15 Biggest Busts In NFL Draft History
15 Biggest Busts in NFL Draft History
Over the course of the history of the NFL Draft, there have been plenty of draft pick busts. The reasons why each of these guys may have been considered busts varies widely from a history of injuries that never allowed the player to reach his potential, to unmet expectations due to college success, to off-field issues that derailed a career that was once promising. It's often an exercise in subjectivity to determine which players are the biggest busts of them all, but regardless, it's an interesting one nonetheless.
It's relatively easy to pick out the quarterbacks, running backs, or wide receivers that could be considered busts, because their success at their positions is easily quantifiable -- there are set statistical standars that determine whether or not a player lives up to expectations. It's a little more difficult when it comes to defensive players, offensive linemen, or kickers, but it's still possible -- and when you dig into the research some, obvious.
As you click through these slides, so of the names will jump off the page at you as names you've heard before, who are so associated with the "bust" label, that it has become second-nature to see or hear about them. Others aren't so well-known, but stood at out as us as being obvious as well in the bigger contest of draft failures.
Enjoy our picks for the 15 biggest busts in NFL Draft history!
Tom Cousineau (LB- Ohio State)-- 1st overall pick, 1979 -- Cleveland Browns
One of the most promising NFL prospects of the 1970s, Tom Cousineau was a consensus first-team All-American in 1979 and set a school record of a whopping 211 tackles in that same season. He still holds this record, as well as the record of 29 tackles in a single game. Even though he was the first pick in the 1979 draft, Cousineau never played a down in the NFL that season, instead opting to take more money in the CFL with the Montreal Alouettes. After a brief stint in the NFL between 1982-1987 for several teams where he was considered overpaid and had marginal success, Cousineau retired. He currently renovates houses in Akron, Ohio.
Akili Smith (QB- Oregon)- 3rd overall pick, 1999 -- Cincinnati Bengals
Before the Oregon Ducks were the flashy phenomenon we now know, Akili Smith had things rocking in Eugene. Smith threw for 43 touchdowns against only 14 interceptions during his last two seasons at Oregon, and was just as nimble on his feet, earning praise from NFL scouts across the board. Smith was taken 3rd overall by Cincinnati in the 1999 draft, but never reached his potential, seeing brief stints for several teams before leaving football in 1999. He currently is the quarterbacks coach at St. Augustine High School in San Diego, California.
Russell Erxleben (K- Texas) -- 11th overall pick, 1979 -- New Orleans Saints
In spite of just how good he was, all you need to know is that Texas Longhorns legend Russell Erxleben was the second highest drafted kicker in NFL history and the expectations surrounding this were not lived up to. Due to his ability to both kick and punt, it was hoped he would save the New Orleans Saints a roster spot, but his NFL kicking career was largely spent as a punter, and uneventful. After several run-ins with federal authorities during his post-football career as a Forex trader in Austin, Texas, Erxleben was arrested earlier this year on several charged related to a large scale Ponzi scheme.
Art Schlichter (QB- Ohio State)- 4th overall pick, 1982 -- Indianapolis Colts
At the time, Art Schlichter was the best quarterback the Ohio State Buckeyes had ever seen -- throwing for 7,547 yards and 50 touchdowns and rushing for 35 more during his time in Columbus, leaving campus as the program’s all-time leader in total offense. Taken with the 4th overall pick by the Indianapolis Colts in 1982, Schlichter threw only 3 touchdown passes in abbreviated action -- constantly derailed by a gambling addiction which caused him issues --over three NFL seasons before finishing his career with brief stints in the Canadian Football League and Arena Football League. In 2011, Schlichter was sentenced to 10 years in federal prison for involvement in a large-scale ticket scam.
Blair Thomas (RB- Penn State)-- 2nd overall pick, 1990 -- New York Jets
One of the best high school football players in the history of the city of Philadelphia, Blair Thomas entered Penn State as a can’t miss prospect, and delivered on that promise. A two-year starter at Penn State, Thomas is still second all-time in both rushing yardage and touchdowns for the Nittany Lions. His NFL transition, however, was shaky at best, rushing for only 2,000 yards and five touchdowns with the New York Jets. Thomas wrapped up his short NFL career with the Carolina Panthers in 1995 and currently owns a chain of sports bars in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.
Peter Warrick (WR- Florida State)-- 4th overall pick, 2000 -- Cincinnati Bengals
Chad Johnson before there was Chad Johnson, Peter Warrick was one of the most dynamic, and most, um, confident wide receivers in college football during the late 1990s. A three-time All-ACC honoree and two time consensus All-American, Warrick had all of the tools to be a dynamic NFL receiver, but he never made a clean transition to the pro game. Over five seasons in the NFL, Warrick never gained more than 670 yards receiving and eventually washed out of football after stints with several Arena League teams, the most recent coming in 2011.
Courtney Brown (DE - Penn State)- 1st overall pick, 2000-- Cleveland Browns
The second consecutive can’t-miss pick of the Cleveland Browns in 2000, Penn State defensive end Courtney Brown had the promise and talent to be a game-changer at his position. During his time in State College, Brown did it all, and took home just about every award imaginable at his position. Things didn’t translate to the NFL however, as Brown struggled through six seasons in Cleveland and Denver combined, tallying only 156 tackles and 19 total sacks. Brown still lives in Denver.
Steve Emtman (DE- Washington)-- 1st overall pick, 1992-- Indianapolis Colts
Just as many believed Tony Mandarich would revolutionize the offensive tackle position, many assumed the same of Steve Emtman at defensive end. Emtman took home every award possible at his position in 1991, even finishing fourth in Heisman Trophy balloting behind Desmond Howard, Casey Weldon and Ty Detmer. After several consecutive knee injuries during his short stint with the Colts, Emtman eventually hung up the cleats after a brief appearance with the Washington Redskins in 1997. He currently works as a real estate developer in Spokane Valley, Washington.
Rick Mirer (QB- Notre Dame)-- 2nd overall pick, 1993 -- Seattle Seahawks
Although the comparisons were patently unfair, former Notre Dame Fighting Irish quarterback Rick Mirer earned comparisons to Irish legend Joe Montana early in his career which both catapulted him to lofty praise and caused his downfall. After relatively modest stats in South Bend, Mirer was still drafted with the second overall pick of the 1993 draft by the Oakland Raiders and thrust right into action. Mirer bounced between six teams in a 10-team NFL career which never saw him earn a consistent starting spot or permanent home. Mirer resides in San Diego and owns a winery in Napa Valley called Mirror.
Brian Bosworth (LB- Oklahoma) -- 1st overall pick, 1987-- Seattle Seahawks
Brian “Boz” Bosworth epitomized the swagger-laden Oklahoma Sooners of the late 1980s that dominated the college football landscape. After a spectacular career in Norman -- one we later learned was steroid-fueled as assumed -- Bosworth was drafted with the 1st overall pick of the 1987 draft by the Seattle Seahawks, but failed in the NFL, playing only two seasons. Since his departure from football Bosworth has had occasional gigs as a color commentator and a few acting cameos, including a recent appearance on Fox’s cooking show Hell’s Kitchen.
Ryan Leaf (QB- Washington State) -- 2nd overall pick, 1998-- San Diego Chargers
Arguably the biggest NFL draft bust at quarterback in history, Ryan Leaf, just couldn’t, and still can’t, get out of his own way. After a dominant career with the Washington State Cougars that saw Leaf throwing for over 6,000 yards and 59 touchdowns, it was a downward spiral of unmet expectations and off-field incidents. Leaf’s short, three-year NFL career saw him throw for a total of only 3,666 yards and earn a 50.0 QB rating. The larger concern were his legal troubles which included prescription drug abuse and distribution and breaking and entering, the latter of which has him serving time at Deer Lodge prison in Montana.
Tim Couch (QB- Kentucky)- 1st overall pick, 1999 -- Cleveland Browns
Unfortunately for him, when you think of NFL quarterback flops, Tim Couch is almost always the first name that comes to mind. After utter dominance in high school and for the Kentucky Wildcats -- where he threw 76 touchdown passes over three seasons -- they hype surrounding Couch was almost unprecedented as he was heralded as the savior of a floundering Cleveland Browns organization. Instead, Couch wallowed in mediocrity for four seasons in Cleveland and had failed comeback attempts later with the Green Bay Packers and Jacksonville Jaguars. Couch now works for Fox Sports South as a football analyst.
Lawrence Phillips (RB- Nebraska)- 6th overall pick, 1996 -- St. Louis Rams
Lawrence Phillips was one of the premier, if not the premier, running back prospect of the 1990s. With the Nebraska Cornhuskers, Phillips was an unstoppable force playing three seasons in Lincoln, and foregoing his final year of eligibility to head to the NFL in 1996. After a slew of off-field problems -- that actually began during his time at Nebraska -- Phillips fizzled out after seven seasons split between the NFL and the Canadian Football League and was eventually sentenced to 25 years in prison in 2009 for multiple accounts of battery and assault to a former girlfriend.
Tony Mandarich (OT- Michigan State) -- 2nd overall pick, 1989 -- Green Bay Packers
One of the biggest NFL draft busts in history was Michigan State monster offensive tackle Tony Mandarich. While playing at Michigan State during the steroid-crazy mid-1980s Mandarich overwhelmed everyone in his path, earning him the 2nd selection from the Green Bay Packers in the 1989 NFL Draft. Mandarich started only 47 games over eight seasons with the Packers and Indianapolis Colts, before retiring in 1998 due to persistent shoulder injuries. Mandarich went on to admit his steroid use and his recovery, and owns a full service marketing firm in Scottsdale, Arizona, Mandarich Marketing Group.
JaMarcus Russell (QB- LSU)-- 1st overall pick, 2007 -- Oakland Raiders
JaMarcus Russell’s name almost equals the term “bust”. One of the most highly-hyped quarterbacks in LSU history due to his extreme combination of size, strength and athleticism fell completely flat in his two seasons with the Oakland Raiders, ballooning to well over 300 pounds and falling out of football. Russell is in the midst of an attempted comeback and is working with NFL starts past and present to rehab himself physically and mentally. It’ll be interesting to see if a second chance will be realized for the biggest draft bust in NFL history.
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