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The 25 Most Unexpected Free Falls in NFL Draft History

Dan Van WieContributor IIIJanuary 13, 2017

The 25 Most Unexpected Free Falls in NFL Draft History

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    It seems that in every NFL draft, there's one player who's dubbed as a sure-fire, first-round draft pick, only to fall out of the first round completely. With each subsequent draft choice that's announced, the cameras pan over live to get his reaction and watch his pained expressions as his dreams are crashing and burning around him, along with his family and agent.

    The 2012 NFL draft will probably have at least one or two players who were thought to be gone by the end of day one, who are still there on the big board for Round 2. What causes players to drop so much? Maybe there was a rumor started by a team that they preferred to draft the player in the second round so they stirred up something bogus and teams reacted by passing.

    Maybe the player got in trouble off the field in the months leading up to the draft, and teams decided he wasn't worth the risk. These are huge decisions that teams are making, and selecting somebody that turns out to be a poor choice can set your franchise back for years.

    By the way, if you are wondering where Tom Brady is, he won't be in this presentation. We think that Brady was basically projected to be drafted in Round 6 due to his workout at the NFL Scouting Combine. As such, there was no real free fall. He was drafted when he was projected to be drafted.

    On to our presentation of the 25 players who experienced the biggest free falls in NFL draft history.

The 2012 NFL Draft Class: Potential Free Fallers

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    We don't own a crystal ball, but we will toss out six names who could wind up as free-fallers after the dust has settled on the 2012 NFL draft.

    1) Baylor WR Kendall Wright: entered the 2012 offseason as a player thought to be a mid-first-round to late-first-round draft pick. But according to this article by Nolan Nawrocki of Pro Football Weekly, Wright could easily free fall his way to the third round on draft day.

    Wright's lack of discipline is part of the explanation, as NFL evaluators were disappointed to see that Wright had 16 percent body fat, which is one of the highest percentages for a receiver in the past decade.

    Courtesy of Rotoworld, we note that another issue for Wright is that NFL Network's Charley Casserly suggested on Path to the Draft Monday that Baylor WR Kendall Wright may slip to the second round because "a lot of people" in the league believe he's a slot receiver only.

     

    2) North Carolina DE Quinton Coples: he started out the year as a sure-fire top 10 draft pick. While Coples still might go in the top 10, the current train of thought is that he will free-fall anywhere from the mid-teen's to No. 20 due to the concerns about his effort and performance in his final year at North Carolina.

    This article from the Cincinnati Jungle.com sites sources like ESPN's Todd McShay that Coples might free-fall from the top 10 down to anywhere in the 15-17 range, and possibly lower.

     

    3-5) North Alabama CB Janoris Jenkins, Alabama CB Dre Kirkpatrick and Ohio State OT Mike Adams ("The Need for Weed Trio"): While this article from M Live.com by Anwar S. Richardson suggests that the Detroit Lions will not be afraid to draft one of the trio, the reality is that at least two of these players could easily free fall out of the first round due to concerns about their drug usage and choices that they made off the field.

    Of the three, only Kirkpatrick appears to be a first-round pick now.

     

    6) Arizona State LB Vontaze Burfict: originally thought to be a late-first- to early-second-round draft pick when the 2011 college season came to an end, Burfict has done very little to impress NFL teams, and his stock has been in a state of free fall for the past two months.

    The best guess now is anywhere from being a fifth-round pick to not even being drafted at all. According to this story from the Daily.com, as of April 15, Burfict had not yet been invited by any NFL team to have a pre-draft visit. That's a bad sign.

    There might be other free-fall surprises awaiting us at the 2012 NFL draft, but that's part of the beauty of the draft. You just don't know what will happen, and that's why so many of us are going to be on the edge of our seats to see how it all unfolds. On to our list.

25) Bruce Campbell, 2010 Draft

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    Sometimes the players who dazzle at the combine in Indianapolis zoom up the big boards, and other times, they mysteriously fall. The latter would be an adequate description of what happened to tackle Bruce Campbell during the 2010 NFL draft process.

    Campbell came in as a basically unheralded tackle prospect out of Maryland and wowed everybody in attendance with his physical skills at the combines. Standing 6'7" and weighing 310 pounds, benching 34 reps, with 36" arms all adds up to lots of buzz.

    Coming into the draft, Campbell was expected to be a project that was worth investing in, going anywhere from the late first-round to the middle of the second round.

    However, when the draft finally rolled around, Campbell kept falling, and eventually, the Raiders got him with the No. 8 pick of the fourth round. Campbell recently was traded by the Raiders to Carolina. He never did start a game in Oakland, despite all the measurable tools that he owns.

24) Dez Bryant, 2010 Draft

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    Dez Bryant, Dallas Cowboys wide receiver was drafted by the Dallas Cowboys with the No. 24 overall pick of the 2010 NFL draft.

    When the mock drafts started to come out early in the 2010 offseason, Bryant was thought to be a top-10 pick, and in some places, he was viewed as the No. 1 overall draft pick that year.

    But as the weeks and months flew by heading into the draft, Bryant was determined to have some character issues, and when the red flags started popping up, Bryant's stock started to dive. There were questions about if he would become another diva-type of wide receiver.

    As it was, the Cowboys traded up to the No. 24 overall slot to draft Bryant with the New England Patriots.

23) Rey Maualuga, 2009 Draft

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    Cincinnati Bengals linebacker Rey Maualuga was drafted by the Cincinnati Bengals in the 2009 NFL draft.

    Maualuga was a highly thought of linebacker out of USC, but in retrospect, it might have been difficult to properly grade Maualuga because of all the talent around him at USC. His fellow linebackers included Brian Cushing and Clay Matthews III.

    Scouts and talent evaluators may have trouble discerning just how valuable Maualuga truly was. Was he making the plays or was it the result of the linebackers that were playing next to him?

    Instead of being drafted in the first round as was originally projected (thought to go as high as No. 16), Maualuga wound up falling down to the No. 38 overall draft pick.

22) Aaron Williams, 2011 Draft

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    Coming into the 2011 NFL draft, Texas corner Aaron Williams was projected to be drafted in the mid-to-late first round. Yet, when the first round was finished, Williams was still sitting there on the big board. 

    When day two began, the New England Patriots had the first pick of the day, and Williams was passed over once again, as the Patriots opted to draft corner Ras-I Dowling from Virginia instead.

    Fellow AFC East rival Buffalo Bills proceeded to draft Williams with the No. 34 pick, and Williams can use the Patriots' slight as added motivation whenever the two teams square off.

21) Louis Oliver, 1989 Draft

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    Corner Louis Oliver was thought to be selected in the top-10 draft picks in 1989, but on draft day, he just kept falling down further in the first round.

    Oliver dropped from top 10 to 15, and then down to 20, and finally at No. 25, the Miami Dolphins stepped up and grabbed him.

    He wound up playing for the team for seven years.

20) Justin Houston, 2011 Draft

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    Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Justin Houston was another recent free-faller, as he was another player that was viewed as a potential first-round pick coming into the combine.

    But, at the combine, it was discovered that Houston tested positive for marijuana, and the rest is history.

    Houston's stock plunged as a result, and he fell down all the way to the third round, where the Kansas City Chiefs scooped him up with the No. 70 overall draft pick.

    That's the amazing part of the draft process. The players know that they are going to be tested, but they still wind up getting caught anyway. Strange choices to be sure.

19) Matt Leinart, 2006 Draft

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    Arizona Cardinals quarterback Matt Leinart was drafted No. 10 overall in the 2006 NFL draft. When the 2005 college season ended, the big debate was who would be a better NFL quarterback—Vince Young from Texas or Matt Leinart from USC?

    The top five figured to boil down to Leinart, Young, defensive end Mario Williams, Leinart's teammate Reggie Bush and then there was a number of other talented players like Vernon Davis, Michael Huff, D'Brickashaw Ferguson and Jay Cutler who could go somewhere in the mix.

    But when the dust settled, Leinart had dropped out of the top five and wound up falling to No. 10. Not a huge drop mind you, but at the time, it was considered to be a surprise, since Leinart had led the Trojans to so much success while he was there.

18) Jimmy Clausen, 2010 Draft

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    Carolina Panthers quarterback Jimmy Clausen was another player who came out of college looking like he would become a first-round draft pick in the upcoming 2010 NFL draft.

    But as the draft process started to unwind, there were a number of questions that surfaced about Clausen's ability to be an effective leader. As a result, Clausen's stock plunged at the draft, and he fell all the way down to the No. 48 overall draft pick.

    It goes without saying that some of those very issues surfaced in his rookie year at Carolina, and he will probably be best served as a backup quarterback for the immediate future.

     

     

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17) Prince Amukamara, 2011 Draft

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    New York Giants corner Prince Amukamara was viewed as a top-10 draft pick in the 2011 NFL draft. He surely couldn't drop down to any lower than No. 13, because that was the lowest anyone would dare place him in their mock drafts.

    But, lo and behold, as Round 1 continued to unfold, Prince Amukamara continued to fall down further and further. Finally, at No. 19, the New York Giants were on the clock, and they were delighted to have the chance to draft Amukamara.

    There really wasn't any concrete issue as to why Amukamara fell so far. It wasn't over character, work ethic, getting in trouble or anything else. Just one of those crazy things that happens sometimes at drafts.

    Unfortunately, Prince was hurt for a long portion of his rookie year, but he should be a factor on the Giants team for years to come.

16) Marvin Austin, 2011 Draft

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    New York Giants defensive lineman Marvin Austin was kind of a wild card in the 2011 NFL draft. That was due to being suspended for the entire 2010 collegiate season at North Carolina due to receiving improper benefits.

    At the combine, Austin made some questionable moves. He skipped out on taking the Wonderlic exam, and when teams asked him about the trouble at North Carolina, he failed to take ownership for his own actions. More red flags started to pop up.

    Since Austin was rusty, it was hard to know how effective he would be after the layoff. While his talent level suggested that he could or should be worthy of a top-10 pick, the reality was that his draft-day stock plunged down to the No. 52 overall pick, where the New York Giants decided that he was worth the gamble at that point.

15) Michael Crabtree, 2009 Draft

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    San Francisco 49ers wide receiver Michael Crabtree was projected as a top-five NFL draft selection in the 2009 NFL draft.

    You can't classify this as a major free fall, but Crabtree did fall to a degree as he dropped from top five to just hanging on to top-10 range, as the 49ers drafted Crabtree with the No. 10 overall pick of the draft.

    What hurt Crabtree's draft stock was a foot injury that required surgery and didn't allow him to participate in the combine.

    The 49ers were willing to take him with the No. 10 pick, so they were comfortable with his foot injury and talent.

14) Nick Fairley, 2011 Draft

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    Detroit Lions defensive tackle Nick Fairley came into the 2011 NFL draft as potentially the No. 2 overall draft pick.

    Scouts thought that Fairley was bigger than he measured out at the combine. He was thought to be 6'5" and 300 pounds, but it turns out he was only 6'3" and 291 pounds. Not only that, but instead of being chiseled and in shape, he was anything but.

    Questions about work ethic, heart, maturity and desire all started to pop up. As a result, instead of going in the top-three picks, or even top-five picks, Fairley fell to No. 13 overall.

13) Mario Manningham, 2008 Draft

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    New York Giants wide receiver Mario Manningham is another example of a player who experienced a free fall in the NFL draft over the alleged use of drugs before the draft.

    A number of NFL teams removed Manningham from their draft boards over the use of marijuana in college. Originally, Manningham swore that he used drugs but later recanted his story and sent a letter to all 32 NFL teams admitting that he had lied.

    As a result, teams wrote him off. He wound up falling down to the third round, where the New York Giants scooped him up with the No. 95 overall pick. He probably didn't help his cause much either by coming up with a Wonderlic exam score of six.

12) Andre Smith, 2009 Draft

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    Cincinnati Bengals defensive lineman Andre Smith was considered to be worthy of the No. 1 overall draft pick in the 2009 NFL draft.

    Smith wound up dropping down to the overall No. 6 pick, which is where the Cincinnati Bengals were able to draft him.

    There were some maturity questions about Smith, as he wasn't allowed to play for Alabama in the Sugar Bowl because he was suspended for the game. The reason was that he had made contact with an agent, which is against NCAA rules.

    He followed up that red flag by coming to the combine out of shape. More red flags and teams no longer viewed him as the top athlete in the draft. That's why he fell to No. 6.

11) Da'Quan Bowers, 2011 Draft

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    Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive lineman Da'Quan Bowers was thought to be running for a top-five selection in the 2011 NFL draft with fellow defensive lineman Nick Fairley.

    But Bowers had a knee injury that was causing teams to worry that he might have difficulty getting the leg all the way back to earlier form, so teams started to shy away from him.

    When the draft rolled around, teams just backed away completely, allowing him to free fall all the way down to No. 51, where the Tampa Bay Buccaneers were able to justify the pick there, since they had minimized the risk factor.

10) DeSean Jackson, 2008 Draft

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    Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver DeSean Jackson came into the 2008 NFL draft as the most talented wide receiver in his draft class. Jackson was not only a skilled receiver, but he had demonstrated excellent return skills for special teams while at California.

    Jackson flew at the combine, as he ran the 40-yard dash in 4.35 seconds, to go along with a 10' broad jump.

    Given all the talent, teams were concerned about his size and ability to withstand hits from much bigger players. Jackson is roughly 5'10' and weighs 175 pounds, so you can understand why teams were concerned.

    As it was, Jackson fell down to the No. 49 overall pick in the second round, where the Philadelphia Eagles were only too happy to draft him there.

9) Warren Sapp, 1995 Draft

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    Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive lineman Warren Sapp was considered a no-brainer, top-five draft pick in the 1995 NFL draft.

    But, according to this Sun Sentinel article, Sapp tested positive for marijuana four times while at Miami, FL. There were rumors of drug use at college, and that helped to scare some teams off from drafting Sapp.

    Instead of going in the top five, Sapp fell out of the top-10 picks, and Tampa Bay was there to gladly take a chance on him with the No. 12 overall pick.

    Some risks work out much better than others, but unless you take a risk once in awhile, where does playing it safe all the time get you?

8) LaMarr Woodley, 2007 Draft

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    Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker LaMarr Woodley was considered one of the best defensive ends in the 2007 NFL draft class.

    But Woodley was passed over time and again in the draft, as he wound up free falling all the way down to the No. 46 overall pick.

    The Pittsburgh Steelers were sure delighted that he did, as they clearly got a first-round talent with a second-round pick, not to mention that they were able to sign him for less than they should have as well.

     


7) LeSean McCoy, 2009 Draft

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    Philadelphia Eagles running back LeSean McCoy was widely viewed as a first-round draft pick in the 2009 NFL draft.

    Yet, when it came time to start making picks, McCoy dropped all the way past No. 50. It wasn't until the Philadelphia Eagles stepped up at No. 53 that McCoy was allowed to end the nightmare.

    McCoy can thank his decision for leaving school too soon for part of the reason for why teams passed on him. Teams thought he could use the extra year for further development.

6) Brady Quinn, 2007 Draft

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    Cleveland Browns quarterback Brady Quinn was invited to attend the 2007 NFL draft in New York City. He's one of the more infamous "Green Room Horror Stories" of recent memory as one draft pick after another was announced while the cameras zoomed in on Quinn for another painful reaction.

    The Browns finally made for a happy ending by picking Quinn at No. 22, which meant that he could play for the team that he grew up rooting for.

    For everyone who had Quinn going in the top 10 that year, the rationale was that he was "NFL-ready" due to having Charlie Weiss as his coach at Notre Dame.

5) Steven Jackson, 2004 Draft

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    St. Louis Rams running back Steven Jackson is just one of the running backs in our top 10 that experienced a free fall at the draft due to prior injuries suffered in college.

    Jackson was one of the most dynamic running backs in his 2004 NFL draft class, but teams were reluctant to draft him due to a knee injury he suffered at Oregon State. The injury prevented Jackson from showing teams what he could do at the combine.

    As a result, Jackson fell out of the top 10 and kept getting passed over, until the Rams drafted him at No. 24 overall in the first round.

4) Randy Moss, 1998 Draft

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    Here's Randy Moss getting personal instruction from quarterback Brad Johnson in his training camp as a rookie in 1998. My how times have changed.

    Moss was viewed as a talented receiver at Marshall, but there were a number of red flags on him. Teams were concerned that he wasn't a team player, and there were character issues as well that were making teams leery of him.

    When most teams become afraid of drafting you, a free fall can occur, and that's what happened to Moss.

    He went from a top-five talent to dropping down to the No. 21 overall pick and wound up setting a number of records for the Minnesota Vikings.

3) Thurman Thomas, 1988 Draft

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    Buffalo Bills running back Thurman Thomas was another star running back who experienced a free fall at the NFL draft due to a college injury. 

    While at Oklahoma State, Thomas had a torn ACL from two years prior to the draft that had scared teams off from him. Despite the knee injury, Thomas was able to amass 21 games of over 100 yards rushing, which should have served as notice that he was ready for the pro game.

    When the 1988 NFL draft hit the second round, Thomas was still available. He wound up lasting to the No. 40 overall pick, and the Buffalo Bills were glad that he was.

2) Dan Marino, 1983 Draft

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    Miami Dolphins quarterback Dan Marino was in the famous 1983 NFL draft, otherwise known as the Year of the Quarterback. In that first round of the 1983 NFL draft, five quarterbacks were selected ahead of Dan Marino. They were: Ken O'Brien, John Elway, Tony Eason, Jim Kelly and Todd Blackledge.

    Part of the problem for Marino was that there were some rumors swirling around that he might have a drug issue, according to this article from ESPN.com. The rumors were never proven by the way.

    It probably didn't help Marino's cause either that he actually threw more interceptions than he did touchdown passes when he was a senior at Pitt.

    The way that things worked out, Marino was still there for the Miami Dolphins to draft him with the No. 27 overall pick of that draft. As Don Shula would admit later, we were so sure he wouldn't be there for us, that we never worked him out before the draft.

1) Aaron Rodgers, 2005 Draft

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    Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers also had his "Brady Quinn Green Room experience," this time coming in the 2005 NFL draft.

    Rodgers was thought to be a top-10 draft pick in the 2005 NFL draft, but he wound up not being selected in the first 10 picks. He continued to drop and drop, until the Green Bay Packers decided that his draft grade and skill was too good to pass up at No. 24, even though they were committed to Brett Favre as their starting quarterback.

    We all know how things eventually panned out, but there had to be some years of frustration and patience for Rodgers as he waited for his turn to be the quarterback. But, then again, Rodgers already had experience waiting for his turn to come up.

    Green Bay has been counting their lucky stars ever since. To relive some of Rodgers' frustration, here's a link to a video clip from the ESPN coverage of the draft, courtesy of the New York Times NFL blog.

     

    Thanks for checking out our presentation.

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