9 Biggest NFL Draft Busts
Every year, around draft time (right now), names get bandied about as precautionary tales of how not to utilize your draft picks. It should be no surprise, either, as NFL draft picks are worth their weight in gold in a league where the average career hovers somewhere around 16 minutes. This list is a little quarterback-heavy, but that should be no surprise, as they often get picked first, and have the highest expectations to live up to. But I’m equal opportunity, so let’s look at 9 instances where it all went wrong.
9. Akili Smith
The third pick by the Bengals in 1999, Smith didn’t make a name for himself by being atrociously awful, but rather by being so forgettable that he will forever be little more than one more misstep in the Bengals mediocre recent history. The quarterback lasted four year, throwing less than 500 attempts, and ending up with a rating of 52.8. Not the stuff dreams are made of. He kicked around the CFL, as so many draft busts do, before retiring altogether in 2007.
8. Matt Leinart
Few college players ever have had more going for them than Matt Leinart did. He decided to stick around USC for his Senior year, making him a fan favorite, and taking his team back to the championship, only to lose to Texas in one of the most exciting bowl games ever. However, once he got to Arizona, selected tenth, he never lived up to the hype. He played well, but fallouts with the coaching staff, as well as the decision to bench him in favor of Kurt Warner seemed to be a death blow from which he may never recover. Warner is currently serving as the back-up to Matt Schaub in Houston, and didn’t take a single snap all last year.
7. Alex Smith
Smith was taken 1st in the 2005 draft, which could also be known as bust-o-rama, featuring the likes of Cedric Benson, Pacman Jones, Mike Williams in just the first ten picks. Smith was the hope to which the 49ers grabbed onto in their darkest hour. Unfortunately, that hope was short-lived. Smith has seemed to fall just short of “competent” at the QB position. He hasn’t proved himself bad enough to warrant benching, which might actually be a liability, as his presence can virtually guarantee that the 49ers will never catch any postseason success.
6. Cedric Benson
The 4th pick in the 2005 draft showed lots of promise from his days at UT, but Benson couldn’t stop getting out of trouble. His abilities on the field were good (not great), but the image problems he created for the Bears couldn’t be ignored. He got with a boating-while-drunk charge that ended with him getting pepper-sprayed in 2008, then again that same year for driving drunk. He was waived by the Bears, and was picked up by the Bengals, though he got hit in 2010 with an assault charge for punching a bartender. Nice.
5. Tony Mandarich
This #2 pick out of Michigan State was thought to be a sure thing, as most offensive lineman are. However, he seemed to deflate after coming out of college, dropping almost 30 lbs, leading many to believe that he was juiced up during his collegiate days (my hunch is “yes”). Injuries sustained during his brief career back up that assessment, and he unceremoniously walked away from the league, mullet and all, three years after being drafted. It doesn’t help that the players drafted around him were Troy Aikman (1), Barry Sanders (3), Derrick Thomas (4), and Deion Sanders (5).
4. Pacman Jones
Good player, awful person. Really, just the worst. Drafted in 2005 as a CB from West Virginia, Pacman made a name for himself as a standout kick returner and solid coverage back. Actually, he made a name for himself by being a huge a$$hole, but he WAS a strong player. After repeated incidents off the field, Roger Goodell made an example out of Jones by suspending him for a year not for any particular transgression, but just for being a bad dude. Following the suspension, the Titans couldn’t get rid of Jones fast enough; he was traded to the Cowboys, where he did lots of great stuff like attack the bodyguard that was supposed to keep an eye on him.
3. JaMarcus Russell
The slightly-more-modern Ryan Leaf, Russell took all the goodwill he accumulated and pissed it away in very short order after his leap to the NFL. JaMarcus Russell held out the entire preseason, eventually wrestling $68mm away from the Raiders, with almost half of it guaranteed. They are probably kicking themselves for that decision. His third season, he was named the starter, so naturally he showed up to training camp 35 pounds overweight, as he had the previous year. The lack of dedication to his team was telling, and after getting pinched for possessing codeine cough syrup, or “purple drank,” Russell was shown the door after tossing 18 touchdowns and 23 INT’s. He’s currently a “free agent” (Unemployed).
2. Brian Bosworth
Before he won our hearts as a movie star in fare such as “Stone Cold,” The Boz was an utter disappointment for the Seattle Seahawks. Having left Oklahoma with an ungodly amount of hype, he ended up wallowing in the NFL, as the linebacking prodigy garnered only four sacks in three years. He did make a name for himself, however…when Bo Jackson ran his ass over for a touchdown on a Monday night game.
1. Ryan Leaf
The alpha and omega of draft busts. High expectations? Yup. Raw talent? Of course. Crappy work ethic? The worst. Sense of entitlement? Uh-huh. Trouble post-NFL? You bet!
Leaf is almost universally considered the biggest draft bust in NFL history. Picked behind Peyton Manning, Leaf lasted four years in the league compiling a miserable 50.0 QB rating and bouncing between practice squads and bench jobs for four teams over five years.
One must also factor in what the Chargers gave up to get this guy. They were sitting with the third pick, but to guarantee they got Leaf, they traded two first-round picks, a second-round pick, and Eric Metcalf to move up ONE SPOT to get Ryan. Whoops.
After making zero impression, Leaf was asked to be the Tampa Bay Buc’s fourth-string quarterback. I didn’t even know such a position existed. I thought the fourth-string quarterback was the punter.
And then he got busted with prescription painkillers while coaching at West Texas A&M in 2008. Awesome.