Ranking the Top 10 NFL Draft Busts of All-Time
The NFL Draft is like playing the lottery: most of the time it’s a bust.
No matter how much time you spend watching film and evaluating players you still are taking a major gamble on them being the new face of your franchise.
Sometimes, it pans out and you end up with a game changer like JJ Watt, and sometimes you end up with a bust like Vernon Gholston. No position is out of play here, ie Robert Gallery and Joe Thomas at the tackle position.
So that got me thinking, we are the 10 biggest draft busts in NFL history.
10. Trent Richardson – Cleveland Browns (Round 1, pick 3)
Richardson was taken by the Cleveland Browns with the third overall pick in the 2012 NFL Draft. He was going to be their featured back for years to come as the Browns finally became relevant in the league.
After a promising rookie season that saw Richardson finish with 950 yards rushing and 11 touchdowns it looked as though they made the right pick.
Just two games into the 2013 season he was traded to the Indianapolis Colts for a future first round pick. All Richarson did in Indianapolis was average 3.1 yards per carry over his final two seasons before being cut.
After the release from Indianapolis, he would try to latch onto the Oakland Raiders and the Baltimore Ravens, but would be cut before making the roster.
9. Lawrence Phillips – St. Louis Rams (Round 1, pick 6)
Phillips had the size and speed to become a hybrid mix of Berry Sanders, and Emmit Smith. His off the field troubles before the draft warranted other teams to pass on him, allowing the Rams to draft him at the sixth spot. The Rams even traded away Jerome Bettis to make room for him in the backfield.
He would be arrested multiple times and would have issues with head coach Dick Vermeil. In three seasons in the NFL, Phillips amassed 1,453 yards and only 14 touchdowns.
His off the field troubles never ended. In 2006, he was sentenced to 10 years in prison for assault with a deadly weapon.
8. Art Schilicter – Indianapolis Colts (Round 1, pick 4)
Easy to make the list when you have been banned from the NFL. Schlichter was selected fourth overall in the 1982 draft, ahead of players like Marcus Allen, Andre Tippett, Jim McMahon, and Mike Munchak.
Schilicter was considered to be the future of the Colts, but his gambling addiction spiraled out of control. He would go on to lose millions of dollars in just a few years in the league. After being suspended for the 1983 season, he was reinstated for the 1984 season.
Schilicter would not even last two full seasons in the NFL after that. The Colts released him five games into the 1985 season. He left the NFL with six career starts, 1,006 yards passing, three touchdowns, and 11 interceptions. He never won an NFL game.
That gambling addiction never faded away, in 2012 he was sentenced to 11 years in prison for a sports ticket scheme.
7. Aundray Bruce – Atlanta Falcons (Round 1, pick 1)
Here comes the next Lawrence Taylor, or so the Atlanta Falcons thought when the made Bruce the first overall pick in the 1988 draft. A class that included the likes of Michael Irvin, Tim Brown, Sterling Sharpe, Randall McDaniel, and Thurman Thomas.
Although he lasted 11 years in the NFL, Bruce would only make 42 starts. He never flourished at the linebacker position in the league. He finished his career with only 32 sacks, four interceptions, and three fumble recoveries. Dismal stats for a player taken first overall. The Falcons and Raiders would even try to use him at tight end because of his athletic ability, but nothing could keep Bruce off of the all-time bust list.
6. Akili Smith – Cincinnati Bengals (Round 1, pick 3)
In 1999, Akili Smith was considered by many one of the best quarterback prospects to come out of college in years. The pool at quarterback that year was considered deep at five were taken in the first round. Two, ahead of Smith.
Tim Couch and Donovan McNabb were selected in front of Smith as the Bengals took him third overall. Daunte Culpepper and Cade McNown we also go in the first round that year.
In four seasons with the Bengals, Smith would never fully grasp the playbook and ride the bench. His athletic attributes were not enough to compensate for the learning curve in the league. He would start in only 17 games (three wins), throwing for 2,212 yards, five touchdowns, and 13 interceptions.
He would be released shortly after the 2002 season.
5. Charles Rodgers – Detroit Lions (Round 1, pick 2)
Oh Matt Milan, what is your fantasy about drafting freakishly athletic wide receivers in the top 10?
Rodgers was widely considered the next Randy Moss, as he set numerous records his junior year at Michigan State. At 6’3”, 202 pounds with blazing speed and sure-fire hands, he was considered a virtual lock to become the next great wide receiver.
Injuries set in early during his first season, as he was out with a broken clavicle bone. The same thing would happen during his second year in the league. Then the drug problems set in.
In 2005 he was suspended for four games for his third substance abuse violation. Reports started coming out that he had failed multiple drug tests in college as well.
After his reinstatement during the 2005 season, Rodgers would continue to struggle on and off the field, resulting in his release in 2006. He would work out for a handful of teams after that, but would never play in the NFL again.
After multiple arrests, Rodgers was admitted in 2012 to a treatment facility for drug addiction. In three seasons with the Lions, he started nine games tallying 36 receptions for 440 yards and four touchdowns.
4. Brian Bosworth – Seattle Seahawks (Round 1, supplemental draft)
The “Boz” was a traveling circus show. He would enter the league after leaving Oklahoma because of a suspension for testing positive for steroids. Anyone who looked at the man could tell he was on some Barry Bonds juice.
Bosworth reportedly told multiple teams that if they drafted him he would not play, prompting the Seattle Seahawks to take him first a first round supplement draft pick. He showed up to training camp in a damn helicopter — the definition of a pre-madonna.
During the 1987 season, Seattle was set to take on the Oakland Raiders who has an All-Pro running back in Bo Jackson. Bosworth told the media that he would easily shut down the runner. One of the most famous plays in the history of the NFL would happen next.
Jackson would end up rushing for 221 yards that night and score three times. On one of the touchdown runs by Jackson at the goal line he simply ran through Bosworth to score. That one play sums up the “Boz’s” career.
He lasted three seasons, making 24 starts, and having only four sacks and zero interceptions. He movie career was larger than his playing career, and I cannot name one movie he has made.
3. Tony Mandrich – Green Bay Packers (Round 1, pick 2)
“The Incredible Bulk” was the cover of Sports Illustrated featuring a giant Mandarich on the cover prior to the 1989 draft. He was a sure fire cannot miss, and would anchor the Green Bay Packers offensive line for the next decade plus.
He was a physical specimen, weighing in at 330 pounds, ran a 4.65 forty yard dash, and bench pressed 225 pounds 39 times. Translation, a beat in every aspect at the offensive line position. Real translation, just numbers. Ego issues affected his play in Green Bay, as his first year he never saw more than special teams playing time. He never was the right fit to play tackle, forcing the Packers to release him after just three years.
Mandrich appeared in 86 games in his career, making only 457 starts. A majority of them for the Indianapolis Colts as a guard, a position he was better suited for, but Mandrich was never the Hall of Fame player many labeled him as.
Players the Packers missed out on in the 1989 draft would include Barry Sanders, Dion Sanders, Derrick Thomas, and Andre Rison.
2. Ryan Leaf – San Diego Chargers (Round 1, pick 2)
Going into the 1998 draft, many draft “experts” could not determine who would have the better NFL career. Ryan Leaf or Peyton Manning. Manning is one of the best quarterbacks in NFL history, as Ryan Leaf is considered one of the top three busts of all time. Prompting me to put him here at number 2.
Leaf was a gunslinger out of Washington State, who could throw dimes on the run and throw the ball all over the field with ease. After Manning went number one to the Indianapolis Colts, the San Diego Chargers took Leaf with the second overall selection.
What the Chargers drafted was a confident player whom some believed was to the point of cockiness and arrogance. Boy were they right. Criticism was never taken well by him, which would result in locker-room confrontations’ with the media and players on the team.
Leaf would never take control of his actions, or develop into the NFL star he was supposed to become. He was released after three seasons in San Diego and had brief stints with the Buccaneers and Cowboys.
He finished his career with 21 starts, throwing for 3,666 yards, 14 touchdowns, and 36 interceptions. If it was not for our next pick on all-time draft busts, Leaf would have walked away with this competition.
1. Jamarcus Russell – Oakland Raiders (Round 1, pick 1)
The late Al Davis was known for taking players that their numbers during the combine and pro days seemed to separate them from the rest of the crowd. For example, Darius Heyward-Bey should have been an early 2nd round draft pick, but after his blazing 40 time at the combine, it prompted Davis to take him in the top 10. He is now with the Steelers trying to stick with a team for longer than a year.
The Oakland Raiders held the number one pick going into the 2007 draft. Davis had his eyes set on LSU quarterback JaMarcus Russell. Russell was 6’6”, 265 pounds and had a cannon for an arm, he could throw the ball 80 yards while on his knees. He clocked a 4.72 forty at the Combine, and his hand size was nearly 10 inches. He was an offensive lineman playing the quarterback position, Davis fell in love.
The Raiders took him with the first overall selection that year, and after a hold out signed him to a rookie record contract worth 68 million (31.5 guaranteed). His first start would not come until December.
Leaf would be named the starter for the 2008 season but struggled with his accuracy and decision-making skills throughout the season. He made 15 starts and totaled 2,423 yards with 13 touchdowns and eight interceptions, all while completing only 53 percent of his passes. That would mark his best season in the NFL.
The 2009 season would be his last as he played in 12 games, nine of them starting. He finished with only three touchdowns to 11 interceptions and completed only 48 percent of his passes for 1,287 yards.
During the 2010 offseason, Russell showed up to camp looking more like an offensive lineman when he reportedly weighed in at 290 pounds, but he looked every bit of 330. The Raiders would release him on May 6, 2010.
Russell would make over $30 million in his brief NFL career, which would become a main focal point during the CBA talks in 2011. His lack of work ethic and his issues on and off the field lands him at the number one spot of all-time NFL draft busts.