NFL Draft: The Biggest Busts of of All-Time

[Editor’s Note: As long-time readers of the site know, Adam is one of the best junior writers on baseball.  He recently did an awesome National History Day on Babe Rush, laying out his impact on baseball and the country.  He weighs in here with some solid thinking on the NFL Draft.]  

On NFL draft eve, I count down the biggest draft busts ever.

You can sense that draft day is coming. Endless coverage on your favorite sports networks and equally endless draft mockups from “insiders.” Instead of trying to predict the future like they do, today I’ll look at the top 3 biggest NFL draft busts in history since the new millenium. (You’re welcome, Ryan Leaf.)

  • JaMarcus Russell (Raiders, 1st overall, 2007)
    What’s not to like? A solid quarterback coming out of a major school in LSU, fresh off a Sugar Bowl MVP award. Russell became the consensus #1 overall choice and the Raiders, in a possibly franchise-shifting move, drafted Russell first overall. Russell was chased out of football after just a few years as an at best average QB. Recently in a radio interview, Russell expressed his desire to play football by claiming that he would even come back and play for free. Adding injury to insult, the Raiders passed on likely NFL hall of famers Adrian Peterson and Calvin Johnson. Oh, what could have been.
  • Johnny Manziel (Browns, 22nd overall, 2014)
    I know, Johnny was only picked two drafts ago. After falling out of the first spot, he fell to the Browns, who traded up for #22. Don’t get me wrong, Manziel certainly wasn’t a darling at college, but teams like the Browns foolishly looked over that quality for his supposedly drool-worthy skill set. Manziel has had his moments in Cleveland and has shown flashes of maturity. However, he was recently indicted in a Texas jury following domestic abuse charges by his girlfriend. Oh, did I mention he’s not even on a team? Going from a potential first overall pick to being a free agent in just two years, yeah, that’s what I call a bust.


  • Charles Rogers (Lions, 2nd overall, 2003)
    Rogers ran into some bad luck at first. He started his NFL career with two broken collarbones. Ouch. Then, he did himself in by repeatedly violating the league’s substance policy. The Texans’ Andre Johnson would have been a MUCH better choice. This one doesn’t hurt as bad as the Lions were able to draft Calvin Johnson, which more than made up for this gaffe. But imagine what Andre and Calvin could have done… The best WR duo ever?
    Now, for the three best picks since 2000.

If the above players were great busts, how should we think about some of the recent franchise-changing successes?

  • Phillip Rivers (Chargers, 2004)
    After the Ryan Leaf fiasco, Chargers fans were desperate for a franchise cornerstone at quarterback. While the Bolts technically didn’t select Rivers, they traded Eli Manning (who was unwilling to play for them) and a few picks for Rivers. While he hasn’t enjoyed nearly the success Eli has and has never won the Big One, Rivers keeps the chargers in contention year in and year out and has performed like the franchise leader the Chargers needed.
  • Eli Manning (Giants, 2003)
    Eli followed in a legacy of New York sports heroes by catapulting to stardom by beating the hated Patriots not once but twice as an underdog. He didn’t crumble under the Big Apple’s pressure, in fact it fueled him. Sure, he’s never been truly elite in the regular season, he has a special ability to do what it takes in January- almost the opposite of his brother.


  • Aaron Rodgers, 24th overall 2005, Packers)
    We all know Rodgers is still one of the top five QBs in the NFL today. The fact that the Pack were able to pick him up at the end of the first round is incredible. Rodgers has won multiple NFL MVP’s and has one Super Bowl, even though he might get another before its all said and done. He rose to stardom and even drew comparisons to Green Bay hero Brett Favre. A 2-time MVP award winner and Super Bowl champ at pick 24? Yes, please!

It should be an exciting number of days as teams look to shape their rosters for the coming season.  I know everyone that reads this site will be watching.  We would love to hear your thoughts on your favorite teams and what you are hoping to see them accomplish in the draft.

Adam Shemesh

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2 comments on “NFL Draft: The Biggest Busts of of All-Time
  1. Jack says:

    Eli Manning is certainly no superstar, and his draft was completely messed up, but to place him as a buts. Two superbowl rings, 12 Pro Bowl appearances, and two talented relatives ahead of him, and yet still a bust?

  2. DT says:

    Great piece, Adam. I know you said that you weren’t planning to speculate, but what do you think of the high profile QBs picked in the First Round? It seems like there was some big bets being made with a lot of uncertainty about what the outcome will be.

    There is always a question of draft for position or draft for talent. It seems like there is a lot of draft for position activities playing out. I think you always should just take the best available talent available. Period.

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