Too Far Wide: Top 10 NFL Wide Receiver Busts of the Last Decade
Don't fear Raider Nation; I'm not including Darrius Heyward-Bey in my list. Regardless of how pitiful his first season was, you can't go bust on a guy after only one season. However, I do feel as though he epitomizes much of what can go wrong with picking the position.
Teams get enamored with a player's height, speed, or other standout trait(s) without taking into account the most important observation of all: Can the guy play football?
The criteria is fairly simple.
A receiver needed to have been drafted in or since the year 2000 as a first round draftee, and never had more than one impact season. As far as impact seasons go, I would consider more than 1,000 yards receiving or double digit touchdowns to be expected of first round picks.
Rather than singling one guy out as the worst, I'll do them in chronological order and let you make the final call. I understand a couple are still playing and thus could potentially rewrite their careers, but to this point they've given us no reason to think they will.
*I'd like to thank Wikipedia for some tidbits of information, specifically regarding Sylvester Morris, R. Jay Soward, and Freddie Mitchell. The rest of the players are recent enough that their stories are still fresh in my mind!
Class of 2000, Pick 21: Sylvester Morris
Not every bust is created by off-field indiscretions or lack of effort. Sometimes it's a simple matter of fate, as was Morris's situation. He played only one season in Kansas City before signing with Tampa Bay.
During his first offseason with the Bucs, he suffered a season-ending knee injury. This would become the repeating theme to a career cut short by constant knee injuries.
However sad his instance is, it doesn't change the fact that from the Kansas City Chiefs' perspective he is nothing short of a bust. They could have had Keith Bulluck, who went 30th to the Titans and became a staple in their linebacking core for the next 10 seasons.
His stats are hardly noteworthy, although for those interested in his one year he posted 48 catches for 678 yards and three touchdowns.
Class of 2000, Pick 29: R. Jay Soward
You have to feel for the Jacksonville franchise, at least as it pertains to their perpetual struggle to find defensive ends and wide receivers. If it seems like it's been going on forever it's because it pretty much has, and one of their first wideout whiffs was R. Jay Soward.
Another player who only lasted a year in the NFL, he seemed to have trouble from the start. Tom Coughlin sent limos to pick him up and drop him off for practice at the team's expense, simply to ensure he would be there.
He had documented substance abuse issues, and was also documented as being very critical of the NFL's substance abuse program. He came off as someone with whom the blame always lies elsewhere, and I would think to Jaguars' fans it was a case of good riddance.
What has to be heartbreaking is that a very solid defensive end (Darren Howard) went four picks later at 33. They could have lessened the need for one position; if only they could have a mulligan!
His career stats are even words than Morris's with 14 catches for 154 yards and one touchdown.
Class of 2001, Pick 8: David Terrell
Boasting the size (6'3", 213 lbs.) coupled with enough speed to warrant being the eightth overall pick, Terrell is a guy who's a little harder to peg as to what went wrong. Prior to being drafted he posted nearly 1,000 yards with 13 touchdowns in 2000 at Michigan, so he should have been able to translate at least a portion of that success to the NFL level.
In his four seasons with the Bears, he never topped 700 yards or four touchdowns. He has attempted several comebacks, most recently with the Denver Broncos in 2007.
Was it a simple case of a lack of desire? Help me out here Bears fans, I've not been able to come up with a clear cut reason why he fizzled so badly...nor can I remember. I can find no data on any real serious injuries, nor any off-field issues such as chemical abuse.
Regardless, he belongs on this list. The Bears could have had a solid CB (Nate Clements, who went 21st) or RB (Deuce McCallister, who went 23rd, and gotten a good five years of production minimum at either position.
Class of 2001, Pick 25: Freddie Mitchell
Remember 4th-and-26 against the Packers? That was the pinnacle of Freddie's disastrous NFL career. He was well-documented as having early struggles with Andy Reid's playbook, and then proceeded to get an inflated ego from very marginal production.
His career best season was in 2003, when he posted 35 catches for 498 yards and two touchdowns. Despite such pedestrian numbers, he was questioning his lack of involvement due to Terrell Owens's presence, specifically in Super Bowl XXXIX.
He went so far as to suggest that because of that "Owens and McNabb must not have wanted to win." (That's a direct quote from his Wikipedia page.) While he made for colorful quotes, his play was fathoms away from living up to his big mouth.
I personally feel sorry for the Eagles and their fans, because five picks later at 30 Reggie Wayne went to the Colts. If they make that pick two franchise's histories could have been different.
Class of 2002, Pick 19: Ashley Lelie
Ahhh, yes...I remember Ashley Lelie well, if not fondly. He was a solid fantasy player in 2004, when he posted 1,084 yards and seven touchdowns. He subsequently burned me then the next two seasons, and outside of that one year was never the player expected.
He was oft-injured, and while it was never season-ending he was seemingly always dinged up. It was typically presented as the reasoning behind his less then stellar numbers (other than his highlighted season he never had more than two touchdowns).
At some point you've got to question the player's heart or lack thereof, especially when it's typically small injuries affecting their play. A pick later that draft Javon Walker went at 20, and though his career was shortened due to injury he had several very dynamic seasons.
Five picks later at 24, Denver could have nailed first ballot Hall of Fame safety in Ed Reed. Enough said.
Class of 2003, Pick 2: Charles Rogers
We get it Millen, you wanted the classic "hometown boy makes good" storyline. Instead, you got a young man who was by no means ready to handle the fame. One who would go on to have substance abuse issues, as well as durability and conditioning problems.
He was by most accounts a marijuana user throughout college, which continued into the NFL. While whether or not it should be acceptable is a debate-worthy topic in politics, it's to this date illegal and should be treated as such. Especially by someone with as much to lose as a pro athlete.
There's no need to document his continued downward spiral after football, we're simply here to determine his eligibility for all-time bust status. With career numbers of 36 catches for 440 yards and four touchdowns, he certainly fits the mold.
If Millen wonders why he's so hated in the motor city, look no further then the No. 3 pick from that season, Andre Johnson. Are there two more polar opposites in back-to-back picks who played the same position in draft history?
Class of 2004, Pick 9: Reggie Williams
Perhaps that's a fog of marijuana smoke he's emerging from, or even a cloud of cocaine dust. When it came to off-the-field problems, Williams was an equal opportunity abuser. Some might make a case for the next draft class's yielding Matt Jones as the bigger bust, but at least he had a position change to factor into the equation.
He had great size and was supposed to become a very nice receiver in the mold of a Cris Carter type. However, he was unable to overcome his personal demons, and as such warrants mentioning in this conversation.
He never topped 52 receptions in a year. In 2007 (after which he only played one more year) he had an astounding 10 touchdowns on only 38 catches. He was unable to ever top 630 yards though, and other than that season his career high for touchdowns was four.
Once again, the Jags missed out on a position of perpetual need as they could have had Will Smith (who went 18th). Also a team that's lacked a quality tight end for some time, they could have traded down and seized Ben Watson (who went 32nd).
Class of 2005, Pick 7: Troy Williamson
There's a familiar sight to Vikings' fans; the heir apparent to Randy Moss not grasping the ball. It was one of many Minnesota faux pas of the decade, in that they reached on a guy simply because he had speed similar to the man they looked to replace.
Drops have plagued Troy throughout his career, and after his first season he blamed his vision. Concentration, vision, talent, whatever you want to call the lacking ingredient, it's clearly missing.
He's attempting to stay relevant with the Jaguars (I'm not picking on you guys, I swear!). With only 10 catches combined the last two seasons, I'd be amazed if he ever sticks to a roster long term with any kind of productivity.
Oh yeah, his career highs are 37 catches, 455 yards, (both in '06), and two touchdowns ('05). Had the Vikings gone with another area of need, they could have had their choice from DeMarcus Ware (11th to Dallas) or Shawne Merriman (12th to San Diego).
Class of 2005, Pick 10: Mike Williams
While it may seem that I'm dwelling on the mistakes made by several teams, you can go through the drafts and find busts at the receiver position on pretty much every team. My Patriots have missed this decade, notably on Bethel Johnson and Chad Jackson.
However, it's nowhere near the mistakes made by the teams in this article. Mike Williams tried and failed to get into the 2004 draft, and was out of football for a year. That didn't allow Matt Millen's convictions to be swayed, as he made him a top 10 pick.
By almost all accounts written about the young man, he loves to eat. So much so that he's been tried at the tight end position, but to no avail. Now he's reunited with former USC coach Pete Carroll, and that will make some think he's going to be reborn.
I think his time has come and gone, and with a career year his rookie season of 29 catches for 350 yards and one touchdown, I'm sure Detroit fans agree. It makes one wonder how the Lions' fortunes would have changed had Aaron Rodgers (24th to Green Bay) been the pick instead?
Class of 2007, Pick 9: Ted Ginn Jr.
This is the final pick, and it's slightly dangerous territory given that he's still young enough (25) to turn his career around. I'd venture to guess if you asked any Fins fan's opinion they'd agree with me, and to this point that's good enough for me.
He was taken ahead of some real talent (we'll get to that later), and that's not even factoring in fan choice Brady Quinn. The Dolphins are a team that has wanted a franchise wideout for some time. It's no coincidence that those are the teams most often burned in round one when selecting wideouts.
He never lived up to his hype, playing much slower than his timed speed would indicate. In addition to his failure as a pure wideout, he also lacked impact plays in the return game on a consistent basis.
He's only had three return touchdowns in his career to date, and with him being portrayed as a second coming of Devin Hester that's just not enough. His career best season receiving was 56 catches for 790 yards and two touchdowns.
With career totals of 128 catches for 1,664 yards and five touchdowns, he's the type of ninth overall pick that leaves you wanting more. Especially when players like Patrick Willis (11th), Darrelle Revis (14th), Leon Hall (18th), and Jon Beason (25th) were still on the board. Ouch!