It’s Draft Day, and NFL fans across the globe are hoping whoever their team selects does not end up on a list like this somewhere down the line.

With every John Elway or Peyton Manning there’s a Ryan Leaf or a Tim Couch who sets a franchise back several years instead of helping them turn things around. Each year there are players who enter the NFL Draft with a ton of momentum and promise, only to fail miserably once they make it to the league. With so many QBs expected to be drafted early on in the 2018 NFL Draft, it’s only reasonable to assume that one, or several, of them will never pan out.

There are a select few players in league history that never made it but don’t necessarily deserve the “bust” title in my opinion. For instance, Robert Griffin III showed flashes of greatness during his rookie season, as he set rookie records for the highest passer rating and highest touchdown to interception ratio, but his career was derailed by a series of devastating injuries – not because he sucked. Or a guy like David Carr, who never stood a chance in the NFL because the Houston Texans’ offensive line was historically inept and couldn’t keep him upright.

For this list, we’ll exclusively be looking at the worst players who were selected in the Top-5 over the last 20 years.


Ryan Leaf

NFL Draft: Biggest Busts In The Last 20 Years

Year: 1998

Team: San Diego Chargers

Pick: #2 Overall

 

Leading up the 1998 NFL Draft there was a real debate about who the Indianapolis Colts should select #1 overall: Peyton Manning or Ryan Leaf. As it turns out, the Colts made the right choice. 

Leaf went second to the San Diego Chargers and it was all down hill from there. Leaf’s rookie season was marred by poor play, bad behavior and clashes with the media. He only spent two seasons with the Chargers, throwing 33 interceptions to just 13 touchdowns during that time.

Charles Rogers

NFL Draft: Biggest Busts In The Last 20 Years

Year: 2003

Team: Detroit Lions

Pick: #2 Overall

 

Rogers’ career in Detroit ended with just 36 receptions for 440 yards and four touchdowns along with two broken collarbones and a four-game suspension. 

While injuries certainly played a role in his fall from grace, drug issues off the field also contributed to Rogers’ poor play on the field. The promising wide receiver, who was compared to Randy Moss entering the 2003 NFL Draft, played in just 15 games for the Lions. He was suspended for violating the league’s substance abuse policy in 2005 and was cut by Detroit the following year.

Tim Couch

NFL Draft: Biggest Busts In The Last 20 Years

Year: 1999

Team: Cleveland Browns

Pick: #1 Overall

 

Couch was the inaugural pick by the expansion Browns in the 1999 NFL Draft and it set in motion a QB carousel that is still spinning ’round and ’round to this day.
Couch lasted just five seasons in Cleveland before exiting the league. In his 59 games for the Browns, Couch had a respectable 59.8% completion percentage but he threw 67 interceptions to go with his 64 TDs.

Aaron Curry

NFL Draft: Biggest Busts In The Last 20 Years

Year: 2009

Team: Seattle Seahawks

Pick: #4 Overall

 

Coming into the 2009 NFL Draft, linebacker Aaron Curry was described as the safest pick, and had earned the highest draft position of any linebacker since Redskins’ star LaVar Arrington in 2000. However, Curry was the complete opposite.

After being drafted fourth, Curry became the highest paid non-QB rookie in NFL history (six-year, $60M contract with $34M guaranteed) but struggled mightily in Seattle, recording just 5.5 sacks in his three seasons. Still got that 34 mil, though.

Justin Blackmon

NFL Draft: Biggest Busts In The Last 20 Years

Year: 2012

Team: Jacksonville Jaguars

Pick: #5 Overall

 

When he was on the field, Justin Blackmon showed signs that he was a star in the making. The problem is, he couldn’t stay on the field – and it wasn’t because of injuries.

At Oklahoma State he was a two-time consensus All-American and he showed flashed of that greatness during his rookie season with the Jaguars. Unfortunately, he was hit with two suspensions during the 2013 season and hasn’t played in the league since.

Joey Harrington

NFL Draft: Biggest Busts In The Last 20 Years

Year: 2003

Team: Detroit Lions

Pick: #3 Overall

 

In his rookie season with the Lions, Harrington had the lowest QB rating in the league, threw 16 interceptions and had an awful 50.1 completion percentage. Detroit went 3-13 during that season and the following year wasn’t much better as Harrington threw 22 interceptions and the Lions finished 5-11.

By 2005, Lions head coach Steve Mariucci had benched Harrington in favor of Jeff Garcia and he was out of the league following the 2007 campaign.

Vince Young

NFL Draft: Biggest Busts In The Last 20 Years

Year: 2006

Team: Tennessee Titans

Pick: #3 Overall

 

Vince Young’s NFL career got off to a promising start. He led the Titans on multiple fourth-quarter comebacks and game-winning drives, which resulted in a trip to the Pro Bowl despite throwing more interceptions (13) than touchdowns (12). A downward spiral started in year two as Young threw 17 picks to just nine touchdowns, and he was limited to only three games the following season.

In Young’s fourth year, the Titans went 8-2 with him under center but he played just two more seasons in the NFL after that. Despite signing with several different teams in 2012, 2013 & 2014, he was cut before each season started.

He even signed with the Saskatchewan Roughriders of the Canadian Football League in 2017, but was cut before ever appearing in a game.

Trent Richardson

NFL Draft: Biggest Busts In The Last 20 Years

Year: 2012

Team: Cleveland Browns

Pick: #3 Overall

 

Entering the 2012 NFL Draft, former Alabama running back Trent Richardson was billed as the game’s best running back prospect since Adrian Peterson. As a result, the Browns traded several draft picks to move up and select Richardson third overall.

The Browns ultimately traded Richardson to the Colts after just 17 games, and he hasn’t played in the league since the 2014 season.

Jason Smith

NFL Draft: Biggest Busts In The Last 20 Years

Year: 2009

Team: St. Louis Rams

Pick: #2 Overall

 

Offensive lineman Jason Smith was supposed to be the Rams’ anchor at left tackle as they rebuilt their team. Unfortunately for both parties, Smith could not make the transition to the pros.

He suffered a concussion during his rookie season, which caused him to miss half the year, and he was beat out by a rookie the following season. Smith was eventually traded to the Jets in 2012 and never started another game, as he opted to retire after the 2012 campaign.

JaMarcus Russell

NFL Draft: Biggest Busts In The Last 20 Years

Year: 2007

Team: Oakland Raiders

Pick: #1 Overall

 

JaMarcus Russell’s NFL career lasted just three seasons, as he went 7-18 in 25 starts and threw 23 interceptions with only 18 touchdowns. To make matters worse for Raiders fans, the next two selections in the 2007 NFL Draft were perennial Pro-Bowlers Calvin Johnson and Joe Thomas.