Drafting a football player out of college is never a perfect science. Quarterbacks put up gaudy stats in certain systems, running backs shred defenses with the help of expert blocking, and wide receivers make leaping catches over guys whose athletic careers max out in the NCAA. College results are not always the best indicator of a football player's skills, or potential.
One way the NFL general managers try to separate results from skills is through the NFL Combine. The combine is a week-long horse show, where prospects are put through drills, races, and other physical tests, to allow teams to more closely evaluate potential draft picks. Of course, the combine, unique in all of professional sports, is a multi-million-dollar event, with executives, coaches, and analysts all flying in to the host city for a week. Teams spend a lot to use the combine properly, and expect a high return for their dollar.
Speaking of high return for the dollar, the cost of signing drafted players has become increasingly prohibitive. Last year's first-overall draft pick, Jadaveon Clowney, stands to make over $5 million a year in guaranteed money. With that much money wrapped up in a player, especially before seeing him play in an NFL game, the risk is high, and the potential for disappointment is huge.
With the NFL Draft coming up this weekend, it's time to take a look at the biggest disappointments in NFL Draft history.
10 Courtney Brown, Defensive End, Cleveland Browns
Brown was the first-overall pick in the 2000 draft. He had all the right credentials coming out of Penn State; he was named the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year in 1999, and was selected as an All-American. His first season in Cleveland was actually quite promising, as Brown amassed 69 tackles and managed to play in every game. After that, injuries took their toll, and Brown plummeted down the depth chart, and was never again able to capture the potential he had shown. By 2006, Brown was out of the league. The Browns, however, continue their disappointing ways.
9 Vince Young, Quarterback, Tennessee Titans
In 2006, Vince Young was the hottest quarterback coming out of college since Michael Vick. He was fresh off the BCS Championship victory with Texas, and he was big, strong, and mobile. A red flag popped up during the combine, where he scored a 6 out of possible 50 on the Wonderlic test.
Tennessee took Young with their third-overall pick, and he impressed in his first season, even being named as a Pro Bowl replacement, as a rookie. The ensuing years became tougher as defenses figured out how to stop Young, and he even went missing for a few hours in 2008 after enduring a particularly difficult game.
Young was bumped to the back-up role in 2008, and never managed to regain the starting role with Tennessee. In 2010, he played a handful of games with the Philadelphia Eagles, but was unable to stay with them past the end of that season.
Young also suffered from financial problems, and likely spent the majority of his 34 million dollar income from the NFL. Finally, in 2014, after being signed and cut by a few teams, Young decided to retire and go to work with Texas University, his alma mater.
8 Ronnie Brown, Running Back, Miami Dolphins
There is a school of thought in the NFL that drafting a running back early is a waste of a precious draft pick. They tend to have shorter careers, fall victim to injury more often, and are more dependent on teammates and systems than almost all other positions. In 2005, second-overall draft pick Ronnie Brown looked set to be one of the few exceptions to that rule, until injuries interrupted his progress in his second season with the Dolphins.
He was also horribly mismanaged by Dolphins' management, being thrust in and out of the starting lineup, in a duel with Ricky Williams, for much of his career.
Brown was not a horrible player, by any means. But, in the same year, the Green Bay Packers landed a future franchise quarterback in Aaron Rodgers with the 24th overall pick. In the third round, the 49ers landed on the best running back in the draft, in Frank Gore.
In short, don't take running backs too early.
7 Tim Couch, Quarterback, Cleveland Browns
The Browns make their second appearance on this list for one of the most unfortunately-named athletes in history. Couch was drafted first overall with high expectations in 1999 for the expansion Browns. He quickly became the starter in his first season, but was constantly banged up and sacked by opposing defenses, as the Browns had few talented offensive linemen to protect him. He suffered thumb and leg injuries in his career, and was never able to replicate his college success. He eventually lost his starting job to Kelly Holcomb in 2003, and never played in a regular season game after that. He struggled through shoulder injuries and underwent several surgeries between 2003 and 2007, at which point he was discovered to have been taking Human Growth Hormone and Anabolic Steroids. This was the final straw, and Couch was never again seen on an NFL roster.
6 Ki-Jana Carter, Running Back, Cincinnati Bengals
Carter was the first overall pick by the Bengals in 1995, and was signed to a then-record $7.125 million signing bonus. Again, the dangers of drafting a running back that early were realized, as Carter was the real-life representation of Samuel L. Jackson's "Mr. Glass" from Unbreakable. He missed the entirety of the 1995, 1997 and 1998 seasons. He played only 3 weeks in 1996. Over his entire seven-year career, Carter only managed to play in 59 games (less than 4 total seasons) and was largely ineffective.
If your team is not strong on the offensive line, drafting a running back in the first round is just a waste.
In good news, Carter went on to become a successful entrepreneur and business leader, so it wasn't all bad.
5 Heath Shuler, Quarterback, Washington
You may recognize the name, if you follow the U.S. House of Representatives. Shuler was a Democratic representative for the state of North Carolina from 2006 to 2012. Before he was throwing political touchdowns, Shuler was on the NFL field, not throwing touchdowns. He was chosen third overall by the Washington team in 1994. He immediately held out for a larger contract, and eventually won out, being offered almost 20 million dollars before putting on a uniform. He performed poorly, and lost the starting job to seventh-round pick Gus Frerotte, who would go on to have a respectable career.
After two seasons in D.C., Shuler was sent to the New Orleans Saints, where he suffered a foot injury and was named the "Least Valuable Quarterback" in 1997. In 1998, Shuler took one last try with the Oakland Raiders, but re-injured his foot and chose to retire. He began a successful career in real estate before entering the political sphere in 2006.
4 Akili Smith, Quarterback, Cincinnati Bengals
The worst part about the Bengals drafting Smith with the third overall pick in 1999 was that they had the opportunity to trade him away to the New Orleans Saints for nine draft picks. They refused, and chose Smith, after the Browns chose Tim Couch and the Eagles selected Donovan McNabb. The 1999 draft was chock-full of quarterback prospects, and had the Bengals accepted the Saints' offer, would have still been in prime position to select a future Pro Bowler in Daunte Culpepper.
Hindsight is 20/20, of course, but Smith was a disaster from the start. He never figured out the Bengals' playbook, and threw 5 touchdowns and 13 interceptions in four seasons with the Bengals. He bounced around to Green Bay, Tampa Bay, and the Frankfurt Galaxy, and finally landed with the Calgary Stampeders of the Canadian Football League.
Refusing to trade Smith for nine draft picks was a disastrous decision, one which the Bengals are still dealing with to this day.
3 Charles Rogers, Wide Receiver, Detroit Lions
Rogers was compared to Randy Moss coming out of Michigan State University, and the Saginaw, Michigan native seemed to have hit it big when he was drafted by his hometown Detroit Lions with the second overall pick in 2003. He was supposed to be a superstar, and his jersey was one of the league's best sellers in 2003. Then, his career started. He suffered season ending injuries in 2003 and 2004. The second time, Rogers went back home to Saginaw, rather than staying with his team. Lots of money and lots of time on his hands did not combine well, and soon Rogers was making headlines for the wrong reasons. He was suspended three time for violating the NFL's substance abuse policy, and he fathered 5 children with different women.
All told, Rogers managed to play in only 14 regular season games in his 3-year career. He had more arrests (5) than touchdowns (4). To make things worse, the wide receiver selected just after Rogers was Andre Johnson, who is still in the league and was the game's dominant receiver for much of the past decade.
2 JaMarcus Russell, Quarterback, Oakland Raiders
Taken first overall in 2007, Russell held out until he got a contract offer he deemed acceptable; 68 million dollars, the biggest ever at that point. The Raiders tried not to rush their star prospect, and he didn't see game action until December 2007. Regardless, he was not ready. He was wildly inaccurate, and threw two interceptions. Worse than that, Russell was not interested in maintaining game shape. He was constantly out of shape and overweight, and showed little improvement in his three seasons with Oakland. A coaching change led to Russell dropping down the depth chart, and eventually, being released in 2010. He was also arrested for possession of codeine syrup in that same year.
He attempted to return to the NFL in 2013, in better shape, but no teams showed enough interest to offer him a contract. His final tally of stats show more interceptions than touchdowns, and almost as many fumbles as touchdowns. Talented but disappointing is the best way to summarize Russell's career.
1 Ryan Leaf, Quarterback, San Diego Chargers
In 1998, there was lively debate on TV, radio, and the blossoming Internet, over which quarterback would have the better career; Leaf, or Peyton Manning. The Indianapolis Colts had the first selection, and wisely used it on future hall-of-famer Manning. The San Diego Chargers traded up to land the second pick, which they used on Leaf. Laziness and indiscipline began to show themselves immediately, when Leaf gained twenty pounds and missed his interview with the Colts. He also missed a mandatory rookie meeting after being drafted.
When the season began, Leaf's lack of preparation began to show. He struggled to find receivers on his throws, and regularly fumbled the football. He was also hit often behind the struggling San Diego offensive line, and developed a wrist injury which was never given time to heal. After three largely disappointing seasons with the Chargers, Leaf was released in 2000.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers picked him up in 2001, with a plan to develop him slowly. Leaf was asked to accept a fourth-string job and a league minimum salary, but he refused, so he was released days before the 2001 regular season.
Again, a failed physical with the Dallas Cowboys cost Leaf his last chance to stay in the NFL. He retired in 2002, at the age of 26.
Ryan Leaf was such a huge bust, his name became synonymous with poor draft picks. Watch the NFL Draft tonight, and listen closely for any mention of "the next Ryan Leaf." If you hear it, all you can do is hope that it's not your favourite team's turn to pick.