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NFL

Who was the biggest NFL Draft dud ever?

The NFL draft promises the world but sometimes those promises simply don’t live up to the hype. We look at the biggest washouts in first-round pick history.

Jeffrey May
Update:
The NFL draft promises the world but sometimes those promises simply don't live up to the hype. We look at the biggest washouts in first round pick history.
Nick LahamGetty Images

The NFL draft is Christmas morning for football teams. All of your hopes and desires wrapped into one big moment where you sit around and see what you got this year. Is it just the thing that you have always wanted?

Just like Christmas morning, you go into with the highest expectations, hoping that this gift will change your life. And also just like Christmas morning, more often than not, it is a multi-colored sweater from your aunt that you will never wear. NFL hopes can often sit, moth-eaten, in a bottom drawer until they are eventually given to a goodwill store.

The thing about the biggest NFL draft duds is that they are only big if they fall a considerable distance. Nobody is surprised if a mediocre college player does badly in the NFL. But when a player who lights up the college game, wins a national championship perhaps, or the Heisman trophy, and then fails to make a mark on the NFL, the great heights mean an ugly landing.

Here are ten of the biggest NFL washouts ever.

JaMarcus Russell

JaMarcus Russell: Llámenme el fracaso más grande
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Jed JacobsohnGetty Images

There is no way that you can discuss draft disappointment without starting off with JaMarcus Russell. Perhaps the biggest draft bust of all time, the LSU quarterback had shown grit, determination, and a come-from-behind steadiness that promised so much. His combine work was impressive and he became the object of desire for many NFL teams. In the end, the Oakland Raiders took him as the number one overall pick and, to everyone’s dismay, that was the highlight of his career. He had a terrible work ethic and could not adjust to the NFL, and he started only 25 games over three seasons. When the Raiders dumped him in 2010, there was no interest anywhere in the league. He never touched the field again.

Tim Tebow

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It is tempting to leave Tim Tebow out of this list because he actually went late in the first round, the 25th overall pick, to the Denver Broncos. But his heights in college were so high, his promise so great, that he has certainly, ahem, earned his place on this list. Two-time national champion and Heisman trophy winner during his time at Florida, Tebow’s lasting legacy to the NFL is a rule, known as the Tebow rule, that was instituted prohibiting players from displaying messages in their eye-black. Under center, however, he made no mark on the league at all. After three non-productive years in Denver, he became a backup for the Jets and failed to make the roster in New England or Philadelphia. He switched over to baseball and had a mediocre minor-league career before returning to the NFL for one preseason game as a tight end for the Jacksonville Jaguars. Oh, Icarus, fly not too close to the sun, lest thy waxy wings should melt.

Brian Bosworth

Bosworth was a beast in college, but his pro career ended before it started.
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Bosworth was a beast in college, but his pro career ended before it started.Getty Images

The Boz. It is difficult to express today just how dominant Brian Bosworth was. He was the greatest inside linebacker since Dick Butkus, shutting down every offense that he faced, both in high school and at Oklahoma during college. He was the classic smash-mouth defender, criticised for tackling too high sometimes, but a beast on the field. He went late in the first round to the Seattle Seahawks and famously had a run-in with Bo Jackson on Monday Night Football. His mouth was his own worst enemy and had fans lining up to see him fail. The shoulders were arthritic and were described by his doctor as “the shoulders of a 60 year old man”. After just 24 games in Seattle, the Boz was no more.

Ryan Leaf

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In many minds the worst ever bust, Ryan Leaf was a Heisman finalist during his time at Washington and went to San Diego second overall pick, just behind Peyton Manning. His poor play in the NFL was exacerbated by his bad work ethic and drug problems. After playing only 25 games over four seasons, he wound up spiralling out of control and wound up in prison on drug and probation offenses. He now has cleaned up his life and is working with a sobriety foundation to help other addicts.

Ki-Jana Carter

During his time at Penn State, Carter put up some serious rushing numbers, including a brace of 1,000-yard rushing seasons. He scored 23 touchdowns his senior year and the Bengals traded up to get their hands on their new Ickey Woods. They took Carter first overall and gave him what was, at the time, a record contract for a rookie. Injury, however, plagued his career from the start and after starting just 14 games in five years, he was traded away. He bounced through the Redskins, Packers, and Saints before retiring with only 1144 professional yards rushing.

Tony Mandarich

An offensive lineman not living up to expectations in the NFL is not so unusual. But when that lineman comes out of college as the “best offensive prospect ever”, the bar is set pretty high. Dominant blocking at Michigan State led to him going number two overall to the Green Bay Packers. Numbers one, three, four, and five were Troy Aikman, Barry Sanders, Derrick Thomas, and Deion Sanders. His underwhelming performance, attributed to his use of steroids and an addiction to painkillers, led to his dismissal after four seasons and he is the only one of the top five of his draft class to not be in the Hall of Fame.

Johnny Manziel

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Ronald MartinezGetty Images

In recent years, the Cleveland Browns have had a sputtering burnout in Johnny Manziel. His Heisman-winning performance at Texas A&M promised a dynamic, playmaking quarterback. Taken in the late first round, 22nd overall, he lasted two forgettable seasons before heading to Canada and then the lower AAF and FCF leagues. Also drafted by the Padres in the MLB draft, perhaps Manziel would have had better luck in baseball. As or the Browns, the moved on to Baker Mayfield and now Deshaun Watson, still searching for the answer to their quarterback woes.

Heath Shuler

Finishing second in the 1993 Heisman vote, Shuler held nearly every Tennessee Volunteers quarterback record before being eclipsed by Peyton Manning. The Washington Redskins took him third overall and he adjusted to the NFL so poorly that he lost his spot to seventh-round draft pick, Gus Frerotte. After three terrible seasons, Shuler was traded to the Saints and was named the “least valuable quarterback” and he left the game to work in real estate before being elected to Congress. In 2012, he transitioned from the House of Representatives to the lobby, working for Duke Energy.

Andre Ware


A run-and-shoot quarterback at the University of Houston, Andre Ware won the Heisman trophy on the back of impressive numbers. Taken seventh overall by the Detroit Lions, Ware joined Barry Sanders and was meant to set the standard for NFL offenses in the 1990s. Unable to make the transition to pro quarterback, he started only six games in four seasons. Detroit’s offensive plans were ultimately placed in the hands of Rodney Peete and Ware struggled to make the roster in LA or Jacksonville. He moved on to Canada and then NFL Europe before finally transitioning into broadcasting.

Matt Leinart

The USC phenom, Rose Bowl and Heisman winner, was taken tenth overall by the Arizona Cardinals as a lineal understudy to the legendary Kurt Warner. His first four years were thus masked by this position and it all seemed to be progressing nicely until poor outings and a broken collar bone saw him lose the job to Derek Anderson. Leinart started 17 games during his tenure at Arizona but only managed to win seven. He bounced through Houston and Oakland for two more seasons before hanging up the cleats.

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