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Biggest Draft Busts in NFL History
July 7, 2020

Each year, the National Football League conducts its annual draft with teams selecting 250-plus players who each have the dream of becoming a star. Unfortunately, most of those players will never achieve any amount of success.

Some players enter the draft with extremely high expectations. Those drafted in Round 1 are supposed to be the best of the best. Sadly, several have been among the biggest draft busts of all-time.

1998 No. 2 QB Ryan Leaf

Leaf or Manning? It was the question that the Indianapolis Colts dealt with prior to the 1998 NFL draft. The Colts, of course, went with Peyton Manning which was a good choice considering Leaf is probably the biggest draft bust of all-time.

Leaf went 4-17 as the San Diego Chargers starter. He threw more interceptions (36) than touchdowns (14) in his short-lived career. It would later come out that Leaf had a history of addiction issues that cost him the opportunity to capitalize on the talent he displayed at Washington State.

1989 No. 2 OT Tony Mandarich

Four of the top five picks in the 1989 NFL draft ended up in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Michigan State’s Mandarich was the only one that wasn’t. Drafted second overall, steroids and drug use prevented Mandarich from amounting to anything. The Colts took a chance on him, but he would eventually finish his career with Green Bay and play only six seasons in the league.

2007 No. 1 QB JaMarcus Russell

He was a man among boys. At 6-foot-6 and 250 pounds, Russell could easily throw a football 70 yards downfield. Russell’s “best” season was 2008 when he went 5-10 as the starter in Oakland, completed 53.8 percent of his passes and threw 13 touchdowns to eight interceptions.

His 2007 and 2009 seasons were awful and Russell ended his career with a 7-18 record as a starter with 18 career touchdowns and 23 interceptions. His failure is further magnified because of his massive contract – $61 million total with $32 million guaranteed.

2003 No. 2 WR Charles Rogers

Rogers won the Fred Biletnikoff Award as the best wide receiver in college football in 2002. Raised in Saginaw, Michigan, the hometown Detroit Lions selected him with the second pick in the 2003 draft. Rogers’ NFL career lasted just three seasons and was full of multiple violations of team and league policy. He played a grand total of 15 games and caught a total of four NFL touchdown passes.

1999 No. 3 QB Akili Smith

The 1999 NFL Draft was loaded with quarterback talent. It was the last draft to have quarterbacks selected with each of the first three picks. Cleveland went all-in on another bust, Tim Couch, before the Philadelphia Eagles scored a winner in Donovan McNabb.

At pick No. 3, Cincinnati took Smith who had thrown for 45 touchdowns and just 15 interceptions in his two seasons at Oregon. Smith played in just 22 games and went 3-14 as a starter. He ended up as a backup to Jon Kitna and never made another team because of a poor work ethic. The next pick in the draft after Smith was RB Edgerrin James who ended up in the Hall of Fame.

1994 No. 3 QB Heath Shuler

Shuler was supposed to be the Washington Redskins quarterback of the future. He was not. Shuler finished his career with a completion percentage of just 49.2 percent. His touchdown-to-interception ratio was equally abysmal – 15 touchdown passes to 33 picks.

He went 8-14 as a starter in Washington and was traded after three seasons. Shuler never started another game and finished his NFL career with a 54.3 QB rating.

1993 No. 2 QB Rick Mirer

It’s pretty easy to see that NFL teams gamble on big-time college quarterbacks. The Seattle Seahawks though Notre Dame product Rick Mirer would be their guy for many years. It didn’t happen.

Unlike many of the quarterbacks on this list, Mirer actually played 12 years in the league. He didn’t do anything outstanding and finished with a 24-44 record as a starter. Mirer played for five different teams primarily as a backup, which is not what teams expect in return for a No. 2 overall pick.

1999 No. 1 QB Tim Couch

After throwing the ball all over the yard in Hal Mumme’s and Mike Leach’s Kentucky offense, Couch was picked first in 1999 by Cleveland. The Browns thought so much of him they stuck with him for five years. In those five seasons, Couch managed 11,131 yards, 64 touchdowns, and 67 interceptions. He missed 18 games in those five years mostly due to injury since he was forced to run for his life so often behind a suspect Browns offensive line.

2012 No. 3 RB Trent Richardson

The Browns lack of success over the past few decades is evident in the number high draft picks they have had. The 2012 draft was no exception and Cleveland went with wrecking-ball running back Richardson out of Alabama.

The Browns actually redeemed themselves when they traded Richardson to Indianapolis the following year. Richardson averaged just 3.3 yards per carry over his awful four-year career. His best season was his rookie year when he gained 950 yards. He needed 267 carries to get there though.

1992 No. 1 DE Steve Emtman

At 6-4 and 290 pounds, Emtman was one of the most feared college pass rushers ever. He was the Pac-10 Defensive Player of Year twice, won the Outland and Lombardi Trophies, and was even a Heisman Trophy finalist. The one thing Emtman was not was a good NFL player.

Drafted first overall, Emtman suffered through a six-year NFL career marred by injuries. In those six seasons, Emtman started just 19 games.

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