NFL Draft History: Ryan Leaf and the Biggest Busts of the Past 20 Years

Robert QuinnCorrespondent IApril 1, 2011

NFL Draft History: Ryan Leaf and the Biggest Busts of the Past 20 Years

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    Every year, there are huge expectations for the top-ranked players coming out of college. Players drafted at the top of the draft often fall short of expectations, while players drafted in the seventh round fight their way to Pro Bowls.

    This slideshow will go through the drafts from 1990-2009, analyzing those players that couldn't make the transition from college to pros. The draft is always interesting and player expectations are generally high, but these players are the biggest busts of recent NFL drafts.

1990: RB Blair Thomas, No. 2 Overall, New York Jets

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    When the New York Jets selected running back Blair Thomas out of Penn State with the No. 2 overall pick in the 1990 NFL draft, there were huge expectations for the Nittany Lion.

    During his time at Penn State, Thomas rushed for 3,301 yards, scoring 29 touchdowns, finishing second on the Nittany Lions' all-time rushing list.

    However, his transition to the National Football League wasn't an easy one. His uninspiring career lasted just six seasons, amassing just 2,236 yards and seven touchdowns as a member of the Jets, the Dallas Cowboys, the New England Patriots and the Carolina Panthers.

1991: CB Bruce Pickens, No. 3 Overall, Atlanta Falcons

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    The Atlanta Falcons thought they had a premier lockdown cornerback when they selected defensive back Bruce Pickens with the No. 3 overall pick in the 1991 NFL draft. Pickens was highly regarded out of Nebraska as one of the top corners in the draft.

    However, his career was unimpressive, as he recorded just two interceptions in his 41 career games with the Falcons, Packers, Chiefs and Raiders.

1992: DE Steve Emtman, No. 1 Overall, Indianapolis Colts

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    Steve Emtman was an absolute stud for the Washington Huskies, earning the Outland Trophy, the Lombardi Award, the Bill Willis Award and the UPI Lineman of the Year award in 1991, leading the Huskies to a 10-2 season and a Rose Bowl victory. 

    A promising prospect, injuries to Emtman's knees cut his career short, causing him to appear in just 50 games before retiring at 27 years old with just eight sacks under his belt.

1993: QB Rick Mirer, No. 2 Overall, Seattle Seahawks

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    Rick Mirer was a stud at Notre Dame, passing for 5,997 yards, 41 touchdowns and 23 interceptions, while adding another 17 touchdowns with his legs.

    He seemed like a can't-miss prospect, and the Seattle Seahawks jumped on the chance to select him with the No. 2 pick overall in 1993.

    Despite his collegiate success, he wasn't able to translate that ability at an NFL-caliber level, but managed to stay in the league as a journeyman for eight years, playing for the Seahawks, Bears, 49ers, Jets and Raiders.

    Mirer was extremely inconsistent, tossing 50 touchdowns and 76 interceptions.

1994: QB Heath Shuler, No. 3 Overall, Washington Redskins

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    Quarterback Heath Shuler was an absolute stud at Tennessee, and the Washington Redskins were more than happy to select him with the No. 3 overall pick in the 1994 NFL draft. After a holdout, he appeared in 10 games during his rookie year, throwing 10 touchdowns and 12 interceptions.

    After three seasons in Washington, he moved on to the New Orleans Saints, where he had one of the worst seasons in NFL history, passing for 1,288 yards, two touchdowns and 14 interceptions in his last year in the league. 

1995: RB Kijana Carter, No. 1 Overall, Cincinnati Bengals

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    The second running back bust in six years to come out of Penn State, Kijana Carter was a beast as a Nittany Lion, averaging 7.2 yards per carry, rushing for 2,829 yards and 34 touchdowns in three years.

    The Cincinnati Bengals selected Carter with the No. 1 overall pick in the 1995 NFL draft, but he tore a ligament in his leg during his first preseason game.

    In his 10 years in the National Football League, Carter managed to rush for just over 1,100 yards.

1996: RB Lawrence Philips, No. 6 Overall, St. Louis Rams

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    Lawrence Phillips had major character concerns coming out of Nebraska in 1996, but that didn't prevent the St. Louis Rams from selecting him with the No. 6 overall pick in the draft. In fact, they were so confident in Phillips' potential that they traded future Hall of Famer Jerome Bettis to make room for him. 

    As a Cornhusker, he rushed for 100 yards in 11 consecutive games, and was a focal point of the Nebraska offense, before being suspended for assaulting his then-girlfriend, Kate McEwen.

    In the National Football League, his character concerns became obvious and was cut by the St. Louis Rams, the Miami Dolphins and 49ers, before finishing his career with 1,453 yards and 14 touchdowns, while averaging 3.6 yards per carry.

1997: WR Rae Carruth, No. 27 Overall, Carolina Panthers

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    When the Carolina Panthers selected wide receiver Rae Carruth out of the University of Colorado with the No. 27 overall pick of the 1997 NFL draft, they had no idea what they were getting into.

    The former All-American caught 44 passes for 545 yards in his rookie year, but broke his foot early in 1998.

    Off the field, Carruth was struggling with issues of his own, and he hired a hit man to murder his pregnant girlfriend. He was convicted of conspiracy to commit murder, shooting into an occupied vehicle and using an instrument to destroy an unborn child. He is set to be released from jail in 2018. 

1998: QB Ryan Leaf, No. 2 Overall, San Diego Chargers

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    Coming into the 1998 NFL draft, the main question was which prospect would turn out as the better pro quarterback—Tennessee's Peyton Manning or Ryan Leaf out of Washington State?

    Peyton Manning has gone on to become one of the best quarterbacks of this era, if not all time, while Ryan Leaf is probably somewhere popping painkillers as I type this.

    In his two seasons with the Chargers, Leaf threw just 13 touchdowns to 33 interceptions, and threw some highly publicized temper tantrums also, before being released in 2000.

1999: QB Akili Smith, No. 3 Overall, Cincinnati Bengals

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    Akili Smith was atop many draft boards in 1999 despite starting just 11 games in his collegiate career at Oregon, throwing 32 touchdowns in his senior season.

    The Cincinnati Bengals selected him with the No. 3 overall pick, but after holding out, he never seemed to comprehend the playbook. Smith spent four years with the Bengals before being released.

2000: DE Courtney Brown, No. 1 Overall, Cleveland Browns

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    Courtney Brown was a highly regarded defensive end at Penn State University, and was taken with the No. 1 overall pick by the Cleveland Browns in 2000. In his college career he recorded 33 sacks, and 70 tackles for a loss.

    However, the transition to the NFL wasn't as easy. After a decent rookie season, he was plagued by injuries and could never bounce back and return to his dominant ways as a Nittany Lion.

2001: WR David Terrell, No. 8 Overall, Chicago Bears

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    Coming out of the University of Michigan in the 2001 NFL draft class, WR David Terrell was highly regarded as a fast, possession receiver. As a Wolverine, he played on a team with Super Bowl-winning QB Tom Brady.

    Terrell was never able to adjust to the NFL, and was cut. After shuffling through New England, Denver and a tryout in Kansas City, Terrell is now a free agent.

2002: The QBs Who Couldn't: David Carr and Joey Harrington

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    In 2002, the Houston Texans were introduced to the NFL, and selected Fresno State QB David Carr with the No. 1 overall pick, and the Detroit Lions selected Joey Harrington out of Oregon with the No. 3 overall to be the new faces of their franchises.

    Both were highly ranked, scouted as great quarterbacks and signed huge contracts with their teams. Neither one was able to take his squad to the next level, and both are now journeymen backup quarterbacks.

2003: WR Charles Rogers, No. 2 Overall, Detroit Lions

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    Charles Rogers was a stud at Michigan State and was beginning to be compared to greats like Randy Moss and Jerry Rice, breaking countless records at the school.

    The Detroit Lions had the No. 2 pick this season, and selected a WR for second-year QB Joey Harrington to pass to.

    He showed promise throughout his first five games, before breaking his collarbone. He broke the collarbone again, and after drug abuse and a series of suspensions, he was released.

    Charles Rogers was a receiver with great promise, and could have been something special, had it not been for the off-field issues.

2004: T Robert Gallery, No. 2 Overall, Oakland Raiders

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    The 2004 Draft featured superstars such as Philip Rivers, Larry Fitzgerald, Eli Manning, Sean Taylor, Kellen Winslow, in addition to multiple other Pro Bowlers.

    Robert Gallery was selected out of Iowa by the Oakland Raiders, as a perfect 9.0 scout rating, and received a huge contract from team Owner, Al Davis.

    Gallery had the size and strength to be an elite Tackle in the NFL, but was not able to live up to his hype. In 2006 he missed ten games, yet still managed to allow 10.5 sacks, which was 4th most in the league by an offensive lineman.

2005: DB Adam Jones, No. 6 Overall, Tennessee Titans

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    In 2005, the Titans thought they had the cornerback of the future when they selected Adam Jones out of West Virginia with the sixth pick in the draft.

    Instantly, he was an issue. He missed most of training camp due to a holdout, and was involved in several off-field issues, including violating probation for fighting.

    In his sophomore season he showed potential, as he totaled 62 tackles, one sack, one forced fumble, 12 deflected passes, four interceptions, 130 return yards, one interception touchdown, 14 passes defended (second team), 440 punt return yards and tied for an NFL high with three punt return touchdowns.

    Everything changed in 2007 after a shooting at a Las Vegas strip club, where Jones allegedly threw $30,000 and beat a woman. It is alleged that he also ordered a security guard to be shot.

    Jones had the potential to be a star, but just like the bust before him, off-field issues ruined his future.

2006: QB Matt Leinart, No. 10 Overall, Arizona Cardinals

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    In 2006, Matt Leinart of USC was the second quarterback selected in the draft, behind Vice Young of Texas. Matt Leinart was highly successful as a Trojan, leading his team to consecutive BCS championships and an AP championship.

    In the NFL, he took over Kurt Warner's starting job, set a rookie record passing for 405 yards in a loss to the Vikings. After a poor start to the 2007 season, Warner replaced Leinart. Three days later, Leinart broke his collarbone, and was placed on IR.

    Last season he was released by the Cardinals after reportedly trash-talking head coach Ken Whisenhunt.

2007: QB JaMarcus Russell, No. 1 Overall, Oakland Raiders

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    JaMarcus Russell stands at 6'5", weighs 265 lbs. and has a cannon for an arm. Al Davis thought this was exactly what the Raiders needed, when he selected the quarterback out of LSU with the No. 1 overall pick.

    After signing a $68 million contract, he was a disaster in his rookie season, passing for only two touchdowns, and throwing 10 interceptions. His play was a disappointment again in his sophomore campaign, and he was recently replaced by Bruce Gradkowski, and Jason Campbell.

    This past offseason he was arrested for possession of codeine.

2008: DE Vernon Gholston, No. 6 Overall, New York Jets

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    Vernon Gholston was a highly touted pass rusher coming out of Ohio State, and the New York Jets were happy to take him with the No. 6 overall selection in the 2008 NFL draft.

    He never was able to grasp the exotic Jets defense, and was cut following the 2010 season after recording just 48 tackles and no sacks in his career.

2009: T Andre Smith, No. 6 Overall, Cincinnati Bengals

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    Andre Smith was one of the highest-rated offensive linemen in 2009, and the Cincinnati Bengals thought they had a solid bookend to protect their franchise quarterback, Carson Palmer.

    Instead, he has been moved throughout the offensive line, and hasn't been a consistent starter. It may still be too early to judge him as a bust, but a No. 6 overall pick playing backup guard is a bust in my book.