Ranking the Worst Draft Picks in NFL History
Every NFL team has its fair share of draft busts.
Even the greatest talent evaluators in the history of the league have missed on first-round picks from time to time. Here, we are taking a look at the top-10 draft busts in NFL history.
Each bust is ranked by his level of play in the NFL, the players taken after him and the overall impact on the franchise.
10. QB Jake Locker, Tennessee Titans
No. 8 pick in 2011
The Tennessee Titans' whiff on quarterback Jake Locker in one of the least talked about draft busts in NFL history.
Locker was selected No. 8 in 2011 in what happened to be one of the best drafts in the past decade. Heading into the 2010 college football season, Locker was widely regarded as a potential No. 1 pick. But after failing to complete better than 56 percent of his passes as a senior, he "fell" to the Titans.
Locker started just 23 games in his NFL career, completing 57.5 percent of passes with a passer rating of 79. He was never accurate or consistent enough to warrant a starting job.
After four seasons in the NFL, he retired in 2015, as he wasn't able to garner any interest on the free-agent market after dealing with injuries throughout his career. Making matters worse, Tyron Smith and J.J. Watt were two of the next three picks to come off the board.
9. QB Heath Shuler, Washington Redskins
No. 3 pick in 1994
Heading into the 1994 draft, Heath Shuler was viewed as a "can't-miss" quarterback prospect, and for good reason. He was the 1993 SEC Player of the Year at Tennessee, throwing 25 touchdowns to just eight interceptions. In his final collegiate season, he finished second in the Heisman Trophy voting, just behind the dynamic Charlie Ward from Florida State.
He entered the draft in 1994, where the Washington Redskins selected him third overall, just after Dan Wilkinson and Marshall Faulk. At the time, it was considered a steal, as they grabbed a top quarterback prospect without having to move up.
Shuler started just 13 games for the Redskins, completing under 48 percent of his passes in his career with the team. He was eventually traded to the New Orleans Saints before the 1997 season and made just nine starts before calling it a career. He finished his four-year career with a passer rating of 54.3.
8. RB Ki-Jana Carter, Cincinnati Bengals
No. 1 pick in 1995
Not too long ago, taking a running back first overall wasn't considered taboo. However, more often than not, that strategy proved to be unwise, as was the case in 1995.
Ki-Jana Carter was dominant at Penn State, rushing for 2,565 yards and 30 touchdowns in his last two seasons with the Nittany Lions. During his final year, he rushed for 1,539 yards and 23 touchdowns in just 11 games.
He finished second in the Heisman Trophy voting, just behind Rashaan Salaam from Colorado. And he went on to be the No. 1 pick in the draft, selected ahead of the likes of Tony Boselli, Steve McNair, Kerry Collins, Kevin Carter and Warren Sapp.
Carter was injured during the preseason on his third career carry, tearing his ACL. While he returned the following year, he averaged just 2.9 yards per carry on 91 rushes. Carter played in 59 games over seven seasons, but he was never anything more than a reserve player. He finished his career with just 1,144 rushing yards on 319 carries (3.6 yards per rush).
Carter was never able to be the player he was during his career at Penn State after his injury.
7. OL Tony Mandarich, Green Bay Packers
No. 2 pick in 1989
Offensive linemen are usually regarded as safe prospects at the top of drafts. However, Tony Mandarich was viewed as much more. He was thought of as a generational talent, as Sports Illustrated dubbed him "the best offensive line prospect ever."
Instead, he was released by the Packers after only three years, and he also struggled with steroid use during his career.
Mandarich was the only player selected inside of the top five of the 1989 draft who did not go on to have a Hall of Fame career (Troy Aikman, Barry Sanders, Derrick Thomas and Deion Sanders).
Mandarich is indeed one of the biggest draft busts of all time; however, he doesn't deserve to be on the top of these kinds of lists. He played six seasons in the NFL, starting 63 games. He went on to become an average guard in Indianapolis, starting 32 games for the Colts.
While he certainly didn't live up to expectations, Mandarich turned into a semi-useful player for at least a few seasons.
6. QB David Klingler, Cincinnati Bengals
No. 6 pick in 1992
David Klingler, selected by the Cincinnati Bengals in 1992, is one draft whiff who doesn't get enough attention.
He put up historic numbers during his college career at Houston, such as throwing for 716 yards in a single game. He also had a contest against Eastern Washington University where he threw a then-record 11 touchdowns. In total, he threw for 9,430 yards and 91 touchdowns in 32 games.
As the No. 6 pick, he was expected to be the successor to Boomer Esiason, who threw just 13 touchdowns in 1991 and was later traded to the New York Jets. However, Klingler wound up being a disaster, starting just 24 games in Cincinnati and throwing 16 touchdowns against 22 interceptions.
He later signed with the Raiders but never started a contest. Klingler finished his career with a passer rating of 65.1 and was out of the league after six seasons. 1992 wasn't a great draft, but the Bengals struck out big time.
5. QB Tim Couch, Cleveland Browns
No. 1 pick in 1999
Tim Couch, selected one pick ahead of Donovan McNabb, is just one of the many draft busts at quarterback for the Cleveland Browns.
Coming out of Kentucky, Couch was considered a generational talent. During his final year in the SEC, he threw 36 touchdowns to 15 interceptions while completing more than 72 percent of his passes. Not only was he accurate, but he was cool under pressure, and the game never seemed too big for him.
He was a no-brainer top pick after his fantastic junior season.
Couch was thought of as the future face of the Browns, but he never came close to expectations in five seasons. He started 59 games for the Browns, winning just 22 of those contests. He finished his career with a passer rating of 75.1 and completed fewer than 60 percent of his passes.
Couch wasn't as atrocious as some of the other quarterbacks on this list, but he came in with so much hype that he warrants inclusion.
4. QB Akili Smith, Cincinnati Bengals
No. 3 pick in 1999
After the Browns selected Tim Couch at No. 1 and the Eagles took Donovan McNabb at No. 2, the Cincinnati Bengals decided to try their hand again at selecting a franchise quarterback. They opted for Akili Smith ahead of Edgerrin James, Ricky Williams, Torry Holt and Champ Bailey.
The Bengals were taking a chance on a run-and-shoot quarterback from Oregon, as Smith had a career completion percentage of just 56.6 and only started 23 career games. He was a raw talent who needed time to develop.
Smith was forced into action as a rookie, and it was a disaster. In four starts (seven games), he completed just 52.3 percent of his passes, throwing two touchdowns to six interceptions. He finished his career starting just 17 total games for the Bengals over four seasons.
He completed just over 46 percent of his passes and threw only five touchdowns in his career. He averaged a putrid 4.8 yards per attempt and a passer rating of 52.8 while being sacked 59 times in 22 total appearances.
After four seasons, Smith was released and never played another game in the NFL.
3. WR Charles Rogers, Detroit Lions
No. 2 pick in 2003
Typically, it's quarterbacks who fill top-10 draft bust lists. However, former Detroit Lions receiver Charles Rogers is one of the few position players who deserves to be here.
Rogers was a stud in college, catching 135 passes for 2,821 yards and 27 touchdowns in just two years at Michigan State. At 6'2", 202 pounds, he ran a 4.40 at the combine, and he looked like he had the potential to be the next Randy Moss.
However, he was never able to produce in the NFL and started his career on the wrong foot. He broke his collarbone as a rookie and then again during his second year in the NFL. Outside of just his physical health, Rogers failed multiple drug tests during his short career.
He played in just 15 games during his NFL career, catching 36 passes for 440 yards and four touchdowns. After three seasons in the NFL, he never played another game. While he showed promise early in his career, Rogers was never able to put it together for more than a few plays at a time.
Considering all of the hype and potential, Rogers has to be considered one of the biggest draft busts of the modern era.
2. QB Ryan Leaf, San Diego Chargers
No. 2 pick in 1998
Without a doubt, Ryan Leaf is one of the biggest draft busts in NFL history. He was also taken one pick after future Hall of Famer Peyton Manning.
Believe it or not, there was a healthy amount of discussion leading into the draft as to who the Indianapolis Colts should take No. 1 overall. Leaf had the stronger arm, but Manning was the better leader and more accurate.
Leaf lasted just three seasons in the NFL, starting 21 games. He finished his career 4-17 with a career passer rating of 50. He completed 48.4 percent of his passes while throwing only 14 career touchdowns against 36 picks.
Leaf injured his shoulder during the second year of his career, and his arm was never quite the same. But outside of just his play, many questioned his work ethic and his emotional maturity. This all came to a head during his rookie season when he screamed at reporter Jay Posner on camera.
Considering his play and off-field troubles, Leaf has a case to being the biggest draft bust of all time, especially when considering who was selected just before him.
1. QB JaMarcus Russell, Oakland Raiders
No. 1 pick in 2007
Without a doubt, JaMarcus Russell of the Oakland Raiders is the biggest draft bust of all time. With his massive size (6'6", 265 lbs) and golden arm (28 TDs as a junior at LSU), Russell had all the talent in the world to become an elite quarterback.
However, he was never able to make the transition to the NFL, and he was out of the league after three seasons. He struggled throughout his career with his weight and admitted drug use.
In his 31 career games, Russell threw just 18 touchdowns to 23 interceptions and completed only 52.1 percent of his passes. Oakland won just seven of his 25 career starts as he proved to be a highly inefficient passer.
What makes this such a bad pick for the Raiders is they passed up on a few generational talents. Calvin Johnson and Joe Thomas were the two picks immediately after Russell, and Adrian Peterson, Patrick Willis, Marshawn Lynch and Darrelle Revis were selected a few picks later.
It's going to be tough for anyone to become a bigger draft bust than Russell.