997.
Carruth had a mediocre three season career in the NFL, with his second year cut short after one game due to injury. However, that’s not why Carruth is on this list.
In 1999, while still a member of the organization, Carruth was involved with the murder of his pregnant girlfriend. He went on the run and was found a month later hiding in the trunk of a car with bottles of urine. He was found guilty of conspiracy to commit murder and was sentenced for 18 to 24 years in jail.
11 New England Patriots – TE, Aaron Hernandez (2010)
By that logic, Aaron Hernandez, despite being taken in the 4th round, has to make this list as well.
Hernandez had some great years and was arguably better than Rob Gronkowski for a time. Sadly, like Carruth, Hernandez decided to throw it all away.
10 Oakland Raiders – QB, JaMarcus Russell (2007)
The Raiders took Russell with the first overall pick of the 2007 NFL Draft. They were desperate, having gone with Aaron Brooks and Andrew Walter in 2006, while they had Daunte Culpepper and Josh McCown on the roster at the time.
Still, coach Lane Kiffin wanted Russell to sit on the bench and learn the game, partly because Russell held out until week 1 of the regular season. Without any training camp or preseason, Russell could never have been ready to start his rookie year.
He started one game in his rookie year. In his second year, he played decently enough, throwing 13 touchdowns to 8 interceptions. As hard as it is to believe now, Russell was poised to have a breakout year in 2009.
9 St. Louis Rams – RB, Lawrence Phillips (1996)
Even when the Rams drafted him, Phillips had a long history of off the field issues. He was arrested on assault and domestic battery multiple times, and received improper benefits while at Nebraska. Somehow, that didn’t stop the Rams from taking him sixth overall.
In two seasons with the Rams, Phillips never ran for more than 600 yards. Towards the end of his second season, coach Dick Vermeil told Philips that he was being demoted to second string. Phillips stormed out of the facility and skipped meetings the next day. As a result, the Rams cut him.
He bounced around a couple NFL teams, NFL Europe, the CFL, and Arena League before finally settling onto the Kern Valley State Prison team. Phillips was arrested and sentenced to more than 31 years in jail for again beating his girlfriend in 2005.
8 Baltimore Ravens – OLB, Sergio Kindle (2010)
Sergio Kindle could have been an All-Pro in the NFL. He was selected early in the second round by the Ravens to add to the tremendous linebacking core alongside Ray Lewis and Terrell Suggs.
Unfortunately, we’ll never know. On July 25th, Kindle fell down two flights of stairs at his home in Texas, apparently due to narcolepsy, and fractured his skull. He would miss his entire rookie season, but he was luckily to be alive.
7 Washington Redskins – QB, Heath Shuler (1994)
Longtime starting QB Mark Rypien left for Cleveland and Rich Gannon clearly wasn’t the answer. So in came Heath Shuler with the 3rd overall pick of the ’94 draft. As always, it seemed like the right pick at the time.
Shuler finished second that year for the Heisman trophy and set records at Tennessee that only Peyton Manning could break.
6 New Orleans Saints – DT, Johnathan Sullivan (2003)
Johnathan Sullivan is one of those players in the NFL who leaves such little impact, it’s hard to find anything about him. Taken sixth overall, Sullivan played three seasons with the Saints and started only 16 games. He finished his career with 77 tackles, a sack and a half, and that’s about it. In 2006, the Saints traded Sullivan to the Patriots for another bust, WR Bethel Johnson, and months later Sullivan was cut (as was Johnson).
5 Seattle Seahawks – OLB, Aaron Curry (2009)
Expecting action movie star Brian Bosworth for the Seahawks? Well, Bosworth was taken in the Supplemental Draft of 1987 and cost the Seahawks the 22nd pick in 1988. So, the fourth overall selection of 2009 was much worse for the Seahawks.
Curry signed the richest non-quarterback contract in NFL history at the time, at over $60 million and $34 million guaranteed. Could you blame the Seahawks? Curry won the Butkus Award in college and was an All-American. Many were comparing him to Lawrence Timmins and Dick Butkus himself.
4 Pittsburgh Steelers – WR, Limas Sweed (2008)
The Steelers are one of the most historic teams in NFL, which makes their recent history of hit or miss draft classes surprising. Their biggest misfire was taking former Texas wide receiver Limas Sweed with the 23rd pick in the second round, 53rd overall.
In his rookie year, he played eleven games, catching six passes for 64 yards. The next season, the Steelers drafted Mike Wallace and his career pretty much came to an end. He fell to sixth on the depth chart and throughout all of 2009 caught one pass for five yards. Sweed somehow remained on the team until 2011, though he never saw the field again.
3 Houston Texans – QB, David Carr (2002)
The Panthers couldn’t be happier that the expansion Texans were given the number one pick in 2002 ahead of them. The Panthers would end up drafting Julius Peppers, who'd become one of the best players in franchise history.
The Texans, meanwhile, drafted David Carr.
Starting an expansion team is hard and the best way to rally a new fan base and lay a good foundation is by drafting a quarterback. You also need a good offensive line to keep him safe, which the Texans did not have.
Carr was sacked an NFL record 76 times in his rookie season, and ranks third as well with 68 sacks in 2005. It’s hard to believe he played sevens seasons after that.
He definitely had talent, but the pounding he took behind the worst offensive line in NFL history, combined with having to get a new franchise off the ground left its toll early. He threw 9 touchdowns to 15 interceptions his rookie year, and somehow regressed his second season.
2 Tennessee Titans – CB, Adam Jones (2005)
Where “Pacman” goes, trouble follows him like ghosts.
The Titans spent their sixth overall pick on Pacman hoping to shore up their secondary. He didn’t have a single pick his rookie year, but did get four in his second season, as well as scoring a touchdown. He was also a beast as a kick returner.
However, Jones barely eked out two seasons in Tennessee, not due to poor play, but stupidity. In 2007, he was involved in a shooting at a strip club that left one man paralyzed. Jones was suspending a fully year and the Titans cut him.
He would go on to play in Dallas for one year, when he was cut after the Cowboys discovered another alleged incident. This time, Jones is said to have ordered a shooting outside an Atlanta strip club.
1 Minnesota Vikings – WR, Troy Williamson (2005)
It pains me to have to put a fellow Gamecock on this list.
Williamson was drafted 7th in 2005 to replace departing Randy “Straight Cash Homie” Moss. Williamson was much smaller than Moss, but a lot faster. But the speed didn’t translate in the NFL, and he caught four touchdowns his whole career and never had more than 455 yards receiving in a single year. The Vikings tried him as a kick returner as well, but he was even worse in that position.
He never got along with head coach Brad Childress and after leaving the Vikings said he lost respect for the coach and challenged him to a fight.
Williamson was traded for a sixth round pick to the Jaguars, where he was buried on the depth chart. In two years there, he reeled in eight catches for 64 yards.
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