The 50 Worst Draft Flops in Sports History
Last month, the Dallas Mavericks topped the Miami Heat in the NBA Finals in six games on the strength of a superstar and future Hall of Famer in Dirk Nowitski who was drafted with the 9th overall pick in the 1998 NBA Draft.
Dirk was selected eight spots after the inimitable Michael Olowokandi, who was selected with the first overall pick in the draft, and went on to average 8.3 points per game in exactly 500 career games over nine seasons.
We know that the selection of Olowokandi is one of the worst draft busts in sports history. But does he rank at or near the top of the worst draft busts in sports history?
Let's have a look.
50. Bo Jackson, RB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, No. 1 Overall, 1986
Yes, Bo Jackson was awesome. Of course, he did not do any of that for the Bucs, who took him with the first overall pick in the draft and then gave him a football-or-baseball ultimatum. He responded by choosing baseball, then once the Bucs forfeited their rights to him by failing to sign him, he signed with the Raiders.
So how do we define "flop"? The Bucs wasted the pick, even though the pick went on to be one of the most dynamic football players of all time.
In the end, it was the Kansas City Royals who probably should have given him the ultimatum, as his football career ended his baseball career.
49. Bill Bene, P, Los Angeles Dodgers, No. 5 Overall, 1988
Here’s the thing with Bill Bene (not that Bill Beane): in college, in college, he pitched 147.1 innings, gave up 92 earned runs (5.62 ERA), and walked more batters (133) than he struck out (108). But in a Junior Varsity game in 1988, he struck out nine batters in four innings in front of 55 scouts, and the rest was history.
Could Have Had: Jim Abbott (8), Robin Ventura (10), Tino Martinez (14) and Marquis Grissom (76)
48. Aundray Bruce, LB, Atlanta Falcons, No. 1 Overall, 1988
Coming out of Auburn, Aundray Bruce looked like a legitimately talented pass-rusher and drop-back linebacker. In one game against Georgia Tech, he famously intercepted three passes, returning one for a touchdown, and made 10 unassisted tackles. Nevertheless, Bruce never lived up to the hype in the NFL, recording only 32 sacks and 4 interceptions in his career with the Falcons and Raiders.
Could Have Had: Neil Smith (2), Tim Brown (6), Michael Irvin (11), Randall McDaniel (19)
47. Art Schlichter, QB, Baltimore Colts, No. 4 Overall, 1982
Could Art Schlichter have saved football in Baltimore? Actually, that is a myth; even by the best of expectations, the Colts already had a foot out the door before Schlichter ever took the field. Nevertheless, the selection of Schlichter could have saved football in Indianapolis if he could have managed better than a 46.2 rating as a second year QB in 1984.
Could Have Had: Mike Munchak (8), Marcus Allen (10)
46. Andre Ware, QB, Detroit Lions, No. 7 Overall, 1990
To be fair, we did not know then what we know now: that offenses like the Run and Shoot and later the Spread Offense can be very deceptive when it comes to assessing the future of seemingly talented college quarterbacks. Ware, much like David Klingler, Gino Torretta, Ty Detmer, Shaun King and Danny Weurfel could not translate high-flying success in college to the NFL.
Could Have Had: Richmond Webb (9), Anthony Smith (11), Renaldo Turnbull (14)
45. David Klingler, QB, Cincinnati Bengals, No. 6 Overall, 1992
"Hey, did you see the numbers that guy at the University of Houston is putting up? Amazing! I mean, yeah, sure, their last quarterback, Andre Ware, won the Heisman and has been a flop in the pros. But that must just be a character flaw, right? There's nothing about that offense that simply won't translate to the NFL, is there?"
Could Have Had: Troy Vincent, Marco Coleman, Tommy Maddox
44. Al Chambers, Seattle Mariners, No. 1 Overall, 1979
The Seattle Mariners, a team who in their history used the top overall picks on guys like Ken Griffey Jr., Alex Rodriguez and Mike Moore, really laid an egg with Al Chambers. But who could blame them? He was a big, 6’4” left-handed bat coming out of high school. In his second full season in the minors, he hit 20 home runs with 77 RBI and 92 walks in 134 Double-A games at the age of 20, but he never really progressed passed that point.
Could Have Had: Andy Van Slyke (6), Tim Wallach (10)
43. Akili Smith, QB, Cincinnati Bengals, No. 3 Overall, 1999
Akili Smith was the third quarterback taken in a somewhat hilarious class that included Tim Couch (1), Donovan McNabb (2), Daunte Culpepper (11), Cade McNown (12) and Shaun King (5). Of those guys, who certainly had wildly varied careers, Smith’s was by far the briefest, as he played in only 17 games over four seasons.
Could Have Had: Edgerrin James (4), Ricky Williams (5), Torry Holt (6), Champ Bailey (7), Jevon Kearse (16)
42. Bruce Pickens, CB, Atlanta Falcons, No. 3 Overall, 1991
Bruce Pickens came out of Nebraska as the number three pick in 1991, and his teammate, linebacker Mike Croel, went with the number four pick. Croel ended up with 24 career sacks in 102 career games, but Pickens came away with just two interceptions in four seasons.
Could Have Had: Eric Swann (6), Herman Moore (10), Kelvin Pritchett (20)
41. Bryan Bullington, P, Pittsburgh Pirates, No. 1 Overall, 2002
The Pittsburgh Pirates actually went with the new conventional wisdom with this pick, selecting a college pitcher with the number one overall pick at a time when baseball was starting to realize that spending the first overall pick on a high school pitcher had not borne much fruit. Bullington, nevertheless, has failed to impress at any level, while high school pitchers Zack Greinke, Cole Hamels and Matt Cain have become major league stars.
Could Have Had: B.J. Upton (2), Zack Greinke (6), Prince Fielder (7), Cole Hamels (17), Matt Cain (25)
40. Charles Rogers, WR, Detroit Lions, No. 2 Overall, 2003
A very talented wide receiver who had the misfortune to be drafted by the snake-bitten Detroit Lions.
Oh, and the misfortune of smoking so much marijuana that a judge ordered him to return most of his signing bonus.
Could Have Had: Andre Johnson (3), Terrell Suggs (10), Troy Polamalu (16)
39. Danny Ferry, F/C, Los Angeles Clippers, No. 2 Overall, 1989
The second overall pick in 1989, Danny Ferry had a long NBA career spent not starting, and not averaging very many points, rebounds or anything else per game. This was the beginning of a "white guys from Duke" backlash, as Christian Laettner, Bobby Hurley and J.J. Redick have all gone from NCAA superstars to NBA role players and bench warmers.
Could Have Had: Sean Elliott (3), Glen Rice (4), Tim Hardaway (14), Shawn Kemp (17)
38. Danny Goodwin, Chicago White Sox, No. 1 Overall, 1971
Danny Goodwin was the number one overall pick in 1975, and never came close to coming close. He played in 252 games over seven seasons, but never had more than 175 plate appearances in a season.
Once major league teams gave up the ghost on him as a major leaguer, he actually enjoyed a decent minor league career, hitting .313 with an OPS over .900.
Could Have Had: Dale Berra, Clint Hurdle, Lee Smith
37. Heath Shuler, QB, Washington Redskins, No. 3 Overall, 1994
Former University of Tennessee quarterback Peyton Manning is one of the NFL's greatest players of all time and headed for the Hall of Fame.
Former University of Tennessee quarterback Todd Helton is one of Major League Baseball's great hitters, and may be headed to the Hall of Fame.
Former University of Tennessee quarterback Heath Shuler had 15 touchdowns and 33 interceptions in four seasons, including two and 14 in one year with the Saints, and is now a Congressman.
Could Have Had: Trent Dilfer, Sam Adams, Johnnie Morton, Isaac Bruce
36. Joe Barry Carroll, Golden State Warriors, No. 1 Overall, 1980
In order to select Joe Barry Carroll with the number one overall pick in 1980, the Warriors sent the Boston Celtics Robert Parrish and the draft pick that was eventually used to pick Kevin McHale. In Boston, one of the greatest dynasties in sports history was born.
In Golden State, the players derisively referred to as "Joe Barely Cares" had a solid but ignominious NBA career.
Could Have Had: Kevin McHale (3), Andrew Toney (8), Kiki Vandeweghe (11)
35. Joey Harrington, QB, Detroit Lions, No. 3 Overall, 2002
One can only wonder what might have happened if Joey Harrington had been drafted by a team that knew how to build a team and develop talent, instead of using its number one picks on wide receivers in four out of six seasons.
Could Have Had: Quentin Jammer (4), Roy Williams, DB (8), Dwight Feeeney (11), Jeremy Shockey (14), Albert Haynesworth (15)
34.Johnathan Sullivan, DT, New Orleans Saints, No. 6 Overall, 2003
The Saints had two first round picks in the 2003 draft, which they traded up to the Arizona Cardinals for the number six overall. They Johnathan Sullivan, who played in 36 games over three seasons and recorded 1.5 sacks. The two picks were used on Bryant Johnson and Calvin Pace.
33. Josh Booty, SS, Florida Marlins, No. 5 Overall, 1994
One of the best high school football players in the country, but also one of the best baseball players, Josh Booty elected to go with baseball after he was guaranteed a then-record $1.6 million signing bonus. Booty was a total flop in minor league baseball, hitting below .200, and then turned his sights to football.
In 1999, he enrolled at LSU to play football, and spent two seasons with the Tigers before going to the NFL and enjoying the same success there that he had in baseball: none.
Could Have Had: Nomar Garciaparra (12), Paul Konerko (13), Jason Varitek (14)
32. Scott Scissons, New York Islanders, No. 6 Overall, 1990
Sometimes, in hockey, you just never know how things will turn out. The Islanders are not the only team that passed on Martin Brodeur in 1990.
Could Have Had: Derian Hatcher (8th), Keith Tkachuk (19th), Martin Brodeur (20th)
31. Josh Hamilton, OF, Tampa Bay Devil Rays, No. 1 Overall, 1999
Yes, Josh Hamilton is a Major League All Star, 2010 AL MVP, and one of the great comeback stories of all time.
But you were the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, who spent the first overall pick on him in the 1999 June draft, he was a bust.
Could Have Had: Josh Beckett (2), Barry Zito (9), Brian Roberts (50).
30. Kenneth Sims, DL, New England Patriots, No. 1 Overall, 1982
An All-American, the winner of the Lombardi Trophy and the winner of the AP Lineman of the Year, Kenneth Sims looked to all comers to be a force to be reckoned with in the NFL for a generation. It was not meant to be. After the New England Patriots spent the first overall pick on him in the 1982 draft, he disappointed on every level and earned the nickname "Game Day" because it was said that he had no interest in practice.
Could Have Had: Mike Munchak (8), Marcus Allen (10)
29. Kris Benson, Pittsburgh Pirates, No. 1 Overall, 1996
The number one overall pick in the 1996 draft, Kris Benson had some solid years but is better know for having a hot, if not overly obnoxious, wife. As of last season, Benson has had a solid but not great Major League career, going 70-75 with a 4.42 ERA in over 1200 innings pitched.
Could Have Had: Eric Chavez (10), Gil Meche (22), Jimmy Rollins (46)
28. LaRue Martin, C, Portland Trail Blazers, No. 1 Overall, 1972
Oh Portland. Those poor Trailblazers have forgotten more about bad draft picks than most of us will ever. By taking LaRue Martin with the first overall pick in the 1972 NBA draft, the Blazers deprived themselves of future Hall of Famers Bob McAdoo and Julius Erving.
27. Patrick Stefan, Atlanta Thrashers, No. 1 Overall, 1999
Patrick Stefan was the hockey equivalent of a highly-touted Japanese baseball player. Stefan was a dominant player in the Czech League whom many scouts, whether validly or not, projected to transfer well to North American hockey. It never really happened.
Meanwhile, with the second and third picks of the 1999 draft, Vancouver took the Sedin brothers.
Could Have Had: Daniel Sedin (2nd), Henrik Sedin (3rd), Henrik Zetterberg (210th)
26. Lawrence Phillips, RB, St. Louis Rams, No. 6 Overall, 1996
There are many reasons a player can be a bust: drug problems, injuries, being over-hyped.
Lawrence Phillips was not over-hyped, did not have trouble with injuries, and was not involved with drugs.
His own demons were his own worst enemies, and he squandered amazing talent because of his own personality issues.
25. Matt Anderson, Detroit Tigers, No. 1 Overall, 1997
Do not blame Matt Anderson being a bust. Blame the Detroit Tigers.
The Tigers chose Anderson with the first overall pick in 1997 out of Rice University. In 1998, he dominated Single-A and Double-A, combining to strike out 45 batters in 41 innings and posting a 0.66 ERA. Rather than sending him to Triple-A, the Tigers sent him straight to the Majors, where he performed quite well.
In 1999, Anderson broke camp with the Tigers, and despite a good start initially, he began to founder. They sent him to Triple-A, where he struggled mightily and then, for some reason, brought him back to the major leagues.
The Tigers failed to properly develop Anderson, and they have only themselves to blame.
24. Robert Traylor, F, Dallas Mavericks, No. 6 Overall, 1998
Here's what these two might have said to each other:**
Karl Malone: "Hey man, can you believe people compared you to me when you were drafted?"
Robert Traylor: "Aww man, that's cold. We look alike a little bit."
Could Have Had: Dirk Nowitzki (9), Paul Pierce (10).
**That dialogue was totally made up.
23. Quentin Coryatt, LB, Indianapolis Colts, No. 2 Overall, 1992
One would think that with the first two picks in the 1992 NFL Draft, the Indianapolis Colts would have been set for the foreseeable future, and on the precipice of greatness.
The two picks-spent on Steve Emtman and Quentin Coryatt-resulted in disaster. Emtman was oft-injured and then out of the league, and Coryatt simply never developed into the dominant defensive player he projected to be out of Texas A&M.
Could Have Had: Troy Vincent (7), Marco Coleman (12), Chester McClockton (16), Robert Porcher (26).
22. Michael Olowokandi, Los Angeles Clippers, No. 1 Overall, 1998
This was such an obviously bad picked of a big-size/no-skills/project-in-development big man that is hard to believe it was not the Portland Trailblazers that made the pick.
Could Have Had: Mike Bibby (2), Antawn Jamison (4), Vince Carter (5), Jason Williams (7), Dirk Nowitzki (9), Paul Pierce (10)
21. Russell Erxleben, K/P, New Orleans Saints, No. 11 Overall, 1979
Drafting a punter with the 11th pick in the draft?
At some point, you are forced to the conclusion that the New Orleans Saints just did not want to win.
Two picks later, the San Diego Chargers picked Hall of Famer Kellen Winslow.
20. Steve Chilcott, New York Mets, No. 1 Overall, 1966
The first, and to date one of only two, number one overall picks to never make it to the Major Leagues.
Steve Chilcott was a 17 year old catcher when the New York Mets made him the number one pick in 1966. Ironically, despite the disastrous pick, the Mets would find themselves winning the World Series just three years later.
Could Have Had: Reggie Jackson (2), Richie Hebner (15), Steve Garvey (60!)
19. Jason Bonsignore, Edmonton Oilers, No. 4 Overall, 1994
Here's a lesson for all you youngsters out there: if a major professional sports franchise spends a high draft pick on you, at the very least sign a contract. Bonsignore did not, got bumped around the league for a while, then disappeared.
A very unimpressive career he had.
Could Have Had: Jeff O’Neill (5th), Jeff Friesen (11th), Matthias Ohlund (12th)
18. Tony Mandarich, OL, Green Bay Packers, No. 2 Overall, 1989
The only reason more is not made of The Bust of Tony Madarich is that Brett Favre joined the Packers a couple of seasons later and ushered in a Green Bay Packers renaissance.
17. Steve Emtman, DE, Indianapolis Colts, No. 1 Overall, 1992
To be fair, Emtman should have been awesome, and if not for injuries he may have been.
Still, a bust is a bust.
Could Have Had: Troy Vincent (7), Marco Coleman (12), Chester McClockton (16), Robert Porcher (26).
16. Jonathan Bender, F, Indiana Pacers, No. 5 Overall, 1999
Jonathan Bender famously went for 31 points in the 1999 McDonald's All-American Game on national television, breaking the record held by none other than Michael freakin' Jordan.
At that point, the overhyping of this kid became inevitable.
Could Have Had: Wally Szczerbiak (6), Richard Hamilton (7), Andre Miller (8), Shawn Marion (9), Ron Artest (16), Manu Ginobili (54!)
15. Alexander Svitov, Tampa Bay Lightning, No. 3 Overall, 2001
Alexander Svitov is still a productive professional hockey player. Just not in the NHL, and he was certainly not worth the third overall pick in 2001.
Could Have Had: Mike Komisarek (7th), Pascal Leclaire (8th), Derek Roy (32nd)
14. Ki-Jana Carter, RB, Cincinnati Bengals, No. 1 Overall, 1994
Injury busts are hard to reconcile; it is one thing for a player to simply not pan out, or to all out suck. It is another thing altogether for the player to get hurt early in his career and never make good on his promise.
Ki-Jana Carter was the number one overall pick in the 1995 draft, and about as sure a thing as we have seen until he tore his ACL, a far more devastating injury back then, on the third carry of his first NFL preseason game.
Could Have Had: Steve McNair (3), Kerry Collins (5), Warren Sapp (12), Derrick Brooks (28)
13. Shawn Abner, New York Mets, No. 1 Overall, 1984
Shawn Abner was a six foot tall right-handed hitting high school outfielder when the New York Mets made him the number one pick in the 1984 draft. Ironically, despite the disastrous pick, the Mets again found themselves winning the World Series, this time two years later.
Could Have Had: Bill Swift (2), Jay Bell (8), Mark McGwire (10), Tom Glavine (47)
12. Tim Couch, QB, Cleveland Browns, No. 1 Overall, 1999
Tim Couch had a prolific college career at the University of Kentucky, which is in the SEC, of course, but at the end of the day . . . Kentucky?
The Cleveland Browns made him the top pick in the draft, and he lasted five seasons.
(Maybe I've been in Philadelphia too long, but I think that if you switched Couch and the second overall pick, Donovan McNabb, the Eagles still go to five NFC Championships, and McNabb washes out in five years. But that says more about how little I think of the Browns.)
11. David Clyde, Texas Rangers, No. 1 Overall, 1973
David Clyde was drafted number one overall by the Rangers in June of 1973 out of a high school in Houston, Texas, where he’d allowed three earned runs in 148 inning.
For reasons having less to do with baseball and more to do with the Rangers financial struggles and the excitement this kid had generated in Texas, Clyde made his first major league start on June 27, 1973, the same month he had been drafted; it was the first sellout in Arlington Stadium history. He allowed one hit and two earned runs in five innings while striking out eight (and walking seven).
In his second start, on July 2nd, he struck out six in six innings and allowed only four hits and one earned run. He remained with the Rangers for the remainder of the season, got tired around his eighth start (remember he’d already pitched 148 innings in high school that season), and finished the season with a 5.01 ERA. Struggles with control and injuries ensued, and the guy was out of baseball at 24.
Could Have Had: Robin Yount (3), Dave Winfield (4), Lee Mazzilli (14)
10. Alexandre Daigle, Ottawa Senators, No. 1 Overall, 1993
The 1993 NHL Draft was such a target rick environment, but Daigle was considered a player for whom tanking the season would be justified. Considered a can't-miss superstar-to-be, Daigle never came close to living up to the hype.
Could Have Had: Chris Pronger (2nd), Paul Kariya (4th), Saku Koivu (21st) to name a few.
9. Greg Oden, Portland Trailblazers, No. 1 Overall, 2007
Eventually, there will be a Hall of Fame All Star team of players the Portland Trailblazers passed on to draft inferior, notorious and infamous busts.
So far, that team is comprised of Michael Jordan, Dr. J., and, in the case of Greg Oden, Kevin Durant.
8. Rick Mirer, QB, Seattle Seahawks, No. 2 Overall, 1993
In order to draft the Notre Dame quarterback some were foolish enough to compare to Joe Montana with the secon pick in the 1993 NFL Draft, the Seattle Seahawks passed on Garrison Hearst (3), Willie Roaf (8), Lincoln Kennedy (9), Jerome Bettis (10), Robert Smith (21), and Dana Stubblefield (26).
7. Kwame Brown, Washington Wizards, No. 1 Overall, 2001
The first player taken in the vaunted 2001 NBA draft, which featured six (6) players out of the first 12 selected with no college experience. The others, Tyson Chandler (2), Pau Gasol (3), Eddy Curry (4), DeSagana Diop (8), and Vladimir Radmanovic (12), have all fared better than Brown, some wildly so.
Could Have Had: Other than the above mentioned, the Wizards could also have had Richard Jefferson, Zack Randolph, Tony Parker, or Gilbert Arenas.
6. Darko Milicic, F, Detroit Pistons, No. 2 Overall, 2003
Detroit Pistons General Manager Joe Dumars took Darko number two after Cleveland picked LeBron James with the first overall pick in the 2003 NBA draft.
The next three players taken--Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh, and Dwyane Wade--are all NBA superstars.
Dumars also passed on Kirk Hinrich, T.J. Ford, David West, and Josh Howard.
5. Brian Lawton, Minnesota Northstars, No. 1 Overall, 1983.
See that jersey he's holding? Lawton was the first player ever to ask for and wear number 98, an audacious stab at Wayne Gretzky, who famously wore number 99. It was all downhill from there.
Could Have Had: Sylvain Turgeon (2), Pat LaFontaine (3), Steve Yzerman (4), Tom Barrasso (5), John MacLean (6), Russ Courtnall (7), Andrew McBain (8), Cam Neely (9).
4. Brien Taylor, New York Yankees, No. 1 Overall, 1991
Scott Boras once said that Brien Taylor was the best high school pitcher he ever saw in his life, and maybe he could have been a star, if not for a tragic turn of events. The mild-mannered first overall pick in the 1991 MLB draft suffered a career altering injury while coming to his brother's aid in a fist-fight outside of a bar. He tore his labrum and suffered a separated shoulder, and was never the same.
Taylor is one of two players ever to be drafted number one overall and not make it to the big leagues.
3. Sam Bowie, Portland Trailblazers, No. 2 Overall, 1984
With the first overall pick in the 1984 NBA draft, the Houston Rockets selected Akeem Olajuwon, who went on to a Hall of Fame career and guided the Rockets to two championships.
With the second pick, the Portland Trailblazers took Sam Bowie, a serviceable 7'1" center who was coming off a less than dominant final year at Kentucky.
With the third pick, the Chicago Bulls made basketball history by selecting Michael Jordan, the cornerstone of one of the great franchises of all time.
2. JaMarcus Russell, QB, Oakland Raiders, No. 1 Overall, 2007
The bust by which all busts would be measured, if not for our Number One. JaMarcus Russell basically took his enormous signing bonus, decided he was good, and phoned it in for three seasons before being run out of football.
Could Have Had: Calvin Johnson, Adrian Peterson, Joe Thomas, Darrelle Revis
1. Ryan Leaf, QB, San Diego Chargers, No. 2 Overall, 1998
One of the greatest moments in People Who Get Paid Too Much to Talk About Sports history, before the 1998 NFL Draft many pundits had the temerity to wonder aloud whether Ryan Leaf or Peyton Manning would be the greater NFL quarterback.
A couple of underrated points:
1) Coming out of high school, many pundits thought Josh Booty was a better quarterback than Peyton Manning.
2) It isn't like the San Diego Chargers merely blew a No. 2 overall on Leaf. They traded up from number three to get that pick, and in order to move up just one spot in the draft they sent the Arizona Cardinals two first round picks, a second round pick and four time Pro Bowler Eric Metcalf.
The real shame of it is, this was a positively loaded draft. Take a look:
Could Have Had: Charles Woodson (4), Grant Wistrom (6), Kyle Turley (7), Greg Ellis (8), Fred Taylor (9), Tra Thomas (11), Keith Brooking (12), Takeo Spikes (13), Jason Peter (14), Vonnie Holliday (19), Randy Moss (21), Alan Faneca (26), Flozell Adams (38), Patrick Surtain (44), Samari Rolle (46), Hines Ward (92), Az-Zahir Hakim (96), Matt Hasselbeck (187)
Yes, that's Matt Hasselbeck, taken in the sixth round with the 187th overall pick.