Vernon Gholston: Honorable Mention (NFL)

Synopsis: Going into the 2008 NFL Draft, analysts recognized Ohio State DE Vernon Gholston for his tremendous athletic ability. At the same time, they acknowledged his raw talent. Regardless, the New York Jets took him with the 6th overall pick. Mostly a one-dimensional player in college, Gholston became a zero-dimensional player in the NFL. In particular, the Mark Gastineau-wannabe never got the chance to celebrate even one QB sack. Out of the league after only three seasons, Gholston certainly deserves to be called a bust. However, I just can’t call him a Top 10 Bust given that his on-field accomplishments didn’t justify being such a high draft pick in the first place.


Coming out of Ohio State, DE Vernon Gholston earned a reputation for being a freakish athlete. At the same time, he drew criticism for not being a complete football player. That assessment gained traction given his freakish results at the 2008 NFL combine. Specifically, Gholston impressed many scouts after putting up the following numbers.

  • A time of 4.58 seconds in the 40-yard dash.
  • 37 reps in the 225-pound bench press.
  • A vertical leap of 41 inches.

The New York Jets must have been really impressed because they took him with their 6th overall pick that year.

As further support for the original draft assessment, Gholston’s combine results didn’t translate into on-field success. To start, almost all of his 13 tackles as a rookie occurred on special teams. In fact, he rarely got on the field to play his intended position. Excluding quarterbacks, top 10 overall picks come into the league with an expectation to start immediately. Gholston embodied being the exception to the rule.  

Before Gholston’s second season, Rex Ryan replaced Eric Mangini as the Jets’ Head Coach. Unfortunately, the change didn’t help. In the book Play Like You Mean It, Ryan acknowledged, “Truth be told, I didn’t like the kid coming out of college. He’s a good athlete and a smart guy, but I thought he was a phony.”  Hmm, what did he mean by “phony?”

Vernon Gholston
Don’t all college athletes look like this?

Well, this guy did.

Tony Mandarich at the combine

Arguably, Ryan meant something else by calling the former Buckeye a phony. For whatever reason, Gholston never saw much playing time. Over the next two seasons, he “upped” his production to 29 tackles in 30 games (including five starts). 


After getting released by the Jets in 2010, Gholston argued (perhaps legitimately) that his former team never gave him fair opportunity to succeed. As an argument against his version of events, Gholston didn’t play even before Ryan got to New York. Furthermore, he couldn’t catch on anywhere else after getting cut by the Jets. In fact, he only lasted one month with the Bears in 2011 and one week with the Rams in 2012 before getting waived by each team during the preseason.

Based on Gholston’s argument, I considered granting him the Rich Campbell Exemption. Specifically, that exemption exists for potential Top 10 Busts who didn’t get a fair chance to compete on the field. Ryan clearly had a bias against his former player. Still, it’s hard to imagine that the coach wouldn’t play someone who could help the team win games.


Despite being an All-America selection with 22.5 sacks over his last 26 college games, Gholston didn’t record even one sack during his 45-game NFL career. As confirmation of his lack of production, he generated a career Weighted Average Value (WAV) of eight. In essence, this total reflects one-half of one year’s production from a Pro Bowl player. Viewed differently, his total ranked lowest of the first 28 draft picks taken in the 2008 Draft. Gholston also had the shortest NFL career (three seasons) of any of the top 40 picks. Furthermore, he recorded the fewest solo tackles (16) for any defensive player taken with one of the first 60 picks from that year.

Overall, Gholston can’t escape being called a bust. However, the Jets apparently drafted him based on potential (i.e. combine results) and not on based on-field accomplishments. As such, I granted him the Troy Williamson Exemption. For those of you unfamiliar with my criteria for determining Top 10 Busts, I have excluded players who didn’t deserve to be drafted with such a high pick. While exempt from being a Top 10 Bust, Vernon Gholston still earned an Honorable Mention.


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