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Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Top 10 NFL Draft Busts of the Past 20 Years

For this top 10 Tuesday, we will explore the draft picks that didn't live up to the hype. These are the guys that were picked in the first round, signed the contract, made the roster, and then just fizzled out into oblivion. Some names you will recognize and some won't even ring a bell. These are the players whose college stats indicated promise and success at the NFL level. Once there, these guys didn't stand a chance. Here are my top ten draft busts of the past 20 years:

10) Jim Drunkenmiller (San Francisco 49ers, 1st round, pick 26, 1997)
Jim Drunkenmiller was drafted to be the successor to Steve Young. The 49ers, known for their ability to turn young rookie quarterbacks into superstars, picked Drunkenmiller to be their signal caller for the future. What they got was a guy who simply could not play at the next level.

Drunkenmiller's stats are grim. He played in only 6 games and threw only 1 touchdown along with 4 interceptions (a QB rating of 29.2). The 49ers traded him to Miami who ended up releasing him after a short stay.

9) Tim Couch (Cleveland Browns, 1st round, pick 1, 1999)
Tim Couch was going to be the savior of the Browns' organization. Expectations for Couch were high, to say the least. He was given the starting role over then starter Ty Detmer by the second game in his rookie season. Expectations are one thing, productivity is another. Couch's career just never got off the couch.

He had one promising season in 2002, where he threw for 18 touchdowns, but also 18 interceptions. That year, he managed to get the Browns' to a wildcard playoff game. A game that Couch couldn't even play in. Couch suffered a broken leg in the final game of the regular season and had to watch backup QB Kelly Holcomb start the game. The Browns lost; but Holcomb threw for over 400 yards. Thus started the QB controversy that eventually ran Couch out of Cleveland.

8) Andre Ware (Detroit Lions, 1st round, pick 7 1990)
Andre Ware's college career was off the chain. He was the first black quarterback to win the Heisman Trophy. In his junior year, he threw for almost 4700 yards and 44 touchdowns. Then, Ware decided to enter into the NFL draft. I can't say I blame him. Fame and fortune awaited him at the next level and all signs pointed to success. But, success was not to be had for Ware in the NFL.

Playing third string to starter Rodney Peete and backup Erik Kramer, Ware never really had significant playing time. When he did, it was dismal. He only made six starts in which he threw 5 touchdowns and 8 interceptions. By 1994, he was with the L.A. Raiders who cut him after just a few games.

7) Cade McNown (Chicago Bears, 1st round, pick 12, 1999)
Cade McNown was the Bears highest draft pick since Jim McMahon in a quarterback rich draft that also featured Daunte Culpepper and Donovan McNabb. McNown was thought to be the most ready for the NFL. That notion proved to be false.

McNown was in constant trouble off field with everything from false handicap parking passes to playboy bunnies. His career, however, was not much to talk about. He threw 16 total touchdown passes and 19 interceptions as an NFL quarterback.

6) Akili Smith (Cincinnati Bengals, 1st round, pick 3, 1999)
Like I said, 1999 was a quarterback rich draft. Akili Smith was a part of that draft class and unfortunately for the Bengals, he did not live up to his 3rd overall pick billing. Smith started off his NFL career as a contract holdout; he missed a lot of his first training camp which proved to be his first mistake.

Akili Smith never really got a handle on playing in the NFL and went on to only start 17 games in which he threw only 5 touchdowns with 13 interceptions. The Bengals released Smith in 2002 and his pro football career eventually fizzled out.

5) Charles Rogers (Detroit Lions, 1st round, pick 2, 2003)
Former Detroit Lions GM Matt Millen really liked drafting receivers. Charles Rogers was the first of four wideouts taken in the first round of the draft and the biggest bust of the franchise. The homegrown receiver (born in Saginaw, star at MSU) started off his rookie season on a positive note with 3 touchdowns in his first 5 games.

Then, Rogers broke his collar bone during a practicing drill and was gone for the season. He rehabbed, came back, and on the third play in the following season, he broke his collarbone again. The following year, Rogers failed a drug test which caused the Lions to request that he return $10 million in bonuses. The league suspended him for 4 games. Rogers went on to catch only 1 touchdown after his collarbone injury and drug suspension. The Lions officially released him in 2006.

4) Heath Shuler (Washington Redskins, 1st round, pick 3, 1994)
Here's another rookie who decided to hold out of training camp in contract negotiations. Shuler started 8 games during his rookie season and with his 10 touchdowns (11 picks) the Redskins were hopeful in his abilities.

Then, Shuler threw 5 interceptions against the Cardinals and was eventually benched for pro bowler Gus Frerotte. Over subsequent seasons, Shuler went on to throw 21 picks and just 5 touchdowns. He left the NFL in 1998. He moved on to politics and is now a congressman in North Carolina.

3) KiJana Carter (Cincinnati Bengals, 1st round, pick 1, 1995)
The Cincinnati Bengals actually traded up to grab KiJana Carter, which makes this bust even more tragic. Carter busted his knee on his third carry in his first preseason game. He was never able to make much of his NFL career after that. A couple of one season stints with the Redskins and the Saints didn't help much. His single season best was a paltry 464 yards rushing.

2) Lawrence Phillips (St. Louis Rams, 1st round, pick 6, 1996)
Lawrence Phillips had trouble from the start. While in college, Phillips had an altercation with an ex-girlfriend that left the woman pretty banged up. He was suspended from the team. The public outcry was that Phillips needed to be off the team altogether. His coach, however, stuck with him and Phillips eventually entered the 1996 draft.

His off-field reputation followed him and Phillips was taken with the 6th pick, when some felt he should have been picked higher. While with the Rams, Phillips had trouble with coach Dick Vermeil who eventually cut the running back after he failed to show up to practices and meetings. Vermeil was saddened by the turn of events and even called Phillips the best running back he ever coached. Phillips tried a comeback here and there but eventually his off-field problems continued. In October of 2008, Lawrence Phillips was sentenced to 10 years in prison after being convicted of assault with a deadly weapon.

1) Ryan Leaf (San Diego Chargers 1st round, pick 2, 1998)
If you take the encyclopedia and look up the term "draft bust" you will most likely find Ryan Leaf's picture. The hype surrounding Leaf in the 1998 draft was extremely high. It was common knowledge that the two standouts in the draft class were Leaf and Peyton Manning. Manning was the more mature and polished quarterback; Leaf was the bigger, stronger QB with the rocket arm. Most analysts agreed at the time that drafting either Leaf or Manning would provide the drafting team a sure fire franchise quarterback.

The Chargers traded two 1st round picks and a 2nd round pick to move up to the second spot to draft either Manning or Leaf. San Diego drafted Leaf and signed him to a contract that included the biggest signing bonus ever paid to a rookie. After signing the contract, Leaf skipped out on the Rookie Symposium, which is mandatory for all incoming draftees. In his first 9 games, Leaf threw 2 touchdowns and 13 interceptions. Included with his very poor performance on field, was a horrible attitude toward his teammates and the media while off the field.

A notorious exchange between Leaf and a reporter in the Chargers locker room was caught on film and showed Leaf having to be restrained by teammate Junior Seau. Later, a separate video showing Ryan Leaf playing a pickup game of flag football while he was supposedly nursing a shoulder and wrist injury, solidified his self destruction in San Diego. The story of Ryan Leaf as a draft bust is now used as a cautionary tale for incoming rookies as well as the teams that draft them. Teams are now more likely to do extensive research and testing on their picks; especially the players drafted high in the first round.

Those are my top 10 draft busts of the last 20 years. There were definitely other players who could have made this list. But, I felt that each of these rookies had extraordinary expectations before they ever took a snap in the NFL. The disappointment and money lost on these draft picks definitely left teams and their fans hurting for seasons to come.


Scot said...

I'm surprised to see Tony Mandarich off the list. He was picked #2 in '89 ahead of Barry Sanders, Derrick Thomas, and Deion Sanders.

Jeff George and Blair Thomas (1st and 2nd overall, respectively) were also major busts in '90.

Good overall list. I am tempted to give Couch a pass. His attitude was generally good, as was his work ethic. He was making strides with terrible talent surrounding him when the injury bug hit. I think the expectations were a bit unrealistic.

Also of note: In 1992 Indy had the top 2 choices! Their picks were DT Steve Emtman and LB Quentin Coryatt. Neither ended up playing long - or well. It turns out that the 1st round in '92 was full of busts. Desmond Howard, David Klingler, and Tommy Vardell were all top 10 picks!

Fun stuff, Q. Keep up the good work!

Anonymous said...

Great list "Q" ,but I think I could have found room for Todd Marinovich(aka Robo QB),and maybe Mike Williams Wr from USC,one of the many wideouts the Lions have taken