Context is crucial when we judge draft busts. Yes, we’re criticizing the player because they weren’t able to live up to expectations. But scouting departments also deserve a lot of condemnation because they earn millions to identify stars. However, all of the data in the world doesn’t bring guaranteed results (via Fansided).
The Eagles opted for Reagor over Justin Jefferson in 2020. We’re talking about the same Justin Jefferson who became the 2022 NFL Offensive Player of the Year. Meanwhile, Reagor was an average player who didn’t deliver in Philadelphia. Finally, the Eagles ironically traded him to Minnesota after a couple of mediocre seasons.
Blackmon started 14 games in his rookie season and enjoyed a productive season. He led rookie wide receivers across multiple stat lines and it appeared that the Jaguars struck gold with their first-round pick. However, substance abuse problems rose their head and crushed his hopes of a great career.
Nobody expected him to crash and burn the way he did in his sophomore year. He played in four games before his time in the NFL came to an abrupt end. Blackmon failed drug tests and received a suspension. Then he did it again and never came back to the NFL. It’s a bizarre story after he promised so much (via CBS Sports).
One of the worst ways for NFL draft picks to earn bust status is because of injuries. It’s not their fault that they’re not the same player after they return. However, ultimately, they fail to repay the faith the franchise showed when they selected them. This is an unfortunate situation for the player and the team (via Bleacher Report).
We saw this with Smith after the former Baylor star suffered a brutal concussion in his rookie year. He was performing reasonably well until then but he was never the same after. The Rams traded him to the Jets and he flickered between practice squads after this. It’s a shame because the second overall selection had more to give but his body betrayed him.
All of the draft picks on this list enjoyed unbelievable college success. Some of them outshone their teammates and helped a school to overachieve. But others were vital cogs in winning programs like the 2008 Florida Gators. Harvey was an excellent defensive end who helped the University of Florida win the National Championship.
This prompted the Jaguars to make him a first-round pick in the draft. It appeared to be a brilliant move but he didn’t do anything in Florida. He produced eight sacks in 47 games for the franchise as he underwhelmed. It was completely miserable and they moved him on quickly. However, at least he left the Jaguars as a millionaire (via Pro Football History).
The Browns thought that Mayfield was their savior after two of the worst seasons ever. Cleveland was ready to hand him the keys to the city after he helped end their 19-game losing streak. However, ultimately, he didn’t enjoy a great career in Ohio. He promised a lot but never convinced fans he was the right man for the job.
Yes, he helped them to a long-forgotten playoff win in 2020 but it didn’t stop them from trading the former No. 1 pick to the Panthers after the following year. This was harsh and they made things worse by bringing in sexual abuser Deshaun Watson. Mayfield’s abrasive, self-confident personality never matched his output on the field (via Sportskeeda).
Phillips was one of the most tragic stories ever for NFL players ever because he arrived with so much promise. In the end, he hanged himself in prison after his life fell apart. It’s a horrible tale and a warning to every athlete because he had everything. The running back was brilliant during his Nebraska days but indiscipline cost him in the NFL.
St. Louis made him the sixth overall pick in 1996 but he spent more days in jail than on the field. Finally, the franchise decided that they couldn’t support him anymore. They cut him loose and his demons overwhelmed him. There’s no joking about this situation because he was a human being who deserved more (via Pro Football History).
1999 was a terrible year for quarterbacks with Donavon McNabb the only real success story. The Bengals took Smith with the third overall pick and thought he was the future. But he left the franchise after throwing five touchdown passes across four seasons. Meanwhile, he had 13 interceptions for a 52.8 passer rating.
A poor quarterback selection can set a team back for years and that’s what happened to the Bengals. Eventually, they moved on because he failed to show his commitment to the team. Reading a playbook is a simple thing but Smith made no effort to improve. He was a shambles of a player and a massive disappointment (via Sportscasting).
Carter was magnificent for Penn State with back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons. The Bengals believed he was the man to add firepower to their offense. They dramatically traded up to make him the first overall pick in 1995. These days it’s rare for franchises to select running backs in the first round, let alone with a top pick because there is so much talent to be had in the later rounds at the position.
This decision was an unmitigated disaster. Carter’s body betrayed him because he endured many injuries. This prevented him from reaching his full potential in Cincinnati. It disappointed the fans because they knew he was a magnificent athlete. Unfortunately, they never saw the best of him (via Sporting News).
In 2002, the Lions made a horrible first-round selection when they picked Joey Harrington. The quarterback survived for a couple of seasons before they cut him loose. But they treated fans to an even worse decision when they picked Rogers the following year. It was like meeting Krampus after promising a child to meet Santa Claus.
The wide receiver played for three seasons in the NFL after the Lions made him the second overall pick. He was less productive than a college student after a night on the town. The Michigan State product finished his NFL career with four touchdowns in nine starts. It’s amazing how bad he was because nobody expected it (via Detroit Free Press).
The Bengals hoped that Ross would be a potent member of their offense for many seasons. But the wide receiver didn’t perform to their expectations after he arrived as an early first-round selection. He fell to sixth in their depth charts and only played in three games in his rookie year. Fans were already saying that he was a bust but there was time for him to improve.
Many rookies struggle with the physicality and intensity of the NFL. But Ross never developed despite the hype of his time with the Huskies. He produced seven touchdowns in 2018 but that was as good as it got. Finally, his career fizzled out and he found himself on the Chiefs’ practice squad. First-round picks must be better than this (via Sirius XM).
We’ve included several Jets draft picks on this list but most of them are quarterbacks. However, Gholston was a defensive end who played great with Ohio State. The Gang Green made him the sixth-overall selection in 2008 but it didn’t work out. He didn’t fit the scheme and proved to be ineffective.
Gholtson started five games across three seasons without recording a sack. It’s easy to forget that he exists because he didn’t do anything for the team. He’s up there with the least effective draft picks ever because there was no contribution. Gholston didn’t bring drama but he didn’t bring anything else either (via Sportscasting).
A significant minority of analysts believed that Leaf was a better option than Peyton Manning in the 1998 Draft. Ultimately, the Chargers drafted him with the second overall pick. They appreciated his arm strength and thought that he had a bigger upside than Manning. In the end, Leaf’s career came to a miserable end after four miserable seasons.
His immaturity and shocking work ethic were two of the main reasons why he struggled. Leaf also had bad luck with injuries but his personality meant that nobody sympathized. The Chargers received criticism for how they handled the Washington State product. Finally, he fell out of the NFL and endured severe problems with substance abuse (via WSC Cougars).
Kurt Warner enjoyed a decent period with the Cardinals and left a gaping hole when he retired. Arizona decided that Leinart was the man to fill this space and made him the No. 1o pick in 2006. He was excellent during his college days with USC and even won the Heisman in 2005 after a stunning year (via Fansided).
However, we’ve seen many Heisman winners crash and burn in the NFL. Leinart became the latest to contribute to this tragic tradition. He played in 17 games for the Cardinals but only managed 10 wins. Finally, Derek Anderson ousted him as the starter and Leinart left the team. It wasn’t what they expected from one of their most-hyped draft picks.
Couch broke records during his days as the Kentucky Wildcats’ quarterback. The Browns made him the first-overall pick in 1999 but he didn’t live up to this lofty status. They committed to him for too long as he spent five seasons with the franchise. Couch and Cleveland made the playoffs once during this run but it was an anomaly.
He left Cleveland with 64 touchdown passes and 69 interceptions. Fans booed him as if he threatened to cancel Christmas. He tried to make multiple comebacks but didn’t convince anybody that he was a decent NFL quarterback. It’s amazing after he landed in the league amid much hype (via ESPN).
It’s bad news when a seventh-rounder ousts a first-round draft pick as a team’s starting quarterback. That’s what happened to Shuler in 1994 after he failed to make the grade in Washington. He arrived with a big reputation as a Heisman contender but didn’t deliver in the NFL. It’s the same story as so many great college players but it keeps happening.
The former Tennessee star started 13 games in three seasons before the Redskins gave up. Eventually, they traded him to the Saints and he became a perennial backup. Gus Frerotte stole the starter’s spot because Shuler was so bad. It was a complete waste of a pick by Washington but there was nothing they could do (via USA Today).
Every team loves a good wide receiver and the Bears are no different. After Amari Cooper went to the Raiders in 2015, the Bears opted for White. Most analysts projected that he was the second-best wideout in the class but it felt like a good move for Chicago. Sadly, injuries wracked his NFL career and destroyed his legacy.
The West Virginia product didn’t play in his rookie year after he broke his leg. This was the story of his career because he never stayed fit. Some draft picks have terrible luck and unfortunately, this was the case for White. It wasn’t about his desire or his work ethic because his body let him down (via NBC Sports).
Wilson was a key cog in the Georgia Bulldogs’ new dynasty. He attracted the attention of NFL scouts and the Titans made him a first-rounder in 2020. But the offensive tackle didn’t care about football and only featured once for the franchise. They expected him to be a building block moving forward but he barely contributed.
The reality was that he spent more time in jail than on the field. There was an infamous police car chase as well as multiple breaches of team regulations. In the end, the Titans lost patience and released the wayward star. He lasted two weeks with the Dolphins before they cut him too. Wilson was one of the craziest draft picks in history (via Sports Illustrated).
The Detroit Lions have had some shocking first-round draft picks over the years. We could talk about Joey Harrington or Charles Rogers but Ware was arguably the worst. They chose him ahead of Emmitt Smith and Cortez Kennedy and both had Hall of Fame careers. The quarterback barely played for the franchise and was an underwhelming selection.
He threw 161 passes in four years in Motor City as he proved to be a complete bust. They thought that they drafted the franchise’s future but he barely played. He joined the ranks of Heisman players who arrived with hype but failed to deliver in the NFL. It’s a long list but Ware still makes Detroit fans shudder (via 247 Sports).
It’s incredible the number of times that front offices tried and failed to find a franchise quarterback. The Jaguars decided that the UCF star Bortles was the man to lead their franchise forward in 2014. To put this in perspective they decided against the future three-time Defensive Player of the Year Aaron Donald.
They also skipped his fellow Super Bowl winning-teammate Odell Beckham Jr. Nor did they pick Khalil Mack or C.J. Mosley. This was one of the most-stacked classes in recent years but the Jaguars missed the boat. Bortles showed flashes of potential but in the end was another Jacksonville draft pick failure (via The Athletic).
NFL scouts thought that Mandarich was the best offensive tackle prospect ever. He had an outstanding career with Michigan State but they didn’t know he was abusing steroids. Mandarich also infamously had an addiction to painkillers and this severely damaged his career. The Packers made him the second overall pick in 1989 ahead of Deion Sanders and Derrick Thomas.
This proved to be a shocking mistake because Mandarich didn’t deliver. He spent four seasons with the franchise before they lost patience and cut him. It was a major disappointment because he arrived with so much hype. There’s no guarantee that any draft picks will succeed but Mandarich crushed the fans (via BVM Sports).
Carr’s place on this list is a little unfair because the former Fresno State star had great work ethic and skills. But the Texans didn’t protect him in his rookie year and he took a ridiculous 76 sacks. The quarterback’s career never recovered from this beating and he threw 65 interceptions across five seasons (via Toro Times).
The shell-shocked QB never reached his full potential in the NFL. Many draft picks arrive with a lot of potential but find themselves in bad situations. Unfortunately, this was the case for Carr because the early battering shook him. Now he goes down as one of the worst busts in Houston history.
Nobody expects first overall draft picks to crash out of the NFL after three seasons. But that’s exactly what happened in Russell’s case. First, he held the Raiders to ransom and demanded a rookie record contract. The NFL changed the rules after this because it was so insane. Meanwhile, he never came close to earning a dime of his six-year, $68 million deal (via USA Today).
The former LSU star arrived with massive fanfare but he had zero work ethic. He showed incredible unprofessionalism over his short Raiders career as he ballooned in size. In the end, he finished bottom of all of the quarterback stat charts after a garbage fire of a season. Russell was one of two QB first-round draft picks in 2007 alongside Brady Quinn.
Manziel is one of the most notorious failed NFL quarterbacks ever. The Cleveland Browns thought that he was the answer to their long-term QB problem. In the end, he left them with more questions than ever. Manziel had a great college career with Texas A&M. Some scouts feared that the Aggies star was too small for the league while others questioned his attitude and commitment.
But the Heisman winner arrived with a lot of hype. In the end, he partied more than he played and betrayed the trust of the franchise. His story is one of the most disappointing ever because everybody believed he was brilliant. Substance abuse and a terrible attitude brought his NFL career to an end after only two seasons (via Sportskeeda).
The Jets have made some terrible draft selections over the years, and indeed many have already appeared on this list. After they moved on from Sam Darnold they chose Wilson as his replacement. 2021 was one of the most-stacked quarterback classes of the decade. The Jaguars took Trevor Lawrence with the first overall pick. But this still left the likes of Justin Fields, Mac Jones, and Trey Lance on the board.
In the end, the Jets decided to take former BYU star Wilson. Gang Green had some bad draft picks but he was one of the worst. Firstly, he made garbage decisions and threw interceptions like frisbees. Furthermore, his attitude was terrible and he failed to show any maturity. Finally, in 2023, the Jets decided it was time to get an experienced player (via The Mirror).