Influenced by impressive combine results, the St. Louis Rams took Baylor OT Jason Smith with the #2 overall pick in the 2009 NFL Draft. Despite high expectations, Smith ended his four-year career as the least productive offensive lineman ever taken with a top 5 overall pick. While he seemingly deserves to be labeled a Top 10 Bust, his lack of production can be attributed to a history of serious head injuries. In particular, he suffered two season-ending concussions during his first three years in the league. Smith recovered from the first one, but never started again after the second. It’s uncertain how good he might have been without the injuries, but it’s unfair to label him as an all-time bust because of them.
Since quarterbacks are the most important players on a football field, their successes and failures get magnified. In contrast, the performances of players at other positions can get muddled more easily. As the only running back in the countdown, Lawrence Phillips’ failures were too glaring to hide. Unlike most busts who excelled in college but lacked the talent to succeed for the NFL, Phillips had the talent. Unfortunately, his downfall was based completely on an inability to stay on the field because he had severe anger issues off the field. With Ray Rice as a comparison, Phillips was a more talented runner but a much worse person. Depending on what you already know, to the extent you believe that Phillips sabotaged his football career because of some legal problems, then you probably believe that O.J. Simpson sabotaged his broadcasting career because of a disagreement with his ex-wife. In other words, Phillips was one bad dude (and not in a good way). As a talented player who failed miserably in the NFL (and in life), he has been named the #6 NFL Draft Bust.
[Note: Since I first wrote this post in October 2014, Phillips has been charged with first-degree murder for strangling his cellmate while in state prison. So much for thinking he couldn’t sink any lower.]