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Brian Bosworth, Johnny Manziel
Left: Photo by: Bernstein Associates/Getty Images, Right: Photo by Peter G. Aiken/Getty Images

Draft busts are nothing unusual in sports. Every fan knows them and dreads their team making them.

For every team like the Pittsburgh Steelers or Denver Broncos with a pretty solid draft history and every sixth-round pick like Tom Brady who goes on to have a Hall of Fame career, there are NFL teams like the Jacksonville Jaguars, Cleveland Browns and New York Jets, and first-round picks like…well, like these guys.

These are the biggest NFL Draft busts in league history.

The 16 Biggest Busts in NFL Draft History, Ranked

16. Charles Rogers, Detroit Lions

Charles Rogers in action for the Detroit Lions
Photo by Al Tielemans/Sports Illustrated via Getty Images

There’s probably never been a weirder bust than Charles Rogers. Selected second overall in 2003 (one spot ahead of fellow wide receiver Andre Johnson), Rogers looked like the surest of sure bets as a dominant college player at Michigan State. But after five decent games to start his career, Rogers broke his clavicle in a freak practice injury…then broke it again in the first game of the following season. Bad depression and substance issues followed, ultimately leading to an end to his very brief career in 2006. He died at 38 in 2019 from liver failure.

15. Ryan Leaf, San Diego Chargers

Alex Spanos, Ryan Leaf, Paul Tagliabue after Leaf was selected second-overall
Photo by Al Tielemans/Sports Illustrated via Getty Images

Everyone knows Ryan Leaf as the biggest NFL draft bust in league history, and they’re not wrong. Picked one spot behind the Indianapolis Colts’ Peyton Manning at second overall in the 1998 NFL Draft, pretty much everything went wrong from there. Leaf was a terrible player (throwing only two touchdowns to fifteen interceptions his rookie season) and an even bigger headache off the field, widely despised by both teammates and coaches. He was out of the league after only three seasons after being taken one spot behind a guy who sailed into the Hall of Fame. Funny enough, the guy picked behind him (defensive end Andre Wadsworth of the Arizona Cardinals) is also one of the biggest busts ever, only nobody remembers him now because Leaf was such a spectacular failure.

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14. JaMarcus Russell, Oakland Raiders

Photo by Drew Hallowell/Getty Images

RELATED: What Happened to JaMarcus Russell and Where is He Now?

JaMarcus Russell has the rare distinction of not just being a bust, but being a No. 1 overall pick who turned into a bust. He looked like a beast in college at LSU, but none of that translated to the pro level. Russell was just…he was just bad. There’s no other way to describe it; the guy just suddenly couldn’t play football the moment he put on a Raiders uniform. He was once benched for Bruce Gradkowski, got let go and was out of the league in three years.

13. Russell Erxleben, New Orleans Saints

Russell Erxleben punts the ball away for the New Orleans Saints
Photo by Michael Zagaris/Getty Images

You might not know the name Russell Erxleben, but you should, because there’s probably never been a more inexplicable draft pick in NFL history. The New Orleans Saints took Erxleben with the 11th overall pick in the 1979 NFL Draft…as a punter. They thought he could kick and punt in the pros (which is still not good reasoning), but he was terrible at both, averaging 40 yards per punt and making 50 percent of his field goals for his brief and unspectacular NFL career. Making matters worse, Hall of Fame tight end Kellen Winslow was taken by the San Diego Chargers two picks later at No. 13.

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12. Akili Smith, Cincinnati Bengals 

Akili Smith runs with the ball during a Cincinnati Bengals game.
Photo by Andy Lyons/AllSport/Getty Images

Akili Smith is a lesson in not getting seduced by a brief track record of success. Smith had a great senior season at Oregon, leading the country in passing yards — maybe the fact it was 11 games of great play should’ve been a red flag. Drafted with the third overall pick at the 1999 NFL Draft, Smith didn’t seem to understand Cincinnati’s playbook and probably wasn’t capable of executing it even if he had. His best NFL season was 2000, and he threw three touchdowns to six interceptions that year. Not exactly a Hall of Famer!

11. Tim Couch, Cleveland Browns

Tim Couch was the first overall pick of the 1999 NFL Draft.
Ezra O. Shaw /Allsport via Getty Images

As bad as Tim Couch was, the fact he led the Browns to the playoffs one year counts as surprising success for a Cleveland quarterback drafted in the first round. But make no mistake: by no measure was he anything close to good. He may not be the worst pick in NFL history, but he wasn’t that far off. Couch was a No. 1 overall pick that couldn’t come close to living up to the hype, largely because he had a noodle arm that was never going to lead to NFL success.

10. Isaiah Wilson, Tennessee Titans

Isaiah Wilson during an NFL Combine interview
Photo by Alika Jenner/Getty Images

Isaiah Wilson might not make the list for most peoples’ biggest bust rankings (he was drafted 29th overall, making him the lowest-drafted player here), but he deserves special mention for just how brief his career was: one game and four snaps. Offensive lineman is one of the positions that should most easily translate to NFL success, AND YET. Off-field infractions, legal issues and poor ability led to Wilson’s trade to the Miami Dolphins after his rookie season — then the Dolphins let him go before he even played a single snap. It was like he was trying to set records for fastest exit from the league.

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9. Brian Bosworth, Seattle Seahawks

Brian Bosworth walks on the Seattle Seahawks sideline.
Photo by: Bernstein Associates/Getty Images

Brian Bosworth wasn’t just a good college player, he was a great one, winning the Dick Butkus award as the nation’s top linebacker twice at Oklahoma. His pro career was an absolute dumpster fire. Bosworth’s problem was two-fold: he had a terrible brain (creating a variety of off-field incidents), and his extreme steroid usage that prematurely aged him — a team doctor described him in 1989 as being “a 25-year-old with the shoulders of a 60-year-old.” Bosworth recorded only four sacks during his brief career and was out of the league in two years.

8. Kevin Allen, Philadelphia Eagles

Dejected Eagles Fan looks on after a Philadelphia loss
Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Lineman Kevin Allen lasted only one season after being taken with the No. 9 overall pick at the 1985 NFL Draft — cocaine issues and legal trouble did him in, along with a total lack of talent. That would be bad enough, but Allen deserves special mention for having possibly the most devastating quote ever leveled at him by his head coach: “he’s only useful if you want someone to stand around and kill the grass.”

7. Tony Mandarich, Green Bay Packers

Tony Mandarich lays a block on a Rams defensive lineman.
Photo by Mike Powell /Allsport/Getty Images

The top five picks in the 1989 NFL Draft were marvels: Troy Aikman (Dallas Cowboys), Barry Sanders (Detroit Lions), Derrick Thomas (Kansas City Chiefs) and Deion Sanders (Atlanta Falcons) all made the Hall of Fame. And then there was lineman Tony Mandarich. The Green Bay Packers probably didn’t think Mandarich’s nickname, “Tony the Terrible,” was so literally, but work ethic issues, steroids and a simple lack of talent meant the team dropped him after three years. He lasted another three in Indianapolis, but six years is a pretty brief NFL career for a guy drafted with the second overall pick.

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6. Vernon Gholston, New York Jets

Vernon Gholston looks on from the Jets sideline
Photo by Nick Laham/Getty Images

The Jets have a long history of bad draft picks — and their fans booing sad draft picks because even New Jerseyans know when they’ve been had. Vernon Gholston, though, looked like a decent choice with the sixth overall pick in 2008. A defensive lineman in college at Ohio State, he had worked out extremely well at the NFL combine. He was expected to be a pass-rushing linebacker in the pros, only he never recorded a single sack and was out of the league after three years. The 2008 NFL Draft was a terrible year, but even by those standards, the Jets could’ve found someone at least a little better.

5. Almost* Every Quarterback, Jacksonville Jaguars

Blake Bortles gets hi by JJ Watt.
Photo by Rob Foldy/Getty Images

This is cheating, but I don’t care. Take your pick here; Jacksonville’s history is littered with quarterback busts. Byron Leftwich, Blake Bortles and Blaine Gabbert were all top-ten picks who became laughingstocks after something in the swampy Florida air murdered their careers. Trevor Lawrence hasn’t had a terrible rookie season in 2021, but his clock is ticking. Basically, if you go to Jacksonville as a signal caller, your career is toast.

4. Trent Richardson, Cleveland Browns

Tretn Richardson stretches out before an AAF game.
Photo by John McCoy/AAF/Getty Images

You could make a list here just from Cleveland’s history of first-round picks. Trent Richardson was why you don’t pick a running back at No. 3 overall; their history is just too volatile. For every Adrian Peterson or Barry Sanders, there’s a dozen guys like Richardson who never rushed for 1000 yards in a season and are out of the league after three years. Even by those standards, his career 3.6 yards/attempt are shockingly bad.

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3. David Carr, Houston Texans

David Carr made a sizable income throughout his infamous NFL career.
Al Bello via Getty Images

Related: David Carr Busted in the NFL, But He Walked Away Rich

Poor David Carr never had a chance. The No. 1 overall pick of the 2002 NFL Draft, Carr had all the tools to be a successful pro quarterback (people forget he once led the league in completion percentage), but the team let him down. They threw him into the fire as a starter too early, sure, but the bigger problem was that they apparently forgot to try to cobble together an offensive line to protect him. Carr led the league in times sacked three times in his first four seasons (he was injured during the fourth) and it permanently damaged him. Never has a team failed their top pick so badly. Maybe Carr wouldn’t have made the Hall of Fame, but he probably had a few Pro Bowls in him.

2. Johnny Manziel, Cleveland Browns

Johnny Manziel celebrates a Cleveland Browns touchdown
Photo by Andrew Weber/Getty Images

This is kind of a hard one to quantify. Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel came into the 2014 NFL Draft with enough red flags to open an amusement park. Sure, he’d been the Heisman Trophy winner, but he was pretty well-known to have a bad brain, which is why he tumbled to 22nd overall. True to form, Manziel showed flashes of being a relatively effective pro player…but everything off the field rendered it moot. He got arrested, lied to coaches, had substance issues and just didn’t show up to things. The Browns quickly had enough, and he was done after only two years.

1. Ki-Jana Carter, Cincinnati Bengals

Ki-Jana Carter rushes the ball for the Cincinnati Bengals.
Photo by: Doug Pensinger /Allsport/Getty Images

It’s incredible to think Ki-Jana Carter was once the first overall pick in the NFL Draft considering A) he was a running back, and B) he never rushed for even 500 yards in a single season. Carter’s case is more tragedy than anything, though. He suffered freak injury after freak injury, first tearing a knee ligament in his first preseason game which completely robbed him of his explosiveness, then suffering hits to his rotator cuff, wrist and kneecap. Poor guy never had a chance.

Honorable Mentions

  • Heath Shuler, Washington Redskins 1994
  • Lawrence Phillips, St. Louis Rams 1996
  • Dion Jordan, Miami Dolphins 2013
  • Vinny Testaverde, Tampa Bay Buccaneers 1987
  • Jeff George, Indianapolis Colts 1990
  • Tony Eason, New England Patriots 1983
  • Matt Leinart, Arizona Cardinals 2005
  • Kyle Boller, Baltimore Ravens 2003
  • Vince Young, Tennessee Titans 2006
  • Todd Marinovich, Los Angeles Raider, 1991
  • Jimmy Clausen, Carolina Panthers 2010
  • Steve Spurrier, San Francisco 49ers 1967
  • Tom Cousineau, Buffalo Bills 1979
  • Andre Ware, Detroit Lions 1990
  • Rich Campbell, Green Bay Packers 1981
  • Steve Niehaus, Seattle Seahawks 1976
  • Derek Brown, New York Giants 1992
  • Larry Stegent, Arizona Cardinals 1970
  • Kevin White, Chicago Bears 2015

MORE: 10 NFL Draft ?Expert? Opinions That Were So Wrong It Hurts

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Author placeholder image About the author:
C.A. Pinkham is a Pittsburgh-based writer and Washington sports fan who has written about food, video games, history, sports and politics for a variety of outlets. He suspects Alex Ovechkin may be unkillable by conventional means.
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