When college players enter into the world of professional sports, it’s never affirmative that great college athletes can be great pros as well. These players hyped as the best of their class, were counted on becoming the building blocks to start a dynasty, but their shining stardom was quickly extinguished due to various reasons. Read on to review the 15 biggest NFL draft busts.
Although Tim Tebow is regarded as one of the most successful college football players of all time, many front office executives had questioned his passing accuracy and prospects for the pros when he first came into the NFL. However, “Tebow Magic” became real in the 2011 campaign, and this young QB managed to lift his team into the playoffs, which was one of the most memorable overtime moments in league history. But the fact that Tebow depended upon late-game heroics too much finally made him flame out within a couple of years.
Johnny Manziel, the famed Texas A&M quarterback drafted in the first round of the 2014 draft, had a reputation of being a druggie according to his father. Sure enough, “Johnny Football” crashed and burned out of Cleveland by 2016, which must be frustrating for Browns fans, because great QBs Teddy Bridgewater and Derek Carr were both still on the board when they drafted Manziel.
Ryan Leaf is definitely the most infamous draft bust in NFL history, who was once pegged as a future star. His rookie season, however, was marred with erratic play and a poor attitude. Leaf was benched by early November and he missed the entire 1999 season after suffering a shoulder labral tear. And the 2000 season was again filled with bad play and even worse behavior - he lied about a hand injury to skip practice and go play golf instead. San Diego released Leaf soon after and the Buccaneers and Cowboys attempted to use him in 2001, but Leaf was released by both and never set foot on a football field again.
Then-freshman Maurice Clarett led the Ohio State Buckeyes to a 14-0 record and National Championship, tallying 1,237 rushing yards and 18 touchdowns in 2002. Clarett’s year was so good that some were already prognosticating that he would go on to be a first-round draft pick. Nevertheless, a series of incidents - including alleged academic improprieties - ended Clarett’s Ohio State career in 2003. Denver took a chance on drafting Clarett in 2005, but he was cut even before the preseason began.
Heading into the 2015 NFL draft, the debate among most NFL experts was who would go first: Florida State QB Jameis Winston or Oregon QB Marcus Mariota. In the end, Winston was chosen first by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, which in-turn led to the Tennessee Titans taking Mariota second. The quarterback’s performance wasn’t terrible over the course of his first four seasons, but he wasn’t as spectacular as a top dog either. In 2019, Mariota was benched for former Dolphins signal-caller Ryan Tannehill.
For the 2000 draft, the leaderboard was loaded with defensive talent and the Browns used its first-round pick to nab Courtney Brown, a defensive end out of Penn State. A promising start with the franchise would be cut short, however. Brown suffered an injury in his second year and played just five games. And he would play just 26 games in the next three seasons with the Browns before being cut. Of course, the 2000 draft is also notorious for being the year that Tom Brady was drafted 199th overall.
After shining in the most memorable college championship in history, Vince Young entered the NFL as one of the biggest draft prospects. The Titans drafted him third overall despite concerns over his throwing motion. Young played quite well in his rookie year, securing NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year honors and making the Pro Bowl. The following year, he led the team to a sixth seed in the playoffs, but then in the first game of the 2008 season, Young injured his knee and was eventually replaced as the starter by Kerry Collins, not winning the starting job back until midway through the 2009 season.
Running back Cedric Benson never lived up to his fourth-pick hype in Chicago, and later said that he was miserable during his time with the Bears. He had some success with the Bengals, amassing 1,000-plus yards in three consecutive seasons, but he never made a Pro Bowl and wasn’t one of the top backs in the league, which was something people would expect from a top 5 pick.
The 1999 NFL draft was undoubtedly loaded with QB talents, with five taken in the first 12 picks. As the Browns often do, they chose the absolute worst of the bunch. Cleveland selected Tim Couch with their no.1 pick, but Couch only lasted five seasons with the Browns before being cut. The Packers and Jaguars brought him onto the practice squad, but Couch never saw another down in the NFL. By the way, those other QBs the Browns had access to that year include Donovan McNabb and Daunte Culpepper.
JaMarcus Russell is probably one of the most infamous names in pro football. He was the first overall selection of the 2007 draft after a dominant college career, and hoped that he would become the Raiders’ new franchise quarterback, but Russell failed… epically. He was quickly released by the Raiders after the 2009 season due to inconsistent play and rumors of a poor work ethic and has never played another down.
Brady Quinn left Notre Dame after a stellar four-year career with the Fighting Irish, and prospects were high for Quinn coming into the NFL that time, with many eyeing the potential for a franchise QB. Unfortunately, things didn’t go the way as people expected. Quinn floundered in Cleveland after being selected 22nd overall.
The Bengals traded up to land the no. 1 pick in the 1995 draft and used it to select Penn State prospect Ki-Jana Carter. But shortly into the young star’s professional career, things took a drastic turn. On just his third run from scrimmage in his first preseason game, Carter tore his ACL. He had to miss the entire rest of his rookie season. His career was plagued by injuries over the next five years, and Carter was never able to live up to his potential.
Rae Carruth wasn’t necessarily the most highly coveted wide receiver in the 1997 draft, but the Panthers filled a need with the big target by drafting him at 27 overall. Carruth floundered in his three years on the team, amassing just 62 catches and four TDs. However, he was more a real-life bust rather than a draft bust - Carruth was arrested in 1999 for conspiracy to murder Cherica Adams, who was eight months pregnant with his child at the time of her murder. And he was released from prison in 2018 after serving 18 years.
With the Hall of Fame-worthy career of Donovan McNabb looking as if it was winding to a close, the Eagles attempted to get a new QB under McNabb’s tutelage with their pick of Kevin Kolb in 2007. Kolb played backup to McNabb, but could never land the starting role. He was then traded to the Cardinals and the Buffalo Bills. Unfortunately, Kolb’s career was cut short after suffering three massive concussions and he retired at just 29 years old due to poor health.
Andre Ware brought home the Heisman Trophy as a great college player in 1989, but like many other Heisman winners, he learned that the game of football is very different in the NFL. Ware never moved up from a supporting position as a backup to QBs Rodney Peete and Erik Kramer in Detroit. The Lions cut him, and Ware went north to play in the Canadian Football League, and then NFL Europe for a year before finally giving up. Now he serves as an analyst for ESPN and the Houston Texans Radio Network.
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