The NFL Draft has been turned into a marquee television event for the league, and is one of the most anticipated events of the year for the league on an annual basis. We always know that we’re bound to see a healthy mix of new stars and draft busts alike, which is one of the reasons why the draft is so anticipated. These young players run the gamut in terms of quality, and having such a disparity between them means you never quite know for sure how each one is going to turn out.
Specifically, drafting in the top-10 generally allows a team the opportunity to improve their roster exponentially. However, with the great amount of talent that comes with this draft position, there also lies the potential for massive disappointment. Every year, we see at least one blue-chip prospect that doesn’t live up to expectations. This is not only a major blow to the team in question, but also to the failed player themselves, who were told that they’d be able to cultivate a successful NFL career for themselves. It just didn’t turn out to be the case.
Ranked below is the worst NFL top-ten draft pick for every year since 2000.
18. 2000: Peter Warrick
Considered to be far and away the best wide receiver in the class, Warrick was taken by the Bengals with the assumption that he’d be able to jumpstart their offense, alongside the recently drafted Akili Smith. All things considered however, Warrick was a huge bust, never reaching a 1,000-yard season in receiving, and generally not living up to such a high selection and college resume.
In six NFL seasons, Warrick never made his mark. Considering that Cincinnati passed on the likes of Brian Urlacher and Plaxico Burress to take him, this is a pick that no doubt stings as a wasted opportunity for the Bengals.
17. 2001: David Terrell
Picks like Terrell are one of the primary reasons that the Bears struggled in the early portion of the 2000s. He had plenty of hype coming out of Michigan, where he posted some of the best receiving numbers in the history of the Wolverines, but he could never sustain this level of play in the pros. The Bears were without a steady quarterback option, but Terrell was part of the problem as well.
He spent four years with the Bears as a spot-starting receiver, and the results were pedestrian at best. One final season with the Broncos in 2005 didn’t yield results that were any better, and then Terrell was out of the league the following season. He was nothing short of the prototypical draft bust for the wide receiver position.
16. 2002: Joey Harrington
The Lions were willing to go all-in on Harrington, who was coming out of Oregon as one of the most coveted prospects in the 2002 draft. This was seen as an opportunity for Detroit to finally land a true franchise quarterback; one that could elevate them to playoff success, and see them emerge as a top contender in the NFC. Unfortunately for them, Harrington was mostly dead weight as a quarterback, and certainly didn’t make the roster any better.
And in just four seasons, Harrington was out as the Lions’ starting quarterback, never to rise to prominence again. Certainly a great college player at Oregon, but definitely not an NFL-caliber starting quarterback, and it showed early. Harrington was able to parlay his playing career into analysis and broadcasting work, so at least he got something out of his disappointing career.
15. 2003: Charles Rogers
The early-2000s were a bad era for wide receiver prospects projected to go top-10 in the draft. Rogers was just another in a long list of failed players at the position, and he fizzled out of Detroit very quickly. Coming off of a disappointing pick for the aforementioned Harrington, the Lions continued the trend with an even worse pick in Rogers the following year. This time, it was a 2nd-overall selection, passing over the likes of Terrell Suggs and Andre Johnson.
Beyond his spotty on-field play and injury problems, Rogers struggled with substance abuse during his time and the league, with his work ethic being openly questioned as well. It was just a disaster of a pick for Detroit, and after three seasons, Rogers was out of the NFL entirely.
14. 2004: Reggie Williams
Yet another wide receiver bust, this time for the Jaguars. Williams was taken 9th-overall in 2004, and despite rave reviews for his play in college, was nothing more of a middling NFL talent at his absolute best. It was a curious pick by Jacksonville, who passed on numerous successful players to take Williams, and it certainly cost them.
No matter who the quarterback was for the Jags, Williams couldn’t break through to the top-tier. He spent five seasons with the team, and while he generally posted numbers that weren’t absolutely awful, his production was that of a mid-round player; not a blue-chip prospect taken in the top-10.
13. 2005: Alex Smith
Had Smith played as well for his entire career as he has during his time in Kansas City, this pick may not have looked so bad for the 49ers. While he’s certainly limited, there’s no doubt that he has the capabilities to at least get teams to the postseason. But Smith’s time in San Francisco was marred by inconsistent play at best, and there’s no way that spending a 1st-overall pick could be justified in any way.
It’s understandable why the 49ers did it, and Smith indeed was the most coveted prospect in the draft that year. But when you consider that they passed on a plethora of quality players, including Aaron Rodgers, this pick becomes more difficult to stomach. Smith’s best years weren’t even spent with the 49ers, so this is far and away the worst pick in the ’05 draft, all things considered.
12. 2006: Matt Leinart
Matt Leinart was just another in a long line of USC quarterbacks who struggled in the NFL, and the Cardinals were all the worse for it. Without question, Leinart’s draft stock was boosted by the fact he was under center for one of the most renowned college teams of all-time, but it was clearly the running game for the Trojans that was leading the way on offense.
Leinart was simply a horrible return on a top-10 selection. He never started a full season in the pros, and when he was the confirmed starter for the Cardinals, he was terrible on the field. A few years spent in backup duty after leaving Arizona gave way to an early retirement. Leinart is really one of the biggest draft busts of the last 20 years, considering his notoriety upon entering the league.
11. 2007: JaMarcus Russell
A no-brainer selection for the 2007 draft, Russell redefined what it mean to be a draft bust as a quarterback. He was the prototypical pick for an Al Davis-controlled Raiders team that was constantly looking for style over substance at the time. Most agreed that Russell was going to be a dynamic NFL talent, but there were certainly question marks with his game, despite his incredible athleticism.
Most people know what ended up happening. Russell spent a grand total of three painfully bad seasons in the NFL, and the Raiders bottomed out after he left. This pick ended up setting a precedent for QB failure, and put the rest of the league on notice to not draft a similar player.
10. 2008: Darren McFadden
The Raiders double-dipped with terrible draft picks in ’07 and ’08, with the latter year resulting in the selection of McFadden, who was considered to be the best running back in the draft coming out of Arkansas. At the time, it was thought that McFadden and the aforementioned Russell would lead the Raiders to one of the best offenses in the league. How wrong that turned out to be.
To be fair, McFadden lasted a total of seven seasons in Oakland, but most of them weren’t anything to be impressed by. He’s been a middle-of-the-road running back for his entire career, and now he’s with the Cowboys, wasting away as the third or fourth option on the depth chart. For a player taken inside the top-5, that’s an extremely disappointing career.
9. 2009: Mark Sanchez
Selected 5th-overall by the Jets, Sanchez was supposed to buck the trend of so-so quarterback play for the team, and instead he only added to it. Sure, New York appeared in a pair of AFC Title games with Sanchez under center, but it was more due to Rex Ryan’s ability to craft a great defense than it was because of anything Sanchez did.
And eventually, he wasn’t able to maintain the starting job. Sanchez fizzled out relatively quickly after those pair of playoff runs, and eventually went on to be a backup for the Eagles, Cowboys and Bears. It was uninspiring to say the least for a player of his draft profile, and he was another in the line of underwhelming USC quarterbacks to take an NFL field.
8. 2010: Sam Bradford
There have been few quarterback stories in recent memory stranger and more unfortunate than that of Bradford’s. The 1st-overall pick in 2010 by the Rams, he was far and away the best quarterback prospect out there. Considered to be a blue-chip player by just about everyone, the anticipation for his NFL debut was staggering.
But injuries took hold early in his career, and he was never able to recover from them. Playing on and off in St. Louis, he was traded to the Eagles, where one season wasn’t enough to land him a return as the starter. He had a decent 2016 season in Minnesota, but yet another debilitating injury has sidelined him for the majority of 2017. At this point, it seems like Bradford’s career is on the rocks, and that the former 1st-overall pick is on his way out of any starting job at all.
7. 2011: Jake Locker
The 2011 draft was one that saw a ton of quarterback busts, but there were none more notable than Locker’s, who was selected 8th-overall by the Titans. After sitting for his first season, he became the starter in 2012, and promptly was exposed as the mediocre NFL player that he was destined to be. There were some questions coming out of Washington, and Locker confirmed all of them in due time.
Of course, the Titans would rebound by drafting Marcus Mariota just a few years later, but in a vacuum, the Locker pick was one of the worst QB selections of all time. Not surprisingly, he was out of the league soon after his debut, never to return.
6. 2012: Trent Richardson
Simple one of the biggest running back busts in history, Richardson showed quickly that he was nothing more than a product of the elite talent playing around him at Alabama. At the NFL level, he was rendered useless against more athletic defenses, though he was also shoehorned into playing for the Browns, and their complete lack of organization.
Despite a move to the Colts, Richardson didn’t play any better, and he was out of the league after the 2014 season. Expected to be one of the best rushers of the decade, he instead was one of the biggest draft busts of the decade. He was a 3rd-overall pick that was completely wasted by Cleveland, although that was becoming the norm at this point in time.
5. 2013: Dion Jordan
The 2013 1st round wasn’t one of the better ones in history, but there were certainly better options than a non-productive linebacker at the 3rd-overall spot. Especially one that proved prone to injuries and suspensions. While Jordan made somewhat of a comeback this season with Seattle, he’s likely too far behind the 8-ball at this point to come anywhere close to living up to his draft position.
He spent several years out of football, and just hasn’t been on the field enough to be slotted into a starting role. Everyone needs pass-rushers these days, but Jordan is one of the riskiest options out there. At 3rd-overall, it was a pick that Miami would certainly like to have back.
4. 2014: Justin Gilbert
In true Browns fashion, Gilbert ended up being a bust almost immediately, and the team wasted yet another draft pick. Currently off of a roster right now, Gilbert’s time in the league in general seems to have run its course. Cornerback busts aren’t necessarily uncommon, but with the 8th-overall pick, it’s imperative that you get some kind of a contribution out of the selection.
No dice for Cleveland. The team is still trying to rebuild the defense after picks like Gilbert bit the dust, and they haven’t been able to do so yet. Nobody should be surprised really, it’s just a shame that Gilbert had to be put in such a bad situation, putting his career behind the 8-ball from the get-go.
3. 2015: Kevin White
White’s career has been plagued by injuries, moreso than any other draft pick in recent memory. In three seasons, he’s started a grand total of five games, and just can’t stay on the field. The former 7th-overall pick by the Bears has one more season to stay healthy and make an impact, or else he’ll likely be gone the following season.
Certainly, as a prospect White looked good on paper. He had lightning speed while at West Virginia, but with a complete skill set lacking from many other burners at wide receiver. Unfortunately, he may never get a chance to put it to good use in the NFL. The best ability is always availability, and White just hasn’t been able to show thus far in his career. Given the chance, the Bears would have taken someone else at such a premium draft pick.
2. 2016: Eli Apple
In what was a surprise pick at the 10th-overall spot, the Giants opted to go with a cornerback, despite the fact that they already had their starters on the roster. Apple was an intriguing Ohio State product, but he was only projected to go in the top-10 in certain mocks at the time. When New York pulled the trigger on him, almost nobody saw it coming, considering they weren’t in desperate need of a corner at the time.
Two years into his career, and Apple has been so-so at best, and a detriment in the locker room at worst. He actually was suspended by the team because of his attitude concerns, and other players on the Giants roster have confirmed that he isn’t on the up-and-up right now. He’ll need to do a lot to prove that he can live up to a top-10 selection, because right now this is looking like a letdown for the Giants.
1. 2017: John Ross
Ross was always seen as a gamble in the top-10, and was certainly aided by his record-breaking 4.22 40-yard-dash time in the NFL Combine last offseason. While he showed good skills as a receiver at Washington, he also had significant injury concerns going into the draft, and those have shown themselves in his rookie season.
There’s also an issue of not being able to get on the field. Ross was a healthy scratch this season almost as much as he was injured. Not a good look for a 9th-overall pick that was supposed to be a dynamic talent.
Obviously, it’s too soon to definitively say that Ross is going to be a draft bust. However, the Bengals can’t be too enthused by what they’ve seen so far. Ross needs to step it up in 2018, and show why he was such a revered talent coming out of college.
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