The NFL has been active as a league for nearly 60 years now. There have been some phenomenal players in that time that changed the face of sport. Unexpected success stories like the late draft pick Tom Brady. However, there are also plenty of players that didn’t quite become as famous. And there are a select few that became famous because of how high-value they were at first, only for it them to be complete busts. These are the biggest draft busts in the last 50 years of the NFL.
41. Blaine Gabbert, QB, 10th Overall 2011, Jaguars
The 2011 draft was full of really epic quarterbacks. It’s just a shame that the Jaguars didn’t get any of them. They missed out on Cam Newton, Von Miller, A.J. Green, Patrick Peterson, Julio Jones, and Tyron Smith when they got picked earlier. But they at least still had a crack at J.J. Watt, Robert Quinn, Mike Pouncey, Ryan Kerrigan, Cam Jordan, and Mark Ingram. In the end, they ended up with Blaine Gabbert. And he didn’t prove to be a particularly big asset.
40. J.P. Losman, QB, 22nd Overall 2004, Bills
The Bills had given up a first, second, and fifth round pick to get their hands on J.P. Losman. Unfortunately, he turned out to be a bit of a dud. It didn’t help that he was in the same draft as Eli Manning and Ben Roethlisberger. Turns out they could have also just waited to get Matt Schaub, a Pro Bowler, in the third round.
39. Gabe Rivera, DT, 21st Overall 1983, Steelers
The Steelers passed on Marino, a hometown hero, in 1983 to get Gabe Rivera. Which is a real shame because Marino would’ve made a great acquisition alongside Terry Bradshaw. Although, Rivera didn’t exactly have a poor performance. He was driving drunk and became paralyzed in a car accident midway through his rookie season.
38. Dan “Big Daddy” Wilkinson, DT, 1st Overall 1994, Bengals
“Big Daddy” Wilkinson was not a great fit for the Bengals. Some say they should’ve picked Marshall Faulk first in 1994 to avoid some of the problems they felt they had to remedy at the 1995 draft.
37. Ki-Jana Carter, RB, 1st Overall 1995, Bengals
To be fair to Ki-Jana Carter, the running back ripped up his knee in his first preseason game. He wasn’t the same since. They really could’ve picked a much worse player. And they didn’t have to trade much to move up to pick him. Of course, other teams made out with better draft picks in 1995.
36. Mike Mamula, DE, 7th Overall 1995, Eagles
The Eagles had traded their 12th pick to Tampa Bay, as well as two second-rounders in order to pick Mike Mamula. And the fact that he didn’t turn out great only adds to the disappointment. They really got duped into picking him.
35. Alex Leatherwood, OL, 17th Overall 2021, Raiders
Alex Leatherwood was picked for the draft a lot earlier than most others had projected. It was Mayock’s last great attempt at the draft, and it turned out Leatherwood just wasn’t the right choice. He was unable to handle the right tackle and was moved to guard. But then he was waived prior to the 2022 season.
34. Solomon Thomas, DL, 3rd Overall 2017, 49ers
The 49ers got a lot of “capital” for the deal with Mitchell Trubisky. But they ended up fumbling the ball when they picked Thomas and traded their third-round pick in 2017. And the Saints ended up using the pick they got to draft Pro Bowler running back Alvin Kamara.
33. Mitchell Trubisky, QB, 2nd Overall 2017, Bears
The Bears have been having an issue with their quarterback position for a while now. And to just swap their No. 3 overall selection with the 49ers’ No, they gave them a third, fourth-rounder, plus a future third-rounder. Mitchell Trubisky was middling at best while starting for two Bears playoff team. Instead, they could’ve picked Patrick Mahomes or Deshaun Watson.
32. Rick Mirer, QB, 2nd Overall 1993, Seahawks
In 1993, the year Rick Mirer was drafted, future Hall of Famers Willie Roaf and Jerome Bettis were available in the top ten. Mirer, on the other hand, had an incredibly middling performance for the four years he was with the Seahawks.
31. Andre Wadsworth, DE, 3rd Overall 1998, Cardinals
Andre Wadsworth was actually considered a better prospect than both Ryan Leaf or Peyton Manning in the 1998 draft. Unfortunately, his potential was lost due to knee injuries after only three seasons.
30. Heath Shuler, QB, 3rd Overall 1994, Commanders
Heath Shuler wasn’t even the best quarterback that Washington picked in 1994. Gus Frerotte was far superior, and he was drafted in the seventh round. Shuler proved to be a better congressman than a football player.
29. Charles Rogers, WR, 2nd Overall 2003, Lions
Charles Rogers’ problems were the same a lot of other famous football players. While he was picked second overall in the 2003 draft, drug use and injuries really stopped him from reaching his potential.
28. Akili Smith, QB, 3rd Overall 1999, Bengals
In comparison to Akili Smith, the Bears poor quarterback looked fantastic. In his four seasons, Smith’s stats were abysmal. A lot of the other players taken in the 1999 draft had far more successful careers, even just relatively speaking.
27. Brady Quinn, QB, 22nd Overall 2007, Browns
The Browns had lose a first and second-round pick in order to trade up for Brady Quinn. Yet, Quinn ended up a washout in Cleveland’s long line of failed quarterbacks. It didn’t help that, despite being traded up for, Quinn was still drafted 22nd overall.
26. Sam Bradford, QB, 1st overall 2010, Rams
Sam Bradford wasn’t a bad player. He was even the Offensive Rookie of the Year. But it wasn’t his skills that made him a bust in the end. He just couldn’t stave off the injuries he kept getting from playing the game. And eventually that cost him his job to Cae Keenum in 2016.
25. Kyle Brady, TE, 9th Overall 1995, Jets
The Jets could’ve had a lot of great players in 1995. Yet, of course, they decided to draft Kyle Brady instead. Even later on in the draft with several of those players still available, they still didn’t opt to draft them.
24. Troy Williamson, WR, 7th Overall 2005, Vikings
The reason as to why Troy Williamson was such a bust is obvious if you compare what they traded for him. Randy Moss finished the season 153 more touchdowns than Williamson.
23. Kelly Stouffer, QB, 6th Overall 1987, Cardinals
Kelly Stouffer made Rick Mirer look like an All-Pro player. He held out for his rookie season with the Cardinals and was immediately traded to Seattle afterwards.
22. Vernon Gholston, OLB, 6th Overall 2008, Jets
Vernon Gholston was a linebacker for the Jets that played 45 games. Yet, he never got a single sack.
21. Steve Little, K, 15th Overall 1978, Cardinals
Taking a kicker in round one is certainly strange. Especially in 1978 when the position was much less reliable. But that could have been forgiven if Steven Little had actually delivered. Unfortunately, he missed 14 of the 27 field goals that he attempted in three seasons.
20. Russell Erxleben, P, 11th Overall 1979, Saints
Russell Erxleben was famous for managing to make a 67-yard field goal while still in Texas. But when the Saints drafted him, that kick seemed to have just disappeared. He was the highest-drafted special team member in the common era draft, even being ahead of a Hall of Famer. Yet, he still couldn’t deliver the goods. And later he even ended up in prison for securities fraud.
19. Josh Rosen, 10th overall 2018, Cardinals
The Cardinals traded a first, third, and fifth round pick to move up five spots and snatch Josh Rosen at tenth overall in 2018. And he flopped harder than a giant fish on a dock that had just been pulled out of a lake. He was replaced the next year by Kyler Murray and traded to the Dolphins, who he also flopped for.
18. Steve Niehaus, DT, 2nd Overall 1976, Seahawks
In 1976, the Seahawks picked Steve Niehaus as their first draft pick. And he ended up being one of the worst choices they could’ve made. Fortunately, Seattle managed to recover by picking the Hall of Famer Steven Largent later on.
17. Johnny “Lam” Jones, WR, 2nd Overall 1980, Jets
As an Olympian, the Jets hoped that his speed would translate well onto the field. Unfortunately, it did not. He wasn’t very comfortable in the receiving position and would often leave his feel while trying to catch easy passes. The other players the Jets picked that year ended up having much more successful careers.
16. Dion Jordan, DE, 3rd Overall 2013, Dolphins
Even if Dion Jordan was a good player, his constant suspensions made that much more difficult to tell. He only got three sacks in two seasons. And it cost the Dolphins a first and second-round pick to get him.
15. Jack Thompson, QB, 3rd Overall 1979, Bengals
Despite being called the “Throwin’ Samoan”, Jack Thompson never threw that effectively in six seasons. Cincinnati ended up picking other players that seemed more natural in position. They could have even had Joe Montana in the third round.
14. Art Schlichter, QB, 4th Overall 1982, Colts
Art Schlichter was horrendous on the field with an abysmal passer rating. And with such a poor performance, you’d think he’d at least act classy. But no, he had major gambling problems, was suspended for the 1983 season, and was later sent to prison.
13. Sam Darnold, QB, 3rd Overall 2018, Jets
To be fair to Sam Darnold, the Jets didn’t do anything to help him succeed. Of course, his development was only further hampered by foot and shoulder injuries, as well as mono. The problem was just everything that the Jets had given up to get Darnold in the first place. And the gamble just didn’t pay off.
12. Blair Thomas, RB, 2nd Overall 1990, Jets
Blair Thomas just wasn’t a good pick. Especially when future Hall of Famers Cortez Kennedy and Junior Seau were in the same draft. 1990 had a lot of good players. The Jets just picked the wrong one.
To think future Hall of Famers Cortez Kennedy and Junior Seau were sitting there. Or, if New York really had to have a back, eventual all-time leading rusher Emmitt Smith was around until No. 17.
11. Robert Gallery, OT, 2nd Overall 2004, Raiders
The Raiders could’ve had Larry Fitzgerald, Philip Rivers, Sean Taylor, or even Ben Roethlisberger. Instead, in 2004, they picekd Robert Gallery. And he only really became serviceable after he was moved to guard.
10. Bo Jackson, RB, 1st Overall 1986, Buccaneers
Bo Jackson is a phenomenal athlete, so the fact that he was bust wasn’t really his fault. As a matter of fact, he had vowed to never play in Tampa. Yet, the Buccaneers drafted him anyway. Jackson blamed them for strong-arming him into a football-only career and costing him his eligibility as a baseball player at Auburn.
9. Aundray Bruce, OLB, 1st Overall 1988, Falcons
The 1988 draft had five Hall of Famers in it. And none of them were Aundray Bruce. The Falcons thought they were getting the next Lawrence Taylor, but that is absolutely not what they got.
8. Robert Griffin III, QB, 2nd Overall 2012, Commanders
Washington traded three first-round picks, on top of a one second round pick, to get Robert Griffin III. It seemed like a reasonable gambit, considering he won a 2011 Heisman Trophy and Offensive Rookie of the Year. Unfortunately, that was where his career peaked. Washington’s still trying to pick up the pieces.
7. Trey Lance, QB, 3rd Overall 2021, 49ers
Trey Lance only had four starts in his first two seasons. In 2021, the 49ers had traded three first-round picks to get into a position to even get Lance. Unfortunately, he just hasn’t been the best quarterback.
6. Zach Wilson, QB, 2nd Overall 2021, Jets
Despite him only having been on the team for two seasons, it seems as though the Jets are about to throw in the towel with Zach Wilson. Perhaps the most recent and notable draft bust on this list. Young quarterbacks are only given a small margin for error in this day and age, and Wilson exceeded his. He’s the league’s lowest-rated passer after all.
5. Lawrence Phillips, RB, 6th Overall 1996, Rams
The Rams traded a lot to get their hands on Lawrence Phillips. This included their DT, Sean Gilbert, and Jerome Bettis. Phillips turns out to be a bad player and not a great person either.
4. Jeff George, QB, 1st Overall 1990, Colts
To get Jeff George, the Colts had to trade Chris Hinton, Andre Rison, and a first-round pick for the 1991 draft. George was never very popular in the locker room, so it’s not surprising they didn’t keep him around since he didn’t get the team many touchdowns. Or wins for that matter.
3. JaMarcus Russell, QB, 1st Overall 2007, Raiders
2007 turned out to be a bad year for drafting passers. JaMarcus Russell in particular never fulfilled the hype he initially generated. He only lasted three seasons, losing 18 of the 15 games he started and had a poor passer rating of 65.2. Laziness and weight gain eventually just washed him out of the league.
2. Tony Mandarich, OT, 2nd Overall 1989, Packers
Tony Mandarich was nicknamed “The Incredible Bulk” prior to the draft. He had great athleticism and size after all. But only three years later he became “The NFL’s Incredible Bust”. A steroid-filled body and poor work ethnic didn’t help him hold up against professional competition. Eventually, he descended into drug and alcohol abuse. He may have later proven to be more beneficial to the Colts, but he was certainly a bust when the Packers picked him.
1. Ryan Leaf, QB, 2nd Overall 1998, Chargers
The Chargers ended up setting their team back years when they picked Ryan Leaf instead of Peyton Manning. His stats were just atrocious. And his immaturity and inability to solve pro defenses trumped any physical talent he may have had. And the Chargers had merely paid to switch their first round picks with the Cardinals’.