The Biggest Busts in NFL Draft History

Russell S. Baxter@@BaxFootballGuruContributor IApril 26, 2015

The Biggest Busts in NFL Draft History

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    Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press

    With less than one week to go before the 2015 NFL draft, it's do-or-die time for front offices. 

    Land a few studs with late-round picks and you look like a genius. Strike out on enough top-tier selections and your pink slip could be just around the corner.

    Since the NFL and AFL began drafting together in 1967, football fans have witnessed numerous would-be franchise saviors flaming out in epic fashion. Some rise to the top of the "historical busts" list, however.

    Since these all proved to be less-than-fortunate selections by their respective teams, we opted to go with an unlucky 13 choices here.

    To determine the top busts in common draft history, one must factor in a combination of how high the player was drafted and the performer's lack of impact on the organization, as well as how much a team gave up to acquire the player. Off-field issues played a role too.

    How can you possibly whittle down thousands of draft choices from almost 50 years to only 13 choices? Realistically, you can't, so feel free to chime in. It should make for a case of disappointing nostalgia.

13. Andre Johnson, T, Washington Redskins

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    Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports

    Year: 1996

    Overall Selection: 30

    School: Penn State

    Hey, don't blame us if we can't find any photos of former Penn State tackle Andre Johnson in his playing days with the Washington Redskins.

    There aren't any. The former Nittany Lion did not appear in a game in his rookie season with the club, and in the summer of 1997, he was cut loose by the team. He would wind up on the roster of the Detroit Lions later that year but saw no action.

    One year later, Johnson saw the field for the Lions in three games, and that was that in terms of his NFL playing days.

12. Kevin Allen, T, Philadelphia Eagles

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    Rusty Kennedy/Associated Press

    Year: 1985

    Overall Selection: 9

    School: Indiana

    The photo shows then-Philadelphia Eagles offensive lineman Kevin Allen cooling off during training camp in 1986, his second year in the league.

    Unfortunately, that's as much action as the Indiana University product would see that year and any season after.

    A mere 30 years ago, the Philadelphia Eagles made Allen the ninth overall pick in 1985. He would play in all 16 games and made four starts for Marion Campbell's team during his rookie campaign.

    However, things soon went awry for the talented former Hoosier, whose playing days in the National Football League would come to a sudden end.

    Per a report by Brian Schmitz of the Orlando Sentinel back in 1992, Allen was sentenced in 1987 to 15 years in prison after pleading guilty to raping a Massachusetts woman in September 1986. He was then banned for life from the NFL, but after serving 33 months of his sentence, he was released and eventually reinstated to play in 1991. But it was too late for Allen, as he failed to make it back to the NFL ranks.

11. Tim Couch, QB, Cleveland Browns

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    AMY SANCETTA/Associated Press

    Year: 1999

    Overall Selection: 1

    School: Kentucky

    After a three-year hiatus due to the fact that the original franchise relocated to Baltimore, a team known as the Cleveland Browns reappeared in the NFL in 1999.

    It continues to be a long haul back for the club. But it all started again with the first overall pick in the 1999 draft, quarterback Tim Couch. Many thought he could come in and eventually be the team's leader and signal-caller for quite some time.

    Well, "some time" would amount to 62 games (59 starts) in five seasons. Couch would finish with 11,131 career passing yards, 64 touchdown passes, 67 interceptions and a career 22-37 record as a starter. He was actually the team's primary starting quarterback (14 games) in 2002 when the team last made the playoffs, but Kelly Holcomb was the healthy body when it came to the AFC Wild Card Game at Pittsburgh that year, which Cleveland lost.

    While Couch can hardly be blamed for the franchise's lack of success since its return (the Browns have now gone through 23 starting quarterbacks since 1999…and counting), his failure to deliver as the first overall pick made for a disappointing career.

10. Tony Mandarich, T, Green Bay Packers

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    Year: 1989

    Overall Selection: 2

    School: Michigan State

    The top five picks in the 1989 NFL draft (and the teams that selected them) were as follows:

    1. QB Troy Aikman, UCLA (Dallas Cowboys)

    2. T Tony Mandarich, Michigan State (Green Bay Packers)

    3. RB Barry Sanders, Oklahoma State (Detroit Lions)

    4. LB Derrick Thomas, Alabama (Kansas City Chiefs)

    5. CB Deion Sanders, Florida State (Atlanta Falcons)

    You will notice the four players in bold are all members of the Pro Football Hall of Fame. The exception from that list is tackle Tony Mandarich, who appeared to be enshrined before his career ever began.

    Six years ago, Kory Kozak of gave us the story on the former Spartan, whose incredible bulk of a career was limited to only a small pile of memories.

    Yes, Mandarich would wound up having three respectable seasons with the Indianapolis Colts (and not the Packers) at tackle and mostly guard. However, it was his less-than-scintillating debut campaign in Green Bay (14 games, zero starts) and his underwhelming two seasons as the team's right tackle that remains the focus of his career.

9. Derrick Harvey, DE, Jacksonville Jaguars

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    John Raoux/Associated Press

    Year: 2008

    Overall Selection: 8

    School: Florida

    Off their last appearance in the playoffs in 2007, the Jacksonville Jaguars were looking to make quite a splash in the draft.

    Owners of the 26th overall selection that April, the team moved all the way up to the eighth spot to obtain University of Florida defensive end Derrick Harvey. The price was somewhat steep, since it involved the Jaguars giving up two third-round picks and a fourth-round selection.

    Unfortunately, Harvey's career in Jacksonville lasted a mere 47 games and added up to eight sacks. He was last seen failing to latch on with the Cincinnati Bengals in 2012—that after a five-game stint with the Denver Broncos in 2011 that resulted in zero sacks.

8. Keith McCants, LB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

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    Year: 1990

    Overall Selection: 4

    School: Alabama

    If you were a University of Alabama outside linebacker in the late 1980s or early 1990s, you would have some big expectations to live up to if you were fortunate enough to be drafted by an NFL team.

    In 1989, the Kansas Chiefs made Alabama LB Derrick Thomas the fourth overall pick. He would go on to earn NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year honors that year. His 11-year NFL career added up to 126.5 sacks, 41 forced fumbles, nine Pro Bowl invitations and eventual induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

    Top that, Keith McCants, who the Tampa Bay Buccaneers coincidentally took one year later with the fourth overall pick.

    In 16 games as a rookie, Thomas totaled 10 sacks. In 47 games with the Bucs, McCants would amass only 12 sacks. McCants closed his career with stints on the Houston Oilers and Arizona Cardinals, which would amount to 1.5 sacks in 41 additional games.

7. Vernon Gholston, OLB, New York Jets

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    Ed Betz/Associated Press

    Year: 2008

    Overall Selection: 6

    School: Ohio State

    You could make a strong case that Vernon Gholston has been the most famous bust in the recent history of the draft.

    Or is that infamous?

    The sixth overall selection by the New York Jets in 2008, the former Ohio State Buckeye failed to terrorize NFL quarterbacks like he did college offenses. He played in a total of 45 games for head coaches Eric Mangini and Rex Ryan and recorded zero sacks.

    Released by the club after three seasons, Gholston latched on with the Chicago Bears in 2011 and attempted to impress another defensive-oriented head coach in Lovie Smith. But the disappointing defender failed to make the team, and after brief dalliances with a couple more squads, thus ended an NFL career that accumulated more question marks than tackles.

6. Huey Richardson, DE, Pittsburgh Steelers

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    Year: 1991

    Overall Selection: 15

    School: Florida

    The late and great Chuck Noll's final season with the Pittsburgh Steelers proved to be 1991, a year in which the club finished the season with a disappointing 7-9 record.

    However, the real disappointment came in April when the franchise opted to draft University of Florida defensive end Huey Richardson. He appeared to be a perfect fit in the team's 3-4 defense, and the Steelers were looking for pass-rushing help.

    Richardson played 16 games for three teams, including only five contests during his rookie campaign. His days in Pittsburgh were indeed limited. In 1992, new head coach Bill Cowher realized the former Gator couldn't rush the quarterback and traded him to the Washington Redskins. Richardson suited up for a combined 11 contests in 1992 with the Redskins and New York Jets.

    You will notice there aren't any mentions of sacks.

5. Art Schlichter, QB, Baltimore Colts

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    Michael Conroy/Associated Press

    Year: 1982

    Overall Selection: 4

    School: Ohio State

    Yes, the Colts currently reside in Indianapolis. But when the franchise made quarterback Art Schlichter the fourth overall pick in the 1982 draft, the Colts were in the city that now calls the Ravens home.

    The former Ohio State Buckeyes star was in an unenviable position inheriting a team coming off a miserable year. In 1981, the Colts opened and closed the season with wins over the New England Patriots. In between, there were 14 straight losses.

    So the franchise and new head coach Frank Kush opted for Schlichter. His tenure with the franchise lasted three different seasons (1982, 1984-85) and a mere 13 games. Schlichter, who didn't start as a rookie, compiled an 0-6 lifetime record as a starter with the club (which moved to Indianapolis in 1984), throwing three touchdown passes compared to 11 interceptions.

    In 2008, Ben Houser of documented Schlichter's incredible off-field story. Schlichter developed a serious gambling problem, which resulted in his suspension from the league for the 1983 season. The Colts released him in 1985, and he never played another regular-season game in the NFL.

4. Charles Rogers, WR, Detroit Lions

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    CARLOS OSORIO/Associated Press

    Year: 2003

    Overall Selection: 2

    School: Michigan State

    A few years ago, it appeared one play by University of South Carolina defender Jadeveon Clowney made him a future No. 1 overall pick in the draft.

    Back in 2002 in a game versus the University of Notre Dame, Michigan State wide receiver Charles Rogers likewise produced a touchdown catch that will always remain highlight-worthy. It wasn't long afterward that the Detroit Lions made the talented wideout the second overall selection in the 2003 NFL draft.

    Three seasons, 15 games and only 36 catches (for 440 yards and four touchdowns) later, Rogers is regarded as one of the legendary busts in league history.

    Just over two years ago, Andy Hoag of wrote about the troubles of the former Spartan—a disappointing saga indeed. Not all of Rogers' "bust" status is his fault. He suffered a broken clavicle in back-to-back seasons in 2003 and 2004. However, the NFL then suspended him for four games in 2005 for violating the league's substance abuse policy. The Lions released him in 2006, and there were no takers among the other 31 teams.

3. JaMarcus Russell, QB, Oakland Raiders

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    Dino Vournas/Associated Press

    Year: 2007

    Overall Selection: 1

    School: LSU

    The physical specimen from LSU proved that having the tools doesn't amount to much when you are missing other variables.

    Quarterback JaMarcus Russell, measuring 6'6" and 260 pounds, was the first overall pick by the Oakland Raiders in the 2007 NFL draft. His career added up to 31 games in three seasons for the Silver and Black before they released him in 2010.

    Russell's resume reads as follows: a 7-18 record as a starter, 18 touchdown passes and 38 turnovers, including 23 interceptions. He was also sacked 70 times and fumbled on 25 occasions, losing 15 of those miscues. Those images of Russell being able to throw a football from one knee on his pro day were prophetic indeed.

    To his credit, Russell recently attempted a comeback in the league. As reported by NFL Media Insider Ian Rapoport back in October 2013, via Dan Hanzus of, the talented but disappointing performer fell short in his effort to return to the NFL that year.

2. Lawrence Phillips, RB, St. Louis Rams

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    BOB GALBRAITH/Associated Press

    Year: 1996

    Overall Selection: 6

    School: Nebraska

    Former University of Nebraska running back Lawrence Phillips has been back in the news recently for all the wrong reasons, as this Associated Press report points out (via

    Back in 1996, he was the sixth overall pick by the St. Louis Rams, who would trade future Hall of Fame running back Jerome Bettis to the Pittsburgh Steelers that same year.

    In 25 games with the Rams, the one-time Cornhusker totaled just 1,326 yards from scrimmage and scored 13 touchdowns, and St. Louis released Phillips in November 1997. He had brief stints with the Miami Dolphins and the San Francisco 49ers, as well as NFL Europe, but none of those were very successful.

    Unfortunately, his disappointing football career has now taken a back seat of sorts to his troubled personal life.

1. Ryan Leaf, QB, San Diego Chargers

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    Year: 1998

    Overall Selection: 2

    School: Washington State

    It was decision time for the Indianapolis Colts and general manager Bill Polian, who is on his way to induction in the Pro Football Hall of Fame this August.

    With the first overall selection in 1998, the Colts opted for University of Tennessee quarterback Peyton Manning over Washington State University's Ryan Leaf.

    Good career move? Well...

    While we are still waiting for Manning to conclude his impressive career, Leaf's ended long ago. In two seasons with the Bolts (1998 and 2000—he was out for all of 1999 with a shoulder injury), he completed just 48 percent of his passes and threw 13 touchdowns.

    Of course, there were also 33 interceptions, 20 fumbles (10 lost) and some emotional outbursts as well. After three years with the Chargers, the team released him. In 2001, he played four games for the Dallas Cowboys and was winless in three starts.

    And to make matters far worse, the Chargers gave up quite the price in moving up from the third overall spot in the draft that year to second to get the young quarterback. San Diego traded running back Eric Metcalf, linebacker Patrick Sapp, its first- and second-round picks in 1998 and first-round selection in 1999 to the Arizona Cardinals.

    It’s a pretty depressing story, to say the least.

    Unless otherwise noted, all player and team statistics come from and