For every franchise-defining player selected in the first round of the NFL Draft, there are even more busts. Players whose name sends fans into fits of rage the mere second they’re said. In other words, for every Peyton Manning, there is a Ryan Leaf and a Tim Couch. No scouting department is perfect, and the following draft busts of the last 20 years definitely got some general managers fired. It’s crazy to think that the Jaguars drafted Justin Blackmon and Blaine Gabbert in back-to-back years!
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When the Denver Broncos traded up in the first round of the 2016 NFL Draft, the team thought they had finally found their successor to Peyton Manning. They couldn’t have been more wrong. Since being drafted, Lynch never became the starter, ultimately losing the job to seventh-round draft pick Trevor Siemian.
Helping derail Paxton Lynch’s career were a number of shoulder injuries. Just getting onto the practice field has been an issue. And when Lynch has had the chance to play, he’s been less than impressive, completing only 61 percent of his passes. With the addition of Case Keenum in the offseason, Lynch is now firmly entrenched as a first-round draft bust in Denver.
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Selected with the third overall pick by the Cleveland Browns in 2012, Trent Richardson was lauded as a can’t-miss talent. Oops. It turns out everyone was wrong about Richardson. A big bruising running back coming out of Alabama, he never found his power or his footing at the next level.
His rookie season was his best, rushing for 950 yards and averaging an almost respectable 3.6 yards per carry. Two years later he was traded to the Colts, where averaged an atrocious 2.9 yards per carry! After the Colts cut him loose two years later, he signed with the Raiders and never saw the field. Maybe that was for the best considering Oakland was still trying to recover from their bust of a pick…
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Perhaps the biggest draft bust in the history of the NFL, the Oakland Raiders thought their misery was finally over when they selected JaMarcus Russell with the first overall pick in the 2007 draft. Al Davis loved flashy players, and the big-armed quarterback form LSU could throw the pigskin 70 yards from his knees!
Unfortunately, that’s not a skill that translates to success in the NFL. In three sad seasons in Oakland, JaMarcus Russell completed 52 percent of his passes and threw more interceptions than touchdowns. In 2013 he attempted a comeback, which was documented by Bleacher Report. Then, in 2016, he sent letters to every NFL team saying he would play one year for free if given a second chance. He wasn’t.
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A speedster coming out of West Virginia, the Chicago Bears thought they had the steal of the draft when they took Kevin White with the seventh pick in 2015. In his first NFL training camp, White fractured a bone in his shin and had to have a steel rod inserted into his leg to stabilize it.
Unable to play his rookie season was pretty bad, but things would only get worse for Kevin White. His second season he made it through training camp okay and even started the Bears first four games, then broke his fibula ending his season. His third season was no luckier after he fractured his shoulder blade in the season opener against the Falcons…
Robert Griffin III
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The Washington Redskins traded away the farm to be able to select RGIII with the second overall pick in 2012. In his first season, RGIII was everything Washington hoped and dreamed he would be. His ability to make plays with his legs and throw the ball incredibly accurately was the gift that kept on giving. The Redskins went 10-6 and made the playoffs. After the season Griffin even won the Offensive Rookie of the Year award!
During his first playoff game, RGIII tore his LCL and ACL. He required surgery and it was questionable whether he would be healthy to start the next season. He was, but the results were underwhelming. He threw for just over 3,000 yards with 16 touchdowns and 12 interceptions. The next season he tore his ACL again and lost the starting job permanently to Kirk Cousins. In 2012, Justin Blackmon was supposed to help Blaine Gabbert keep his starting job, but did he?
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Justin Blackmon put up video game-like numbers in college. Over three years he amassed more than 3,500 receiving yards and hauled in 40 touchdowns. Twenty of those came in his sophomore season! There was no doubt in anyone’s mind he would change the trajectory for the Jaguars after being taken with the fifth pick in 2012.
Blackmon’s first season showed off his insane skill set. In one game alone he had seven receptions for 236 yards. He finished the season with 865 yards and five touchdowns. Unlike college, though, his sophomore season was a disaster. He was suspended the first four games for violating the league’s substance abuse policy. Two games after returning, he was suspended indefinitely for violating the policy again. He has been denied reinstatement multiple times since.
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Playing for his fourth NFL team before turning 30-years-old, it’s fair to say the Jaguars made a mistake when they took Blaine Gabbert with the tenth pick in 2011. Unlike other players on this list, Gabbert’s rookie season wasn’t filled with promise. He fumbled the ball 14 times and was sacked 40 times. Miraculously, he did manage to throw one more touchdown than interception.
His second season was a slight upgrade. He threw for 300 yards in one game against the Packers and had a respectable 3:2 touchdown to interception ratio. After 10 games he was placed on injured reserve with a torn labrum. Everything came undone in his third season when he threw one touchdown against seven interceptions. He was traded to the 49ers after the season and the rest is history.
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The Detroit Lions made a huge mistake taking tight end Eric Ebron tenth overall in 2014. They were looking for a big-bodied bruiser with speed to give Matthew Stafford and the offense the missing piece it desperately needed. With expectations to be the next Rob Gronkowski, the cards were never in Ebron’s favor to succeed.
For four years in Detroit, he put up respectable numbers, peaking his third season with 711 yards receiving. Regressing in 2017, the Lions chose not to re-sign Eric Ebron, admitting the mistake they made. In free agency Ebron signed with the Colts and now has a second chance to prove how good he can be with much lower expectations. It doesn’t hurt that Andrew Luck will be throwing to him either.
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A reach by the Oakland Raiders with the twelfth pick in 2013, the bust that DJ Hayden is didn’t end up being that surprising. Having torn his inferior vena cava (part of his heart) his senior year, there were a number of questions surrounding his health entering the NFL. Th Raiders threw caution to the wind, and their faith was not rewarded. As a rookie, he ended up being placed on injured reserve with a hernia.
Seeing consistent playing time for the next three seasons, Hayden was spectacularly un-spectacular, never intercepting more than one pass in a season. The Raiders decided not to pick up his fifth-year player option and he played for the Lions in 2017. In 2018 he will suit up for the Jaguars. At least Hayden can be grateful that injuries didn’t end his career like Jahvid Best.
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Jahvid Best was one of the most talented running backs entering the NFL in 2010 when the Lions traded back into the first round to take him. During his rookie season, Best showed flashes of brilliance but was hurt by a lingering turf toe injury. He finished the season with a 4.6 yards per carry average.
Best fell apart in his second season, suffering multiple concussions. He only played six games and was put on injured reserve with post-concussion issues. Despite multiple comeback attempts, Best never played another down, which is probably the best thing for him.
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Before the Titans had Marcus Mariota they struggled through the Jake Locker years. Selected eleventh overall in 2011, Locker’s NFL career is another that was full of potential and injuries. Becoming the starter in 2012, Locker separated his non-throwing soldier. Fighting through the pain he completed 56 percent of his passes and threw 11 interceptions to go along with 10 touchdowns.
His third season was his best. Starting the first seven games of the season he threw twice as many touchdowns as interceptions before suffering a Lisfranc injury. The injury ended his season. Injuries again derailed his 2014 season. Locker announced his retirement shortly after, admitting that he was no longer having fun playing.
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Vernon Gholston had a classic “tough guy” NFL name. The New York Jets couldn’t have been more thrilled taking him with the sixth overall pick in 2008. Expected to use his quick burst and long limbs to terrorize opposing quarterbacks, Gholston mostly terrorized benches his three seasons in green and white.
During his rookie season, Gholston didn’t start and saw most of his action on special teams. The next two years with Rex Ryan in charge nothing changed. After three seasons the Jets released him and he has never played a snap for another team. It doesn’t help that during his time in New York he didn’t record a single sack while 600 other players around the league did!
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Showing off at the combine with a blazing 4.3 second 40-yard-dash, Darrius Heyward-Bey became another late-life failure for Al Davis with the Oakland Raiders. With multiple receivers ranked higher on most draft boards, Davis fell in love with the speed of Heyward-Bey and made him the first wide receiver taken in 2009.
Healthy for most his career, Heyward-Bey shined brightest for Oakland in 2011, catching 65 passes for 975 yards and four touchdowns. He has never come close to those totals again and has averaged a paltry 311 yards per season for his career. His numbers would have been even worse if he had ever played with Matt Leinart!
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Known now as a college football analyst, Matt Leinart actually started his career as an NFL Draft bust. Taken 10th overall by the Arizona Cardinals in 2006, Leinart didn’t find a lot of success in his career. He started 11 games his first season, finishing the season with four wins and seven losses.
The next season he lost his job to Hall of Fame quarterback Kurt Warner. He would watch from the sidelines as Warner led the Cardinals to the Super Bowl. When Warner retired, Leinart lost the starting quarterback battle to Derek Anderson. He was then released and played for the Texans, Raiders, and Bills before retiring.
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A surprise entry on this list, Chris Borland spent his entire football career surprising people. Drafted in the third round of the 2014 draft by the 49ers, Borland looked like a genuine steal for the struggling 49ers. Falling so far because he was undersized, Borland had a motor that wouldn’t stop and became a starter quickly in San Francisco.
After his rookie season, Chris Borland retired from the NFL. Saying he wanted to live a long life without the effects of redundant head trauma, his retirement wasn’t easy for 49ers to accept. In a sea almost exclusively reserved for first-round disasters, we thought this was a notable bust that deserved attention.
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Taken third overall by the Lions in 2002, Joey Harrington was a bust the second he stepped onto the field. Starting his rookie season, Harrington threw 12 touchdowns and 16 interceptions, completing just 50 percent of his passes. The Lions went 3-13, and there wasn’t much reason to hope it would get better.
His second season saw the Lions change their head coach and offensive scheme. The new man in charge, Steve Marriuci, never meshed with Harrington and he was traded to the Dolphins after the 2005 season. At least he never teased his potential like CJ Spiller did leading the Bills to trade away Marshawn Lynch!
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Here’s how you know CJ Spiller was a bust. After being drafted ninth overall by the Bills in 2010, he has gone on to play football for the Jets, Seahawks, Chiefs, and Saints. Beating Marshawn Lynch for the starting job his rookie season, Spiller ran for a pathetic 283 rushing yards and 157 receiving yards. In contrast, we all know what Marshawn did once he got to Seattle.
To his credit, Spiller did have a career year in 2012, rushing for over 1,200 yards with a six-yard-per-carry average. It was the only time he would accomplish that feat, and by 2015 the Bills cuts ties, letting Spiller sign with the Saints, beginning his team jumping tour of the country.
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Taken by the Bills with the ninth pick in 2009, Aaron Maybin was supposed to wreak havoc on opposing quarterbacks for years. In two seasons in the great plains, he recorded zero sacks and was ultimately waived before the start of his third season.
Still young and full of potential, the Jets took a chance on Maybin. They paid him the league minimum and he paid them back with a team-leading six sacks in 2011. His follow-up season saw him return to his Buffalo form. He recorded zero sack and was released at the end of the year. He retired in 2014 after a brief stint in Canada. Charles Rogers, on the other hand, probably wishes he even had the chance to play in Canada!
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Continuing the ineptitude that the Detroit Lions displayed for years, they took Charles Rogers with the second overall pick in 2003. During his rookie season, he broke his clavicle twice and was allowed to leave the team to recover with his family. The next season he was suspended for violating the league’s substance abuse policy.
Following his suspension, it was revealed he failed drug tests every year in college. The Lions filed a grievance with the league in an effort to have Rogers repay them $10 million. After being released by the Lions in 2005, Rogers worked out for a number of teams. Only managing to run a 4.8-second 40-yard dash, no teams signed him.
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In 2000 Courtney Brown became just the 11th defensive end to be taken with the first overall pick in 70 years. The Browns were rewarded initially for the selection. In his rookie season, Brown recorded 69 tackles and 4.5 sacks. Like so many before him, that was the best Courtney Brown would ever be.
Brown did come out of the gate blazing his second season, recording 4.5 sacks in five games. An injury ended his season early, and it can be argued so was his career. The next four seasons he would be off the field more than on it nursing some sort of injury. He retired in 2006 after spending one season with the Broncos.