Idiots Guide: Best of the Worst – Biggest NFL Draft Busts in Recent Memory

Each Spring NFL fans across the nation wait with baited breath in anticipation of the draft.  The hopes and dreams of their franchise ride on the effectiveness of the draft process, this is a big deal. Inevitably however, the draft happens and fans are left to wonder ‘Is this guy going to be any good?’. A very good question. The harsh reality of the answer is simple – ‘Nobody knows for sure’. People think they know, but they don’t (See: Fraudulent Mock Draft Boards). Year after year and decade after decade the NFL Draft yields nice surprises and profound disappointments. The higher the draft pick, the greater the monetary investment which creates immense pressure on the player to live up to it and the front office to justify it. Nothing to see here, right? Well, there is actually, especially when the high draft pick goes ‘bust’. Dashed hopes and wasted money leaves many an NFL fan, an angry person. Idiots Guide presents a list of some of the more notable NFL Draft ‘Busts’ in recent history. Wincing and swearing totally expected.

Honorable Mention: Brian ‘The Boz’ Bosworth

Brian Bosworth


#12. Darrius Heyward-Bey  /  7th Pick 2009 Draft  /  Oakland Raiders  

Darrius Heyward-Bey

Coming out of the  University of Maryland, Darrius Heyward-Bey was widely considered the fastest man in the draft. He amazed scouts at the NFL Combine with a 4.30 40-yard dash time. Unfortunately for Heyward-Bey, the NFL game requires that a receiver actually be able to ‘receive’ passes, not drop them consistently. He is still wandering around the league as a 4th or 5th receiving option, but he is by definition,  a bust. The Raiders could’ve drafted Michael Crabtree or Jeremy Maclin instead. Oops.

#11.  Lawrence Phillips /  6th Pick 1996 Draft  / St. Louis Rams 

Lawrence Phillips

Coming out of the University of Nebraska, Lawrence Phillips was an exceptional locomotive running back, at 6’0 and 225 pounds of muscle and speed he had the makings of a great back. Not so much as he couldn’t get his life together off the field and didn’t like to practice on the field. At all. He was arrested and charged with felonies more than a few times in his career and never got it together. Worse still, he ended up going to prison where he murdered a cellmate and died from an apparent suicide in 2016. If it sounds like a hot mess, you heard it right. It’s a hot, sad mess.

#10. Trent Richardson  /  3rd Pick 2012 Draft  / Cleveland Browns 

Trent Richardson

Trent Richardson was probably a victim of unrealistic expectations, but expectations there were. He was considered the top running back prospect coming out of the University of Alabama in 2012. As the 3rd overall pick that year and was touted as the next coming of Adrian Peterson. Yeah, not so much. He became the kind of player whose effectiveness was marginal and struggles with his weight, notable. Trent is still in the NFL (Ravens) as a reclamation project. We’ll see how that goes, but as the 3rd overall draft pick? Bust.

#9.  Mike Williams  / 10th Pick 2005 Draft  / Detroit Lions 

NFL: Miami Dolphins at Detroit Lions

Mike Williams was a consensus All-American at the University of Southern California. The problem was that he wanted to play pro ball, like yesterday. So he decided to declare for the 2004 NFL Draft, by rule a year too early. It didn’t work out for him. The NFL is real tight about that early entry issue. He ended up sitting out an entire year, waiting. Is this the reason why he never ended up being any good? Maybe. Bottom line is that he was never really any good. As the 10th overall pick in the 2005 draft his productivity, or lack of, qualify him for the dubious honor of being a bust.

#8. Akili Smith  /  3rd Pick 1999 Draft  / Cincinnati Bengals 

Akili Smith

As the 3rd pick in the 1999 draft coming out of the University of Oregon,  Akili Smith was supposed to be somebody in the NFL. Unfortunately, he wasn’t, ever. The bottom line is that he should never have been drafted in the 1st round. Especially as he was totally unproven with only one decent season at the collegiate level, before Oregon was Oregon no less. He lasted the better part of 4 years in the NFL before he started his NFL Europe tour followed by the obligatory stop in Canada and the CFL. Mr. Smith has left the building, bust in hand.

#7. Tim Couch  / 1st Pick 1999 Draft / Cleveland Browns 

Browns v Seahawks

Coming out of the University of Kentucky as an All-American, Tim Couch became the number one overall draft pick in 1999. He was never seen or heard from again. Ok, maybe he was but after witnessing his on-field play, many people wished that they had never seen or heard of him in the first place. It could be argued that being drafted by the Browns is a curse, who knows? He ended up playing 5 seasons in the NFL with his only notable accomplishment being a ‘Rookie of the Month’ honor (October 1999), that’s about it. Remember, he was the 1st pick of the 1st round, ummm….total bust-eroni.

#6.  Joey Harrington  / 3rd Pick 2002 Draft / Detroit Lions 

Joey Harrington

Coming out of the University of Oregon,  Joey Harrington was the 4th runner-up in the Heisman Trophy race in 2001. He also had 1st Team All-American and Pac-10 Offensive Player of the Year honors to his credit. Harrington parlayed that into being selected as the 3rd overall pick in the 2002 draft. There were no more awards to follow except that one ‘Offensive Player of the Year’ as voted by Detroit Lions fans in 2005. He played a lackluster 6 seasons with 3 different teams before bowing out as a total career disappointment. Nothing personal Joey, but your career was a huge, steaming pile of bust.

#5.  David Carr  /  1st Pick 2002 Draft / Houston Texans 

David Carr

As the 1st overall draft pick of the Houston Texans coming off of an illustrious Fresno State football career, David Carr was slotted to be the second coming, the problem was that it was actually the second coming of extinguished dreams. Sure he spent a majority of his career on his back, breaking records for being sacked in a season and such, but really? 1st overall pick in the NFL Draft? Don’t just take my word for it, voted him the 10th worst No. 1 overall pick in NFL Draft history. I second that vote, can I third it?

#4.  Justin Blackmon  /  5th Pick 2012 Draft /  Jacksonville Jaguars 

Justin Blackmon

When Justin Blackmon came out of Oklahoma State there was little reason to believe that he wasn’t going to be a special player. After all he was a consensus All-American with the kinds of physical gifts reserved for the greats. As it turns it we were half right, he was special, just not the good kind. He is special for his predilection for suspension(s). Immediately after his rookie season, he was suspended for the first 4 games of 2013 as a result of violating the NFL’s substance abuse policy, rule thing. He followed that up with an indefinite suspension for a 2nd violation of that substance policy rule thing in November of 2013. It’s 2016 and Justin Blackmon hasn’t played a real NFL down since.   You tell me, is he a bust? I will say that he does get bust-ed for DUI’s more often than not.

#3.  Vince Young  / 3rd Pick 2006 Draft  / Tennessee Titans

Washington Redskins v Tennessee Titans

Vince Young is an interesting case insofar that he started out very well in the NFL (NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year) and then he imploded and/or self-destructed in brilliant fashion. The former University of Texas star was primed for what many considered a Hall of Fame type of career. What happened? It seems that Vince had Hall of Fame physical talent, paired with Bellevue Mental Hospital emotional problems. Then there were the injuries. His downfall began with his 2008 knee injury which put his starting position in jeopardy, he didn’t handle that well although he was a ‘Comeback Player of the Year’ candidate. There was always a problem with Vince, usually petulant in nature. In 2010 Young suffered a torn flexor tendon in his right thumb, an injury that coaches thought should keep him out of the game. Vince didn’t think so and he threw his shoulder pads into the stands in childish protest. His career went completely downhill from there. B.U.S.T.

#2.  Ryan Leaf  /  2nd Pick 1998 Draft  /  San Diego Chargers 

Ryan Leaf

Ryan Leaf is the pride and joy of  Washington State University football. Oh wait, no he’s not. What he actually became is one of the biggest NFL draft busts in it’s history. As the 2nd overall pick in 1998, Leaf was poised to become a star. He had the size and the arm and, and, and…nothing happened. Well nothing good anyway, plenty happened, it’s just that none of it was good. Poor professional attitude was followed by poor behavior, was followed by poor play.  Which led to poor fan reception. In San Diego no less. They came to rue the day that Indianapolis picked Peyton Manning with the 1st pick, leaving them with a soggy Leaf. His antics started early when he skipped a mandatory symposium for rookies, it got worse from there. Incidents with reporters, the same with teammates, Leaf quickly became a dumpster fire of his own arson. He played the better part of 4 terrible seasons and never even sniffed the potential people saw in him. Drug abuse was to follow, although thankfully it’s been reported that he’s gotten past that issue. Nevertheless, his career was a compete bust in every sense of the word.

#1. JeMarcus Russell  /  1st Pick 2007 Draft /  Oakland Raiders 

JaMarcus Russell

There is one reason that I admire JeMarcus Russell. He figured out a way to steal $32 million dollars, legally. Nice job. This of course was a by-product of the 2007 contract the Oakland Raiders signed him to worth $61 million. $32 million of which was fully guaranteed. He never earned any of it. The former Louisiana State University star quarterback only managed a dismal 7–18 record as an NFL starter in his brief albeit lucrative time with the Raiders. His play was so bad he was released in May of 2010. Less than 3 years after signing that mega-dollar deal. The Raiders had no need for an oversized QB with weight and discipline issues in tow. He got to keep that $32 million and more. He also gets the dis-honor of being the single biggest NFL Draft Bust in history. #B.U.S.T.


Honorable Mention:  Tony Mandarich