The Biggest Number 1 Flops in NFL History

JW NixSenior Writer IISeptember 15, 2010

The Biggest Number 1 Flops In NFL History

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    The National Football League has a wasteland of first round draft picks who never did much if or when they played. Many players are on ever draft board every year with lackluster numbers few expected at the time they were chosen. 

    In 1936, the NFL created a draft. There were nine teams in the league at that time, so they held a nine round draft.

    The league was not very popular at the time, taking a distant backseat to Major League Baseball and college football.  Many of the players drafted eschewed the opportunity to play in the NFL, a practice that continued into the 1950's, because they could earn much more money working elsewhere.

    This includes the first player ever drafted, who happened to also be the first winner of the Heisman Trophy.

Jay Berwanger

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    Jay Berwanger was drafted by the Philadelphia Eagles, but declined to play. The Chicago Bears traded for his rights after hiring Berwanger's college coach, Clark Shaughnessy, to improve the T-formation offense that had made Berwanger a star at the University of Chicago. 

    Of the nine players drafted in the first round in 1936, only Berwanger and Notre Dame legend Bill Shakespeare decided not to play. Five players careers did not last past 1939, and the remaining two players careers lasted until 1944.

    One was Bears Hall of Famer Joe Stydahar. 

    Other famous facts was that future College Football Hall of Fame coach Paul "Bear" Bryant was drafted in the fourth round by the Brooklyn Dodgers, but Bryant immediately chose to be an assistant at Alabama University instead.

    Bears Hall of Famer  Danny Fortmann was the fourth from last player drafted that year. 

    This is a recollection of some of the biggest busts in NFL history, proving the memory of a Jamarcus Russell will fade over time.

    Berwanger, however, does not belong in this category. 

    Here is a list of the first picks of NFL drafts that did not play the way their teams and fans expected.

Tom Harmon

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    Harmon won both the Heisman Trophy and Maxwell Award after a legendary career at Michigan University. The Chicago Bears made him the first pick of the 1941 draft, but he opted to play for the New York Americans of the second installment of the American Football League instead. 

    Harmon was also making movies, which paved the way for his children to be actors. Mark Harmon may the most famous, though one daughter starred in Tic-Tac candy commercials in the 80's and another married Ricky Nelson. 

    He then joined the Army as a pilot and flew several missions in World War II. He was shot down once, and flew a plane into a storm where he was the only surviving member of the crew. These incidents caused leg injuries, but Harmon joined the Los Angeles Rams in 1946. 

    He played just two years before retiring from the injuries he sustained as a soldier. He scored nine times as a part-time player, including a league leading 84 yard run his rookie season and a league leading 88 yard punt return in his last year. He also picked off 11 passes, scoring once each year. One was returned for a league leading 85 yards as a rookie. 

    Though the war ravaged his career, his impact in the AFL then is mostly unknown due to poorly kept records and statistics.He had impact in his two years in the NFL, but it came about six seasons after he was drafted by another team.

    He is a member of the College Football Hall of Fame, but he could have had more gridiron success in other circumstances.

Angelo Bertelli

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    "The Springfield Rifle" won the 1943 Heisman despite playing just six games for Notre Dame University before joining the Marines because of WWII.

    That did not stop the Boston Yanks from making him the first pick of the 1944 draft.  He never played for the Yanks, opting to play in the All-American Football Conference for a few years.

    He joined the Los Angeles Dons in 1946, starting in three games. He spent the next two years as a backup with the Chicago Rockets before retiring with eight touchdown passes and 14 interceptions in his career. 

    Perhaps he was destined for greater professional gridiron achievements if it were not for the war.

    His is also the father of ex-Sonic Youth drummer Bob Bert.

Boley Dancewicz

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    The first pick of the 1946 draft by the Boston Yanks, this Notre Dame great lasted three years with the team as a reserve before retiring.

    He started in two games, and ended up with 12 touchdowns and 29 interceptions. The highlight of his career was in 1947, where he led the NFL in yards gained per pass completion.

    He is the grandfather of quarterback Chris Pizzotti, who has bounced around several NFL training camps the past few years.

Bob Fenimore

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    The "Blonde Bomber" was a legendary two-time All-American halfback at Oklamhoma A&M, which is now known as Oklahoma State University.

    A member of the College Football Hall of Fame, he did not play much in his senior year because of injuries. 

    The Chicago Bears made him the first pick of the 1947 draft.

    He lasted one season in the league, scoring three times and intercepting two passes in the ten games he appeared in.

    Fenimore then walked away from the NFL forever.

Harry Babcock

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    He was a wide receiver taken by the San Francisco 49ers with the first pick of the 1953 draft, which had one of the worst first rounds in NFL history. 

    Including Babcock, seven of the 13 first round selections were out of the league by 1957 with little contribution. Two others never played in the league. 

    Babcock's three seasons saw him catch just 16 balls for 181 yards and no scores. He was out of the game after 1955.

Bobby Garrett

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    Garrett was the guy that made teams start doing their homework better before the drafts.

    He was taken by the Cleveland Browns with the first pick in 1954. When the quarterback showed up, Cleveland quickly learned he had a severe stutter. 

    They quickly traded him to the Green Bay Packers, where he lasted one season.

    He completed 15 of 30 passes for 143 yards and an interception before walking away from the game.

George Shaw

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    The Baltimore Colts made him the first pick in 1955.

    He started all 12 games as a rookie, but soon found himself on the bench behind undrafted free agent, and future Hal of Famer, Johnny Unitas after breaking a leg in 1956. 

    He stayed mostly on the Colts bench until 1958, where the Colts won the championship.

    He then bounced around as a backup for the New York Giants, Minnesota Vikings, and the Denver Broncos of the AFL before retiring at the end of the 1962 season.

    He won 11 of the 29 games he started, and had 41 touchdown passes versus 63 interceptions. 

    Though there have been bigger busts than Shaw, and it wasn't his fault maybe the games greatest quarterback ever ended up on his team, he certainly did not quite enjoy the career expected of him.

King Hill

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    It might be hard to call a guy with a 12 year career a bust, but it wasn't one hoped for when the Chicago Cardinals made him the first pick in 1958.

    The Cardinals also had the second pick that year, and got great value when they snagged halfback John David Crow. 

    Hill started out as a quarterback, but barely played as a rookie. He was handed the staring job the next year, and won just two of 11 games.

    He fumbled the ball a league high 13 times, which was tied with Hall of Famer Bobby Layne as the second most ever, one less than Bobby Wade's 14, at the time. 

    The Cardinals moved to Saint Louis in 1960, and Hill was moved to punter.

    He was traded to the Philadelphia Eagles the next year and lasted eight years with them as a punter and seldom used quarterback. He rejoined the Cardinals in 1969 as a punter before retiring. 

    One reason for his longevity was the fact he averaged 41.3 yards per punt on 368 attempts, and never had a kick blocked until his final season.

    He also was an important man in the players union, holding the title of Vice President of the Players Association in 1968. The league was on strike then, and Hill helped sign the first collective bargaining agreement in NFL history. 

    Hill immediately stepped into coaching in 1970 as the offensive coordinator of the Houston Oilers, where he stayed until 1980. He then took the same job with the New Orleans Saints from 1981 to 1986 before returning to the Eagles as a scout for six years. 

    Though he has a fine career as a punter, no one drafts a punter with the first pick of the draft.

    He threw 48 touchdown passes, but he also tossed 71 interceptions and won just seven of the 30 games he started.

Randy Duncan

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    The Green Bay Packers made this quarterback the first pick of the 1959 draft after a legendary career at Iowa University, where he was the 1958 Big Ten MVP, Walter Camp and Helms Foundation Player of the Year, and finished second in the Heisman vote. He is a member of the College Football Hall of Fame. 

    Not liking the contract offer of the Packers, he bolted to the Canadian Football League to be a member of the BC Lions. He lasted two years there before deciding to join the Dallas Texans of the AFL in 1961. 

    He spent most of the year as a backup to Pro Bowler Cotton Davidson, though he did start twice himself and won once. He threw one touchdown pass that year, then retired from the game to become a lawyer.

Terry Baker

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    Baker was an exciting athlete drafted by the Los Angeles Rams first overall in 1963.

    He won the 1962 Heisman at Oregon State University, and also excelled at basketball. His team made it to the Final Four that year, making him the only Heisman winner to accomplish this feat.

    Sports Illustrated named him their Sportsman of the Year and he is a member of the College Football Hall of Fame. 

    He was a running quarterback, but the Rams ran a system that asked for a pocket passer. He played sparingly over his three years in the NFL, mostly lining up at running back.

    Baker threw 21 career passes, completing 11. He also caught 30 passes and ran for 219 yards on 58 carries with one touchdown. 

    Unhappy with the Rams, he went to the CFL and joined the Edmonton Eskimos.

    He retired after one season.

    His selection has to be one of the most curious, because the Rams seemed intent on making him something he was not instead of adjusting some of their playbook to his style

Walt Patulski

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    The Buffalo Bills made him the first selection in 1972.

    A big defensive end with good speed, the former Notre Dame standout had finished ninth in the 1971 Heisman voting.

    When he arrived in Buffalo, big things were expected. After five quarterback sacks as a rookie, he improved to seven the following year and was named Defensive Player of the Week after the 11th game.

    He then got nine and a half sacks over the next two years. 

    Buffalo then decided to trade him to the Saint Louis Cardinals before the 1976 season, but he hurt his knee and missed the entire year. He returned in 1977, then retired at seasons end. 

    Though Patulski had some success, it wasn't what both he and the Bills had expected and hoped for.

Kenneth Sims

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    The New England Patriots tabbed this defensive end with the first pick of the 1982 draft.

    It was a strike year that season, so Sims had three sacks over nine games. He played in just five contests the next year because of injuries. 

    His best season as a pro was in 1985, when he had a career high five and a half sacks as New England made it to Super Bowl XX before losing.

    He spent three of his last four years injured mostly. He played four total games over two seasons.  

    In 1980, he was caught with drugs and the Patriots released him, thus ending his career.

    Sims is considered by many as squandered talent.

    He was called "Game Day" because he preferred not to practice during the week.

Steve Emtman

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    The Indianapolis Colts had the first two draft picks of the 1992 draft. Emtman was the first, linebacker Quenton Coryatt was the second.

    Coryatt lasted six years with the team, getting eight and a half sacks and three interceptions before playing four games for the Dallas Cowboys in 1999 and retiring at seasons end. 

    Emtman was an athletic defensive tackle with a "cant miss" tag on him.

    He came out as a junior after finishing fourth in the Heisman voting. He is also a member of the College Football Hall of Fame. 

    He got off to a fast start as a rookie, getting three sacks and intercepting a ball, returning it 90 yards for a touchdown against the Miami Dolphins. Two weeks later, he blew out his left knee against the Dolphins and was out for the year.

    He then blew out his other knee in the fifth game of the following year, shelving him again. He came back again the next year, but ruptured a disc in the first game. 

    Emtman continued to play three more games before the pain became unbearable and his season was shut down early for the third consecutive season. 

    He joined the Dolphins in 1995, playing all 16 games for the only time of his career as a reserve.

    After playing in 13 the next year, he joined the Washington Redskins for four games in 1997 before retiring. 

    Obvious bad luck derailed a very promising career, but Emtman's toughness was undeniable in his ability to come back for more yearly.

Ki-Jana Carter

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    Bad luck met Carter early in his career, a few weeks after the Cincinnati Bengals made the running back the first selection in 1995.

    He blew out his knee the third time he ever touched the ball in an exhibition game, putting him on the sideline for the year. 

    He came back the next season and scored 15 touchdowns over two years before injury struck him again. After appearing in just four games over two seasons, Cincinnati cut him.

    The Washington Redskins picked him up for one season before he moved onto the New Orleans Saints and played in ten games over two years before retiring. 

    He lasted seven years in the NFL, gaining just 1,144 rushing yards and 21 total touchdowns.

    Yahoo Sports named him as the worst number-one draft pick since the AFL-NFL merger in 1970, though injuries had a great part as to the reason why he struggled.

Tim Couch

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    This quarterback was the first selection of the 1999 draft by the Cleveland Browns, who were an expansion team.

    Both he and the team struggled to two wins that year, though Couch did show promise. 

    He was hurt the next year, appearing in seven games, then seemed to regress each season even though the team was improving with more victories.

    After a mediocre 2003 season bereft with injury, Cleveland parted ways with him. 

    Couch spent several years talking about playing again, but he never made a roster and struggled with rotator cuff issues.

    Too bad the UFL wasn't out then for him.

Courtney Brown

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    The first pick of the 2000 draft by the Cleveland Browns, this defensive end stayed in the NFL until 2005 with inconsistent play in between injuries. 

    His rookie season was the only time he played all 16 games, and he got four and a half sacks. He duplicated that sack total in just five games the next year, as well as scoring his only touchdown off a fumble recovery, before he was befell by injury. 

    He had a career best six sacks in 13 games during 2003, but played in just two games the next year. Cleveland cut him, and he signed with the Denver Broncos.

    He lasted one year with them before retiring after 2005. 

    Blessed with good size and athleticism, his critics felt he lacked the inner drive to be the best player he possibly could be.

David Carr

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    This quarterback was the first pick ever by the expansion Houston Texans in 2002.

    Playing behind a porous offensive line, Carr was hit virtually every time he attempted a pass.

    He fumbled 21 times as a rookie, leading the league with 12 recoveries while being sacked an NFL record 76 times. 

    He led the league in times sacked his third and fourth seasons as well, though he showed some improvements. He led the NFL in completion percentage in 2006, but the Texans cut him anyways. 

    After a one year stop with the Carolina Panthers in 2007, where he won one of four starts, he joined the New York Giants for two years as a backup. He then signed with the San Francisco 49ers as a reserve for 2010. 

    Though his career may not yet be done, few quarterbacks took the pounding Carr did in his first five years.

JaMarcus Russell

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    The first pick of the 2007 draft by the Oakland Raiders, his career might be a lesson as to what can happen when you toss a quarterback onto the field before he is ready.

    Undeveloped talent might be the best term for Russell so far, but his work ethic is widely regarded as terrible. 

    Russell was recently cut by the Raiders and is unemployed.

    A year or two in the UFL would do him good, but there has yet to be a story of his interest in the upstart league. 

    Blessed with enormous size for a quarterback, and rare arm strength, the knock of him is what is in his head and heart.

    A story circulated around Raiders headquarters that a coach asked Russell to study a DVD. When asked about it the next day Russell reportedly said he learned a lot. Problem was, he way handed a blank DVD, which further exposed his work ethic and interest in football. 

    Only 25-years old, it is fathomable he can one day return to the NFL and salvage his career. It is looking like a long shot at best right now, because many feel he will never put in the required work.

Honorable Mention

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    Alex Smith was the first pick of the 2005 draft and has mostly been unimpressive thus far. He might be running out of chances to get off this list.  

    The AAFC held drafts from 1947 to 1949. Many of their drafted players elected to play in the NFL instead. 

    Frank Aschenbrenner was the first ever player drafted. He lasted one year with the Buffalo Bills, carrying the ball eight times for 14 yards before retiring. 

    Clyde Scott was the first pick in 1948 by the Buffalo Bills, but he was also the eighth overall selection by the Philadelphia Eagles. He joined the Eagles for just over three years, before finishing his career with the Detroit Lions. He won a championship with each team. 

    Abe Gibron was the last number-one draft pick of the AAFC, also by the Bills. He played ten games in Buffalo, then the league went defunct.

    He joined the Cleveland Bowns for over 6 years, making the Pro Bowl four times. He was traded to the Philadephia Eagles late in 1956, then joined the Chicago Bears in 1958. He retired after the 1959 season, having won three championships with Cleveland. 

    He later became a head coach of the Chicago Bears for three years, then one year for the Chicago Winds of the World Football League. He later joined the expansion Tampa Bay Buccaneers, where he was beloved for his sense of humor and love of food.  

    The fourth installment of the American Football League held drafts from 1960 to 1966.

    Like the AAFC, many drafted players went to the NFL, though the AFL was much more aggressive and signed more players.

    This aggressiveness led to better play than what the NFL was producing, forcing a merger between the two leagues. 

    The 1960 draft was a territorial draft, though officially the Oakland Raiders selected a player in a supplemental draft who never played for them. 

    The first pick of the 1961 draft was Bob Gaiters by the Denver Broncos, but he opted to play with the New York Giants instead.

    Roman Gabriel was the first pick in 1962 by the Raiders, but he too chose the NFL. 

    Hall of Fame defensive tackle Buck Buchanan was the first selection in 1963 by the Kansas City Chiefs, and he became the first to actually play in the AFL. Amazingly, the New York Giants waited until the 19th round to draft him in the NFL, and 264 players were chosen before him. 

    Buchanan led the Chiefs to two Super Bowls, winning one, in a 13-year career that saw him named to eight Pro Bowls and four First Team All-Pro honors. 

    Jack Concannon was the first pick in 1964 by the Boston Patriots. The NFL Philadelphia Eagles drafted him in the second round, so he chose to go there. He lasted ten years, promarily as a reserve. 

    "Broadway" Joe Namath was the first pick of the 1965 AFL draft by the New York Jets.

    He is widely regarded as the man who saved that franchise from extinction.

    He became the first man to throw for over 4,000 yards, quite a feat in the ten-yard chuck rule era. He lasted 12 years with the Jets and one with the Los Angeles Rams.

    He led the league in passing yards three times, as well as interceptions. He went to five Pro Bowls, but the Hall of Famer is best remembered for the "Guarantee". 

    His Jets upset a favored Oakland Raiders in the AFL Champoionship, a team that handled them just five weeks earlier, that enabled them to oppose the heavily favored NFL Champion Baltimore Colts in Super Bowl III.

    New York won 16-7, shaking up the world of professional football and bringing respect to the AFL and helped force the eventual merger in 1970. 

    The 1966 season was the last AFL Draft before the leagues merged their drafts.

    The Miami Dolphins selected Jim Grabowski, but he elected to join the Green Bay Packers. They had selected him ninth overall that season. 

    Though Buchanan and Namath were the only first overall picks to play in the AFL, their impact is historic.

    Both brought the AFL their only Super Bowl trophies,proving to all their league wasn't as inferior as the NFL loved to claim.

    They made football better then, which in turn made the future of professional football better off.