Who are the biggest draft busts in the history of the NFL?

NFL Draft (Photo by Kevin Sabitus/Getty Images)
NFL Draft (Photo by Kevin Sabitus/Getty Images) /

The NFL Draft is one of the most exciting events in the world of professional football. Every season, teams spend months on months of scouting players and analyzing data in the hopes of finding the next great superstar to lead their franchise to glory.

However, for every success story in the draft, there are just as many failures. Throughout the history of the NFL, there have been numerous draft busts who have failed to live up to the hype and expectations surrounding them. These players, once viewed as future stars of the game, often crumble under the pressure of the NFL and are quickly forgotten.

In this article, we will be taking a look at the five biggest draft busts in NFL history. These are the players who were viewed as the next big thing but failed to deliver on their potential leaving a lasting mark on the franchise that drafted them.

Biggest NFL draft busts in the history of the league

NFL Draft
NFL Draft (Photo by Kevin Sabitus/Getty Images) /

1. JaMarcus Russell – QB – Oakland Raiders (2007)

In the history of the NFL, there have been many players who were hailed as the next big thing, only to fall short of expectations. However, there is one player who stands out above the crowd as the biggest draft bust of all time: JaMarcus Russell.

The Oakland Raiders made JaMarcus Russell the first overall pick in the 2007 NFL draft. At the time, he was seen as one of the most promising quarterback prospects ever, with all the physical tools to be a generational star. Standing at 6″6 and weighing in at over 260 pounds, he had a cannon of an arm and was viewed as the saviour for a struggling Raiders franchise.

Unfortunately, things quickly went downhill for Russell after getting drafted in 2007. In his first season with the Raiders, he completed just 53.8% of his passes and only had two touchdowns to go along with ten interceptions. His inability to read defences and lack of accuracy was starting to become a major concern for the Raiders coaching staff.

Things only got worse for Russell in his second season. Although he threw for 13 touchdowns and only 8 interceptions, his off-the-field issues began to take center stage. He was frequently criticized for his work ethic and lack of commitment. Throughout this season Russell’s weight ballooned to over 300 pounds, and he struggled to stay in shape.

Russell finished his career with just 18 touchdown passes to 23 interceptions and is widely regarded as one of the biggest draft busts in NFL history. In the end, the story of JaMarcus Russell serves as a cautionary tale for teams and fans alike. It’s a reminder that no matter how promising a prospect may seem, there are no guarantees in the NFL, and the road to greatness is paved with hard work and dedication.

2. Ryan Leaf – QB – San Diego Chargers (1998)

Ryan Leaf was viewed as a can’t-miss prospect coming out of Washington State University in 1998. At the time of the draft in ’98, there was heavy discourse over who the better quarterback was between Leaf and future hall of Famer, Peyton Manning. Some analysts even slandered the Indianapolis Colts at the time, for selecting Manning first overall, citing Leaf as the better prospect.

In Leaf’s first season for San Diego, he had an abysmal 45.3% completion percentage, to go along with 2 touchdowns and a horrendous 15 interceptions in 9 games. During this season, he clashed with coaches, teammates, and even the media of the San Diego Chargers.

Leaf missed the 1999 season with an injury, but came back again in 2000 and was named the Chargers starter. Leaf finished that season with 11 touchdowns to 18 interceptions, and after finishing with a disastrous 1-15 record, the Chargers decided to release Leaf on February 28, 2001.

Leaf only played three more games in the NFL in 2001 for the Dallas Cowboys where he threw 1 touchdown and 3 interceptions while going 0-3. Ultimately, the Cowboys released him in May 2002, and a few months later Leaf was completely out of the league, just four years after he was drafted.

Throughout his NFL career, Leaf was known for being aloof and disinterested in the game. In addition to his poor attitude, he also struggled with accuracy and decision-making on the field, throwing more interceptions (36) than touchdowns (14) in his career.

Leaf’s off-the-field behaviour was also a major concern, as he was often in the news for the wrong reasons. He had several run-ins with the law, including multiple drug charges and accusations of assault. These issues only added to his reputation as a locker-room cancer and troublemaker, leading to his release from the Chargers, Buccaneers, Cowboys, and Seahawks.

3. Tony Mandarich – OT – Green Bay Packers (1989)

Tony Mandarich was viewed as a once-in-a-generational talent coming out of Michigan State in 1989. His combination of size, strength, and athleticism made him a top target for NFL teams. Many analysts predicted he would become one of the league’s premier offensive linemen, some even comparing him to Hall of Famer, Anthony Munoz.

He was even featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated where they nicknamed him, “The Incredible Bull,” and touted him as, “The best offensive line prospect ever.” In that same issue of Sports Illustrated, there was an article talking about his unheard-of measurables.

According to this article, Mandarich was 6″6, weighed 330 pounds, ran the 40-yard dash in 4.65 seconds, had a standing long jump of 10’3″, had a 30″ vertical leap, and bench-pressed 225 pounds an absurd 39 times.

However, things quickly went wrong for Mandarich in the NFL. He struggled with injuries, poor play and a bad attitude. In fact, directly after the NFL draft, Mandarich held out of Packers camp because of contract disputes and only came back a week before the season started. He spent most of that first season on the special-teams unit, and after a lackluster three seasons with the Packers where he started 31 games, they decided to cut him in 1992.

One of the key factors in Mandarich’s failure was his poor work ethic and attitude, as he was often seen as arrogant and uninterested in the game.  Additionally, in 2008, Mandarich admitted that during his time at Michigan State, and with Green Bay, he was taking steroids to boost his on-field performance.

4. Charles Rogers – WR – Detroit Lions (2003)

Rogers was selected second overall in the 2003 NFL draft by the Detroit Lions following a standout career at Michigan State. At MSU in Roger’s sophomore and junior seasons, he combined for 2,821 yards and 27 touchdowns. As a junior, he was named the Biletnikoff award winner and a unanimous All-American.

When he came into the NFL in 2003, he was viewed as a surefire star, with his combination of size, speed, athleticism and route running. Despite all of that, Rogers had arguably the worst NFL career of anyone on this list, only playing three seasons in the NFL, before being released in 2006. In those three seasons, and Roger’s career as a whole he combined for only 440 yards and 4 touchdowns in 15 games.

Off the field, Rogers also struggled with addiction issues, which further derailed his career. He was suspended multiple times for violating the NFL’s substance abuse policy, and his addiction ultimately led to his release from the Lions and his eventual exit from the NFL.

Beyond that, Rogers’ poor performance on the field was also a major factor in his failure. He struggled with drops, poor route-running, and inconsistent play throughout his time with the Lions.

5. Brian Bosworth – LB – Seattle Seahawks (1987)

Brian Bosworth was known for his brash personality and dominant play at the University of Oklahoma but failed to live up to the expectations placed on him in the NFL. During his time at OU, “The Boz,” was one of the best linebackers College Football had ever seen, proven by his back-to-back Butkus awards in 1985 and 1986. He is still the only player ever to accomplish this feat.

Bosworth was selected with the first overall pick in the 1987 NFL Supplemental Draft by the Seattle Seahawks. At the time, many analysts and fans predicted Bosworth to become one of the league’s best linebackers in a short period of time. Bosworth’s failure was a shock to many in the football world, who had expected him to become a star in the NFL.

After the Seahawks drafted him in 1987, they signed him to a 10-year contract worth $11 million. Unfortunately, Bosworth was forced to retire after only two seasons in the NFL in 1989, due to a shoulder injury.

One of the key factors in Bosworth’s failure in the NFL, other than injuries, was his poor attitude and lack of professionalism. He was often seen as arrogant and confrontational, as he clashed with teammates, coaches, and media alike throughout his career.

Bosworth’s poor performance on the field was also a pivotal factor in his failure. He struggled heavily with injuries and was unable to live up to the hype that surrounded him when he was drafted. Additionally, he was not a great fit for the Seahawks’ defensive scheme, and his lack of speed and athleticism limited his effectiveness as a linebacker.