Synopsis: Despite having numerous high draft picks in the early 2000s, the Detroit Lions couldn’t reverse their fortunes as basement dwellers. Specifically, the Lions failed with their selections of Joey Harrington (#3 pick in 2002), Charles Rogers (#2nd pick in 2003), and Mike Williams (#10 pick in 2005). Harrington and Williams underperformed in the NFL, but they both avoided T10B status. On the other hand, Rogers didn’t fare so well. Once a consensus All-American at Michigan State, Rogers finished his professional career with fewer than 50 receptions and 500 yards. As such, he deservedly became the #4 NFL Draft Bust.
#4 NFL Draft Bust: Charles Rogers
The Cincinnati Bengals failed miserably with their draft picks in the 1990s (e.g. #9 Bust David Klingler in 1992 and #5 Bust Akili Smith in 1999). With picks like #4 Bust Charles Rogers and T10B Honorable Mention Mike Williams, the Detroit Lions didn’t do any better in 2000s. Not surprisingly, both teams had abysmal records during those decades. Of note, the Bengals averaged five wins/season during the 1990s, while the Lions averaged four wins/season during the 2000s. As icing on the cake, the Lions finished the 2008 season with a “magical” 0-16 record.
Both teams found themselves mired in their own vicious cycles. Specifically, bad records led to high draft picks and busted high draft picks led to bad records. Both teams broke these cycles by using their #1 overall picks on top quarterback prospects who panned out. Within three years of selecting Carson Palmer in 2003, the Bengals returned to the playoffs after a 14-year absence. Similarly, the Lions returned to the playoffs within three years of selecting Matthew Stafford in 2009. In the case of the Lions, they “only” had an 11-year hiatus between playoff appearances.
Just as the Bengals started to become relevant again, the Lions headed into years of irrelevancy. Interestingly, the exchange of misfortunes can be tied to the 2003 Draft when the Bengals hit the jackpot with their selection of #1 pick Carson Palmer and the Lions crapped out with their selection of #2 pick Charles Rogers.
In an effort to find a top notch receiver, the Lions used four top ten overall draft picks on receivers during a five-year span from 2003-2007. Eventually, they got it right by taking Calvin Johnson with the 2nd overall pick in the 2007 Draft. Along the way, however, they selected a bunch of losers.
CHARLES ROGERS AND MIKE WILLIAMS
On the surface, the Lions’ selection of Rogers in the 2003 draft seemed reasonable. After taking QB Joey Harrington in 2002, the team hoped to find a complementary wide receiver one year later. As a highly touted receiver coming out of college, Rogers seemed like a logical choice.
CHARLES ROGERS – STATS AT MICHIGAN STATE
During his time at Michigan State, Rogers proved himself as one of the NCAA’s most prolific receivers. In particular, he finished in the top ten in yards and top five in touchdowns for both the 2001 and 2002 seasons. As a junior in 2002, Rogers earned both the Fred Biletnikoff Award and Paul Warfield Trophy as the nation’s top receiver. With nothing else to prove, Rogers decided to forego his final season of eligibility and declared for the 2003 Draft.
DETROIT LIONS – INFATUATION WITH RECEIVERS
Rogers’ rookie season started off well with 22 receptions for 243 yards and three touchdowns through five games. However, that’s when disaster struck. During practice before the Lions’ sixth game, Rogers suffered a season-ending injury when he broke his collarbone.
In Rogers’ absence, Az-Zahir Hakim led the team with 449 yards and four touchdowns. Due to continuing concerns at the position, the Lions selected WR Roy Williams out of Texas with the 2004 #7 pick. With potentially two top notch receivers to target, Harrington must have been licking his chops.
During the first game of the 2004 season, Rogers’ bad luck continued when he suffered another season-ending injury to the same collarbone. Filling the void, Roy Williams had a productive rookie year and led the Lions with 54 receptions for 817 yards and 8 touchdowns. Even without Rogers, Harrington had a decent year throwing for over 3,000 yards with 19 touchdowns and 12 interceptions. Still, the Lions apparently wanted an even deeper receiving corps and opted to take another wide receiver with a top pick in the ensuing draft
Going into the 2005 Draft, Mike Williams hadn’t played organized football in over a year. Still, the Lions decided to take him with the 10th overall pick that year. In case you don’t know (or forgot), the backstory provides a worthwhile digression.
MIKE WILLIAMS – YOU CAN’T BEAT THE SYSTEM
As a consensus All-American and finalist for the Biletnikoff Award during his sophomore season at USC in 2003, Williams impressed teams enough to be considered an early first round pick. Based on this prospect, he declared for the 2004 Draft.
At the time, the NFL had (and still has) a rule requiring players to be out of high school for at least three years before becoming draft eligible. Presumably, Rogers had been persuaded to enter the draft after Maurice Clarett won a court case challenging the rule. The appellate court quickly overturned that initial ruling. Unfortunately, Williams had already hired an agent so he couldn’t return to play in college. For as much power as the NFL has, the NCAA has even more.
BACK TO THE RECEIVERS
At the start of the 2005 season, the Lions had three wide receivers taken with top ten overall picks. Regardless, the trio didn’t produce.
- Roy Williams led the group with 687 yards and eight touchdowns.
- Mike Williams finished next with 350 yards and one touchdown.
- Charles Rogers brought up the rear with 197 yards and one touchdown.
Of note, Rogers’ stats were negatively impacted by a four-game suspension he received as a three-time violator of the NFL’s drug policy. Apparently, Rogers had been self-medicating with illegal substances while recovering from his injuries. The trio’s combined total of 1,234 yards and 10 touchdowns would be a good year for one receiver. However, it’s not a good total for two, much less three receivers.
After starting all 16 games in the two previous seasons, Harrington found himself warming the bench five games into the 2005 season. After a 2-3 start, Lions Head Coach Steve Mariucci replaced Harrington with Jeff Garcia. Of note, Mariucci annd Garcia had success together with the 49ers several years earlier. Apparently, lightning didn’t strike twice because Garcia couldn’t deliver either. As such, Harrington regained his starting job after a couple games on the pine.
Starting 11 games in 2005, Harrington had a 4-7 record and threw for 2,021 yards with 12 touchdowns and 12 interceptions. Since he couldn’t make the most of the team’s significant investment in the three wide receivers, Detoit traded Harrington for a conditional 5th or 6th round pick at the end of the season. It took a while, but the Lions finally realized that The Harrington Experiment had failed. Appropriately, they viewed him as a sunk cost.
In addition to Harrington, Rogers didn’t return to Detroit after the 2005 season. Both players met their fate due to poor performance on the field. However, Roger’s off-field activities also contributed to his downfall. Of note, the Lions sued Rogers for a significant portion of his guaranteed signing bonus after releasing him. Ultimately, a judge awarded the Lions $6.1 million out of his $9.1 million signing bonus because his excessive drug use violated the contract.
Even though Mike Williams remained with the Lions for the 2006 season, the team declared him inactive for eight games. The official NFL report stated “Inactive (coach’s decision), but it should just have stated, “Inactive (fat).” Even after being activated, Williams didn’t produce and only had eight receptions for 99 yards and zero touchdowns.
When Williams showed up out of shape before the start of the 2007 season, the team had reached its limit and traded him. By the time the 2007 season arrived, only Roy Williams, who had a Pro Bowl season with the Lions in 2006, remained from the high profile group of receivers.
With career totals of 14,693 passing yards, 79 touchdowns and a passer rating of 69.4, Harrington disappointed as a a top three pick. At the same time, it’s unfair to call him a bust. On the other hand, Charles Rogers and Mike Williams had bust-worthy careers. The following tables summarize their receiving stats, as well as the numbers for Andre Johnson, whom the Lions could have taken instead of the #4 T10B.
NFL STATS FOR WIDE RECEIVERS CONNECTED TO CHARLES ROGERS
|Player||Games||Receptions||Yards from Scrimmage||TDs||Weighted Avg. Value (WAV)|
For as poorly as Mike Williams performed, Charles Rogers performed worse. It’s important to note, however, that Williams had the benefit of second, third and fourth chances. Interestingly, each chance stemmed from a connection with a former USC coach.
As the Raiders’ new head coach for the 2007 season, Lane Kiffin gave Williams his first chance to turn over a new leaf. Of note, Kiffin had served as Williams’ wide receivers coach during their time together at USC. The coach obviously hoped to get the college superstar versus the NFL bust. Unfortunately, Williams showed up overweight and only recorded seven receptions for 90 yards and zero touchdowns in six games. After he dropped a key pass on 4th down during a last minute, potential game-winning drive, Oakland released him.
One month later, the Titans signed Williams for the rest of the season. By doing so, the team reunited the player with Norm Chow, his offensive coordinator from USC. In two games, Williams had no receptions so Tennessee cut him before the following season.
Two years later, former USC Head Coach Pete Carroll gave Williams one final chance after accepting the same job in Seattle. With a renewed commitment, Williams showed up in decent shape. He even performed well enough to be in the running for NFL Comeback Player of the Year.
MICHAEL VICK – 2010 NFL COMEBACK PLAYER OF THE YEAR
In two productive seasons with the Seahawks, Williams effectively tripled his career numbers. As a result, the wide receiver avoided Top 10 Bust status. Regardless, he still earned a T10B Honorable Mention.
Without the same connections as Williams, Rogers’ career ended with the Lions. Arguably, Dolphins Head Coach Nick Saban had a Michigan State connection with Rogers. However, Saban had left one year before Rogers arrived in Lansing. Then again, I doubt it wold have mattered given the coach’s extreme commitment to discipline.
As previously discussed, Rogers had failed the NFL drug policy three times during his three seasons with the Lions. Unfortunately, his problems got even worse after leaving football. To start, he was arrested in September 2008 for domestic violence. Over the next 15 months, he violated probation on three separate occasions for a variety of drug and alcohol-related issues. Consequently, he served a 93-day jail sentence. In a moment of self-awareness, Rogers admitted in an interview with ESPN’s Jamel Hill,
I got a little greedy. The girls played a part in it. I f#cked up. Point blank, simple.
Rogers clearly was a lost cause, but hopefully he provides an avoidable case study at the NFL Rookie Symposium.
Based on his limited contributions, Rogers didn’t pan out for the Lions. The cost of the bad pick resonated for several years as the team kept selecting receivers at the top of the first round. Eventually, the team’s fortunes changed with a series of successful early first round picks. Of note, they hit pay dirt by selecting Calvin Johnson, Matt Stafford, Ndamukong “Donkey Kong Suit” Suh, and Nick Fairley. While the rationale may seem perverse, the Lions might not be in the position they are today had Rogers been a better player.
Overall, Rogers checks a lot of the boxes needed to become a Top 10 Bust.
- College superstar: check.
- Top 10 overall pick: check.
- Completely unproductive NFL career: check.
- Off-field issues: check.
- Enduring negative impact on the team: check.
- A much better player could have been taken instead: check.
Rogers arguably could have been granted The Steve Emtman Exemption, which applies to players who were too injured to play. While Rogers suffered a couple season-ending injuries, he could have recovered from them. Instead, he decided to sabotage his career with drugs. Based on everything, he deservedly ranks as T10B’s #4 NFL Draft Bust.
#4 NFL DRAFT BUST: CHARLES ROGERS