101 biggest NFL draft busts in history: Which gaffes stand out the most?

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The NFL’s 101st season was inarguably one of its weirdest, the COVID-19 pandemic emptying the league’s stadiums in 2020, wreaking havoc with the schedule and sending the draft into a virtual environment, among other aftereffects.

The NFL and world at large seem to be slowly returning to normalcy in 2021 with the league recently unveiling plans to stage this year’s draft in Cleveland with much of its familiar pomp and circumstance … socially distanced, of course.

But a more recognizable draft season also comes with its annual fears – namely, concern that the players you target and select, or the trades you do or don’t make, blow up in your face.

Though the draft has been in existence since the Eagles picked inaugural Heisman Trophy winner Jay Berwanger first overall in 1936, it was hardly a scientific (or particularly informed) process for decades. So this list’s scope will encompass drafts dating only to 1967, the first common draft following the agreement between the NFL and the AFL to merge.

Some words about the methodology: This ranking and analysis are certainly interspersed with opinion. But I tried not to view these wayward picks in a vacuum – taking into account what teams sacrificed to take a player, either in terms of trade currency or whom they opted not to select, when evaluating each bust. Some deals themselves are included since many prevented teams from choosing superior options.

Naturally, extra weight was given to quarterback gaffes – this is a draft piece, after all.

Lastly, I tried to have some fun and creativity in select spots to keep you (and me) engaged during this gargantuan undertaking, so try not to get too bent out of shape if that defensive tackle or tight end your team took in the top 10 before he petered out didn’t rate a mention.

With those considerations in mind, let’s begin this historical exercise by revealing our 101 biggest draft whiffs in NFL history:

1. QB Ryan Leaf, 2nd overall 1998, Chargers 

Ryan Leaf, center, celebrates being drafted No. 2 overall by the San Diego Chargers in 1998 along with team owner Alex Spanos, left, and NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue.

Ryan Leaf, center, celebrates being drafted No. 2 overall by the San Diego Chargers in 1998 along with team owner Alex Spanos, left, and NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue.
Mark Lennihan, Associated Press

It seems patently obvious more than two decades after the fact, but he was very much in the conversation to be this draft’s No. 1 pick. Of course, the Colts wisely chose Peyton Manning. Meanwhile, the Bolts set themselves back years by taking Leaf (4-14 in 18 starts for the club with a 48.8 passer rating), whose gross immaturity and inability to solve pro defenses trumped his vast physical talent. What cements his infamy is the price San Diego paid to simply swap its initial No. 3 pick to get Arizona’s spot at No. 2 … more on that later. But the freight the Cardinals commanded, aside from the switch, was a second rounder, an additional first rounder in 1999 and two veterans (WR Eric Metcalf and LB Patrick Sapp). Oof.

2. OT Tony Mandarich, 2nd overall 1989, Packers

The Sports Illustrated cover boy deemed “The Incredible Bulk” prior to the draft – he had uncommon athleticism and size for the position at the time – was labeled “The NFL’s Incredible Bust” only three years later. Mandarich’s steroid-fueled body and poor work ethic didn’t hold up against professional competition, and he later descended into drug and alcohol issues. Any value he later provided at guard might have helped the Colts but obviously didn’t do the Pack any good. But this context truly frames his failure: Mandarich was the only player selected in the top five that year who didn’t wind up in the Hall of Fame. Troy Aikman went No. 1, but Green Bay passed on Barry Sanders, Derrick Thomas and Deion Sanders.

3. QB JaMarcus Russell, 1st overall 2007, Raiders

It turned out to be a miserable year for passers, the likes of Brady Quinn, Kevin Kolb and John Beck also taken high. But Russell, who began his career with a lengthy holdout, never fulfilled the hype generated by his howitzer arm and legendary pro day. He lasted only three seasons, losing 18 of 25 starts and compiling an abysmal 65.2 passer rating, before laziness and weight gain washed him out of the league. Who could Oakland have taken instead? Calvin Johnson, Joe Thomas, Adrian Peterson, Patrick Willis, Marshawn Lynch and Darrelle Revis all came off the board in the first half of Round 1.

4. QB Jeff George, 1st overall 1990, Colts

He looked like Uncle Rico, threw like him, too … and basically played like the “Napoleon Dynamite” folk hero. George forced Indianapolis to surrender Pro Bowl OT Chris Hinton, future Pro Bowl WR Andre Rison and a first-round pick in 1991 to Atlanta – where George wound up himself in 1994 after wearing out his welcome with a bad attitude and 14-35 record for the Colts, who passed on three eventual Hall of Famers in the first round (more on them later). Never particularly popular in the locker room, George played for five different teams.

5. RB Lawrence Phillips, 6th overall 1996, Rams

Bad player. Bad dude. And St. Louis should have known better. The Rams parted with DT Sean Gilbert to acquire the Phillips pick – Eddie George was still available – and they exported Jerome Bettis to Pittsburgh in a separate deal to clear the way for Phillips. Brutal.

6. Jets’ decisions to trade down in 1997

Brace yourself, NYJ fans; this is merely the first of many mentions. After going 1-15 in 1996, Gang Green most definitely earned the No. 1 pick of the ’97 draft – which they surely would have used for Manning … had he opted not to return to the University of Tennessee for his senior year. So in a bid to restock this roster, newly acquired coach Bill Parcells dealt down from No. 1 to No. 6, passing on the opportunity to snatch future Hall of Fame LT Orlando Pace. Then Parcells dropped from No. 6 to No. 8, passing on the opportunity to get future Hall of Fame LT Walter Jones. (Ugh and ugh.) LB James Farrior, who was much better in Pittsburgh later in his career than during his Gotham stint, “headlined” New York’s forgettable haul, which could have also included Hall of Fame TE Tony Gonzalez, who went 13th.

7. Colts’ decision to draft John Elway No. 1 in 1983

His talent obviously justified the selection, but team brass should have taken Elway seriously when he threatened to play baseball rather than for Baltimore. In the end, he launched his Hall of Fame career in Denver while the Colts were left with Hinton, backup QB Mark Herrmann, a first-round pick in 1984 (spent on G Ron Solt) and, in a year’s time, a one-way ticket to Indianapolis.

8. QB Robert Griffin III, 2nd overall 2012, Washington

The team shipped three first-round picks and one in the second to the Rams for the chance to take RG3. Initially, it seemed a reasonable gambit as the 2011 Heisman Trophy winner won offensive rookie of the year honors while leading a charge to the NFC East title. The rest is unfortunate history. Washington is still picking up the pieces.

8a. Rams’ haul for Robert Griffin III

On the opposite end of the RG3 coin? St. Louis parlayed its bounty into Michael Brockers, Janoris Jenkins, Isaiah Pead, Rokevious Watkins, Alec Ogletree, Stedman Bailey, Zac Stacy and Greg Robinson. Some decent (and not-so-decent) players in there, but obviously not a group that came anywhere close to salvaging the NFL in The Gateway City, much less providing the bedrock for a perennial powerhouse.

9. OLB Aundray Bruce, 1st overall 1988, Falcons

Atlanta thought it was getting the next Lawrence Taylor. Nope. Bruce was no better than a sub package guy, including spot duty at tight end. There were five Hall of Famers picked elsewhere in Bruce’s draft and a pretty good pass rusher (Neil Smith) directly after him.

10. RB Bo Jackson, 1st overall 1986, Buccaneers

Don’t get it twisted – this isn’t a dig at a guy who might truly be a “once in a lifetime” talent. Instead, interpret it as a dig at a long-feckless franchise that chose to squander its pick even though Jackson had vowed never to play in Tampa, believing the team deliberately cost him his baseball eligibility at Auburn while trying to strong-arm him into a football-only career. The Bucs took Jackson anyway … and he was soon stroking towering taters for the Kansas City Royals.

11. OT Robert Gallery, 2nd overall 2004, Raiders

He never approached his pre-draft hype and only became serviceable after moving to guard. Who could Oakland have had instead? Larry Fitzgerald, Philip Rivers, Sean Taylor and Ben Roethlisberger heard their names called shortly after Gallery’s selection.

12. RB Blair Thomas, 2nd overall 1990, Jets

To think future Hall of Famers Cortez Kennedy and Junior Seau were sitting there. Or, if New York really had to have a runner, eventual all-time leading rusher Emmitt Smith was around until No. 17.

13. Bills’ decision to draft Tom Cousineau No. 1 in 1979

Buffalo owned the choice after dealing O.J. Simpson to the 49ers. But Cousineau took the Canadian Football League’s money and bolted, never playing a down for the Bills. Hall of Famers Dan Hampton and Kellen Winslow went later in that first round.

14. QB Sam Darnold, 3rd overall 2018, Jets

NFL mock draft 5.0: Jets find their franchise QB to replace Sam Darnold

In the former USC star’s defense, New York did next to nothing to help him succeed, Darnold’s development further hampered by foot and shoulder injuries and mono. But given then-GM Mike Maccagnan surrendered the No. 6 overall pick (used by the Colts on future All-Pro G Quenton Nelson) and three high second-rounders to advance three slots in order to get into position for Darnold – and he seemed like a slam-dunk acquisition at the time – it’s hard to view this gamble as anything other than a failure given his inability to overcome his circumstances … especially as QBs drafted later (Josh Allen, 2019 MVP Lamar Jackson) figured out how to thrive. Recently traded, maybe Darnold blossoms for the Panthers, though that won’t get the Jets any closer to relevance.

15. Seahawks’ decision to trade down in 1977

They were induced to deal out of No. 2 after Tony Dorsett threatened not to play in Seattle, so the Cowboys moved up for the future Hall of Fame back. The Seahawks instead reeled in Steve August, Tom Lynch, Terry Beeson and Glenn Carano. Who? Exactly. Guess who won the Super Bowl the following season …

16. QB Art Schlichter, 4th overall 1982, Colts

On the field, he was horrendous (42.6 passer rating). Off the field, he was worse, his gambling problems leading to his suspension for the 1983 season and, later, prison. Schlichter’s issues also forced Baltimore into its ill-advised Elway pick the next year.

17. QB Jack Thompson, 3rd overall 1979, Bengals

The “Throwin’ Samoan” never threw very effectively in six seasons. Furthermore, Cincinnati was just fine under center with Ken Anderson, who would lead the Bengals to their first Super Bowl two years later. Also, Phil Simms was chosen four slots after Thompson … or, if Cincy needed, like, a developmental quarterback, they could have had, uh, Joe Montana in Round 3 …

18. DE Dion Jordan, 3rd overall 2013, Dolphins

The slender pass rusher has been repeatedly suspended and only rewarded Miami with three sacks in two seasons. The Dolphins paid a first- and second-round pick to Oakland to get the Oregon prospect.

19. WR Johnny “Lam” Jones, 2nd overall 1980, Jets

New York hoped his Olympic speed would translate into stardom. Not so much. Jones never looked natural as a receiver, often leaving his feet while trying to catch easy passes. The next player taken was Hall of Famer Anthony Munoz, arguably the best left tackle of all time. The next receiver selected was Hall of Famer Art Monk.

20. DT Steve Niehaus, 2nd overall 1976, Seahawks

Seattle’s maiden draft selection didn’t turn out nearly as well as fellow expansion franchise Tampa Bay’s after the Bucs landed future Hall of Famer Lee Roy Selmon at No. 1. (The Seahawks recovered by acquiring Hall of Famer Steve Largent, who was taken by the Oilers in Round 4.)

21. Buccaneers’ decision to trade down in 1978

Confident in RB Ricky Bell, the No. 1 pick in 1977, Tampa Bay sent the top pick of ’78 to Houston for TE Jimmie Giles and four selections, including a first- and second-rounder. The Oilers? Hello, Earl Campbell.

22. QB Josh Rosen, 10th overall 2018, Cardinals

The Cardinals traded a first-, third- and fifth-round pick to move up five spots to snatch Rosen 10th overall in 2018. He flopped as a rookie and was replaced by Kyler Murray atop the 2019 draft … when Rosen also burned the Dolphins, who gave up a Round 2 pick to rescue him from the desert before he failed in Miami. Like Darnold, Rosen has been a victim of circumstances, but Arizona likely wouldn’t have reset had it picked Lamar Jackson in 2018 instead.

23. P Russell Erxleben, 11th overall 1979, Saints

Groan. Known for his record 67-yard field goal in college with Texas, he proved neither the kicker nor punter New Orleans envisioned. Erxleben is the highest-drafted special teamer of the common draft era, going two spots ahead of Hall of Famer Winslow. Erxleben landed in prison later in life for securities fraud.

24. K Steve Little, 15th overall 1978, Cardinals

Taking a kicker in Round 1, especially in an era when the position was far less reliable, could be forgiven. But not if your guy misses 14 of 27 field goal attempts in three seasons … and when you could’ve had Ozzie Newsome or Doug Williams instead. 

25. OLB Vernon Gholston, 6th overall 2008, Jets

He played 45 games for New York. He registered nary a sack.

26. QB Kelly Stouffer, 6th overall 1987, Cardinals

He held out his rookie season and got traded to Seattle. Lucky for the Cards, given Stouffer (7 TD passes, 19 interceptions in five seasons) would make future Seahawks franchise QB Rick Mirer look like an All-Pro.

27. WR Troy Williamson, 7th overall 2005, Vikings

Minnesota basically traded Randy Moss to Oakland in order to get this guy … who finished with 153 fewer TDs than Moss.

28. TE Kyle Brady, 9th overall 1995, Jets

New York could have had Warren Sapp … or Ty Law … or Derrick Brooks. But in typical J-E-T-S fashion, they screwed it up royally. (And the availability of Law and Brooks didn’t deter the Jets from taking DE Hugh Douglas 16th overall, either.)

29. QB Sam Bradford, 1st overall 2010, Rams

Sam Bradford was taken No. 1 overall by the Rams during the 2010 NFL Draft.

Sam Bradford was taken No. 1 overall by the Rams during the 2010 NFL Draft.
Jeff Zelevansky, Getty Images

He certainly wasn’t a bad player, and many forget he was offensive rookie of the year. But his injury history at Oklahoma was predictive. The six players selected after Bradford? Ndamukong Suh, Gerald McCoy, Trent Williams, Eric Berry, Russell Okung and Joe Haden with Earl Thomas off the board at No. 14. Bradford later cost Minnesota a first- and fourth-rounder in 2016 to replace Teddy Bridgewater but didn’t get the Vikings to the postseason and lost his job to Case Keenum the next year. Bradford never appeared in a playoff game.

30. Browns’ haul for Julio Jones

Cleveland dealt the sixth pick in 2011 to Atlanta – Falcons GM Thomas Dimitroff was widely panned for paying so much to get Jones – and ultimately wound up with NT Phil Taylor, WR Greg Little, FB Owen Marecic and QB Brandon Weeden.

31. Browns’ 2012 draft

As bad as Weeden (22nd overall) was, RB Trent Richardson, the No. 3 pick, was worse based on relative value. Cleveland sent Minnesota four picks to swap from fourth to third overall. Even when the Browns flipped Richardson to the Colts for a first-round pick in 2013, they eventually wound up with Johnny Manziel.

31a. Browns’ 2014 draft

Manziel (22nd overall) was dreadful. CB Justin Gilbert, the No. 8 pick, was a bigger blunder given his slot.

32. QB Brady Quinn, 22nd overall 2007, Browns

Not only did he add to Cleveland’s litany of quarterback washouts, he cost the Browns a first- and second-round pick in order to trade up for him. (In case you hadn’t noticed, it’s a QB death knell to get drafted by Cleveland at No. 22.)

33. QB Akili Smith, 3rd overall 1999, Bengals

Just abject in four seasons (3-14 record, 5 TD passes, 13 INTs). The next four players taken were Edgerrin James, Ricky Williams, Torry Holt and Champ Bailey. No. 12 selection Cade McNown, Chicago’s QB failure that year, looked all-world relative to Smith.

34. WR Charles Rogers, 2nd overall 2003, Lions

Sadly, he couldn’t evade drugs or injuries. Also, Andre Johnson went to Houston with the next pick. More on Detroit’s Matt Millen debacle later …

35. QB Heath Shuler, 3rd overall 1994, Washington

He was a better congressman than quarterback – and wasn’t even the best QB Washington picked in 1994, seventh-rounder Gus Frerotte proving superior.

36. DE Andre Wadsworth, 3rd overall 1998, Cardinals

Often forgotten in the aftermath of the Manning-Leaf debate atop that draft, but some scouts considered Wadsworth a better prospect than both quarterbacks. Knee injuries sapped his vast potential after just three seasons. Hall of Famer Charles Woodson was taken next.

37. QB Rick Mirer, 2nd overall 1993, Seahawks

That year’s Drew Bledsoe consolation prize, Mirer was wretched in four years with Seattle (20-31 record, 65.2 passer rating). Oh, and Hall of Famers Willie Roaf and Bettis were available in the top 10.

37a. Bears’ 1997 trade for QB Rick Mirer

Forgot about this, didn’t you? Seattle stole Chicago’s first-round pick in exchange for Mirer, who was even worse in one season in the Windy City. Meanwhile, the Seahawks recovered to draft stud CB Shawn Springs.

38. QB Mitchell Trubisky, 2nd overall 2017, Bears

Another botched move by Chicago atop a draft in an ill-considered bid to fix the century-old organization’s ongoing quarterback conundrum. To simply swap the No. 2 and No. 3 overall selections, the Bears had to give the 49ers a third- and fourth-rounder plus a future third-rounder (used on eventual All-Pro LB Fred Warner in 2018). GM Ryan Pace then picked Trubisky, who was middling at best while starting for two Bears playoff teams – the 2018 edition was Super Bowl-caliber otherwise – when he could have had Patrick Mahomes or Deshaun Watson.

38a. DL Solomon Thomas, 3rd overall 2017, 49ers

For all the capital the Niners inhaled in the Trubisky deal, they botched much of it by taking the disappointing Thomas before trading the 2017 third-round pick … which the Saints used on perennial Pro Bowler Alvin Kamara.

39. DE Mike Mamula, 7th overall 1995, Eagles

It’s bad enough that Philly got duped into taking the original scouting combine superstar. Adding to the ignominy, the Eagles traded the 12th pick to Tampa Bay (the Bucs used it on Warren Sapp) plus two second-rounders to elevate into this mistake.

40. Raiders’ 2011 trade for QB Carson Palmer

Oakland gave up a first- and second-rounder to pry the former No. 1 pick out of Cincinnati and quasi-retirement. A three-time Pro Bowler, Palmer was 8-16 in 1½ seasons with the Silver and Black and was shipped to Arizona – where he reverted to star form – for the net gain of a Round 6 choice in 2013.

41. Colts’ 1992 draft

Indianapolis owned the top two picks and selected DE Steve Emtman and LB Quentin Coryatt. Emtman was beset by injuries, and Coryatt was a pedestrian performer. This would rank higher, but the ’92 draft was short on talent and hasn’t produced one Hall of Famer – despite running 12 rounds – though Dallas’ Darren Woodson might eventually reach Canton.

42. RB Ki-Jana Carter, 1st overall 1995, Bengals

In fairness, he ripped up his knee in his first preseason game and was never the same. Of note, it could have been much worse for Cincinnati. Expansion Carolina only charged the Bengals the fifth and 36th overall picks to move up for Carter, sweetheart terms by today’s standards. Yet it worked out OK for the Panthers, who took QB Kerry Collins.

42a. DT Dan “Big Daddy” Wilkinson, 1st overall 1994, Bengals

He was average at best for Cincinnati, which could have avoided the Carter gaffe in 1995 by taking Marshall Faulk No. 1 in 1994.

43. Todd Blackledge, Tony Eason, Ken O’Brien

If you drafted a quarterback in the first round of the 1983 draft, you had a 50% shot at getting a Hall of Famer – Elway, Jim Kelly or Dan Marino. Otherwise, you got one of these guys, all taken with Marino (27th overall) still available.

44. DT Gabe Rivera, 21st overall 1983, Steelers

For whatever reason, Pittsburgh bypassed hometown hero Marino, who would have made a mighty fine replacement with Terry Bradshaw heading into his final season. Driving drunk, Rivera was paralyzed in a car accident midway through his rookie season.

45. Bears’ first-round running backs

Brad Muster (23rd overall pick, 1994), Rashaan Salaam (21st in 1995), Curtis Enis (5th in 1998) and Cedric Benson (4th in 2005) all bombed in the post-Walter Payton years. (Neal Anderson, taken 27th in 1986, was pretty good, though.)

46. RB Leroy Keyes, 3rd overall 1969, Eagles

He didn’t work out at tailback (369 career rushing yards) or as a converted safety for Philadelphia. Across the state, Pittsburgh grabbed “Mean Joe” Greene, perhaps the greatest defensive tackle in league history, with the next pick.

47. Cowboys’ 2000 trade for WR Joey Galloway

In one of owner Jerry Jones’ most notorious moves, Dallas sent two first-rounders to Seattle for the speedy receiver. Galloway averaged fewer than 50 yards per game in four years in Big D, while the Seahawks snagged future MVP Shaun Alexander.

48. QB Steve Spurrier, 3rd overall 1967, 49ers

Way before he became the “head ball coach,” Spurrier was a Heisman-winning passer and first quarterback taken in the common draft era. Unfortunately for him, Bob Griese was the next pick that year and the first of eight Hall of Famers. Spurrier became a Hall of Famer in his own right … just not for his play on an NFL field.

49. QB J.P. Losman, 22nd overall 2004, Bills

He followed Eli Manning, Rivers and Roethlisberger as the fourth Round 1 passer in 2004. Oops. Oh yeah, Buffalo also gave up a first-, second- and fifth-rounder to get Losman when it could have simply waited to grab future Pro Bowler Matt Schaub in the third round.

50. QB Blaine Gabbert, 10th overall 2011, Jaguars

Aside from quarterbacks not named Cam Newton, this was an epic draft. Jacksonville didn’t get a crack at Newton, Von Miller, A.J. Green, Patrick Peterson, Julio Jones or Tyron Smith but could’ve taken J.J. Watt, Robert Quinn, Mike Pouncey, Ryan Kerrigan, Cam Jordan or Mark Ingram (among others – even Andy Dalton) instead of Gabbert. The Jags also gave up a second-rounder to move up six spots for Gabbert. Oy.

50a. QB Jake Locker, 8th overall 2011, Titans

Aside from quarterbacks not named Cam Newton, this was an epic draft. Tennessee didn’t get a crack at Newton, Von Miller, A.J. Green, Patrick Peterson or Julio Jones but could’ve taken Tyron Smith, J.J. Watt, Robert Quinn, Mike Pouncey, Ryan Kerrigan, Cam Jordan or Mark Ingram (among others – even Andy Dalton) instead of Locker.

50b. QB Christian Ponder, 12th overall 2011, Vikings

Aside from quarterbacks not named Cam Newton, this was an epic draft. Minnesota didn’t get a crack at Newton, Von Miller, A.J. Green, Patrick Peterson, Julio Jones, Tyron Smith or J.J. Watt but could’ve taken Robert Quinn, Mike Pouncey, Ryan Kerrigan, Cam Jordan or Mark Ingram (among others – even Andy Dalton) instead of Ponder.

51. CB Alphonso Smith, 37th overall 2009, Broncos

He didn’t start for Denver as a rookie and was traded to Detroit for a pittance a year later. Oh yeah, Broncos rookie coach Josh McDaniels also traded a 2010 first-rounder to Seattle to get Smith. The Seahawks used it on FS Earl Thomas.

52. QB Dwayne Haskins, 15th overall 2019, Washington

Taken at the behest of owner Dan Snyder, Haskins didn’t even last two seasons in D.C. after becoming infamous for his atrocious play (3-10 record, 74.4 passer rating), taking a selfie with a fan in the stands at the end of a win (forcing backup Case Keenum onto the field to take the final knee) and flagrantly violating COVID-19 protocols in 2020.

53. WR Corey Coleman, 15th overall 2016, Browns

By this time, Cleveland was in the midst of its Sashi Brown analytics experiment. The selection of Coleman was part of Brown’s constant draft board maneuvering in a year when he traded the second overall selection to the Eagles, who took Carson Wentz. Coleman was a, ahem, linchpin of the teams that went 1-31 in 2016 and ’17.

53a. Other 2016 first-round WRs

After Coleman came off the board, the remaining wideouts claimed in Round 1 that year were Will Fuller V, Josh Doctson and Laquon Treadwell. Fuller has been up and down but remains the only one of that quartet with even 100 career catches. (Also notable: The second-round WRs that year were Sterling Shepard, Michael Thomas and Tyler Boyd, who each have at least 300 career receptions.)

54. OT Jason Smith, 2nd overall 2009, Rams

Like RG3 and Coleman, another hugely disappointing Baylor product. Smith wasn’t part of a great draft, but St. Louis obviously would have been better off with Clay Matthews, Alex Mack or Brian Orakpo.

55. QB Joey Harrington, 3rd overall 2002, Lions

He went 18-37 in 55 starts for Detroit. Even more on the Millen debacle later …

56. QB Tim Couch, 1st overall 1999, Browns

Cleveland picked first overall in consecutive years following the franchise’s 1999 reboot. Couch was the club’s first selection after its three-season absence, but injuries frequently rendered him absent in his abbreviated five-year career. The next pick, Donovan McNabb, probably would have panned out much better and even could have brought his orange helmet from Syracuse. But give Couch credit for his role in the team’s long-ago 2002 playoff drive.

56a. DE Courtney Brown, 1st overall 2000, Browns

He arrived on Couch’s heels. Injuries, and ineffectiveness limited Brown to 17 sacks in five years with Cleveland.

57. Packers’ 2001 pre-draft trade

That March, Green Bay shipped backup QB Matt Hasselbeck to Seattle for a third-rounder and a first-round swap, which allowed the Pack to move from 17th to 10th. The Seahawks netted a Pro Bowl passer and Hall of Fame guard (Steve Hutchinson). The Packers got DE Jamal Reynolds (3 sacks in 3 seasons) at No. 10 and LB Torrance Marshall, who started twice in four years.

58. QB David Carr, 1st overall 2002, Texans

He was an abysmal 22-53 in five years for the expansion franchise. In fairness to Carr, Houston’s first-ever selection, the Texans failed to put a credible supporting cast around him, which explains why he was sacked a league-record 76 times as a rookie. Taking Julius Peppers or moving down to accrue picks while snagging Dwight Freeney or Ed Reed would have been smarter options, given the pressure immediately placed upon Carr on the field and off.

59. QB Rich Campbell, 6th overall 1981, Packers

Think Green Bay would have preferred Ronnie Lott, Mike Singletary, Howie Long or Rickey Jackson in hindsight?

60. QB Andre Ware, 7th overall 1990, Lions

Apparently, mastering the run and shoot offense in college won’t necessarily make you a great pro. Fellow Houston Cougars product David Klingler made this a cautionary trend two years later as the draft’s sixth overall selection (to Cincinnati, naturally).

61. QB Tim Tebow, 25th overall 2010, Broncos

He was magical in 2011, but the pixie dust quickly faded. No one but then-Denver coach McDaniels seemed to think the Florida star was worth a Round 1 selection, yet he surrendered second-, third- and fourth-round picks to move into the back of the first round for the Heisman winner, who took his final regular-season snap with the Jets in 2012.

62. RB Ricky Williams, 5th overall 1999, Saints

Ricky Williams was taken fifth overall in the 1999 NFL Draft by the New Orleans Saints.

Ricky Williams was taken fifth overall in the 1999 NFL Draft by the New Orleans Saints.
Stephen Carrera, Associated Press

Mike Ditka infamously dealt his entire ’99 draft – plus a first- (2nd overall) and third-rounder in 2000 – to Washington in order to get the Texas star. Williams averaged better than 1,000 rushing yards in three seasons with New Orleans, but the developmentally gutted Saints went 20-28 during that stretch. They recouped two first-rounders in 2002 by shipping him to Miami.

62a. Washington’s side of the Ricky Williams trade

After snagging all those assets from Ditka, Washington then traded a good chunk away to get CB Champ Bailey before winding up with LB LaVar Arrington in 2000. Good players, sure – Bailey was later dispatched to Denver for RB Clinton Portis – but the franchise has two playoff wins (both in the wild-card round) since pulling the trigger on this 1999 mega-move.

63. Jets’ 2000 draft

A series of trades, including packing WR Keyshawn Johnson off to Tampa Bay, gave New York four first-round picks. With the exception of TE Anthony Becht, the team got productive players in QB Chad Pennington, DE Shaun Ellis and DE John Abraham. But they failed to form a foundation that would challenge the rising dynasty in New England, which got some guy named Brady that year in Round 6.

64. QB Alex Smith, 1st overall 2005, 49ers

He’s a three-time Pro Bowler (though never in San Francisco), one of the NFL’s all-time inspirational stories and among the finest people in the league. (It must also be noted that Smith guided the 49ers to the 2011 NFC title game and contributed heavily to the 2012 Super Bowl run before being injured). However Niners fans will forever wonder what might have happened had their team taken Aaron Rodgers instead.

65. Seahawks’ 2013 trade for WR Percy Harvin

Yes, the volatile weapon was part of Seattle’s Super Bowl champions, but he played only six games for the team before being cast off. Meanwhile, the Vikings drafted CB Xavier Rhodes and RB Jerick McKinnon with picks acquired from the Seahawks.

66. WR Justin Blackmon, 5th overall 2012, Jaguars

Sadly, his inability to remain sober ruined his career.

67. CB Bruce Pickens, 3rd overall 1991, Falcons

Even though he’d be the guy to pick on in order to avoid throwing near Deion Sanders, Pickens managed just two INTs in his career. At least Atlanta was able to obtain a mulligan first-rounder in 1992 – if you consider trading Pickens’ draftmate, Brett Favre, a reasonable move … which then-coach Jerry Glanville did.

68. QB Matt Leinart, 10th overall 2006, Cardinals

Aging Kurt Warner only needed a year to displace him. Even once Warner retired after the 2009 season, Arizona was heading in a new direction that didn’t include Leinart.

69. DE Everette Brown, 43rd overall 2009, Panthers

He gave Carolina six sacks in two seasons. He also came at the cost of a 2010 first-rounder.

70. QB Dan McGwire, 16th overall 1991, Seahawks

Mark’s younger brother wasn’t very good. Seattle should have taken Favre.

70a. QB Todd Marinovich, 24th overall 1991, Raiders

“Robo QB” wasn’t very good, either. The Silver & Black also should have taken Favre.

71. DE Marcus Davenport, 14th overall 2018, Saints

Trying to find the final piece of a Super Bowl puzzle – Davenport wasn’t it – New Orleans dealt two first-round picks to move up for him. Davenport has been a regular starter once in three seasons, posting 12 career sacks. 

72. WR Kevin White, 7th overall 2015, Bears

His numbers in West Virginia’s offense might have inflated his value, but a rash of injuries never allowed White to realize whatever potential he might have had. He started five games during three years in Chicago, posting 25 total catches. Among the players picked soon after White: RBs Todd Gurley and Melvin Gordon, CB Marcus Peters and S Landon Collins.

73. WR Mike Williams, 10th overall 2005, Lions

The third Round 1 wideout Detroit took over three consecutive drafts, he caught 37 balls in two years in Motown before being shipped out. See why Millen went 31-84 in seven-plus seasons running the franchise? (FWIW, the other receiver was 2004 first-rounder Roy Williams, who was largely disappointing but managed one Pro Bowl before later costing Dallas a first-round pick in a disastrous 2008 trade-deadline move.)

74. LB Aaron Maybin, 11th overall 2009, Bills

A poor draft overall. But he didn’t notch a single sack in two years with Buffalo. Brian Orakpo went to Washington two spots later.

75. QB Gary Beban, 30th overall 1968, Rams

Another Heisman winner who didn’t pan out. Los Angeles traded him to Washington, where Beban threw one career pass (incomplete). Hall of Famer Ken Stabler was selected later in Round 2.

76. Patriots second-rounders under Bill Belichick

New England gets deserved credit for its ability to manipulate the board and constantly accrue draft assets. But Belichick and Co. have a pretty ugly track record in Round 2: Ron Brace, Darius Butler, Jermaine Cunningham, Duke Dawson, Aaron Dobson, Marquise Hill, Ras-I Dowling, Chad Jackson, Bethel Johnson, Cyrus Jones, Adrian Klemm, Jordan Richards, Terrence Wheatley and Joejuan Williams among the notable misfires.

76a. Patriots’ DK Metcalf miss

Maybe Belichick was cognizant of his second-round mishaps in 2019 when he traded the final pick of Round 2 to the Seahawks, who used it on Metcalf, now a Pro Bowler. New England got Chase Winovich and Hjalte Froholdt in the move … and previously selected WR N’Keal Harry in the first round when A.J. Brown, Deebo Samuel, Terry McLaurin and Metcalf were alternatives – much to owner Robert Kraft’s recently admitted chagrin.

77. OT Jeff Otah, 19th overall 2008, Panthers

Carolina sent the Eagles a first-, second- and fourth-round pick to garner an oft-injured lineman who lasted 29 games.

78. DE John Matuszak, 1st overall 1973, Oilers

Quite the character, he was arguably a better actor than football player but did have solid seasons once moving on to the Raiders. But “Tooz” never made a Pro Bowl, and Houston certainly would have been better off with eventual Hall of Famers John Hannah or Dan Fouts among several other superior alternatives that year.

79. QB Vinny Testaverde, 1st overall 1987, Buccaneers

Much better with his future teams than in Tampa, which probably says a good deal about the Bucs. Testaverde was 24-48 as a starter for them and averaged nearly 19 interceptions a season.

80. OT Isaiah Wilson, 29th overall 2020, Titans

After multiple slip-ups off the field and just four snaps on it, Tennessee had had enough of Wilson to cut bait after one season.

81. K Sebastian Janikowski, 17th overall 2000, Raiders

You can’t shade his longevity or powerful leg. But then-Oakland owner Al Davis was likely the only executive who would make this kind of move, a preview to the Silver and Black’s long, dark decline in the 21st century. The two players picked after “Sea Bass” were a solid quarterback (Pennington) and a future MVP (Alexander).

82. QB Paxton Lynch, 26th overall 2016, Broncos

Denver would have been wise to take Dak Prescott as Peyton Manning’s heir apparent instead.

83. QB Jim Druckenmiller, 26th overall 1997, 49ers

San Francisco would have been wise to take Jake Plummer as Steve Young’s potential heir apparent instead.

84. The Longs in 2008

Jake Long poses for a photo after being taken as the first overall draft pick by the Miami Dolphins during the 2008 NFL Draft.

Jake Long poses for a photo after being taken as the first overall draft pick by the Miami Dolphins during the 2008 NFL Draft.
Jim McIsaac, Getty Images

Jake Long (1st overall to Miami) and Chris Long (2nd overall to St. Louis) – unrelated by the way – were fine players. But rather than take QB Matt Ryan, the Dolphins settled on Chad Henne late in Round 2 before later acquiring Pennington. Meanwhile, the Rams continued to ride deteriorating Marc Bulger into the ground.

85. Big Bosas

Joey and Nick Bosa were both first-rounders, defensive rookies of the year and appear to have more Pro Bowls in their future. Each has already had a better career than the earlier generation of Bosas. Their father, John, was the 16th overall pick by Miami in 1987 and had seven sacks in three seasons. Their uncle, Eric Kumerow, was coincidentally picked 16th by the Dolphins a year later and managed five sacks in three years.

86. Talent evaluators not affiliated with Pittsburgh in 1974

That draft produced five Hall of Famers, including Raiders TE Dave Casper. The Steelers selected the other four (WR Lynn Swann, 1st round; LB Jack Lambert, 2nd round; WR John Stallworth, 4th round; and C Mike Webster, 5th round). Especially negligent were those running the Oilers, who initially owned the top pick. They traded it and No. 53 overall to Dallas – the Cowboys took DE Ed “Too Tall” Jones and QB Danny White, respectively – in exchange for Tody Smith and Billy Parks. And now you know why all of Texas’ Lombardi Trophies reside in Dallas, not Houston … and why the Steelers dominated the 1970s given their mastery of the ’74 draft.

87. CB Deandre Baker, 30th overall 2019, Giants

Stay tuned as he’s starting to look like the exclamation point of a botched NYG draft that included QB Daniel Jones and DL Dexter Lawrence, both also taken in Round 1. But Baker was bad on the field as a rookie before getting charged with multiple counts of robbery with a firearm in 2020. The case against Baker was ultimately dropped, and under dubious circumstances, but not before the Giants let him go.

88. QB Pat White, 44th overall 2009, Dolphins

He was supposed to take the Wildcat to the next level. He never completed an NFL pass.

89. QB Christian Hackenberg, 51st overall 2016, Jets

New York has butchered plenty of picks through the years, but most quarterback busts at least earn one regular-season snap before being Jet-tisoned.

90. K Roberto Aguayo, 59th overall 2016, Buccaneers

Tampa Bay traded back into the second round … for a kicker … who would last only one season … and probably didn’t deserve to stick that long.

91. WR John Ross, 9th overall 2017, Bengals

The star of that year’s combine thanks to his event record 4.22 speed, he had just 51 catches in four seasons with Cincinnati.

92. QB Kyle Boller, 19th overall 2003, Ravens

He came at the cost of a first- and second-rounder yet only went 20-22 – while backed by a star-studded defense – during five seasons in Baltimore.

93. QB Jimmy Clausen, 48th overall 2010, Panthers

Once considered a surefire first-rounder, he legitimized his free fall. Carolina saw enough in Clausen’s 13 rookie appearances to take Newton the following year.

94. TE David LaFleur, 22nd overall 1997, Cowboys

Jason Witten healed this mishap, when Dallas offloaded the No. 25 pick, a third- and a fifth-round selection for a guy who failed to top 200 receiving yards in three of his four seasons.

95. RB Derrius Guice, 59th overall 2018, Washington

Though he arguably had first-round traits, he was dogged by character questions going into the draft. Washington took him, then lost Guice in his rookie preseason to a torn ACL. In 2020, he was arrested and charged with a felony (later dropped) in the wake of alleged domestic violence incidents, leading the WFT to punt on Guice. He was later accused of even more serious sexual assault allegations from his time at LSU.

96. DT Malik McDowell, 35th overall 2017, Seahawks

He’s never played in the NFL in the wake of an ATV accident and multiple arrests. Had Seattle kept the 34th pick it swapped to the Jaguars before taking McDowell, the Seahawks could have solidified their long-problematic O-line with the player Jacksonville took, OT Cam Robinson.

97. QB Jim Plunkett, 1st overall 1971, Patriots

Yes, he won two Super Bowls … many years later while with the Raiders. But how would history have been different had New England opted for Archie Manning or Dan Pastorini, quarterbacks taken second and third overall, respectively, before proceeding with their own checkered careers? Hall of Famers John Riggins, Jack Youngblood, Jack Ham or Dan Dierdorf obviously would have worked out better than the 1970 Heisman winner as Plunkett was a fiasco in Foxborough, losing 38 of 61 starts and pushing Steve Grogan to the forefront for a decade-plus.

98. DE Marcus Smith, 26th overall 2014, Eagles

He finished with 6½ sacks in five NFL seasons and never started one game. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Smith was taken with a cursed pick that was originally traded for Richardson and also swapped in connection with Manziel’s selection in Cleveland.

99. G Danny Watkins, 23rd overall 2011, Eagles

Let’s pick on the Eagles again for yet another Baylor botch. And the pathway for aging Canadian firefighters to the NFL closed.

100. Previous owners of the 42nd pick in 2010

The Bears sent it to the Buccaneers for the late Gaines Adams. The Bucs traded it to the Raiders, who then dealt it to the Patriots. Tampa Bay wound up with WR Arrelious Benn, while Oakland got DE Lamarr Houston. New England merely landed TE Rob Gronkowski at No. 42.

101. RB George Rogers, 1st overall 1981, Saints

A really good player, he led the league in rushing during his All-Pro rookie season. Only problem? New Orleans chose him instead of Lawrence Taylor. Welp.

Bonus 101a. RB Maurice Clarett, 101st overall 2005, Broncos

Sticking with the 101 theme … he only cost Denver a compensatory third-rounder, but pretty much everyone knew it was a wasted pick the moment the Broncos gambled on the controversial (and out-of-shape) former Ohio State star. Clarett never played an NFL down, even during preseason.

Bonus 102. Nate Davises

I worry about my namesake buddy Nate Davis, a delightful O-lineman, who’s now been a two-year starter for Tennessee. However Nathan Davis, a second-round defensive end for Atlanta in 1997, never notched a sack. QB Nate Davis – remember him from Ball State? – was a fifth-rounder of the 49ers in 2009 but never played in the regular season. What’s in a name? Geez …

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Follow USA TODAY Sports’ Nate Davis on Twitter @ByNateDavis.





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