The worst of the worst draft picks ever…
The worst NFL draft picks are easy to see in hindsight. They are the picks that break your franchise for the next decade or more. Selecting a leader like Peyton Manning or an eccentric Cam Newton at the top of the draft seems like a no-brainer, but at the time the pick is made, the risk makes it about as easy as winning a coin toss – but with worse odds.
While those happy ending stories are good, the reverse is even more interesting. Spending a pick on a player who never fulfills his promise can ruin a franchise. Doing so repeatedly creates a talent vacuum that is almost impossible to get out of.
Here are the 10 worst draft picks in NFL history.
Tony Mandarich, Green Bay Packers, 1989
Mandarich has had his share of bad press as one of the top busts of all time. He made 63 starts for the Packers and carved out a nice little career for himself as the second selection in the 1989 draft. The problem for Packers fans is that Mandarich’s career doesn’t hold a candle to the four players taken around him.
The Packers had no shot at Troy Aikman, who was drafted No. 1 overall. After Mandarich was selected second, Barry Sanders, Derrick Thomas and Deion Sanders came off of the draft board with picks three through five. Four of those players are Hall of Famers. The other is Mandarich.
Roberto Aguayo, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 2016
If you select a kicker within the first four rounds of the draft, the expectation is that he should stick with the team for at least a decade. If you trade up to take that kicker in the second round of the draft, then he had better border on being an All-Pro for the majority of his career.
The Bucs did just that, to take Aguayo with the 59th pick of the 2016 draft. Aguayo was dumped by the team after finishing his rookie season with the worst field goal percentage of any kicker with more than five shots at the posts.
Todd Blackledge, Kansas City Chiefs, 1983
The quarterback class of 1983 is widely considered to be the strongest in NFL history. John Elway was taken with the first overall pick by the Baltimore Colts before being traded to Denver. Sitting at No. 7, the Chiefs were looking for their first franchise player at the position since Len Dawson.
With Jim Kelly and Dan Marino on the board, the Chiefs tabbed the future of the franchise as Blackledge, a player that went 13-11 in his Kansas City career while proving to be a solid backup player. A swing and a miss.
Vernon Gholston, New York Jets, 2008
Gholston is the terrible pick that no one ever remembers, so little was his impact playing in the NFL. Taken with the sixth overall pick by the Jets, Gholston was supposed to be their pass rush specialist, capable of putting them over the top in the AFC East. Instead, the Ohio State product started just five games and never recorded a sack for the organization, eventually being released after three years.
Training camp cuts by the Bears and the Rams in subsequent years ended Gholston’s NFL tenure.
Courtney Brown, Cleveland Browns, 2000
Being considered the biggest draft bust for the Cleveland Browns – a team culpable of as many draft selection mistakes as any – certainly takes some doing. That, though, is the status of defensive end Brown, the first overall pick of the 2000 draft.
Playing five seasons with the team and expected to be a dominant pass rusher, Brown managed just 17 total sacks as his career was waylaid by durability and maturity issues.
Charles Rogers, Detroit Lions, 2003
Rogers was one of many draft busts that Matt Millen oversaw as the general manager of the Lions in the late 90s and early 2000s. Seeming to think that the Lions needed a first-round wide receiver every year, Millen went after Rogers and took him with the second overall pick in 2003.
Rogers had almost as many failed drug tests as he did touchdown catches while in the NFL (three failed tests, four touchdown catches) and he was released from the team in 2006.
Bo Jackson, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 1986
There was no doubting Jackson’s ability after a stellar career at Auburn, but his desire to play baseball instead of football cost the Bucs in a massive way.
Tampa Bay failed to sign Jackson after taking him with the first overall pick of the 1986 draft, getting zero return on the pick. A year later the Oakland Raiders made a much more calculated risk, taking Jackson in the seventh round and signing him to a contract that allowed him to play football in the months of the baseball off-season. Bo Jackson’s football career ended in 1991.
JaMarcus Russell, Oakland Raiders, 2007
Russell is one of the greatest examples of missed potential in the history of the league. The 6-foot-6, 265-pound passer dominated in high school and college. After being selected with the first overall choice in 2007, he crucially held out for a more lucrative rookie contract.
That holdout caused Russell to start just one game during his rookie season, and he never recovered from the time spent away from the game. Reporting to training camp at a weight of 305 pounds in his third year essentially signaled the end of Russell’s NFL career.
Art Schlichter, Baltimore Colts, 1982
Schlichter was the fourth overall pick of the Colts in 1982 after a highly successful college career at Ohio State. This was a time before thorough vetting of draft picks and Schlichter was able to hide his gambling problem from the organization. Blowing his entire signing bonus of $350,000 by midseason, Schlichter’s gambling issues fully took over during the 1982 NFL strike.
Schlicter’s four-decade gambling and drug addiction led to him being sentenced to 10 years in federal prison in 2012.
Ryan Leaf, San Diego Chargers, 1998
Leaf is the definition of a terrible draft pick. Taken with the second overall pick of the 1998 draft behind the legendary Peyton Manning, Leaf was expected to have a career that mirrored the future Colts star. Instead, the Chargers found themselves with an angry and petulant passer who had no time for his teammates, the playbook, or the media.
Leaf flamed out of the league after just 25 games, in which he passed for 14 touchdowns and 36 interceptions. His draft classmate Manning went on to become a multiple-time MVP.