NFL Draft Busts – The Countdown


Synopsis: This post summarizes Top 10 Busts from the NFL Draft, as well as a group of Honorable Mentions who just missed the cut. You can refer to individual posts in which each bust is thoroughly evaluated and discussed, but here’s a ranking to whet your appetite.

[Note: Click on the player’s name to get to the specific post highlighting the selection. Some players are included within posts dedicated to others.]

#10. Brian Bosworth 

#9. David Klingler

#8. Heath Shuler

#7. Jack Thompson

#6. Lawrence Phillips

#5. Akili Smith

#4. Charles Rogers

#3. JaMarcus Russell

#2. Art Schlichter

#1. Ryan Leaf

When I started compiling this list of Top 10 NFL Draft Busts, I thought the major challenge would be narrowing down the 20 or so all-time busts who I could name at the top of my head. After establishing criteria to help me determine the worst of the worst, I was surprised that certain anticipated “shoo-ins” (e.g. Tony Mandarich, Steve Emtman, Ki-Jana Carter, and Andre Ware) didn’t even qualify for the Top 10. Additionally, I was surprised at the number of bust-worthy players (e.g. Rich Campbell, Jack Thompson, Jerry Tagge, and Jonathan Sullivan), whom I didn’t even know. As a result, the pool of potential candidates expanded to over 50 players before being narrowed down to the Top 10.

The following tables summarize the players ranked as Top 10 Busts or Honorable Mentions. At the same time, I have included one or two of their major weaknesses. To the extent you desire additional information about any one of these players, specific posts can be found by using the search bar or drop down menus.



Draft / (Pick) College NFL Team Fatal Flaw
#10 – Brian Bosworth 1987* (#1) Oklahoma Seattle Seahawks

Steroids / Kardashian Syndrome

#9 – David Klingler

1992 (#6) Houston Cincinnati Bengals Peaked too soon
#8 – Heath Shuler 1994 (#3) Tennessee Washington

Late start – holdout

#7 – Jack Thompson

1979 (#3) Washington St. Cincinnati Bengals Performance decline / Interceptions
#6 – Lawrence Phillips 1996 (#6) Nebraska St. Louis Rams

Character issues / Violence

#5 – Akili Smith

1999 (#3) Oregon Cincinnati Bengals One-year wonder
#4 – Charles Rogers 2003 (#2) Michigan St. Detroit Lions

Character issues / Drugs

#3 – JaMarcus Russell 2007 (#1) LSU Oakland Raiders Late start – holdout
#2 – Art Schlichter 1982 (#4) Ohio State Baltimore Colts Peaked too soon / Interceptions
#1 – Ryan Leaf 1998 (#2) Washington St. San Diego Chargers

  All-around tool

* Supplemental Draft



Draft / (Pick) College NFL Team Fatal Flaw*
Cade McNown 1999 (#12) UCLA Chicago Bears Interceptions
Mike Williams 2005 (#10) USC Detroit Lions Lost year in college
Andre Ware 1990 (#7) Houston Detroit Lions

Not given a chance

Matt Leinart

2006 (#10) USC Arizona Cardinals Late start – holdout
Kelly Stouffer 1987 (#6) Colorado St. St. Louis Cardinals

Peaked too soon / Stretch pick / Holdout

Dan McGwire

1991 (#16) San Diego St. Seattle Seahawks Interceptions
Vernon Gholston 2008 (#6) Ohio St. New York Jets

Gym freak / One-trick pony

Jonathan Sullivan

2003 (#6) Georgia New Orleans Saints Stretch pick
Jamal Reynolds 2001 (#10) Florida St. Green Bay Packers

Wally Pipp/Alex Smith Syndrome

Rich Campbell

1981 (#6) California Green Bay Packers Peaked too soon / Interceptions
Jerry Tagge 1972 (#11) Nebraska Green Bay Packers

Couldn’t handle pressure

Tony Mandarich 1989 (#2) Michigan St Green Bay Packers Steroids
Troy Williamson 2005 (#7) South Carolina Minnesota Vikings Stretch pick
D.J. Dozier 1987 (#14) Penn St. Minnesota Vikings

Peaked too soon


*  The only flaws that may require further explanation involve Mike Williams (who had to sit out for a year because he unsuccessfully challenged the NFL’s eligibility requirements) and Jamal Reynolds (who couldn’t crack the starting line-up after an injury because his replacement was playing too well). This unfortunate occurrence used to be known as Wally Pipp Syndrome (look up Lou Gehrig) but now can be linked to Alex Smith, who lost his job to Colin Kaepernick because of a concussion and never got it back.