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The Biggest Busts in NFL Draft History: 15 Legendary Misfires

(Photo: JaMarcus Russell and Ryan Leafs/Getty Images)

The NFL Draft is a spectacle filled with hope and anticipation, as teams aim to secure the future stars of the league. However, not every draft pick pans out as expected. In fact, some picks turn into colossal disappointments, failing to live up to the hype and potential bestowed upon them. Let's explore the 15 biggest NFL draft busts of all time, and examine the cautionary tales they represent in the annals of football history.

  1. Ryan Leaf (1998, San Diego Chargers): Heralded as a franchise quarterback, Leaf's career was plagued by poor performance and off-field issues, cementing his status as one of the biggest busts in NFL history.

  2. JaMarcus Russell (2007, Oakland Raiders): Despite immense physical talent, Russell's lack of dedication and poor decision-making led to a short-lived and disappointing career in the NFL.

  3. Tony Mandarich (1989, Green Bay Packers): Dubbed "The Incredible Bulk," Mandarich failed to live up to his hype as a can't-miss offensive line prospect, struggling with consistency and underwhelming play.

  4. Charles Rogers (2003, Detroit Lions): Injuries and off-field issues derailed Rogers' promising career as a wide receiver, leaving fans and analysts alike lamenting what could have been.

  5. Trent Richardson (2012, Cleveland Browns): Despite high expectations as a top running back prospect, Richardson's inability to replicate his college success at the professional level labeled him a draft bust.

  6. Art Schlichter (1982, Baltimore Colts): Schlichter's promising career was derailed by a gambling addiction, serving as a cautionary tale for future NFL prospects.

  7. Akili Smith (1999, Cincinnati Bengals): Touted as a franchise quarterback, Smith struggled to adapt to the NFL game and failed to meet expectations with the Bengals.

  8. Trey Lance (2021, San Francisco 49ers): While it's too early to definitively label Lance a bust, he squandered an opportunity in San Francisco and was traded to Dallas in 2023. The pressure is on for the 49ers' quarterback, as he faces high expectations and scrutiny following his selection in the 2021 NFL Draft.

  9. Tim Couch (1999, Cleveland Browns): As the first overall pick in the Browns' return to the NFL, Couch faced immense pressure but ultimately failed to deliver consistent success.

  10. David Carr (2002, Houston Texans): Carr's tenure with the Texans was marred by poor offensive line play and inconsistency, despite being the first-ever draft pick for the expansion franchise.

  11. Andre Ware (1990, Detroit Lions): Despite winning the Heisman Trophy, Ware failed to translate his college success to the professional level, struggling with accuracy and decision-making.

  12. Vernon Gholston (2008, New York Jets): Gholston was drafted with high expectations as a pass-rushing phenom but failed to record a single sack in his NFL career, making him a glaring draft bust.

  13. Matt Leinart (2006, Arizona Cardinals): Despite winning a Heisman Trophy and achieving collegiate success, Leinart struggled to establish himself as a starting quarterback in the NFL.

  14. Johnny Manziel (2014, Cleveland Browns): Known for his flashy playing style and off-field antics, Manziel failed to find success in the NFL due to a lack of discipline and maturity.

  15. Robert Griffin III (2012, Washington Redskins): Griffin burst onto the scene with a sensational rookie season but struggled with injuries and inconsistency, failing to sustain his early success.


  1. Who do you think was the biggest draft bust of all time, and why?

  2. Which NFL team do you believe has the best track record in the draft, consistently finding hidden gems and avoiding major busts?

Comment below!

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