It’s easy to second guess a team’s draft decisions in hindsight. But in the moment, coaches and GM’s make their choices based on how they think their selection will benefit the team long term. It’s an old cliché, but teams are very much built through the draft. As important as it is to pick up players in free agency, the draft gives teams a chance to get a real difference maker under contract for next to nothing. Imagine the incredible value of finding a franchise quarterback in the draft, then paying him almost nothing on his rookie contract. However, there’s no exact formula to finding a difference maker in the draft and, too often, highly ranked choices bomb.
It’s hard to pinpoint why certain athletes can’t make the transition from college ball to the pros. Sometimes it’s a matter of work ethic and other times it’s just a matter of collegiate success not guaranteeing success in a faster paced pro league. But missing out on a pick can hurt a franchise for years. Especially when the team is picking in the top ten. Teams usually find themselves picking higher than the rest because their previous squad was a good deal weaker than the rest of the league the previous year. The draft offers them an opportunity to better themselves with premier talent, mainly in the first round.
While every team expects to find someone who can eventually play at an elite level, that isn’t a realistic expectation for all players brought into the league – even first rounders. In fact most first round picks would be lucky to be remembered as “good” players once they retire. The hard truth is plenty of first round selections will bust. The teams that can avoid drafting these players, as well as multiple other contributors in the later rounds, are the ones that are in a position to compete year in and year out. This is a list of those picks that failed to make the cut.
15 The Raiders Give up Multiple Draft Picks for Aged Veterans
Most teams stockpile draft choices to get younger. There was a time no too long ago when the Raiders gave up a lot of picks and got older at key positions. They gave up a first round pick to the Patriots for Richard Seymour in 2009. New England used that pick on Nate Solder who has started sixty games since being drafted in 2011. Then came the Carson Palmer trade which cost them another first round choice along with a second rounder. The first rounder that Cincinnati got was used to select Dre Kirkpatrick, while the second was used on Giovani Bernard. Both Seymour and Palmer were nearing the end of their prime, and never helped the Raiders the way the team had hoped they would when they pulled the trigger on these blockbuster trades.
14 Teddy Bridgewater Goes After Johnny Manziel
This time last year, people were gushing over Johnny Manziel as one of the most exciting prospects to enter the NFL. The Cleveland Browns successfully traded down to select the Texas A&M star – something the Vikings tried to do as well. With Manziel off the board, Minnesota still traded back into the first round, selecting Teddy Bridgewater instead. At the time, it seemed that Cleveland had gotten the better deal but once the regular season started it was clear who’d gotten the better QB. Bridgewater started in 12 games showing promise and the ability to move the ball down the field. Manziel stirred up a whole lot of controversy and brought up questions regarding his maturity. He played in just three games before he was benched and is already looking like a bust.
13 The Dolphins Pick Dion Jordan 3rd Overall
Top 5 picks are expected to contribute relatively early in their careers. The bust label is thrown around pretty often in regards to those who fail to make an impact early on in their careers. When they drafted Dion Jordan third overall in the 2013 NFL draft, the Miami Dolphins hoped he’d mirror the success he had at Oregon. Instead he’s managed to rack up only three sacks and just as many suspensions, never being able to crack the Dolphins starting lineup. Now serving a one year suspension, you can’t help but think that the Dolphins wasted a golden opportunity to draft a difference maker on a guy who can’t even stay on the field.
12 2010 Halfback Class
2010 was a bad year for running backs. One only has to look at the careers of the first three taken that year to understand why the position has become somewhat devalued in today’s NFL. Of the three taken in the first round, all have struggled with injuries and turnovers. C.J. Spiller and Ryan Mathews are now looking to play complimentary roles with their second career teams while Jahvid Best’s career was cut short by injury. Toby Gerhart, Ben Tate and Dexter McCluster are also guys selected high in the draft that’ve failed to breakout at any point in their careers, despite the opportunities.
11 The Jets Draft a Kicker in Round 2
Surprisingly this isn’t even the highest a kicker has ever gone in the draft, but no matter how convenient it is to have a clutch kicker in the NFL, there’s no reason for a team to be spending a day 2 pick on one. Mike Nugent is a decent kicker in the league, but by no means should he have gone any time before the fifth round. The Jets had traded out of the first round to make this selection, passing future pro bowlers such as Vincent Jackson, Frank Gore and Justin Tuck. Nugent only lasted three years in New York while the previously mentioned three all excelled at their respective positions in their primes.
10 Justin Blackmon Can’t Stay on the Field
Justin Blackmon, along with the rest of his teammates coming out of the 2012 draft, was a major disappointment that only served to sustain the Jacksonville Jaguars’ perpetual downward spiral. Blackmon is a talented young receiver but often fails to showcase his talents, as suspensions have kept him off the field. In fact, the troubled young wideout hasn’t put on a uniform since Week 8 of the 2013 season. Instead of adding a weapon on offense, Jacksonville got themselves stuck with a liability and a whole bunch of dead cap space. Blackmon remains suspended without any word as to when he can or will return to the league.
9 Dallas Misses on Bobby Carpenter
Supposed to be a staple of the Cowboys defense for years to come, Bobby Carpenter couldn’t even contribute much too special teams, let alone the first unit defense. Carpenter was brought in during the Bill Parcells era in Dallas. He didn’t do much in his three years with the team and was later traded for an equally disappointing player in Alex Barron. He then moonlighted in Miami costing special teams coordinator, John Bonamego, his job before losing his own soon after. Picked a couple spots after Carpenter was pass rushing specialist Tamba Hali, who would’ve formed a fearsome tandem with DeMarcus Ware.
8 Alex Smith over Aaron Rodgers
Looking at these two players careers it’s hard to believe that one – who is widely considered to be a game manager – was drafted first overall while the other – thought to be one of the league’s premier passers – waited over four hours to hear his name called. While Alex Smith was tasked with crafting a legacy in the shadows of Joe Montana and Steve Young, Aaron Rodgers was able to perfect his game as a back-up to Brett Favre. San Francisco was actually considering Rodgers with the first pick but famously opted for Smith instead. Smith hasn’t had a bad career by any means, but compared to Rodgers’ accomplishments he looks pedestrian at best.
7 Vernon Gholston Makes No Impact in the Pros
Rex Ryan’s Jets teams were known for their tough defenses that could compete with high octane NFL offenses. So when Ryan and the Jets drafted Vernon Gholston sixth overall, expectations were high for the young pass rusher. He instead ended up as perhaps one of the most colossal draft busts on the defensive side of the ball. In his entire NFL career, Gholston failed to register a single sack. Yup. He literally had one job and couldn’t pull it off once. In fact, he’s the first top 10 selection to fail to register a career sack since sacks became an official stat in 1982.
6 Cleveland Give Up a Second Rounder for Josh Gordon
It’s a shame to see talent go to waste. One of the most frustrating things for a fan to witness is a promising young player’s career be stymied by their immaturity and stupid mistakes. Especially in Cleveland where things haven’t been going too well for a while. The Browns chose him in the second round of the 2012 Supplemental draft. While on the field, Gordon has proven to be as talented as A.J. Green or Julio Jones. But substance abuse issues have limited his on field time. Now, after yet another substance abuse issue, he’s been suspended for another year. Meanwhile Cleveland is without a number one receiver and entering another season with a multitude of question marks.
5 2011 Draft QB’s Flop
Among the first thirty six sections of the 2011 draft, six were quarterbacks. Only three, Cam Newton, Andy Dalton and Colin Kaepernick have had successful pro careers. In the first round alone, there were three busts at the position in the top fifteen. The need for a franchise QB is great in the league. So great, it leads desperate teams to reach for prospects. This draft class was a perfect example of this. Neither Jake Locker, Christian Ponder nor Blaine Gabbert were considered pro ready signal callers, yet out of desperation they were snatched early on in the process with the hopes that they’d pan out with some coaching. Now one of them is out of the league while the other two serve as back-ups.
4 …The 2006 Group Wasn’t Much Better
Even more disappointing than the 2011 crop was the 2006 group. Jay Cutler is the most successful name on the list which says a lot. The two guys taken before him, Vince Young and Matt Leinart, both flirted with success before playing themselves out of the league. Out of the guys taken in this draft only Young, Cutler and Travaris Jackson have started more than 20 games. Culter’s days in Chicago might be numbered but he’s the sole success story to come out of the 2006 quarterback group. This will always be remembered as a group that showed promise but never quite lived up to the hype.
3 The RGIII Trade
There’s still plenty of time for Robert Griffin to get his act together in Washington, but the young signal caller came with a hefty price tag that would’ve been hard to justify even without his struggles. While everyone was sold on Andrew Luck going first overall to Indianapolis, there were questions as to whether the Rams would take the Baylor product with injury prone Sam Bradford on the Roster. The Rams decided to trade out of the pick receiving three first round picks and a second round pick from Washington. A king’s ransom type of trade for sure. Three first rounders is unheard of. Now, while Seattle continues to win with third round pick Russell Wilson under center, Washington still struggles to scrape themselves from the bottom of the league.
2 Matt Millen Draft Classes
During his tenure as the Detroit Lions GM, Matt Millen singlehandedly crippled the team’s success for what would be close to a decade. He drafted four receivers in the first round during that time. One of them being Calvin Johnson and the others being Roy Williams, Mike Williams and Charles Rodgers. Guys like Joey Harrington and Drew Stanton never panned out into starting caliber QBs in the NFL. And though he spent a large portion of his picks on defense, most of the players never made much of an impact. With Millen gone, Detroit is finally emerging as a competitor.
1 Oakland Takes JaMarcus Russell 1st Overall
Expected to save the Raiders franchise, JaMarcus Russell set the team back a number of years in their search for a franchise quarterback. Jason Campbell and Carson Palmer were tasked with fixing the mess Russell couldn’t, but had about just as much success in doing so as he did. During his time with the Raiders, Russell played in only 31 games amassing a 7-18 record while committing 38 turnovers. The silver and black finally look to be getting back on track with Derek Carr (ironically the brother of another draft bust), but Russell’s historic flop will continue to haunt him and the Raiders franchise for many years to come.
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