The NFL draft is an opportunity for teams to improve and build for the future. Scouts spend endless hours studying the many talented athletes that rise through the ranks in search of NFL glory. Some drafts see a plethora of young talent, while other drafts offer slim pickings.
Of course, how high a player is ranked on entering the draft doesn’t necessarily reflect how he will perform at the NFL level. Many high picks have gone on to be duds while some late round picks turned out to be stars. There's a lot left to chance.
Players are not only chosen based on talent, but attitude as well. Many talented players have been passed on due to bad attitudes, troubles with the law and failed drug tests. It is critical for teams to know everything they can about potential draft picks in order to use their picks wisely. A bad draft pick, especially in the first round, has the potential to set a team back dramatically.
There are many high draft picks that have been busts. Some of these bust picks have been able to carve out decent careers later on. They are still productive enough to maintain a pro career but just not as productive as originally anticipated. The draft busts that haunt teams are the ones that fail to produce at all despite the hype. It can be aggrevating when, years later, they see the talent they passed on.
Every team has wasted a high pick on a bust and there will be many more high draft pick busts in years to come. Here are the NFL’s worst draft picks: Where are they now?
15 Steve Emtman
A first overall pick that didn’t work out as expected is Steve Emtman. Drafted by Indianapolis in 1992, Steve would play in parts of six seasons before he was forced to call it quits. His status as one of the biggest NFL first overall pick busts doesn’t come from a lack of effort, as it was an unfortunate string of injuries that doomed his career. He blew out both knees and ruptured a disk in his back and he was done by the age of 27.
14 Vernon Gholston
Vernon Gholston was the 6th overall pick in the 2008 NFL Draft. It’s certain that the New York Jets expected a lot more out of the linebacker/defensive end than they got. Gholston failed to register a single sack throughout his forgettable three-year career. Since his release from the Jets in 2011, he has failed to make the cut with any other team despite his efforts.
13 Jay Berwanger
The first ever NFL Draft to take place was in 1936. The first pick taken in that draft was Jay Berwanger who was also the recipient of the first Heisman Trophy ever awarded. In yet another first for Berwanger, he also goes down in history as the first, and one of the biggest, draft bust ever.
Berwanger was a standout college player who was considered to be one of the best players in his class. Instead of becoming the star that he was meant to be, he sabotaged his career by demanding too much money. His outlandish demands were never met and Berwanger never played in a single NFL game.
12 Lawrence Phillips
Perhaps one of the most tragic NFL draft busts was Lawrence Phillips. He was troubled before he entered the NFL in 1996 as the 6th overall pick. He was undoubtedly talented but his college days revealed him to be a polarizing figure with legal issues. This didn’t stop the St. Louis Rams from taking a chance on him. His playing career was quickly derailed by more legal troubles and a terrible attitude. He would frustrate teammates and coaches on three different teams before he was out of the NFL at the age of 24.
His post-NFL playing days were even worse. He was charged with numerous offenses which resulted in a 10-year prison sentence being handed down in 2008. While in prison, a string of previously unresolved legal troubles saw his sentence increased to 32 years.
11 Jim Druckenmiller
The San Francisco 49ers were looking for another Joe Montana or Steve Young at the 1997 NFL Draft. Instead, they chose Jim Druckenmiller as their first pick and he was nowhere near the player the 49ers thought he’d be. He played in 6 games during the 1997 and 1998 seasons and his numbers were awful. They traded him to Miami just before the 1999 season but Druckenmiller couldn’t make the grade.
10 Art Schlichter
9 Brian Bosworth
No list of draft busts is complete without Brian Bosworth. He was a controversial player from the moment he signed his huge $11 million rookie contract with the Seattle Seahawks in 1987. He was noted for his trash-talking more than his tackling abilities. After saying that he was going to contain Raiders running back Bo Jackson, he was left red-faced when Jackson ran for 221 yards and a touchdown in which he ran right through the infuriated Bosworth.
8 Todd Marinovich
Another mainstay on draft bust lists is former NFL quarterback Todd Marinovich. He is the very definition of wasted talent. Despite all the red flags, the Oakland Raiders drafted Todd in 1991 as their first pick, 24th overall. He was given the opportunity to claim the number one quarterback spot but he didn’t perform anywhere near expectations. He was partying hard, using a whole lot of drugs and drinking. This obviously had extremely adverse effects on both his performance and reputation. After two seasons in Oakland ,where he went through an intervention and failed drug tests, he was released. He would never play in the NFL again.
He continued to disappoint in the CFL where he admitted to smoking crack right before a game. The next few years would see Todd dealing with more arrests, spending more time in rehab and doing more drugs.
7 Tim Couch
When a player gets picked first overall in the draft, there are certain expectations. Tim Couch did not meet these expectations and is widely considered to be one of the biggest busts in history.
After a highly successful college career, Couch was drafted by the Cleveland Browns and made his first NFL appearance in 1999. His five years with the Browns were highlighted by inconsistent play and injuries. In 2002, mainly due to a good defense, the Browns made the playoffs but Couch broke his leg in the final regular-season game and missed the playoffs.
In 2003, he lost his job as the starter and would never play again in the NFL. He tried out for numerous teams over the next two years but had no luck. His last opportunity came with the Jaguars in 2007, but he was cut prior to the season.
6 Charles Rogers
“I choked. Straight up, I choked.” These words were spoken by Charles Rogers when asked about his disappointing career in an ESPN interview. Despite several warning signs the Detroit Lions opted to select Charles Rogers over Andre Johnson as the 2nd overall pick in the 2003 NFL draft.
He played in five games in his 2003 rookie season before he broke his clavicle which sidelined him for the rest of the season. In the first game of the 2004 season, he broke his clavicle again, causing that season to be written off. The 2005 campaign was a disaster as well. He was suspended due to a third failed drug test and only saw action in nine games. He was admittedly using drugs and out of shape. Prior to the 2006 season, the Lions released him citing a lack of work ethic. That sums up his career.
5 Heath Shuler
The Washington Redskins selected Heath Shuler with the 3rd overall pick in the 1994 draft. He was dubbed the Redskins quarterback of the future, but we all know what a curse that moniker can be. He was given the starting role but quickly lost it to backup Gus Ferrotte. After two terrible seasons, he earned himself bench-warming duties for the duration of the 1996 season.
He was traded to the Saints in 1997, but he failed to impress with his 2 touchdowns and 14 interceptions in nine games. He suffered a foot injury that kept him out of the 1998 season. He would later try out for the Raiders, but he was forced to retire due to his foot injury.
4 Maurice Clarett
Maurice Clarett’s scandal-filled college career with Ohio State led directly to a scandal-filled and brief NFL career. Despite his well known troubles, the Denver Broncos took a chance and selected Clarett late in the third round of the 2005 draft. The Broncos waived him prior to the start of the 2005 season. Perhaps wisely, seeing as no other NFL teams wanted him either. His career was over before it even started and he was reportedly in debt over a million dollars from legal battles surrounding his contract with Denver.
3 Tony Mandarich
Once considered on of the best draft prospects ever, Tony Mandarich was selected 2nd overall in the 1989 NFL draft by the Packers. His career began with a contract hold-out that was settled shortly before the 1989 season. He proceeded to underwhelm, display a bad attitude and develop addictions to drugs and alcohol. He was released by Green Bay after the 1991 season. Tony responded by falling deeper into addiction before he finally checked himself into rehab in 1995.
Tony took well to rehab and became sober. He trained hard and found himself back in the NFL with the Indianapolis Colts in 1996. He played three seasons with the Colts before retiring in 1998.
2 JaMarcus Russell
With 18 touchdowns and 23 interceptions in 25 games played, JaMarcus Russell left his mark on the NFL in the same way a guy leaves marks in the back of his underwear after eating too much Chipotle.
The Oakland Raiders took Russell as the first overall pick in 2007. He held out for a better contract and eventually suckered the Raiders into a contract that guaranteed him $32 million. He saw little time on the field in his first year but was given the reins in 2008. He didn’t stink too badly, which was enough to keep his starting role. Russell rapidly fell down the depth chart in 2009 as his fitness level dropped and his weight was rising. He was released shortly after the season. Nobody was interested in signing him.
1 Ryan Leaf
The Indianapolis Colts made the right decision in selecting Peyton Manning over Ryan Leaf as the first overall pick of the 1998 Draft. Leaf is the very definition of blown opportunities. After being drafted, Leaf showed his gratitude by being terrible on the field and disruptive in the locker room. He suffered an injury that sidelined him for the entire 1999 season. He continued to fall out of favor with the team and was released after his terrible performance during the 2000 season. He was able to get another shot at NFL glory with the Dallas Cowboys but he was every bit as terrible in Dallas as he was in San Diego. After just four games the Cowboys gave him his walking papers and that was all for Ryan Leaf’s NFL career.
He went on to graduate from Washington State University with a bachelor’s degree in humanities in 2005. He looked to be on track but, in reality, he was dealing with a growing drug addiction. He ended up facing numerous charges and indictments over the next few years including multiple burglary and possession charges. These legal woes earned him a five year prison sentence in 2014 but he was released later that year. He hasn't been in the news since and we need to assume that's a good thing.
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