The NFL Draft is one of the most exciting times of the year for fans. Each year brings multiple surprises, and now and again, a once-in-a-generation talent emerges. However, for every success, there are many devastating stories of ballyhooed athletes whose careers didn’t pan out. No collegiate player wants to become a draft bust because their name will never be forgotten.
Heading into the draft, we’ll take a look at different stories of NFL draft bust pain. Fans and analysts shared the stories of how these college superstars suffered devastating problems that impacted their ability to play in the NFL. Some of these players were number one picks who just couldn’t deliver. Others suffered injuries that reduced them to shells of their former selves. And finally there are those who just didn’t care at all. Check out the list below via NBC Sports and Reddit.
30. Trent Richardson
When asked who he thought was the worst draft bust ever, @ArashHamidi knew right away. He tweeted: “Richardson only because of how unquestionably dominant he was in college, playing for the most dominant program in college football, & being awarded the recognition of being the best player at his game. The most surprising draft bust that I’ve ever had to come to terms with.”
@SJBMichael agreed with this assessment. “Some busts happen because of injuries, game not translating to the NFL, or off-field issues. That dude just flat out forgot to play football. I’ve never seen anything like it.” In sum, Richardson suffered one of the most devastating deteriorations in NFL history. The Cleveland Browns selected him third overall in 2012 and he started hot, but he was out of the league after five seasons.
Tebow won the AFC West title with the Denver Broncos his first season but his NFL career went downhill from that point. After a solid rookie year, he slipped behind Kyle Orton in the pecking order because of his constant fumbles. While he received chances, the devastating truth was that he wasn’t consistent enough to make it at the top level. Tebow also flamed out with the Jets and the Patriots. Finally, he quit football for MLB.
“He led the Broncos to an 8-5 record during which he admittedly played meh but nobody was willing to teach him,”austinbostin069 wrote. “Belichick took him in briefly and he received like 3 months of teaching but instead he was just out on his ass after that. There were no offers for him to come and learn for a few years, they just ousted him. Can’t help but think of what might have been.”
“For the Eagles, I feel sorry for Casey Matthews, should have never been drafted at all really,”NomadFire wrote. “Was put into a s**t situation with a horrible DC and behind a defensive line that could keep the big guys away from him. Was given a lot of s**t by the fans even though he wasn’t the real problem. Got another shot with the Vikings but got a season-ending hip injury. Never played again.”
Overall, this Reddit user was absolutely correct. Matthews had a devastating NFL journey. But mercifully it didn’t last long. The sport is incredibly brutal because of the toll it takes on physical bodies. Many athletes discover that their careers are finished overnight. An Oregon standout, Matthews landed in Philly in 2012, but it didn’t work out. The linebacker was finished after only two seasons.
“I feel sorry for Todd Marinovich,”Huazzy said. “Not saying he wasn’t at fault for anything he did, but his dad essentially turned parenting into an experiment. I feel like his upbringing would mess almost anyone up.” Marinovich has one of the strangest NFL stories of all time because his father raised him to be the perfect athlete. But the problem was that human beings aren’t programmable like robots.
After the Raiders drafted Marinovich in 1991, expectations were high. His behavior became erratic during this time in college because he experienced freedoms his father never allowed before. This culminated in drug addiction. In the end, he only spent two seasons in the NFL because his personal problems came to the fore. This is what happens when a father prevents his son from being a child.
“I’ll always feel bad for Ponder. He sucked but he really didn’t have any hype, to begin with. Got forced in and the rest is history. Guy just was not a first-round talent,” BEDeluxe summed up. This was correct because Ponder flopped miserably in the NFL. The 12th overall pick joined the Vikings in 2011 and endured a difficult first season with Donavon McNabb as his mentor.
The Vikings did make the playoffs in his sophomore year and he started all 16 games, but it was all downhill from there. Ponder was never the guaranteed starter again and finally floated around franchises as a backup. When his first-round status is considered, it’s clear that he was definitely a devastating bust. “He’s married to Sam Ponder, hard to feel too bad for the guy,”Jerfpsnurf quipped.
“As a Ducks fan, LaMichael was my favorite college RB at the time,”Alonzooo21 wrote. “He was godly with the ball in his hand against most of the teams he played. Unfortunately, he is simply an NFL bust. A team with a solid line, like the cowboys, would make LaMike look good but not many teams have that so LaMike has faded away.” James was electric for Oregon but failed to assimilate to the NFL.
He won the Doak Walker Award after leading the nation in rushing yards in 2010. This whetted appetites to see him play in the NFL but he disappointed fans with his performances. His devastating displays in the college didn’t translate to the professional game. While he played in the Niners’ Super Bowl defeat against the Ravens, he never did anything else of note in his short NFL career.
“Not a bust per se, but that guy could not clear NFL concussion protocol and from what I understood could not get healthy. He flashed ability (straight baller) in his brief NFL career and was electric in Pac 10 games (Cal under Tedford) back in the late mid-late noughties,”RSeymour93 wrote on Reddit. The Detroit Lions drafted Best in 2010 and he suffered concussion after concussion.
These devastating injuries ultimately brought his NFL career to an unfortunate early end. Furthermore, he sued the league because he suffered so much damage. After retiring from football, the first-round draft pick represented Saint Lucia in track and field at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio De Janeiro. Best had so much potential as an elite running back but couldn’t stay healthy.
“McCoy lost a national championship due to injury,”DalliLlama wrote. “Messed up his arm badly. Then lands in Cleveland and dies without really having a chance. Without that injury and a better franchise, Colt would be an NCAA Champ probably and potentially a very good starter.” This was a reasonable take because McCoy landed in Cleveland as a third-round pick after three outstanding years as a starter for the Longhorns.
The Texas star started 13 games in his second season but that was as good as it got for the quarterback. After a single season in San Francisco where he saw action four times, he moved to Washington. In six seasons in the capital, he started just seven games as his NFL career faded away. It was a devastating way for his career to end because his expectations were so high.
Edwards was a promising running back before his career suffered a devastating blow. Raysor explained, “He rushed for 1,115 yards for the Patriots in 1998, before blowing out his knee at an NFL rookie flag football game in Hawaii during Pro Bowl week. Edwards barely escaped the injury without having his leg amputated below the knee, and he was told he might not walk again.”
A standout for the Georgia Bulldogs, the Patriots drafted him as a first-round pick in 1998. After a solid season, he played a rookie flag football game and suffered a savage knee injury. He was lucky to keep his leg because doctors considered removing it. Finally, in 2002, he returned to football for a single season with the Miami Dolphins. Then, he ended up in the CFL.
“Isaiah Wilson was a first-round pick which I find baffling,”@CesarZeppalli1 tweeted. “Traded and cut after one year. He played very little snaps and was bad when he did play. He has a lot of off-the-field issues. And most importantly, he didn’t have the character to be in the NFL. Biggest bust ever.” Wilson is the former Tenessee Titans’ first-rounder who arrived in 2020 but lasted less than one year in Nashville.
Another fan wrote, “Isaiah Wilson reminds me of this story: “There was a high school player in my hometown who flamed out at UT. It was said, ‘He’s got a million dollars worth of talent, and a nickel’s worth of brains.’ To which the reply was ‘I believe you overpriced those brains…’ Seems fitting.” The Miami Dolphins traded for Wilson but he spent under a week in Florida before his NFL career collapsed.
“RG3 was hardly a traditional bust,”@Fishmonger_Ihza wrote. “He got a horrendous knee injury and was rushed back to playing way too soon for a franchise that wasn’t ready to compete. The man just got the short end of the freak injury stick.” The former Redskins star won the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year award after an outstanding first season. But torn ACL and LCLs his rookie season caused irrevocable damage to his career.
However, fans are split over Griffin’s status as a bust. Some feel it’s unfair to paint him as one because of his amazing first season. But others are more ruthless. @Sladebryantt wrote: “If he was really that good though, he’d have made it back. Could never read a defense. Kyle Shanahan made him look good for a year and led him to ROTY.”
“My man Bernard Williams,”Ozwaldo wrote. “Selected 14th overall by the Philadelphia Eagles in the 1994 NFL Draft, Bernard Williams was a 6’9″ 317 lb offensive tackle. He was an absolute mountain of a man. He was also a massive pothead. After his rookie season, Williams failed 15 consecutive drug tests (setting the record) and was banned from the NFL. I don’t feel sorry for the dude.”
As a first-round pick, it looked like Williams would be one of the NFL’s best offensive linemen. He started every game in his rookie season and the stage was set for him to develop into an elite talent. However, his chaos off the field ended up costing him his career. It was a case of one-and-done for the former Georgia star who ended up in the CFL after the NFL suspended him.
“The Jets are incompetent,”BearyPotter claimed. “You don’t move up for a franchise QB and surround him with arguably one of the worst skill position groups in the NFL, a bad o-line, awful offensive coordinator, and awful head coach.” In short, this sums up Darnold’s unfortunate time in New York. The youthful quarterback was the third overall pick in 2018 but the Jets messed everything up.
While he has the time to turn his career around, the reality is that Jets fans will always see him as a bust. Head coach Adam Gase had a devastating effect on his career and the roster didn’t support him. His ghost game is infamous while Darnold’s 2020/21 season was horrendous. It wasn’t all his fault, but it goes to show that the right pieces need to be in place for a quarterback to pan out.
“Danny Friggin Watkins,”MrThunderkat proclaimed. “I’m madder at the Eagles front office. How do you not figure out that this dude just wanted to be a firefighter?” Watkins began firefighting when he was just 16 and it remained a passion for him throughout his life. Even on the weekend he entered the NFL draft, he visited 9-11 affected firehouses. In short, this was his first love.
The Philadelphia Eagles made him the oldest first-round pick in over 35 years after his arrival from the CFL. It didn’t go well in Philly, however. And he finally spent a season in Miami. But they waived him at the end of the season and he quit to become a full-time firefighter. While this is noble, it obviously didn’t please the front offices of either franchise he played for or their fans.
“I don’t feel sorry at all for Brock Osweiler. Everybody knew that he was the Broncos’ starter after Peyton retired, but he was impatient, wanted the money, or both. Either way, he might have been able to do something in Denver.”EvelPhreak is ruthless in his assessment but it is a fair one. The Denver Broncos selected him in the second round of the 2012 draft but it didn’t go well for either party.
He won the Super Bowl as Peyton Manning’s backup but couldn’t wait to take the starting job. As a result, he moved to Houston for a massive windfall, where his tenure was a disaster. From there, he became a Brown but didn’t start a game. Finally, he returned to the Broncos. They rotated between him and Paxton Lynch after the latter’s injury. In the end, his career fizzled out. It must have been devastating because he had a lot of potential.
One Reddit user summed up Carr’s devastating rookie season beautifully. “Drafted number one overall by an expansion team, immediately thrust into the role of starting QB with no offensive line in front of him,”inspektor71 wrote. “Sacked 249 times during his time in Houston. He was basically set up to fail. If he’d been drafted by a team that had some pieces around him, his career could’ve been completely different.”
The 2002 first overall pick received a brutal beating during his tenure in Houston. It doesn’t matter how talented a player is when they are on the wrong end of a battering. This has a long-term effect on their ability to sustain an offense in the NFL. Carr left Houston for Carolina, where he started four games. After that season he spent the remainder of his career as a backup.
“Kevin White literally forgot how to be good and his coaches had to show him his own college tape to remind him,”@MikeHigh_Nick wrote. Drafted incredibly high before fracturing his leg before his first training camp, White was up against it from the very beginning. The wide receiver was excellent for West Virginia and this convinced the Bears to take him in the first round.
This had a devastating effect upon his career because he essentially missed the first two seasons of his contract. It’s no surprise that he lost confidence in himself. Finally, in his third year, he began to make appearances but fractured his collarbone in a brutal fashion. It was a harrowing way for his career to continue. Chicago cut their losses and gave up on him as his career ever got off the ground or ran its course.
“Not sure if he is a traditional bust, but his career always makes me sad,”Heldos claimed. “Huge hype leading to an absolutely fantastic year on an otherwise pretty disappointing team. Tears his patellar tendon in his right knee, comes back, does pretty well, all things considered, tears his patellar in his left knee, and that was all she wrote. He had so much talent and it was sad to see his career cut short because of two essentially freak injuries.”
As well as potentially having the best name for a running back in NFL history, Williams was an exceptional athlete. The Buccaneers drafted him in 2005 but the first-rounder endured an appalling injury record. Ultimately, this had a negative impact on his legacy because he was never able to live up to his potential.
“Malik McDowell has to be the man. He was drafted in the second round by the Seahawks, then flipped an ATV on himself, sustained head injuries. Never played a down,”@daguro wrote. There’s an open debate over whether or not McDowell or Isaiah Wilson is the worst draft bust of recent years. At least Wilson played a little bit but McDowell never featured for the Seattle Seahawks after the incident.
Furthermore, a court sentenced him to 11 months in prison after police convicted him on a series of petty charges. This was a devastating series of events for the young defensive tackle. But the Michigan star just didn’t have the mentality to succeed and to get his life back on track. As a result, he lost out on millions of dollars in devastating fashion.
“Heath Shuler: number three pick, Heisman trophy runner up and SEC player of the year,”Sooperkool wrote. “He held out so he could sign a seven-year 19 million dollars contract. He lasted all of 3 seasons in the league.” The only former congressman on this list, Shuler had a much more successful career in politics than football. Washington fans would agree with this.
He was a part of multiple quarterback controversies during his time with the franchise. First of all, there were high-profile contract negotiations. Then, his poor form led fans to dispute whether or not he should start for the team. The third-overall pick never lived up to expectations but made his millions. A Democrat, he wasn’t afraid to stand up to party leadership.
“That guy was a f**king beast. He had the physical tools, intelligence, and raw talent to be a major impact in the NFL,” Nyquilisdelicious observed. “Too bad his dumb a*s couldn’t stop smoking weed. I mean, really?!?! You throw away a hundred million dollars for some weed.” However, some will argue that Washington deserves respect. He knew what he wanted and nobody could buy him.
Yet he threw away tens of millions of dollars. A second-round pick in 2010, Washington isn’t a bust in the traditional sense of the word because he was even a Pro Bowler. But his drug use proved devastating for his career as the NFL isn’t exactly kind toward violators. In the end, 2013 saw his last competitive appearance. It was such a waste of talent.
Interestingly enough, Gabbert became a Super Bowl champion in 2020 after winning with the Tampa Bay Buccanneers as Tom Brady’s backup. This was quite the culmination of a career that began in a miserable fashion. The Jaguars drafted him in the first round back in 2011, yet it was an unmitigated disaster. He had no protection which proved devastating as he was unable to assert himself. In short, it was an appalling rookie season.
“Not really his fault that the Jags overestimated him and then had a dumpster fire of a team around him,”MrThunderkat proclaimed. This is a fair observation but it set in motion events beyond Gabbert’s control. He bounced around the NFL for the remainder of his career playing eight games for San Francisco in 2015. But the 10th overall pick has a disappointing record.
“31-19 record as starting QB, led a meh Titans team to the playoffs, won rookie of the year, got tricked out of lots of money by some sleazy agents, misspent whatever other money he had,”TheSheriman listed. It’s fair to say that Young’s time in the NFL was a mixed bag. He spent six seasons in the league and had two Pro Bowl selections, but that doesn’t tell the full story.
Young wasn’t a total bust in the typical sense of the word. But expectations were so high because of what he achieved at the University of Texas. It’s fair to say that he never achieved his highest ceiling. Finally, he dropped off and lost his place as an NFL starter and ended up in the CFL. Meanwhile, police have arrested Young on multiple occasions outside of the playing field.
Harrington had a brutal time in Detroit. It was a mess from beginning to end because the GM didn’t even want him. This experience scarred him for the remainder of his career. “Joey flat out said in interviews that when he left Detroit, he was a shell of a player,”Piles_of_Gore agreed. “He very much still has a local presence around here (Portland), and whenever he talks about his career, he comes across depressed and angry.
“He had so much potential and the Lions just put the poor guy out there his rookie year with no O-line,”mygoodfriendbaxter wrote. “Just creamed over and over. He was so shell-shocked. You could see every time he held the ball for more than 3 seconds his feet would start jittering really fast and he’d throw the ball away. He was just so afraid he was going to get creamed again. When he started crying in the locker room it was all over.”
“Not only played terrible enough to get cut by an awful Raiders team, but he also blew most of the signing bonus money he made from being a number one pick,”Jree17 noted. But arguably the worst part of this was that the Raiders missed out on Adrian Peterson. He spent just three seasons in the NFL with the Raiders and gained more attention for his weight than for his on-field contribution.
The fan continued: “Many of his teammates say he didn’t care about losing or trying in practice and when the Raiders stated that they were disappointed in him he basically blamed the team for losing. He also blew almost all of his money on Codeine. There are plenty of worse players out there but he’s always been one that I just don’t feel sorry for.” JaWalrus is one of the most devastating nicknames in NFL history.
The Pittsburgh Steelers drafted Sweed in the 2008 draft. A superb college athlete, Sweed was on paper one of the best receivers available that season. However, injuries pushed him down the pecking order. When it came to on-field performances, the wideout was erratic and dropped a ridiculous number of balls. Meanwhile, he suffered mental health problems that are not to be laughed at.
“Dude had serious mental problems and depression, and it absolutely affected his play,”Svenhoek86 said. “You could see him get worse and worse with every drop. Sad because if he had the hands and mental state to catch the balls thrown his way, he’d probably still be a Steeler. So many wide open drops.” It’s unfortunate that Sweed endured so many devastating issues, but at least won a Super Bowl ring.
The Cincinnati Bengals drafted Carter with the first overall pick in 1995. But on only the third carry of his first preseason game, he suffered a devastating blow. “Shredded his ACL in his first-ever preseason game…and that was it. I can’t imagine working that hard, coming in with all those expectations…and then before you can do anything, your career is practically over,”achap39 said on Reddit.
“Ki-Jana had it all. He was built like a brick house and he had 4.3 speed and the wiggle to go with it,”HeyZuesHChrist agreed. “When he tore his ACL you just did not come back from an ACL. The medical procedures and recovery was not anything like it is today. It was a death sentence and to do it on the first carry of his first pre-season game was absurd.”
Clyde_drexler wrote: “It sucks to see Tim Couch as just another failed QB name on the jersey of the long list of names because he was a legit good QB who just couldn’t stay on the field playing behind a just as often injured o-line. He took the Browns to their first playoff game since returning and had them winning. If he wouldn’t have broken down in such a short time, he could have done wonders for that franchise.”
The Reddit user makes a good case for the former top pick because he did suffer from all of those problems. In short, it doesn’t matter how much quality a rookie QB receives if they take a tonne of sacks. Perhaps it’s harsh to call him a bust because he did help Cleveland to the postseason in 2002. But the former first overall pick suffered devastating injuries and was never able to deliver on his promise.
“I’ll never forget the hype going into that Draft and the high level of expectations on Leaf to be the next great franchise quarterback,”Misterlakatos reflected. “He was supposed to save the Chargers.” Looking back, it’s laughable that this was the case, but analysts saw Leaf as a potential future Hall of Famer. Some even believed that he was a better long-term option than the acclaimed Peyton Manning in the same draft.
Enterprise90 said: “There was real debate as to if he could be better than Peyton Manning. Manning was seen as a sure-fire success, but there were thoughts Leaf could be even better.” The only thing that Leaf was better than Manning at was taking drugs. He had real problems with prescription drugs over the years and lacked the mental fortitude to make it in the NFL. A devastating pick for the Chargers that set the franchise back years.
“From his spoiled attitude to his domestic violence, there is nothing that dude could do that would make me like him,”namballer99 wrote. In sum, ‘Johnny Football’ was an unmitigated disaster for the Cleveland Browns. His attitude proved devastating for his prospects of developing into an elite NFL quarterback. After two seasons, the journey was over for the celebrated college athlete.
The Browns cut him as soon as possible after his sophomore year because of his uncontrolled partying and apparent lack of commitment in any form. DylanR2198 summed up the troubled signal-caller. “Manziel didn’t want to be developed, I don’t think it would have mattered who drafted Johnny, he wanted to rip lines and f**k dimes, and that’s his business, but it doesn’t warrant any sympathy.” Harsh yet true.