The Top 10 NFL Draft Busts
The National Football League Draft is an annual event in which teams select eligible college football players. Teams select players in descending order of worst to best regular season record.
With their position, teams can either select a player or trade their position to another team for players, draft picks or any combination of the two. After each team has used its position in the drafting order, a round is complete, and they start again. There are seven rounds in the NFL Draft.
Teams who select earlier in the draft receive the chance to select the better college players. But what happens when those players don’t live up to the hype from being drafted early and above so many others? The term used for those players who fizzle out of the league is “Draft Bust.”
In my opinion, these are the all-time top-ten draft busts.
10. Houston QBs: Andre Ware and David Klingler
As a junior, Andre Ware broke 26 passing records because of the offense he ran in college. The team rarely ran the ball, so his stats were very much inflated. In the 1990 NFL Draft, the Detroit Lions selected him seventh overall.
Even with running his college offense in the pros, he never got his feet off the ground and only started six games in four years in Detroit.
While Ware was struggling in the NFL, his successor at Houston, David Klingler, was breaking all of Ware’s records. With 52 touchdowns in a season and 700 passing yards in a game, he made passing the ball look effortless.
In the 1992 NFL Draft, Klingler was selected sixth overall by the Cincinnati Bengals. He was drafted to a terrible team with no talent around him and never got better. In 33 games as a pro, he was sacked 83 times and only passed for 4,000 yards in his career, a thousand yards less than he did in one season as a junior in college.
9. Penn State RBs: Blair Thomas, Ki-Jana Carter and Curtis Enis
All three running backs from Penn State were first-round picks: Thomas second overall in 1990, Carter first overall in 1995 and Enis fifth overall in 1998.
All three struggled with injures throughout their careers and only rushed for 5,000 combined career yards—12,000 fewer yards than Emmitt Smith, who was drafted 15 picks below Thomas in 1990.
8. Aundray Bruce, DE, No. 1 Overall Pick in 1988 by Atlanta Falcons
Going into the 1988 NFL Draft, Bruce was regarded as the next Lawrence Taylor, the Hall of Fame linebacker for the New York Giants. He had the size and speed you look for in a player and was selected first overall by Atlanta.
Although he had decent rookie season, his work ethic and maturity was in question. He was charged with two paternity suits and was arrested for pulling a BB gun on a pizza delivery man.
Bruce started only 42 games in his 11-year career.
7. Rae Carruth, WR, No. 27 Overall Pick in 1997 by Carolina Panthers
Rae Carruth was drafted 27th overall in the first round of the 1997 NFL draft.
In 20 games for the Panthers, he put up a respectable 62 receptions for 804 yards and four TDs.
On the evening on November 16, 1999, Cherica Adams, the woman Carruth was dating, was shot four times by a friend of Carruth.
She survived long enough to explain that Carruth stopped his vehicle in front of hers, as another vehicle pulled up besides hers, and open fired. Carruth then drove off from the scene. Adams was eight months pregnant with Carruth’s child; she died soon after the shooting.
Carruth was found guilty of conspiracy to commit murder, shooting into an occupied vehicle and using an instrument to destroy an unborn child.
6. Lawrence Phillips, RB, No. 6 Overall Pick in 1996 by St. Louis Rams
Phillips led Nebraska to an undefeated season and national title in 1994.
In 1995, he was arrested for assaulting his then girlfriend.
Despite the off-field concerns, the Rams thought so highly of Phillips that they traded the team’s star running back, Jerome Bettis, who became the cornerstone of the Steelers franchise for the next decade, to Pittsburgh and drafted Phillips sixth overall.
In his first year in the NFL, Phillips was arrested three times and fined by the Rams almost 30 times.
He played only two years for the Rams before being released. Brief stints in Miami and San Francisco were cut short by more arrests.
2006: Sentenced on seven counts of assaults and received 10 years in prison.
2009: While serving his sentence, he was convicted for assault, again, and received an additional 31 years in prison.
5. Akili Smith, QB, No. 3 Overall Pick in 1999 by Cincinnati Bengals
Before the 1999 NFL Draft, New Orleans Saints Head Coach Mike Ditka offered the Bengals nine draft picks from the 1999 and 2000 draft, hoping to trade up to the third spot; the Bengals refused and instead drafted Smith.
From 1999 to 2002, Smith started only 17 games, winning 3 of them, and completed only five TD passes.
4. Brian Bosworth–1st Round in Supplemental Draft in 1987 by Seattle Seahawks
The linebacker from the University of Oklahoma was perhaps the most hyped player in college football history. He was perceived as more of a celebrity than an athlete. He and his people created the persona of “The Boz”.
The two-time Linebacker of the Year award winner was kicked off the team for failing a drug test. He was drafted by Seattle in the supplemental draft (meaning they lost next year’s draft pick by using one).
Before a 1987 Monday Night Football game against the Los Angeles Raiders, Boz spent all week insulting Raiders running back Bo Jackson and promised to contain him. Boz did not fulfill the promise, as Jackson rushed for 221 yards and three TDs. Jackson also ran right through the Boz on a one-on-one matchup on the goal line.
Brian was not a terrible player; his bust status reflects Hype vs. Production.
Because of constant injuries, he only played two seasons in the NFL.
3. Tony Mandrich, OL, No. 2 Overall Pick in 1989 by Green Bay Packers.
“The Best Offensive Line Prospect Ever” was the title given to Mandrich on the cover of Sports Illustrated before the 1989 NFL Draft.
Despite suspicion of steroid use (which turned out to be true), he was taken behind Troy Aikman with the second pick in the draft.
Behind terrible foot work and stricter drug testing in the NFL, he played three terrible years, and admitted he was terribly addicted to painkillers during that time.
2. Jamarcus Russell, QB, No. 1 Overall Pick in 2007 by Oakland Raiders
A QB who only lost four games over his college career, he had the size and arm strength that made team scouts drool.
The Raiders drafted him with the first pick overall.
Disagreeing on a contract, Russell held out on the team into the regular season. He then signed a record-setting $61-million contract, with $32 million of it guaranteed.
He went on to produce seven wins for the Raiders.
After ballooning to nearly 300 pounds before the 2010 season, he was cut and acknowledged he tested positive to codeine syrup more than once.
1. Ryan Leaf, QB, No. 2 Overall Pick in 1998 by San Diego Chargers.
Leaf was drafted behind Peyton Manning and was considered, by some, to be a better prospect.
His maturity was questionable, at best
According to NFL Network's Jamie Dukes, during the draft evaluation process both Manning and Leaf were asked the question: “If you were the first overall pick in the draft, what would you do?” Manning gave a typical, “I’d work hard, study hard, practice hard” type answer. Leaf responded along the lines of, "to be honest, I’d go to Vegas and have a week in Vegas."
He had a poor relationship with the media, as evidenced by his verbal attack on a newspaper reporter. Leaf also had verbal disputes with general manager Bobby Beathard and safety Rodney Harrison.
Over his career, Leaf threw 36 INTs to just 14 TDs and lead the Chargers to 15 losess in 2000 before being waived in 2001.
The ultimate Draft Bust.