Ranking The 10 Biggest NFL Draft Busts Ever
Every NFL Draft has its share of busts. Every year, players with high expectations fall short of their projections and teams are left wondering what went wrong. To be considered a major bust a player has to have been an early first-round pick and fallen not only short of projections but also out of the league within a few years.
Every player on this list had high hopes coming out of college, which is why they were all drafted so high. Some were expected to turn franchises around. All of them failed to do so.
Some potential busts — such as the Bears' Mitchell Trubisky, 49ers' Solomon Thomas and Dolphins' Josh Rosen — still have a chance to turn their careers around, so they don't make the list yet.
Injuries also play a major factor for a lot of these former college football stars. Some of them had more serious issues such as lack of effort, off-the-field issues and attitude problems.
Let's start with one of the biggest misses at wide receiver in draft history.
10. Kevin White
Kevin White was drafted seventh overall in the 2015 NFL Draft by the Chicago Bears. White had the size (6-foot-3) and the speed (4.35 40-yard dash) to be a franchise-changing wide receiver. However, that clearly didn't happen.
The pick the Bears used on White was certainly a waste. White ended his career with just 25 catches for 285 yards and had the same amount of touchdowns as myself and 99.99% of people reading this (zero).
White was definitely a bust, sure, but injuries played a huge role in that. The former West Virginia pass-catcher suffered three season-ending injuries in as many years. White was picked up by the Cardinals in 2019, but he was released before the end of training camp.
9. Akili Smith
Akili Smith was drafted by the Cincinnati Bengals third overall in the 1999 NFL Draft. An athletic dual-threat quarterback, Smith even played minor league baseball while in college. However, Smith’s NFL career was short lived.
The Oregon quarterback lasted just four seasons in Cincinnati. After that he tried out for Green Bay and Tampa Bay but never made the roster for either. In his career, Smith threw for just 2,212 yards and five touchdowns. He completed just 46 percent of his passes and threw 13 interceptions along with 13 fumbles.
Still, Smith was not even the biggest bust of the 1999 NFL Draft.
8. Ki-Jana Carter
Another Cincinnati Bengals selection, Ki-Jana Carter was the first overall pick in the 1995 NFL Draft. The Penn State product was a Heisman runner-up and the MVP of the 1995 Rose Bowl. After averaging 7.2 yards per carry in college, Smith didn't even come close to that in the NFL.
Carter rushed the ball 319 times in his NFL career for a lowly 1,144 yards, but he did score 20 touchdowns. His $19.2 million deal was a rookie record at the time.
Unfortunately, Smith tore a ligament in his knee on his third carry in his rookie preseason campaign. Carter then suffered season-ending injuries over the next three seasons.
If he had remained healthy, Carter may have been a solid back but sadly injuries made him one of the biggest busts in NFL history.
7. Andre Ware
Andre Ware was the seventh overall pick of the 1990 NFL Draft by the Detroit Lions. A Heisman winner and College Football Hall of Famer, Ware simply struggled to translate his game to the pros.
Ware threw for a measly 1,112 yards in his career. And he has just five career touchdowns to go with eight interceptions. After failing in the NFL, Ware tried taking his talents to Canada. He failed to succeed there as well as he compiled just 10 touchdowns with 10 interceptions and 1,542 passing yards.
Considering how talented and successful he was in college, Ware's major failure in the NFL was a bit of a shock.
6. Vince Young
Another highly successful college quarterback, Vince Young was drafted third overall by the Tennessee Titans in the 2006 NFL Draft. A Heisman runner-up and National Championship winner in college, Young was perhaps the most successful player in terms of an NFL career among the players on this list. However, he was still a bust considering how high his ceiling was to where he ended up.
Young threw 46 touchdowns to 51 interceptions in his career. He had 8,964 passing yards and 1,459 rushing yards — including a dozen rushing touchdowns.
After winning Offensive Rookie of the Year in 2006, Young’s career quickly went downhill. Following just four years in Tennessee, Young went to Philadelphia for one season and then failed to make the roster for three other teams.
After failing in the CFL as well, Young went from being the star of one of the best games in college football history to one of the biggest busts in NFL history.
5. Johnny Manziel
Johnny Manziel was drafted 22nd overall in the 2014 NFL Draft by the Cleveland Browns. Manziel was a dynamic college football player who put up ridiculous numbers at Texas A&M, all while standing just 5-foot-11.
While Manziel managed to do well in college with his small frame, that would prove to be trouble when he transitioned to the NFL. Of course, he had many other issues as well.
Manziel's NFL career was very short-lived. He tossed just seven touchdowns along with seven interceptions in his two NFL seasons.
After multiple legal issues, Manziel ended up playing football up in Canada. He was equally as unsuccessful there as he was in the NFL. Manziel threw just five touchdowns along with seven interceptions in his lone campaign in the CFL.
4. Tim Couch
Tim Couch was the first overall pick by the Cleveland Browns in the 1999 NFL Draft. He managed to lead Cleveland to their first playoff berth since their return to the NFL as an expansion team. However, that would be the lone highlight of his NFL career.
Couch threw for 11,131 yards, 64 touchdowns and 67 interceptions in his NFL career. After five years in Cleveland, Couch landed on the Green Bay Packers practice squad for a season and then three years later he made the Jacksonville Jaguars practice squad.
After his time in Cleveland, Couch never played in an NFL game again. That being said, Injuries played a major part in shortening Couch’s career.
3. Brian Bosworth
The Boz was drafted by the Seattle Seahawks during the 1987 NFL Supplemental Draft. He signed the largest rookie contract at the time — a 10-year, $11 million pact. Unfortunately for the former Oklahoma star, Bosworth's NFL career lasted just three seasons due to injury.
Bosworth was an excellent college football player and a two-time All-American. Thought to be a physically gifted athlete, his body couldn’t hold up in the NFL. He ended his career with just four sacks.
2. Ryan Leaf
Ryan Leaf was the second overall pick in the 1998 NFL Draft by the San Diego Chargers. Leaf is considered one of the biggest bust in sports history and his NFL stats will tell you why.
Leaf completed just 48.4 percent of his career passes in the NFL. He threw for 3,666 yards, 14 touchdowns and 36 interceptions. After three years in San Diego, Leaf managed to find a backup role in Dallas for one season.
Terrible performance mixed with a bad attitude and off-the-field issues, Leaf’s career was over just four years after he was drafted.
What makes Leaf an even bigger bust is that Peyton Manning was selected right before him.
1. JaMarcus Russell
JaMarcus Russell was the first overall pick by the Oakland Raiders in the 2007 NFL Draft. While he could throw a football as far as anyone in NFL history, Russell went down as arguably the worst quarterback to ever play. To make matters worse, the Raiders signed Russell to a deal worth $61 million.
In his three seasons with the Raiders, Russell went 7-18 as a starter. He threw 18 touchdowns and had 38 turnovers. His lack of work ethic and weight gain helped end his career early.
Russell lasted just those three seasons in Oakland and never played football again. It was clear that once Russell got his guaranteed money, he didn’t care about playing football anymore. Adding insult to injury to the Oakland Raiders.
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