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The Top 5 Biggest Draft Busts in NFL History

Posted on May 27, 2014 by Martin Banks

With the 2014 NFL draft now in the books, it makes sense to look at some of the worst mistakes made by teams at the draft. Of course, scouts, general managers and head coaches work hard in the months leading up to the draft, trying to acquire the best possible player at their draft position. Every season, however, there are players drafted in the first round who do not work out for whatever reason, and these picks set their franchises back for years to come.

The following are some of the worst selections in recent memory.

Tim Couch

Ravens v Browns

The 1999 NFL draft was supposed to have a very special quarterback class, and Tim Couch was the first one selected. The Cleveland Browns, who were returning to the NFL after their original franchise moved to Baltimore, took Couch first overall, ahead of players like Donovan McNabb, Edgerrin James, and Champ Bailey.

The result was disastrous, as Couch would only start 59 games over his five-year career. While Couch did have potential, the Browns put the fate of the franchise on his shoulders, and he failed to live up to the hype.

JaMarcus Russell


When JaMarcus Russell was drafted first overall in 2007 by the Oakland Raiders, scouts saw all kinds of potential in him. Some of these scouts believed that Russell had the strongest arm they had ever seen and with a little coaching, he could become a very special player. Russell only lasted three years in the NFL before being waived and running into some legal troubles.

To make matters worse, future Hall of Fame receiver Calvin Johnson was selected second overall that season. At the end of the day, the Raiders would have been better off selecting a bag of soccer balls first overall rather than giving Russell a contract that paid him $40 million for his three seasons of lackluster service because at least the compost could help with the condition of the field.

Ryan Leaf

It seems unbelievable today, but teams around the NFL were divided on who was the better prospect in 1998: Ryan Leaf or Peyton Manning. Both were viewed as being can’t-miss players, so the San Diego Chargers were perfectly content when Leaf fell into their laps with the second overall pick in that year’s draft.

History has shown us, however, that the Indianapolis Colts made the right choice by selecting Manning, as he has gone on to become perhaps the greatest quarterback in NFL history. Leaf, on the other hand, was completely out of football by 2001 and is currently serving a five year sentence on burglary and drug charges.

Tony Mandarich

It is rare that an offensive lineman flames out in the same way as a quarterback, but Tony Mandarich managed to accomplish this feat. In 1989, Mandarich was referred to as the greatest offensive line prospect in history, which is a billing that he failed to live up to.

Mandarich was selected before Hall of Famers like Deion Sanders, Derrick Thomas and Barry Sanders, which frustrated Green Bay Packers fans to no end. The offensive tackle struggled with drugs and alcohol throughout his career, which eventually led to the Packers releasing him after just three seasons.

Ki-Jana Carter


In today’s NFL, it is extremely rare that a running back is taken with the first overall pick. While some of this is because the position has been devalued because so many teams go with a committee, it could also have to do with the bust that was Ki-Jana Carter.

Despite his talent, Carter could never reach the heights that the Cincinnati Bengals had envisioned, starting only 14 games over the course of his seven-year career. In those seven seasons, Carter only amassed 1144 total rushing yards, which is the number that gets him onto this list of all time busts.

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