Do you root for players in the NBA but teams in the other Big 4 sports? Does your favorite basketball player not play for the NBA team geographically closest to you? Prior to 1980, your answers likely would have been different. However, something “magical” happened since then. In this post, I discuss the early days of the NBA Modern Era when television stations aired playoff games on tape-delay. Starting with superstars like Larry Bird and Magic Johnson, the league made a conscious decision to promote its stars more than its teams. Fortunately, players like Jordan, Kobe, and LeBron have been able to take the game to the next level. In fact, they helped drive the game’s tremendous international popularity. The NFL is set, but perhaps MLB and the NHL could learn something from their younger (and smarter) brother.
With respect to popularity, the NBA Draft trails only the NFL Draft as a sporting event/spectacle. As such, it seems logical to focus on the NBA for my second compilation of Top 10 Busts. Regardless, the main reason for creating this particular countdown relates to the featured image. In particular, it shows my ticket stub to the 1991 NBA Draft. To date, that draft remains the only one I have ever attended in person. While I don’t provide any insight about a specific bust in this post, I offer some foreshadowing for future posts. As an enticement, there’s also a link to a classic Seinfeld clip regarding political incorrectness.
When conducting my research, I noticed that many busts could be characterized by recurring themes. I have summarized these themes by presenting them as 7 Lessons from Highly Ineffective NFL Draft Picks.
1. There’s no such thing as a sure thing
2. When in doubt, draft offensive linemen and avoid receivers
3. Don’t reach with the pick
4. Character matters
5. Avoid players who have peaked already
6. Avoid QBs who were interception leaders in college
7. Get to camp on time
Hypothetically, these NFL draft lessons can be applied going forward to help teams avoid making similar mistakes. Regardless, you can apply them when evaluating the draft decisions made by your favorite team.
As a redshirt junior in 1997, Washington State quarterback Ryan Leaf won the Sammy Baugh Trophy as the most outstanding passer in the country. Helping his case, he led the nation in passing yards (3,968) and finished second in passing efficiency with a 158.7 rating. For as impressive as those numbers were, they seem even more impressive considering that Peyton Manning was a senior at Tennessee that year and trailed Leaf in both categories. In particular, Manning had 149 fewer yards on 67 more attempts and an efficiency rating that was 11 points lower. Returning the favor, Manning had more touchdowns (36 vs. 34) and won the Davey O’Brien Award as the most outstanding quarterback in the country. Given their success, it was no surprise when they went 1-2 in the 1998 draft. From that moment on, however, their paths diverged to the point of Manning becoming an all-time great and Leaf becoming an all-time bust. Of note, Leaf’s career totals of 3,700 yards with 14 touchdowns and 36 interceptions were horrendous. In addition, he had a 4-17 record as a starter. As if things couldn’t get worse, Leaf has been imprisoned for almost two years because of a drug-related crime. While certain players like JaMarcus Russell, Charles Rogers and Lawrence Phillips are all-time busts, Leaf tops them all as the worst of the worst.
According to Greek mythology, Icarus suffered a tragic fate after failing to heed his father’s advice about flying too close to the sun. In particular, he fell to his death when the wax binding his wings melted from the sun’s heat. Apparently, the ancient Greeks used the legend to teach about the need to avoid hubris (i.e. excessive pride). As detailed in my previous post, Art Schlichter’s hubris led to his own tragic fate. In particular, he failed as an NFL player after ignoring advice about the dangers of a gambling addiction. However, unlike Icarus, Schlichter brought down not only himself but also anyone close to him. The following post references another myth by detailing the extent of Schlicter’s anti-Midas touch.
Prior to Ryan Leaf and JaMarcus Russell, Art Schlichter served as the poster child for NFL Draft busts. As a starter for the Ohio State Buckeyes from 1978-81, Schlichter ranked as an NCAA leader in at least one offensive category each year. In addition, he finished 6th or higher in the Heisman voting as a sophomore, junior and senior. Despite his college success, Schlichter failed miserably as a professional. He had approximately 1,000 passing yards with three touchdowns and 11 interceptions during his 13-game NFL career. Furthermore, he never won a single game in six career starts. Adding to his bust status, Schlichter faced numerous suspensions from the NFL for excessive gambling. Never cured of his addiction, he has spent 14 of the last 20 years in prison for gambling-related crimes. With respect to being a Top 10 Bust, Schlichter has it all.
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.
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.
NFL teams took five quarterbacks with the first twelve picks of the 1999 Draft. The careers of those five QBs ran the gamut from great to horrendous.
#2 pick Donovan McNabb proved to be a borderline Hall of Famer.
#11 pick Daunte Culpepper made three Pro Bowls.
#1 pick Tim Couch didn’t live up to the pick, but produced too much to be declared a bust.
#12 pick Cade McNown underachieved and became a bust.
#3 pick Akili Smith underachieved even more and became a Top 10 Bust.
I will discuss each of these quarterbacks in the following post. However, the last one listed deserves the most attention relative to this site. In 22 career games, Akili Smith threw for approximately 2,000 passing yards with five touchdowns and 13 interceptions. In addition, he had an abysmal 3-14 as a starter. As one of the worst quarterbacks ever drafted with an early first round pick, Smith has earned the #5 spot as a Top 10 NFL Draft Bust.
If given the option to choose between Jerry Rice or Randy Moss, whom would you take as the #1 receiver on your team? Incontrovertibly the two greatest wideouts in NFL history, one proved to be the epitome of excellence while the other had a flair for the spectacular. Moss had impressive career totals of 156 TDs and over 15,000 yards, but fell far short of Rice’s career totals of 197 TDs and almost 23,000 yards. Still, I’d like to ask Tom Brady which receiver he’d prefer to have in his huddle. For that matter, I’d like to ask Joe Montana or Steve Young the same question. I imagine the former 49ers would stick together. However, I’m sure both QBs would wonder what throwing to Moss would have been like.