The NFL draft is a make-or-break time for an NFL franchise and the people working in its front office. If you mess up the picks in the draft, you lose your job, it’s that simple. Each team has taken big swings and has had major misses. Here are the biggest NFL draft busts for all 32 teams.
Arizona Cardinals: Josh Rosen – QB – 10th Overall – 2018
I am going with Josh Rosen over Matt Leinart. Rosen was not a Heisman winner, but he felt like a sure thing, and they dumped him a year after he was there for Kyler Murray. This was an all-time bust of a guy who fell out of the league entirely.
Atlanta Falcons: Bruce Pickens – CB – 3rd Overall – 1991
Can someone say the next Deion Sanders? Well, Bruce Pickens can’t. The expectations were sky high for Pickens and he just never turned into the guy. He was with the team for just over 2 years before they traded him.
Baltimore Ravens: Kyle Boller – QB – 19th Overall – 2003
He played 16 games just one time for the Ravens. Anytime a quarterback from round one doesn’t pan out, the scrutiny is always going to be high, and it was for Boller who lasted 5 years in Baltimore.
Buffalo Bills: Mike Williams – OT – 4th Overall – 2002
The fourth overall pick in the draft didn’t even make it out of his rookie contract with the Bills and was quickly benched for a free agent when they realized he wasn’t able to protect Drew Bledsoe.
Carolina Panthers: Kelvin Benjamin – WR – 28th Overall – 2014
He was Jameis Winston’s favorite target at Florida State, and he was supposed to be Cam Newton’s go-to guy, but he ultimately played in only 40 games over three-plus seasons for the Panthers before being traded.
Chicago Bears: Mitchell Trubisky – QB – 2nd Overall – 2017
The Bears actually traded up for Trubisky which no one understood then and still doesn’t understand now. Trubisky was taken before Patrick Mahomes in this draft.
Cincinnati Bengals: Akili Smith – QB – 3rd Overall – 1999
One of the biggest draft busts of all-time, Smith played in a grand total of 22 games over four seasons. He threw just five touchdowns in his entire NFL career. It is actually shocking how bad this pick ended up being.
Cleveland Browns: Johnny Manziel – QB – 22nd Overall – 2014
Everyone held their breath as we wondered where Johnny Football was going to be selected in 2014. It was Cleveland who came calling and boy did they regret that. He was a major issue off the football field, and he didn’t provide much talent on it.
Dallas Cowboys: Morris Claiborne – CB – 6th Overall – 2012
It’s never good when a team trades up and gives up capital to take a guy that they believe they are sold on. Claiborne was that guy for Jerry Jones and it sure as hell looks terrible now. He was incredibly underwhelming and started just 43 games for the Cowboys.
Denver Broncos: Paxton Lynch – 26th Overall – 2016
Imagine going from Peyton Manning to a guy that many had never heard of if you were a casual college football fan? He downright stunk and has since flamed out in secondary leagues like the USFL and XFL. He played in a whopping 5 games in Denver.
Detroit Lions: Andre Ware – QB – 7th Overall – 1990
He played in a total of 14 games over his four-year career with only six starts. How could that be for a guy that won a Heisman award while he was in college at Houston? The story goes that the Lions director of scouting was so mad after the selection that he quit the very next day.
Green Bay Packers: Tony Mandarich – DT – 2nd Overall – 1989
Just to give you an idea of who the Packers skipped over in this draft: Deion Sanders, Barry Sanders, Derrick Thomas. So, who did Green Bay end up selecting? Tony Mandarich. If you’ve never heard of him, that’s because he played in just three seasons with Green Bay and burned them badly.
Houston Texans: David Carr – QB – 1st Overall – 2002
At the time, this seemed like a home run pick and maybe it could have been had the Texans been more organized at that time. However, things were dysfunctional in their inaugural season and Carr was a victim of that. He did end up winning a Super Bowl with the New England Patriots as a backup later in his career.
Indianapolis Colts: Jeff George -1st Overall – 1990
The Colts traded two franchise players and a first-round pick just so they could move up and select Jeff George. I think it’s a safe bet that if you ask most kids who Jeff George is, they would not be able to tell you. He played in 11 NFL seasons, but none of those were productive for the Colts.
Jacksonville Jaguars: Blaine Gabbert – QB – 10th Overall – 2011
Speaking of another quarterback who went on to win a Super Bowl as a backup, Gabbert fits the bill pretty well. He was supposed to be the new era guy in Jacksonville and showed some flashes of being good, but ultimately won three games in five different seasons.
Kansas City Chiefs: Todd Blackledge – QB – 7th Overall – 1983
If you want to feel good about the Chiefs missing on a quarterback in the draft here it is. To give you an idea of some guys who were still on the board when they drafted Blackledge, Dan Marino and Jim Kelly were still sitting there. Those two became Hall of Famers while Blackledge only had 24 starts in his five seasons with the Chiefs.
Las Vegas Raiders: Jamarcus Russell – QB – 1st Overall – 2007
It’s the biggest draft bust in NFL history, and it shouldn’t really be close. Russell actually held out in his rookie season because he wanted a bigger contract. So, he got over $30 million guaranteed which was unheard of at the time and proceeded to play just three seasons in total. During the 2009 season, he was the worst starter in the league.
Los Angeles Chargers: Ryan Leaf – QB – 2nd Overall -1998
The famous Peyton Manning or Ryan Leaf draft. Unfortunately for LA, they didn’t get the option and had to settle for Leaf. His career ended three seasons after it began and he spent just two of those years with the Chargers before criminal activity and drug use really put his life into a spin.
Los Angeles Rams: Lawrence Phillips – RB – 6th Overall – 1996
Many forget that Jerome Bettis began his career with the Rams, and played three seasons with them, before they traded him to the Steelers. But why would they trade The Bus? The answer is Lawrence Phillips who they thought was a generational talent despite his off the field issues. You’ve heard of Bettis, you likely haven’t heard of Phillips.
Miami Dolphins: Dion Jordan – DE – 3rd Overall – 2013
It was a home run pick because of his talent level, but Jordan started just one game in two seasons for Miami before he was eventually suspended for a season for drug use and then hopped all around the league before dropping out.
Minnesota Vikings: Troy Williamson – WR – 7th Overall – 2005
The Vikings were extremely confident that Williamson was going to be their next great wide receiver. He played three seasons with them, catching 79 passes and three touchdowns. He finished his career with two unproductive seasons with the Jaguars.
New England Patriots: Kenneth Simms – DL – 1st Overall – 1982
He played with the Patriots for a very long time but for a guy who was selected first overall out of the University of Texas, he never amassed more than 5.5 sacks in a season, and they had to cut him in 1990 for being out of shape. He racked up just 17 sacks in his eight Patriots seasons.
New Orleans Saints: Russell Erxleben – P – 11th Overall – 1979
Okay, the draft was certainly a bit different in 1979, but a punter in the first round?? There was a reason that Saints fans put bags over their heads for the better part of the 1970s. Erxleben, punted for just five seasons in New Orleans. He tried to win the starting kicker job in his rookie season and lost.
New York Giants: Ron Dayne – RB – 11th Overall – 2000
He was a former Heisman winner who had a very okay career with the Giants but basically fizzled after his rookie year and was quickly gone after just four seasons in New York.
New York Jets: Zach Wilson – QB- 2nd Overall – 2021
I might get some hate for this one, but I am ready to call Zach Wilson the next big NFL bust. The Jets just traded for Aaron Rodgers after watching just two seasons of Zach Wilson. To this point in his career, he is 8-14 and has thrown three more interceptions than he has touchdowns, which in today’s game is absurd.
Philadelphia Eagles: Kevin Allen – OT – 9th Overall – 1985
When you spend just one season in the NFL, you fall on this list. Allen tested positive for cocaine in his second season and then ran into major issues with the law.
Pittsburgh Steelers: Huey Richardson – DE – 15th Overall – 1991
The story goes that the Steelers had their eyes set on a handful of different players who all went before their pick at 15. So, they decided to draft Richardson who ended up playing five games in his rookie year. They disliked him so much that he was traded to Washington the following year for a 7th round pick.
San Francisco 49ers: Jim Druckenmiller – QB – 26th overall – 1997
Steve Young was aging and the Niners thought they had struck gold when they drafted Druckenmiler with the 26th overall pick. It didn’t work out so well. He lasted just two seasons, making one start, and was out of the league after the 1998 season.
Seattle Seahawks: Aaron Curry – LB – 4th Overall – 2009
The Hawks gave Aaron Curry a six-year, $60 million dollar deal. He rewarded them with 5.5 sacks over two-plus seasons with Seattle.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Bo Jackson – RB – 1st Overall – 1986
Bo Jackson told the Bucs that if they drafted him, he would not play. Well, I guess they had too much pride to turn their backs on that kind of generational talent because they selected him anyway. He told them to shove it and went to play baseball for the Kansas City Royals. In a draft steal the following year, the LA Raiders selected him in the 7th round. The Bucs literally forfeited the first overall pick in the draft.
Tennessee Titans: Jake Locker – QB – 8th Overall – 2011
Locker had some serious talent, but he ran into too many injuries that ruined his career. By age 25, he had retired from the league, but players to this day still talk about his talent and how good he could have been.
Washington Commanders: Heath Shuler – QB – 3rd Overall – 1994
After going 4-9 over the course of two seasons with Washington, he was outright benched. They later traded Shuler and not long after that a foot injury ruined his NFL career and forced him out of the league.