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12 Biggest NFL Draft Busts Of All Time

by: Esteban On  Friday, April 27, 2012

nfl draft busts

Last night, after months of speculation and intrigue, the 2012 NFL Draft finally got underway. And though there were a few surprise swaps just before things got underway, the top 2 picks went exactly as forecasted: Stanford’s Andrew Luck went to the Colts at #1, and Baylor’s Robert Griffin III went to the Redskins at #2.

But while these two QBs seem like slam dunks, history tells us that there really is no such thing. Guys like Joe Montana and Tom Brady were drafted 82nd and 199th respectively, while losers like Akili “Who?” Smith went in the top 5.

Today, in honor of this year’s draftees—a number of whom are bound to be disappointments—we present to you the 12 Biggest NFL Draft Busts of All Time.

Check it out, and let us know if we missed any big ones.

12. Lawrence Phillips

#12 lawrence phillips nfl draft bust
Year: 1996

College: Nebraska

Drafted: 6th overall

Team: Rams

Position: RB

Career Stats: 4 seasons, 1453 rushing yards, 14 TDs

The Rams knew Phillips had “character issues” when they drafted him—he had a tendency to beat up his female companions. But I guess they thought they could change him. (They couldn’t.)

Could have had: Eddie George (RB), Marvin Harrison (WR), Ray Lewis (LB)

11. Akili Smith

#11 akili smith nfl draft bust
Year: 1999

College: Oregon

Drafted: 3rd overall

Team: Bengals

Position: QB

Career Stats: 4 seasons, 17 starts, 2212 passing yards, 5 TDs, 13 Int, 52.8 QB rating

Akili played four seasons for Cincinnati, one of them (2000) as their designated starter. It wasn’t pretty. He passed for 1,253 yards and 3 TDs all year.

Could have had: Edgerrin James (RB), Tory Holt (WR), Daunte Culpepper (QB)

10. Tim Couch

#10 tim couch nfl draft bust
Year: 1999

College: Kentucky

Drafted: 1st overall

Team: Browns

Position: QB

Career Stats: 5 seasons, 62 games, 11131 yards, 64 TDs, 75.1 QB rating

Compared to Akili Smith, Tim Couch is Eli Manning. Problem was, he was drafted #1 overall to be the franchise QB that would lead Cleveland out of the desert and into the promised land. And that just didn’t happen. With that career 75.1 rating he would have made an average backup, but because he got the nasty “draft bust” label, he never found work again after being dumped by the Browns.

Could have had: Donavan McNabb (QB), Edgerrin James (RB), Tory Holt (WR), Daunte Culpepper (QB)

9. Courtney Brown

#9 courtney brown nfl draft bust
Year: 2000

College: Penn State

Drafted: 1st overall

Team: Browns

Position: DE

Career Stats: 6 season, 61 games, 156 tackles, 19 sacks, 0 Pro Bowls

After selecting Couch with the #1 pick in ’99, the Browns blew it again in 2000. Courtney Brown was a serviceable, replacement level DE in the NFL. But he was selected #1 overall by the Browns, so that makes this 0-time Pro Bowler a total bust. It wasn’t that deep of a draft year, but there were at least two future Pro Bowl DEs available…

Could have had: Shaun Ellis (DE), John Abraham (DE), Brian Urlacher (LB), Shaun Alexander (RB)

8. Aundray Bruce

#8 aundray bruce nfl draft bust
Year: 1988

College: Auburn

Drafted: 1st overall

Team: Falcons

Position: LB

Career Stats: 11 seasons, 151 games, 42 starts (!), 264 tackles, 32 sacks, 0 Pro Bowls

In fairness to Mr. Bruce, he did have a long NFL career. A very long, very mediocre, NFL career.

Could have had: 6x Pro Bowler Neil Smith (DE), 5x Pro Bowler Sterling Sharp (WR)

7. Art Schlichter

#7 art schlichter nfl draft bust
Year: 1982

College: Ohio State

Drafted: 4th overall

Team: Colts

Position: QB

Career Stats: 3 seasons, 13 games, 6 starts, 1006 yards, 3 TDs, 11 Int, 42.6 QB rating

Art had a gambling problem. It was so bad that, instead of charting plays on the sidelines of games like the backup QB was supposed to do, he would be charting over/unders. The league suspended him in 1983, and he played just two more years after that.

Could have had: Jim McMahon (QB), Gerald Riggs (RB), Chip Banks (LB)

6. Tom Cousineau

#6 tom cousineau nfl draft bust 3
Year: 1979

College: Ohio State

Drafted: 1st overall

Team: Bills

Position: LB

Career Stats: 6 seasons, 66 games, 6.5 sacks, 10 Int, CFL All-Star, CFL Grey Cup MVP

Wait, what? CFL All-Star? Grey Cup MVP? Yep, after being drafted by the Bills in ’79, Cousineau held out for more money and eventually decided to head north and play for the Montreal Alouettes. When he decided he wasnted to return to the NFL, the Bills still had his rights but wanted no part of this prima donna. So they traded him to Cleveland for their first round pick in ’83 (14th overall). With that they chose Hall of Fame QB Jim Kelly.

So even when they don’t have the #1 pick in the draft, the Cleveland Browns end up taking the blame for a draft bust.

Could have had: Dan Hampton (Hall of Fame DT), Kellen Winslow (Hall of Fame TE), or some guy named Joe Montana (Hall of Fame QB)

5. Russell Erxleben

#5 russell erxleben nfl draft bust
Year: 1979

College: Texas

Drafted: 11th overall

Team: Saints

Position: K

Career Stats: 6 seasons, 8 FGs attempted, 4 FGs made, 280 punts, 0 Pro Bowls

In 1979, the Saints used the 11th overall pick on place kicker Russell Erxleben. Let me repeat: the Saints used the 11th pick of the NFL draft on a kicker. Even still, this might not be considered such a bust if there weren’t two future Hall of Famers (plus a bunch of other Pro Bowlers) chosen after him: Kellen Winslow (13th) and Joe Montana (82nd)

Could have had: Oh, I don’t know…anyone else

4. Terry Baker

#4 terry baker nfl draft bust 2
Year: 1963

College: Oregon State

Drafted: 1st overall

Team: Rams

Position: QB/RB/WR

Career Stats: 3 seasons, 18 games, 210 rushing yards, 302 receiving yards, 154 passing yards, 3 TDs total

This guy didn’t even end up playing the main position he was drafted for (QB). The only thing preventing poor Terry Baker from being the #1 draft bust of all time is the fact that it was 1963 and not 1993. The draft back then wasn’t what it is now—simply because college football back then wasn’t what it is now. So the enormity of Terry’s failure is mitigated by historical context.

Could have had: Hall of Famers Bobby Bell (T), John Mackey (TE), Jackie Smith (TE)

3. Tony Mandarich

#3 tony mandarich nfl draft bust 2
Year: 1989

College: Michigan State

Drafted: 2nd overall

Team: Packers

Position: OT

Career Stats: 6 seasons played, 4 seasons missed due to drug problems, 0 Pro Bowls

Four out of the first five picks in the 1989 NFL Draft turned out to be Hall of Famers. Can you guess the odd man out?

If you said Tony Mandarich…bingo! Troy Aikman, Barry Sanders, Derrick Thomas, and Deion Sanders went 1, 3, 4, and 5 respectively.

Sports Illustrated famously called Mandarich “the best offensive line prospect ever” in 1989. Unfortunately, he was also addicted to drugs and alcohol.

Could have had: Barry Sanders (RB), Derrick Thomas (LB), Deion Sanders (CB)

2. Ryan Leaf

#2 ryan leaf nfl draft bust
Year: 1998

College: Washington State

Drafted: 2nd overall

Team: Chargers

Position: QB

Career Stats: 3 seasons, 25 games, 3666 yards, 14 TDs, 36 Int, 50 QB rating

The Colts had the #1 pick in 1998. They asked Ryan Leaf to come to Indy for an inteview, but he blew them off. So they went ahead and took some guy named Peyton Manning with the top pick. Today, Peyton Manning is one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time, while Ryan Leaf is in jail because he keeps breaking into houses to steal painkillers. Good call, Colts.

Could have had: Charles Woodson (CB), Randy Moss (WR), or pretty much anyone else who actually played for more than 3 seasons

1. JaMarcus Russell

#1 jarmarcus russell nfl draft bust
Year: 2007

College: LSU

Drafted: 1st overall

Team: Raiders

Position: QB

Career Stats: 3 seasons, 31 games, 4083 yards, 18 TDs, 23 Int, 65.2 QB rating

You know, JaMarcus Russell wasn’t that bad. I mean, yes, he was bad, but compared to others on this list, he was almost respectable. But what makes him the biggest draft bust all time is the money. He held out on the Raiders through training camp, the pre-season, and into the regular season; finally got a contract guaranteeing $32 million, and worth up to a total of $61 million; then stunk to high heavens.

Maybe it was all that codeine syrup he was slurping down? (He admitted in 2010 that he tested positive for the stuff after the 2007 draft.)

Could have had: Calvin Johnson (WR), Adrian Peterson (RB), an XBox, a coupon for 50% off an oil change at Jiffy Lube, a sack of dirty practice jerseys—pretty much anyone or anything would have been more useful to the Raiders than Russell and his $32 million dollar contract.