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The 20 Biggest Draft Busts in NFL History

Ricky Williams

Ricky Williams

Though this may be a disputed pick to show up in the top 20, it's hard to dispute that he never delivered the value to the Saints who drafted him. Head Coach Mike Ditka famously gave up his entire draft to trade up to get the Texas Longhorn legend. While it's true that he had a few strong seasons in his career and led the league in rushing for Miami one season, he was only in New Orleans for a short three-year period.

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Dan "Big Daddy" Wilkinson

Dan "Big Daddy" Wilkinson

The #1 overall pick of the Bengals in 1994 out of The Ohio State University, Big Daddy never established himself as the defensive line force everyone expected. Some even thought he was the best defensive line prospect in the last decade and since Reggie White. Still, he never came close to those accolades. Even though he played for a long time, he belongs on this list as a former #1 overall bust!

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Mike Mamula

Mike Mamula

When people think of NFL draft busts, perhaps Mike Mamula doesn't come up initially. Still, he should be on this list. Taken seventh overall, this off-the-radar pick increased his draft stock by impressing scouts with his measurables at the NFL combine. So, the Eagles snatched him up and never saw the return on their high draft pick investment. He never established himself as an elite defensive player and lasted only five seasons. The Eagles traded up to get him and could have had an elite defender like Warren Sapp, who went #12 that year. Dubbed “The Workout Warrior”, Mamula deserves to be on this list.

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Darrius Heyward Bey

Darrius Heyward Bey

Another questionable pick by owner Al Davis and the Raiders, this speedster was surprisingly taken seventh overall by the Raiders out of Maryland in 2009. Never establishing himself as a #1 receiver on the Raiders, he has been with several teams since, mainly serving as a special teamer. Currently, a free agent, this receiver was taken ahead of the likes of solid pros Michael Crabtree and Jeremy Maclin.

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Rashaan Salaam

Rashaan Salaam

This first-round draft pick (21st overall) of the Bears never saw the same success he had in Boulder, where he was a 2,000-yard college rusher and Heisman Trophy Winner. Though he rushed for 1,000 yards as a rookie, becoming the youngest player to ever reach that number, injuries and drugs appeared to derail his career. Sadly, he committed suicide in 2016.

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Cade McNown

Cade McNown

This UCLA signal caller was taken 12th overall in 1999 by the Chicago Bears. The lefty never established himself as a franchise QB in the NFL, and the Bears quickly parted ways with their disappointing draft pick. Supposed to be part of a great 1999 QB class that Included others like Tim Couch (see above), and Donavon McNabb, Cade McCown belongs on this list as well.

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Rick Mirer

Rick Mirer

The four-year starter at Notre Dame was taken second overall by the Seattle Seahawks in 1993. Though he “enjoyed” a long 12-year NFL career, this former golden domer never lived up to the promise that he had when he left school. Sporting a 24-44 record as a starter, he certainly belongs on this list.

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David Carr

David Carr

The first overall pick in 2002 and the first-ever pick for the new Houston Texans franchise, this talented signal caller out of Fresno state never really made a mark as a starting QB. To be fair, he was sacked a league record number of times his rookie year and didn’t have much of a supporting cast. Still, he had a terrible record in his years with the Texans, but later became a capable backup to Eli Manning and others over his career. Not what you would expect from a #1 overall pick, though!

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Mike Williams

Mike Williams

Detroit took this big receiver at #10 in 2005. He was the third receiver taken in the first round by the Lions in three years. This big, physical receiver never became a star in the league and retired in 2011.

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Charles Rogers

Charles Rogers

Can anyone see a theme here? If you are a skill position player and get drafted by Matt Millen and the Detroit Lions, you will not be successful. The second of three such players on our list, Rogers seemed to be a can’t-miss prospect as he was taken second overall out of Michigan State in 2002. Still, he missed and never reached what thought could be his potential due to injuries and other issues off the field.

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Sam Bradford

Sam Bradford

The Heisman trophy-winning and Oklahoma Sooner QB was the first overall pick in 2010 by the then-St. Louis Rams. He started off hot by completing an NFL record number of passes as a rookie. Then, he suddenly became injury-prone. Suffering through injuries most of his career, the journeyman did not become the breakout start that many expected.

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Vernon Gholston

Vernon Gholston

The Jets took this OLB sixth overall in 2008 after a great season at The Ohio State University. He was supposed to be a top-notch rusher and was expected to get after the quarterback, but this Jet never recorded a sack in the NFL.

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Joey Harrington Jr.

Joey Harrington Jr.

Perhaps we're being too hard on the Detroit Lions and former GM Matt Millen here, but as the third Millen draftee on this list, it's clear to see why Millen did not have a successful, if not long, run in Detroit. Harrington was projected to be a franchise QB when he was taken third overall out of Oregon in 2002. Still, success was hard to find and he only lasted several years in the league, and only four with Detroit. Some blamed coaching and the organization for his lack of success. Still, as a third pick, he belongs on this list.

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Akili Smith

Akili Smith

Highly regarded out of Oregon, the Bengals drafted him third overall in the 1999 draft. Only fellow signal callers Tim Couch and Donovan McNabb were drafted before him that year. In four years with the Bengals, he started only 17 games and was said to not have worked hard enough on learning the playbook to be successful. He also had stints in NFL Europe and the CFL in his underwhelming career.

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Tim Couch

Tim Couch

This Heisman Trophy-Winning QB was taken first overall by the longtime-losing QB-searching Cleveland Browns in 1999. Though he did manage to help lead the Browns to the playoffs, he only lasted five years for the team that took him #1 overall. Even though he does belong on this list, he did marry a Playboy Playmate (Heather Kozar), so at least he has that going for him.

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Trent Richardson

Trent Richardson

Surprisingly out of the league already, this Alabama Heisman Trophy Winner was taken third overall by Cleveland in 2012. Showing some initial promise, this quickly fizzled out and he was traded away to Indianapolis within a couple of years. He didn't stick there either and was let go and never caught on with anyone else. Because many considered him the best running back prospect in a decade, and he never took off in the NFL, he deserves to be high on this list.

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Tony Mandarich

Tony Mandarich

This unbelievably dominant college left tackle out of Michigan State was taken #2 overall by the Green Bay Packers in the 1989 draft. Also playing for the Colts throughout his seven-year career, “The Incredible Bulk” never lived up to the promise of his hype (and Sports Illustrated Cover). To add insult to injury, he was the only player picked in the top five that year that isn't in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Troy Aikman was taken first, then Mandarich, then Barry Sanders, Derrick Thomas, and Deion Sanders. Do you think the Packers would have rather taken one of those guys? No doubt!

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Ki-Jana Carter

Ki-Jana Carter

Selected #1 overall in the 1995 draft out of Penn State, this talented college running back never reached his potential in the NFL. He struggled with injury problems in his short career and never became the perennial 1,000 yard back that many thought he would be. To make matters worse, the Bengals selected Carter ahead of several Hall of Famers to be, including Warren Sapp and Derrick Brooks. Still, HOF RBs Curtis Martin and Terrell Davis were taken in this draft! Ouch!

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JaMarcus Russell

JaMarcus Russell

A physical presence and strong-armed QB out of LSU, the aging and increasingly incompetent, Al Davis of the Raiders took Russell #1 overall in the 2007 draft. He quickly developed a reputation for being lazy and was out of the league very quickly. Compiling only a 7-18 record as a starter, the Raiders gave up on him in 2010. Few would argue that he belongs near the top of this list!

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Ryan Leaf

Ryan Leaf

As upset as Chargers fans were about the bust that Ryan Leaf was, is it possible that Colts fans were as happy that their franchise selected Peyton Manning #1 in the 1998 NFL draft, instead of Leaf? At the time, it was considered a toss up about who was the better prospect, Manning or Leaf. The Colts chose wisely at #1 and elected to draft the future Hall of Famer, Manning, who started over a decade run at the helm for his team. Leaf, however, struggled in San Diego, and ultimately had substance abuse problems. He belongs high on this list since he didn’t reach what many considered his high potential.

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Honorable Mentions

Honorable Mentions

We thought we should also recognize some other well-known busts as “Honorable Mentions" here. These are folks that didn’t quite make the list, but very well could have. Johnny Manziel, Jeff George, Andre Ware, David Klinger, Tim Tebow, Brady Quinn, Blair Thomas, Robert Griffin III, Kyle Boller, Roy Williams WR, Vince Young, Maurice Clarett, Courtney Brown, Andre Wadsworth...Who else do you think should be on here?

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