The Biggest Draft Bust in the History of Each NFL Franchise
Top picks in the NFL draft are more than just roster additions. They serve as beacons of hope, signs of progress and discussion points for fans desperate for something to rally around in the seemingly endless four-month expanse between draft day and preseason action.
When these picks go wrong, they also serve as humbling reminders of the limits of fan optimism and draft research. While some picks just don't work out (given the number of players drafted yearly it would be statistically impossible for all of them to be stars), some picks are so terrible they rise to the level of bust status.
Whether that failure comes through injuries, poor work ethic or just bad luck, these busts burn endearing images in the minds of fans across the league.
Here are each NFL franchise's worst draft bust.
Arizona Cardinals: Wendell Bryant
Taken by the Arizona Cardinals with the No. 12 pick of the 2002 draft, defensive tackle Wendall Bryant could never get past his drug and alcohol problems. He received multiple suspensions for his drug use, leading to a year-long suspension in 2005 following his third drug policy violation.
The suspension would essentially serve as his dismissal from the NFL game. He ended his time in the desert with 1.5 sacks and 29 career games in three seasons.
Interestingly, Bryant attempted to relaunch his career through the UFL in 2009, playing with the Las Vegas Locomotives and Omaha Nighthawks.
Atlanta Falcons: Jamaal Anderson
The Atlanta Falcons hoped to get an improved pass rush with the drafting of defensive end Jamaal Anderson with the seventh overall pick of the 2007 draft, and the results were not pretty.
In four seasons with the team, Anderson was able to contribute a paltry 3.5 sacks and a pedestrian 98 tackles.
Baltimore Ravens: Kyle Boller
While he is not the biggest bust of all time, the Baltimore Ravens got low value for their selection of quarterback Kyle Boller with the No. 19 pick of the 2003 draft.
Boller barely threw more touchdowns than interceptions in Baltimore (45 to 44), coughed up the ball a few too many times and was never a winner or starter of a playoff game.
He may have been a part of winning teams, but it appears the consensus is the Ravens won those games in spite of Boller, not because of it.
Buffalo Bills: Mike Williams
In a major case of flawed talent evaluation, the Buffalo Bills missed the boat in selecting offensive lineman Mike Williams with the fourth overall pick of the 2002 draft.
Picked to be the team's left tackle of the future, he would be quickly transitioned to the right tackle spot, and never was considered for the left side again. With a ballooning waistline inversely connected to a dwindling interest level, Williams was cut in 2005.
Overall, a disastrous pick for a franchise that would have really used a safe addition to its line.
Carolina Panthers: Rae Carruth
A decent player but an absolutely reprehensible human being, there's little positive to say about wide receiver Rae Carruth, selected by the Carolina Panthers with the No. 27 pick of the 1997 draft.
After three underwhelming seasons with the Panthers, Carruth life as a pro football player (and non-convict) ended after he was convicted for aiding in the shooting death of his pregnant girlfriend.
He's currently serving a sentence that would have him out around 2020 at the earliest.
Chicago Bears: Cade McNown
15 starts in two seasons.
16 touchdowns to 19 interceptions.
The numbers make it pretty clear the Chicago Bears did not get full value with their pick of quarterback Cade McNown with the No. 12 overall pick of the 1999 draft.
Cincinnati Bengals: Akili Smith
The Cincinnati Bengals needed a quarterback, so they made a move for Akili Smith, the one-year wonder coming out of the University of Oregon, with the third overall pick of the 1999 draft.
In a classic act of bust behavior, Smith sat out his opening training camp arguing about his contract. The following three seasons, he would start in only 17 games, compiling a juicy record of 3-14 and a touchdown to interception ratio of five to 13.
Smith would be released in 2003 as the Bengals would move for their next top pick quarterback, Carson Palmer.
While Smith's failure as a quarterback is painful enough, there's no doubt that the Bengals may also be kicking themselves for the deal they didn't take during the 1999 draft. The New Orleans Saints offered nine draft picks for the 1999 and 2000 drafts in order to pick running back Ricky Williams.
Cleveland Browns: Tim Couch
This is a tough addition to this list, as the Cleveland Browns' lousy draft planning made it almost guaranteed that quarterback Tim Couch would be a failure.
With that said, Couch, the No. 1 pick of the 1999 draft, would only win 22 games in five seasons with the team.
While he was a part of the 2002 squad that made the playoffs, he was unable to play in his only playoff game versus the rival Pittsburgh Steelers after breaking his leg in the final game of the regular season.
He would eventually be challenged and overtaken by Kelly Holcomb, and he would be out of Cleveland after the 2003 season.
Dallas Cowboys: David LaFleur
The Dallas Cowboys hoped they found a replacement for Jay Novacek when they drafted tight end David LaFleur with the No.22 pick of the 1997 draft. Long story short, the physically impressive draftee didn't pan out.
In four seasons with the team, LaFleur was never a major contributor for a team that could have used it. He only had one season of more than 200 receiving yards. He never caught a pass that went for over 25 yards.
LaFleur was cut after four seasons with the team, ending his career with 85 receptions for 729 yards and 12 touchdowns.
Denver Broncos: Jarvis Moss
The Denver Broncos were so enamored by defensive end Jarvis Moss that they traded several picks during the 2007 draft in order to grab him with the No. 17 pick.
That investment did not pay off, as he only generated 3.5 sacks and 23 tackles in a period of four seasons.
He shifted positions to help his prospects, but he just wasn't a suitable fit for the team.
He was released midway through the 2010 season.
Detroit Lions: Charles Rogers
The Detroit Lions, in one of many baffling decisions made by its general manager Matt Millen, selected Charles Rogers with the second overall pick of the 2003 draft (with Millen giving him a $14.2 million signing bonus).
While Rogers excelled at Michigan State, his pro prospects were immediately reduced following a pair of painful collarbone injuries early in his time in the Motor City.
Drugs also played a role in his struggles, with a third violation of the league's drug policy sidelining him for a period of four games.
In three years with the team, he would only play a total of 15 games, before being cut before the 2006 season.
"We picked the men that are right for this football team," said then-head coach Rod Marinelli. "It's behind us. I wish him the very best. We just move on."
Green Bay Packers: Tony Mandarich
The Green Bay Packers may have thought they were getting a big star of the future with the selection of offensive lineman Tony Mandarich with the second overall pick of the 1989 draft.
Instead, they found themselves with both a chronic disappointment on the football field and chronic user of steroids and painkillers (although he didn't admit the steroids until years after his career was over).
He would only last three seasons in Green Bay, a dramatic fall for a player Sports Illustrated hyped on its cover as "the best offensive line prospect ever."
Houston Texans: David Carr
The Houston Texans put their hopes in their first draft on David Carr, the strong-armed quarterback who they chose with their first overall pick in the 2002 draft.
Despite his talents, he found himself on his back a lot more frequently than any other quarterback should be. He was sacked 76 times his rookie year, an NFL record.
He never put together a winning record, and the team never came close to a playoff game while he was the starter.
Needless to say, Carr was a bust. But he may have been less of one had he played with even a marginally competent offensive line.
Indianapolis Colts: Steve Emtman
The Indianapolis Colts got unlucky with their pick of defensive end Steve Emtman with the first overall pick of the 1993 draft. He had talent, but he could never stay on the field.
He ended each of his three seasons with the team on injured reserve, blowing out both of his knees and attempting to play with a bulging disc in his back. He would leave the team in 1995 to play with the Miami Dolphins.
However, the Colts didn't just ruin one pick. They also managed to blow their next pick (the second overall pick in that draft) on underwhelming linebacker prospect Quentin Coryatt, who would play five humdrum seasons with the Colts.
Overall, it was a shockingly poor draft for the franchise.
Jacksonville Jaguars: R. Jay Soward
Jacksonville Jaguars wide receiver R. Jay Soward had a lot of talent when he entered the draft, but that didn't translate into either a successful career or great numbers.
Taken with the No. 29 pick of the 2000 draft, Soward's compiled 108 yards on 14 receptions in his rookie year.
He didn't get an encore, after bickering with team management and drug problems left him off the field.
"Had I done my job as well as I should have, we would have never drafted R. Jay Soward," Jaguars owner Wayne Weaver said in January (2003). "We did it, but shame on us if we don't learn from those things."
Kansas City Chiefs: Todd Blackledge
The Kansas City Chiefs may have dropped the ball in picking quarterback Todd Blackledge with the seventh overall pick in the 1983 draft.
He was never fully healthy, and never fully productive when he did make it on the field. He would never play more than eight games in a season. He would play with the Chiefs until the 1987 season.
Blackledge would end his career on the bench with the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Making the pick more painful, fans of the Chiefs had to watch other quarterbacks in that draft year, including John Elway, Jim Kelly and Dan Marino excel through long careers.
Miami Dolphins: Yatil Green
The Miami Dolphins' patience was not rewarded when it came for waiting for wide receiver Yatil Green to contribute on the field.
Drafted with the No. 15 pick of the 1997 draft, Green would miss his first two season with injuries. He would finally get on the field in 1999, where he would play eight games.
The Dolphins would cut him at the end of the season, and he would never play in the NFL again.
It was a big disappointment for the Dolphins, who had hoped he would be a compliment for its star quarterback Dan Marino. He was also considered a well-liked player, particularly for the efforts he made to return from injury.
Minnesota Vikings: Troy Williamson
When it's your job to catch balls thrown at you, it's usually a good idea to know how to do so.
Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Troy Williamson lost that ability seemingly moments after being taken with the seventh pick of the 2005 draft.
Playing for five seasons in Minnesota, he would compile a stat sheet of 1,131 yards, four touchdowns and 87 receptions.
That, and a seemingly infinite number of drops, primarily scheduled for clutch moments where a dropped pass was not an option.
New England Patriots: Kenneth Sims
Allen Iverson may have gained a rep for questioning the value of practice, but he clearly learned from defensive end Kenneth Sims, taken by the New England Patriots with the first overall pick of the 1982 draft.
He earned the nickname Game Day for telling teammates that "I'll be there on game day" after bad practices.
What was there was an out of shape, injured and unmotivated player, who somehow was able to turn in an eight year pro career.
He was released from the team after being charged with possessing cocaine.
New Orleans Saints: Jonathan Sullivan
The New Orleans Saints had two first round picks in the 2003 draft, but decided to roll the dice and trade them to move up to the sixth pick in order to snag defensive tackle Jonathan Sullivan.
A stat line dynamo, Sullivan would amass a whopping 1.5 sacks and a forced fumble in three seasons in the Big Easy. He would go on to be traded to the New England Patriots, who would cut him in his first year with the team.
New York Giants: Derek Brown
The New York Giants failed to get much out of tight end Derek Brown after taking him with the 14th pick of the 1992 draft.
A physical beast, he never figured much into the offense during his three years with the team, contribution 11 receptions total.
It's no surprise the team made very few splashy tight end acquisitions after Brown until its selection of Jeremy Shockey in 2002.
New York Jets: Vernon Gholston
Few players bring the ire of New York Jets fans quite like Vernon Gholston.
Taken with the sixth pick of the 2008 draft, Gholston failed to get much going in either stats or playing time. He would do most of his work in special teams, despite a desire from the team to have him start on the line.
He would also shift positions from outside linebacker to defensive end, without much luck at all. He was released after three seasons with the Jets, after compiling a stat sheet of two dozen tackles and no sacks.
Oakland Raiders: JaMarcus Russell
The creme dela creme of draft busts, quarterback JaMarcus Russell was nothing but trouble in limited time with the Oakland Raiders.
Taken first overall in the 2007 draft, Russell would irk fans and team management by skipping his first preseason holding out for a bigger contract. By the time he would rise to starter, his play was not worth the money or extended wait.
He would be out of the league before the start of the 2010 season.
Given his high pay and low completion numbers, it was determined that each completion of Russell's was worth $100,000, and each win worth $5.6 million.
Philadelphia Eagles: Mike Mamula
The Philadelphia Eagles clearly got the wrong idea after witnessing the tremendous combine performance of defensive end Mike Mamula, selected seventh overall in the 1995 draft.
Mamula, who aced the Wonderlic and excelled in all of his drills, never lived up to the hopes of team officials who had salivated over his pre-draft workouts.
Insisting on draft Mamula, the Eagles would trade several picks with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in order to get him.
He would play six seasons (missing the 1998 season due to injury) with the team, racking up 209 tackles and 31.5 sacks in 77 games as an Eagle.
Pittsburgh Steelers: Huey Richardson
Richardson could not fit in well with the team's defense, and despite multiple shifts of position, he never contributed to the defensive unit.
He would be traded the following offseason to the Washington Redskins for a seventh round pick. He would play four games with the Redskins, followed by another seven with the New York Jets before being run out of the game.
San Diego Chargers: Ryan Leaf
The San Diego Chargers landed one of the great all-time draft busts in league history with its selection of quarterback Ryan Leaf with the second overall pick of the 1998 draft.
A failure on and off the field, he never endeared himself with fans, teammates or the media. He would leave San Diego in 2001, and end his career the following year.
Leaf would briefly coach after his playing career, but perhaps his most noteworthy post-career news item would be the multiple arrests and convictions he has taken for his drug use, including his arrest three weeks ago for stealing pain medication in Montana.
His failures in the NFL are also highlighted by the pick immediately before him: Probable Hall of Fame first ballot entrant and overall likable guy Peyton Manning.
San Francisco 49ers: Rashaun Woods
The San Francisco 49ers though they were getting their next big playmaker at the wide receiver position with the drafting of Oklahoma State's Rashaun Woods with the 31st pick of the 2004 draft. They thought wrong.
Woods got off to slow start, catching seven passes for a total of 160 yards his rookie season. With injuries setting in before his sophomore season, he would be traded before he could ever add to that total.
Seattle Seahawks: Brian Bosworth
The Seattle Seahawks missed badly with their selection of linebacker Brian Bosworth with their first round pick in the 1987 Supplemental Draft.
Better known as "The Boz", he drew plenty of attention for his cocky off the field attitude and antics, including the arrival to his first practice by helicopter.
On the field, his play left a lot to be desired. One of the lowlights of his career was getting rolled over by the Oakland Raiders' Bo Jackson, after previously guaranteeing Jackson would have a bad game.
He would retire after two games in 1989, after suffering a major shoulder injury the previous season. His career lasted only 24 games.
St. Louis Rams: Lawrence Phillips
The St. Louis Rams ignored several questions marks about the character of running back Lawrence Phillips to select him with the sixth overall pick of 1996 draft.
He would not be long for the team, as he would be kicked off the squad for insubordination in 1997.
Even worse for the Rams, they were so comfortable with the pick that they shipped off Jerome Bettis to the Pittsburgh Steelers. He would prove to be an instant spark plug, compiling over 1,000 yards in each of his first six seasons in the Steel City.
He would bounce around both the NFL and CFL, never getting very far due to his poor attitude and work ethic.
Phillips is currently in prison on a 31-year sentence after hitting three people with his car, among other offenses.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Bo Jackson
(With no photo of Bo Jackson in a Buccaneers uniform, I used the intro for the Pro-Stars television show, a cartoon that combined Jackson with Michael Jordan and Wayne Gretzky to form a crime fighting team.)
Running back Bo Jackson may be one of the greatest multi-sport athletes ever, but he also is the greatest draft bust in Tampa Bay Buccaneers after his selection with the first pick of the 1986 draft.
Jackson, declaring his love for baseball, declined the Bucs' five-year $7.6 million contract offer, deciding to play baseball instead.
Tennessee Titans: Adam "Pacman" Jones
Cornerback and return man Adam "Pacman" Jones may end up having a productive NFL career, but he was a big bust in terms of contributing to the Tennessee Titans after he was selected with the sixth overall pick of the 2005 draft.
Despite a great second season with the team, he was suspended for all of the 2007 season after multiple legals problems (most notably his alleged connection to a shooting at a strip club during NBA All-Star Weekend in Las Vegas). He was eventually traded to the Cowboys before the 2008 season started.
Jones now plays with the Cincinnati Bengals.
Washington Redskins: Heath Shuler
The Washington Redskins wasted a large amount of time and money with the selection of quarterback Heath Shuler with the third overall pick of the 1994 draft.
Shuler, who held out before entering his rookie training camp, never seemed to get on the right page with coaches, teammates or fans. His accuracy was also a major question (as evidenced by a disastrous five interception game in his rookie season).
Even more embarrassing for Shuler was his demotion to backup behind Gus Frerotte, who had been taken in the seventh round of the same draft.
Shuler would leave town in 1996 to play for the New Orleans Saints.