Biggest NFL Draft Busts


Sometimes, it seems like there are players who tick all the boxes. They’ve had a great college career, they’re young, and they’re in the best shape of their lives. You’d think that once they started playing in the NFL, their talent would start to flourish.

But that isn’t always the case. Just as there are historic upsets in NFL matches, there are draft busts where players perform substantially worse than how they were expected to. 

In every sports game, there are favorites and underdogs. A similar principle applies to draft picks. Each year, the order that rookies are drafted is based on their performance in college football. When a player is picked in the first round of the draft, they’re considered the best of the best, while players in the later rounds are seen as less promising.

But what happens when those first-pick players don’t live up to the hype? This is known as a draft bust. Not only does the player fail to meet expectations, but other players picked later in the draft outperform them.

These players are typically released from their team just a few seasons later, at no small expense. Even rookies that seemed like sure-fire stars have flopped once the season started. We’ve rounded up a few of the biggest draft busts in NFL history:

Charles Rogers

In his brief NFL career, Rogers hardly played any games—he was on the field for only 15 games over three seasons. His attendance record was affected by two devastating clavicle injuries in his first two seasons. That was followed by subsequent issues with substance abuse. The Lions picked him second overall in the draft, and just a few years later, he was released at 25 years old.

Ryan Leaf

This quarterback played for the Chargers for three seasons until he was out of the NFL for good. In that time, he threw just 14 touchdowns and 36 interceptions. His passing stats were no better—5.5% were intercepted. It’s not the performance you expect to see from a first-round pick, especially someone who was second overall. 

On top of that, he was drafted during the same year as Peyton Manning. Leaf retired from the NFL when he was 26.

Tony Mandarich

Chosen second overall in the draft, this player’s reputation preceded him. Due to his enormous size, he was nicknamed the “Incredible Bulk” (he was six foot six and 324 pounds!) and even had a feature in Sports Illustrated. 

Before he was drafted, people bet that he might make one of the best offensive linemen. The Green Bay Packers had high hopes for this rookie, but they turned out to be sorely disappointed. 

It turned out that his size was mostly due to steroid use, and he became known for his bad attitude. He was removed from the Packers just four seasons later. Mandarich left the league for a few years and eventually returned to play with the Colts for three seasons, until leaving permanently due to a shoulder injury.

Heath Shuler

The Redskins ended up picking two quarterbacks in 1994, and Shuler was one of them—he was selected third overall. The backup was Gus Frerotte, drafted 197th overall. But despite being picked third, Redskins ended up choosing Frerotte as the starter after two seasons. Why? Shuler threw only 16 touchdowns and 33 interceptions—in one game, he was intercepted 5 times.

After quitting football, Shuler went on to become a member of North Carolina’s congressional district and found more success in politics than he did in the NFL.

Akili Smith

Drafted third overall, this player was expected to make waves in the NFL given his impressive college track record. But his stats never lived up to what the Cincinnati Bengals hoped for. Throughout his four seasons, Smith was sacked 59 times, had a pass completion rate of 46.6%, and threw only 5 touchdowns with 13 interceptions.

Trent Richardson

This player had not one, but two teams select him for first-round picks in the draft. With both the Browns and the Colts, his performance was lackluster. His stats with the Browns weren’t great, but they took a nosedive once he was acquired by the Colts. Richardson was expected to make one of the best running backs, but his NFL career was over in five seasons.

Jamarcus Russel

Imagine: you’re picked first overall in the NFL draft out of over 200 players, but your season track record turns out to be one of the worst. That’s exactly what happened with Jamarcus Russel, who was chosen to be the Oakland Raiders quarterback in 2007.

Even though this player had an incredible track record in the NCAA, the warning signs were there. Rumors were circulating about his lack of work ethic—the owner of the Raiders was directly warned about it before the draft. 

After three seasons, he was cut from the team, and he hasn’t played in the NFL since. He’s gone down as one of the biggest NFL draft busts in history.

There have been football stars who were picked in the latest rounds of the draft, and there have been flops who were picked first. It goes to show that you can’t bet on a player’s performance based on their draft pick order—you need to look beyond what team managers and sports analysts say.If you need a hand when placing bets, we offer picks for NFL betting. At Kyle Covers, we provide picks for every major sport. Purchase a VIP package today to gain access to parlays, computer projections, and betting trends.