NFL general managers watch college football highlights all season long. They are looking for that gem that might lead their franchise to the Super Bowl Promised Land. They spend a great deal of money each year scouting players and then they spend even more at the NFL Combine prior to the draft. If they get it right, the money that is spent will be returned possibly a hundred times over.
But even with the systems that are in place plenty of mistakes are made. Just because a player does well in college and then performs well leading up the draft, doesn’t mean that it will translate up to the NFL. See Tim Tebow for a perfect example. He had a great college career and was worse than horrible in the NFL.
With NFL teams preparing for yet another yearly draft currently, it’s time to take a look at some of the worst Top 5 overall draft picks of all time. So grab a coffee and sit back and read not only all of these mistakes made by NFL teams, but in some cases, the players they could have chosen instead. There have been so many over the years that this list could easily be up to one hundred of them. Here are 15 of the worst.
15 Vince Young, Tennessee Titans (#3 overall)
Vince Young led the Texas Longhorns to a BCS National Championship in 2006 and every NFL team wanted him to lead their offense. He raised a few eye brows when he scored a 6 out of a possible 50 on the Wonderlic test before the draft. But he showed that he could play in college. So the Tennessee Titans chose him #3 overall.
His rookie season wasn’t all that bad and he even made the Pro Bowl as an injury replacement. But that was the extent of his success. After that he was constantly in the press but not for good reasons. Defenses quickly found a way to neutralize him and his success was drastically reduced. In 2008 after a bad game he went missing and people feared that he was going to commit suicide. In two short years he had gone from a National Champion to an unstable human being.
He was then demoted to backup and didn’t start another game with the Titans. He hooked up with the Philadelphia Eagles in 2010 and played in a few games but he was gone at the end of the season.
Over the next few years he was signed and then cut by several teams before he finally decided to hang them up for good in 2014. He got a job with Texas and returned to the Longhorns. Overall the Titans got one decent season out of him.
14 Bo Jackson, Tampa Bay Buccaneers (#1 overall)
Bo Jackson was one of the most electrifying players of his time. Playing in both the NFL and MLB, (sometimes on the same day) and having success in both, leads a lot of people to forget how badly Tampa Bay got screwed by making him the #1 overall draft pick in the 1986 NFL Draft.
The Buccaneers had the #1 overall pick and were looking to turn around a horrible franchise. They wanted Bo but nobody told them that “Bo knows” that he wanted to play baseball. Tampa Bay did everything they could to try and get him to sign with the Bucs but he refused.
He entered the NFL Draft again in 1987 and he wasn’t chosen until the 7th round, but the Raiders were able to talk him into playing football. Could it have been that Bo just didn’t want to join a team that was as bad as the Bucs had been? It’s not that Bo wasn’t worthy of the top overall pick because he absolutely was. But you would think that the team had to know ahead of time that they had no chance of signing him. That wasted top overall draft pick obviously didn’t help the franchise and they went 11 years before they had a winning season after that blunder.
13 Art Schlichter, Baltimore Colts (#4 overall)
Schlichter never turned into the star that Baltimore had hoped he would. The Colts chose him at #4 overall in the 1982 NFL Draft and before the next season started he was replaced at the starting quarterback position by another rookie, Mike Pagel. Pagel had been the team’s 4th round draft pick. So Schlichter spent his entire rookie season on the bench. And then it got worse.
After his rookie season it became known that he had a gambling problem. He got involved in an FBI investigation that exposed his participation in illegal gambling and the NFL suspended him indefinitely. The following year the Colts used their first round pick to choose another quarterback in John Elway, who ended up having a great career with the Denver Broncos.
When the Colts chose Schlichter, they passed on taking Marcus Allen. Oops.
12 Ki-Jana Carter, Cincinnati Bengals (#1 overall)
In 1995 the Bengals made Carter the #1 overall draft pick and gave him a $7.125 million signing bonus. That figure was a record at the time. They thought that he was the future of the franchise. He turned out to be the poster boy for the injured list. He missed the entire 1995 season, 13 weeks in 1996, the entire 1997 season, and the entire 1998 season. He did stick around for seven seasons in total but played in only 59 games and wasn’t very impressive. Carter took the money and became a successful business entrepreneur so things worked out just fine for him. Not so much for the Bengals though.
11 Tom Cousineau, Buffalo Bills (#1 overall)
When the Bills used their #1 overall pick in the 1979 NFL Draft to pick Tom Cousineau they thought that they had made a wise decision. The problem is that the Montreal Alouettes of the CFL were offering him twice as much money to play football north of the border. That’s right, a CFL team was offering more than the Buffalo Bills were. And they won as Cousineau never played for Buffalo.
Three years later he wanted to come back to the NFL but Buffalo didn’t want him anymore so they traded him to the Cleveland Browns for a first round draft pick. They used that pick to grab Jim Kelly who brought them to four consecutive Super Bowls. So in the end it worked out for the franchise but until Kelly paid off, that sure was one huge mistake.
When they made Cousineau that top overall pick they passed on Kellen Winslow and Phil Simms. While Winslow might not have led them to success, Simms had a great career with the New York Giants and was a Super Bowl MVP.
10 Akili Smith, Cincinnati Bengals (#3 overall)
In 1999 the Cincinnati Bengals wanted quarterback Akili Smith. They REALLY wanted him. They wanted him so bad that they turned down an offer from the New Orleans Saints that would have given the Bengals NINE draft picks. Yes, nine of them. The Saints dodged a major bullet when the Bengals turned them down and took Smith with the #3 overall pick.
Smith was nothing short of a disaster for the Bengals as he never adapted to NFL defenses. He spent four years in Cincinnati and totaled up 5 touchdown passes and 13 interceptions. His career continued on with the Green Bay Packers, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Frankfurt Galaxy (NFL Europe), and the Calgary Stampeders (CFL).
The Cleveland Browns used the top pick to choose Tim Couch (more on this one later), and the Philadelphia Eagles chose Donovan McNabb with the 2nd overall pick. The Bengals could have taken the offer of draft picks from the Saints, and they could have chosen Daunte Culpepper. Maybe he wouldn’t have brought them to a Super Bowl, but he was a thousand times better than Smith turned out to be.
9 Keith McCants, Tampa Bay Buccaneers (#4 overall)
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers make another appearance on this list with their #4 overall selection of Keith McCants in the 1990 draft. Many saw McCants as a can’t miss prospect after an outstanding career as a linebacker with the University of Alabama. For some reason Tampa Bay was insistent on McCants moving to defensive end and he was totally against it.
He knew what he was talking about as he only totaled 12 sacks over three years with the Bucs and was out of the NFL by 1995. He also played with the Houston Oilers and the Cardinals but never was able to regain the success that he had in college.
By choosing McCants Tampa Bay passed over Junior Seau and Emmitt Smith. Wow.
8 Blair Thomas, New York Jets (#2 overall)
After the Jets made Blair Thomas the #2 overall draft pick in the 1990 NFL Draft he rushed for over 2,000 yards with New York. The only problem is that the number was a total of four seasons of service. His rookie year showed a lot of promise but then he was pretty much nonexistent and the Jets released him just a few short seasons after drafting him.
Who was available when the Jets chose Blair? Only Emmitt Smith, Junior Seau, and Cortez Kennedy.
7 Ronnie Brown, Miami Dolphins (#2 overall)
The Miami Dolphins used their #2 overall draft pick in the 2005 NFL Draft to choose Ronnie Brown. It’s long been discussed that running backs shouldn’t be chosen with those high draft picks because they tend to burn out or get hurt, and have short careers. Brown had a good rookie season and it looked as though he had the potential to go against the grain in reference to that thought.
But then in his second season he suffered injuries that curbed the running machine that he once looked like. He spent most of his career after that in a platoon role with Rickie Williams.
He wasn’t a terrible player but he could never seem to capture the magic that was once in his future. And when you look at what the Dolphins passed up on to choose him at #2 overall, it’s enough to make Dolphin fans sick for a very long time. The team passed on Frank Gore, who had played at the University of Miami and went on to a great career in San Francisco. Oh and then there was a quarterback named Aaron Rodgers that they passed on. Ouch!
6 Tony Mandarich, Green Bay Packers (#2 overall)
Tony Mandarich wasn’t all that bad. When talking about the NFL Draft many people use his name as the perfect example of a high pick draft bust. But that’s only because he wasn’t a game breaker type of player. But that doesn’t mean that he didn’t have a decent career. He played six years in the NFL with the Packers and the Colts and he started 63 games after being the #2 overall pick in the 1989 draft.
He is only considered a bust because four of the top 5 overall picks that year are now members of the Hall of Fame. He is the only one not to be elected in and he will never be. A good and decent career does not equate to a great one.
Packers fans consider him a bust because Green Bay could have chosen Deion Sanders, Derrick Thomas, or Barry Sanders instead. Oh what could have been.
5 JaMarcus Russell, Oakland Raiders (#1 overall)
JaMarcus Russell knew that if he was chosen #1 overall that he could get a huge payday. So in 2007 when the Oakland Raiders made him that top choice, he held out until he received a contract offer that he thought was worthy of his talents. What he got was the largest contract ever at the time: a deal that had a worth of $68 million. What the Raiders got was one of the bigger busts of all time.
Oakland did the right thing by not rushing him into action. He didn’t get into a game until December of that season and he was unimpressive to say the least. His passes were all over the place, not near his receivers, and two of them that did get close to receivers, were intercepted.
But his attitude was worse than his on the field performance. He was always out of shape, way overweight for a quarterback, and over three years with the Raiders his performance, both on and off the field, never improved. After a change in head coaches Russell was demoted down the depth chart and was eventually released in 2010.
In 2013 he wanted to come back to the NFL and he had gotten himself back into shape but nobody offered him a contract. Everyone saw what had happened in Oakland and they weren’t willing to risk it happening to them. Over the course of his short career he threw more interceptions than touchdowns and to further break it down, he had almost as many fumbles as he had touchdowns. But at least he got paid well.
4 Charles Rogers, Detroit Lions (#2 overall)
If there was ever going to be another movie made about someone that fell from grace, it could be done on the life and times of Charles Rogers. When he came out of Michigan State University and entered the 2003 NFL Draft, many said that he was a carbon copy of Randy Moss. He had been a star with the Spartans and that was supposed to carry over to the next level in the NFL.
When the Detroit Lions made him the #2 overall draft pick in 2003 the State of Michigan was in a frenzy. The hometown boy was staying put and was going to put his talents to work for the hometown team. His Lions jersey was the top-selling jersey in the NFL, before he even took the field for Detroit.
But all of that ended once he took the field with the Lions. In that 2003 season he suffered a season-ending injury and then suffered the same fate again in 2004. Suddenly nobody was buying his jerseys anymore. To make matters worse, when he got hurt in 2004 he went home to Saginaw, Michigan, rather than stay in Detroit with the team. All of the down time combined with the huge amount of money that he had, didn’t bring positive results for Rogers. He actually made the headlines more due to his off the field issues, than for anything that he did on it.
The NFL suspended him three times for violating the league’s substance abuse policy and he also was the father of five kids with different women. You have to do something during all that down time right?
The NFL career that Rogers put together spanned 3 seasons and 14 total games played during that time. The telltale statistic is that he actually had more arrests than career touchdowns, (5 to 4). That’s either really funny or really sad. Maybe a little of both.
Who was the next wide receiver chosen in that draft that the Lions could have chosen instead? Andre Johnson. He was only one of the most dominant receivers in the NFL for about ten years. You win some and you lose some.
3 Heath Shuler, Washington Redskins (#3 overall)
Heath Shuler was another player that was chosen with a high draft pick but refused to sign unless he was offered a huge amount of money. The Redskins chose him with the #3 overall pick in the 1994 NFL Draft. He wouldn’t sign with Washington until he was finally offered almost $20 million.
Once he took the field he was horrible and ended up losing his starting job to Gus Ferotte who had been a seventh round draft pick. Ferotte would continue on to a decent NFL career.
Shuler spent a couple of forgettable seasons in Washington before he was traded to the New Orleans Saints. Things didn’t get better there as in 1997 he suffered from a foot injury and was actually voted the “Least Valuable Quarterback”.
1998 brought about another uniform change and he joined the Oakland Raiders but another foot injury led to him deciding to retire. After his failed football career he started a successful career in real estate before entering the political ring in 2006.
2 Tim Couch, Cleveland Browns (#1 overall)
The Cleveland Browns have made a lot of horrible decision with high draft picks. Their latest one was Johnny Manziel. But long before the Manziel disaster, they had another one on their hands with quarterback Tim Couch.
In the 1999 NFL Draft they used the #1 overall selection to pick up Tim Couch. Browns fans lovingly referred to him over the years as Tim “Ouch”. He was thrown into the starting position behind a horrible offensive line and he paid the price. He was always hurt and was sacked continuously. Eventually the beatings led to injuries to his leg and thumb. He never had the chance to show off the success that he had in college. Eventually in 2003 he was replaced as the starter by Kelly Holcomb and he never saw the field during the regular season again.
From 2003 until 2007 he had many surgeries performed to correct his injuries and eventually the NFL found out that he had been taking HGH and Anabolic Steroids. The name Couch never appeared on another NFL roster again.
1 Ryan Leaf, San Diego Chargers (#2 overall)
When the 1998 NFL Draft rolled around there was a lot of conversation about who should be chosen #1 overall. Peyton Manning was coming out of Tennessee and Ryan Leaf was coming out of Washington State. The Indianapolis Colts had the top overall choice and they had to make a decision. The San Diego Chargers traded a lot away to move up to the #2 overall position. They figured that whoever the Colts didn’t choose, would still be good enough to turn the San Diego franchise around. Guess again. What a huge difference between #1 and #2.
When the Colts chose Manning he began his certain Hall of Fame career by jumping right into learning the Colts playbook. On the other hand Leaf didn’t even wait for the draft to come before he started screwing up. He put on twenty pounds and missed a scheduled interview with the Colts. This alone could have led Indianapolis to lean towards Manning. After being chosen by the Chargers Leaf also missed a mandatory rookie meeting.
When the season started Leaf was given the starting role and it was obvious that he was more than unprepared. He couldn’t find a receiver and fumbled the ball countless times. The horrible Charger offensive line didn’t help matters as they couldn’t protect him and he was hit over and over. He ended up with a wrist injury that was never given the proper time to heal and after only three disastrous seasons in San Diego, he was released.
Tampa Bay got him in 2001 and they wanted to basically start over with him and bring him along slowly. They told him that he was going to start out as the fourth string quarterback and play for the league minimum but Leaf refused. So a few days before the season started they released him.
The Dallas Cowboys were then willing to take a chance on him but he failed the physical and in 2002 he retired from football. Soon after that he began to have several legal issues with law enforcement. You have to wonder what happened to him in between leaving Washington State and the NFL Draft. How and why did this athlete go from a can’t miss prospect to a non disciplined, lazy, and horrible player, in just a few months time?