College Football: The 31 Biggest College Football Stars Who Were NFL Busts

Josh Martin@@JoshMartinNBANBA Lead WriterJune 1, 2011

College Football: The 31 Biggest College Football Stars Who Were NFL Busts

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    Like any draft class, those players who were taken in the 2011 NFL Draft won't all be busts nor will all of them be superstars.

    But really, though, a lot of them will be busts (cough*Cam*Newton*cough).

    It's inevitable that, in a sport as violent as football and in a league as ruthless as the NFL, there will be at least a few guys who fall well short of expectations after having highly productive collegiate careers.

    Of course, it's tough to predict exactly who of the new guys won't pan out (rhymes with Sam Sewton), but we can certainly look back on the ones who failed the hardest to figure out who might follow in their tainted footsteps.

    Here are 31 of the most memorable cases of guys who experienced a serious tumble from the mountaintop of college football to the deepest and darkest pits of forgotten NFL lore. 

Matt Leinart

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    As one might expect, this list is full of former Heisman Trophy winners, with Matt Leinart being the most recent of all.

    The former Trojans quarterback won two national championships—one BCS, one Associated Press—while breaking just about every passing record in USC football history.

    Leinart had a shot to be the first overall pick in the 2005 NFL Draft, but decided instead to return to school for a shot at third national title and a second Heisman while taking ballroom dancing for credit.

    Leinart's stock took a significant dip as a senior, dropping to the 10th pick in the 2006 NFL Draft, not long after which he proved that he wasn't even worth going that high once he took to the field for the Arizona Cardinals.

    Everyone thought Leinart would be the Cards' starter after Kurt Warner retired; instead, he was cut before the 2010 season and didn't take a single snap after landing in Houston at Matt Schaub's backup for the Texans.

Cade McNown

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    Across town at UCLA, Cade McNown never won a Heisman or a national championship when he played for the Bruins, but he was a tremendous quarterback in college nonetheless.

    McNown took over the starting job just four games into his true freshman year and never let go, finishing his career with just about all of UCLA's passing records and—most importantly—becoming the first and only quarterback in school history to go 4-0 against USC.

    The Chicago Bears took McNown with the 12th overall pick, though he spent only two seasons in the Windy City before getting traded to Miami and eventually dropping out of the NFL following a failed stint with the San Francisco 49ers.

Tim Couch

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    Cade McNown was far from the only well-decorated bust to come out of the 1999 NFL Draft.

    In fact, Tim Couch was the first such player to be taken in that draft, with the first-overall pick for that matter. Couch was expected to be the savior of the new Cleveland Browns after helping to resurrect the Kentucky Wildcats football program under head coach Hal Mumme.

    Instead, Couch ran into issues with injuries and inconsistency from the get-go while playing behind one of the worst offensive lines in NFL history.

    To his credit, Couch was the leading catalyst behind the Browns' miracle season in 2002, during which they finished 9-7 and nearly upended the heavily-favored Pittsburgh Steelers in the Wild Card round..

    Unfortunately, Couch did not get to play in that game after breaking his leg in the last game of the regular season that year—an injury that proved to be both devastating and emblematic of Couch's career, which hasn't gotten him back on a football field since 2003.

JaMarcus Russell

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    At least Tim Couch had one respectable season in the NFL.

    No quarterback taken first-overall has been quite as big of a bust in so many ways as JaMarcus Russell.

    The 6'6" behemoth posted a 21-4 record and was named the Sugar Bowl MVP in 2007 after leading LSU to a 41-14 win over Notre Dame.

    That performance led Russell to declare early for the NFL Draft, wherein the Oakland Raiders took him at the top.

    Since then, Russell has become football anathema.

    As bad as he was on the field, accumulating an 18-23 touchdown-to-interception ratio in three years in the NFL, Russell was just as much of a liability off of it, if not more so, especially with his alleged affinity for "purple drank."

Ryan Leaf

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    Long before JaMarcus Russell established himself as the biggest bust in the history of the NFL Draft, Ryan Leaf was the unquestioned king of draft ineptitude.

    Leaf had a terrific tenure at Washington State, leading the Cougars to their first Rose Bowl appearance in 67 years and their first-ever Pac-10 title while finishing third in Heisman balloting behind Peyton Manning and Charles Woodson.

    The burly quarterback went ahead of Woodson in the 1998 NFL Draft, and there was even a debate about him going first overall instead of Manning.

    Clearly, the Indianapolis Colts made the right call, especially after watching the lead-footed, ill-tempered and oft-injured Leaf drop out of sight following the 2002 season and finishing his pro playing career with a 14-36 touchdown-to-interception ratio and a paltry QB rating of 50.0. 

Curtis Enis

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    Lost and forgotten from that 1998 NFL Draft is Curtis Enis.

    The running back from Penn State had a productive career in Happy Valley, finishing his career as a Nittany Lion with 3,256 yards and 36 touchdowns.

    On the flip side, Enis, who went fifth overall to the Chicago Bears in the 1998 draft, finished his pro career with 1,497 yards and four scores.

Ki-Jana Carter

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    Ki-Jana Carter endured a similar disaster as a Penn State running back in the NFL just a few years before.

    Carter was a key player on Joe Paterno's 12-0 Nittany Lion team in 1994, for which he finished second in Heisman voting that year.

    Carter lasted significantly longer than Enis did in the NFL, as he was last seen playing in the league for the New Orleans Saints during the 2004 season after getting drafted first overall by the Cincinnati Bengals in the 1995 NFL Draft.

    However, Carter struggled with injuries throughout that time, just about all of which stemmed from the torn ACL he suffered on his third carry in his first preseason game before his rookie season. 

Blair Thomas

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    Not to harp too much on Penn State running backs, but the legacy of Nittany Lion failures began in the 1980s with Blair Thomas.

    Thomas finished his time in Happy Valley as a highly-decorated collegian, having won a national championship in 1986 and earned All-American honors in 1989.

    That success didn't exactly carry over to the NFL. He ran for only 2,000 yards and five touchdowns for the New York Jets, who drafted him with the second-overall pick in 1990, and struggled even more mightily after that with the New England Patriots, Dallas Cowboys, Atlanta Falcons and Carolina Panthers before bowing out of the league following the 1995 season. 

Andre Ware

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    As disappointing as Thomas was, no one in the 1990 NFL Draft turned out to be as big a bust as Andre Ware.

    Ware had a historic career at Houston, setting 26 NCAA records and becoming the first African-American quarterback to win the Heisman Trophy when he did so in 1989.

    Unfortunately, his success in the "Run and Shoot" offense didn't help him in the pros, failing in Detroit alongside fellow Heisman Trophy-winner Barry Sanders before bouncing to the Los Angeles Raiders and then north of the border to the Canadian Football League for four seasons.

David Klingler

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    Andre Ware was succeeded at Houston by another system quarterback who went bust in the NFL—David Klingler.

    Klingler's collegiate career was filled with tremendous moments, highlighted by an NCAA-record 11 touchdown passes in a single game against Eastern Washington at the Astrodome and finished that season with a then-NCAA-record 54 touchdowns.

    He finished behind Ty Detmer and Raghib Ishmail for the 1990 Heisman Trophy and even further behind them in the pros, wherein he lasted seven seasons during the course of which he managed 3,994 yards and 16 touchdowns against 22 interceptions.

Steve Emtman

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    David Klingler went five picks behind Steve Emtman, the biggest bust of the 1992 NFL Draft.

    The massive defensive tackle had an unbelievable season for the undefeated Washington Huskies in 1991, winning the Outland Trophy and the Lombardi Award while earning distinction as a consensus All-American and finishing fourth in Heisman balloting.

    Emtman showed flashes of brilliance during his rookie year, highlighted by a 90-yard interception return for a touchdown to seal a victory for the Indianapolis Colts over the Miami Dolphins.

    However, injuries took a serious toll on Emtman, who fought through all manner of gut-wrenching ailments before finally throwing in the towel and calling it quits after the 1997 season at the tender age of 27.

Courtney Brown

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    While we're on the topic of defensive linemen whose NFL careers were cut short by injuries, we might as well give a shout-out to Courtney Brown.

    The Cleveland Browns selected Brown out of Penn State with the first overall pick in the 2000 NFL Draft, with the hope that he and Tim Couch would lead the newly reborn franchise into an era of tremendous success.

    Instead, Brown, who was a consensus First-Team All-American in 1999 and finished his collegiate career as the NCAA's all-time leader in sacks, suffered injury after debilitating injury following a moderately successful rookie season, in which he recorded 70 tackles and 4.5 sacks.

    Brown remained in Cleveland through the 2004 season and attempted to rejuvenate his career in Denver before then-coach Mike Shanahan suggest he retire from the game in 2007—advice that he promptly heeded.

Ron Dayne

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    Ron Dayne can thank Courtney Brown for taking up the mantle as the biggest bust out of the 2000 NFL Draft.

    Dayne was about as decorated a running back as you'll ever see coming out of the college ranks—a Heisman Trophy-winner and a two-time Rose Bowl MVP who set the NCAA mark for rushing yards in a career, among a laundry list of other noteworthy accomplishments.

    That success never quite translated to the pro level, whereupon "The Great Dayne" struggled to establish solid footing on any of the three teams he played for and hasn't seen a live snap since 2007.

Ricky Williams

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    It's tough to call Ricky Williams an NFL bust, considering he's rushed for nearly 10,000 yards in a career that may not yet be over.

    However, given what Mike Ditka and the New Orleans Saints gave up to select the winner of the 1998 Heisman Trophy with the fifth-overall pick in the 1999 NFL Draft—and, more importantly, what he gave in return—warrants his inclusion on this list.

    Williams spent only three seasons in New Orleans before moving on to Miami, where he put the Dolphins through the ringer with his hiatus from football and dabbling in certain controlled substances.

Jason White

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    Jason White's inclusion on this list is also somewhat questionable.

    Not because he wasn't successful in college; he certainly was, winning the Heisman Trophy in 2003 and nearly repeating in 2004 after coming back from reconstructive knee surgeries in consecutive years prior to that.

    Rather, White struggled to garner any interest from NFL teams because of his weak knees, going undrafted in 2005 and giving up the dream of playing professional football entirely shortly thereafter.

Terry Baker

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    The tradition of Heisman Trophy winners going bust in the NFL dates back to the 1960s, when Terry Baker went from being a dual-threat sensation as a quarterback at Oregon State to a failure for the Los Angeles Rams.

    To his credit, Baker, the first-overall pick in the 1963 draft, was horribly misused by the Rams coaching staff, who often played Baker as a running back and ultimately struggled to put Baker's considerable talents to good use.

Gary Beban

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    Gary Beban helped to establish the tradition of Heisman busts in the NFL later that decade, when he made the leap to the league after taking home the most prized trophy in all of collegiate sports in 1967.

    Beban went from being "The Great One" at UCLA to Sonny Jurgensen's backup with the Washington Redskins, a gig that turned out to be a sort of football death sentence and led Beban to retire from the sport in 1970.

Mike Williams

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    Nearly 40 years later across town, USC would field blunderous bust of their own at wide receiver in the person of Mike Williams.

    Williams spent two seasons at USC, hauling in 176 passes for 2,579 yards and 30 touchdowns while playing with two Heisman Trophy winners—Carson Palmer and Matt Leinart.

    Following his sophomore season, Williams decided to take the Maurice Clarett route and challenge the NFL's draft rules, though he and Clarett ultimately lost and were both forced to wait another year before entering the league, all the while remaining ineligible to play college ball.

    That year off didn't seem to hurt Williams' stock that much, as the receiver-happy Detroit Lions took him with the 10th overall pick in the 2005 draft, though it soon became clear that his game had suffered with the time off.

    Williams finished his rookie season with 350 yards and a touchdown on 29 catches in 14 games, including four starts, all of which stood as his best single-season performance until the 2010 season, when, playing for former USC coach Pete Carroll in Seattle, Williams accumulated 751 yards and two touchdowns on 65 catches for the Seahawks.

Joey Harrington

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    One could potentially blame Williams' flameout in Detroit on Joey Harrington, the team's quarterback at the time.

    Harrington's struggles with the Lions have become the stuff of legend, as the kid who went 25-3 as a starter at Oregon stumbled along with the rest of his Lions teammates to a 3-13 record during his rookie season.

    Things only got worse once Steve Mariucci showed up as the head coach in Detroit, as Harrington struggled to pick up the famed West Coast Offense before getting traded to the Miami Dolphins, with whom he remained for a single season before bouncing around the NFL to Atlanta and New Orleans.

Danny Wuerffel

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    Harrington's rookie season was also the last time anyone saw Danny Wuerffel take a live snap in the NFL.

    The 1996 Heisman Trophy winner had the brains to play in the pros but lacked the sheer physical ability to put it all together, spending three seasons with the Saints before playing in NFL Europa, where he won World Bowl VIII with the Rhein Fire.

    Wuerffel returned to football in states soon after that, jumping from the Green Bay Packers to the Chicago Bears before spending his final NFL season playing for his Ol' Ball Coach from the University of Florida—Steve Spurrier—as a member of the Washington Redskins.

Chris Weinke

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    Like Wuerffel before him, Chris Weinke entered the NFL as a Heisman winner and a fourth-round draft pick.

    Weinke began his collegiate career at Florida State quite late, arriving in Tallahassee in 1997 at the age of 25 after spending seven years in baseball's minor leagues.

    Hence, most NFL teams weren't quite so keen on selecting a 28-year-old in the 2001 NFL Draft, and for good reason.

    The Carolina Panthers went 1-15  in 2001 with Weinke, the winner of the 2000 Heisman Trophy, under center, prompting his lengthy benching until he finally saw the field again in 2005 and his retirement from football some three years later.

Bo Jackson

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    When it comes to two-sport athletes, Bo Jackson stands out as one whose legend would have been so much greater with a little bit of luck avoiding injuries.

    Bo won the 1985 Heisman Trophy while at Auburn, where he also wowed with his speed and power on the baseball team.

    The Tampa Bay Buccaneers took Jackson with the top pick in the 1985 NFL Draft, though he refused to play for the Bucs and ended up going to the Los Angeles Raiders in the seventh round a year later.

    Jackson's productivity was hampered by his seasons split between the Raiders and baseball's Kansas City Royals before his career as a professional athlete was sidetracked by a severe hip injury he suffered in a 1990 playoff game against the Cincinnati Bengals.

Brian Bosworth

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    Bo Jackson famously ran over Brian Bosworth in a game in 1987, prior to which Bosworth had talked trash about Jackson and promised to shut him down.

    Bosworth's bark turned out to be much worse than his bite, particularly in the NFL. After twice taking home the Dick Butkus Award and being named a First-Team All-American while playing for Barry Switzer at Oklahoma, "The Boz" took his steroid-fueled talents to the league via the Supplemental Draft, in which he was selected by the Seattle Seahawks and was subsequently awarded the richest rookie contract in NFL history up to that point—10 years, $11 million.

    Of course, Bosworth did little to earn that money, spending just over two seasons in Seattle before retiring in 1989 as a result of serious shoulder damage.

Tony Mandarich

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    Brian Bosworth was far from the only player whose rise to the top of the football world was fueled by steroids.

    Tony Mandarich was famously touted as the best offensive line prospect in NFL Draft history after a highly-decorated career at Michigan State, highlighted by a spot on the All-American first team in 1988.

    The Green Bay Packers selected "The Incredible Bulk" with the second-overall pick in the 1989 NFL Draft before being cut from the team in 1992.

    Mandarich popped up in Indianapolis for a stint with the Colts a few years later, but didn't admit that he was nothing more than a drug-induced sham until 2003.

Rashaan Salaam

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    Few running backs can match what Rashaan Salaam accomplished during the 1994 college football season, when he ran for 2,055 yards and 24 touchdowns while leading Colorado to an 11-1 record.

    That performance earned Salaam the 1994 Heisman Trophy, which did him little good in the NFL.

    Salaam had some success as a rookie with the Chicago Bears, racking up 1,000 yards and 10 touchdowns, but failed to come even close to those numbers while bouncing between the NFL, the CFL and the ill-fated and short-lived XFL.

Lawrence Phillips

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    Lawrence Phillips came into the NFL just one year after Rashaan Salaam did, though he somehow managed to play in more leagues than Salaam managed to.

    Phillips was an integral part of Nebraska's back-to-back national championship teams in 1994 and 1995, though his tenure in Lincoln was tainted by an arrest for assaulting his ex-girlfriend in 1995.

    Phillips jumped to the NFL a year early and was taken with the sixth pick overall by the St. Louis Rams, who found his off-field issues and attitude problems too much to bear and were forced to cut him in 1997.

    Phillips retired from football in 2003 after playing in the NFL, NFL Europe, the AFL and the CFL, and is currently in the midst of serving a 31-year prison sentence in California.

Eric Crouch

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    Eric Crouch played a big part in keeping Nebraska football nationally relevant in the late 1990s and early 2000s, though he struggled to find any sort of relevance when he reached the NFL with the St. Louis Rams in 2002.

    Crouch, who won the Heisman Trophy in 2001 and led the Cornhuskers to the national championship game in 2002, was drated as a wide receiver but insisted on playing quarterback despite his size (6') and his athleticism making him a natural slot receiver in the NFL.

    Crouch spent the rest of his professional career bouncing between positions and leagues. He finally hung up his cleats after getting drafted by Team Texas of the defunct All-American Football League.

Gino Toretta

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    Clearly, Gino Toretta isn't the only Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback to go bust in the NFL.

    Toretta led Miami to a share of the 1991 national championship and a spot in the title game in 1992 before entering the league as a seventh round pick of the Minnesota Vikings in 1993.

    Toretta didn't play a single live down in the NFL until 1996, when he threw a 32-yard touchdown pass to Joey Galloway for the Seattle Seahawks in the season finale against the Oakland Raiders. He maintained roster spots with Seattle and Indianapolis for the following season but decided to retire from football after 1997 when it became clear that playing time was not coming his way any time soon.

Rick Mirer

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    The Seattle Seahawks drafted Rick Mirer a solid 190 picks before Gino Toretta saw his name taken off the board in the 1993 NFL Draft, though the disparity in selection didn't much matter with the way Mirer's career turned out.

    Mirer enjoyed a solid collegiate career at Notre Dame, leading the Fighting Irish to three bowl games before eventually going belly-up in the NFL.

    Mirer performed quite well during his rookie season, starting all of the Seahawks' games and, in the proces, setting NFL rookie records for attempts, completions and yards.

    Unfortunately, that season turned out to be the pinnacle of Mirer's career, as the former Golden Domer became something of a journeyman backup quarterback before retiring after the 2004 season as a member of the Detroit Lions practice squad.

Heath Shuler

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    Just a year after Mirer made it to the big time, Heath Shuler began his road to "bustdom" as the third-overall pick of the Washington Redskins.

    Shuler was the runner-up for the 1993 Heisman Trophy and finished his tenure at Tennessee with nearly all of the school's passing records, which were later eclipsed by Peyton Manning.

    The Redskins counted on Shuler to lead the franchise back to prominence—a task at which he failed miserably before being supplanted by Gus Frerotte and traded to New Orleans in 1996.

    Shuler's last two professional seasons were marred by a recurring foot injury, which forced him into early retirement in 1998, after which Shuler went into politics as a member of the U.S. House of Representatives from North Carolina. 

Archie Griffin

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    Seven seasons, 2808 yards, seven touchdowns—not exactly eye-popping stats, especially for Archie Griffin, who became the first and only two-time Heisman Trophy winner while at Ohio State.

    Griffin ended his professional playing career in the USFL, marking something of a tragic end to the football career of arguably the greatest running back to ever grace the college ranks.