There are few athletes who feel greater shame than those who are remembered for being among the worst NFL draft picks ever.
Most of the time, they were selected near the top of the draft, only to turn into one of the biggest NFL draft busts. It’s not like being a late-round pick and not making it. The worst NFL draft picks are the ones who were supposed to be stars but fell flat on their face once they got to the NFL.
Worst NFL Draft picks
Of course, there are always names that pop up when we think about the worst NFL draft class or the biggest NFL draft busts.
But who are the worst NFL draft picks of all time? What players truly failed in spectacular fashion? While this is surely up for debate, here is our list of the worst NFL draft picks ever.
10. Tim Couch
When the Browns were reborn in 1999, they hoped to jumpstart their new franchise with the right quarterback. But despite his brilliance in college, Tim Couch wasn’t that quarterback.
In his defense, he had some promising moments, although injuries did hold him back at times, most notably a broken thumb during his second season. He also helped the Browns get to the playoffs in 2002.
However, his five seasons in Cleveland ended with more interceptions than touchdowns and Couch getting released, failing to get further than the practice squad with any other NFL franchise.
9. Trent Richardson
The Browns have made some bad choices in the draft, but it’s hard to fault them too much for this one.
Granted, this came in an era when almost no running back should be taken third overall, Trent Richardson seemed like a safe bet.
He was productive for three seasons in the SEC and a unanimous All-American. But everything fell apart in his second pro season after having knee surgery. Getting traded to the Colts didn’t help and Richardson ultimately lasted just three seasons in the NFL, averaging a mere 3.3 yards per carry. Among first-round running backs, he’s by far the biggest disappointment in NFL history.
8. Vernon Gholston
He had 22.5 sacks over his last two seasons with the Buckeyes but had zero sacks in the NFL. He struggled to adjust from being a defensive end to an outside linebacker in a 3-4 scheme. Of course, even when the Jets (who get part of the blame for him being a bust) moved him back to defensive end, Gholston was ineffective.
The Jets let him go after three years and just 42 tackles. He got a chance in training camp with other teams the next two seasons but failed to make the Week 1 roster. After so much fanfare, Gholston finished his career with just 42 tackles and no sacks.
7. Rich Campbell
Rich Campbell’s story is an interesting one because he was picked sixth overall in 1981 but never started a game in his NFL career.
After seeing him close up, the Packers decided that he didn’t have the arm strength to play in the NFL. As a backup, Campbell threw for just 386 yards with three touchdowns and nine interceptions in limited action.
He is the only quarterback since 1970 to be picked in the top-30 selections but fail to start at least one game. The pick was a complete waste, perhaps inspiring Green Bay to avoid taking a quarterback in the first round until Aaron Rodgers in 2005.
6. Akili Smith
For what it’s worth, Akili Smith was the third overall pick and the third quarterback selected in 1999, so it’s not like the Bengals got their first choice when they needed a quarterback. But that doesn’t mean he wasn’t a complete bust. He scored a 16 on the famous Wonderlic Test, although bumped that up to a 37 after getting some tutoring.
However, he was often criticized for his work ethic and approach to the mental side of the game, which was likely his downfall. He played in 19 games over his first two seasons but lasted just four years with the Bengals, playing in 22 total games. In those 22 games, he completed 46.6% of his passes with just five touchdowns, 13 interceptions, and 13 fumbles.
5. Charles Rogers
Wide receivers are far from sure things, but Charles Rogers had over 2,800 receiving yards and 27 touchdowns in just two seasons at Michigan State, so he seemed like a safe bet. However, despite his undeniable talent, Rogers had multiple broken clavicles and multiple violations of the NFL’s substance-abuse policy.
The resulting suspension cost him all of the 2004 season. When he returned the following year, he only played in nine games and was inactive for a few. Rogers was released the following year when the Lions were unimpressed with his effort during training camp.
He never played in the NFL again, finishing his career with just 15 games played, 36 catches, and four touchdowns, making him the biggest bust among wide receivers.
4. Brian Bosworth
The Boz has a well-known story. He was one of the best linebackers in college football history, winning the Butkus Award twice and even becoming a Heisman finalist.
Of course, his college career was also filled with a lot of controversies, including steroid use. When he got to the NFL, Brian Bosworth did a lot of talking but failed to back it up, often getting embarrassed by more established players like Bo Jackson. Ultimately, a shoulder injury forced Bosworth to retire after just two seasons in the NFL, as that injury and his big mouth prevented him from ever living up to the hype and the promise he had in college.
3. JaMarcus Russell
In terms of physical tools, JaMarcus Russell could have been a star. But after being the first overall pick in 2007, he never looked like he wanted to play football. His work ethic and commitment to the mental side of the game were constantly questioned.
He couldn’t even keep himself in shape, which is why he only lasted three years in the league.
Russell ultimately started 25 games, throwing 18 touchdown passes and 23 interceptions while also losing 15 fumbles. It wasn’t as bad as it seemed, but for the top overall pick, it was an ugly and endlessly disappointing tenure in the NFL.
2. Johnny Manziel
The Browns were a laughing stock for so long because they did things like draft Johnny Manziel in the first round in 2014. Despite all of the moxie he showed in college while becoming the first freshman to win the Heisman, the Browns had to know this was a bad idea. Not only was Manziel undersized but there were obvious maturity issues that made him a bad fit to be an NFL quarterback and the face of a franchise.
Predictably, he crashed and burned both on and off the field, adding to the list of poor quarterback choices by the Browns.
When you think about all of the intangibles that starting quarterbacks need, taking Manziel in the first round is one of the dumbest draft picks in NFL history.
1. Ryan Leaf
If ever there was a player unfit to be an NFL quarterback, it was Ryan Leaf. In terms of physical tools, he was neck and neck with Peyton Manning heading into the 1998 draft. But Manning had the intelligence and leadership skills that made him one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time.
On the other hand, Leaf was temperamental, thin-skinned, and lacked the work ethic needed to succeed in the NFL.
Missing his second season due to injury didn’t help, but that was after he had two touchdown passes and 15 interceptions as a rookie. Things didn’t get better after the shoulder injury, which only added to Leaf’s frustration.
The Chargers ditched him after three years and Leaf played a few games with Dallas the following season, but that was it.
Over parts of three seasons, Leaf completed 48% of his passes with 14 touchdown passes and 36 interceptions, making him the worst NFL draft pick in league history, especially when you consider what Manning did after being taken one pick before him.