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.
Since quarterbacks are the most important players on a football field, their successes and failures get magnified. In contrast, the performances of players at other positions can get muddled more easily. As the only running back in the countdown, Lawrence Phillips’ failures were too glaring to hide. Unlike most busts who excelled in college but lacked the talent to succeed for the NFL, Phillips had the talent. Unfortunately, his downfall was based completely on an inability to stay on the field because he had severe anger issues off the field. With Ray Rice as a comparison, Phillips was a more talented runner but a much worse person. Depending on what you already know, to the extent you believe that Phillips sabotaged his football career because of some legal problems, then you probably believe that O.J. Simpson sabotaged his broadcasting career because of a disagreement with his ex-wife. In other words, Phillips was one bad dude (and not in a good way). As a talented player who failed miserably in the NFL (and in life), he has been named the #6 NFL Draft Bust.
[Note: Since I first wrote this post in October 2014, Phillips has been charged with first-degree murder for strangling his cellmate while in state prison. So much for thinking he couldn’t sink any lower.]
To the extent that a bust can be described as having a bad career, a Top 10 Bust can be described as having a really bad career. Whereas most players referenced as all-time NFL busts were really bad, Tony Mandarich is an exception. Compared to the roided-out Adonis before the 1989 Draft, the roid-free version of Mandarich was not as strong and not as fast. Regardless, he still was good enough to survive in the NFL for six seasons over a ten-year period (i.e. two three-year stints separated by a four-year absence). Having played in 86 games (including 63 starts), he hung around long enough to escape being considered a Top 10 Bust. However, he still received an Honorable Mention given all of the pre-draft hype and post-draft disappointment surrounding him. This post references his career as an introduction to the 3rd criterion used to refine the list of Top 10 NFL Draft Busts.