NFL Draft Busts: A Look Back at the Worst Picks in History

Rob Goldberg@TheRobGoldbergFeatured ColumnistApril 25, 2013

3 Dec 2000:  Ryan Leaf #16 of the San Diego Chargers reacts during the game against the San Francisco 49ers at the Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego, California. The 49ers defeated the Chargers 44-17.Mandatory Credit: Stephen Dunn  /Allsport
Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

Every team hopes that the pick it makes in the first round will become a Hall of Famer. Unfortunately, many turn out to be huge busts.

Some players in history are now known as cautionary tales after short stints in the NFL. Current prospects only know their names as people not to replicate if they are selected highly.

It is tough to predict which players out of the 2013 draft could someday make this dubious list, but here are the men who were least able to live up to expectations coming out of college.

Akili Smith, QB, Cincinnati Bengals; 1999

It is possible to call the entire 1999 draft class a bust, especially at quarterback. It was considered one of the best quarterback classes of all time, with five selected in the first 12 picks.

Although No. 1 pick Tim Couch was out of the league in a hurry and No. 12 pick Cade McNown was not much better, Akili Smith earns this spot after being selected with the third overall pick.

The Bengals quarterback only had one real chance to shine as a starter, and he failed miserably. In 2000, he had 11 starts and completed only 44.2 percent of his passes. He threw only three touchdown passes during the year.

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In his four-year career, Smith had 17 starts and won only three of them. This is not what Cincinnati was hoping for with the No. 3 pick.

Tony Mandarich, OT, Green Bay Packers; 1989

There are plenty of players selected with the No. 2 overall pick that come in with high expectations. However, Tony Mandarich raised those hopes after being on the cover of Sports Illustrated.

The cover read, "the best offensive line prospect ever," although time proved that he was far from it.

Mandarich struggled through six seasons in the NFL and was moved around the offensive line before eventually calling it quits.

To make matters worse, the other four players selected in the top five of the 1989 draft all became Hall of Famers. It seems the Packers really made a mistake on this one.

Ryan Leaf, QB, San Diego Chargers; 1998

At this point, Ryan Leaf has almost become synonymous with the word "bust."

Heading into the 1998 NFL draft, Leaf and Peyton Manning were considered very close in talent level, and there was some question as to who the Indianapolis Colts would select with the top pick.

Manning ended up going first, and Leaf was taken No. 2 overall by the Chargers. Three years later, he was unemployed.

In 21 starts in the NFL, the Washington State star had a 4-17 record and a 14-36 touchdown-to-interception ratio. He also completed only 48.4 percent of his career passes. 

It did not take long for the Colts to realize they made the right choice.

Vernon Gholston, DE, New York Jets; 2008

This should serve as a warning for NFL teams that draft based on potential instead of production. 

At the NFL Scouting Combine, Vernon Gholston ran a 40-yard dash in 4.64 seconds and bench pressed the 225-pound bar an incredible 37 times (via AOL.com). These were incredible numbers, and the Jets could not wait to draft him with the No. 6 overall pick in the 2008 draft.

Unfortunately, he struggled to turn the athleticism into production and ended his three-year career with zero sacks. 

Despite Gholston's obvious lack of success, teams continue to hope that the next big, strong and fast athlete will turn out to be a great player at the next level. We have seen that this is not always the case.

Heath Shuler, QB, Washington Redskins: 1994

More often than not, the quarterback selected in the first round of the draft will get an automatic opportunity to start before he proves that he is capable of running the show.

Heath Shuler got his chance after being drafted with the No. 3 overall pick, but he quickly lost his job to Gus Frerotte. This would not be too bad, except for the fact that the new starter was selected in the seventh round of the same draft.

Shuler moved on to the New Orleans Saints, but did not find any more luck there, and ended his career after only 22 starts.

He finished with more than twice as many interceptions as touchdowns and officially had a longer run as a member of the United States Congress than as an NFL quarterback. Obviously, this is not how he thought he would spend his time in Washington D.C.

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