Ranking the 7 Biggest NFL Draft Mistakes of the Past 10 Years
With the 2022 NFL draft approaching, it's important to remember one thing: While the event is and should be about hope, mistakes will be made.
Those can go far beyond simply picking a player who doesn't pan out. Trading assets or passing on a perennial All-Pro can make a draft bust seem worse in retrospect. Just look back to the 2007 draft, when the then-Oakland Raiders passed on Joe Thomas, Calvin Johnson and Adrian Peterson to select JaMarcus Russell No. 1 overall.
Few draft mistakes have been as bad as the Russell pick, but we've seen our fair share over the past 10 years. And guess what? We're here to examine the worst of the worst since 2012.
These seven players haven't panned out, but that's only part of the equation. We're looking at the draft-day decisions as a whole, so factors such as prospects available at the time of the pick and trade terms, where applicable, are also involved.
7. Dion Jordan, Miami Dolphins (2013)
The entire 2013 draft class was underwhelming. This is why the Miami Dolphins' decision to take Dion Jordan third overall doesn't place higher on our list. Still, Miami's decision wasn't a smart one. The pass-rusher flashed plenty of physical ability at Oregon, but he was unpolished, undersized and coming off shoulder surgery.
"When I see [Jordan] play, I see a raw Aldon Smith," then-NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock said. "He needs to gain 20 pounds [to fill out his 6'7" frame]."
Jordan was far from a sure thing, and yet Miami traded up nine spots to secure him. The deal wasn't overly costly—Miami dealt the 12th pick and the 42nd pick to the Raiders—but moving up wasn't free.
Three-time Pro Bowler Lane Johnson was selected one spot after Jordan, and the Dolphins could have landed Pro Bowl defensive lineman Sheldon Richardson by staying put at No. 12. By surrendering the 42nd pick, Miami also missed out on Kiko Alonso, Kawann Short and Jamie Collins, all defenders with more fruitful careers than Jordan.
Jordan posted just three sacks in two seasons with the Dolphins. He was suspended for all of 2015 for violation of the league's substance-abuse policy and didn't get on the field in 2016. Miami released him in April 2017. He didn't reemerge until that season with the Seattle Seahawks, and he last appeared in 2020 with the San Francisco 49ers, finishing with 13.5 career sacks in 63 games.
6. John Ross, Cincinnati Bengals (2017)
The Cincinnati Bengals didn't trade up in the 2017 draft to select receiver John Ross. However, taking him ninth overall was still a mistake for a couple of reasons.
For one, receiver was not Cincinnati's biggest need. The Bengals had a Pro Bowler in A.J. Green and solid complementary options in Tyler Boyd and Brandon LaFell. Secondly, Ross was far from a perfect pass-catching prospect.
Yes, he was fast—he posted a record 4.22-second 40-yard dash at the combine. He also had 17 touchdowns and 1,150 yards in his final season at Washington. However, he was an undersized player (5'11", 188 lbs) with little play strength, a lack of polish and serious injury concerns.
Ross suffered a torn MCL in 2014 and then missed the entire 2015 season with a torn ACL. Picking him in the top 10 was a serious gamble.
That didn't pay off for Cincinnati. Ross didn't catch a pass as a rookie and logged only 51 receptions in four seasons with the Bengals. His best year with the club came in 2019, when he caught 28 passes for 506 yards and three touchdowns.
Ross is still in the league and appeared in 10 games with the New York Giants last season. However, Cincinnati passed on Pro Bowlers Marshon Lattimore, Marlon Humphrey, Jonathan Allen and T.J. Watt to draft him.
Cincinnati wasn't in the quarterback market at the time, as Andy Dalton was coming off a Pro Bowl campaign, but it also passed on Patrick Mahomes and Deshaun Watson to take Ross.
5. Saquon Barkley, New York Giants (2018)
The New York Giants used the No. 2 pick in the 2018 draft on former Penn State running back Saquon Barkley—which, at the time, didn't seem like a mistake at all.
The Giants believed they could contend while rolling out a 37-year-old Eli Manning at quarterback. Barkley was widely considered a generational talent too. NFL.com's Lance Zierlein called Barkley an "every-down running back with the ability to alter the course of an offense and become a face of the franchise-type player."
And in his first season, Barkley lived up to expectations. He rushed for 1,307 yards, caught 91 passes for 721 yards and scored 15 total touchdowns. However, injuries have since derailed his career, and Barkley has appeared in only 28 games over the past three seasons.
Injuries are hard to predict, though, and New York's mistake wasn't picking this particular running back. The Giants erred by targeting an interchangeable position second overall. By doing so, the Giants passed on Pro Bowl quarterbacks Josh Allen and Lamar Jackson. Pro Bowl running back Nick Chubb, meanwhile, was available with New York's second-round pick.
Manning had little left in the tank, and New York used the No. 6 pick on quarterback Daniel Jones a year later. Allen and Jackson are top-tier signal-callers, while New York appears unlikely to exercise the fifth-year option in Jones' contract.
"It seems likely they will pass since he's yet to show any real consistency in his first three seasons as a starting quarterback and it would mean guaranteeing him $20-plus million for 2023," Jordan Raanan of ESPN wrote.
Barkley is entering his fifth year and could return to Pro Bowl form if healthy. However, he cannot carry the franchise like an elite quarterback can, and that's a huge problem for a team that hasn't been above .500 since it drafted Barkley.
4. Paxton Lynch, Denver Broncos (2016)
At least the Giants have gotten a Pro Bowl campaign and two 1,000-yard seasons out of Barkley. The Denver Broncos cannot say the same about this draft mistake.
In 2016, Denver traded a third-round pick to Seattle to move from No. 31 to No. 26 and select Memphis quarterback Paxton Lynch. It was a reach for a raw prospect with footwork and accuracy issues.
"So much of what the Tigers did was a tunnel screen or one-read route, so Lynch had his hand held in terms of decision-making," draft analyst Matt Miller wrote for Bleacher Report. "The transition from Memphis to the NFL is a big one, and combined with his accuracy and footwork issues, it makes him a second-round prospect."
By trading up from the last pick in Round 1—the New England Patriots forfeited their first-round pick as part of the punishment for the deflated-football scandal—Denver passed on Pro Bowlers Xavien Howard, Chris Jones and Derrick Henry.
The Broncos also passed on Pro Bowl quarterback Dak Prescott, though he was a fourth-round pick and passed over by several quarterback-needy teams. In fact, the Dallas Cowboys only settled on Prescott after missing out on Lynch.
Dallas lucked into finding a high-end starter, while Lynch was a blunder. He lasted just two seasons in Denver, made four starts and a 1-3 record. He hasn't appeared in a regular-season game since 2017 and is currently a member of the USFL's Michigan Panthers.
3. Mitchell Trubisky, Chicago Bears (2017)
Mitchell Trubisky has done more in the NFL than Lynch ever did, and to be fair, he's the most accomplished pro on this list. The North Carolina product was a 2018 Pro Bowler and has a 29-21 record as a starter.
However, the Chicago Bears' decision to trade up and take Trubisky second overall in 2017 was still a major mistake.
For one, Chicago didn't need to trade up for Trubisky. The Bears sent the 67th and 111th picks, as well as a 2018 third-rounder, to the San Francisco 49ers to move up a single spot. The 49ers had no interest in Trubisky—according to Peter King, then writing for Sports Illustrated—and thought Chicago was targeting defensive lineman Solomon Thomas.
The Bears had signed Mike Glennon to a three-year, $45 million contract earlier in the offseason.
Trading up for a one-year college starter when it wasn't necessary was bad. Making Trubisky the first quarterback taken in the draft was worse. By doing so, Chicago passed on both Watson and Mahomes.
Trubisky had a winning record in Chicago but wasn't consistent enough to stick. He has a career passer rating of just 87.0, spent last season as the Buffalo Bills' backup and will next compete for the starting job with the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Chicago, meanwhile, just rolled the first-round dice on another quarterback last offseason when it traded up to land Justin Fields.
2. Roberto Aguayo, Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2016)
While trading up for and missing on a quarterback hurts, it happens. Teams will routinely swing big for signal-callers because it's the most vital position in football. The same cannot be said for kickers.
This makes the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' decision to draft Roberto Aguayo in the second round of the 2016 draft one of the worst draft decisions ever. The only real way to defend the move is to note that Tampa needed a kicker, and Aguayo was considered a strong prospect. Zierlein wrote the following:
"Burst onto the college scene by winning the Lou Groza Award as a redshirt freshman and performing at a high level during the Seminoles' run under Jameis Winston. Aguayo is considered an accurate, clutch kicker but with average leg strength. Aguayo is the first kicker to declare early for the draft since Sebastian Janikowski and is expected to be drafted, though not as early as 'Seabass' was."
Aguayo wasn't drafted in the first round like Janikowski, but Tampa traded its third- and fourth-round picks to the Chiefs to take him 59th overall. Kickers are important, but their positional value doesn't justify such a trade.
And Aguayo barely provided any value. In one season with the Buccaneers, he made just 71 percent of his field-goal attempts and missed two extra points. He was released a year later and hasn't appeared in a regular-season game since.
Making the decision even worse is the fact that Wil Lutz—who has played five seasons with the rival New Orleans Saints and was a Pro Bowler in 2019—went unselected in this same draft.
1. Johnny Manziel, Cleveland Browns (2014)
With the biggest draft mistake since the Raiders took Russell, the Cleveland Browns used the 22nd pick in 2014 on Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel. They traded a third-rounder to the Philadelphia Eagles to move up from No. 26 and secured a prospect with a Heisman Trophy but many question marks.
At 6'0" and 207 pounds, Manziel was an undersized, unorthodox dual-threat passer who lacked polish, leadership skills and a commitment to the sport.
"Still must prove he is willing to work to be great, adjust his hard-partying, Hollywood lifestyle and be able to inspire his teammates by more than his playmaking ability," Nolan Nawrocki wrote in a predraft profile for NFL.com. "Overall character, leadership ability and work habits will define his NFL career."
Manziel's work habits in the NFL were virtually nonexistent. He lasted just two seasons in Cleveland and in the NFL and went 2-6 as a starter.
The next two quarterbacks taken in the 2014 draft, Teddy Bridgewater and Derek Carr, have both been to the Pro Bowl. Carr is entrenched as the Raiders starter and just took his team to the postseason. Manziel is gearing up for a second season with Fan Controlled Football.
What makes the drafting of Manziel worse is that Cleveland was initially in on Carr.
"They really love him. The feeling with many in football is that Cleveland will take Carr with its 26th pick," Mike Freeman wrote for Bleacher Report before the draft.
However, Franchise owner Jimmy Haslam, who took over the team in 2012, intervened. According to ESPN's Seth Wickersham, then-GM Ray Farmer traded up for Manziel instead of taking Bridgewater or Carr as a "concession" to the owner.
The result was one of the worst picks of the expansion-era Browns and another stop on Cleveland's path of passer purgatory.