The wide receiver position on the football field is, some may argue, a very important one. It’s always been seen as the glamour position in the NFL, one where individual talent, flair and attitude is highlighted for all to see. They often line up some distance from the rest of the team, close to the sidelines, near the fans and more importantly, cameras! They’re also usually, along with the quarterback, the position on the field that evokes the most hatred out of the defense, who are always looking to take their head off on any ill conceived crossing route.
When wide receivers complete spectacular catches, like Odell Beckham Jr. against Dallas in his rookie season, they more than earn the praise they get. When they whine and complain, like Odell Beckham Jr. most of this season, they more than earn the "diva" tag.
Wide receivers have a simple job. Run, catch the ball, keep running, so when they can’t do this, and you couple it with diva-like behavior, it makes for great sports journalism fodder.
The 15 examples that follow are the embodiment of this notion. They had the talent, or at least were thought to have the talent, but ended up being just big old busts. This doesn't necessarily tie in to their draft status, but based on the expectations they once set.
15 Tavon Austin
This entry is purely reactionary to what’s happened in the early stages of this season with the Rams offense.
Last season it looked like Austin was destined to be the featured receiver for the Rams, when he recorded 52 catches and 473 yards, to go with five touchdowns. He also had 434 yards rushing with four touchdowns.
This season, his pace has been significantly slower, with just one touchdown in his first six games and only 294 all-purpose yards.
This isn’t exactly what Jeff Fisher had in mind, I’m sure, when the Rams gave Austin a four-year $42 million contract back in August.
The Rams defense is good, we all know that, but the offense is really struggling to take off. With Austin’s money, he’ll start to raise eyebrows soon if he doesn’t produce.
14 Limas Sweed
No, I’m not making up names here.
Sweed was touted, maybe not necessarily as a "sure thing" like most on this list, but certainly a potentially solid starter in the NFL.
During his time at the University of Texas, Sweed would win two Rose Bowls and be an important cog in the 2005 BCS Champion machine, led by Vince Young (remember him?).
Sweed became a 2nd round pick for the Steelers in the 2008 draft despite earlier projections of being a 1st rounder. Injuries were the cause for that though.
Then in training camp, he would be diagnosed with a significant eye issue. In 2009, he was mysteriously placed on the PUP list for something personal and then in 2010, he picked up an Achilles injury and had surgery. He was waived by the Steelers in 2011 and played in CFL.
13 Dwayne Harris
As a Giants fan, I have seen Dwayne Harris many a time and it’s pretty simple as to why you’ll only ever see him on special teams. He’s a dumb receiver. Even on special teams, he’s a worry as he’s not exactly the safest pair of hands when returning kicks. When he gets the ball, he’s a good, evasive runner. Sure, he tends to ignore the blocking and mainly aim for the gaps, but he does often get positive yardage.
He gives Giants fans heart palpitations when he’s standing near the endzone waiting for that ball to land in his hands.
On any other team, he probably wouldn’t make this list. But he plays for the Giants and unfortunately that’s a big market watching his ineptness, and the Giants are particularly blessed these days at the wide receiver position, further highlighting his lack of talent. Despite wowing in Dallas (on special teams only), the Giants gave him a five-year, $17 million deal early last year. That’s wide receiver money, not special teams money. And sure he returned a kickoff for 100 yards and a touchdown last year (against the Cowboys), but that’s not enough for Giants fans.
12 Cecil Shorts III
Another Jacksonville draftee. Poor, poor Jacksonville. Maybe they’ll draft better when they move to London. Who knows? Maybe the wide receiver talent in Brixton is better than in Florida.
Shorts was admittedly a fourth round pick (and only from a Division III school) for the Jaguars in 2011, but despite early signs of talent, he has failed to develop and grasp the opportunity. In 2012, he almost broke the 1,000-yard mark and contributed a respectable seven touchdowns.
He was signed by the Texans at the start of last season, but failed to really make any meaningful impact there, and was released early last month.
Tampa Bay have picked him up now, but let’s wait and see how he will recover from what has been a career teetering on the cliff face, thus far.
11 Mohamed Sanu
This may seem a little harsh on Sanu and maybe he’s more of a "slight" bust more than a proper bust like some of the other names on this list.
Sanu emerged on people’s radars in 2014 when he was forced into a larger role among the receiving group of the Cincinnati Bengals after A.J. Green and Marvin Jones both picked up injuries. He ended that season with 790 yards and 5 touchdowns. I remember writers feeling encouraged by his no nonsense style of play, which, let’s face it, given their current antics, was refreshing to see on the Bengals.
But the third round pick from Rutgers (2012) didn’t continue any momentum despite plaudits and finds himself lower on the depth chart for the Atlanta Falcons.
10 Troy Williamson
Troy “Alligator” Williamson played for Minnesota and Jacksonville (poor Jacksonville) in his short five seasons in the NFL.
Williamson was a stunning track and field star, even having a personal best 10.35 sec time in the 100m dash, and also excelled at football. It was enough for Minnesota to take him with the seventh pick in the 2005 draft out of South Carolina. The Vikings were looking to replace him for Randy Moss, whom they’d just off loaded to the Oakland Raiders.
There was only one slight issue with Williamson. It emerged that he essentially couldn’t catch (blaming poor depth perception), which is usually considered important for receivers -- even more than speed! Scout much, Vikings?
You’d think any receiver with the nickname “Alligator” would be suspicious right? I mean, little arms?
9 Kenny Jackson
Another Philadelphia Eagles player makes this list of deplorables. I can’t help but feel like the confusion over why the Eagles have yet to win a Super Bowl is starting to become much, much clearer.
Jackson actually lasted for eight seasons in the NFL, which is much more than I can say for some of the other players on this list.
Drafted out of Penn State in 1984 with the fourth pick, Jackson would finish his eight seasons with only a meager 126 receptions, 2,170 yards and 11 touchdowns. Hardly the sort of return you’d be expecting from any first rounder, let alone a fourth pick in the draft.
Ironically though, Jackson would demonstrate more flair as a mentor, helping develop to the offense at Penn State in the late 1990s.
8 Riley Cooper
Cooper, whether justly or not, became the symbol of the Chip Kelly era in Philadelphia.
Essentially not much more than a slot receiver, Cooper was given the keys to the receiving car by Kelly when a number of better players (DeSean Jackson for example) were let go. Kelly’s supposed system was the key to victory and players merely interchangeable for its success.
It didn’t help that Cooper became a racist icon after some appalling remarks at a Kenny Chesney concert. This obviously looked worse for the Eagles, given the players it appeared Kelly was letting go and those he was re-signing.
Whether through his own fault or Kelly’s, Cooper is a bust because he was never good enough to be a focal point of any offense. In Kelly’s final season, he finished with 21 catches, 327 yards and two touchdowns. The Eagles, in their off-season overhaul, smartly released him in February.
7 John McKay
We’re deep diving a little bit here now.
McKay had some NFL heritage, but we’re not exactly talking about the Mannings here. McKay’s father was the coach of the new expansion team Tampa Bay Buccaneers, so of course he picked up his son in 1976 for the fledgling team. McKay was actually drafted the year before by the Browns, but opted to play for the Southern California Sun in the World Football League (can’t blame him really, who would want to play for the Browns).
McKay would be a very mediocre player with the Bucs, with quarterback Steve Spurrier lamenting the fact that it was a sheer case of nepotism first, football second.
During three seasons with the Bucs, McKay would amass a whopping 41 receptions, 632 receiving yards and two touchdowns. He would retire due to a broken hand.
6 Freddie Mitchell
Freddie Mitchell is on this list more as a victim of his own hype and ability to trash talk in even the most futile of circumstances. So in essence, he’s a perfect example of why so many people hate wide receivers. It also didn’t help playing in Philadelphia, where sports fans are not exactly tactful.
Take for example the 2004 Super Bowl when Mitchell and the Eagles lost to the Patriots. Prior to the game, Mitchell, in an interview, went out of his way to not be the least bit humble about the New England secondary. Mitchell then completed the rare feat of provoking a reaction out of the usually docile Bill Belichick who called him “terrible” and said that he was “happy when he was in the game.” Yikes! He must have had some personality to get that out of Belichick!
In five seasons, he would only amass 90 receptions and 1,263 yards with five touchdowns. Pathetic for the 25th pick in the 2001 draft.
5 Rae Carruth
This entry is a little bit of a scary one actually, come to think of it.
Drafted by the Carolina Panthers with the 27th pick in 1997, there were high hopes Rae Carruth would emerge as a star receiver for the fledgling new expansion team, but it was not to be for the Panthers.
Carruth had a lot of trouble with the playbook, breaking routes and generally being a pain to his quarterback. But there was something a little more sinister happening behind the scenes.
In 2001, he was found guilty of conspiring to kill a woman carrying his child, of which he was almost successful. Carruth was prepared to pay someone to kill the woman carrying his child. Absolutely, totally crazy. Unfathomable to say the least.
4 Josh Gordon
Here’s a more recent name I’m sure we’ve all heard for all the wrong reasons.
Such an utter, utter waste of talent.
Gordon came to the Browns via the supplemental draft (character issues hindered his draft status) in 2012 out of collegiate offensive juggernaut Baylor. The 6’3’’ Texan has so far amassed 2,754 yards, 161 catches and 14 touchdowns. He led the league in receiving yards in 2013 and made the Pro Bowl in that year.
So despite the draft status, Gordon is a bust because he is wasting his amazing talent with his ability amass suspensions like he did yards in 2013!
Consistently failing drug tests, Gordon attempted a comeback this season, but conveniently checked himself into a rehab facility in late September, probably because he was about to fail yet another routine drug test from the league. Is marijuana that important, Josh?
3 Ted Ginn Jr.
Ginn Jr. was the 9th pick in the 2007 draft for the Miami Dolphins and was a highly touted recruit out of perennial juggernaut (The) Ohio State University.
A gifted track and field star, Ginn was noted for his pace and had a stellar college career with the Buckeyes. His NFL career has thus far failed to live up to the lofty expectations he was set out of college. He hopped around the league with stints in Miami, San Francisco, Carolina and Arizona. He’s now back with the Panthers.
Injuries haven’t been a factor really for Ginn in his NFL career, he’s just failed to cement any starting role on a team, with his hands being the issue. Sure there was the pace, but not necessarily the ability to catch, which is again something receivers need.
Last season, he actually caught 10 touchdowns and actually played well in the Super Bowl, but he’s got some ways to go to make up for the past eight seasons.
2 Justin Blackmon
Blackmon was a highly touted prospect out of Oklahoma State prior to the 2012 draft, where the perennially snake-bitten Jacksonville Jaguars took him.
At 6’1’’ with decent speed and scouted as a good route runner, it appeared taking him with the fifth pick was a solid choice.
But oh, were the Jaguars were wrong, especially when you consider he was drafted ahead of Alshon Jeffery (who went to the Bears in the second round) and T.Y. Hilton (to the Colts in the third round).
After leading all rookies with 64 catches and 865 yards, his career would essentially cease in 2013, but it was commenced on suspension of violating the league’s substance abuse policy (read as "pot"), then Blackmon would get arrested at a traffic stop for possession of marijuana in 2014 and arrested again late last year for a DUI. Mixed in all those events was a rehab stint and rumors of playing in the CFL, probably the worst offense of all.
1 Charles Rogers
Rogers is considered to be one the greatest busts (all positions) in the history of the league.
Part of me finds it a little hard to feel sorry for the Lions here, given that they got blessed with another wide receiver a few years later who would absolutely demolish secondaries.
But Charles Rogers, who was born and bred in Michigan (born in Saginaw, went to Michigan State), didn’t work out.
Taken with the second pick in the 2003 draft, he was picked ahead of some names that included Andre Johnson (yikes), Anquan Boldin (feeling nausea now), and Taco Wallace. Oh come on! Like you wouldn’t want Taco on your team!
Rogers would catch all of 36 balls and score four touchdowns in his three seasons in Detroit. He would also violate the league’s substance abuse policy three times and be labeled “lazy” by pretty much everyone in the Lions organization. He was an unfortunate waste of talent.