Owning the number one pick in the NFL Draft is a fresh start for the worst team in the league. The franchise quarterback you’ve been missing? Here’s your chance. The pass rusher your defense desperately needs? Have at it. The kicker needed to guarantee three points inside the 50? We have yet to see this, but I’m waiting on the day when someone says screw it and pulls the trigger. Mel Kiper would have an aneurysm on live TV.
My formula for building a team, and the reason I’m a well-respected manager who’s finished in seventh place in consecutive years in my fantasy football league (not to brag), is getting a quarterback, protecting that quarterback with capable offensive linemen, snagging a pass rusher to annoy opposing quarterbacks and giving your quarterback weapons. The rest can be filled in as needed. Going with the best available is fine, too.
This isn’t to say picking number one overall is easy. Several teams have struck gold with their Hall of Fame choices like the Indianapolis Colts with Peyton Manning, the Denver Broncos with John Elway, the Buffalo Bills with Bruce Smith, the St. Louis Rams with Orlando Pace, the Pittsburgh Steelers with Terry Bradshaw, the Dallas Cowboys with Troy Aikman, the Houston Oilers with Earl Campbell and the Minnesota Vikings with Ron Yary. Others…well, they haven’t been so lucky.
Here are the worst first overall picks who didn’t come close to living up to their draft position.
The 10 Worst No. 1 Picks in NFL Draft History
10. Jeff George, 1990
Drafted by the Indianapolis Colts out of Illinois, quarterback Jeff George had a rocket arm and a non-conforming attitude. George was out of Indy after four years, posing a 14-35 record, and saw action on five teams throughout his NFL career due to clashing with management and coaches. Although he had his moments, like leading the Atlanta Falcons and Minnesota Vikings to the playoffs in 1995 and 1999, respectively, he wasn’t the guy you wanted to build your franchise around.
9. Tim Couch, 1999
Tim Couch and David Carr (more on him later) get a bad rap. You couldn’t have thrown these guys into worse situations. For Couch, he was the first pick by the new Cleveland Browns in 1999 after the original franchise moved to Baltimore three years earlier. And he was expected to lead a hodgepodge group of random guys from across the league who had no experience playing together. Right off the bat, you have zero chemistry, a new head coach, a rebooted franchise and a horrendous offensive line.
Just how bad was Cleveland’s group up front? Couch was sacked 56 — yes, 56 — times in his rookie year. In the seasons the Kentucky quarterback played 14 or more games, he was brought down at least 30 times. It’s a miracle he was able to lead the team to the NFL Playoffs in 2002 — the franchise’s only postseason appearance until 2020.
Sure, Couch wasn’t great, but he had a hard time staying healthy throughout his career (no thanks to his offensive line). Whoever was drafted here was set up to fail. Couch happened to be the guy who actually was.
8. Courtney Brown, 2000
Courtney Brown separated himself from the competition by running a 4.52-second 40-yard dash at Penn State’s Pro Day. Keep in mind he was a 6-foot-5, 271-pound defensive end. But, being drafted by the Cleveland Browns at the turn of the century was a sentence for a short and painful career. Brown had a strong rookie year with 4.5 sacks and 69 total tackles, however, his production dropped in subsequent years due to injuries.
He was out of the league by 2006.
7. David Carr, 2002
Like Couch, David Carr had the cards stacked against him when he was drafted by the Houston Texans in 2002. New franchise, new coach, new everything and — you guessed it — new offensive line. Think Couch got sacked a lot? Carr was sacked 76 (!) times as a rookie. In his five years in Houston, he was sacked 249 times and somehow didn’t miss a start.
My thoughts on Carr are similar to Couch: anyone drafted here probably would’ve fared similarly. Carr was at least able to get a Super Bowl ring while backing up Eli Manning on the New York Giants.
6. Aundray Bruce, 1988
Aundray Bruce had a strong rookie campaign with the Atlanta Falcons, posting 70 tackles, six sacks, two interceptions and two forced fumbles, but the Auburn product’s career plateaued from there. He did play 11 years in the league with the Falcons and Los Angeles/Oakland Raiders. It’s just that he never developed into the defensive star he was supposed to be.
Bruce is the only outside linebacker to ever be taken first overall.
5. Jared Goff, 2016
Similar to how his doppelgänger Ryan Gosling was a liability at cornerback in “Remember the Titans“, Goff has been a liability at quarterback. The Los Angeles Rams selected the Cal QB in 2016 hoping he would be the face of the franchise as they moved back to southern California (the other choice being two-vote 2017 NFL MVP getter Carson Wentz), but it never materialized.
To his credit, he showed flashes under Sean McVay and quarterbacked a team to the Super Bowl, but that was more because of McVay’s offensive mind and being surrounded by a talented supporting cast than his play. Now on the Detroit Lions, Goff is entering the make-or-break year of his career.
4. Kenneth Sims, 1982
Kenneth Sims, a defensive end who was drafted by the New England Patriots out of Texas, had the unlucky draw of the league going on strike in the middle of his rookie year. But, it’s not like he was killing it. The defensive end had three sacks in the shortened nine-game season. Then, he suffered injuries and never fully developed into the prospect he was projected to be. He finished his eight-year career with 17 sacks in 74 appearances.
Sims did have a bright spot in his career, however. He played in Super Bowl XX, but the Patriots were smoked 46-10 by the Chicago Bears.
3. Steve Emtman, 1992
A stud defensive end from Washington, Steve Emtman had all the makings of an elite pass rusher with a 6-foot-4, 293-pound frame. Unfortunately for him, the Indianapolis Colts, who selected him in 1992, play on artificial turf and he suffered some brutal injuries, like tearing his patellar tendon in his second season, during his six-year career.
Emtman only recorded eight sacks in 50 games and finished his career with the Miami Dolphins and Washington Redskins.
2. Ki-Jana Carter, 1995
Penn State’s Ki-Jana Carter is the last running back to be taken first overall, and there’s a reason why. Running backs have a short shelf life and good ones can be found for cheap in later rounds. If Carter tearing his ACL in his first preseason game with the Cincinnati Bengals wasn’t an omen, I don’t know what is. The rest of his pro days were plagued by more injuries, and he finished his seven-year career with 1,144 rushing yards in 59 games.
The fact that the Bengals traded up with the Carolina Panthers to grab him is salt in the wound.
1. Jamarcus Russell, 2007
The Oakland Raiders drafted Russell out of LSU in 2007 because they loved his arm and size. It became apparent after a dispute over his contract that caused him to miss the first week of his rookie season that this wasn’t a marriage made to last. Russell had a hard time staying in shape and lied about watching film even though coaches gave him blank tapes, which inspired the $100 bill at the back of the playbook trick in the iconic movie “Draft Day.” He never played a professional snap after 2009.