As a redshirt junior in 1997, Washington State quarterback Ryan Leaf won the Sammy Baugh Trophy as the most outstanding passer in the country. Helping his case, he led the nation in passing yards (3,968) and finished second in passing efficiency with a 158.7 rating. For as impressive as those numbers were, they seem even more impressive considering that Peyton Manning was a senior at Tennessee that year and trailed Leaf in both categories. In particular, Manning had 149 fewer yards on 67 more attempts and an efficiency rating that was 11 points lower. Returning the favor, Manning had more touchdowns (36 vs. 34) and won the Davey O’Brien Award as the most outstanding quarterback in the country. Given their success, it was no surprise when they went 1-2 in the 1998 draft. From that moment on, however, their paths diverged to the point of Manning becoming an all-time great and Leaf becoming an all-time bust. Of note, Leaf’s career totals of 3,700 yards with 14 touchdowns and 36 interceptions were horrendous. In addition, he had a 4-17 record as a starter. As if things couldn’t get worse, Leaf has been imprisoned for almost two years because of a drug-related crime. While certain players like JaMarcus Russell, Charles Rogers and Lawrence Phillips are all-time busts, Leaf tops them all as the worst of the worst.
Going into the 2015 NBA Finals between the Cavaliers (led by 4x MVP LeBron James) and the Warriors (led by reigning MVP Steph Curry), the best series in the 2015 playoffs still has been the first round match-up between the Spurs and the Clippers. That 7-game series ended with the Clippers beating the Spurs by the score of 111-109 on a last-second shot by a hobbled Chris Paul over the outstretched arm of Tim Duncan. Despite that final play, the 39-year old Duncan showed that he still is a superstar who can compete at the highest level. With a style of play based on fundamental soundness instead of flashy highlights, Duncan is often forgotten in conversations regarding the all-time greatest players. The following post was inspired by his enduring dominance, which has only been matched by two other players in NBA history: Bill Russell and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Overlooked too often, Duncan is poised to earn a spot on my personal NBA Mount Rushmore.
When conducting my research, I noticed that many busts could be characterized by recurring themes. I have summarized these themes by presenting them as 7 Lessons from Highly Ineffective NFL Draft Picks.
1. There’s no such thing as a sure thing
2. When in doubt, draft offensive linemen and avoid receivers
3. Don’t reach with the pick
4. Character matters
5. Avoid players who have peaked already
6. Avoid QBs who were interception leaders in college
7. Get to camp on time
Hypothetically, these NFL draft lessons can be applied going forward to help teams avoid making similar mistakes. Regardless, you can apply them when evaluating the draft decisions made by your favorite team.