Steve Emtman Exemption (Too Injured To Play)


steve emtman 1992_10_25

Synopsis: As a #1 overall pick with a disappointing NFL career, Steve Emtman often gets mentioned as an all-time bust. I can’t refute the first part of that sentence, but the second part ignores the impact that injuries had on his career. In particular, Emtman suffered season-ending injuries in each of his first three years in the league. The 1991 Lombardi Award winner clearly didn’t live up to his potential, but I can’t justify calling him a bust. In this post, I establish the Steve Emtman Exemption as an Top 10 Bust exclusion for injured players. Furthermore, I discuss the use of it for oft-injured teammate Trev Alberts. 


When determining potential Top 10 Busts, I developed the following criteria as a way to eliminate less deserving candidates.

  1. The player needs to have been a top 10 overall draft pick (aka The Brady Quinn Exemption).
  2. The player needs to have been a bona fide superstar coming out of college (aka The Troy Williamson Exemption).
  3. The player’s on-field performance needs to have been really, really bad (aka The Tony Mandarich Exemption).
  4. The player’s unproductive career cannot have been the result of an injury (aka The Steve Emtman Exemption).
  5. The player needs to have received a fair chance to compete on the field (aka The Rich Campbell Exemption)

In this post, I establish the fourth criterion by detailing the injury-plagued careers of Steve Emtman and Trev Alberts. Of note, the exemption could have been named after either player, but Emtman came first so he “earned” the naming rights.


In the early 1990s, the Indianapolis Colts wasted two early first round draft picks on college superstars who never lived up to expectations.

  1. Steve Emtman
    • Selected first overall in the 1992 Draft after a stellar college career.
    • Consensus All-American for the University of Washington in 1991.
    • Won the 1991 Lombardi Award as the nation’s best lineman.
    • Won the 1991 Outland Trophy as the nation’s best interior lineman.
    • Finished 4th in voting for the Heisman Trophy (an especially high finish for a defensive player)
  2. Trev Alberts
    • Selected fifth overall in the 1994 Draft after a similarly stellar college career.
    • Consensus All-American for Nebraska in 1993.
    • Won 1993 Butkus Award and Lambert Trophy as the nation’s best college linebacker.

Despite these accolades, neither player lived up to the expectations that came with winning those awards. Instead, they performed poorly as as professionals.

  1. Steve Emtman
    • Career Weighted Average Value (WAV) of 13 during his seven-year NFL career.
    • Started 19 of 50 games in which he played.
    • Registered 121 tackles, eight sacks, three forced fumbles and three fumble recoveries.
    • Returned one interception for a touchdown.
    • WAV was roughly the same as a typical 5th round pick.
  2. Trev Alberts
    • Career WAV of four during a three-year NFL career.
    • Started seven of 29 games in which he played.
    • Registered 49 tackles, four sacks, three forced fumbles, and one interception.
    • WAV was less than half of what the average 7th rounder produces / lowest of all 1st round picks in the 1994 Draft.

Clearly, both Emtman and Alberts underperformed in the NFL to the point of being bust-worthy. Furthermore, their bust status escalates when compared to other players from their respective drafts.

  1. Steve Emtman
    • As the 1992 #1 overall pick, Emtman went before every other star player that year.
      • DB Troy Vincent – 5x Pro Bowler with a WAV of 89.
      • DT Chester McGlockton – 4x Pro Bowler with a WAV of 79.
      • DE Robert Porcher – 3x Pro Bowler with a WAV of 67.
  2. Trev Alberts
    • As the 1994 #4 overall pick, Alberts went after one all-time great and one star player.
      • Hall of Fame RB Marshall Faulk (WAV of 133)
      • 2x Pro Bowler DE Willie McGinest (WAV of 77).
    • As the same time, the Colts took him before two superstar players
      • Hall of Fame guard Larry Allen (WAV of 100).
      • 8x Pro Bowl center Kevin Mawae (WAV of 109).

At this point, the only discussion should be which spot each player deserves as a Top 10 Bust, right? Upon further review, both Emtman and Albert had legitimate excuses. Unlike other college superstars who just couldn’t compete at the next level, both players had careers doomed by on-field injuries.

To start, Emtman’s rookie year ended after nine games when he tore the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) in his left knee. His second season lasted only five games before he tore the ACL, MCL (medial collateral ligament), and patella tendon in his right knee. Emtman became the first player to return to the NFL after recovering from a torn patella tendon, but his return was short-lived. In particular, he suffered a bulging disk in his neck from a collision with a teammate in his first game back. When the pain didn’t subside after a few games, he underwent season-ending surgery for the third time in three years. Emtman returned and played for three more seasons, but never became the player everyone thought he would be.

STEVE emtman
If the pads provide a clue, Emtman must have been really, really hurt.

With a career also riddled by injury, Alberts retired after only three NFL seasons. Specifically, his career ended after undergoing right shoulder reconstruction surgery on the same shoulder he dislocated during college. Before calling it quits, Alberts’ injury dossier included the following.

  • Dislocated right shoulder.
  • Partially dislocated left shoulder.
  • Dislocated right elbow.
  • Hamstring injury.

Alberts also suffered at least one concussion, but no one in the NFL cared about concussions back then so I excluded it from the list.

Trev Alberts football card
Alberts “in action” during his rookie year

Getting injured in the NFL is not a question of “if,” but “when.” I’m sure both Emtman and Alberts had pain tolerance thresholds that cannot be questioned. Unfortunately, the pain impacted their ability to compete on the field. Furthermore, their bodies couldn’t survive more than a few years in the league. Due to their numerous injuries, I granted them an exemption from the Top 10 Bust countdown. In honor of the earlier draft pick, I established the Steve Emtman Exemption for the benefit of any similarly injured player.

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