Quarterback Ryan Leaf once played for the Dallas Cowboys. Seriously. The same second-overall National Football League Draft pick who was a disaster while with the San Diego Chargers played, and even started, for one of the most storied franchises in the history of North American professional sports. The same franchise that had Roger Staubach and Troy Aikman under center once decided to give Leaf a shot. Here is a spoiler alert in case you couldn't guess the outcome: That experiment did not end well for the Cowboys or for the QB, and Leaf never played for any other NFL club.
Remarkably, Leaf may actually not be the worst quarterback to have ever played for the Cowboys. Babe Laufenberg, nice guy that he may have been during his pro football career, was one lousy professional QB. The same can be said about Drew Henson and Quincy Carter, neither of whom, if we are being honest about it, should have been given multiple opportunities to start at QB for NFL teams. None of the previously mentioned players cause diehard fans of the Cowboys to cringe as much as they do when they hear the name of Shante Carver, who may very well be the worst draft pick in the history of the proud Cowboys.
The Cowboys once planned on selecting a wide receiver named Jerry Rice. When that was no longer an option, Dallas instead settled on defensive lineman Kevin Brooks. That some younger fans of the Cowboys are saying “who?” upon seeing Brooks' name tells you just about all you need to know about that draft pick. Because we don't believe in being biased toward those who play more than a handful of downs per game, we also decided to include a kicker. In fall fairness, that kicker did, at the time that he joined the Cowboys, have a recognizable name. Too bad his foot had already retired by then.
Yes, this is the same Mike Vanderjagt who was a mainstay of the Indianapolis Colts for years. The Cowboys decided to take a flier on Vanderjagt before the start of the 2006 NFL regular season, hoping that he could find the magic and form that he had while in Indianapolis. It turned out that his best days were dead and gone before he even showed up in Dallas. Vanderjagt converted a miserable 72.2 percent of his field goal attempts; 13 of 18 kicks, to be exact. The 72.2 and 13 were both career low marks for Vanderjagt, who found himself out of work and out of the NFL in 2007.
The possibility exists that the Cowboys may still be able to save Brandon Weeden, the draft bust of the Cleveland Browns who was picked up by Dallas in 2014. It is more likely, however, that the Cowboys will move on from Weeden sooner than later, perhaps even before you read this sentence. Weeden was the back up for starter Tony Romo when Romo went down with an injury in September of 2015. It took only one Weeden start for there to be rumors that Dallas was already considering moving on. That, fans of the Browns would say, is hardly a surprise.
In his list of the Worst Players in NFL History, Deadspin columnist Jeff Pearlman wrote the following about the Dallas wide receiver:
“Golden Richards,” Bob Avellini, the former Chicago quarterback, once told me, “is the worst wide receiver I have ever seen.”
Richards did manage to hang around in the NFL for eight seasons, which is something that Josh Gordon and Justin Blackmon likely won't be able to brag about years from now. Selected by the Cowboys in the second round of the 1973 NFL Draft, Richards averaged 15 receptions a year in his six seasons with Dallas.
Those who played the Madden video games in the early 2000s and who used the roster of the Cowboys may remember starting Quincy Carter at quarterback. Carter was, after all, a good athlete who had a great arm. That only meant so much for Carter in real life, though, as he struggled to read pro defenses. He also consistently overthrew wide receivers. Carter would have moments of brilliance from time to time during his Dallas career, but those were mostly overshadowed by poor play. Multiple failed drug tests would bring upon the end of Carter's days with the Cowboys.
Dennis Homan was taken by the Cowboys in the first round of the 1968 NFL Draft and the wide receiver proved to be a first-round pick in name only. Homan had all of four receptions in his first season with the club and he made zero starts that year. He had 19 catches for Dallas over the next two regular seasons. Homan failed to find the end zone even once during that time. It would be another two years before the Kansas City Chiefs, who acquired Homan after Dallas gave up on the WR, and the rest of the NFL would realize that the target man did not belong in the league.
Poor Alex Barron. Poor, poor Alex Barron. In his first start with the Cowboys in September of 2010, the offensive tackle was called for holding on the final play of the game. That penalty wiped away what otherwise likely would have been a game-winning touchdown. Dallas instead lost 13-7 to division rivals the Washington Redskins. Barron remained active with the club for an additional ten contests, but he never again saw the field for Dallas. Other attempts to revive his NFL career died before he played even one more regular season down. He will thus always be remembered for that one penalty. Ouch.
A hope at the time was that quarterback Drew Henson, who was selected in the sixth round of the 2003 NFL Draft, would be Tom Brady 2.0. Henson, like Brady, was from the University of Michigan. Listed at 6-foot-4 and 233 pounds, Henson had the size to play the quarterback position in the NFL. Unfortunately, Henson had about a fraction of the talent had by Brady. He was given a single start by the Cowboys and his 18 pass attempts while with Dallas was enough for the team to see that he was not the answer at the QB position. Henson attempted to make it in Major League Baseball before his days in Dallas. That also didn't go well for him.
Elvis Patterson was in the dying days of his pro career when the Cowboys picked the defensive back up in 1993. Patterson nevertheless makes it onto this dubious list because of his awesome nickname: “Toast.” Yes, the cornerback was known as “Toast.” That was not, as he would tell the tale, because he was known as “the toast of the town.” It came from Patterson's reputation for being burned by good wide receivers during meaningful games. Patterson's Dallas career lasted only 11 games and he did so little of note in that time that Pro Football Reference has zero stats for him.
Perhaps the best description of the running back who was selected in the second round of the 1995 NFL Draft came from Drew Magary of NBCDFW.com: “Remember Sherman Williams? That guy smoked enough pot to finance an entire Virgin Island.” A product of the University of Alabama, Williams averaged 3.8 yards per carry with the Cowboys. He could not, however, be trusted to hold onto the football. Williams put the ball on the turf nine times in his first three seasons in Dallas. His carries, as you would probably predict, decreased from there and he last played in the NFL in 1999.
Bryant Westbrook had been in the NFL for five full seasons when the Cowboys gave him a free agent contract before the start of the 2002 season. The cornerback registered three tackles in his debut performance with the Cowboys, but Dallas obviously expected more from the veteran defensive back. He was cut by the club after the game. Westbrook was eventually picked up by the Green Bay Packers, and he made six appearances for Green Bay in 2002. None of those were starts, though, and 2002 would prove to be Westbrook's final season in the NFL.
The Cowboys needed a temporary replacement/bridge quarterback to replace Troy Aikman heading into the 2001 season. Dallas decided to give Tony Banks, a journeyman veteran who had never won anything of merit in the NFL, a shot. It did not take long for the Cowboys to admit that they had made a mistake. Banks was given his marching orders from the club before the start of the regular season. Adding salt into an open wound was that the Cowboys chose to go with, of all people, Quincy Carter over Banks. Carter was, in fairness, better than Banks, but that is not saying a lot.
The story goes that the Cowboys were interested in drafting wide receiver Jerry Rice in 1985. The San Francisco 49ers were also big on Rice, so much so that the team made a trade to move up grab him before Dallas was on the clock. This left the Cowboys with defensive tackle/defensive end Kevin Brooks. Rice, of course, went on to become the greatest WR anybody had ever seen play pro football. Brooks had 12.5 sacks and a fumble recovery in his four seasons with the Cowboys. After that, Brooks played two seasons with the Detroit Lions before his NFL career came to an end.
Here is what should be remembered about Babe Laufenberg when ranking him in any such piece: He was a sixth-round draft selection. Expectations for Laufenberg should have been low. With that said, Laufenberg may have failed to have even met those hopes for him while with the Cowboys. Laufenberg had a chance to start for the Cowboys on the final weekend of the 1990 regular season. He completed 10 of 24 pass attempts, and he tossed two interceptions and only a single touchdown. That would be his last appearance with the Cowboys and for an NFL side.
Whenever you find that an argument with a Cowboys fan is going nowhere fast, just retort with the following: “Well, at least my favorite team didn't draft Shante Carver!” That should wrap things up in a hurry. The defensive end selected in the first round of the 1994 NFL Draft started in ten games in his first three seasons in the NFL. All ten of those starts occurred in his second and third years. Carver did, to his credit, have six sacks in his last campaign with the Cowboys. Nobody in Dallas or around the league was impressed. Carver failed to receive a second contract from the Cowboys or from any other team.
It has to be Ryan Leaf, because of course it has to be Ryan Leaf. The Cowboys were probably hoping that some new scenery and a second chance at a reasonable NFL career would be enough to help Leaf right the ship. Leaf was already a lost cause before he ever tossed a pass in a game for the Cowboys. Leaf lost all three of his Dallas starts, he completed 51 percent of his passes, he matched a touchdown with three interceptions, and he was sacked on 12 occasions. Those awful performances would serve as a fitting end to a career of one of the biggest draft busts in NFL history.