NFL Draft day is always hugely exciting for the players involved, the teams picking, and last, but not least, the armchair quarterbacks who anxiously wait to see what their team is going to do to get them one step closer to the Superbowl. Every year there is hype surrounding the cream of the crop, those outstanding college players who have the best chance of being superstars in the NFL. However, there have been many hyped draft picks in the history of the NFL that never reached the potential that they showed in college. Some simply fade into obscurity, or go on to serviceable, if unspectacular, careers. Yet, for some, the gulf between their vast potential and their NFL accomplishments is so wide that they can only be called a bust. There have been many such busts over the years, but only those that really underachieved have made this list. Here are my picks for the top 10 NFL draft busts of all time:
10 – Ki-Jana Carter
This number 1 overall pick of the Cincinnati Bengals in the 1995 draft had a brutal start to his professional career. Now, to be fair to Carter, it was injury that turned this Penn State running back from budding star to bust. He tore his ACL during his first NFL preseason game, essentially erasing his potential before he had a chance to shine. He went on to rush for just 1,144 yards in an unmemorable 10 year career.
9 – Jim Druckenmiller
Drafted by the 49ers in 1997 for his incredibly strong arm, this Virginia Tech QB could launch the ball more than 100 yards. He was supposed to be the next one in the 49ers line of great quarterbacks. Unfortunately, he fell well short of being the next Joe Montana or Steve Young. While he could throw the ball a mile, he had poor accuracy. He played only 6 games with San Francisco, managing a measly 1 touchdown pass.
8 – Brian Bosworth
Brian Bosworth probably wouldn’t have qualified for this list of the top 10 NFL draft busts of all time, except that the hype surrounding his selection was so enormous that he couldn’t possibly have lived up to it. Bosworth was so arrogant and so certain of his future stardom that he actually had the audacity to send letters to several NFL teams stating that he wouldn’t play for them if they drafted him. Once he landed with the Seahawks he performed reasonably well, but a shoulder injury ended his career after only 3 seasons.
7 – Heath Shuler
This congressman at one point had enormous potential as an NFL quarterback. He was a dominant QB at the University at Tennessee, impressing Washington Redskins scouts so much they selected him with their 1st pick (3rd overall) in the 1994 draft. Billed as the quarterback of the future, a contract holdout, poor play and a shoulder injury saw Shuler lose the starting job to fellow 1994 draftee (7th round) Gus Frerotte. He lasted 3 years with the Redskins before being shown the door, moving on to New Orleans and Oakland, where his poor play continued and multiple injuries to his foot eventually ended his undistinguished career.
6 – Tony Mandarich
Sandwiched between Hall of Famers Troy Aikman and Barry Sanders in the 1989 NFL draft, Mandarich would have had to be one of the NFL all time best offensive linemen to live up to his draft position. This massively muscular player never lived up to the hype he had coming out of Michigan State and was released by Green Bay after just 3 seasons.
5 – Akili Smith
Another goof by the Bengals makes the top 10 NFL draft busts of all time. This quarterback out of Oregon was drafted 3rd overall in 1999. He never could fill the shoes of an NFL gunslinger though. He started just 17 games during his time in Cincinnati, managing a woeful 5 touchdown passes, and 13 interceptions.
4 – Keith McCants
The hype meter around defensive players coming into the NFL draft is rarely as high as that reserved for offensive standouts, but this bruising linebacker out of Alabama was so dominant on the defensive side of the ball he was taken 4th overall by Tampa Bay in the 1990 draft. He managed to stick around for just 6 seasons, averaging just over 2 sacks a year, a far cry from the numbers this NFL draft bust was projected to put up.
3 – Charles Rogers
This 2003 NFL draft bust was a dominant wide receiver at Michigan State, and salivating Lion’s scouts watched him rack up such massive numbers they convinced Detroit to draft him at the number 2 position that year. However, after a decent start to his career (3 TDs in his first 5 games) he has since floundered. Injuries and substance abuse problems and spent a few tumultuous years in Detroit before being released by the Lions in 2006. Since then he has tried out for several NFL clubs with all of them taking a pass.
2 – Lawrence Phillips
This spectacularly powerful running back out of Nebraska had so much potential Scouts were willing to overlook the problems he caused off the football field. He was chosen 6th overall in the 1996 NFL Draft by the Rams, based primarily on his outstanding performance in the 1996 Fiesta Bowl. Phillips would prove the scouts made the wrong choice over the course of his career, brushes with the law and insubordination combined with mediocre play he never reached the potential he showed in college.
1 – Ryan Leaf
Pretty much anyone close to the game of football has this guy at the number 1 spot on the list of the top 10 NFL draft busts of all time. The Chargers gave up a multiple draft picks and 2 players to move up a single spot to draft this guy in 1998, who many scouts had pegged in the number 1 ranking, ahead of Peyton Manning. As it turns out those scouts couldn’t have been more wrong. Manning is widely considered one of the best gunslingers ever, while Leaf washed out. Terrible play, injuries, and his abrasive personality cut this potential superstars career short before it started. Truly one of the biggest busts in sports history.