Where Are They Now? Tracking Down the NFL's 20 Biggest Draft Busts

Adam LazarusSenior Analyst IMay 22, 2012

Where Are They Now? Tracking Down the NFL's 20 Biggest Draft Busts

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    Twenty years from now, it's a safe bet that one of the top-four quarterbacks selected last month (Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III, Ryan Tannehill or Brandon Weeden) will be enshrined in Canton's Pro Football Hall of Fame, two will have had nice—not great—careers, and one will be a tremendous bust who got their head coach and GM fired.

    That's just the way it seems to turn out with these top draft picks—some pan out, others don't. 

    But for whatever reason, busts have a way of being just as memorable (if not more so) than the ones who made it. 

    We all seem to be interested in that "road not traveled" or "what could have been" outlook. 

    So what's happened to all those once-promising prospects turned flops? Check out this slideshow to find out.

20. Heath Shuler, QB

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    Drafted: Third overall, 1994 

    Career: 1994-97

    Stats: 8-14 record, 15 TD, 33 INT, 49.2 completion percentage

    Currently: United States Congressman

    Of all the names on this list, and perhaps of all the busts ever to come through the NFL, Shuler might have the most prestigious post-playing career. 

    Coming out of Tennessee, Shuler was seen as something of a savior for the proud Redskins franchise that, in the previous 12 seasons, had won three Super Bowls, each with a different quarterback.

    Clearly, he was not, and within a very short time, his career was over. But Washington sure made an impact on him....and not just with all the boos he heard. Following a career in real estate, he ran for congress out of his home state of North Carolina. 

    As a Democrat, he won three consecutive terms, but announced last February that he would not seek a fourth. Rumors (which he denied) were that he would run for Governor of North Carolina.

    What's next for the 40-year-old? Who knows, but as long as it's not being an NFL quarterback, he'll probably be successful. 

19. Tom Cousineau, LB

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    Drafted: First overall, 1979

    Career: 1982-87

    Stats: 59 starts, 6.5 sacks

    Currently: High-school football coach

    Cousineau had a decent career following a three-year stint in the CFL, where he dominated as a member of the Montreal Alouettes. 

    But for a first overall pick, he didn't have the longevity or dominance that really justifies that type of pick. 

    Still, that hasn't stopped him from trying to impart the knowledge and work ethic that made him an All-American at Ohio State.

    After an unsuccessful try at a seat in the State of Ohio's House of Representatives, he became a high-school coach—first, at St. Vincent-St. Mary's in Akron and then at his alma mater, St. Edwards, in Cleveland, where he remains a defensive assistant coach.

18. Todd Blackledge, QB

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    Drafted: Seventh overall, 1983

    Career: 1983-89

    Stats: 15-14 record, 29 TD, 38 INT, 48.1 completion percentage

    Currently: ESPN college football analyst

    In between the selections of Hall of Famers John Elway and Jim Kelly (and later on, Dan Marino) the Chiefs selected Blackledge, who struggled with turnovers and his limited mobility at the next level. 

    There's no doubt about it; his pro career was a flop, even after leaving the Chiefs and joining the Steelers.

    But his amazing collegiate resumé (Davey O'Brien Award-winner, three-year starter, first man to guide Penn State to national championship) still impressed the people at ESPN, ABC and CBS, where he landed gigs as a college football television analyst. Today, he routinely broadcasts some of the best college games each week during the football season. 

    In addition to his duties with ESPN, Blackledge (a two-sport athlete in high school) is also an assistant coach for his alma mater's basketball team, the North Canton Hoover Vikings. 

17. David Klingler, QB

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    Drafted: Sixth overall, 1992

    Career: 1992-97

    Stats: 4-20 record, 16 TD, 22 INT, 54.2 completion percentage

    Currently: Assistant Professor Biblical Studies, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary

    Despite burning through college football passing records while at Houston, Klingler's pro career amounted to very little. (Playing for the Bengals when they were at their absolute low point didn't help.)

    But on-the-field intellect was never one of Klingler's weaknesses. And he soon earned a master's (in theology) and a Ph.D (in Old Testament studies) at the Houston campus of the Dallas Theological Seminary, where he later rose to the position of director. 

    This spring, he left the Dallas seminary for Fort Worth's Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, where he'll serve as a member of the faculty. 

16. Trev Alberts, LB

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    Drafted: Fifth overall, 1994

    Career: 1994-96

    Stats: Four sacks, seven starts, one INT

    Currently: Athletic Director, University of Nebraska-Omaha

    Alberts' NFL career was both short and unproductive (a win for Mel Kiper Jr.), but his career in football wasn't.

    For several years, he was a television analyst for the college game, most notably with ESPN as a member of the Gameday studio crew. 

    He was fired in 2005, but returned to his roots in 2009, becoming the athletic director for Nebraska (Omaha). While there, he was tasked with two tough issues: whether or not to keep the school's football and wrestling programs, each of which have major followings. 

    Ultimately, he chose to cut the programs, adding even more controversy to his legacy in football. 

15. Akili Smith, QB

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    Drafted: Third overall, 1999

    Career: 1999-2002

    Stats: 3-14 record, five TD, 13 INT, 46.2 completion percentage

    Currently: High school quarterbacks coach

    In the end, he wasn't the only one of his colleagues in the infamous/famous quarterback class of 1999 (Cade McNown, Tim Couch) to be a bust, but Smith may have been the most disappointing. Just look at his overall record.

    But after bouncing around the NFL, NFL Europe and the CFL, Smith decided to pass on what he learned to other young quarterbacks.

    After a brief stint at Cal (where he reunited with his former Oregon offensive coordinator, Jeff Tedford) Smith returned to his native San Diego, where he is now the quarterbacks coach at St. Augustine High

14. Art Schlichter, QB

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    Drafted: Fourth overall, 1982

    Career: 1982, 1984-85

    Stats: 0-6 record, three TD, 11 INT, 45 completion percentage

    Currently: In prison

    Some players are busts for being bad on the field. Others are busts for being bad off. This is the latter.

    Schlichter became the poster boy for throwing away a promising career when his gambling addictions grew out of control. 

    He bet away his entire rookie signing bonus (over $350,000) and then was suspended by the NFL for a season when his habits became public. Although he hung around for a couple more years, that was essentially the end of his career. 

    Since then, however, things haven't become any brighter for the former Ohio State star. He's had run-ins with the law over gambling, theft, drugs and fraud, and because he tested positive for cocaine during his recent stay under house arrest, he was sent back to jail in January

13. Andre Ware, QB

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    Drafted: Seventh overall, 1990

    Career: 1990-93

    Stats: 3-3 record, five TD, eight INT, 51.6 completion percentage

    Currently: ESPN analyst, Houston Texans radio analyst

    Another of the 1990s big arms with great collegiate numbers that became a big bust in the NFL, Ware had one of the shortest-lived careers of any Heisman Trophy winner.

    Not even having Barry Sanders behind him in the backfield could make Ware a serviceable NFL quarterback.

    But, he eventually became a more-than-serviceable broadcaster. 

    In addition to his duties as an analyst for his hometown Houston Texans, Ware also broadcasts SEC games for ESPN's SEC Network. 

12. Lawrence Phillips, RB

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    Drafted: Sixth overall, 1996

    Career: 1996-97, 1999

    Stats: 424 carries, 1,453 yards rushing, 14 TD

    Currently: In prison

    The craziest thing about Lawrence Phillips' career in the NFL is that he's best remembered for things that really have very little to do with carrying the ball. Not only did his selection pave the way for the Steelers to acquire Jerome Bettis from St. Louis, but he was also responsible for the concussion that ended Steve Young's career.

    Despite all his physical talent, professional teams still couldn't find a place for him on their roster. He bounced around the NFL, NFL Europe, the Arena League and the CFL before finally calling it a disappointing career. 

    But, just like he did at Nebraska and in the NFL, he couldn't avoid legal problems, and in 2008, he was sentenced to 10 years in prison for trying to run a group of people over with his car. 

11. Johnny "Lam" Jones, WR

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    Drafted: Second overall, 1980

    Career: 1980-84

    Stats: 138 catches, 2,322 receiving yards, 13 TD

    Currently: Battling cancer

    All NFL teams are willing to roll the dice on speedy wide receivers; GMs and head coaches think, "If we can only teach him how to run and catch, he'll be unstoppable."

    The patriarch of that sentiment is probably Lam Jones, who literally had Olympic speed (gold medaled at the 1976 Games in the 4x100), but didn't have much of an NFL career despite being the highest wide-receiver selection since the NFL merger in 1970. 

    The Texas star's career fell apart after a fine rookie season, and so did his life shortly thereafter.

    According to the New York Daily News' Rich Cimini, Jones "had a pretty hard life. He was homeless, penniless, he went through legal issues and was just starting to get his life back in order when he was stricken with cancer."

    Still suffering from stage-four multiple myeloma, Jones has seemingly kept a positive attitude, saying in 2008:

    They say there's no cure, but they're constantly doing research and making improvements...From what I hear, from statistics, 50 percent of people live a little bit longer than three years; 50 percent less. But you have your exceptions to the rule. Hopefully, we throw statistics out the window.

10. Andre Wadsworth, DE

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    Drafted: Third overall, 1998

    Career: 1998-2000

    Stats: Eight sacks

    Currently: Church founder

    Defensive ends are almost always hit-or-miss at the top of the draft; for every Bruce Smith or Julius Peppers, there's a Derrick Harvey and Jamal Reynolds.

    But arguably the most disappointing of such prospects was the Cardinals' third overall selection in 1998. 

    Wadsworth was so impressive during his time at Florida State that when he was paired with Eric Swann and Simeon Rice in Phoenix, the Cardinals seemed to have a modern-day Fearsome Foursome. It never happened, and apart from a brief tryout/stint with the Jets, he was out of the NFL after three seasons. 

    But today, his life has been much more successful. He owned six car dealerships in Florida, which he sold to start the Impact Church in Scottsdale, Arizona

9. Rick Mirer, QB

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    Drafted: Second overall, 1993

    Career: 1993-2003

    Stats: 24-44 record, 50 TD, 76 INT, 53.3 completion percentage

    Currently: Winemaker

    As everyone was fond of pointing out in April, during the selections of Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III, when quarterbacks go No. 1 and 2 in a draft, they are inextricably linked. Most people point to Peyton Manning and Ryan Leaf, but five years before those two, there was Drew Bledsoe and Rick Mirer.

    Although it won't end in a Hall of Fame bust, Bledsoe's career clearly was excellent. His counterpart, Mirer's, not so much. He was the very definition of a journeyman, playing for five different teams and never making an impact on any of them.

    But one good thing that did come out of his NFL career was an interest in winemaking.

    While playing in the Bay Area for the Raiders, he became acquainted with a winemaker named Rob Lawson, and soon, the Mirror Wine Company was founded

8. Todd Marinovich, QB

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    Drafted: 24th overall, 1991

    Career: 1991-92

    Stats: 3-5 record, eight TD, nine INT, 50.7 completion percentage

    Currently: Artist

    If you saw the recent ESPN documentary The Marinovich Project, you know where his post-NFL life took him. He battled drugs and the law and admittedly struggled with motivation, only signing XFL and CFL contracts to make money to feed his habits.

    But the quarterback-turned-surfer always exhibited (like his father) an interest in painting and art, and it remains a big part of his life. According to the ESPN documentary, he's even collaborated on artwork with his father, Marv, who was also a student of art while at USC in the 1960s. 

7. Tony Mandarich, OT

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    Drafted: Second overall, 1989

    Career: 1989-91, 1996-98

    Currently: Media/Photography company owner

    The Incredible Bulk remains the biggest offensive lineman bust of all time, partly because he was so hyped, partly because he used steroids, partly because he was not very good and partly because the Packers passed up Hall of Famers Barry Sanders, Derrick Thomas and Deion Sanders to select the Michigan State product.

    But Mandarich—who rebounded from his steroid use and a long absence from the game to have a nice three-year career with the Colts as a guard—became a successful photographer away from the NFL.

    In 2009, he expanded his photography company, Mandarich Photography, into a media producer that works largely in Internet marketing

6. Charles Rogers, WR

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    Drafted: Second overall, 2003

    Career: 2003-05

    Stats: 36 catches, 440 yards, four TD

    Currently: Under criminal investigation

    The tough times for Rogers have continued long after those two collarbone injuries essentially ruined his career before it really got started. 

    After failed drug tests, being released by the Lions, failing to catch on anywhere else and a few arrests, he is reportedly being investigated for making threats against his mother.

    According to recent reports, he "and his uncle Ronie Rogers conspired to threaten Cathy Rogers on March 5 and March 6. Charles Rogers has been charged with making a malicious phone call and conspiring to commit a crime."

    In early April, Rogers surrendered to the police in connection with this and several other unrelated criminal cases. 

5. Ki-Jana Carter, RB

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    Drafted: First overall, 1995

    Career: 1996-2004

    Stats: 319 carries, 1,144 rushing yards, 20 TD

    Currently: CEO of ByoGlobe

    Unfortunately, slews of crippling injuries aren't enough to prevent players from being labeled busts; either they were worth that Top 5 pick or they weren't. And although Carter befell a series of painful—and painful to watch—injuries since he was the top pick in the 1995 draft, he's a bust even if he did make several inspirational comebacks during the latter part of his career. 

    And even though he's stayed relatively out of the spotlight since leaving the game (and is also relatively out of the spotlight on his company's website), Carter is now a CEO of the ByoGlobe company.

    The Florida-based company, as Carter explained in 2010, sells “eco friendly products that sanitize and disinfect” homes and businesses and has had partnerships with several pro sports teams, including the Bengals, the franchise that selected Carter first overall in 1995. 

4. Steve Emtman, DT

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    Drafted: First overall, 1992

    Career: 1992-97

    Stats: Eight sacks, 19 starts

    Currently: Real-estate developer, strength and conditioning coach

    Just like Ki-Jana Carter, injuries absolutely crushed the very promising career of Steve Emtman, also a No. 1 overall pick in the 1990s.

    But also like Carter, those disappointments and letdowns didn't prevent Emtman from becoming a successful self-starting businessman.

    The Spokane, Wash. native became a real-estate developer near his hometown

    He hasn't entirely left the game of football behind, however. For several years, Emtman has served as the strength and conditioning coach for the Spokane Shock, one of the most successful teams in the Arena league.

3. Tim Couch, QB

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    Drafted: First overall, 1999

    Career: 1999-2003

    Stats: 22-37 record, 64 TD, 67 INT, 59.8 completion percentage

    Currently: Fox Sports South analyst

    Although being married to former Playboy Playmate Heather Kozar would probably be enough to say that Tim Couch's life after football hasn't been that bad, he's also become a pretty successful analyst for the college game.

    The former Kentucky Wildcat broadcasts SEC games for Fox Sports South and currently lives in the same city as his alma mater (Lexington), where he did something almost unthinkable during the late 1990s—actually make Wildcats football as popular and interesting as Wildcats basketball. 

    That's little consolation, of course, to the Browns fans who expected him to lift the new Browns to greatness right after rejoining the NFL in 1999. 

2. Ryan Leaf, QB

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    Drafted: second overall, 1998

    Career: 1998, 2000-01

    Stats: 4-17 record, 14 TD, 36 INT, 48.4 completion percentage

    Currently: In rehab

    Obviously, the flavor of the month for this list is the former Washington State star who was arrested not once, but twice this spring. 

    In late March, he broke into a Montana home and stole prescription painkillers. Four days later, he repeated the same crime and was looking at a very lengthy prison sentence (he previously agreed to probation after a similar crime in 2009), but a plea bargain resulted in a stay at a drug-treatment facility rather than prison. 

    Maybe he was fighting a losing, uphill battle from the very start, always being linked to Peyton Manning, but even this fate is something no one could have predicted. 

1. JaMarcus Russell, QB

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    Drafted: First overall, 2007

    Career: 2007-09

    Stats: 7-18 record, 18 TD, 23 INT, 52.1 completion percentage

    Currently: Seeking comeback, returning to LSU

    Every bust list should have Russell at the very top. And here's why:

    1. He was the first pick in the draft.

    2. The Raiders passed on Calvin Johnson, Adrian Peterson, Joe Thomas, Patrick Willis and Darrelle Revis (among many others) to select him.

    3. He only survived three seasons.

    4. He was as physically impressive a specimen as any quarterback ever to come into the NFL.

    And to go along with that, he had a classic flame-out, being arrested for "purple drank" (i.e. codeine syrup) just a few months after his release from the Raiders. 

    Still, despite all that, he's had several teams show at least some interest in him; the Redskins did work him out in November 2010.

    He also reportedly returned to LSU last fall to finish his undergraduate degree (Russell left college after his junior year), but don't be surprised to hear that a comeback is in the works sometime soon. He's only 26 years old and doesn't have any major injury holding him back.

    Still, it's a comeback story that even Hollywood executives would laugh out of the room.