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.
JaMarcus Russell certainly has the résumé to earn the top spot on anyone’s all-time bust countdown. After winning the 2006 Manning Award, Russell went to the Oakland Raiders with the first pick in the 2007 NFL Draft. He clearly didn’t live up to expectations given his 7-18 starting record and career totals of 4,000 yards with 18 touchdowns and 23 interceptions. Regardless, I can’t rank him higher than #3 because no other quarterback taken in that draft had a successful career. For that reason, his failure seems less dramatic to me. In comparison, the top two NFL draft busts offer poor numbers and drama.
Going into the 2016 NBA Draft, most experts predicted that Ben Simmons would be the #1 overall pick. During his “one-and-done” season at LSU, Simmons averaged 19 points, 12 rebounds, five assists and two steals per game. Given that production, the young phenom justified the hype which began while he still played in high school. Considered by some to be a “can’t-miss” prospect, Simmons regularly has drawn comparisons to LeBron James. Clearly, Simmons has a long way to go to match the best player on the planet. Sorry Steph, but the King still holds the crown. As of now, Simmons has a blank canvas upon which to paint his career. The odds are greater that Simmons will be a Not Top 10 Bust (i.e. an all-time great) than a Top 10 Bust (i.e. an all-time failure). Yet, I’m still not completely sold on him.