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The 5 Biggest NFL Draft Busts of All Time

Christopher JohnsonContributor IIINovember 23, 2016

The 5 Biggest NFL Draft Busts of All Time

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    The NFL draft is an inexact science. Many teams have learned this the hard way by using their first-round picks on players who shine on Saturdays but inexplicably flame out at the next level.

    Some of these busts, though, are more notable than others. In order to be a draft "bust", the general rule is that the player is a first-rounder. In addition, he must be hyped to the point where even mediocrity at the next level is considered failure.

    When a player is a star in college, NFL coaches expect no less when they take this player with their first round pick. Obviously, it doesn't always work out this way.

    I'm here to tell you the top five draft busts of all time.

Honorable Mention

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    Andre Ware

    Heath Shuler

5. Brian Bosworth

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    Although Bosworth only recorded four sacks in three seasons, he was one of the most hyped players of his class.

    The "Boz" left Oklahoma after testing positive for steroid use. The Seahawks took him in the first round of the 1987 supplemental draft.

    After signing what was then the biggest rookie contract in NFL History ($11 million over 10 years), Bosworth failed to live up to the hype.

    The most memorable play of his career was him on the negative side of a complete truck job by Raiders rookie running back Bo Jackson on Monday Night Football. This occurred after Bosworth stated prior to the game that he would contain Oakland's star tailback.

4. Tony Mandarich

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    Another PED user, Mandarich was drafted second overall by the Green Bay Packers in 1989 out of Michigan State. 

    Mandarich was a star in college with his ability to physically dominate opposing pass rushers. This was obviously a result of his steroid use.

    The 1988 first-team All-American weighed 304 and inexplicably ran a 4.65 40 at the NFL combine.

    He was completely unsuccessful in Green Bay, spending the majority of his time on special teams. After three seasons, he was cut.

    In 2008, Mandarich admitted to having an addiction to painkillers, which almost certainly contributed to his downfall in the NFL.

    Another reason for his reputation as a bust was his long list of off-field vices, which included challenging Mike Tyson to a fight and dubbing Green Bay "a village."

    The only reason Mandarich isn't higher on my list is because he partly resurrected his career in Indianapolis, where he spent time as a starter between 1996 and 1998.

3. Akili Smith

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    Emblematic of the overall snake-bitten nature of the Cincinnati franchise, Akili Smith was selected third-overall by the Bengals in 1999 after a successful career at Oregon.

    In four years with the orange and black, Smith threw just five touchdown passes in 17 starts.

    After riding the pine for two seasons, Smith attempted to start anew in Green Bay as a backup for Brett Favre. Smith also spent time in NFL Europe and with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

    Part of the reason for Smith's high pre-draft status was his athleticism, which obviously proved to be futile in the NFL. Smith was an athlete, not a quarterback.

    Pat White is probably an apt comparison: Smith was better suited as a wildcat specialty skill player. But that's just the problem, no one was running the wildcat back then.

    Obviously the Oakland Raiders didn't learn that athleticism in quarterbacks doesn't directly imply success. Which leads to....

2. JaMarcus Russell

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    The 2007 Sugar Bowl MVP, Russell dominated in college because of his size and arm strength.

    Taken first overall by the Raiders in that year's draft, Russell struggled mightily. He won just seven games as a starter before being cut in 2010.

    Part of Russell's problem was an admitted addiction to codeine syrup. But beyond his drug problems, the former LSU Tiger never had the tools to be a top-flight NFL quarterback.

    Arm strength doesn't correlate to success. Raiders owner Al Davis was enamored by his physical tools. Russell didn't have the discipline to study, nor the ability to read coverages or manage an offense.

    For most of his career, Russell looked more like an offensive lineman than a quarterback. With his weight approaching 300 lbs at times throughout his career, it was clear that Russell was not franchise-quarterback material.

    Oakland paid $32 million in guaranteed money for a 50.0 career passer rating, a 52.1 completion percentage and an 18-23 touchdown-interception ratio.

1. Ryan Leaf

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    One of the reasons why Leaf is the biggest bust of all time is simply the fact that he was drafted one spot behind one of the greatest quarterbacks in NFL history.

    Leaf's juxtaposition alongside Peyton Manning, almost by default, makes the Chargers' decision to take him No. 2 overall in 1998 seem that much more egregious.

    The Colts were criticized by some for taking Manning over Leaf. Obviously those critics were proven wrong.

    Leaf threw 36 interceptions to just 14 touchdowns before being waived in 2001. 

    His terrible relationship with the media was well-documented. Leaf famously attacked a San Diego Tribune reporter during his rookie season. He was also involved in several other verbal disputes, such as with general manager Bobby Beathard and safety Rodney Harrison.

    Leaf had stints in Dallas, Tampa Bay and Seattle, all of which had similar results to the San Diego experiment. 

    Leaf was a disaster--never fit to play quarterback in the NFL. He had neither the mind set, nor the physical tools. What's worse, Leaf's temper tantrums made him unbearable for teammates.

    Ryan Leaf is the biggest bust of all time.

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