The landscape of the NFL is filled with the wreckage of once promising careers. It’s dotted with the burned out husks of players and careers that for any number of reasons, flamed out. Regardless of what sport you’re talking about, drafting players out of college is an inexact science, and is filled with risks. A player may have had a stellar college career and been an impact player, but you just never know if their game will translate to the next level.
The Oakland Raiders, like every other team in the NFL, have had their fair share of draft successes and hidden gems. Also like every other team, the Raiders have had their fair share– more than their fair share depending on who you talk to– of draft busts. When it comes to draft day failures, the Raiders most definitely have some real doozies in their background. They’ve used high picks to draft guys who never made the roster coming out of camp. They’ve used high picks on players who have been traded or released a season or two after they’d been drafted. They’ve also used high picks on players who never lived up to their billing, players like offensive lineman Robert Gallery– somebody most people label as a bust– who was a serviceable lineman for a number of years, but was never overwhelming, and never lived up to the pre-draft hype.
The Raiders have a very checkered past when it comes to the draft. When they miss on a pick, they tend to miss BIG. On many different occasions across many different years, the Raiders thought they’d found a sure thing, a foundation piece that the team could build around. And on many different occasions, they were wrong. Way wrong. This is by no means a comprehensive list, but here are just ten of them…
10. Fabian Washington, 23rd Overall (2005)
It’s not that Fabian Washington was the most horrible player the Raiders have ever taken, it’s just that Washington never amounted to much of anything in Silver and Black. Which isn’t what you want to see out of your first round pick– especially after the team passed over a guy named Aaron Rodgers to get him. Coming out of the University of Nebraska, Washington had that sub 4.40 speed that made Al Davis drool, but he didn’t have the skills to back it up. He was constantly getting burned deep, lacked solid coverage skills and was generally one of the worst cornerbacks in Oakland history. Which is really saying something. Washington somehow managed to last three seasons with the Raiders, and in that time amassed a whopping five interceptions. Not in a season. That would be five total. In three seasons. Washington was so bad that they eventually got rid of him in favor of DeAngelo Hall, which was another huge failure, but that belongs on the trade bust list.
9. Matt Stinchcomb, 18th Overall (1999)
The Raiders haven’t had a great history when it comes to drafting offensive linemen. Matt Stinchcomb is just one more log on that particular bonfire. Drafted to be a foundation piece for the offensive line for years to come, as well as the protection for quarterback Rich Gannon’s blindside, Stinchcomb never lived up to the expectations the team had for him when they used the eighteenth overall pick on the University of Georgia product. Stinchcomb’s game never elevated to the level it needed to be at in the NFL. He was so bad that midway through his rookie season, he lost the starting job to Barry Sims– a free agent signed from the NFL Europe.
Injuries and ineffectiveness plagued Stinchcomb, and he lasted just three seasons with the Raiders before he was cut loose. After leaving Oakland, he spent a year with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers– ironically enough, the only season he played in which he was healthy enough to start all sixteen games– but was out of the league the following year. Stinchcomb was a disappointment on many levels and never came close to justifying the Raiders using such a high draft pick on him.
8. Rickey Dudley, 9th Overall (1996)
The tight end position is another one that you don’t often see teams using high picks on. But coming out of Ohio State, the 6’6” 250+ pound Rickey Dudley seemed to have tremendous upside, as well as having the potential to create some nightmarish match-up scenarios for opposing defenses. Dudley wasn’t horrible, but he was never anything special, either. He was an average player. At best. Which, given the fact that the Raiders used the 9th overall pick in the 1996 draft on him, qualifies him as a pretty big bust.
Dudley spent five seasons in Oakland and averaged a little over thirty receptions a season. But he was known more for the passes he dropped rather than for the touchdowns he caught. Though incredibly athletic, and a physical freak, Dudley didn’t have the best set of hands in the league– which is a problem for anybody whose job is to catch the ball. He left Oakland following the 2000 season and spent another four years in the league before his very undistinguished career came to an end.
7. Patrick Bates, 12th Overall (1993)
As a member of Texas A&M’s famed “Wrecking Crew” defensive unit, Patrick Bates was pretty celebrated coming out of college. He’d had a nice career there, and made a name for himself. So much so, that the Raiders used the twelfth overall pick to select him in the 1993 draft. Unfortunately for Oakland, his exceptional college game didn’t translate over into the NFL, and the Raiders never saw a return on their investment. Over two seasons in Oakland, Bates played in a total of twenty-nine games, with nine starts, and totaled just one interception. His lack of production led the team to cut ties with yet another draft flop. Bates played one season in Atlanta before his incredibly short, highly undistinguished career came in the NFL was over.
6. John Clay, 15th Overall (1987)
At 6’5” and 300 lbs., John Clay was an All-American offensive tackle at the University of Missouri back in 1986. He was a dominating force in college and was expected to be an anchor on the offensive line for years to come. Salivating at the thought of having such a behemoth of a man as the foundation on their line, the Raiders took Clay with the 15th overall pick in the 1987 draft. Needless to say, things with Clay didn’t work out quite as the Raiders had planned.
Oakland has a long, storied, and very troubling history drafting offensive linemen who turn out to be mammoth busts. For his part, Clay took part in 10 games his rookie season, though he didn’t start one of them. He was so horrifically bad on the line, that the Raiders bounced Clay after just one season. They sent him down to the San Diego Chargers, who inexplicably gave up all pro tackle Jim Lachey in exchange. Clay played in exactly two games for the Chargers before they showed him the door and he was never seen in the NFL again. As for the Raiders, showing how bad they are with offensive linemen, after duping the Chargers into making the trade for Lachey, Oakland sent Lachey– who would go on to be a three-time Pro Bowler– to Washington in exchange for QB Jay Schroeder. Oy.
5. Marc Wilson, 15th Overall (1980)
In 1980, Raiders quarterback Jim Plunkett was getting older, and the team was looking for a young gun to bring in who would eventually succeed Plunkett. Coming out of the very quarterback-friendly program at BYU, Wilson had lit up the record books. The Raiders loved what they saw and took him with the fifteenth overall pick in the 1980 draft. It was mid-way through the 1983 season when Wilson took over as the starter for the Raiders but found himself injured just a couple of games later. Plunkett came back and while filling in for Wilson, led the Raiders to another Super Bowl title– his second with the team.
Wilson never established himself as the team’s “franchise quarterback.” Especially after throwing three interceptions in a home playoff loss to the New England Patriots. Despite having an enormously productive college career, Wilson could never make the transition to the NFL and as a result, had a highly unproductive career, and will forever be remembered as a huge draft bust.
4. Todd Marinovich, 24th Overall (1991)
It’s unfortunate that Marinovich winds up on lists like these. Yes, from a football standpoint, given the fact that the Raiders used a first round pick (24th overall) on the quarterback out of USC, and got practically no return on their investment, Marinovich has to be considered an NFL bust. But if you get to know the story of Todd Marinovich, learn about how he grew up under the thumb of his father who wanted an NFL quarterback rather than a child, and built Marinovich to be just that, you can’t help but feel some sympathy for the guy. Yes, he made his situation far worse with his drug and alcohol abuse, bad attitude, and poor work ethic, but given his first taste of freedom after being raised in such an oppressive environment, you can almost understand. But still, we’re discussing football here, and the Raiders used a first round pick on a guy who delivered them exactly 3 wins to go along with his 8 touchdowns and 9 interceptions. Marinovich lasted just two seasons with the Silver and Black before failed drug tests bounced him out of the league for good.
3. Rolando McClain, 8th Overall (2010)
Coming out of the University of Alabama, Rolando McClain had quite the impressive resume. Butkus Award winner. Lambert Award winner. SEC Defensive Player of the Year. All American. He seemed to be the whole package, and the real deal. He was described as a “Can’t Miss Prospect.” The Raiders found themselves completely enamored with McClain and used the 8th overall pick in 2010 to snap him up. Everyone and their dog applauded the Raiders’ selection. Unfortunately for the Raiders, rather than putting some teeth into their defense, McClain wound up being another in a long string of recent draft flops. Due to his work ethic, inconsistency, and more than anything, his poor attitude– not to mention a series of off-the-field incidents and arrests, the Raiders gave up on the first round pick, and McClain was released in April 2013. He then signed with the Ravens, but retired before the season. He tried to come out of retirement this week, but had a terrible physical and retired again.
2. Darren McFadden, 4th Overall (2008)
At the University of Arkansas, Darren McFadden was an electric runner. He was a threat to break a long run on any given play and defenses were forced to key on him. It was this explosiveness and electricity that led the Raiders to use the fourth overall pick of the 2008 draft on McFadden. He was immediately handed a six-year, $60.1 million dollar contract with the expectation that he would ignite the Raider offense. To say that was a waste of $60 million dollars would be an understatement. D-Mac had one good season of the six– in 2010, he rushed for 1,157 yards in 13 games played for a very healthy 5.2 yards per carry average. He added seven touchdowns as well as 507 yards receiving that season. But that season turned out to have been an anomaly.
In the other five seasons of his contract, McFadden started just 38 of a possible 80 games and never came close to cracking 1,000 yards again. Over the first six years of his career, McFadden has spent more time in the trainer’s room than the medical staff and yet, the Raiders inexplicably brought him back for the 2014 campaign. Though, it’s at a very team-friendly rate with very little guaranteed money, but is heavy on incentive. Perhaps McFadden can turn it around in 2014, but given the expectations he had after being chosen so high in the draft, and then performing– or actually not performing due to constant injury– McFadden can’t be considered anything but a big draft bust.
1. JaMarcus Russell, 1st Overall (2007)
Ahhhh yes, what list of draft busts would be complete without JaMarcus Russell at the top? Not only does JaMarcus Russell have the distinction of being the biggest bust in franchise history, he is arguably, the biggest bust in NFL history– though, Ryan Leaf and Tony Mandarich might have something to say about that. Coming out of LSU, Russell was everything the late Al Davis wanted in a quarterback and more. He was big– really big– he was mobile and he had a cannon for an arm. In a possibly apocryphal story, Russell once threw a ball 60 (or more depending on the telling) yards from his knees. But Davis couldn’t contain his excitement about the quarterback, and used the first overall pick in the 2007 draft on the LSU product.
Once hitting the NFL though, Russell became the exact opposite of everything he was in college. He seemed to have suddenly forgotten how to be a quarterback, and what’s worse is that he didn’t really seem to care. Multiple sources cited his horrible work ethic, his laziness, his lack of knowledge of the playbook, his poor attitude, and to hear some sources tell it, his limited intelligence were all factors that contributed to his undoing. The number one overall pick, and the tens of millions of dollars the Raiders paid Russell netted them next to nothing in return. He lasted three seasons in Silver and Black, compiling a less than awesome 7-18 record as a starter, threw 18 touchdowns against 23 interceptions and racked up a completely underwhelming 65.2 quarterback rating. Most people expect a little bit more production out of a number one overall pick. In May 2009, the Raiders released JaMarcus Russell and ended one of the most terrible eras in franchise history. Though the legacy of Russell– meaning the amount of money the team owed him– has haunted the franchise for many years after.