The is no bigger spectacle when it comes to drafts than that of the NFL. Combine the passion of college football fans with the immense popularity of football at the professional level and you have the perfect storm that is the NFL Draft. It has become an event in every sense of the word without countless television specials, hours of talk radio, and articles dedicated to break down picks by position and team needs. Any and every possible angle is covered when it comes to the NFL and that includes grading the picks. And no where is the more scrutiny than in the top three picks. This is where franchises can be altered for good with a one-in-a-generation talent or be stuck in a downward spiral with an all-time bust.
The top-three picks carry so much weight because of what teams have to go through to be in those positions as well as the resources that have to be dedicated to a player selected that high. Fans have to sit through tanking efforts or just poor play all with the hope that the draft will provide a change of fortune...provided the team doesn't completely mess things up. That's what this list is all about as we take a look at the teams who drafted in the top three. While some teams will make this list by default, as someone in the top three has to be considered the "worst," most are on here because they simply made an awful choice and just flat out drafted the wrong guy.
18 2000: Courtney Brown
1st: Courtney Brown, Cleveland Browns
2nd: LaVar Arrington, Washington Redskins
3rd: Chris Samuels, Washington Redskins
Courtney Brown represents the first of what will become many entries on this list from the Cleveland Browns. The Browns don't deserve too much criticism for taking Brown first overall considering he left Penn State as the all-time NCAA leader in sacks and tackles for loss. Following Brown was his Penn State teammate LaVar Arrington and then Chris Samuels from the University of Alabama, a future six-time NFL Pro Bowler and 2001 All-Pro.
Brown had a less productive pro career than Arrington and Samuels. He did manage 4.5 sacks and 69 tackles his rookie year and another 4.5 sacks his second season, which was limited to five games due to injury. Injuries would continue to be an issue for Brown in his brief NFL career. He finished with a total of 61 games played and 19 career sacks.
17 2001: Gerard Warren
1st: Michael Vick, Atlanta Falcons
2nd: Leonard Davis, Arizona Cardinals
3rd: Gerard Warren, Cleveland Browns
The Browns strike again in 2001 with their selection of defensive tackle Gerard Warren third overall. It seemed like the Browns were focused on building a young, formidable defensive line by adding Warren to 2000's first overall pick Courtney Brown. For his part, Warren was much more productive in his four years in Cleveland. From there, he would play for the Denver Broncos, Oakland Raiders, and New England Patriots. He posted respectable numbers, finishing his career with 163 games played, 335 tackles, and 36.5 sacks.
The Warren pick has to rank third based on the success experienced by Vick and Davis in their careers as both were Pro Bowl caliber players. What hurts the Browns even more was the talent selected immediately after Warren: Justin Smith, LaDainian Tomlinson, and Richard Seymour. Ouch.
16 2002: Joey Harrington
1st: David Carr, Houston Texans
2nd: Julius Peppers, Carolina Panthers
3rd: Joey Harrington, Detroit Lions
David Carr is largely considered an all-time NFL draft bust after he was selected first overall in the 2002 draft. But we won't blame the then-expansion Houston Texans for blaming them by labeling it the worst pick in the top three. After all, Carr was practically a consensus number one pick coming out of Fresno State and the development of his pro career was largely hindered by a poor offensive line in Houston for his first five seasons.
While he also had his fair share of off the field obstacles in Detroit, Joey Harrington is the pick for the worst top-three selection. Yes, he put up monster numbers at the University of Oregon including throwing for 27 touchdowns and running for seven his senior year. But he arrived in Detroit and immediately had struggles. The talent around him was subpar and the front office was misguided but Harrington often did little to help his case. In his four seasons as a Lion he threw 62 interceptions. Not ideal.
The other quarterbacks drafted in 2002 would not have done much more for the Lions since that group included Patrick Ramsey, Josh McCown, and David Gerrard.
15 2003: Charles Rogers
1st: Carson Palmer, Cincinnati Bengals
2nd: Charles Rogers, Detroit Lions
3rd: Andre Johnson, Houston Texans
Charles Rogers built a lot of hype for himself in just two seasons at Michigan State University. The 6'3" wide receiver had over 2,800 receiving yards and 27 touchdowns in 24 games. He seemed to have all the necessary attributes to succeed but things did not pan out when he was drafted by the Detroit Lions, led by general manager Matt Millen.
His first two seasons never had chances to get going thanks to clavicle injuries that kept him out of all but six games. From there it was off the fields problems that caused Rogers the most problems. He violated the NFL's substance abuse policy three times, leading to his release from the Lions and the effective end to his NFL career after just 15 games.
It has to sting a little bit more for the Lions and their fans considering Andre Johnson was the next selection and a string of future Pro Bowlers at other positions were available.
14 2004: Robert Gallery
1st: Eli Manning, San Diego Chargers
2nd: Robert Gallery, Oakland Raiders
3rd: Larry Fitzgerald, Arizona Cardinals
Robert Gallery has been labeled a bust by some for his struggles at left tackle. He still managed an eight year career that included a position change to right tackle and started 103 of his 104 career games for the Raiders and Seattle Seahawks. The problem was the immense hype surrounding Gallery coming out of the University of Iowa combined with starting his career with the struggling Oakland franchise.
However there is no debate that he should be included on this list since he was sandwiched between two sure-fire Hall of Famers in Eli Manning and Larry Fitzgerald. The entire 2004 draft was stacked. Here are just the next five players drafted after Fitzgerald: Philip Rivers, Sean Taylor, Kellen Winslow, Roy Williams, and D'Angelo Hall. All Pro Bowl level talent.
13 2005: Braylon Edwards
1st: Alex Smith, San Francisco 49ers
2nd: Ronnie Brown, Miami Dolphins
3rd: Braylon Edwards, Cleveland Browns
The Cleveland Browns return to the list for 2005 when they used the third overall pick to select wide receiver Braylon Edwards out of the University of Michigan. As a Wolverine Edwards had 39 touchdowns in 44 games.
Despite playing for the Browns and battling through an injury-plagued rookie season, Edwards was able to find some success at the NFL level. In Cleveland, he had 28 receiving touchdowns over five seasons. His best year was his Pro Bowl campaign in 2007 when he had 1,289 yards and 16 touchdowns. Edwards' production would slowly drop off after being traded to the New York Jets and also spending time with the Seattle Seahawks. The more consistent and long-term production of Alex Smith and Ronnie Brown means that Edwards makes the list.
12 2006: Vince Young
1st: Mario Williams, Houston Texans
2nd: Reggie Bush, New Orleans Saints
3rd: Vince Young, Tennessee Titans
Heading into the 2006 draft, the debate seemed to be between USC running back Reggie Bush and Texas quarterback Vince Young. The Texans shocked many people by instead taking Mario Williams out of North Carolina State. So when the Saints took Bush, Young fell to the Titans and had a career that was ultimately a disappointment.
His time in the NFL did get off to a fast start when he was named Offensive Rookie of the Year and was a Pro Bowl replacement. Following that campaign he seemed to be progressing but injuries slowed him down and other than a bounce back season in 2009, Young never gained momentum in the NFL. He finished his career with 60 games played, 46 touchdown passes, and 51 interceptions.
And while Bush was never a top-tier running back his career has far outlasted that of Young. He showed flashes of what made him a human highlight reel at USC and became a dual threat out of the backfield with 36 rushing touchdowns and 18 receiving touchdowns in his career.
11 2007: JaMarcus Russell
1st: JaMarcus Russell, Oakland Raiders
2nd: Calvin Johnson, Detroit Lions
3rd: Joe Thomas, Cleveland Browns
If the two players drafted behind you consistently made the Pro Bowl and you didn't, you're going to make this list. If the two players drafted behind you are locks for the NFL Hall of Fame and you're not, you're going to make this list. If you're JaMarcus Russell, you're going to make this list no matter what.
Russell is widely considered one of the biggest draft busts of all time. He came out of LSU surrounded with hype for his size and arm strength. He was exactly the type of player the Raiders and Al Davis would want and they proved that by taking him first overall as well as giving him $31 million guaranteed.
That investment did not pan out. Russell struggled to overtake players like Josh McCown, Bruce Gradkowski, and Charlie Frye on the Raiders' depth chart. He would end up with 18 touchdowns and 23 interceptions, along with a 65.2 quarterback rating, in 31 career games.
The quarterback class of 2007 was weak across the board but franchise-altering players Adrian Peterson and Darrelle Revis were still available beyond Johnson and Thomas.
10 2008: Chris Long
1st: Jake Long, Miami Dolphins
2nd: Chris Long, St. Louis Rams
3rd: Matt Ryan, Atlanta Falcons
Chris Long is not considered a bust but instead makes this list because of who was selected before and after him. Jake Long is an All-Pro caliber offensive tackle who has been to four Pro Bowls. Matt Ryan is an MVP-winning quarterback. Chris Long has had a solid career, just not an outstanding one.
He was a consistent starter for the Rams right from his rookie season. His best years came in 2011 and 2012 where he had 13 then 11.5 sacks. Perhaps it was playing for the struggling Rams team that kept Long out of the spotlight. However, he did get his chance in 2016 with the New England Patriots. Despite playing a limited role, Long contributed in many ways and was rewarded with a Super Bowl win.
9 2009: Jason Smith
1st: Matthew Stafford, Detroit Lions
2nd: Jason Smith, St. Louis Rams
3rd: Tyson Jackson, Kansas City Chiefs
The St. Louis Rams again had the second overall pick in 2009 and used it to select offensive tackle Jason Smith out of Baylor. While at Baylor Smith became a proficient pass blocker in addition to making several All-American and All Big 12 teams. Add in an impressive combine performance and Smith appeared to make sense as a a top-three choice for the rebuilding Rams.
Unfortunately a concussion cost Smith most of his rookie season. Following that year he struggled to perform and lost his starting position. He was traded to the New York Jets after three years with the Rams but his NFL career was over by 2013.
8 2010: Sam Bradford
1st: Sam Bradford, St. Louis Rams
2nd: Ndamukong Suh, Detroit Lions
3rd: Gerald McCoy, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The hits (or misses?) kept coming for the Rams in 2010 when the drafted quarterback Sam Bradford first overall. Despite some concerns over an arm injury suffered in his junior year, the former Heisman Trophy winner was justifiably considered the best quarterback in the draft. Other QBs drafted in 2010? Tim Tebow, Jimmy Clausen, and Colt McCoy.
Bradford impressed his rookie season and was recognized as the Offensive Rookie of the Year after throwing 18 touchdowns and for over 3,500 yards. From there his play was up and down as the Rams struggled to gain traction. Injuries didn't help and St. Louis eventually parted ways by trading Bradford to the Philadelphia Eagles. The Minnesota Vikings acquired him a year later to replace an injured Teddy Bridgewater.
While Bradford has shown flashes of his college success and demonstrated an ability to put up numbers, he makes this list for two reasons: he never helped advance the Rams franchise and for the players selected after him. Seven of the eight players drafted after Bradford have made the Pro Bowl. Yes, the Rams needed a quarterback but in trying to fill that need, they missed out on a lot of talent.
7 2011: Marcell Dareus
1st: Cam Newton, Carolina Panthers
2nd: Von Miller, Denver Broncos
3rd: Marcell Dareus, Buffalo Bills
Marcell Dareus doesn't belong on any list about the worst draft picks. The defensive tackle out of Alabama has made two Pro Bowls and was a first team All-Pro in 2014. He has 177 career tackles and has registered 30.5 sacks in 78 games for the Buffalo Bills. The Bills rewarded him in 2015 will a new contract that includes $60 million guaranteed. The only negatives are a couple substance abuse policy violations.
But someone from the top three has to be on this list and Dareus suffers from being drafted behind Cam Newton, an NFL MVP and three-time Pro Bowl selection, and Von Miller, the 2011 Defensive Rookie of the Year and Super Bowl 50 MVP. In fact, it would be nearly impossible for any team picking in the top three to miss when you consider who else was drafted in 2011: A.J. Green, Patrick Peterson, Julio Jones, Aldon Smith, Tyron Smith, J.J. Watt. Not bad.
6 2012: Trent Richardson
1st: Andrew Luck, Indianapolis Colts
2nd: Robert Griffin III, Washington Redskins
3rd: Trent Richardson, Cleveland Browns
Trent Richardson's struggles in the NFL save Robert Griffin III from making the list, but just barely. Andrew Luck was always going to be the top choice and RGIII was widely considered the next best option. At the very least, Griffin can hang his hat on his 2012 Offensive Rookie of the Year Award and Pro Bowl selection.
Richardson, on the other hand, is considered one of the biggest draft busts in recent NFL history. He was considered the best running back in the draft and the Browns targeted him early, trading up to make sure they could take him. During his rookie season, he ran for 950 yards and 11 touchdowns. The Browns still didn't seen enough from Richardson and traded him to the Colts in 2013. Since then, Richardson has only six more rushing touchdowns and ran for barely over 1,000 yards.
5 2013: Dion Jordan
1st: Eric Fisher, Kansas City Chiefs
2nd: Luke Joeckel, Jacksonville Jaguars
3rd: Dion Jordan, Miami Dolphins
The 2013 NFL draft was not exactly loaded with talent, especially not in the top half of the first round. With that being said, it is inevitable that a top three pick from that year would not pan out. For this list that means that Dion Jordan, the defensive end from the University of Oregon, gets the (dis)honor.
While at Oregon Jordan demonstrated an ability to rush the passer and was a quality tackler. The Dolphins made a point to trade up and select him. That aggressive move from Miami ended up backfiring both on and off the field. Jordan recorded just two sacks his rookie season and followed that year up by getting a six game suspension for violating the performance-enhancing substance policy. Jordan didn't seem to learn his lesson and was suspended for the entire 2015 season when his sample was diluted and he was considered in violation of the policy once again. The Dolphins finally released Jordan in March of 2017 and he has since signed on with the Seattle Seahawks.
4 2014: Greg Robinson
1st: Jadeveon Clowney, Houston Texans
2nd: Greg Robinson, St. Louis Rams
3rd: Blake Bortles, Jacksonville Jaguars
If you thought the St. Louis Rams were done showing up on this list, you must not be paying attention to just how poorly that team drafts. For 2014, it was the decision to take Auburn offensive tackle Greg Robinson. He only played two seasons at Auburn but at 6'5" and 332 pounds the Rams figured they couldn't pass up the chance to improve the offensive line in front of Sam Bradford.
Unfortunately Robinson was never the answer. He signed a four year deal with over $20 million guaranteed and just under $14 million as a signing bonus and after that, Robinson all but packed it in. By his second NFL season he showed up to training camp overweight and eventually lost his starting position as well as having his position changed. The Rams have already announced they will decline his fifth year option and let Robinson walk. As a side note, players drafted soon after Robinson include Khalil Mack, Mike Evans, and Odell Beckham, Jr.
3 2015: Dante Fowler, Jr.
1st: Jameis Winston, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
2nd: Marcus Mariota, Tennessee Titans
3rd: Dante Fowler, Jr., Jacksonville Jaguars
The story heading into the 2015 NFL draft was which quarterback was better built for long-term success: Jameis Winston or Marcus Mariota. While they had different styles and came from contrasting systems, both were Heisman Trophy winners and considered head and shoulders above the other quarterbacks in the draft. So when they were taken one-two, the Jacksonville Jaguars found themselves on the clock with the third overall pick and an entire draft board to select from.
With that pick they selected Florida defensive end Dante Fowler, Jr. He was a three year starter for the Gators where he showed some speed and ability to get to the quarterback. Understandably, expectations were high as Fowler prepared to join the young Jaguars for the 2015 season. Those rookie year expectations would not be met however due to ACL tear Fowler suffered on day one of mini-camp. He would finally make it on the field in 2016, recording four sacks and 23 solo tackles in 16 games. While it may sting for Jags fans to see that Amari Cooper was taken fourth and Brandon Scherff was taken fifth, but let's give Fowler a little more time before completely writing off the pick.
2 2016: Jared Goff
1st: Jared Goff, Los Angeles Rams
2nd: Carson Wentz, Philadelphia Eagles
3rd: Joey Bosa, San Diego Chargers
After Joey Bosa was named the Defensive Rookie of the Year for 2016, it solidified that the debate between Carson Wentz and Jared Goff would be over who was the bigger flop in the NFL.
Goff threw for over 12,000 yards and just under 100 touchdowns in three seasons at California. Wentz had a much different experience at North Dakota State as he did not become the starter until his junior year. He compensated for his lack of NCAA games by having an impressive Pro Day and combine performance, putting himself in the debate for top quarterback in the draft.
So taking into account that both the Eagles and Rams traded to get into top-two positions, the only way to decide which pick was worse is to compare their rookie campaigns. Goff started seven games, throwing for just over 1,000 yards to go with five touchdowns and seven interceptions. Wentz started all 16 games, throwing for 3,700 yards, 16 touchdowns and 14 interceptions.
Yes, Wentz has the larger sample size. But Goff couldn't beat out Case Keenum for a starting job to start the season. And besides, we couldn't pass up the chance to get the Rams on this list just one more time.
1 2017: Mitchell Trubisky
1st: Myles Garrett, Cleveland Brown
2nd: Mitchell Trubisky, Chicago Bears
3rd: Solomon Thomas, San Francisco 49ers
Obviously there is no way to tell which of three picks will turn out to be the worst so this entry is based entirely on projections. Every draft expert considered Myles Garrett as a surefire pick and deserving of the first overall selection.
What many people did not expect was for University of North Carolina quarterback Mitchell Trubisky to go second. He spent most of his time in college as a backup and some considered him the third or fourth best quarterback in the draft. Behind Garrett, Solomon Thomas was considered the second best defensive end. But the Chicago Bears traded their third overall selection for the San Francisco 49ers' second pick to ensure Trubisky was available.
The Bears are clearly in a rebuilding mode as they move on from Jay Cutler. Trubisky will not be entering an easy situation and we've seen in the past how a quarterback's development can be hindered by a lack of talent and stability around him.