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There have been many, many great, terrible, inspiring, despicable, and interesting players, coaches, and staff in the century-long history of the National Football League. This page is for those figures who are most famous for either falling well short of the expectations placed on them when they entered the league or for taking actions that completely ruined their reputations off the field. Some of these figures had a massive impact on the game and on popular culture; all of them have interesting stories that, if nothing else, convey just how difficult and demanding professional football can be.

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Individuals who are notable for their on-field accomplishments and more positive off-field reputations can be found on the National Football League Quarterbacks, NFL Offensive Players, NFL Defensive and Special Teams Players, and National Football League Non-Player Figures pages.

Individuals in folders are listed alphabetically, by last name.


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Notorious Figures

Below are the names of NFL figures whose actions garnered so much controversy and condemnation that it completely overshadows whatever position they took on the gridiron, either due to on-field dirty play/cheating or off-field criminal activity. This list is, of course, subjective, but does not include players who are "notorious" for poor play. Hall of Famers also generally don't fall on this list unless their off-field actions are what they are most known for.

     Notorious Players (A-I) 
  • Phillip Adams was a journeyman CB out of the FCS HBCU South Carolina State who played for six different teamsnote  in six seasons before retiring in 2016. Largely unknown during his career, Adams catapulted himself to notoriety several years after retiring when he fatally shot six people, including two young children, in Rock Hill, South Carolina in 2021. The following day, he killed himself during a standoff with police. His motive for the murders is currently undetermined, but subsequent autopsies revealed that he suffered from a severe case of CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy), a brain disorder caused by repeated blows to the head; you will see this disorder mentioned a lot on this listnote .
  • Kevin Allen was an OT from Indiana drafted #9 overall by the Philadelphia Eagles in 1985. He proved to be an abysmal talent, as the Eagles allowed 8 sacks in his first start. After starting his first 4 games, he was relegated to special teams, and during the offseason was moved to center. Buddy Ryan thought so little of Allen that he once said that he was only useful on the field for killing grass. As terrible as he was on the field, he also proved to be no better off of it. He showed up to training camp in the 1986 offseason testing positive for cocaine. A week after being cut, he was charged and convicted of rape and spent 33 months in prison. He never played again in the NFL and bounced around smaller leagues in the early '90s. Making matters even worse for Eagles fans in hindsight was that Allen was picked ahead of some much superior talents taken with the next several picks, including 3-time All-Pro offensive tackle Jim Lachey and all-time great wide receiver Jerry Rice.
  • Jeff Alm was a DT for the Houston Oilers drafted in the second round out of Notre Dame in 1990. While mostly an anonymous backup during his pro career, Alm made headlines during the 1993 season when he lost control of his car while driving drunk, killing his childhood best friend in the process. The distraught Alm then shot and killed himself. This grisly tragedy was one of many media scandals experienced by the Oilers in '93 that set into motion the franchise's eventual move to Tennessee.
  • Jovan Belcher was an undrafted LB out of Maine who was mostly anonymous during his brief career with the Kansas City Chiefs. In the middle of the 2012 season, Belcher became infamous after he murdered his girlfriend with his personal firearm in front of his mother, drove to the Chiefs' practice facility, and committed suicide in front of the team staff, including the Chiefs' HC and GM. His murder-suicide was one of the most prominent cases of domestic violence and mental instability among current and former players in the early '10s; autopsy results indicated that Belcher, like many deceased players who died with similar mental problems, suffered from CTE.
  • Lewis Billups was a CB for the Cincinnati Bengals, which drafted him in the second round out of North Alabama (then D-II, now FCS) in 1986. On the field, he is infamous for dropping a potential game-winning end zone interception in Super Bowl XXIII, but that pales in comparison to his notorious actions off the field. Billups was accused of committing numerous acts of criminal violence, including sexual assault, domestic violence, and extortion, which led to his NFL career ending during the 1992 season. He was later convicted to a one-year prison sentence after the FBI recorded him threatening to cripple his girlfriend's brother (a pro basketball player) if she saw other people. Six days after his release in 1994, Billups died in a massive car crash at age 30, killing himself and a passenger after losing control while driving over 100 miles per hour in his convertible.
  • David Boston was a WR drafted #8 overall in 1999 by the Arizona Cardinals after setting numerous school records at Ohio State. After a seemingly miraculous recovery from injuries sustained in an offseason car crash, it became an open secret that Boston was using some kind of steroids—though he didn't test positive for years, he gained a tremendous amount of muscle over his next few Pro Bowl seasons. His size soon rivaled that of many linemen, which was not exactly ideal for the wide receiver position, and his productivity began to fall off at the same time that his moody and egocentric personality and multiple legal troubles became a major locker room distraction. He bounced around a few more NFL teams, eventually being caught and suspended for steroid use. He was out of the NFL by 2007, failed to catch on in the CFL, and served some prison time after assaulting two women in 2011—he received a reduced sentence due in part to his defense arguing that his anger issues were influenced by CTE from his football career.
  • Josh Brent was a DT drafted in the 7th round of the 2010 Supplemental Draft by the Dallas Cowboys out of Illinois. He surprised many observers by making the team and getting playing time, posting 17 tackles. However, he is best known for killing his teammate, Jerry Brown, in a drunk driving accident during the 2012 season. He was suspended from the NFL after completing his prison sentence and rehabilitation process. He returned in 2014 out of shape, couldn't make the team, and was out of the NFL.
  • Antonio Brown was one of the most talented—and controversial—WRs of The New '10s, whose Hall of Fame-worthy on-field production has been mostly overshadowed by countless off-field issues. Despite a productive college career at Central Michigan, Brown fell to the 6th round in the 2010 Draft due to concerns over his size (5'10", 180 lbs) and him coming from a smaller program. Despite initially being buried on the Pittsburgh Steelers' WR depth chart, he made an immediate impact as a return specialist as a rookie and captured a starting job during his second season. From 2013-18, he became the first player to ever have six (or even five, for that matter) straight seasons with at least 100 receptions. His skill, coupled with his unique style and personality, made Brown one of the NFL's biggest stars and led to him gracing the cover of Madden NFL 19. However, his relationship with the Steelers (and QB Ben Roethlisberger in particular) went deeply south in 2018, and he was traded to the Raiders for surprisingly little (third- and fifth-round draft picks). The subsequent offseason was marked with bizarre injuries (getting frostbite on his feet from a cryo-therapy chamber), an odd holdout that wasn't about money (a rule change barred him from using his favorite style of helmet), an altercation with GM Mike Mayock, and illegally recording and releasing a phone call with HC Jon Gruden that finally led to his release. Not even a full day later, he was signed by the Patriots. Shortly after, a former personal trainer filed a civil suit accusing Brown of rape, with several other similar incidents quickly becoming public; Brown played just one game for the Pats before being cut for sending threatening texts to his accuser. His behavior continued to plummet, and police in Florida were called to his home numerous times for domestic incidents, including an arrest warrant put out for alleged assault and burglary of a truck driver of a moving business.note  AB was ultimately issued an eight-game suspension in 2020. After its completion, he signed with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on a one-year "prove-it" deal, largely due to the advocacy of his former teammate (of one game), Tom Brady. In his first year, he seemed to be behaving himself, and this combined with his part in their Super Bowl-winning season secured him a one-year extension in Tampa. However, his 2021 season was again marred by behavioral issues. He was issued another suspension for forging a COVID-19 vaccine card and then, in his first game back, was cut after a bizarre on-field incident where he stripped off his uniform and ran across the field and out of the stadium mid-game — after which he threatened to sue the Buccaneers, claiming they had been forcing him to play through an injury.note  This was in all probability the last straw for his football career, as it's seen as unlikely that any team will take a chance on him after how badly he burned the one team that did.
  • Josh Brown was a kicker drafted in the seventh round by the Seahawks out of Nebraska. He was a solid-if-unspectacular journeyman throughout his 14-year career but is now better remembered along with Ray Rice as poster boys for the NFL's continued poor handling of domestic abuse cases. After being arrested for domestic abuse in 2015 while with the New York Giants, the NFL initially took no action. It wasn't until over a year later that the NFL handed him a one-game suspension (inexplicably reduced from what is supposed to be the minimum of six games for a first time domestic abuse offender). The NFL and the Giants initially stood behind Brown until additional evidence came out that he had a much longer record of domestic abuse incidents dating back many years. The resulting outcry among fans and media finally resulted in Brown's release from the Giants.
  • Vontaze Burfict is a LB who most recently played for the Oakland Raiders after spending the bulk of his career with the Cincinnati Bengals. While in college at Arizona State, Burfict was considered a sure-fire 1st round pick and drew comparisons to Hall of Famer Ray Lewis. However, his overly aggressive playing style made him a magnet for penalties. After a miserable Combine performance in 2012, his stock fell so much that he went undrafted. He signed with the Bengals and soon moved into the starting lineup after injuries to the linebackers ahead of him on the depth chart. Unfortunately, his penchant for penalties followed him to the NFL, where he was frequently penalized for hits to the head of opposing players and cheap shots on defenseless receivers (both things the NFL is actively trying to discourage). Perhaps the most glaring incident was a savage helmet-to-helmet hit on Steelers WR Antonio Brown (see above) in the 2015 AFC playoffs, which drew a penalty on the final drive of the game and kept the Steelers alive for a win.note  Burfict was suspended for the first three games of the next season for his actions. During the 2017 preseason, he was again suspended for three games as a result of an illegal blindside block, then was suspended again in 2018 for four games for using performance enhancing drugs. He was released by the Bengals and signed with Oakland in the offseason, where he delivered yet another dangerous and illegal hit to Colts TE Jack Doyle. He was ejected then suspended for the remainder of the season (12 games, the longest suspension of a player in NFL history for an on-field act). The Raiders let him walk after his contract expired, and while he has stated his intent to keep playing, his reputation as a dirty player might be too strong for any NFL team to give him a chance again.
  • Plaxico Burress was a WR who most famously played for the New York Giants (where he caught the game-winning touchdown in Super Bowl XLII), as well as the Pittsburgh Steelers (who drafted him #8 overall in 2000 out of Michigan State) and New York Jets (who hired him after his... incident). His infamy comes from an incident where he brought a loaded gun to a nightclub in 2008, the year after his Super Bowl heroics, and accidentally shot himself in the thigh. Due to having an expired carry license from another state in New York City (which has some of the most restrictive gun laws on America), he served a two-year prison sentence as a result of the incident. He returned to the NFL afterwards for a mostly unimpressive stint before retiring in 2013, and coined the term "Plaxidental shooting".
  • Rae Carruth was a WR for the Carolina Panthers who was considered a rather nondescript, average player despite being a first round pick out of Colorado. During his third pro season in 1999, his pregnant girlfriend was mortally wounded in a drive-by shooting but survived just long enough to accuse Carruth of arranging the hit, stating that he had deliberately blocked her car prior to the shooting. (Her son was delivered and saved by Caesarean section, but his prenatal trauma led to brain damage serious enough that he will require a live-in caretaker for life.) Arrested for murder, Carruth was acquitted on that charge but convicted of conspiracy to murder in 2001, receiving a prison sentence that lasted until 2018.
  • Conrad Dobler was a guard for the St. Louis Cardinals, who drafted him in the fifth round in 1972 out of Wyoming. He was named to three Pro Bowls but is mostly remembered as one of the league's most violent and unsportsmanlike players (even making a Sports Illustrated cover for being "Pro Football's Dirtiest Player"). He frequently utilized outright nasty tactics and visibly reveled in doing so: he once punched Joe Greene, spat on an injured Bill Bergey, and kicked Merlin Olsen in the head. Dobler retired in 1981 after stints in New Orleans and Buffalo. Because of his physical playing style, he is now physically disabled, having had to have multiple surgeries on his knees.
  • IK Enemkpali was a DE drafted by the New York Jets in the sixth round in 2014 out of Louisiana Tech, where he had already demonstrated character concerns. During the 2015 preseason, he attacked Jets QB Geno Smith in the team locker room over $600 Smith allegedly owed him, punching him hard enough to break his jaw and derailing his career as a starter. Enemkpali was released shortly thereafter and found employment with the Bills and former coach Rex Ryan. The NFL suspended him four games for the incident; he managed to appear in 11 games and put up dismal stats. The next preseason, he got into another altercation with another teammate and injured his ACL in a preseason game the next day. After missing all of 2016, he attempted to catch on with the Raiders but was cut before the season began.
  • Art Folz was a back for the Chicago Cardinals from 1923-25, signing with them out of Chicago. In 1925, seeking to pad the Cardinals' record with an easy win to ensure the franchise's first Championship title, he convinced several high school players from his alma mater to play what he claimed to be a "practice" gamenote  for the Milwaukee Badgers, whose actual players had already disbanded for the season. The Cardinals won the game 59-0, earning them the controversial championship, though they would have won even without this dishonest victory due to the disqualification of the Pottsville Maroons. However, for his actions, Folz became the first player ever suspended by the NFL as well as the first recipient of a lifetime ban, though this was lifted just one year later to prevent him from signing with the first incarnation of the AFL. Regardless, he chose not to return to football and showed remorse for his involvement later in life before his passing in 1965. Even still, many (only half-jokingly) explain the Cardinals' subsequent century of disappointment as being the results of a Curse from Folz's original sin.
  • Reuben Foster is a LB drafted #31 overall in 2017 by the San Francisco 49ers, who traded back into the first round to get him.note  Foster had an outstanding college career at Alabama on the field but had numerous off-field character concerns. Seen as a potential top 10 pick, he underwent shoulder surgery prior to the Draft and failed a drug test at the Combine which hurt his draft stock. He played unremarkably in 10 games as a rookie while battling ankle and rib injuries. In 2018, he was arrested on weapons and drug charges, earning him a two-game suspension. During the season, he was arrested again on multiple accounts of felony domestic abuse and infliction of bodily harm. He was released by the 49ers but was controversially claimed by Washington on waivers. He never played for Washington, tearing his ACL in his very first practice with the team, then missing all of 2019-20 due to lingering effects from the injury. Though the domestic violence charges against him were later dropped, his concerning off-field and injury histories have likely ended his pro career.
  • Mark Gastineau was a DE for the New York Jets, which drafted him in the second round in 1979 out of the D-II East Central Oklahoma State following a standout Senior Bowl performance. A critical component of their "New York Sack Exchange" defense, Gastineau led the league in sacks for two years and was selected to five Pro Bowls. However, while he was beloved by Jets fans for his toughness and attitude, he was widely hated by fellow players, especially for his taunting "Sack Dance" that frequently instigated on-field fights and led to the NFL cracking down on all celebrations (including touchdowns) for decades. This hatred wasn't just held by his opponents; other members of the Jets locker room likewise despised him for his self-centeredness. When he was the only Jet to cross the picket line at the start of the 1987 player strike, claiming he needed the money to pay alimony, several teammates publicly stated that it was expected because "he's always put himself in front of the team." He retired abruptly in the middle of the 1988 season at a point where he was again leading the league in sacks, claiming it was to take care of his girlfriend Brigitte Nielsen, who had uterine cancer.note  He next launched a boxing career, where he had several "wins" that turned out to be dives meant to make him look good. Gastineau had numerous legal troubles involving assaults and drug use dating back to his time with the Jets, and he finally saw jail time in 2000 for domestic assault. After his release from prison, he became a vocal born-again Christian. In recent years, he has struggled with dementia, Parkinson's, and Alzheimer's disease, which he attributes to CTE from his time in the league.
  • Josh Gordon is a WR who began his career in 2012 and has played with the Browns, Patriots, Seahawks, and (currently) Chiefs. Widely considered one of the most purely talented players to play the position (measuring in at 6'3", 225 lbs), Gordon has been lauded for his on-field production and even holds a few NFL records. The problem is, he has also played less than half the total games he could have during his career because he has repeatedly been suspended for violating the NFL's substance abuse policy, with drug use issues dating back to his time in college at Baylor, where he was suspended for multiple failed drug tests. He opted to enter the 2012 NFL Supplemental Draft, where he was selected in the 2nd round by the Browns. He made a significant impact in his first two seasons, particularly in his second year where he led the league in receiving yards and became the first player in NFL history to record two consecutive 200+ yard receiving games. Since then, Gordon appeared in only 33 games in the next six seasons due to numerous suspensions, including one in 2018 which prevented him from playing in the only playoff run of his career. Because many of his drug issues pertained to marijuana, which saw legalization across several states in The New '10s, his story has been at the center of many debates regarding the NFL's drug policy and whether the drug should be included as a banned substance. However, further complicating Gordon's situation is his history of other disciplinary issues that teams typically don't want to deal with in a player they're already taking a risk on; his departure from his original team, the Browns, allegedly came about not because of the drug violations themselves, but because the team had had enough of Gordon showing up late and missing practices. This has all made him a divisive figure among fans, as many would love to have his talents on their team but don't want to deal with the headache of another suspension after an inevitable repeat violation.
  • Greg Hardy, a DE drafted in the sixth round out of Ole Miss in 2010 by the Carolina Panthers, was a dominant pass rusher for the Panthers until a highly publicized domestic violence incident in 2014, where his ex-girlfriend testified that he had strangled her and thrown her into furniture. A judge found him guilty, but after he filed an appeal, the victim failed to appear in court, forcing the charges to be dropped. He was one of three high-profile athletes in 2014 (along with Ray Rice and Adrian Peterson) who caused a PR nightmare for the NFL and led to the revising of the league's domestic violence policy. He was deactivated for the majority of 2014 and initially suspended 10 games for 2015 (though arbitration brought this down to 4) after signing with the Dallas Cowboys. He did not do much to repair his image while in Dallas, at one point making lewd comments about Tom Brady's wife in press conferences. Despite his solid performance in 2015, the Cowboys did not re-sign him, and he's since moved on to MMA, making his UFC debut in 2019.
  • Albert Haynesworth was a hulking DT drafted #15 overall out of Tennessee by the Tennessee Titans in 2002. In 2006, Haynesworth became infamous for his brutal playing style. After Dallas scored on a goal line rushing play, Cowboys center Andre Gurode was knocked to the turf. Haynesworth removed Gurode's helmet and stomped on his head twice, gashing his forehead and narrowly missing his eye. After being assessed an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty, Haynesworth spiked his helmet on the turf in protest, resulting in another penalty and an ejection. He was suspended for five games, the longest suspension in league history at the time for an on-field incident.note  He had the most successful seasons of his career the next two years, earning Pro Bowl nods in each. During the 2009 offseason, he signed a seven year, $100 million free agent deal with Washington, making him the highest paid defensive player in league history at the time. Haynesworth soon gained notoriety of a different kind in his time with Washington, becoming a shining example of a player who got a big pay day and then stopped putting in effort. He clashed with coaches, refused to participate in workouts, allowed himself to get out of shape with poor conditioning, and frequently "gave up" on plays during games. During his second season with Washington, he was suspended for the final four games due to conduct detrimental to the team and then traded the following offseason to New England for a mere 5th round pick. He soon got into an altercation with the Patriots d-line coach, was cut, finished the season in Tampa Bay, and was released early in the offseason, ending his career and sealing his reputation as one of the worst free agent signings in league history. He has struggled with health issues in retirement, eventually requiring a kidney transplant traced to heavy Toradolnote  use during his time in the league.
  • Thomas "Hollywood" Henderson was a LB who most famously played with the Dallas Cowboys, who drafted him #18 overall out of the D-II HBCU Langston in 1975. Nicknamed "Hollywood" for both his flamboyant play and off-field lifestyle, Henderson was arguably among the first NFL players to take advantage of their media exposure to promote their personal brand more than their athletic accomplishments. As a result, he also was one of the first players to publicly struggle with drug addiction. His cocaine dependency was so bad that he frequently snorted the drug through an inhaler during games. Despite helping to bring the team a victory in Super Bowl XII, where he led them in tackles, by 1979 coach Tom Landry was done with his behavior. After Henderson mugged for the camera and promoted his merchandise while his team was being trounced on national television, Landry deactivated him for the rest of the season and traded him away at the first opportunity. He bounced through three teams for the next two seasons, never staying put at first due to his drug addiction and then due to injury issues that ended his career in 1981. Henderson hit rock bottom just two years later when he was accused of sexually assaulting two teenage girls at gunpoint; he denied the most violent aspects of the accusation but pleaded no contest to the charges and spent the next three years in prison and drug treatment. His story has a happier ending than many in this section—he has apparently stayed clean for more than three decades after completing his sentence and he won the Texas lottery in 2000.
  • Chris Henry was a WR drafted in the third round out of West Virginia by the Cincinnati Bengals in 2005. Henry was part of a talented group of receivers but had a penchant for getting into trouble off the field, including aggravated assault with a firearm and concealment of a firearm in 2006. In 2008, he was waived after he punched an 18-year-old man in the face and was placed under house arrest only to be re-signed to the team later that season. Henry died late in the 2009 season from injuries sustained after falling out of a pickup during a domestic dispute with his fiancée. An autopsy later determined that he had been suffering from CTE, the first confirmed case in a then-active NFL player, which suggested that it was the cause of his off-the-field issues and revealed that the condition could develop earlier in players' lives than many had previously believed.
  • Aaron Hernandez was a tight end drafted in the fourth round out of Florida by the New England Patriots in 2010. Hernandez was half of the dominant "Boston TE Party" alongside Rob Gronkowski until 2013, when he was charged with the first-degree murder of a local semi-pro football player. He was immediately released from the Patriots following his arrest. Hernandez was later charged with two counts of murder in relation with a 2012 double homicide in Boston and then was convicted of the 2013 murder, which had him automatically sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. In 2017, less than a week after being acquitted of the 2012 double murder, he hanged himself in his prison cell; his autopsy indicated that he had Stage 3 CTE.
  • Sam Hurd is a WR who went undrafted in 2006 out of Northern Illinois. He was signed by the Cowboys, where he played mostly special teams until 2010. In 2011, he signed with the Bears on a three-year contract, but his career came to a screeching halt when an ICE investigation found he was attempting to buy and distribute large amounts of cocaine and marijuana. He was found guilty of establishing a drug network in 2013 and sentenced to 15 years in prison.
  • Richie Incognito is a guard who currently plays for the Las Vegas Raiders after tenures with the Rams, Bills, and Dolphins. Drafted in the third round in 2005 out of Nebraska, he was a mid-tier offensive linesman with a long history of trouble on and off the field and a violent temperament that earned him a reputation as one of the dirtiest players in the league. In 2013 during his tenure in Miami, fellow lineman Jonathan Martin, a decent if unspectacular player, abruptly left the team halfway through the season, citing emotional distress. Martin then released a statement naming Incognito as ringleader in a harassment campaign against him and a voicemail that he had left on Martin's phone that included racial slurs and death threats. Incognito was later permanently suspended from the team and eventually released, while Martin was traded to the 49ers to reunite with his former Stanford coach Jim Harbaugh. The sordid details were investigated at the behest of the NFL, culminating in the 144-page Ted Wells Report, which chronicles the complex and unusual friendship that existed between the two (complete with text messages such as the ones cited below). The amount of press his situation received has created a great deal of debate about workplace bullying and harassment, mental illness, and the evolving definition of masculinity and "toughness".
    Incognito: [...] All that’s important is that you feel better and know we miss u dude
    Martin: Yeah I'm good man. It's insane bro but just know I don't blame you guys at all it's just the culture around football and the locker room got to me a little. Btw...Never check yourself into a mental hospital note 
  • Mark Ingram Sr. was a RB who played from 1987-96 for four different teams, most notably the New York Giants and Miami Dolphins. Drafted by the Giants #28 overall in 1987, he was a fairly productive player, helping them win Super Bowl XXV, and was on the receiving end of Dan Marino's infamous "Fake Spike" in 1994. Unfortunately, he has been plagued by legal problems in recent years, being convicted of money laundering and fraud in 2008 and was sentenced to seven years prison time with up to five years of probation. His sentence was expanded two years after he jumped bail to watch his son, future Heisman winner Mark Ingram Jr., play for Alabama. He was released in 2015 but violated his supervised release repeatedly and was sent back to prison again in 2019. He was released again in 2020 to home confinement due to struggling with dementia, asthma, and, if his attorneys are to be believed, CTE.

     Notorious Players (J-Z) 
  • Larry Johnson was a RB best known for his time with the Kansas City Chiefs, who drafted him #27 overall in 2003 out of Penn State. He played with the Chiefs before being traded to Cincinnati in 2009 and played a season each for Washington and Miami before retiring after 2011. During his time with the Chiefs, he made the Pro Bowl twice in 2005-06 and set the record for rushing attempts in a season (416) in 2006. However, he was also no stranger to legal trouble; he has been arrested multiple times since 2003, including at least five arrests (four while an active player) for assault on women and a sixth for assault for beating up a man in Miami in 2014. He's also no stranger to social media controversy, as he is an avowed Conspiracy Theorist who has been accused of tweeting Anti-Semitic and other offensive material.
  • Adam "Pacman" Jones was a CB and return specialist best known for his off-field controversies from when he played for the Tennessee Titans and Dallas Cowboys. Jones' childhood nickname "Pac-Man" referred to his ability to turn corners on a dime, and he was drafted #6 overall out of West Virginia by the Titans in 2005 for his prowess. However, soon after joining the league, he got into several fights at strip clubs, broke his parole, and was investigated for drug use. These issues, coupled with new commissioner Roger Goodell's desire to assert his authority, led to Jones becoming the first player in over four decades to be suspended for non-substance abuse reason, and he missed all of 2007. During that time, Jones was part of an angle on TNA Wrestling, including winning their Tag Team Championships, despite having a stipulation in his contract that he could not wrestle—he was subsequently traded by the Titans to Dallas, who cut him after the season due to injury issues and potential involvement in a Las Vegas shooting. By 2009, his case looked hopeless, as he managed to talk his way out of a CFL contract by referring to the league as the United Football League in a press conference. However, after signing with the Cincinnati Bengals, Jones played for eight seasons with far less off-field trouble, even winning first-team All-Pro status in 2014 followed by a Pro Bowl spot the next year. While that hasn't completely erased the memory of his turbulent early years, he at least managed to save himself from the canon of all-time draft busts and put together a respectable NFL career before he retired in 2018 (though the Titans still missed out on future Hall of Famers like DeMarcus Ware and Aaron Rodgers with their pick for little in return).
  • Joe Don Looney was a RB drafted #12 overall in 1964 by the Giants, a team he never played for, as he was traded to the Baltimore Colts just 25 days later. Such nomadism had already become a pattern for Looney, who had bounced around four different colleges (Texas, TCU, Cameron Junior College, and Oklahoma) and had been kicked out of all three of the non-junior schools due to his erratic and insubordinate behavior. That pattern continued in the pros. The flashes of talent Looney occasionally displayed were overshadowed by his refusal to attend practices, carry out plays, or do much of anything coaches asked of himnote  and by his numerous off-field problems, including once breaking into a family's house after an argument about politics. He bounced across five teams in his five years in the pros, with his career being further derailed after being drafted into service in Vietnam in '68. Looney was out of the NFL after 1969 and continued to live a wayward life that involved drug muling and being an enforcer for a cultish guru. He died in a motorcycle accident in 1988 at 45 years old.
  • Charles Martin was a d-lineman who went undrafted out of West Alabama with stops in the USFL and CFL before joining the Green Bay Packers in 1984. He quickly entered the starting lineup and fueled the fire of the team's rivalry with the Chicago Bears, most infamously by wearing a towel with the numbers of Bears players written on it as a "hit list". In 1986, he became the first modern-era NFL player to be ejected from a game due to a violent act and the first to receive a multi-game suspension for an on-field act: with the Packers season floundering at 2-10 while the defending Super Bowl champion Bears were playoff bound, Martin picked up Bears QB Jim McMahon — long after he had already thrown the ball — and slammed him shoulder-first into the ground, causing a season-ending injury. He was released in 1987 after a bar fight incident and finished his career with short stints in Houston and Atlanta. He struggled with alcoholism later in life and died due to kidney failure in 2005.
  • Rolando McClain was a LB from Alabama selected #8 overall in 2010 by the Oakland Raiders out of Alabama, where he won the Butkus Award for best college linebacker and helped the school win the BCS National Championship in 2009. His first two seasons were solid but not spectacular, and he was waived by the Raiders in 2013 after a well-publicized feud with the coaching staff (Oakland missed out on several great talents like Earl Thomas with their high pick). He then signed with Baltimore and "retired" without playing a down. He then joined the Dallas Cowboys in 2014, having another solid season as a leader on the defense. In 2015, however, he was suspended for the first four games for violating the substance abuse policy, having developed an addiction to codeine. He was suspended 10 games the next year for again violating the substance abuse policy and later failed a random drug test, leading to his suspension being extended indefinitely. In 2019, he was reinstated, released by the Cowboys, and suspended indefinitely once again.
  • Dave Meggett was a RB, WR and return specialist out of FCSTowson State (now just Towson) who played in the NFL for ten seasons. Originally a favorite of coach Bill Parcells, Meggett followed the legendary coach to play for the Giants (where he won a Super Bowl), Patriots, and Jets. He retired in 1998 as the career leader in punt returns and yards. However, these accomplishments were overshadowed during and after his playing career by his numerous legal and financial problems, mostly involving domestic and sexual assault. Meggett was kicked off the Patriots after his third assault charge; he played two games for Parcells' Jets and his career was over. He lost his entire NFL salary to child support and legal charges. He was ultimately convicted of burglary and sexual assault in 2010 and sentenced to 30 years in prison.
  • Chuck Muncie had an enviable career for any RB, playing in the league for nine seasons and leading it in rushing TDs in 1981. However, the Heisman finalist from Cal was anticipated to be one of the best rushers the league had ever seen when the New Orleans Saints drafted him #3 overall in 1976, and while he performed very well on the field, his off-field issues- mainly a tendency to ignore his coaches and an increasingly severe cocaine addiction- hindered his potential and led to him being traded to the San Diego Chargers in 1980. He continued to play well in California, but his issues also continued, and he was traded to the Dolphins in 1984 after missing a flight to an away game... or, rather, would have been traded had a positive drug test not led to an indefinite suspension. He attempted a comeback the following year with the Vikings but was suspended again before he could see the field in the regular season and never played another snap. Muncie later became homeless and served a prison sentence for selling cocaine before he finally sobered up, and he died from a heart attack in 2013.
  • Lawrence Phillips was a RB drafted at #6 in 1996 by the St. Louis Rams. While highly productive on the field in college at Nebraska, he had numerous character concerns including several assault charges and NCAA investigations and he was released by the Rams during his second season due to off-field misconduct. He attempted to catch on with the Dolphins, NFL Europe, the 49ers (which ended largely due to him missing a block on the hit that ended Steve Young's career), and finally the Arena and Canadian leagues, but his stays with each team were short-lived. This alone made him a tremendous draft bust, as the Rams missed out on four future Hall of Famers (not to mention infamously trading away future Hall of Famer Jerome Bettis to clear the starting role for Phillips), but his notoriety mainly comes from his off-field actions. Despite winning a Grey Cup in his first year with the Montreal Alouettes off a resurgent performance, he was cut from the team in the off-season due to another assault charge and was out of football entirely a year later. In 2009, Phillips was sentenced to a total of 31 years on multiple accounts from separate incidents, ranging from domestic abuse to running over three teenagers with his car. In 2015, he was charged with the first-degree murder of a cellmate whom he allegedly choked to death; Phillips claimed it was in self-defense after a gang-motivated attack. Nine months later, the day after a judge ruled that there was enough evidence to take him to trial for murder and with prosecutors seeking the death penalty, Phillips was found hanged in his cell. His death was ruled a suicide, though some have questioned that conclusion. His family donated his brain for a CTE study.
  • Bernard Pollard was a journeyman safety who played for four teams from 2006-14, earning the moniker "Patriot Killer" for his propensity of being involved in season-altering injuries of four different Patriots players. He was drafted by the Kansas City Chiefs in the 2nd round in 2006 out of Purdue, where he earned the moniker "Bonecrusher" for his hard hits and tackles. In 2008, he ended Tom Brady's season in Week 1 on a low hit that tore his MCL and ACL. This contributed to the Patriots missing the playoffs after narrowly missing a perfect 19-0 season the year prior, potentially keeping the dominant franchise from winning even more Super Bowls during the Brady-Belichick dynasty; it also caused the NFL to issue a rule banning defenders from lunging or diving at a quarterback's knees. Pollard then went to Houston for two seasons, where his reputation as a Patriot season-ender followed, as he played a hand in Wes Welker tearing his ACL and MCL in a 2009 game. After his time in Houston, he played two seasons in Baltimore, winning a Super Bowl. His Patriot Killer status endured: he sprained Rob Gronkowski's ankle in the 2011 AFC Championship game and in the following year's game was fined for another illegal hit on Welker and knocked RB Stevan Ridley out cold.note  He played two more seasons with the Titans to finish out his career, racking up more fines for late hits, including a $42,000 fine for a concussion-inducing hit on Andre Johnson.
  • Lance Rentzel was a WR drafted by the Vikings in the second round in 1965 out of Oklahoma. He played for two seasons in Minnesota as a valuable special teams contributor, then was traded to the Dallas Cowboys, where he broke out and became one of the league's most dominant receivers for a time. However, his career was marred by off-field troubles. He was arrested in 1966 for exposing himself to two young girls while playing with the Vikings and pled guilty to a reduced charge of disorderly conduct. He was also arrested for exposing himself to another young girl in 1970, which likely ended his career with the Cowboys, resulting in a trade to the Rams in 1971, where he was also suspended for ten months in 1973 for marijuana possession before being cut in 1975. These incidents were alluded to in an episode of King of the Hill and became the catalyst of his divorce to his wife, starlet Joey Heatherton.
  • Ray Rice was a RB for the Baltimore Ravens from 2008-14. A second round pick out of Rutgers, Rice was a key factor in the Ravens ground game, using his speed and smaller than average size to duck past incoming tackles. However, he became infamous during the 2014 offseason when he was caught on security cameras at an Atlantic City casino dragging his unconscious then-fiancée (now wife) from an elevator, in a suspected case of domestic abuse. The Ravens and the league decided to take this matter seriously by... voicing their support of Rice and giving him a mild 2-game suspension without pay, reasoning in a bizarre press conference that he and his fiancée claimed it was a mutual fight and that Rice was going into an intervention program. This led to widespread public outrage, who pointed out a double standard in punishment when the league was suspending players for substance abuse and steroid use with 4 or 5 game suspensions. In response, the league decided to make the official policy for domestic violence a 6-game suspension (with ability to change depending on severity) for the first case, and indefinite suspension in the second incident for all future cases. Seven months latter, celebrity news website TMZ released previously unseen security camera footage from inside the elevator, which showed the physical fight was all Rice's doing. Within hours of the video's release, the Ravens released him and the NFL put him on indefinite suspension. While the suspension was later reversed on appeal based on the double jeopardy argument that the original 2-game punishment had already been applied, no team was willing to take him and his several tons of bad publicity on board, and he was out of football for good. Rice is now attempting to establish himself as The Atoner; he has given many speeches at NFL rookie camps, essentially telling the young players not to do what he did.
  • Greg Robinson was an OT drafted #2 overall in 2014 by the St. Louis Rams out of Auburn. Freakishly athletic for his immense size, Robinson was widely considered the "safest" draft prospect available that year. While he immediately won the Rams starting LT job, he struggled badly over the next three seasons, regularly getting beaten by speedy edge rushers and committing among the most penalties for o-linemen in the league. By his fourth season, the Rams signed a free agent LT to replace Robinson, who was traded to the Lions for a meager 6th round pick, then waived during the season after suffering an injury. He then signed with Cleveland as a backup, moving into the starting role after a series of injuries late in the season. He played well enough to earn a second contract with the Browns and remained a starter the following season, but his struggles returned and he was ejected from a game for kneeing an opposing player in the head. Already considered a massive draft bust, his reputation turned to flat-out notorious during the early 2020 offseason. While a free agent, Robinson was caught with over 150 lbs of marijuana in his car and sentenced to five years probation and fined $5,000. In 2022, he was arrested in Louisiana on additional drug trafficking charges, with police reportedly finding over $120,000 worth of drugs in his SUV. Adding insult to injury, Robinson was taken ahead of three future Pro Bowl OTs in the same draft class (Jake Matthews, Taylor Lewan, and Joel Bitonio).
  • Bill Romanowski was a LB drafted in the third round out of Boston College in 1988 who played 16 years in the NFL, winning four Super Bowls (two with the San Francisco 49ers, two with the Denver Broncos, and then played in a fifth with the Oakland Raiders). He is more widely known as one of, if not the, dirtiest players in NFL history. Some of his most infamous incidents include: kicking Cardinals RB Larry Centers in the head, intentionally breaking the finger of Giants RB Dave Meggett (see above) in a pile-up for a loose football, breaking the jaw of Panthers QB Kerry Collins (see below under "Disappointments") with an illegal hit in a preseason game, spitting in the face of 49ers WR J.J. Stokes, throwing a punch at Chiefs TE Tony Gonzalez, and throwing the football at the groin of Jets LB Bryan Cox. Even his own teammates weren't safe, as Raiders TE Marcus Williams found out when Romanowski punched him the face during a practice scuffle, crushing his eye socket and ending his career. (Williams later successfully sued him for $3.4 million.) After he retired in 2003, Romanowski was embroiled in the BALCO scandal, where he admitted to using anabolic steroids and synthetic testosterone while playing and taking steps to get around NFL drug testing policies.
  • Robert Rozier was a DE drafted out of Cal in the ninth round in 1979 by the then-St. Louis Cardinals. Rozier's career was over almost before it began, as he played only six games before drug issues and accusations of unspecified petty crimes derailed his career. He attempted to revive his career with the CFL and was briefly signed to the Raiders, but was cut before ever playing a game for them. After washing out of pro football, Rozier became involved with the cult known as Nation of Yahweh, and it's here that his notoriety begins. In a bid to be initiated into the cult's inner circle, known as the "Brotherhood", Rozier participated in the murders of at least four people (though many believe the true number to be higher), with all but one of the victims being random strangers. In 1986, Rozier accepted a plea deal in exchange for his testimony against the cult and its leader and was sentenced to 22 years in federal prison; he was ultimately paroled in 1996 after serving 10 years of his sentence, at which time he claimed to be a changed man and publicly expressed remorse for his crimes. In 1999, however, Rozier was arrested again, this time for passing a series of bad checks, and in 2001 was sentenced to 25 years to life on the basis of California's controversial "three strikes" law.
  • Henry Ruggs III was a WR drafted #12 overall by the Las Vegas Raiders in 2020 out of Alabama. Making headlines for posting near-record performances at the NFL Combine with a 4.27s 40-yard-dash and a 42-inch vertical jump, Ruggs was expected to be a critical weapon for the team following his rookie season. However, in November 2021, he was involved in a car accident where he rear-ended another vehicle, setting it on fire and killing an occupant and her dog. Ruggs received non-life-threatening injuries and exhibited signs of alcohol consumption; when he was formally charged with DUI resulting in death on the day after the crash, prosecutors stated that his blood alcohol was twice Nevada's legal limit, and that he was traveling at 156 mph seconds before the crash and 127 mph when his vehicle's airbags deployed. Ruggs was released by the Raiders the day of the accident. He faces nearly 50 years in prison.
  • Art Schlichter was an Ohio State QB drafted #4 overall by the Baltimore Colts in 1982. Schlichter was the first QB taken in a weak draft class (only Jim McMahon, who was drafted right after him, had any real success), and he failed to win the starting job from 4th rounder Mike Pagel. Their combined bad performance led to the Colts having the #1 pick next year, which led to the John Elway debacle, which then led to the Colts leaving for Indianapolis. Schlichter went 0-6 as a starter before being cut in 1985. After the Colts, he played in Buffalo for short time, but, soon after his signing, the USFL folded and gave the Bills Jim Kelly. Schlichter went to the CFL and the Arena Football League, where he was the MVP in 1990 and retired in 1993. He is more notable, however, for the extent of his gambling addiction. He lost thousands of dollars back in college and got even worse when he got into the NFL (which got him multiple league suspensions). After his career was over, he had numerous run-ins with the law (fake ticket scams, bad checks, and robberies) to feed his addiction. After spending a better part of the '90s and '00s in jail, he appeared to turn his life around, even starting a charity for fellow addicts, but he was soon arrested again for scamming the widow of a former Wendy's executive for millions of dollars in another ticket scam. Schlichter was paroled in 2021 after serving 9 years for the Wendy's scam.
  • Darren Sharper was a safety who played for the Green Bay Packers, Minnesota Vikings, and New Orleans Saints after being drafted in the second round in 1997 out of William & Mary. Sharper was one of the best safeties in the league in the late '90s and '00s, retiring after 2010 with the 6th-most interceptions in league history and playing in two Super Bowls: XXXIII, a loss for the Packers, and XLIV, a win for the Saints. He was beginning a career in broadcasting when it came out that he had drugged and raped at least nine women between 2011 and 2014. He pleaded guilty to multiple counts of sexual assault and was sentenced to 20 years in prison in 2016. A month later, he was the spark of a controversy regarding the Hall of Fame when he was nominated for induction in spite of his crimes, as voters are prohibited from taking off-field issues into account. In spite of this stipulation, it is considered unlikely that he will be inducted, as inducting a convicted serial rapist would be a major blow to the league's reputation.
  • O. J. Simpson was a dominant RB. Nicknamed "Juice" because of his shared initials with a certain fruit drink, the name soon became associated with his positively electric bursts of speed and power. Drafted #1 overall in 1969 by the Buffalo Bills after a Heisman-winning tenure at USC, he led the league in rushing four seasons. Most famously, he put up the league's first ever 2,000-yard rushing season in the 14-game 1973 season. This was arguably the greatest single season any running back has ever had; while seven other running backs have since passed his total record, they each had an extra two games in their efforts and none even came close to his per-game average of 143.1 yards. That season made him one of only a few people to earn Most Valuable Player on a non-playoff team.note  His career was cut somewhat short by injury, and he retired in 1979 after a brief stint with the 49ers. After he retired from football, Simpson became a first-ballot Hall of Famer, a broadcaster for Monday Night Football, the celebrity spokesman for Hertz car rental, and co-starred in The Naked Gun film trilogy. Then, in 1994, his ex-wife and her friend were brutally murdered. O.J. soon became a prime suspect and was arrested after a 45-minute car chase through the highways of California, and his case became a media fixation for the better part of a year; he was controversially acquitted, only to later be found liable in civil court. The intensely publicized "Trial of the Century" pretty much obliterated the "Nice Guy" persona he had cultivated for decades (especially after he published a book about how he would have murdered his wife, "if he had done so"). Several years later, he was found guilty of robbing, assaulting, and kidnapping two sports memorabilia collectorsnote  and was sentenced to 33 years in prison, ultimately receiving parole after nine and being released in 2017. An FX scripted series about the trial won several Emmys and Golden Globes, and an ESPN documentary series on his life won an Oscar.
  • Aldon Smith was a DE and a prominent example of an promising player's career being derailed by criminal behavior. Smith was drafted #7 overall in 2011 out of Missouri by the San Francisco 49ers. Despite not even starting in his rookie season, he immediately broke out as one of the greatest defensive players in the league, becoming the fastest player ever to pass 30 sacks by his second season and being a key element in the Niners' run to an appearance in Super Bowl XLVII. However, Smith had already begun to experience off-field legal issues for DUI and assault charges, and he checked into rehab during his third season. Unfortunately, it wasn't enough, and he was let go by the Niners after committing a hit and run in 2015. He signed across the bay with the Raiders but was subsequently suspended for a year. The suspension grew longer as Smith continued to have run-ins with the law and served jail time for the hit and run, and after a domestic violence incident with his fiancée in 2018, the Raiders cut him. After staying out of the headlines for a few years, Smith was reinstated in 2020 and attempted to mount a comeback with the Cowboys, returning to the NFL after a five-year absence. He put up a solid performance, even scoring his first career touchdown... only to be cut the next offseason after yet another domestic violence charge. He signed with the Seahawks in 2021, was cut before the season began, and arrested for felony DUI later that year.
  • Onterrio Smith was a RB for the Minnesota Vikings who drafted him in the 4th round in 2003 out of Oregon. Originally a player at Tennessee, he was kicked off the team for failing drug tests and transferred to Oregon, an early sign of problems to come. Smith played well initially but was suspended twice for violations of the league's substance abuse policy. During the 2005 offseason, he was caught going through airport security with a "Whizzinator", a device commonly used to beat drug tests (we'll leave it to you to figure out how). Contrary to popular belief, possessing such a device wasn't against league rulesBackground , but was still an incredibly bad look for a player with a drug history. Less than a month after this incident, he failed a third drug test, triggering a full-season suspension. Smith was released by the Vikings and attempted to catch on in the CFL, but he was quickly released and out of football. The "Whizzinator" incident was one of several embarrassing controversies for the Vikings during that era while Mike Tice (see his entry in "Notorious Non-Player Figures" below) was head coach.
  • Donté Stallworth played WR for several teams. The Tennessee product was drafted #13 overall by the Saints in 2002 and played for the Eagles, Patriots, and Browns before he was suspended by the league in 2009 after he pled guilty to vehicular manslaughter for driving drunk and killing a jaywalking pedestrian in Miami. He received the lightest sentence of any NFL player convicted of killing another person, 24 days in jail and five years' probation. After his suspension, he was released by the Browns but almost immediately got picked up by the Ravens and played for Washington and another stint in New England. Since his playing career ended in 2013, he has been active in political journalism.
  • Jerramy Stevens was a TE drafted #28 overall out of Washington in 2002 by the Seattle Seahawks. A fairly average player his whole career, he spent his first five years in Seattle, including going to Super Bowl XL, where he infamously mocked the idea of Steelers RB Jerome Bettis winning a championship in his hometown before the Seahawks lost (in part due to him dropping three passes). Stevens gained more notoriety off the field thanks to a lengthy rap sheet dating back to his high school days, including sexual assault allegations, multiple assault and DUI arrests, and a hit-and-run incident where he plowed his car into a senior home. After serving a suspension for one of these incidents, he spent his final four playing years with Tampa Bay before retiring in 2010. He has continued to struggle with legal issues since, notably injuring his fiancée, soccer goalie Hope Solo, in a domestic incident in 2012 the day before their wedding, and driving drunk while she was a passenger in a team van during a 2015 women's national team training camp, resulting in a suspension for her and a 30-day jail sentence for him.
  • Dana Stubblefield was a powerful DT for the San Francisco 49ers, who drafted him #26 overall out of Kansas in 1993. He won Defensive Rookie of the Year and later was Defensive Player of the Year in 1997 right before entering free agency; he underperformed after signing a massive contract with Washington and bounced around the league to a number of teams before retiring in 2004. One of those teams was the Oakland Raiders, which led to him being entangled in the BALCO scandal; he exchanged a light sentence of two years probation in return for providing names of teammates who also used the lab's steroids. More seriously, Stubblefield was later convicted of sexually assaulting a disabled woman and was sentenced to 15 to life in 2020.
  • Jack Tatum was a hard-hitting safety drafted #19 overall out of Ohio State in 1971 by the Oakland Raiders. Nicknamed "The Assassin", he often said his best hits "bordered on felonious assault", and while his unrepentant viciousness helped to define the '70s Raiders image and brought them a Super Bowl, it is also likely the reason he won't be enshrined in Canton anytime soon. He's (in)famous for paralyzing Patriots wide receiver Darryl Stingley during the 1978 preseason (Stingley died years later from complications of the injury); while the hit was legal and the injury was to some degree a freak accident (Stingley himself would indicate in interviews later in life that he saw it as such), Tatum's apparent lack of remorse, including the revalation that he never even apologized to Stingley, didn't help his case. He was the Raiders defender involved in Pittsburgh's famous "Immaculate Reception" and also set the NFL record for the longest fumble return in NFL history (104 yards for a touchdown). Tatum retired in 1980 after a season with the Oilers. He was himself plagued with health issues later in life stemming in part from his football injuries, lost a leg due to diabetes complications in the early '00s, and died from a heart attack in 2010.
  • Jim Tyrer was an OT who spent most of his career with the Kansas City Chiefs. Drafted out of Ohio State in the AFL's third round by the Dallas Texans (who became the Chiefs in 1963), he was an 8-time AFL All-Star from 1962-69, had two more All-Pro seasons after the 1970 merger with the NFL, helped the Chiefs win 3 AFL titles (the first as the Texans) and a Super Bowl, and was named to the all-AFL team. However, his on-field accomplishments have been overshadowed by the circumstances of his premature death. In 1980, depressed over financial struggles (and possibly suffering from CTE, a condition that only came to public attention several years later), Tyrer shot his wife before turning the gun on himself. This tragic final chapter to his life is cited as the main reason for his not being enshrined in the Hall of Fame.
  • Dimitrius Underwood was a d-lineman selected #29 overall by the Minnesota Vikings in 1999 out of Michigan State. Despite missing his final college season due to injury, Underwood became a "workout warrior," dominating pre-draft workouts to improve his draft stock. Despite warnings from the Michigan State coaching staff that he was not "mentally stable" enough to play pro football, the Vikings had found him completely normal in their interview. He signed his rookie contract with the Vikings on the first day of training camp... only to walk out on the organization a day later, claiming that playing football "conflicted with his Christian faith".note  He was released, the fastest first round pick to be cut from his team in the modern eranote  and forced to pay back his $1.7 million signing bonus. He later signed with Miami but was released after one preseason game when he was placed under protective psychiatric care and attempted to escape. He then spent two years as a reserve with Dallas where his career ended following a suicide attempt. Underwood was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, made a brief appearance in the CFL, and then spent several years in prison for robbery and assault charges. He still stands as both one of the most immediate busts in NFL history and a prime example of the NFL completely failing to recognize and care for players struggling with mental illness.
  • Michael Vick was a QB who most famously played for the Atlanta Falcons. Entering the league in the 2001 Draft with tremendous hype out of Virginia Tech, Vick became the first ever African-American QB to be drafted #1 overall. His selection paid off, giving the Falcons a real star who redefined the quarterback position for the 21st century. While there were athletic QBs before him, Vick was at a level all on his own, setting records for most career QB rushing yards (6,109) and most yards per carry for any position (7) that still stand today. In 2006, he became the first NFL QB to rush for more than 1,000 yards in a season. Throw in a massively strong arm (though hampered by questionable accuracy and decision making), he proved that rushing QBs could see sustained success at the pro level. However, his career came to a screeching halt in 2007 when it was discovered that he ran an illegal dogfighting operation at his home in Virginia. Vick was sent to prison for 2 years and pretty much became Persona Non Grata with football fans. After being released from prison, he signed a short-term contract with the Philadelphia Eagles in 2009 and partway through the 2010 season became the team's starter. Following his whirlwind Redemption Quest, he proved to still be an excellent quarterback, leading the Eagles to the playoffs, winning Comeback Player of the Year, scoring a new endorsement deal with Nike, and even lobbying in support of a bill that would prosecute those who attend illegal animal fights or bring children to them. He almost returned to his pre-dogfighting level of popularity, but the general public still hadn't forgiven him, and the notoriously harsh Eagles fans turned on him quickly once he began to regress in 2012. After brief stints as a backup with the Jets and Steelers, he retired after signing a ceremonial contract with the Falcons in 2017. Over a decade after his incarceration, Vick's name remains a shorthand for the practice of dogfighting and animal abuse. That said, he is still highly lauded for his play on the field and is known for being something of a Fountain of Expies, as his success paved the way for a wave of QB's that are every bit as gifted with their legs (and sometimes more so) than they are with their arms—usually, as young players, they tend to be compared to Vick. Since 2017, Vick has worked as a pre-game analyst for Fox Sports.
  • Deshaun Watson was drafted #12 overall by the Houston Texans in 2017 after he led Clemson to a national championship the year prior. Despite sustaining an ACL injury in his rookie season that cut his first campaign short, Watson soon broke out as one of the league's premier young talents, taking the Texans to AFC South titles in his next two Pro Bowl seasons. In 2020, the Texans signed him to the second-largest football contract ever at that time. Despite the team's many struggles that year, Watson led the league in passing yards and claimed the top spot on many QB career passing statistics upon passing the minimum 1,500 pass attempts, breaking the long-standing records of Aaron Rodgers in the process... only to lose them to Patrick Mahomes less than a week later, who blew his numbers out of the water. Frustrated with the Texans' inepititude, Watson held out from playing for the team in 2021 in order to force a trade. However, at the same time, over twenty different women that Watson had employed as massage therapists filed a massive series of civil lawsuits and a police report against him, all alleging he had committed acts of sexual assault or misconduct during their sessions. Later investigations revealed that Watson had met with dozens of masseuses while in Houston, a highly unusual number for pro athletes who typically just have one, and he admitted to having sexual relationships with many of them. These accusations ensured that no teams extended trade offers until a grand jury declined to indict on any criminal charges in 2022. While multiple civil suits remained in play regarding these allegations, and Watson and his lawyers admitted that his behavior during massages drove at least one woman to tears, the promise of no jail time opened the door for numerous teams to seek Watson's talents. He and the Texans ultimately agreed to terms with the Cleveland Browns, who offered him another historically massive (and completely guaranteed) contract, plus an equally substantial set of picks for Houston. While the story of Watson's career is still being written, it seems likely that his off-field actions, which have already derailed the trajectory of his career, will overshadow his performances on the gridiron.
  • Stanley Wilson was a RB for the Cincinnati Bengals, who drafted him in the ninth round in 1983 out of Oklahoma. While a capable part of the Bengals offense, Wilson's cocaine addiction resulted in him being suspended for all of 1985 and 1987 for violating the league's drug policy. His third and final strike could not have come at a worse time: the night before Super Bowl XXIII, when he was found high in a bathroom in the team's hotel during their final pre-game meeting. While his third strike would have resulted in an extended punishment regardless, his relapse on the night before the NFL's biggest event was treated as a major scandal by the media and ensured that he was issued a lifetime suspension. Several observers, including Bengals coach Sam Wyche, also questioned whether Wilson's absence cost them the championship, as he was in the midst of a hot streak. Diagnosed with bipolar disorder, he continued to struggle with addiction after the incident and was sentenced to 22 years in prison in 1999 after stealing from a Beverly Hills home. Wilson's son, Stanley Jr., played in the NFL as a CB, and he was also convicted of attempted burglary while high and naked.
  • Kellen Winslow II was a TE drafted #6 overall out of Miami in 2004 by the Cleveland Browns and is the son of Hall of Fame tight end Kellen Winslow Sr. Despite early concerns about his character after an on-camera outburst during his college years, the junior Winslow had a moderately successful nine-year pro career, even putting up a Pro Bowl-worthy season in Cleveland in 2007. He was traded to Tampa two seasons later, and the team awarded him the biggest contract ever for a tight-end at that time. However, locker room difficulties led to him being traded to several other teams before a suspension for steroid use ended his playing career for good. He found greater infamy after his retirement. Winslow was arrested in 2018 and charged with three counts of rape, kidnapping, felony burglary, battery of an elder, and a plethora of other charges. He was later convicted of rape, a lewd act in public conduct, and indecent exposure, and later pled guilty to another count of rape and a sexual battery charge, accepting a 14-year prison sentence.
  • Randall Woodfield never saw the field in the NFL or even made a final roster, as the WR was cut by the Green Bay Packers during training camp after a 17th round draft selection in 1974 out of Portland State due to several cases of indecent exposure. However, out of the thousands of men ever drafted into the NFL, Woodfield has a strong case for being the most monstrous: seven years after the end of his short football career, he was arrested, convicted, and sentenced to life in prison for being the "I-5 Killer", a serial murderer and rapist suspected to have killed as many as 44 people throughout the Pacific Northwest.
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     Notorious Non-Player Figures 
  • Bruce Allen, the son of Hall of Fame coach George Allen (and brother to former Virginia governor/senator George Jr.), was an executive whose long and generally unsuccessful stints with various teams, most prominently his father's old team in Washington, was attributed to owners going off his name rather than his leadership ability. After several years as an exec with the Raiders, Allen was hired as GM of the Buccaneers in 2004, reuniting him with HC Jon Gruden. Middling results led to Allen being fired with Gruden after 2008, after which he was hired by Washington in 2010. His tenure there lasted a full decade despite poor on-field production; when the team fell off following the decline of Robert Griffin III (see below under "QB Busts"), Allen abdicated the GM role but stayed in the building as team president and ultimately reclaimed GM duties in 2017. During this second tenure, Allen's lack of leadership was credited as one of the main reasons for both the team's on-field struggles and, more critically, their development of a toxic office culture known for its permissiveness towards sexual harassment and discrimination (see Daniel Snyder's entry below for more). This led to Allen finally being fired after 2019, but his shadow continued to stretch over the league, as inappropriate and unprofessional emails that he had exchanged with Gruden while in Washington ultimately led to his firing from the Raiders in 2021 when they were unearthed in an investigation into the team's culture.
  • William "Lone Star" Dietz was a successful coach for a number of college teams in the early 20th century. He spent only two seasons in the NFL, where he put up an even .500 winning record with the Boston Redskins. He left a disproportionately long shadow on the league's history, however, due to being one of the most common defenses for the Washington Commanders' former moniker. The team's founder George Preston Marshall (see below) and subsequent owners claimed that the "Redskins" name, viewed by many as a derogatory slur for Native Americans, was adopted to honor their then-coach, who claimed to be a member of Sioux Nation. One problem: he almost certainly wasn't. Rather, Dietz, the son of two white parents, adopted a native identity for much of his adult life in order to promote his art, play for coach Pop Warner's famous football team at Carlisle Indian School, and attempt to avoid being drafted in World War I. He was brought to court on that last charge, where the sister of the real James Lone Star, an MIA veteran whose identity he had stolen for his draft registration, testified against him.note  Washington's team ignored this evidence for decades and continued to cite him as the "Indian coach" who had inspired the team name, even though a) they had already played a prior season as the "Boston Braves" with a white head coach, and b) the name change wasn't directly associated with him until after his death in 1967.
  • Chuck Fairbanks rose to prominence as a coach at Oklahoma from 1967-72. In 1973, he agreed to become the HC of the New England Patriots. Afterwards, it was found that his Sooners team had used ineligible players, resulting in the forfeiture of nine games. He coached the Patriots from 1973-78, making the playoffs twice and bringing the 3-4 defense to the NFL, but his tenure was marred by controversy, as he constantly feuded with his players. In 1978, he was suspended for one game for breaching his contract by agreeing to become HC of Colorado. He was sued by the Patriots and, during the course of the lawsuit, was found to have recruited players to play for him at Colorado while working for the Patriots, which won the Patriots an injunction preventing him from leaving, but his contract was bought out by Colorado boosters. He proved to not be worth the effort, as he put up a terrible record both at Colorado and in the USFL for the New Jersey Generals. He died from brain cancer in 2013.
  • Frank Gansz, nicknamed "Crash" for his history as a jet fighter pilot who had flown combat missions, had served as a special teams coach in the college and pro ranks for decades before his unexpected ascent to the head coach position for the Kansas City Chiefs in 1987. His promotion was one of the stranger ones in the annals of the NFL; his predecessor, John Mackovic, had just broken the Chiefs' 15-year playoff drought, but he had constantly clashed with ownership and players alike and most had attributed their success to special teams unit (which scored all 24 of the Chiefs points in the regular season finale). Mackovic was fired, and Gansz rose from relative obscurity to the HC position of the team... at which point his past life was given much closer media scrutiny. As it turned out, Gansz had lied about (or at least greatly exaggerated) many parts of his resume, both regarding his coaching and pilot careers; notably, while he had flown some planes during his Navy service, they had almost all been training flights and none were anywhere close to combat zones.note  This controversy, coupled with a very poor win record, led to Gansz being fired after two seasons, though he continued to land assistant spots for years (including with the Super Bowl-winning St. Louis Rams). He passed away in 2009.
  • Jon Gruden was the youngest HC in the NFL when he was hired by the Oakland Raiders in 1998. Gruden revived the team's prospects, and his personality fit with the cultivated "bad boy" Raiders image; he quickly earned the nickname "Chucky" for his reddish hair, fiery temperament, and the psychotic scowl he frequently sported on the sidelines. In a very rare move, the Raiders agreed to trade Gruden to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2002 for cash and draft picks. This backfired in incredibly dramatic fashion, as Gruden took the Bucs to a Super Bowl victory against his former team in his very first year. Gruden became known as something of a quarterback guru, as he frequently revitalized the career of older veterans (Rich Gannon, Brad Johnson) or got better-than-expected performances out of late-round draft picks. However, inconsistent performance in the years after the Super Bowl led to him being fired after 2008. From 2009-17, he served as the color commentator for ESPN's Monday Night Football and gained fame for his popular pre-Draft show Jon Gruden's QB Camp. Rumors circulated every offseason that some team would hire Gruden to be their HC, leading to inevitable comparisons between Gruden and John Madden, as both won Super Bowls as head coaches before entering careers in broadcasting at relatively young ages. Gruden actually followed through, returning to the Raiders in 2018 under a massive ten-year contract (with a no-trade clause). However, Gruden was forced to resign early in the 2021 season after a number of his emails containing racist, misogynist, and homophobic language (much of it directed towards NFL owners and Commissioner Goodell) were leaked to the press, which also led to the Buccaneers removing his name from their Ring of Honor.
  • George Preston Marshall was the founder and longtime owner of the Washington Redskins. Marshall was known for using many innovations to build his fan base (e.g. gala halftime shows and cheerleaders) and for pushing for rule changes to make the game more exciting. However, he was also the NFL's leading bigot for 40 years. Marshall not only named his team the Redskins but was also a leading figure in organizing the so-called "gentlemen's agreement" that kept black players out of the NFL from 1933 until 1946. Even after this agreement caved, Marshall was such a bigot (and was so desperate to cater to his bigoted white Southern fanbase) that he refused to sign black players for well over a decade, even when the team failed to make a single playoff during that time. It took until 1962 for the team to desegregate when the government literally forced him to (they owned the stadium he was leasing); they drafted the first black Heisman winner, Ernie Davis, with their #1 pick, only for Davis to refuse to play for the league's most racist franchise. The next year, Marshall was still inducted into the Hall of Fame as part of its charter class just before he suffered a debilitating stroke that left him legally incompetent to run the team in the final years of his life. In 2020, after a protest group defaced a statue of Marshall in the wake of the killing of George Floyd, the organization he had founded removed his name from their Ring of Fame shortly before dropping the "Redskins" name entirely. Despite calls for his removal, he remains a member of the Hall of Fame.
  • Urban Meyer was a dominant college coach, posting one of the best win percentages in FBS history as an HC, being credited with popularizing the "spread option" offense, and winning national championships at Florida and Ohio State. However, even during his college years, Meyer was subject of controversies at many of his schools for fostering toxic workplace environments, to the point where him "retiring" due to alleged health issues after a scandal only to return to broadcasting or coaching shortly after almost became a Running Gag. The Jacksonville Jaguars hired Meyer in 2021, believing he would continue his winning ways at the pro level and finally turn around the franchise, which had just drafted generational QB prospect Trevor Lawrence with the #1 pick. Like many coaches on this list, his style failed to translate to the pros, but that's putting it mildly. Meyer turned the Jaguars into a media circus throughout the season with questionable hires of his former college assistants and players (most notably trying out Tim Tebow as a tight end), terrible on-field production (going 2-11 and seeming to derail Lawrence's development), and, perhaps most significantly, terrible off-field decision-making. After an away loss in Cincinnati prior to the Jags' bye week, Meyer did not join the team on the flight back home in order to "visit his family" in Ohio; in reality, he attended a party at his own restaurant and was recorded fondling a woman decades his junior. Meyer was ultimately fired in the middle of the season after a number of reports leaked of terrible locker room morale allegedly caused by his dictatorial style, which included having his coaches publicly defend their records and kicking his own kicker, giving him one of the shortest and least successful HC tenures in NFL history.
  • Bobby Petrino had two decades of experience as a QB coach for multiple programs, mostly at the college level besides a brief stint with the Jaguars, before becoming a successful head coach at Louisville. In 2007, just a few months after signing a multi-million dollar 10-year contract with the school, Petrino took the HC job with the Atlanta Falcons, who were seeking to improve Michael Vick's passing ability. Just a few months after his hire, however, Vick's dogfighting scandal (see above) ended his time with the Falcons, greatly weakening the team. Though Petrino was widely unpopular in the locker room and brought the Falcons only three wins by December, he personally promised owner Arthur Blank that he would stick with Atlanta for the long run. Less than 24 hours later, he quit to take a job as HC at Arkansas with three games left in the season, signing his third long-term contract in 18 months and only informing his players through a four-sentence note left in their lockers rather than face them himself. His HC tenure is seen by many as one of the most shameful in NFL history due to his Rage Quit, Chronic Backstabbing Disorder, and Dirty Coward tendencies. His post-NFL career was somehow even worse, as he lost the Arkansas job after it came out that he had hired his much-younger mistress to work for the program. While he later had temporary success in a second stint at Louisville, that only lasted while Lamar Jackson was at QB.
  • Jerry Richardson was the founding owner of the Carolina Panthers and the first former player to own an NFL franchise since the legendary George "Papa Bear" Halas. Though he only played two seasons as a wide receiver for the Baltimore Colts, he did catch a touchdown reception in the 1959 NFL Championship. He allegedly used his bonus from winning that game to buy his first franchise in the new Hardee's fast food chain, the start of a business venture that made him a billionaire by the '90s and allowed him to purchase an NFL expansion franchise. However, his reputation plummeted after a 2018 investigation found him guilty of multiple instances of workplace sexual harassment and racism towards his employees; Richardson was fined $2.75 million by the NFL for his misconduct and was forced to sell the team.
  • Daniel Snyder is the current owner of the Washington Commanders. While he managed to keep Washington one of the most valued NFL franchises, he is also one of the most hated/ridiculed owners in the league. Snyder was a key figure in the controversy over his team's former name, as he stubbornly refused to drop the "Redskin" title that many tribes identified as a slur for years until the threat of an advertiser boycott in 2020 finally forced his hand. Even die-hard fans of the team and defenders of the old mascot struggle to defend Snyder, whose two decades as owner have seen only six winning seasons despite—or because of—his hands-on management style that often involved snapping up loads of (often past-their-prime) expensive free agents, pledging to cut back in the next offseason, and going back to his old tricks in the next offseason. Most seriously, numerous former employees, from team cheerleaders to front office staff, accused the organization of developing a toxic workplace environment under Snyder's tenure that was at best permissive of sexual harassment and discrimination. An NFL investigation determined the veracity of many of these claims, fined Snyder $10 million, and led him to step down from day-to-day management. However, he and the franchise have remained under investigation by Congress for both the harassment allegations and accusations of financial impropriety by former employees. Outside of his many critics in the football world, Snyder is also very disliked in other circles, particularly among Amusement Park fans for being the chairman of Six Flags who helped drive that chain into bankruptcy and near-extinction before being ousted.
  • Jimmy Snydernote , better known as Jimmy the Greek, was a Vegas bookmaker whose rough charm made him a popular sports commentator on CBS in the '70s and '80s and helped to popularize betting on the NFL. While sports betting was taboo in that era, Snyder got around the censors by just "guessing" the final score, which was enough for gamblers to know where he fell in relation to the money line. Snyder made frequent appearances as a bookie in media like The Cannonball Run, and "the Greek" title became synonymous with sports betting in the popular consciousness. However, he is now more infamously known for how his TV career ended. In the build-up to Super Bowl XXII, where Doug Williams was set to be the first black starting QB in the Super Bowl, and on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, he made several questionable and downright bizarre comments about African-American athletes. Snyder was promptly fired by CBS, and "the Greek" name subsequently became shorthand for being a Know-Nothing Know-It-All in shows like The Golden Girls and The Simpsons (which dedicated an entire episode to parodying him). Snyder died in 1996.
  • Mike Tice was best known for his time as the head coach of the Minnesota Vikings from 2002-05. Prior to that, An undrafted TE out of Maryland in 1981, Tice played 14 seasons for Seattle, Washington and Minnesota. Upon his retirement, he entered Minnesota's coaching ranks and was promoted to HC before the last game of the 2001 season after the firing of Dennis Green. Tice held onto the position and put up a middling record until 2005, when he became the target of an NFL investigation into a Super Bowl ticket scalping incident; he was fined $100,000 after he admitted guilt, still the highest fine ever for a coach without GM responsibilities. Tice is more infamous, however, for the 2005 "Love Boat" scandal, in which seventeen key members of the Vikings, including star QB Daunte Culpepper, took part in a crazed sex-party spanning two houseboats on Lake Minnetonka during the team's bye week. These mounting scandals conveyed a embarrassingly unprofessional culture, and Tice's contract was allowed to expire after 2005. He continued on as an assistant coach for several teams before retiring in 2018.
  • Gregg Williams had been a prominent defensive coach for numerous teams for over a decade in the NFL, including a brief stint as the HC of the Buffalo Bills, before he became DC for the New Orleans Saints in 2009 and helped lead them to a Super Bowl championship. Declining performance and conflicts with HC Sean Payton led to Williams moving to the Rams in 2012... or, at least, it would have before it was revealed by an anonymous whistleblowernote  that he spearheaded a "bounty" program, creating a pool where bonuses were paid to defensive players who seriously injured key opposing players to remove them from the game. Further investigations in "Bountygate" revealed that he had similar pools with the other teams he coached. Williams was indefinitely suspended from the league, who were trying to distance themselves from the perception of football as a blood sport. However, he was reinstated after a single season (which seemed to be a case of Easily Forgiven, as there were calls to issue him a lifetime ban) and signed a contract to become a member of the Titans' coaching staff within the day. He has since continued to bounce around the league, even briefly returning to an (interim) HC position with the Cleveland Browns after the mid-season firing of Hue Jackson (see below under "Notable Disappointments"). He again gained notoriety in 2020 while DC of the Jets, where he openly critiqued the offense of HC Adam Gase while potentially angling to replace him as interim HC, only to cost them what would have been their first win of the season with a horrifically bad defensive play call on the final play of the game when the Jets gave up a game-winning touchdown; Williams was fired the next day.

Draft Busts

Some players have gained notoriety not for any misdeeds or criminal activity, but simply for failing to perform up to the expectations of their draft position. While this happens all the time in every draft class, some are more notable than others. While generally a subjective list, here's a good rule to follow: If the player was drafted in the first round but released or traded for minimal compensation before the expiration of his rookie contract, he likely qualifies. Some successful college players who had merely servicable pro careers or who were not drafted highly can be found on the main college football page.

     Notable Quarterback Draft Busts A-O 
  • Terry Baker was a phenomenal college athlete at Oregon State, not just winning the Heisman for football but also leading the school's Basketball team to a Final Four appearance as a point guard. His potential made him the must-have #1 pick in the 1963 Draft, and he was scooped up by the Los Angeles Rams as they came off the worst season in their franchise's history. One problem: the Rams' issue was not at QB. The team had a capable starter in Zeke Bratkowski, had already taken a first round QB the prior year in Roman Gabriel, and even wound up taking another first round QB, Bill Munson, in the next draft. All three of these QBs played in the NFL for over a decade, with Gabriel eventually winning MVP. Baker, on the other hand, barely saw the field, and since the Rams wouldn't trade his rights, he wound up leaving the NFL after three seasons and played a year in the CFL before leaving pro football entirely to become a lawyer. Baker's story stands as a historic example of why roster need should sometimes be considered in draft decisions, even if it means missing a potential generational talent; the Rams missed out on a great deal of talent at other positions in that draft class, including seven future Hall of Famers.
  • Angelo Bertelli and Frank "Boley" Dancewicz were both QBs from Notre Dame drafted #1 overall by the short-lived Boston Yanks, the only now-defunct NFL franchise to have had a #1 pick; their terrible use of this gift is one reason why the team didn't last long. Bertelli won the Heisman in 1943, which he found out while in boot camp with the US Marines, having been activated to serve in World War II in the middle of his season. The Yanks wasted their first ever draft pick on him, as he served in combat operations in the Pacific through the rest of the war. While most great players in this draft class missed service due to the war, Bertelli elected to not play with the terrible Yanks after returning home in 1946, instead signing with the AAFC and playing there for a few years before entering into business (in contrast with QBs like Otto Graham and Bob Waterfield, who the Yanks passed on but went on to Hall of Fame careers after the war). The Yanks decided to roll the #1 pick dice again that year on another Notre Dame QB; Dancewicz actually did play for the Yanks for three terrible seasons before the team folded. Dancewicz and Bertelli passed away in 1985 and 1999, respectively.
  • Todd Blackledge was drafted by the Kansas City Chiefs with the #7 overall pick in 1983 out of Penn State, where he had a phenomenal college career and won a national championship. That success did not translate to the pros, where he never started more than eight games in a season, threw more INTs than TDs, and completed fewer than 50% of his passes. He was the second QB chosen out of the NFL record six who were taken in the first round of the '83 draft, and easily the least successful of them. (Elway, Kelly, and Marino all became Hall of Famers, while Ken O'Brien had a few Pro Bowl years with the Jets and even Tony Eason started a Super Bowl with the Patriots). Blackledge is considered the biggest bust in Chiefs draft history and the team did not select another QB in the first round until Patrick Mahomes in 2017, a much better investment.note  He currently serves as a color commentator for ESPN's college football broadcasts.
  • Dave Brown was selected in the first round of the 1992 Supplemental Draft by the New York Giants out of Duke. As a raw but impressive physical specimen at 6'5" 230 lbs, Brown was taken as the heir apparent to Phil Simms. He was expected to sit and learn as the team's fourth-string QB during his rookie season, but injuries to all three players ahead of him forced him into the lineup. He suffered an injury of his own after just seven pass attempts in his first game action, missing the rest of his rookie year. After Simms' retirement in 1993, Brown won the starting job for the next three seasons but struggled to a 23-30 record while throwing nine more INTs than TDs. He moved onto the Cardinals for four more seasons as a backup but never lived up to the promise of his first round selection.
  • George Cafego was the #1 overall pick of the 1940 Draft, selected by the Cardinals after being a Heisman finalist passing back at Tennessee. Cafego never wound up with the Cards, playing briefly for the Brooklyn Dodgers before entering into WWII service. He returned to the Dodgers in 1943 but was cut midseason for poor performance; he bounced around a few more teams for the next few years before retiring after 1945 and entering a lengthy career as a college assistant coach; he passed away in 1998.
  • Rich Campbell was drafted by the Green Bay Packers with the #6 overall pick in 1981 out of California. Despite the team struggling through a Dork Age era, Campbell could never wrest the starting QB job from middling journeyman Lynn Dickey and played only seven games with zero starts in his four years with the Packers. He was traded to the Los Angeles Raiders where he never played, being out of football after just five seasons. He is considered one of the biggest draft busts in Packers history and, to make matters worse, was drafted ahead of six future Hall of Famers (most notably just two picks ahead of legendary DB Ronnie Lott). Considering that only one of the 20 QBs in that draft class even made a Pro Bowl, the lesson about drafting for talent rather than role stuck with the franchise; the Packers wouldn't draft a QB in the first round until Aaron Rodgers (also out of California) in 2005, a much better return on investment.
  • Greg Cook was selected #5 overall by the Cincinnati Bengals in the 1969 Common Draft. Coming off of a decent college career at Cincinnati and notable for his powerful arm and large size relative to the era (6'4 ~220), Cook set numerous passing records as a rookie (some of which still stand today, such as those for yards per attempt and yards per completion). He led the Bengals to a 3-0 record in his first three starts before he suffered a torn rotator cuff in his throwing shoulder. Despite the injury, he powered through the season, leading the Bengals to wins over two of the AFL's best teams, the Chiefs and Raiders. He went through four surgeries after the season ended, but each proved futile as the medical technology at the time was far less advanced than it is today.note  Cook was forced to retire after a failed attempt at a comeback in 1973, and the Bengals had to replace him with a much less powerful passer, Virgil Carter. This required OC Bill Walsh to devise a new offensive scheme of short passes that became the West Coast Offense, making Cook's injury one of the more important events in NFL history. The NFL Network program NFL Top 10 labeled Cook as the biggest One-Hit Wonder of all-time. He later worked for the United Parcel Service before taking up painting and becoming a motivational speaker before passing away in 2012 at the age of 65 following a bout with pneumonia.
  • Sam Darnold was drafted #3 overall in 2017 out of USC by the New York Jets, who traded up from pick #6 to take him ahead of Josh Allen and Lamar Jackson. Widely considered the most promising QB prospect the team had drafted in decades, the Jets proceeded to waste his potential by essentially writing the textbook on how not to develop an NFL QB during his first years in the league. Already plagued by a talent-starved offense and poor coaching even before Darnold's arrival, Jets management failed to surround him with either a quality o-line or receiving corps before thrusting the 21-year-old into the starting position for Week 1, making him the youngest opening day starting QB since the merger. The result was an offense regarded as the worst in the league that forced Darnold to frequently run out of the pocket and improvise to make plays. After his rookie season, the Jets made the dubious decision of hiring Adam Gase (see his entry under "Disappointing Coaches" below). Things proceeded to go From Bad to Worse as Gase's coaching and scheming only exacerbated the problems. Darnold became a subject of multiple memes regarding his youth and inexperience, first for having to sit out three weeks from mononucleosis and then for being recorded saying he was "seeing ghosts" after throwing multiple picks. Over his three years with the Jets, he posted a below-average passer rating, threw almost as many INTs as TDs (45–39), and finished below .500 every season. With Darnold near the end of his rookie contract and new team leadership in place who sought who overhaul the roster, the Jets decided it would be best for both sides to start fresh and traded him to the Panthers for draft picksnote . While most experts and fans agreed that Darnold himself was the victim of an almost unwinnable situation in New York, poor performance and a shoulder injury led to him being benched in Carolina as well.
  • Jim Druckenmiller was drafted #26 overall in 1997 by the San Francisco 49ers out of Virginia Tech. Physically talented but considered a major developmental project, he was the first QB picked in the draft and was intended to succeed Steve Young. However, he struggled in what little time he did see the field for the 49ers, throwing just one TD to four INTs while completing a measly 40% of his passes. He was traded to the Dolphins, who were similarly seeking a successor for the aging Dan Marino, for a late round draft pick but was released during the preseason. Like fellow draft bust Tommy Maddox (see below under "Disappointments"), Druckenmiller moved to the XFL and had more success there, ranking 4th in passing yards and leading all QBs in rushing yards during the league's sole season. Unlike Maddox, Druckenmiller's NFL comeback attempt after the XFL's folding fell short. Despite some tryout offers with NFL teams, he was not signed and was out of football soon after.
  • Randy Duncan was the #1 overall pick in 1959 out of Iowa, going to the Green Bay Packers the first year after the end of the random "bonus pick" era. Duncan protested being forced to go to the worst team in the league by signing with the CFL's BC Lions instead... and therefore missed out on Vince Lombardi's first season as head coach. His refusal to join the Packers was an incredibly rare instance where whiffing on the pick undeniably benefitted the team. Duncan was cut from the CFL after two seasons, mostly sat on the bench for the AFL's Dallas Texans for a year, and was out of football entirely after that to practice law. Green Bay, on the other hand, went straight into one of the greatest dynasties in NFL history without wasting a contract on a player that might have taken the still-developing Bart Starr off the field. Duncan passed away in 2016.
  • Josh Freeman was drafted #17 overall by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2009 out of Kansas State. He had impressive size for a QB and was expected to be a franchise cornerstone. His performance fluctuated, flipping back-and-forth between setting franchise passing records one year and costing the Bucs games with costly interceptions the next. In 2013, he was benched after three games due to poor performance as well as reports of him doing cocaine before games and losing the trust of the locker room, which led to him not being selected as a captain and eventually being cut mid-season. He bounced around multiple teams for the next few seasons but never started more than one game with any of them. He attempted a comeback in the CFL but failed to catch on and retired in 2018.
  • Blaine Gabbert was drafted #10 overall in 2011 by the Jacksonville Jaguars out of Missouri. Despite a middling college career with rather pedestrian numbers, Gabbert rose on draft boards due to the potential suggested by his size and arm strength. He soon took over as starter in his rookie season, but injuries, an INT problem, and a revolving door for his coaches led to him being traded to the 49ers after just three seasons, where he got into a battle for the starting job with Colin Kaepernicknote . Gabbert has since bounced around several teams as a competent backup, just managing to get his career TD-INT ratio on the positive side while also winning a Super Bowl as a backup to Tom Brady on the 2020 Buccaneers. Still, he has never lived up to his draft status and, to make matters worse, was selected one pick ahead of three-time Defensive Player of the Year and likely future Hall of Famer J.J. Watt. He is one of the three draft bust QBs selected in the 2011 Draft's first round, along with Jake Locker and Christian Ponder (see both below).
  • Bobby Garrett was the #1 overall pick in 1954, going to the Cleveland Browns after a standout turn as the leading college passer while at Stanford. Like almost every draft pick in the NFL's early years, the Browns hadn't met with him prior to the draft, picking him off of his numbers and what they could glean from the papers. They had hoped that he would be a good successor to Otto Graham but were horrified to discover upon meeting their pick that Garrett had a terrible stutter; while his athleticism had gotten him by just fine in college, his inability to call plays in Paul Brown's much more complicated offense would be a major problem. The Browns scrambled to organize a trade with Green Bay, grouping him with a number of other players so that the Packers wouldn't investigate why they were bailing on their #1 pick before the season even started. They were likewise unable to do much with him after discovering his speech issues, and Garrett played only nine games in the pros before washing out. He would likely go down as one of the biggest #1 draft busts ever were it not for the fact that 1954 was one of the weakest draft classes evernote  and that drafting him actually helped the Browns; they had won the #1 pick out of the short-lived lottery system immediately after they had lost the NFL Championship game to the Lions, improved their roster through the trade, and went back to beat the Lions and win the Championship that season. Garrett died in 1987.
  • Harry Gilmer was the #1 overall pick in 1948, going to Washington after winning the Rose Bowl at Alabama. Despite his excellent college career as a multi-threat QB, RB, and DB, Gilmer never managed to replace the player he was drafted to succeed, Sammy Baugh, losing every game in which he served as the starting signal caller.note  Gilmer's name is often brought up by football historians as an example of how Washington's refusal to racially integrate led to them spending two decades as one of the league's worst teams; the same year he was drafted #1, African-American players like Emlen Tunnell and Joe "The Jet" Perry didn't go drafted at all, only to go on to become major stars on other teams while breaking a color barrier that stood firm in Washington for years.note  Gilmer spent the last two seasons of his playing career with the Detroit Lions before retiring in 1956; he later returned to coach the team for two losing seasons from 1965-66, where he was so unpopular with Lions fans that they pelted him with snowballs after his final game. He died in 2016.
  • Robert Griffin III was drafted #2 overall in 2012 by Washington after a Heisman-winning college career at Baylor. Initially cast as a particularly Expy-ish Expy of Michael Vick, "RG3" quickly proved immensely capable and won Offensive Rookie of the Year while taking the team to the playoffs. Unfortunately, that is also where his turn toward Glass Cannon status began, as he sustained a significant knee injury in his first playoff game (which itself may have stemmed from a less severe injury to the same knee a few weeks earlier, which the Washington coaches infamously mismanaged by allowing Griffin to play on it without medical clearance). Between the lingering effects of the knee injury (he tried to emulate Adrian Peterson by returning at the start of the following regular season), suffering a concussion, and NFL defenses catching on to the "read-option" style of offense he excelled in as a rookie, he struggled mightily in his second season. Another injury, this time a dislocated ankle, scrapped much of his third season as well. Finally, after suffering a concussion in the 2015 preseason, Griffin was made inactive for the entire regular season. He was released from Washington afterwards and signed with the Cleveland Brownsnote  in an attempt to resurrect his career, but injuries likewise derailed him there. In 2018, Griffin signed with the Ravens as a backup, with many suggesting that they kept him on the roster for three seasons just to keep other teams from using him to help them prepare for their rushing QB, Lamar Jackson. After being waived in 2021, he signed with ESPN as an analyst and commentator, though he has expressed a desire to continue playing should the opportunity arise. Opinions on his career are divided; some see him as a prime example of a one-season wonder, while others believe he could have been the real deal had it not been for the coaching staff's mismanagement of his initial injuries.
  • Ralph Guglielmi was drafted #4 overall in 1955 after a legendary career as a 4-year starter at Notre Dame. The latest in a string of high QB draft picks by Washington to attempt to replace Sammy Baugh, Guglielmi played only a single season in the nation's capital before deciding to enlist in the Air Force for three years. After dedicating the prime of his athletic career to service, he returned to Washington and was generally terrible, throwing more than twice as many INTs than TDs for three seasons before being released. He bounced around the league for a few years, retired after 1963, and passed away in 2017. Adding to his bust status, Hall of Fame QB Johnny Unitas would be drafted in the ninth round.
  • Dwayne Haskins was drafted #15 overall in 2019 by Washington out of Ohio State, where he was named a Heisman finalist after a single year as a starter. Though draftniks worried that he might lack the experience to become the solution to Washington's long struggle at the QB position, he took the starting role in his first year. Poor performance led to him being benched early the next season by new coach Ron Rivera. Though he later returned to the field after injuries to both fellow QBs, Haskins was cut after being pictured partying without a mask after a game, one of several violations he had made of the team's COVID-19 policies. His case was one of the fastest firings of a high-drafted QB in recent memory. He subsequently signed with the Steelers as a backup and had hoped to revive his career there, as he was set to potentially compete (with Mason Rudolph and Mitchell Trubisky) for the starting job in the 2022 season following Ben Roethlisberger's retirement, but he never got the chance. While training with teammates in Florida in April 2022, Haskins was fatally hit by a dump truck while crossing a highway. He was 24 years old.
  • Stuart King Hill was the #1 overall pick of the 1958 Draft (and the last #1 pick of the "bonus lottery" era), going to the Chicago Cardinals out of Rice. Hill took the starting position the following year but failed to turn the long-struggling team around, taking them to only two wins. This was the final nail in the coffin for the Cardinals' 62-year history in the Windy City; the Gridbirds left town for St. Louis the following year and shipped Hill off to the Eagles the next year. He stayed in Philly for seven-and-a-half seasons but never became the full-time starter, retired from playing football after spending 1969 back on the Cardinals' bench, and spun his experience as a backup QB into a coaching career, serving as OC for the Houston Oilers (1970-80) and New Orleans Saints (1981-86). Hill passed away in 2012.
  • George Izo was a star at Notre Dame in the late '50s, though issues with knee and ankle injuries meant that he never fully lived up to the hype surrounding his name nor lifted the Irish back to their former glory. Regardless, he was considered the best QB prospect in the 1960 Draft and was taken #2 overall by the St. Louis Cardinals. Unfortunately, he reinjured his knee in his first ever start, which required surgery and ended his rookie season. The Cards traded him to Washington the following offseason, where he served as a backup for four years before demanding a trade. He briefly saw the field in Detroit and Pittsburgh before retiring after 1966.
  • David Klingler was drafted #6 overall in 1992 by the Cincinnati Bengals out of Houston. Like fellow Houston alum Andre Ware before him, Klingler had a prolific college career, setting numerous passing records. However, also like Ware, this production did not translate to the NFL. He spent most of his first season on the bench, performed poorly as the starter in his sophomore season, suffered a shoulder and elbow injury before his third that severely reduced the strength of his once-powerful arm, and was released after his fourth. He ultimately went 4-20 as a starter; after his release, he spent two seasons a backup with the Raiders but never again started a game. Klingler is one of the many issues that plagued the Bengals in the mid-late '90s, leading to them becoming known as the "Bungles".note 
  • Ryan Leaf is often considered to be the biggest draft bust of all time, if not one of the worst NFL QBs period. He was drafted #2 overall out of Washington State by the San Diego Chargers in 1998, the pick after Peyton Manning—at the time, the two were often closely compared, and it was generally considered a coin-toss who would get picked first: Leaf was considered by many to have a stronger arm and more raw talent (though with known character issues) while Manning was considered a steady game manager with great accuracy that would perform well but not put up earthshattering numbers. Manning, of course, went on to immeasurable success. Leaf... did not. In his rookie season, he posted a passer rating of 39.0, statistically lower than if he had thrown every single pass into the ground. Even worse, San Diego traded two 1st round picks, a 2nd round pick, and two players to move up just one spot for his pick, all of which could have been spent drafting janitors and concession stand cashiers for the stadium and done less damage to the franchise; had they passed on this trade for Leaf, they would have been able to draft one of two all-time great players in Charles Woodson and Randy Moss and been in the running for several good passers the next year. Injuries, a standoffish nature with the media, and poor work ethic (he often played golf while the team's other quarterbacks studied film) drove Leaf out of San Diego after three seasons and out of the NFL entirely after one more as a backup for the Cowboys. His reputation only further declined after his time in the NFL ended, almost to the point of overshadowing his draft bust status. He eventually resurfaced as a QB coach at West Texas A&M, a position he lost after it was revealed he was using it to illegally obtain pain pills. After serving two years in Montana State Prison for felony drug possession and burglary charges, Leaf was paroled in 2014, having apparently gotten clean once and for all, and was hired by ESPN in 2019 as a college football analyst, though further legal issues likewise cost him that job.
  • Matt Leinart was drafted by the Arizona Cardinals with the #10 overall pick in 2006 out of USC, where he had a legendary college career that included winning the 2004 Heisman and BCS National Championship. According to most prognosticators, he likely would have been the #1 overall pick in 2005 had he chosen to enter the draft. However, he returned to college to attempt to win another championship but fell short, losing to Vince Young's Texas Longhorns in what is considered one of the greatest college championship games ever played. Though hopes remained high for Leinart, his rookie year was immediately derailed, first by a lengthy contract dispute that caused him to be the final draft pick to sign with his team, then when he lost the starting job to Kurt Warner. Leinart reclaimed the starting job mid-season but struggled with poor performance and injury. Warner took the starting job back in 2008 and took the Cardinals to their only Super Bowl while Leinart sat on the bench. Leinart was presumed to succeed Warner after his retirement, but he lost the 2010 preseason QB competition to journeyman Derek Anderson and was released before the start of the regular season. He bounced around as a backup for several other teams but started just one more game in that time before exiting the league in 2013.
  • Jake Locker was drafted #8 overall in 2011 by the Tennessee Titans out of Washington. Athletic and possessing a strong arm, Locker was still wildly inconsistent (including a game where he went 4/20 passing with two INTs) and injury prone in college, finishing with a losing record as starter while completing a miserable 53% of his throws. Nonetheless, the Titans selected him in the first round thanks to his sky-high potential. He played sparingly as a rookie, becoming the only QB selected in the first round in the '10s to not make a start in his rookie year. He won the starting job his second season but missed four games with a shoulder injury and finished the year 4-7 as a starter with more INTs than TDs. A foot injury claimed most of his third season, and a trio of injuries to his thumb, wrist, and shoulder disrupted his fourth. The Titans opted not to pick up his 5th year option, but Locker announced his retirement anyway. He is one of the three draft bust QBs selected in the 2011 Draft's first round, along with Blaine Gabbert (see above) and Christian Ponder (see below).
  • Chuck Long was drafted #12 overall in 1986 by the Detroit Lions. A Heisman runner-up who set most of the standing QB records at Iowa, Long took the starting job in his second year and struggled mightily, leading to him being benched in the middle of the following year before being traded to the Rams. He hardly saw the field in L.A. and was sent packing back to Detroit after just one season, at which point he ended his pro career and entered into college coaching.
  • Paxton Lynch was drafted #26 overall in 2016 out of Memphis by the Denver Broncos, who were coming off of a Super Bowl victory but lost starting QB Peyton Manning to retirement and primary backup Brock Osweiler to free agency. Lynch was considered a major project with boom or bust potential, as well as a late riser in the draft process, being talked about as a potential first rounder only in the days leading up to the draft. The Broncos traded up to get Lynch as their presumptive QB of the future, but he struggled to adapt to the pro game, failing to win the starting job in his first two seasons and playing only in injury relief. Before his third year, he was demoted to 3rd string and released during final cuts. He bounced around a few practice squads and was out of the NFL by 2020; he later tried catching on as a backup in the CFL and USFL.note 
  • E.J. Manuel was drafted #16 overall in 2013 by the Buffalo Bills out of Florida State. He was the only passer taken in the first round in a a rather weak draft, and his rookie season proved to be the only one he would play in more than 10 games. Despite his mediocre numbers, he was named the starter going into the next season but played as a backup the rest of his tenure in Buffalo. He was signed by the Raiders in 2017, appearing in only two games, and retired in 2019.
  • Todd Marinovich was drafted #24 overall in 1991 by the Los Angeles Raiders out of USC. Marinovich had a claim to fame even before starting his college career as the "ROBO QB" of California. His father served as the first strength and conditioning coach in the NFL for the Raiders (then in Oakland) where he adapted Eastern Bloc training methods for football. Even before he was born, Todd was conditioned to be the ultimate athlete. He was raised on a very strict diet (his mother was not even allowed to eat sugar or salt while pregnant with him), forbidden to indulge in normal childhood activities (such as watching cartoons), and tutored in every aspect of playing football. After a record-setting high school career, Marinovich attended USC and got his first taste of freedom away from his father. He played extremely well as a redshirt freshman, leading USC to the Pac-10 title and a Rose Bowl victory. Believed to be a Heisman favorite his next year, he instead struggled; he began skipping classes and dabbling in drugs, which led to a one-game suspension, and his play began to decline. His college career ended when he was seen on national television arguing with his coaches on the sideline. Despite these issues, he declared for the Draft and was selected by the Raiders in the first round. Unfortunately, his drug issues only worsened as a pro. After just eight starts in two seasons, he was suspended for a season by the NFL for multiple failed drug tests. The Raiders released him and no other NFL teams were willing to sign him. He had stints in the CFL and Arena Football League before retiring and becoming an artist. One more footnote: Marinovich was selected eight picks ahead of another QB who went on to start over 300 games in his lengthy career—Brett Favre.
  • Dan McGwire was drafted #16 overall by the Seattle Seahawks in 1991 after an outstanding career in San Diego State's high-volume passing attack. Standing at over 6'8", he is the tallest quarterback ever drafted and one of the tallest players overall, beaten out by only a few linemen (including Jonathan Ogden and Ed "Too Tall" Jones). Beyond his size, he was notable for his immense arm strength, with it (likely apocryphally) claimed that he once threw the ball out of his college stadium from the field during a practice. Unfortunately, this physical talent did not translate to the NFL game. After sitting behind long-time Seahawks standout Dave Krieg as a rookie, it was expected that he would take over the starting job for his second season. However, he struggled to adjust to the new offensive system, performing poorly during training camp and the preseason. He wound up as the third string QB that year, and Seattle went on to draft Rick Mirer (see below) with the #2 overall pick the following offseason. McGwire ultimately only started three games while Mirer was out from injury, completing less than 50% of his passes and throwing six INTs. He attempted to catch on elsewhere in the league but never again started a game. Like Todd Marinovich above, McGwire's bust status is made even more painful for Seahawk fans as he was drafted ahead of future Hall of Famer Brett Favre. He's also a case of Overshadowed by Awesome in his personal life; he's the younger brother of former MLB superstar Mark McGwire.
  • Cade McNown was drafted by the Chicago Bears with the #12 overall pick in 1999 out of UCLA. Leading up to the draft, he was considered both undersized (6'1", 213 lbs) and possessing less than ideal NFL arm strength to be a first round pick. Nonetheless, the Bears selected him and released incumbent starter Erik Kramer soon after. However, McNown held out deep into training camp and lost the starting job to career backup Shane Matthews. McNown started six games later in the season, struggling as he threw more INTs than TDs while completing just 54% of his passes. He was named starter for his second season but battled injuries while remaining largely ineffective, with just three wins in 15 total starts in Chicago. The following offseason, he was traded to Miami, then San Francisco, for some late round picks. Calgary's CFL team later acquired his rights, but he never signed for them. He never played another game after 2000, leading to him being considered one of the biggest busts in Bears history and emblematic of their long struggle with the QB position.
  • Rick Mirer was selected with the #2 overall pick by the Seattle Seahawks in 1993 out of Notre Dame. Mirer set records for most attempts, completions, and yards by a rookie (all three later broken by Peyton Manning). However, he never had much success outside of his rookie year, throwing more INTs (32) than TD passes (18) in his last two seasons with Seattle. In 1997, he was traded to Chicago for a first-round pick and a major contract. He flamed out with the Bears and was released after just seven games with the team. Mirer then bounced around the league, making just 18 starts with three teams in his final seven seasons. His selection stings more for Seattle fans when considering he was taken before five future Hall of Famers and three Pro-Bowl QBs.
  • Davey O'Brien was drafted #4 overall in 1939 by the Philadelphia Eagles out of TCU after one of the most accomplished careers in NCAA history, including Heisman and National Championship wins in 1938. A Texas kid through and through, the diminutive (just 5'7") passer considered quitting football but was convinced to play by Eagles Owner/Coach Bert Bell who gave him a $12,000 signing bonus, a significant amount for the time. His college success did not translate to the pros; while he led the league in some passing statistics, that willingness to throw downfield resulted in a troubling interception problem. He retired from football after just two seasons, going 2-19-1 with the Eagles while throwing just 11 TDs to 34 INTs, and began a career as a firearms instructor with the FBI. His involvement in pro football did not end there, however. He later entered the employ of oil tycoon H.L. Hunt and served as an advisor to H.L.'s son Lamar Hunt, founder of the AFL. O'Brien died from cancer in 1977.

     Notable Quarterback Draft Busts P-Z 
  • Mike Phipps was the #3 overall pick in 1970. The Purdue product was taken by the Cleveland Browns, who had traded away star receiver Paul Warfield to the Dolphins for the pick right after their fourth championship appearance in the past six seasons. This was one of the most lopsided trades ever—while Warfield became an important component of Don Shula's dominant '70s Dolphins team, Phipps threw more INTs than TDs every year he was in Cleveland. The pick that was supposed to help the Browns win another championship only brought them to the playoffs once in 1972, where they faced off against... Warfield and the Miami Dolphins, who defeated them on their way to a perfect season.note  Cleveland wouldn't see the playoffs again until 1980. Phipps was traded to the Chicago Bears and did manage to pull off one season where he put up a positive TD-INT ratio (by one touchdown) and visited the playoffs, but he collapsed even harder the next year. He retired in 1981 with a winning record as a starter, but his stats made clear his teams managed those wins despite him—he held the second-worst career passer rating ever for a quarterback with over 1,500 attempts (an abysmal 52.6) and a near 1:2 TD-INT ratio (55-108).
  • Christian Ponder was drafted #12 overall in 2011 by the Minnesota Vikings out of Florida State. A reliable three-year starter in college, Ponder possessed underwhelming physical tools and was not believed to have a high pro ceiling. Nonetheless, the Vikings surprised the draft community by taking him high, driven in large part by the 2011 NFL lockout preventing the Vikings from acquiring a veteran to replace the retired Brett Favre. After the draft, the Vikings did trade for veteran Donovan McNabb, who lost five of his six starts before the team benched him in favor of Ponder. He didn't perform much better, and the Vikings struggled to a 2-8 record with him under center. He was more successful in his second season, playing a game manager role while RB Adrian Peterson carried the offense on his way to a 2,000+ yard MVP season. However, he suffered a triceps injury in the last regular season game and was forced to miss the team's playoff loss the following week. His health and performance continued to decline in his third season as the Vikings fell to 5-10-1, and the Vikings elected not to pick up his 5th year option and drafted a replacement in Teddy Bridgewater. After serving as a backup in 2014, Ponder bounced around to several teams but never started another game. He is one of the three draft bust QBs who were selected in 2011's first round, along with Blaine Gabbert and Jake Locker (see both above). He is now known more as the husband of Samantha Ponder, current host of ESPN's Sunday NFL Countdown.
  • John Rauch was the #2 overall pick in 1949 out of Georgia, where he set several college passing records. He was drafted by the Detroit Lions but then almost immediately traded to the New York Bulldogs for their #3 pick, future Hall of Famer Doak Walker. The team also missed out on two future Hall of Fame QBs in that draft class, Norm Van Brocklin and George Blanda, though it's tough to say if either of their talents could have saved the mismanaged franchise. Rauch saw limited time as a two-way player before the Bulldogs/Yanks organization crumbled to pieces in 1951. He played out the back half of that season in Philadelphia and decided to leave pro football to go coach in college. Rauch saw more success as a coach, but... well, see below under "Disappointing Coaches".
  • John Reaves was drafted #14 overall in 1972 out of Florida by the Philadelphia Eagles after setting the NCAA record for career passing yards, though he also put up a less favorable record of nine interceptions in a single game that still has yet to be passed. Unfortunately, that latter record had the bigger impact on his NFL career, as he put up an 0-7 record in his rookie season and saw limited action in the next two years before being released and starting a career as a journeyman backup. He signed with the Bengals in 1975, rode the bench with the Vikings from 1979-80, and started two games with the Oilers in 1981. After sitting out of pro football for a year, Reaves got the chance to return to Florida and start with the Tampa Bandits in the USFL, putting up over 10,000 yards in three years but only having one season where he threw more TDs than INTs. He returned to the NFL in 1987 as a replacement player for Tampa Bay, struggled in his two games, and retired to enter coaching. He later became father-in-law to Lane Kiffin (see below under "Disappointing Coaches") before passing away in 2017.
  • Josh Rosen was drafted #10 overall in 2018 out of UCLA by the Arizona Cardinals; when interviewed about the selection, he infamously stated that "nine mistakes" had been made before him, words that came back to haunt him. Rosen stepped in as the starter early in his rookie season, and the team only secured three wins with him under center. With the #1 pick in their lap, the Cardinals opted to pick the exciting Heisman-winning prospect Kyler Murray, who they thought would fit perfectly into new coach Kliff Kingsbury's offense, rather than invest in developing Rosen. He was traded to Miami the next year, where he mostly served as a backup behind Ryan Fitzpatrick. The Dolphins then chose to pick Tua Tagovailoa in the next draft and waived Rosen after no one was willing to trade for him. He has since hopped around numerous practice squads, never coming close to a starting position. The utter collapse of his value in just two years due to circumstances largely outside his control sets him as one of the more dramatic examples of a draft bust.
  • JaMarcus Russell was the #1 overall pick in 2007 out of LSU and spent his short three-year career with the Oakland Raiders. Drug addiction and struggles with weight were major obstacles, but his poor work ethic proved the greatest detriment to his career. Infamously, he was once given a DVD with plays to study at home that was left blank to see if he would even bother to look at it; he came in the next day saying that he liked "all of them". The final straw came in 2009, where he posted a 50.0 passer rating (which was not only dead last among qualified players for the year, but the lowest qualified passer rating since Ryan Leaf in 1998)note . He was subsequently cut from the team, and though he sent letters to every NFL team offering to play a season for free, no one wanted to sign him. Russell could seriously rival Ryan Leaf as the biggest first-round bust of all time, if only because the Raiders spent more money to sign him than the Chargers did for Leaf and used the #1 picknote . Also not helping his case is that he was part of one of the most stacked draft classes ever, taken ahead of first-ballot Hall of Famer Calvin Johnson and likely future Hall of Famers Joe Thomas, Adrian Peterson, and Oakland native Marshawn Lynch (who, incidentally, is Russell's cousin).
  • Jack Scarbath was a Heisman runner-up at Maryland who was drafted #3 overall by Washington in 1953 to succeed Sammy Baugh. He struggled mightily, even by the standards of the day, completing barely a third of his passes in his two seasons as a starter. The team's prospects revived after Eddie LeBaron took over, and Scarbath was cut; he played one more game in Pittsburgh before retiring from pro football. Washington missed out on seven Hall of Fame players in his historically rich draft class. He died in 2020.
  • George Shaw was the #1 overall pick in 1955, going to the Baltimore Colts out of Oregon. Shaw had a middling rookie season, his only full year as a starter. He broke his leg early in his second, leading to him being replaced by some obscure bench player named Johnny Unitas. Shaw played a few more years as a backup in Baltimore and with the Giants; he later signed with the Minnesota Vikings as their first ever starting QB, though that didn't even last a half a game before he was once again replaced by a future career passing leader, Fran Tarkenton. He retired in 1962 after a year with the AFL's Broncos.
  • Heath Shuler was drafted #3 overall by Washington in 1994 after a successful career at Tennessee that culminated with placing second in voting for the Heisman. In a somewhat unusual move, the team selected another QB later in that same draft, Gus Frerotte, in the 7th round. Shuler held out in a contract dispute as a rookie, then played poorly when he finally did see the field. By their third season, fan and media support were firmly behind Frerotte, who won the starting job and led the team to a winning record. The following offseason, Shuler was traded the Saints, where he put up even worse statistics as he threw 2 TDs to 14 INTs. A foot injury cost him his second season with the Saints, after which he signed with the Raiders, re-injured his foot, and ended his career with more than twice as many picks as touchdowns. Ultimately, neither he nor Frerotte amounted to much; Frerotte became infamous himself for spraining his own neck after intentionally headbutting a cement wall in a TD celebration. While Washington fans were fighting between two different draft picks who both failed to take the franchise back to their prior levels of success, the most accomplished QB of their class, Kurt Warner, went undrafted. Shuler later served in the US Congress as a representative from North Carolina.
  • Steve Spurrier was a Heisman-winning QB for Florida in the '60s who was drafted #3 overall in 1967, one pick ahead of future Hall of Fame QB Bob Griese and ahead of nine other future Hall of Famers. Despite the San Francisco 49ers trading up to get him, the team kept Spurrier on the bench for most of his first five seasons. When he stepped in after starter John Brodie suffered an ankle injury in 1973, he played well and claimed the starting position for a few games, only to lose it after throwing three picks in a single half, being benched, and watching Brodie reclaim his spot with a comeback run. After a few more years on the bench, he was traded to the new Tampa Bay Buccaneers to be the franchise's first starting QB. Any excitement over Spurrier returning to play near his alma mater quickly fizzled out as the Bucs went winless in that first season thanks to one of the worst offenses in NFL history—Spurrier was cut, failed to catch on with any other teams, and ended his pro football career. He had much more success as a college coach, which brought him back to the NFL in the early '00s—for more on that, see his entry below under "Disappointments".
  • Kelly Stouffer was drafted #6 overall in 1987 out of Colorado State by the Phoenix Cardinals. Considered an athletic prospect with a strong arm, he was drafted ahead of four future Pro Bowl QBs and future Hall of Fame CB Rod Woodson. However, he never played for the Cardinals, as he and the team failed to agree to terms on a contract. He intended to hold out until the 1988 Draft, where he could be selected by another team, but the Cardinals traded his rights to the Seattle Seahawks, who convinced him to sign. Stouffer failed to wrest the starting job from veteran Dave Kreig and spent much of his four years in Seattle on the bench. He was released after starting 16 games in that time, going 5-11 as starter while throwing just 7 TDs to 19 INTs and putting up an poor 54.5 passer rating. He signed for brief stints with the Dolphins and as part of the expansion Panthers but did not see action for either and was out of football by 1996.
  • Jerry Tagge was selected #11 overall (and the first QB) in 1972 out of Nebraska, where he led the team to consecutive national championships, going to the Green Bay Packers as the replacement for the retiring Bart Starr. However, Tagge started just 12 games in his three seasons with the team, throwing just 3 TDs to 17 INTs while completing less than 50% of his pass attempts. When Starr returned to the Packers as head coach in 1975, one of his first moves was to cut Tagge. He moved on to start in the short-lived WFL and CFL but never returned to the NFL. Tagge's selection is considered one of the first dominoes that fell leading to the Green Bay's "NFL Siberia" era during the '70s and '80s, where they had only four winning seasons; while only one of the QBs picked in 1972 had Pro Bowl-level success, his selection two picks ahead of Hall of Fame RB Franco Harris still stings.
  • The Tedford Five are five quarterbacks drafted in the first round from the late '90s into the early '00s who were coached by Jeff Tedford in college and failed to live up to expectations once in the NFL. Tedford coached at Fresno State, Oregon, and Cal-Berkeley, where he developed future first round selections Trent Dilfer (1994 #6 overall pick to Tampa), Akili Smith (1999 #3 overall pick to Cincinnati), David Carr (2002 #1 overall pick to Houston), Joey Harrington (2002 #3 overall pick to Detroit), and Kyle Boller (2003 #19 overall pick to Baltimore). All had outstanding college careers in Tedford's system but failed to live up to the expectations of being first round draft choices in the NFL. Their collective win record as NFL starters is just 98-127 (.436), they combined for a completion percentage of 54.6%, threw more INTs (230) than TD passes (202), and posted an anemic combined QB rating 68.6. The NFL's backlash toward the failures of Tedford's QBs likely greased the rails for Aaron Rodgers' (who played at Cal under Tedford) draft day slide to #24 overall. Rodgers ultimately bucked the trend (winning a Super Bowl and four league MVP awards), but was ironically the last first round pick QB produced by Tedford (who was later fired from Cal, served as an NFL OC for a time, then returned to Fresno State as head coach... twice).
    • Trent Dilfer is often considered the worst starting QB to ever win a Super Bowl, winning XXXV with the Baltimore Ravens during his only season with the team. He spent his first six years in Tampa and had one Pro Bowl season, but his play was very inconsistent and he wasn't resigned after his rookie contract expired. He signed with the Ravens in 2000 and was extremely fortunate to be in the right place at the right time; as a game manager of an extremely limited, run-heavy offense, Dilfer basically just had to avoid mistakes thanks to having one of the NFL's most dominating defensive units of all time. Tellingly, he is the only Super Bowl-winning QB who was not retained by his team the following season. He spent the next four years backing up Matt Hasselback in Seattle, during which time he tragically lost his five-year-old son to heart disease and fell into a deep depression. Dilfer spent a few more years as a backup in Cleveland and San Francisco before retiring in 2007 and entering a career as an analyst.
    • Akili Smith was previously drafted by MLB's Pittsburgh Pirates in the 7th round and spent three years in the minor leagues before returning to football at Oregon. Despite only making 11 starts in college, the Bengals were very high on Smith. The Saints, who were looking to trade up for Ricky Williams, offered the Bengals all of their 1999 draft picks as well as two from the 2000 Draft, but the team refused because they wanted to make sure they landed Smith. Smith missed nearly all of his rookie training camp due to a contract dispute, and when he did arrive was not diligent in film study and failed to grasp the playbook. In four years in Cincy, he only started 17 games and finished with an abysmal 5-13 TD-INT ratio. He attempted to catch on in NFL Europe (becoming the highest drafted player to ever play in the league) and the CFL but flamed out in both. In addition to passing on the massive haul of draft picks offered by the Saints, the Bengals also missed on a number of other excellent players, as seven of the eight players drafted immediately after Smith went on to make at least one Pro Bowl (including Hall of Famers Edgerrin James and Champ Bailey).
    • David Carr was the first draft pick in the Houston Texans' history and became the starting QB right away, leading the Texans to an upset win over the Cowboys in week one (becoming only the second expansion team in league history to win their first game). However, Carr never really got a chance to show what he was capable of, as the lack of talent around him, particularly on the o-line, quickly became apparent: Carr was sacked an NFL record 76 times in his rookie year (somehow managing to start all 16 games despite this).note  In his five years as starter with the Texans, he never had a winning season, threw more INTs than TDs in three of the seasons, and was the most sacked QB in the NFL three more times. In large part due to the number of sacks he endured, Carr became the epitome of a "captain checkdown" QB, quickly getting the ball out of his hands with low-risk short passes that bogged down many drives. Released after his fifth season, he bounced around to several teams as backup, including the New York Giants' Super Bowl XLVI championship squad (he did not attempt a pass that season), and was out of football after 2012. His reputation as a bust was so infamous that many believe it contributed to the draft-day slide of his brother, Raiders QB Derek Carr, who fell to the early second round of the 2014 draft.
    • Joey Harrington, selected two picks after David Carr, was heralded by local Detroit media as a "savior" for the long-suffering franchise. However, he struggled with turnovers during his Lions tenure, including a league-leading 22 INTs thrown in his second season. He also struggled to push the ball down the field with deep passes, finishing among the lowest in yards-per-attempt each season. After four sub-par years and a coaching staff overhaul, he was traded to Miami in the final year of the tumultuous Nick Saban era and continued to struggle. He next signed with Atlanta as a free agent the following offseason, where he was expected to back up superstar Michael Vick before he was arrested for his part in a dog-fighting scandal (see his entry under "Notorious Players" above), thrusting Harrington into the starting role once again. After another poor season in Atlanta, he briefly signed with New Orleans, was released, and out of football soon after. Both Carr and Harrington were drafted well before future Hall of Fame safety Ed Reed.
    • Kyle Boller was noted for his incredible arm strength, notably throwing a football through the uprights from a kneeling position on the 50-yard during his college pro day. He managed to post a winning record as starter over his first two seasons while, like Trent Dilfer above, being the caretaker of a run-heavy Ravens offense, though the team failed to make the playoffs either season. Boller missed significant time during his third season to injury, prompting the Ravens to trade for Titans star QB Steve McNair, who led the Ravens to a 13-3 record and a playoff appearance. Boller took back the starting job after McNair was injured the following season, performing poorly until McNair was able to return from injury. Boller was hurt during the preseason of his fifth year in the league, was placed on injured reserve, and was not retained after the expiration of his rookie contract. He bounced around to several more teams as a backup, only starting five games in four more seasons in the league, losing them all.
  • Jack Thompson earned the nickname "The Throwin' Samoan" while breaking NCAA passing records at Washington State. He was drafted by the Cincinnati Bengals #3 overall in 1979, 79 picks ahead of Joe Montana, but failed to measure up to his prior success, spending most of his first four seasons in the NFL on the bench behind a resurgent Ken Anderson. His ultimately pointless drafting was especially unfortunate for Cincinnati, since it meant the competitive team wasted a pick that they could have used on a future Hall of Famer at another position like Kellen Winslow or Dan Hampton that may have gotten them over the hump; as it was, Thompson got to sit on the bench and watch Montana and his 49ers defeat Cincinnati in Super Bowl XVI. He was traded to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 1983 for a first round pick and finally got to start for most of the season; the Bucs went 2-14, and Thompson was out of the NFL after the following year.
  • Frank Tripucka had a bizarre career. Drafted #9 overall out of Notre Dame in 1949 by the Eagles, he was traded to the Lions during the preseason, put up a mediocre performance as a passer and punter, and was gone after a single year (both teams missed out on drafting future Hall of Fame QBs Norm Van Brocklin and George Blanda). He spent a few seasons as a backup for the Chicago Cardinals, then was traded in the middle of the 1952 season to the disintegrating Dallas Texans, throwing two TDs to 17 INTs in his last six games. His NFL career thoroughly washed, Tripucka went north to the CFL's Saskatchewan Roughriders; since CFL teams had a limit on the number of American players they could use in a season, he served as a coach until injuries to all of their QBs led him to step in, winning some pointless games that the Riders still had to forfeit. He played in Canada for seven seasons but had the chance to return to the States in 1960 with the introduction of the AFL, becoming the first starting QB for the Denver Broncos. He contributed to the Broncos' early struggles by throwing 34 picks in the first season (a then-record and still the third highest ever), but he also led the AFL in passing yards and would have broken the single-season record if Johnny Unitas hadn't just edged him out in the NFL the same year. Inexplicably, he was named an AFL All-Star in 1962, the year before he lost the starting position and retired from football after 15 seasons in the pros. Even more inexplicably, the Broncos franchise decided to retire his #18, reviving it only for Peyton Manning decades later, shortly before Tripucka passed away in 2013.note 
  • Mitchell Trubisky was drafted #2 overall by the Chicago Bears in 2017 after a trade up. During his college career at North Carolina, he started only 13 games before declaring for the draft and was seen as a raw prospect with considerable upside. He took over as starter early in his rookie season and showed flashes of potential in an otherwise down year. Entering his second season, the team hired offensive guru Matt Nagy from the Chiefs as their new HC and found immediate success, going 12-4 while Trubisky became the Bears' first Pro Bowl QB since 1986. Unfortunately, he regressed in his third season and was benched just three games into his fourth (though he re-entered the starting lineup later in the season following an injury to his replacement, Nick Foles). He ended his Bears rookie contract with a winning record as starter and having thrown more TDs than INTs, which would normally mark a quarterback as a disappointment at worst rather than an outright bust. However, his average play was still enough to make him one of the biggest draft busts in Bears history when compared to that of the two other QBs he was drafted ahead of—generational talents Patrick Mahomes and Deshaun Watson. He spent 2021 in Buffalo as a backup before signing with the Steelers to replace retired legend Ben Roethlisberger.
  • Steve Walsh was drafted with the second pick of the 1989 Supplemental Draft out of Miami by the Dallas Cowboys, one of the most surprising moves in NFL Draft history as Dallas had just used the #1 overall pick in the '89 Draft on Troy Aikman.note  Head coach Jimmy Johnson had coached Walsh at Miami and reportedly favored him for the starting job. Despite this, Aikman won the role, and Walsh only saw the field in relief after Aikman suffered a broken finger. While Walsh recorded the Cowboys' only win in his rookie year, Aikman had established himself as the team's starter, starting a trend of Walsh being replaced by flashier talent immediately after showing signs of promise. He was traded to the Saints the following season, where their starting QB Bobby Hebert was holding out in a contract dispute. Walsh started 11 games in his first year with the Saints and earned them a playoff berth but lost the job when Hebert returned the following season and was released two seasons later. He again visited the postseason as the starter for the Chicago Bears in 1994, going 8-3 and even winning a playoff game as a capable game manager, but again lost the starting role the following year. He bounced around as a backup to several other teams and never again landed a permanent starting job. He retired from playing in 1999 but returned to football as a coach after a few years in banking; he currently is a QB coach in the CFL.
  • Andre Ware was drafted #7 overall by the Detroit Lions in 1990 after becoming the first African-American QB to win the Heisman at Houston. Ware set 26 NCAA passing records while playing in Houston's passing-heavy "Run & Shoot" offense, but his transition to the NFL's more conservative, run-heavy offensive style went poorly and he struggled to even win the backup job in Detroit, much less start. He ended up only starting six games for the Lions in four seasons and failed to catch on anywhere else in the league. He eventually had a little more success in the CFL and then in NFL Europe but never again played in the NFL.note 
  • Vince Young was hailed as the "LeBron James of Texas" for how much attention he got even as a high school player in the state. Come the 2006 Draft, after a legendary college career at Texas, the Tennessee Titans wanted a QB and had multiple optionsnote . Ownership and management wanted Young for his sky high potential and massive star power, so the Titans selected him with the #3 overall pick. He initially found success in the NFL, going 8-5 as a starter, winning Offensive Rookie of the Year, and being placed on the cover of Madden NFL 08 before his second season. However, injuries, an interception problem, and conflicts with Fisher led to Young losing much of his love of the game. He struggled mightily during his second season, then injured his knee in the first game of his third, leading to veteran Kerry Collins (see below under "Disappointing Players") taking the starting position and leading the Titans to a 13-3 record. Collins kept the job into the next season, with Young only regaining it at the urging of Titans owner Bud Adams after the team's abysmal 0-6 start and a 59-0 blowout against the Patriots. Young played well enough to earn a spot in the Pro Bowl as an injury replacement and nearly won Comeback Player of the Year. However, he regressed again the following season and, after storming out of the locker room following an altercation with Fisher, never again started for the Titans. He was released and signed as a backup with the Philadelphia Eagles in 2011, winning his first start for the Eagles but struggling mightily in his next two, culminating with a 1 TD to 4 INT performance against the Seahawks that proved to be his final start. He was released the following offseason, and while he signed with a few other teams in the coming years, he never again made a regular season roster in the NFL. He attempted a comeback in the CFL in 2017, in part due to serious personal financial issues, but injury ended that before it got started. For all of the exciting moments of hype and promise and despite having a winning record as a starter, Young spent only six seasons in the NFL and ended with more INTs than TDs.

     Other Notable Offensive Draft Busts 
  • Harry Babcock was the #1 overall pick in 1953, going to the San Francisco 49ers after a solid but not highly decorated career as an end at Georgia. The Niners were potentially attempting to emulate the Detroit Lions, who were in the midst of an extended championship run after taking end Leon Hart #1 overall in 1950. It didn't pay off; Babcock was cut by the Niners after three seasons in which he put up zero starts and caught just 16 passes for 181 yards. He'd likely be known as one of the bigger draft busts ever, coming before seven future Hall of Fame players, but the Niners lucked out by later catching one of them (Bob St. Clair) and quickly signing another (John Henry Johnson), though one has to wonder if they would have been better contenders in the '50s with a more judicious pick at #1. It was another decade before a receiving end was taken at #1 (Dave Parks, also by San Francisco, though he had a fairly decent career).
  • Ricky Bell had one of the saddest careers of any NFL player. The Heisman runner-up RB was taken with the #1 overall pick of the 1977 Draft by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers after their winless inaugural season. His selection was immediately criticized, as the Bucs passed up on the actual Heisman winner, Tony Dorsett, seemingly just because HC John McKay had coached Bell at USC. Dorsett was scooped up by the Cowboys with the next pick and went on to a Hall of Fame career, while Bell largely struggled outside of a single 1,000+ yard season. This was largely due to Bell having a rare illness, dermatomyositis, which caused weight loss, muscle pain, severe skin rashes, and heart problems. He was traded to the Chargers in 1982, cut soon after, and died from the illness just two years later at age 29. Mario Van Peebles portrayed Bell in a 1991 TV movie, A Triumph of the Heart.
  • Jay Berwanger was the first ever NFL Draft pick, selected #1 overall by the Philadelphia Eagles in 1936 after winning the first ever Heisman Trophy (then called the "Downtown Athletic Club Trophy") as a HB for the University of Chicago. He was also technically the first ever draft bust, since he never played for the Eagles or any pro team. Eagles' owner Bert Bell, who had invented the Draft just to help out his suffering team, was unable to meet his salary demands of $1,000 a game, roughly $17,000 in today's money, and ultimately missed out on four future Hall of Famers. Berwanger was traded to the Chicago Bears, who also did not meet his salary demands, and he entered into a career as a plastics manufacturer after failing to qualify for the Olympics. Turning down a high draft selection was actually quite common in the NFL's early years, as playing pro football wasn't the lucrative career it is nowadays and many of the best collegiate football players were multi-sport stars who chose to play baseball, which was more prestigious and better paying at the time. However, Berwanger is still the only #1 pick who voluntarily never played pro football at all, and he later expressed regret for not signing up with the Bears and missing out on their run of championships in the early '40s. He died of lung cancer in 2002.
  • Jahvid Best was a RB drafted #30 overall in 2010 by the Detroit Lions out of California. He was an electric runner for his first two seasons in college before becoming a Glass Cannon in his third season, suffering concussions in back-to-back games that caused him to miss the rest of the season. At the Combine, he put an impressive 40-yard dash time of 4.35 seconds, the sixth fastest time of all players and fastest among running backs. In his rookie year, he showed flashes of his talent early in the season but was hampered by a turf toe injury. More concussions ended his career six games into the next season. He later made a comeback as a track and field athlete, representing Saint Lucia in the 2016 Olympic Games, becoming the first former NFL player to participate in the Summer Olympics.
  • Justin Blackmon was a WR drafted #5 overall in 2012 by the Jacksonville Jaguars out of Oklahoma State. A two-time winner of the Biletnikoff Award (which goes to the nation's top WR), he was considered to have sky-high potential thanks to his combination of speed and athleticism. Blackmon put up a solid performance in 14 starts as a rookie but received a four-game suspension after testing positive for marijuana during his second season. During the offseason prior to his third year in the league, he was arrested during a traffic stop for possession of marijuana, which subjected him to another suspension. Blackmon attended rehab in preparation for a return to the NFL but was then arrested for DUI, derailing his comeback effort. He remains under indefinite suspension to this day.
  • Felix "Doc" Blanchard and Glenn Davis were one of the most acclaimed FB-HB combos in college football history, with both winning a Heisman in 1945 and '46, respectively, and likewise were high draft picks (#3 overall for Blanchard in '46 and #2 for Davis in '47), with both the Lions and Steelers figuring that the Army would be willing to grant the star athletes furloughs to continue to play now that the nation was entering peacetime. No such luck; both were obliged to serve. Blanchard became a fighter pilot who flew numerous combat missions for decades. Davis did briefly join the NFL after his obligation was complete, but not for the team that drafted him; he put up a single Pro Bowl season for the Rams in 1950 before retiring the next year due to a knee injury. NFL teams learned their lesson from this: subsequent Heisman winners from military academies like Pete Dawkins, Joe Bellino, and Roger Staubach were drafted with low picks if at all. Davis and Blanchard passed away in 2005 and 2009.
  • Kyle Brady was a TE drafted #9 overall by the New York Jets in 1995 out of Penn State who was part of one of the all-time infamous draft moments. While a quality prospect as a dual threat receiver/blocker, the Jets fans in attendance at the draftnote  wanted the team to select star Miami DT Warren Sapp, who was falling due to reports of failed drug tests. They drowned out the commissioner's announcement of the pick with "we want Sapp" chants, then loudly booed Brady and his mother as they went on stage to meet the commissioner. Brady had a chance to prove the fans wrong, but he never became a star. Although he was a starter for most of his 13-year career (with the Jets, Jaguars and Patriots), he was mostly used as a blocking tight end. Brady retired with 3,500 receiving yards for 25 touchdowns. Sapp, of course, went on to be selected #12 by the Buccaneers and had a Hall of Fame career, while the Bucs also picked up another Hall of Famer at #28 in LB Derrick Brooks. Brady currently works as an analyst for the Big 10 Network.
  • Derek Brown was a TE drafted #14 overall by the New York Giants in 1992 out of Notre Dame. Despite his size and athleticism, the receiving prowess he displayed in college did not translate to the pro game. Though active for every game in his first two seasons, he rarely saw the field and only totaled 11 catches. By his third season, Brown exclusively played special teams and was left "unprotected" by the Giants in the 1995 expansion draft where he was selected by the Jaguars. However, he missed the entire season after a preseason injury and only managed 39 catches with a single TD in two more seasons in Jacksonville. He was released, bounced around to Oakland and Arizona, and was out of football soon after. Though he came out of a draft class already known for being one of the weakest ever, Brown is still considered one of the biggest busts at his position.
  • Larry Burton was an Olympic sprinter at Purdue prior to being drafted #7 overall in 1975 by the New Orleans Saints. The first receiver off the board, Burton's selection immediately became notorious when his head coach expressed regret for drafting him on the day of the draft.note  Burton failed to live up to his huge draft stock, putting up around 300 yards in his first two seasons before his third was wiped out by injury. He was traded to the Chargers but saw only spot duty and retired from play two years later. His biggest impact in the NFL turned out to be through his son, undrafted TE Trey Burton, who threw the famous "Philly Special" TD to Nick Foles in Super Bowl LII.
  • Ki-Jana Carter was a RB drafted #1 overall by the Cincinnati Bengals in 1995 after a dominant college career at Penn State. However, he tore his ACL on his 3rd carry in the first preseason game of his rookie year. He missed that entire season and never again played at the level he demonstrated in college. He made several comeback attempts but suffered a season-ending injury three more times, ultimately starting just 14 games. When discussing What Could Have Been situations with major draft busts, expect his name to come up; he was drafted ahead of five Hall of Famers (including two all-time great running backs, Curtis Martin and Terrell Davis) and several star QBs that might have fixed one of the Bengals' biggest recurring roster problems in the '90s. Carter is also the last RB to be selected #1 overall.
  • Eugene Chung was a guard selected #13 overall by the New England Patriots in the historically weak 1992 Draft out of Virginia Tech, becoming the first player of Korean descent to be selected in the NFL Draft. Though he played offensive tackle in college, he was projected to guard in the NFL, a position rarely selected that high. While he assumed a starting role early in his rookie season, he struggled badly over the next two years and lost his starting job completely by his third season. In 1995, the Patriots left him unprotected in the expansion draft, where he was selected by the Jaguars. He did not start a single game with Jacksonville, was released after one season, signed with the Colts, and again did not start a game. He was out of football after one year in Indy and went down as perhaps the biggest bust in Patriots history. Chung went on to an assistant coaching career that has included stints on the Eagles and Chiefs. In 2021, he triggered a completely different controversy when he told a Boston Globe reporter that he had been told he was "not the right minority" when interviewing for an assistant's position with an unnamed NFL team.
  • Ron Dayne was a RB drafted #11 overall by the New York Giants in 2000 out of Wisconsin, where he left as the NCAA's all-time leading rusher (since surpassed as his bowl game statistics are considered unofficial) and won the Heisman in 1999. Dayne was known for his bruising running style and massive size (weighing in at over 250 lbs), which led the Giants to believe that he'd be an ideal compliment to Tiki Barber in a "thunder and lightning" backfield. His college success did not translate to the pro game, however, where he averaged just 3.5 YPC in his four years with the Giants. His weight also ballooned (with some reports claiming he was over 270 lbs), and his coaches became frustrated with Dayne's unwillingness to address it. His carries decreased each year until he was released by the team, catching on with the Broncos and Texans for brief stints. For a player who entered the league so decorated, Dayne is now considered one of the biggest busts in Giants history.
  • Glenn Dobbs was a Jack-of-All-Trades runner and passer drafted #3 overall by the Chicago Cardinals in 1943 out of Tulsa. Like so many from his era, WWII military service prevented him from playing. Unlike many of his peers, he performed very well after returning from service, winning two MVP honors... with the AAFC and WIFU (precursor to the CFL). He went on to a successful college coaching career before passing away in 2002.
  • Robert Edwards was a RB drafted out of Georgia by the New England Patriots with the #18 overall pick in 1998, passing on Randy Moss in the process. Edwards initially rewarded the investment, rushing for over 1,000 yards as a rookie, tacked on 31 receptions, and scored 12 total touchdowns. His success earned him an invite to the league's rookie beach flag football game during Pro Bowl week in Hawaii. Unfortunately, he suffered a severe knee injury during the game, nearly requiring amputation below the knee. He missed three seasons due to the injury, was released by the Patriots, and attempted a comeback with Miami before ultimately landing in the CFL for several seasons. Edwards stands out as a prime example of a one-season wonder due to the injury. Notably, the rookie flag football event has not been played since.
  • Troy Edwards shattered college receiving records in 1998 (he still holds the records for single season receiving TDs and single-game receiving yards), and the Pittsburgh Steelers drafted him #13 overall the following year hoping that he could become as big a star as the last player they drafted from Louisiana Tech, Terry Bradshaw. Edwards had a decent rookie season, but his targets and production declined precipitously the next two seasons with the rise of Hines Ward and Plaxico Burress. Edwards publically expressed his displeasure with the situation in a radio interview and was subsequently traded... to the Rams, who had an even more stacked receiving corps. He was out of St. Louis in a year and played three more unspectacular seasons with Jaguars and Lions before washing out of the NFL.
  • Bob Fenimore was the #1 overall pick in 1947 and the first of the "bonus" picks awarded via lottery rather than to the worst team in the league. As chance had it, that bonus pick went to the Chicago Bears, who were coming off of their fourth championship win that decade, immediately proving what a bad idea the whole system was. Fortunately for the rest of the league, the Bears got nothing off of this pick; while Fenimore had led the nation in offensive production twice as a HB at Oklahoma A&M (now Oklahoma State) and set several still-standing school records on both sides of the ball, he had sat out almost all of 1946 due to injuries. The Bears hoped that year gave him time to recover, but it wasn't to be. Fenimore played just ten games for Chicago before retiring and becoming an insurance salesman, the "Monsters of the Midway" dynasty came to a close, and the Bears didn't win another league title for 15 years.
  • Ereck Flowers was an o-lineman drafted #9 overall by the New York Giants in 2015 out of Miami. Despite his massive size (6'6", 340 lbs), he was considered very raw and needing to develop his technique, yet was immediately inserted as the Giants starting LT. He struggled mightily, giving up a league-high 169 pressures over his first three seasons while also being among the leading o-linemen in committing penalties. The Giants refused to move Flowers to another position or bench him despite his struggles in both pass and run blocking handicapping their entire offense. Two weeks into the 2018 season, the Giants finally benched and then released him after failing to find a trade partner. After a stint in Jacksonville, he signed with Washington in 2019 where he was moved to guard. Much like Robert Gallery before him (see below), he performed better at that position, earning a big contract with the Dolphins in the 2020 offseason. Despite starting 14 games for Miami that season, he was traded back to Washington in 2021 for an exchange of late round draft picks to continue his disappointing career. Making matters worse for Giants fans, multi-time Pro Bowl guard Andrus Peat was selected just four picks after Flowers.
  • Robert Gallery was an o-lineman drafted #2 overall by the Oakland Raiders in 2004 out of Iowa. Considered a "can't miss" prospect, Gallery received some of the highest grades ever given to a prospect leading up to the draft at a position generally considered "safe" to select with a high draft pick. He started his Raiders career at right tackle, where his play was mediocre; when moved to left tackle in 2006, he surrendered 3 sacks in his first game. In 2007, he was moved inside to the left guard position, where his performance actually improved. He played that position for several more seasons in Oakland before signing with Seattle as a free agent on a 3-year deal in 2011; they released him after only one season, and he retired later that offseason. While he managed to salvage his career by playing guard well enough to keep him from becoming one of the biggest draft busts of all time, Gallery was still an extreme disappointment based on his pre-draft potential, not helped by being drafted ahead of several likely future Hall of Famers in Larry Fitzgerald, Philip Rivers, and Ben Roethlisberger.
  • Yatil Green was a WR drafted #15 overall by the Miami Dolphins out of the local University of Miami in 1997. Despite lackluster overall production in college, Green averaged a whopping 17.6 yards per reception and had elite speed to go with his 6'2" frame. A "workout warrior" who performed well at the Combine, the Dolphins selected him to energize their WR corps with a deep threat. However, he tore his right ACL during his very first training camp practice. The following year, he tore the same ACL again in training camp. By his third season, the injuries (requiring a total of 10 surgeries on right knee) robbed him of his explosiveness. He caught just 18 passes before the Dolphins released him and bounced around to the Jets and Raiders for short inactive stints to end his career.
  • Archie Griffin had a legendary career as a RB at Ohio State, becoming the only college player ever to win the Heisman twice, and was fittingly drafted by an Ohio team, the Cincinnati Bengals, #24 overall in 1976 (ahead of three future Hall of Famers). Griffin played seven seasons with the Bengals but did not see the same level of success in the pros—he never rushed for more than 700 yards and mainly played on special teamsnote . He was cut in 1982 and was out of pro football entirely after a short-lived comeback attempt in the USFL in 1985.
  • Tom Harmon was the #1 overall pick in 1941 after a legendary college career at Michigan but barely played in the NFL due to military service; see his entry on Collegiate American Football for more.
  • Ethan Horton was drafted #15 overall in 1985 by the Kansas City Chiefs. A RB at North Carolina, he was the first selected at the position in that draft, but the team truly had no clue of how to make use of his talents; he barely saw the field, was cut after his rookie year, and couldn't find a spot on another roster for a year. This would already mark him as one of the bigger busts in Chiefs history, as they took him one pick before the legendary Jerry Rice and got next to no value out of him. However, his selection became an even bigger blunder for KC after Horton eventually signed with the division rival Raiders a few years later. Al Davis had Horton converted to tight end, where he was much more productive and even earned a Pro Bowl nod in 1991. He retired after spending '94 with Washington.
  • A.J. Jenkins was a WR drafted #30 overall in 2012 by the San Francisco 49ers out of Illinois. He was something of a "one-season wonder" as a prospect, exploding for over 1,200 yards as a senior after failing to post that many yards in his previous three seasons combined. He also excelled in pre-draft workouts, posting a 4.37 40-yard dash, which inflated his draft stock. Despite being healthy the entire season, Jenkins was only active for three games as a rookie and targeted by only a single pass, which he dropped. During the pre-season of his second year, he was traded to the Chiefs in exchange for fellow first round disappointment WR Jonathan Baldwin, making him the fastest first round pick to be dumped by his team in the 21st century.note  Jenkins finally caught his first NFL pass 511 days after he was drafted but totaled only 17 catches in two years with the Chiefs. He was released, spent an offseason with Dallas before being released yet again, and was out of football soon after.
  • Johnny "Lam" Jonesnote  won a gold medal in the 4x100 relay at the Montreal Olympics before going to Texas, where he ran track while playing WR for the Longhorns. His world-class speed led to the Jets drafting him #2 overall in 1980. The Jets traded up to the pick intending to draft future Hall of Fame lineman Anthony Muñoz, but after a failed physical they settled with Jones instead, also missing HOF receiver Art Monk in the process. While Jones was great at outrunning coverages, he struggled with drops throughout his career and was later plagued with injuries that caused him to miss the '85 and '86 seasons. He was traded to the 49ers the following year but was cut during the preseason and failed to catch on in Dallas shortly afterwards. Throughout his career, he dealt with drug and alcohol abuse, which resulted in him being arrested for sexual molestation in 1988. He went into rehab soon afterwards and was able to turn his life around, becoming a motivational speaker for high school athletes across the country. He died from cancer in 2019.
  • Matt Jones was a WR drafted #21 overall in 2005 by the Jacksonville Jaguars. Jones had a successful college career as a quarterback at Arkansas, ending his college career with the most rushing yards by a QB in SEC history (since surpassed). As a middling passer, he decided to transition to WR for the NFL. He put up a monster performance at the NFL Combine, measuring in at 6'6", 242 lbs, and running an absolutely blazing 4.37 40-yard dash. One of the prime examples of a "workout warrior" in NFL Draft history, his stock soared into first round consideration despite having never played the WR position before. He put up a few middling seasons as a #3/#4 receiver in certain packages, starting only five games in his first three seasons before moving into a starting role for his fourth. However, he was suspended midway through after he was arrested for felony possession of a controlled substance. He was released by the Jaguars the next offseason after yet another arrest, this time for a violation of his probation. He attempted to catch on with a few more teams but never again played in the NFL. Notably, Jones was the last transitioned college QB to be selected in the first round; expect his name to come up in discussion regarding college QBs moving to other positions, especially since he was taken three picks before another QB who didn't change position: Aaron Rodgers.
  • Leroy Keyes was drafted #3 overall by the Philadelphia Eagles in 1969 out of Purdue as a HB. He put up unspectacular numbers in his rookie season, only getting 637 total yards and three TD's. After seeing little playing time in 1970, he switched to safety in 1971 and had some success, getting six picks and recovering three fumbles. However, he regressed in 1972, was traded to Kansas City the next year, and was out of the league after the season. He passed away in 2021.
  • Johnny Lattner was a Heisman-winning HB at Notre Dame drafted #7 overall in 1954 by the Pittsburgh Steelers. After a Pro Bowl rookie season as a return specialist, he decided the next year to join the Air Force; he suffered a knee injury in a football game that prevented him from ever playing pro football again. He died in 2016.
  • Dick Leftridge was a FB drafted #3 overall by the Pittsburgh Steelers out of West Virginia in 1966. Unfortunately, when he showed up to training camp as a rookie, he was grossly out of shape. Already known for his weight issues in college, the Steelers included a clause in his contract which allowed them to fine him $50 for every pound he weighed in over 230. News reports suggested he weighed in closer to 300 pounds (though Leftridge later called this an exaggeration). He lasted only a single year in the NFL, with eight carries to his name, and is considered the biggest draft bust in Steelers history.note  Leftridge died in 2004.
  • Tony Mandarich was a Canadian o-lineman drafted by the Green Bay Packers #2 overall in 1989 out of Michigan State. He was considered one of the greatest offensive line prospects ever and a "can't miss" draft prospect. However, his career began with a lengthy contractual dispute that resulted in Mandarich holding out into the regular season. When he finally did begin to play, he was middling-at-best, abysmal at worst, and certainly nowhere close to the player he was in college. He was cut after three seasons and entered treatment for drug and alcohol addiction soon after. He came back in 1996, spending three seasons for the Colts before suffering a career-ending shoulder injury. In 2008, he finally admitted to using steroids after years of suspicion, going as far as to fake urine tests to avoid being caught. Infamously, he is the only member of the 1989 Draft selected in the top 5 to not be elected to the Hall of Fame. (Troy Aikman, Barry Sanders, Derrick Thomas, and Deion Sanders were the other players selected.)
  • Steve Owens won the Heisman as a workhorse back at Oklahoma before being drafted at #19 overall in 1970 by the Detroit Lions. Owens earned a Pro Bowl selection in his second year, becoming the first Lion to rush for 1,000 yards in a season. However, injuries derailed him soon after, and he was out of football after three unremarkable years. Owens is now more notable as a precursor to the Lions' later first round picks of Heisman winners from the state of Oklahoma, Billy Sims and Barry Sanders, which saw far greater success.
  • Paul Palmer was a RB drafted #19 overall in 1987 by the Kansas City Chiefs out of Temple. He spent his rookie season mostly on special teams, leading the AFC in kickoff return average and being named an All-Pro as a returner. The next season, he led the team in rushing, receiving, scoring, and combined yards from scrimmage, but clashes with the coaching staff over playing time combined with the revelations that he signed with an agent during his senior season in college and this joke led to his release in early in the 1989 season. He signed with the Lions a day after his release, then was traded to the Cowboys a few weeks later to replace Herschel Walker. He bounced around the league for the next few years but didn't see any playing time and ultimately finished out his football career with the Barcelona Dragons of the WLAF in 1992.
  • Johnny "The Jet" Rodgers was the first receiver to win the Heisman during his stellar career at Nebraska and the namesake of college football's top award for best return specialist. He was drafted #25 overall by the San Diego Chargers in 1973 but chose to instead sign with the Montreal Alouettes of the CFL, where he was a star player for several seasons and helped take the franchise to a Grey Cup win. He returned to the Chargers in 1977, but injuries ended his NFL career after two unremarkable seasons.
  • Charles Rogers was a WR drafted #2 overall by the Detroit Lions in 2003 after a stellar career at Michigan State that drew pre-draft comparisons to Randy Moss. However, just five games into his rookie year, he broke his collarbone in a collision with a teammate during practice. He again broke his collarbone on just the third play from scrimmage during his second season. His third began with a four-game suspension for marijuana; he only played sparingly when he returned and was cut after playing in just 15 games for the Lions. Rogers tried out for a few teams, but he had lost most of his speed and was never signed. Rogers filed for bankruptcy after he was forced to repay his signing bonus to the Lions. To pour salt in the wound, he was drafted one pick ahead of fellow WR Andre Johnson, a seven-time Pro Bowler who retired in the top 10 for all time NFL receptions and receiving yards. Rogers died in 2019 from liver failure, at the age of 38.
  • John Ross was a WR drafted #9 overall in 2017 by the Cincinnati Bengals out of Washington. One of the most famous "workout warriors" in NFL history, Ross set the NFL Combine record for the 40-yard dash (4.22 seconds). The effort strained his calf muscles too much to attempt a second sprint or perform many other drills, which was a good bit of foreshadowing for how his NFL career would go: a Fragile Speedster whose straight-line speed didn't translate into side-to-side elusiveness or catching skills. Ross missed almost all of his rookie season after fumbling his first play, underperformed in his next two, and sat out most of his fourth from injuries and while attempting to negotiate a trade; the Bengals responded by declining his fifth-year option, sending him to the Giants in free agency, and filling his spot on the roster with Ja'Marr Chase, who helped the team immediately reach the Super Bowl. Adding to Ross' status as a bust is the position of his selection: he was taken one pick before Patrick Mahomes, and at his position was taken two whole rounds before future record-breaker Cooper Kupp.
  • Rashaan Salaam was a Heisman-winning RB drafted #21 overall in 1995 out of Colorado by the Chicago Bears. He had a decent rookie season but fell off quickly afterwards due to a lack of ball security discipline and numerous injuries, the latter of which prevented the Bears from trading him. The Bears cut him after just three seasons; he had a single rush attempt with the Browns the next season and never saw the field in the NFL again, bouncing around practice squads, the XFL, and the CFL for the next few years before leaving football. Salaam died by suicide in 2016.
  • Blair Thomas was a RB drafted at #2 overall by the New York Jets in 1990. The Penn State product turned out to be another example of the common problems with spending such a high pick on a running back; Thomas became just another component of the Jets RB committee, with his production soon becoming eclipsed by Johnny Johnson, a seventh rounder from the same draft. Thomas was off the team in four years and bounced around the league for another two before retiring. Making matters worse for Thomas is that he was taken several picks before one of the most notable exceptions to the "first round RB rule", Hall of Famer and all-time rushing leader Emmitt Smith.
  • David Verser was the first receiver drafted in 1981, going to the Cincinnati Bengals with the #10 pick. The former Kansas player had shown glimpses of explosiveness as a deep threat in college, but he wound up buried in the depth chart after the Bengals took another WR, future Pro Bowler and broadcaster Cris Collinsworth, with their very next pick. Verser barely saw action on offense and was instead slotted into special teams as a return specialist, but a historically poor performance in the Super Bowl in his rookie year while dealing with a thumb injury helped cost his team the championship. He saw very little action in the next three years in Cincinnati and was out of football after two even less impressive seasons with the Bucs and Browns. His lack of any meaningful production, paired with being picked ahead of four future Hall of Famers, made him one of the more notable busts in Bengals history.
  • Billy Vessels was the Baltimore Colts' first ever draft pick, being taken #2 overall by the expansion franchise in 1953 after a Heisman-winning career as a HB at Oklahoma. He elected not to join the Colts, instead playing a single season in Canada (winning the pre-CFL equivalent of the Most Outstanding Player award) before joining the army. After a few years, he finally joined the Colts in 1956 for a single forgettable season before retiring from football. The Colts missed seven future Hall of Famers with this pick that earned them almost nothing in return. Vessels passed away in 2001.
  • Danny Watkins was a guard drafted #23 overall in 2011 by the Philadelphia Eagles out of Baylor. The Canadian spent his first few years after high school as a firefighter, eventually attending Butte Community College to study fire sciences. There, he drew the attention of the football coach who encouraged him to play for the team. He played well and the school sent his tape to several FBS programs, with Baylor offering him a scholarship. Drafted #4 overall by the BC Lions of the CFL in 2010, Watkins elected to stay at Baylor, where he developed into one of the nation's top pass blockers, and was drafted by Eagles the following year. Watkins was 26 years old when he was drafted, nearly four years older than the average draft prospect. Expected to be a starter from day one, as is typically the case for o-linemen selected in the first round, Watkins played poorly in the preseason and was benched in favor of a waiver wire claim before the season. Team struggles led to him being promoted into the starting lineup later in the season, but he badly struggled over the next seasons, frequently being overpowered by NFL defenders. The Eagles released him during final cuts of his third season and, after a brief stint with the Dolphins, he was out of football and went back to firefighting.
  • Kevin White was a WR drafted #7 overall in 2015 by the Chicago Bears out of West Virginia. During training camp, White injured his shin and missed his rookie season. The injuries kept piling up, as White only played 14 games over four seasons in Chicago. He has since bounced around multiple teams and, as of 2021, has yet to score a touchdown in the NFL.
  • Bernard Williams was an OT drafted #14 overall in 1994 by the Philadelphia Eagles out of Georgia. Williams started all 16 games of his rookie season, showing significant promise while being named to the NFL's All-Rookie team. However, he failed 15 drug tests for marijuana and was suspended indefinitely. He never applied for reinstatement to the NFL but went on to play in the XFL, AFL, and CFL. Williams was drafted one pick ahead of OT Wayne Gandy, who started for 13 seasons, and three future Hall of Famers who were taken in the second round.
  • Mike Williams was a WR drafted #10 overall in 2005 by the Detroit Lions. He played two years at USC from 2002-03 but was suspended in 2004 after hiring an agent in an attempt to enter the draft a year early, being forced to sit out a full season as a result. The Lions still took him in the first round, but he put up disappointing numbers for two years before being traded to the Raiders for a 4th round pick. He again disappointed, was cut during the season, finished the year with the Titans, and then was out of football entirely for two years. He signed with the Seahawks in 2010, having his best season after reuniting with college coach Pete Carroll. However, his stats dropped the next season after he broke his leg and was released in 2012, having never reached 1,000 yards in any season during his career. He attempted to catch on in the CFL in 2013 but was cut after a week.
  • Troy Williamson was a WR drafted #7 overall in 2005 by the Minnesota Vikings, using the pick the Vikings acquired by trading disgruntled future Hall of Famer receiver Randy Moss to the Raiders. Williamson was a track athlete with blazing speed (running a 4.32 40-time at the combine) but had limited experience in other aspects of being a WR, having been just a one-year starter in college at South Carolina. He badly struggled with drops and route running in three years with the Vikings and was traded to Jacksonville for a 6th round pick. He eked out two unproductive years with the Jags and was then out of football. Adding insult to injury, seven of the next eight players selected after Williamson all went to at least one Pro Bowl during their careers.
  • Isaiah Wilson was an OT drafted #29 overall by the Tennessee Titans in 2020 out of Georgia. A "road grader" with absolutely massive size (listed at 6'6", 350 lbs), Wilson was expected to take over the Titans' starting RT job day one following the loss of the previous starter in free agency. However, he struggled with multiple COVID-19 protocol violations, a DUI arrest, a suspension due to a violation of team rules, and finally finished the season on "Non-Football Illness" list having played in just one game for four snaps. During the 2021 offseason, Wilson became the fastest first round pick to be jettisoned by a team in the 21st century, being traded to Miami for a swap of 7th round picks. Only a few days after the trade became official at the start of the league year, Miami released Wilson, who reportedly showed up late to take his physical and no-showed for two different workouts he said he would do at the team facility. After a short-lived rap career, Wilson spent the 2021 season on the Giants' practice squad but was released after he fell asleep during a team meeting.

     Notable Defensive/Special Teams Draft Busts 
  • Trev Alberts was a LB drafted #5 overall by the Indianapolis Colts in 1994 out of Nebraska after trading up from the #7 pick. He badly struggled with injuries, ultimately starting just seven games in three seasons with the Colts before retiring. Alberts is famous in draftnik circles for putting draft analyst Mel Kiper in the spotlight. During ESPN's broadcast of the '94 Draft, then a very niche program, Kiper's criticism of the Colts for selecting Alberts over QB Trent Dilfernote  became famous. Colts GM Bill Tobin, when informed of Kiper's criticism during an on-air segment, uttered the now-famous and widely replayed line "Who in the hell is Mel Kiper anyway?" (Tobin was fired after a 3-13 season, having missed four future Hall of Famers for Alberts, while Kiper became the face of the annual NFL Draft broadcast.) Alberts ended up having more success as a sports administrator, becoming the athletic director of Nebraska's sister campus in Omaha in 2009 and overseeing that school's move to NCAA Division I and its rebranding as the Omaha Mavericks—though not without controversy, as he shuttered Omaha's football and wrestling programs as part of the D-I move, with wrestling being shut down literally hours after having won its third straight D-II team title. In 2021, he returned to his alma mater as the new AD.
  • Eli Apple was a CB drafted #10 overall by the New York Giants in 2016 out of Ohio State, where he was part of their 2015 National Championship-winning team. Athletic with good size but considered raw after declaring for the draft as a redshirt sophomore, his selection was widely panned as a reach. After a middling rookie season, declining performance in his second year led to his benching mid-season. He clashed with teammates, including defensive captain Landon Collins, who publicly called Apple a "cancer". He was suspended for the Giants' final game in 2017 after he refused coaches' orders to practice with the scout team. In 2018, new HC Pat Shurmur gave Apple a "clean slate" and named him a starter for the season, but his performance did not improve and he missed several games with injury. The Giants traded him to the Saints mid-season, where he continued to struggle, leading the league in coverage penalties in 2019. He played just two games with the Panthers in 2020 before being cut. He signed a one-year contract with the Cincinnati Bengals in 2021, where he somewhat revived his career and helped the team reach the Super Bowl. However, he continued to lean into his reputation as the league's Heel, publicly dunking on his former teams, teammates, and fans in the run up to the game before surrendering two TDs (including the game-winner) in said game.
  • Damon Arnette was a CB drafted by the Las Vegas Raiders #19 overall in 2020 out of Ohio State. He only appeared in nine games in his rookie season due to injuries, putting up pathetic stats, and appeared in only four games as a backup in his second before ending up on the injured reserve list. Arnette was cut by the team after videos surfaced of him making death threats and brandishing firearms as the Raiders tried to distance themselves from the Henry Ruggs incident (see above), meaning that the franchise lost both of their first round picks from 2020 in less than two years. He signed with the Chiefs but was released a week later after he was arrested.
  • Brian Bosworth, aka The Boz, was a LB selected by the Seattle Seahawks in the first round of the 1987 Supplemental Draft (which meant giving up their first round pick in the 1988 Draft) after an epic college career at Oklahoma where he was as well known for his wild hairstyles and antics as he was for his stellar play. After testing positive for anabolic steroids, he was suspended for the 1987 Orange Bowl. His ranting against the NCAA and antics on the sideline during the game got him dismissed from the team. Rather than enter the standard NFL Draft (and risk being selected by one of the bad teams who held the early picks), Bosworth opted to enter the Supplemental Draft and sent a letter to most NFL teams stating that he would not play for them if drafted, with his stated goal to be drafted by the Los Angeles Raiders, whose reputation matched his wild persona. Regardless, the Seahawks drafted him and convinced him to play for them by giving him the richest deal in the history of the league for a rookie player at the time. He initially played well during his rookie season, helping the Seahawks to the playoffs. During his second season, his most infamous play occurred: Prior to a matchup with the Raiders, he bragged that his defense would contain their star running back, Bo Jackson. During a goal-line play, Jackson took the handoff and flattened Bosworth on his way to scoring a touchdown (and rushing for 221 total yards in the game). Bosworth's play continued to go downhill until he was forced into early retirement from a shoulder injury after just three seasons in the league. He then spun his colorful persona into a career as an actor, most prominently starring in the action film Stone Cold and numerous advertisements.
  • Aundray Bruce was a pass-rushing LB drafted #1 overall by the Atlanta Falcons in 1988 out of Auburn. Widely heralded as the "next Lawrence Taylor", Bruce underwhelmed. After four seasons with decreasing starts and statistics that included spot duty at tight end, he was released by the Falcons. He caught on with Raiders and played seven more seasons as a situational pass rusher but never registered more than 5.5 sacks in any season. Despite his career longevity, he only started 42 games, is considered the biggest draft bust in Falcons history, and is one of the more disappointing #1 picks in modern NFL history, being taken before several solid linebackers and five future Hall of Famers. He was also the last linebacker to be selected #1 overall.
  • Ahmad Carroll was a CB drafted by the Green Bay Packers #25 overall in 2004 out of Arkansas. A track athlete who improved his draft stock by running a 4.34 second 40-yard dash at the combine, Carroll quickly earned the nickname "Highway 28" for all the big plays he gave up. ("Highway" because the receiver he was supposed to be covering had an easy path to the end zone and 28 was his jersey number.) He also badly struggled with penalties, particularly the "illegal contact" penalty which was heavily emphasized in 2005, his second year in the league. He was cut during the 2006 season after a week in which he gave up two long touchdowns and was penalized three times. He bounced around with the Jags and Jets, then spent some time in the Arena and Canadian leagues. Even more frustrating to Packers fans is that he was selected ahead of several Pro Bowlers, including future Defensive Player of the Year Bob Sanders.
  • Morris Claiborne was a CB drafted #6 overall by the Dallas Cowboys in 2012, coming after a breakout season at LSU that drew many scouting comparisons to Deion Sanders. Suffice to say that he did not live up to those lofty predictions; he struggled mightily with injuries throughout his career and never put up more than one INT in each of his five seasons in Dallas. He posted two average seasons with the Jets that were still more productive than any since his rookie year, but a substance abuse suspension led to him being cut. He spent his final year in the NFL on the Chiefs' bench, picking up a Super Bowl ring before retiring. The biggest knock against Claiborne: he was taken four picks ahead of future DPotY corner Stephon Gilmore.
  • Bruce Clark was a DE drafted #4 overall by the Green Bay Packers in 1980. A Lombardi Award-winner at Penn State, Clark was widely considered the best defensive talent of his class, but the Packers got zero return on their draft pick because he refused to play for the then-struggling small-market team. He went to the CFL for two years until the Packers agreed to trade his rights to the New Orleans Saints, where he had a decent career with a single Pro Bowl selection. Clark retired in 1992 after stints with the Chiefs and the WLAF's Barcelona Dragons.note 
  • Tom Cousineau was a dominant LB at Ohio State, leading the Buffalo Bills to draft him with the #1 overall pick in 1979. He never played for Buffalo; the Montreal Alouettes of the CFL offered him twice as much money to play a little further north (the NFL subsequently developed a more standardized rookie contract system to ensure this type of thing wouldn't happen again) and the Bills ultimately missed out on several Hall of Famers, including Joe Montana. Cousineau played a few great years in Canada, even winning Grey Cup MVP in his rookie season. However, he wanted to return to the States, and the Bills organized a trade with the Cleveland Browns for his rights in exchange for a first-round pick, which they used to draft Hall of Fame QB Jim Kellynote . Cousineau was dealt a major contract by the Browns but underperformed on the field and got into legal trouble off of it. He left the Browns after three seasons, played a short stint with the 49ers, and retired in 1987.
  • Rickey Dixon was a standout corner who set multiple still-standing school records at Oklahoma before being drafted at #5 overall by the Cincinnati Bengals in 1988. He never lived up to the expectations of his college career, starting less than half of his games in Cincy (and most of those at free safety). He was out of football after spending '93 with the Raiders and died in 2020 after a long struggle with ALS.
  • Steve Emtman was a d-lineman selected #1 overall by the Indianapolis Colts in 1992 out of Washington after a dominant college career that included winning a national championship. Though the 1992 Draft turned out to be one of the weakest ever, he showed initial promise, recording three sacks and picking off Dan Marino for a game-sealing 90-yard pick-six. However, he tore his left ACL just nine games into his rookie year and then tore his right patellar tendon after only five games the following year. He recuperated only to suffer a season-ending neck injury four games into his third season. He was released by the Colts having played in only 18 of a possible 48 games in three seasons. He caught on in Miami and Washington and had better luck with his health, but his production never recovered as he only recorded three sacks in the final three seasons of his career. Like Ki-Jana Carter above, Emtman remains a major What Could Have Been discussion among fans.note 
  • Russell Erxleben was a kicker and punter drafted by the New Orleans Saints #11 overall in 1979, the second highest a kicker has ever been drafted (while future Hall of Famers Kellen Winslow and Joe Montana were sitting available), after a record-setting college career at Texas where he tied the NCAA record for longest field goal. The Saints hoped that Erxleben could continue to both kick and punt in the NFL, saving them a roster spot, but this would not be the case. He struggled as a kicker, making just 4/8 attempts before those duties were taken away, leaving him as a punter only. He also committed one of the NFL's all-time bloopers: when a snap went over his head near his own goal line during overtime, he picked up the ball and made an ill-advised pass attempt that was intercepted and returned for a TD. He continued to punt for New Orleans for five more seasons, putting up a middling average of 40.6 Y/P, then spent four years out of football before a one-game comeback attempt with Detroit. He subsequently entered a career in finance and served multiple prison sentences for fraud. As a fun historical footnote, the Saints drafted another kicker in the fourth round three years later with Erxleben still on the roster who went on to a Hall of Fame career: the legendary Morten Andersen.
  • Jamar Fletcher was a CB drafted #26 overall out of Wisconsin in 2001 by the Miami Dolphins despite already having two All-Pro corners on the roster (Sam Madison and Patrick Surtain). Fletcher only saw limited duty in nickel/dime packages and on special teams. After three seasons with the Dolphins in which he only started six games, he was traded for minimal compensation to San Diego. Making Fletcher's selection all the more painful for Miami fans is the fact that the Dolphins had been linked to a certain undersized Purdue QB prospect that year who was selected five picks later: Drew Brees. Miami, meanwhile, has struggled to find a long-term answer at the QB position in the two decades since.note 
  • Vernon Gholston was a pass-rushing DE drafted #6 overall by the New York Jets in 2008 out of Ohio State. After tying the OSU single-season sack record during his final year, Gholston was considered by many to be the best pure pass rusher available in the draft. The Jets tabbed him to play outside linebacker in their 3-4 defense, but he struggled with the transition from his college position of defensive end and played only sparingly as a rookie. When defensive guru Rex Ryan was hired as the Jets head coach in 2009, Gholston was moved back to defensive end where many believed he would finally excel. Unfortunately, this was not the case. After two more seasons of abysmal play, he was released by the Jets having not recorded a single sack in three seasons with the team. (For comparison, in those three seasons, over 600 other players recorded at least one sack.) He attempted to catch on in Chicago and Washington but was cut by each before playing a regular season game.
  • Gary Glick was the only DB ever drafted at #1 overall, going to the Pittsburgh Steelers in 1956 out of Colorado A&M (now known as Colorado State). His performance might be a good explanation for that distinction; despite being drafted for his impressive versatility while in college (having also seen time as a QB, LB, and kicker), Glick was thoroughly mediocre as a pro safety and completed an anemic 5/18 field goal attempts in '57. He was out of Pittsburgh in three-and-a-half seasons, bounced around the league for a few more years, and eventually retired after playing a few games with the AFL Champion San Diego Chargers in 1963. The fact that he was drafted ahead of five future Hall of Famers who could have made a major difference in Pittsburgh only adds to his status as one of the most baffling busts ever. Glick subsequently worked as a coach in the Continental and Canadian Football Leagues, then as a scout in the NFL, before he died in 2015.
  • Ted Gregory was a DT drafted by the Denver Broncos #26 overall in 1988 out of Syracuse. Listed at 6'1", when then-Broncos HC Dan Reeves (who is actually 6'1") met Gregory for the first time, he noted that he must have been at least four inches shorter than that. Gregory injured his knee during training camp of his rookie season and never played for Denver. He was traded to the Saints for another first round draft bust DT, Shawn Knight, the following offseason and was out of football after playing in just four games. He is considered one of the biggest draft busts in Broncos history and was taken ahead of future Hall of Famers RB Thurman Thomas and C Dermontti Dawson.
  • Dion Jordan was a DE drafted #3 overall in 2013 by the Miami Dolphins out of Oregon. Highly athletic with a long, lanky frame, he was expected to be the Dolphins' next Jason Taylor. After playing situationally as a rookie, Jordan was suspended for the first four games of his second season for a PED violation, then again later in the season for two more games. Prior to his third season, he was suspended for the year for yet another violation of the PED policy. After being released by the Dolphins, he bounced around a few more teams but never produced at the level expected of such a high draft pick and is up there with Trent Richardson and Johnny Manziel as one of the biggest busts of the 2010s.
  • Eric Kumerow was a pass-rushing LB drafted #16 overall in 1988 by the Miami Dolphins out of Ohio State. He possessed a massive frame at 6'7" 265 lbs but was very much a surprise first round picknote , being considered as one of the biggest reaches in draft history to this day. Miami nonetheless selected him ahead of three future Hall of Famers; he proceeded to ride the bench for his entire three-year career with the team, never starting a single game while adding just five sacks in spot duty. He was released in 1990, signed with the Bears, then suffered a career-ending Achilles tear. Kumerow is the brother-in-law of former teammate and fellow Dolphins first round bust John Bosa (also a #16 pick in 1987), and the maternal uncle of superstar defensive ends Joey and Nick Bosa. His own son, Jake Kumerow, is a journeyman wide receiver who has spent time on six different teams.
  • Steve Little was one of the highest drafted punters/kickers ever, selected at #15 overall out of Arkansas by the St. Louis Cardinals in 1978. This position would make him a potential bust even if he performed fairly well, as kicking specialists are typically selected in the final rounds of the draft if drafted at all and Little was taken before future Hall of Famers Ozzie Newsome and Warren Moon. Still, there was reason for the team to be hopeful—Ray Guy had been selected in the first round by the Raiders a few years prior and was already on his way to a Hall of Fame punting career, and Little had recently tied the record for the longest successful field goal in NCAA history. He did not come close to replicating his college success—he missed more than half of his field goals and 10 of 51 PAT attempts. He was released in the middle of his third season. Tragically, just a few hours after leaving the facility after being let go, Little was paralyzed from the neck down in a high-speed car accident, shutting the door on any possibility of a comeback attempt. He died in 1999.
  • Mike Mamula was a combination DE/LB drafted #7 overall in 1995 by the Philadelphia Eagles out of Boston College. He was one of the first players ever to specifically train for the NFL Combine drills and put up an incredible performance as a result. He performed more bench presses than the top offensive lineman, ran a faster 40-yard dash than anyone else at his position, jumped a higher vertical leap than even some defensive backs, and scored a 49 out of 50 on the Wonderlic intelligence test (the second highest score ever). Because of this, he is considered to be one of the greatest "Workout Warriors" in NFL Draft history. His stock shot through the roof and, during the draft, the Eagles traded up to get him. However, Mamula's workout athleticism never translated successfully to the field. His career was plagued by injury until he was forced to retire after only 5 mediocre years. Making matters worse for the Eagles, the #12 overall pick they used to trade up for him was used by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to select Hall of Fame DT Warren Sapp. Later in the round, the Bucs also selected Hall of Fame LB Derrick Brooks, meaning the Eagles passed on two Hall of Fame players who would have filled the same need.
  • Aaron Maybin was an edge-rushing LB drafted #11 overall by the Buffalo Bills in 2009 out of Penn State. Known for his freakish athleticism, Maybin put up an elite combine performance which boosted his draft stock. There were concerns about his ability to maintain his playing weight, however. Listed at 245, there were reports that it dropped as low as 225 during the season (smaller than most linebackers and even some safeties). These concerns proved valid as he badly struggled in the NFL, getting physically outmatched by pro offensive linemen. By his second season, he was a healthy scratch for most games and was released the following offseason, having failed to record a single sack with the Bills. He caught on the with the division rival Jets and played two more years there, registering six sacks as a situational pass rusher but never lived up to his draft billing. Making matters worse, fellow edge rusher and four-time Pro Bowler Brian Orakpo was selected just two picks later.
  • Keith McCants was a dominant LB at Alabama drafted at #4 overall in 1990 by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Widely renowned for his remarkable athleticism, McCants was expected to be a guaranteed star likely would have been drafted at #1 were it not for concerns around a knee injury. However, he couldn't overcome the Bucs' organizational dysfunction. The team switched him to DE, and while he was still somewhat productive, he didn't come anywhere close to his college expectations and was cut after three seasons. He signed with the Patriots but was cut during the preseason and bounced around to the Oilers and Cardinals before retiring after 1995. Making matters worse for the Bucs is that McCants was drafted one pick before another LB, Junior Seau, who would go to the Hall of Fame. Pain from his playing injuries contributed to McCants' lifelong struggles with addiction, poverty, and legal issues, and he vocally criticized the NFL's approach to treating injured players prior to his death from an overdose in 2021.
  • Jerome McDougle was a DE drafted #15 overall in 2003 by the Philadelphia Eagles. The Miami (FL) product was a standout college player but missed tons of games and never was named a starter in the NFL thanks to a series of injuries and misfortune that bordered on a Trauma Conga Line. In his rookie year, he missed half the season after sustaining multiple injuries in the preseason. In his second, he was again knocked out of commission with a knee sprain and was diagnosed with an irregular heartbeat. In his third, he missed the entire year while recovering from a gunshot wound sustained in an armed robbery of his home. When he returned to the league, he broke multiple ribs in preseason practices and displayed a serious problem with penalties when he did return. He was cut before his fifth year after again getting hurt before the season got started; he played in a few games with the Giants before calling it a career. Making matters worse for Eagles fans, McDougle was taken just one pick before Hall of Famer Troy Polamalu.
  • Steve Niehaus was the first draft pick in Seattle Seahawks history. When the Seahawks and Buccaneers joined the NFL in 1976, the Bucs won the #1 overall pick from a random drawing, allowing them to pick the consensus best player (and future Hall of Famer) DE Lee Roy Selmon. After much handwringing over whether to pick the best offensive prospect in the class, RB Chuck Muncie (see above under "Notorious"), Seattle ultimately decided to go with the next best d-line prospect in the class, taking Niehaus #2 overall out of Notre Dame. Initially, Niehaus more than lived up to the pick, accumulating a still-franchise record 9.5 sacks as a rookie. However, injuries to his shoulder and knees almost completely dried up his production after his remarkable rookie season, and Niehaus was out of football in just four years after a brief stint with the Vikings.
  • Amobi Okoye is the youngest player ever drafted into the NFL, having been selected at #10 overall in 2007 by the Houston Texans at just 19 years old. After immigrating to the United States from Nigeria at 12 years old, he graduated high school at just 15 and chose Louisville over Harvard so he could play football, becoming the youngest player in the NCAA. Unfortunately, after a promising rookie season in Houston, Okoye's football career fizzled out. The Texans cut him after four seasons, and he bounced around a few teams before a bout of encephalitis in 2013 placed him in a coma. He attempted a comeback with the Cowboys in 2014 but never saw the field and was out of football after a year in the CFL.
  • Walt Patulski was the #1 overall pick of 1972, a massive and agile DE out of Notre Dame who headed to the Buffalo Bills. Patulski was a decent pass rusher in Buffalo, but he still disappointed and was traded to the St. Louis Cardinals after four years; a back injury ended his career in 1977. He often goes forgotten in terms of draft busts due to the overall weakness of his class; none of the defensive ends drafted in 1972, three in the first six picks, made a Pro Bowl, and the Bills hardly needed the class's sole Hall of Famer, Franco Harris, due to having O.J. Simpson in the backfield. Patulski still remains notable as the last #1 pick to come out of Notre Dame, once by far the most common source of top-of-the-line prospects.note 
  • Booker Reese was a DE from the HBCU Bethune–Cookman drafted in 1982 by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Considered a "boom or bust" prospect with off-the-charts athleticism but needing polish, the Bucs planned to take him with their first round pick at #17. However, a communications snafu caused the Bucs to accidentally send in the name of the #2 player on their board, o-lineman Sean Farrell, instead. (Ironically, Farrell had a solid 11-year career in the NFL.) Desperate to get Reese, the Bucs offered the Bears their 1983 first round pick in order to trade up to get him in the second round. Reese immediately had issues with alcohol and cocaine abuse, lasting just two seasons in Tampa and recording just two sacks. Adding insult to injury, the Bears used the Bucs' pick in 1983 on wide receiver/Olympic-qualified sprinter Willie Gault, who had a productive NFL career and was the leading receiver on Chicago's 1985 Super Bowl-winning team, and the Bucs still missed two future Hall of Famers.
  • Gabriel "Gabe" Rivera, nicknamed "Señor Sack", was a DT selected #21 overall in 1983 by the Pittsburgh Steelers out of Texas Tech. Rivera was one of the most athletic d-linemen available in the draft, drawing a comparison from Steelers coach Chuck Noll to former Steeler "Mean Joe" Greene. Despite this, Steelers fans were torn on the pick, as they preferred hometown hero QB Dan Marino (who played collegiately at Pittsburgh) as the heir-apparent to the aging Terry Bradshaw. Despite scouting Marino heavily, Noll chose to select Rivera, citing that he wanted to rebuild the defense.note  Rivera played well, notching two sacks in his first six games. However, while driving drunk, he was involved in a car accident which left him paralyzed, ending his career. Marino went on to a Hall of Fame career while the Steelers went into their longest period of decline since the merger, making the playoffs just three times over the next nine seasons until Noll's retirement. Rivera passed away in 2018.
  • Solomon Thomas was a DE drafted #3 overall by the San Francisco 49ers in 2017. The first pick of former Hall of Fame player and broadcaster John Lynch was always going to be viewed with some skepticism, as he had no prior front office experience prior to being hired as Niners GM. The Thomas pick seemed to confirm many pundits' concerns, as Thomas was an alum of Lynch's school (Stanford) and was seen as a boom-or-bust prospect who hadn't produced to his athletic ability in college. Thomas struggled with performance and injuries and was replaced as a starter in his third season by rookie Nick Bosa, who helped the Niners reach the Super Bowl. Thomas was not extended and has since bounced around the league, so far failing to catch on with any team. His high selection might be seen as one of the biggest defensive whiffs in recent history were it not for the fact that the position of his pick at #3 was due to a sizable trade with the Bears, who had wanted SF's #2 pick for Mitch Trubisky; the Bears likewise whiffed on that pick, while the Niners at least collected several picks that proved useful down the road.
  • Andre Wadsworth was a DE drafted #3 overall by the Arizona Cardinals in 1998 after a dominant college career at Florida State. Considered the consensus #1 overall prospect that year, Wadsworth was ultimately selected third, after quarterbacks Peyton Manning and Ryan Leaf. This helped fuel a lengthy holdout as he sought to be paid closer to the salaries of those QBs and to have a provision allowing him to void the contract at any time — something few veterans even have, let alone rookies. He ultimately signed the night before the season opener (without the void provision) and had a productive if unspectacular rookie year. However, knee injuries cost him most of the next two seasons before it was determined that he needed microfracture surgery to address the issue. He opted to have the surgery with an independent doctor rather than the Cardinals team doctor, leading to a minor controversy and his release from the Cardinals after just three seasons. He later attempted to catch on with Jets at age 32 after seven seasons out of the league but was released during final cuts, ending his NFL career. Arizona passed on numerous potential franchise cornerstone players, including first-ballot Hall of Famers Charles Woodson (taken one pick later) and Randy Moss.
  • Björn Werner was a DE drafted #24 overall in 2013 by the Indianapolis Colts after an All-American career at Florida State. Born in Germany, Werner came to the US as an exchange student and developed a love of American football. He returned to Germany where he played on their national team for two years before moving on to play at Florida State. Despite immense hype, he battled injuries and produced only 6.5 sacks in three seasons before being released by the Colts. After a brief stint in Jacksonville, Werner was out of football. He has since served as a commentator and analyst for NCAA and NFL games on German television.

     Cleveland Browns Busts 
The post-revival Cleveland Browns made an industry out of producing notorious draft busts. From their return to the league in 1999 until 2016, they made 21 first round selections of whom all but three are considered busts. To note:
  • 1999 - Tim Couch was a QB drafted #1 overall out of Kentucky by the Browns with their first pick upon re-entering the league. He was the revived team's starting QB on-and-off for five seasons, hampered by inconsistent play and plagued by injuries. He managed a winning record and playoff appearance in 2002 but suffered a broken leg late in the year and was replaced in their playoff game by journeyman backup Kelly Holcomb, who ultimately took the starting job away the following season. Following a brief pre-season stint with the Packers, he was out of the league after just six years. He tried to make a comeback with the Jaguars in 2007 but was released. Couch was taken ahead of two future Pro Bowl QBs in Donovan McNabb and Daunte Culpepper, as well as Hall of Famers in RB Edgerrin James and CB Champ Bailey, and was the first of four failed Cleveland first round picks at QB after they re-entered the league. While he was placed into a difficult situation as QB for an expansion team, he kicked off nearly two decades of draft futility for Cleveland.
  • 2000 - Courtney Brown was a DE drafted #1 overall out of Penn State. A freakish physical specimen at over 6'5", 280 lbs, with 4.50 speed, Brown had dominant college career where he racked up awards and finished with a then-record 33 sacks, most in NCAA history. However, he was plagued by injuries as a pro, only playing in 26 out of a possible 80 games while with the Browns. He played for one more year with the Broncos but was then out of football as a major disappointment. Brown was selected ahead of 14 future Pro Bowlers in the first round, including future Hall of Famer Brian Urlacher, and 198 spots before some guy named Tom Brady.
  • 2001 - Gerard Warren was a DT drafted #3 overall out of Florida. A hulking physical specimen at over 330 lbs, Warren managed to avoid the injury issues of his post-revival 1st round pick predecessors but produced inconsistently over four years with the Browns and was ultimately traded to the Broncos for a meager 4th round pick. He stuck around the league until 2011 but never lived up to his lofty draft status. Three Hall of Famers (RB LaDainian Tomlinson, guard Steve Hutchinson, and DL Richard Seymour), and five Pro Bowl DL's (including Seymour), were drafted later that round.
  • 2002 - William Green was a RB drafted #16 overall, the highest of any RB that year, out of Boston College. Green's best year with Cleveland was his very first, rushing for over 800 yards as a rookie. However, he had serious fumbling issues and his production declined over the next three seasons. Off the field, he was arrested for DUI and marijuana possession leading to a four-game suspension, was stabbed by his fiancée during a domestic dispute while suspended, and was ejected from a game for fighting when he returned to the field. He was released after four turmoil-plagued seasons with the team. Making matters worse, he was selected ahead of two Pro Bowl running backs in Clinton Portis and Brian Westbrook, as well as Hall of Fame safety Ed Reed (who went to division rival Baltimore).
  • 2003 - Jeff Faine was a center drafted #21 overall out of Notre Dame and was quickly installed as a starter. However, after three middling seasons, he was traded to the New Orleans Saints for an exchange of 2nd round draft picks. He bounced around the league for several more years as a middling starter. Nine Pro Bowl players went in the next 20 picks after Faine.
  • 2004 - Kellen Winslow II had one Pro Bowl season as a TE, but... just see his entry under "Notorious Figures" above. Five picks after Winslow, the division rival Steelers selected future Hall of Fame QB and Ohio native Ben Roethlisberger (who went 26-3-1 as a starter against the Browns).
  • 2005 - Braylon Edwards was a WR drafted #3 overall out of Michigan, where he was one of the school's all-time leading receivers. A contract dispute caused him to hold-out through training camp, then he suffered a staph infection which caused him to miss some of his rookie season. He returned, briefly entered the starting lineup, then suffered a season ending knee injury. He recovered and surpassed 1,000 yards receiving in his third season but followed it up with a miserable performance in his fourth season, including a league-high 23 dropped passes. The Browns traded him to the Jets for a couple of no-name players and two mid-round draft picks. Browns fans likely remember him best as the guy they picked over Aaron Rodgers.
  • 2006 - Kamerion Wimbley was an edge rusher drafted #13 overall out of Florida State. The Browns originally had the #12 overall pick but traded down with division rival Baltimore who wanted Oregon nose tackle Haloti Ngata (who went on to be a multi-time Pro Bowler). Wimbley tallied 11 sacks as a rookie but failed to follow up on that success in subsequent seasons. He was traded to the Raiders for a 3rd round pick and was out of the league after just two more seasons. 10 of the next 20 players selected made at least one Pro Bowl.
  • 2007-2010 saw some of the Browns' very few exceptions, as three of their four first-round picks in this time were successful players. They used their first 2007 1st round pick on future Hall of Fame OT Joe Thomas out of Wisconsin, while 2009 saw them draft multi-time Pro Bowl center Alex Mack and 2010 saw them draft Pro Bowl CB Joe Haden. They didn't have a 1st round pick in 2008 because they traded it a year prior for...
    • 2007 - Brady Quinn was a QB drafted #22 overall. After a stellar career at Notre Dame, where he set 36 school passing records, he was projected to go in the top 10 of the draft. He surprisingly fell all the way to #22 overall where the Browns (who already passed on him earlier for Joe Thomas) scooped him up. He sat for his first season and a half, playing only sparingly behind veteran journeyman Derek Anderson. After only two starts in 2008, Quinn suffered a finger injury that required season-ending surgery. He was again named starter in 2009 but was benched in favor of Anderson during halftime of the season's third game. He regained the job later in the season yet once again suffered a season-ending foot injury. In 2010, the Browns traded Quinn to the Broncos for a backup running back and a conditional late-round pick. There, he lost a competition for the starting job to Kyle Orton, was later jumped on the depth chart by Tim Tebow, and didn't play a single game in two seasons in Denver. Quinn's final start came in 2012 with the Chiefs, who signed him that offseason as a backup. He bounced around several other teams but never again started a game. Had the Browns kept their 2008 first-round pick (which ended up being #22 overall), they would have had their choice of nearly a dozen Pro Bowlers who went in the late first and second round.
  • 2011 - Phil Taylor was a hulking DT drafted #21 overall out of Baylor after a large trade-down with Atlanta (who selected stud WR Julio Jones with the Browns' pick). Like many others on this list, Taylor's best season came his rookie year after which injuries and ineffectiveness caused him to lose playing time. He was released after four seasons with the team. Had the Browns stayed put at #6, they could have selected Jones, OT Tyron Smith, or DL JJ Watt; even with the #21 pick, they could have taken a Pro Bowl defensive lineman in Cameron Jordannote  or Cameron Heyward, or a potential franchise QB in Andy Dalton or Colin Kaepernick. Cleveland also failed to draft a single impact player with any of the four additional picks they got in the trade.
  • 2012:
    • Trent Richardson was a standout college RB for Alabama who was drafted by the Browns #3 overall. He underperformed horribly, with some of the worst yards per attempt in the league in his rookie season. The Browns franchise took the blame rather than Richardson, and they traded him to the Colts just two games into his sophomore season in exchange for a first round draft pick. He again underperformed horribly, was released from the Colts after the following year, and never landed a final roster spot in the NFL again. Richardson later tried catching on in the CFL, AAF, XFL (where he wasn't even drafted) and the Mexican league. He's currently considered one of the biggest draft busts of The New '10s. Some of the players the Browns could have had instead were QB Ryan Tannehill, and future Defensive Players of the Year LB Luke Kuechly and CB Stephon Gilmore.
    • Brandon Weeden was a QB drafted with the #22 pick out of Oklahoma State, where he set numerous school passing records. Weeden was an interesting prospect in that he already played several years of minor league baseball before returning to school to play football, making him the oldest player ever selected in the first round of the Draft at 28 years old.note . This was an already risky move, as it severely reduced his potential window of productivity. Weeden was one of the five rookie QBs to be named a starter in 2012, the most ever, but he was easily the least successful of the bunch. In his first game, he managed to get trapped under the flag during the pregame festivities and then threw four picks, resulting in a passer rating of 5.6, one of the worst ever for a player who attempted more than 15 passes in a game. He improved through his rookie year, setting a (since-passed) franchise record for passing yards by a rookie. He suffered a broken thumb early in the second season, and replacement Brian Hoyer played well enough in his absence to keep the starting job; he only regained it when Hoyer suffered an injury of his own, only to lose it again to backup Jason Campbell. Weeden was released by the Browns at the end of the season and bounced around several teams as a backup. Beyond Weeden being the third first-round QB bust for the Browns since they returned to the league, perhaps the most gut-wrenching thing to Browns fans is that he was drafted ahead of several other QBs who went on to greater NFL success, most notably Russell Wilson.
  • 2013 - Barkevious Mingo was an edge-rushing LB selected by the Browns with the #6 overall pick out of LSU. Extremely athletic with a long frame, Mingo was still 20-30 lbs lighter than most teams prefer their edge rushers to be. He suffered a bruised lung during his rookie preseason which required hospitalization and returned to account for only two sacks during his rookie year. He lost his starting job during his second season, and after his third season where he played sparingly, was traded to the Patriots for a mere 5th round draft pick. (That resulted in a happy ending for Mingo at least, as he won a Super Bowl with the Pats as a backup/special teamer.) He has since bounced around the league, becoming the first player in NFL history to play in all 16 games for six different teams in six straight seasons, but has never played up to his lofty draft status, taken ahead of players like DeAndre Hopkins, Travis Kelce, and Tyrann Mathieu. Mingo was charged with indecency with a child in 2021 and faces up to 20 years in prison.
  • 2014
    • Justin Gilbert was a CB drafted by the Browns out of Oklahoma State with the #8 pick (after trading down from the #4 pick). Extremely athletic with good size for the position, Gilbert struggled as a tackler and had known substance abuse issues. A heel injury and an illness cost him nearly his entire rookie year, and he was demoted to a reserve/special teamer for his second season. Just before the start of his third season, he was traded to the division rival Pittsburgh Steelers for a measly 6th round pick. He played almost exclusively special teams for the Steelers (only 11 defensive snaps in 12 games) and was released after the season. Gilbert's career hit another pot hole as, shortly after he was released, he was suspended by the league for one year due to substance abuse violations. Had the Browns stayed at the #4 pick, they could have drafted elite pass rusher Khalil Mack. Even at #8, Gilbert was drafted right before nine straight Pro Bowlers, including three-time Defensive Player of the Year Aaron Donald; any of whom could have been a much better use of that #8 pick.
    • Johnny Manzielnote  was a QB drafted #22 overall. (Noticing a trend with quarterbacks taken by the Browns with that pick?) "Johnny Football" came into the NFL with an extraordinary amount of hype, having won the Heisman in 2012 as a redshirt freshman at Texas A&M. However, he was also one of the most polarizing prospects of recent years, with scouts calling him everything from a "rare competitor" to "undraftable".note  A potentially bigger issue was his off-field behavior, including a misdemeanor arrest in 2012 and several incidents in 2013. The Browns initially passed on Manziel with their #8 pick before choosing him at #22. After two seasons marked by excessive partying, attitude problems, injuries, and pathetic play, capped off by a domestic violence arrest, the Browns cut ties with him after only two seasons. Manziel could not find another job in the NFL, and after a year out of football, during which he was diagnosed with bipolar disorder (which helped to explain but not excuse some of the behavior that scuttled his career), he got sober and eventually signed with the CFL (which soon blackballed him, too) and the AAF. He later decided to give the game one more try, signing in late 2020 with a new 7-on-7 passing-oriented circuit, the Fan Controlled Football League. Much like the other Browns draft bust QBs on this list, the Manziel selection comes as salt-in-the-wound for Cleveland fans because he was drafted ahead of several other QBs who went on to greater NFL success (most notably Teddy Bridgewater, Derek Carr, and Jimmy Garoppolo).
  • 2015:
    • Danny Shelton was a massive DT selected with the #12 pick out of Washington. Despite starting all but three games in three seasons with the Browns, Shelton recorded only 1.5 sacks while failing to improve their run defense. He was traded to the Patriots along with a 5th round pick in exchange for a 3rd round pick. Three Pro Bowlers went in the next six picks after Shelton.
    • Cameron Erving was an offensive tackle selected with the #19 pick out of Florida State. The Browns moved Erving to guard and later to center after losing the aforementioned Alex Mack to free agency. He struggled in every position they tried him in, causing the Browns to trade him to the Chiefs for a meager 5th round pick after just two seasons.
  • 2016 - Corey Coleman was a WR drafted #15 overall out of Baylor following multiple trade-downs from their original #2 overall pick. Coleman struggled with injuries, barely playing half his games in two seasons with the Browns, and infamously dropped a pass that was the Browns' final chance to avert a winless season in 2017. He was traded to the Bills for a 7th round draft pick, released soon after, and has bounced around the league ever since. Had they stayed at #2, the Browns could have selected QB Carson Wentz, RB Ezekiel Elliott, CB Jalen Ramsey, or DE Joey Bosa (all Pro Bowlers). Even at #15, they still had better options available than Coleman; two of the next three players selected (S Keanu Neal and C Ryan Kelly) became Pro Bowlers.
  • 2017 seems to have been a turning point in the Browns' draft fortunes. They used the #1 overall pick that year on multi-time Pro Bowl DE Myles Garrett and the #1 overall pick in 2018 on starting QB Baker Mayfield. Both players became centerpieces in a successful rebuild that culminated in the Browns making the playoffs in 2020 for the first time in 18 years and then racking up their first playoff victory in 27.note 
  • In 2022, Cleveland traded three future first round picks for Houston Texans' QB Deshaun Watson (see above under "Notorious"). This trade—and the massive contract of guaranteed money that the Browns offered Watson, who remains embroiled in controversy due to over twenty sexual assault and harrassment civil cases filed against him—is likely to cast a long shadow over Cleveland for years to come, regardless of their success on the field. Meanwhile, Mayfield (who regressed in 2021 due to injuries, but was seen as a likely bounce-back candidate for 2022) requested a trade when the team began pursuing Watson, saying that he felt the team had been less than honest with him throughout the process and the relationship was too far gone to mend.

Notable Disappointments

Most players that underperform in the NFL only become famous if they were drafted high but fell well short of expectations. There are some exceptions, however, who become known either for actually showing some level of greatness for a season or two before descending into obscurity or simply for failing in a memorable or spectacular fashion. Some coaches and executives also fall into this category by utterly failing at the pro level.

     Notable Disappointing Players 
  • Blake Bortles was drafted #3 overall by the Jacksonville Jaguars in 2014 out of UCF. The first QB off the board, he was considered a developmental prospect with high upside thanks to his size, athleticism, and arm-strength, he also drew unfortunate comparisons to his predecessor, draft bust Blaine Gabbert. Bortles took over early in his rookie season and seemingly proved his detractors right, putting up a losing record in each of his first three seasons and having a problem with interceptions, though he did show some promise by also throwing for franchise records in passing touchdowns (35) and passing yards (4,428) in 2015. He was shaping up to be a true bust until 2017, when a series of additions to the Jaguars defense turned the unit into one of the league's best. Bortles himself came up clutch in several games, leading the team to a 10-6 record and solid playoff run. Though they fell just short of an improbable Super Bowl appearance after Tom Brady led a Patriots comeback in the AFC Championship, the Jaguars rewarded Bortles with a three-year, $54 million contract extension the following offseason. However, he and the entire Jaguars team regressed badly the following season, tumbling to a 5-11 record. The Jags signed former Eagles Super Bowl MVP Nick Foles in the offseason and released Bortles on the same day. He has since bounced around in backup jobs with several teams but has not come close to the level of success he enjoyed in 2017. Fans of The Good Place may recognize him as the favorite player of the Jacksonville-native character, Jason.
  • Mike Boryla was a fourth-round pick out of Stanford in 1974 known as likely the worst Pro Bowl QB ever. Though drafted by the Bengals, Boryla forced a trade to the Philadelphia Eagles for his rookie season, where he competed with Roman Gabriel for the starting job on the long-struggling team. In 1975, Boryla started a total of five games and threw for 6 TDs-12 INTs and fewer than 1,000 yards. Despite worse numbers than many backups that year, he earned a Pro Bowl nod; his selection continues to baffle NFL historians, with most guessing that he was picked at random as an afterthought after almost all of the potential star players who could have filled the spot turned it down. Boryla actually led the NFC to a comeback victory in that game, which was in some ways the highlight of his career. After starting most of the next season, a knee injury ended his time in Philly, and he entered a law career after spending 1978 on the bench in Tampa.
  • Sam Bradford was a QB drafted with the #1 overall pick by the St. Louis Rams in 2010 after a Heisman-winning campaign at Oklahoma. While his time in the NFL was not disastrous enough for most to consider him an outright bust (as he did much better than the other 13 QBs in his class), Bradford stands out for how he managed to massively cash out on a fairly mundane career. As the last #1 pick before the institution of the NFL's new rookie salary structure, he received a record-shattering 6-year, $78 million rookie deal from the Rams that made him a top five paid QB before even taking his first snap as a pro.note  He won Offensive Rookie of the Year and put up solid statistics in spite of a bevy of injuries, especially in terms of efficiency and avoiding turnovers. After tearing his ACL (again) during the 2014 preseason and missing the full year, he was traded to the Philadelphia Eagles for Nick Foles as well as 2nd and 5th round picks. The Eagles fell short of the playoffs, but they signed Bradford to a $36 million extension after the season for continuing his efficient play. However, they also traded up in the 2016 Draft to acquire QB Carson Wentz and unexpectedly traded Bradford right after the preseason to the Minnesota Vikings after they lost starting QB Teddy Bridgewater to a career-threatening knee injury during practice. He remained very efficient, setting the record for single-season completion percentage (since broken), but the team fell below expectations, finishing 8-8. Bradford suffered a season-ending injury the next year after just two games, and the Vikings did not attempt to re-sign him. He signed with Arizona on a one-year, $20 million deal, was benched after an 0-3 start, and retired from football at the end of the season. Despite a disappointing starting record of 34-48-1 and a host of season ending injuries, Bradford earned a whopping $129 millionnote  in his nine-year career.
  • Larry Brown was a twelfth round pick for the Dallas Cowboys out of TCU in 1991, right as the team's Super Bowl dynasty was starting to heat up. The CB had an unexpectedly solid rookie season, earning a starting position, and became a dependable (if not flashy) part of the Cowboys defense. In 1996, Brown became the first CB to win a Super Bowl MVP after making two interceptions in XXX. He entered free agency after that performance and signed a lucrative deal with the Oakland Raiders the following season... and only put up one more start for the rest of his career, as injuries and personal conduct led to him being benched and let go in Oakland and Minnesota. Brown retired in 1998 after a second month-long stint in Dallas. He is still recognized as one of the league's biggest One Game Wonders and biggest free agency disappointments.
  • Maurice Clarett was (briefly) a RB for the Denver Broncos, which drafted him in the third round in 2005 (#101, the last compensatory pick of that round). He played at Ohio State for one season, leading them to the 2002 BCS title, but was dismissed from the school after clashes with coaching staff and university officials and allegations of academic misconductnote . He tried to sue the NFL to allow himself to be a part of the 2004 Draft Class but ultimately lost his case on appeal. His college career was also done as a result, as he was found to have hired an agent during the whole mess. The Broncos raised a lot of eyebrows by taking him so (relatively) high after so many years of drama without results on the field. His time in the NFL was as short-lived as short-lived can get: he never saw a down in either the preseason or regular season after Denver cut him due to his weight problems and constant feuding with the coaching staff. Soon after, Clarett saw jail time for armed robbery and other charges, but he stabilized and turned his life around, becoming a motivational speaker and advocate for criminal justice reform and even briefly returning to football in the UFL in 2010, playing for the first time in eight years.
  • Jimmy Clausen, while not a "draft bust" in the traditional sense, had one of the most disappointing QB careers in the modern NFL. One of the most hyped high school QBs ever, Clausen put up a statistically promising performance for a middling Notre Dame program and was widely expected to be a first round pick in the 2010 Draft. However, while he was the third passer taken off the board after Sam Bradford and Tim Tebow, he wound up sliding to be taken in the second round by the Carolina Panthers. Many analysts attributed this slide less to concerns about his play than about his off-field issues and perceived smugness, but his on-field performance turned out to be the bigger problem. After taking the starting job in his rookie year, Clausen only won a single start (after which he boasted to his fellow rookie QB opponent that he would catch up to his level soon) and helped secure Carolina the #1 pick they used on his far more successful replacement, Cam Newton. Clausen didn't see the field again for four years and was out of football in 2015 following equally unsuccessful stints with the Bears and Ravens.
  • Kerry Collins was a journeyman QB whose lengthy career (17 seasons) and moments of promise largely keep him out of the "bust" conversation, though he also experienced some of the deepest lows of any NFL QB. The Heisman finalist was picked #6 overall in 1995 out of Penn State as the Carolina Panthers' first ever draft choice, and he earned a Pro Bowl selection in his second year after leading the young expansion franchise on a deep playoff run. However, he also struggled with alcoholism, leading to a drunk driving arrest and an incident where he called a teammate a racial slur. In 1998, Collins asked to be benched for a few games to seek care; instead, he was traded to the Saints and forced to finish out the season before being cut. Despite deteriorating play and a "bust" label, he signed with the New York Giants, began seeking treatment, and regained the starting role. He went on a remarkable comeback run in 2000, taking the Giants to Super Bowl XXXV... only to lose after putting up one of the worst passing performances in Super Bowl history, posting a passer rating of 7.1 and throwing four INTs to zero TDs. After a few more solid seasons (even setting some Giants franchise records), Collins was cut after 2003 and signed with the Raiders, where he lasted two years as Rich Gannon's middling replacement. He next signed with the Tennessee Titans, initially as a stopgap while Vince Young developed. After Young's benching (see above under "QB Busts"), Collins took back the starting position and had another Pro Bowl season in 2008. However, he again regressed the following year, was benched after the Titans were blown out 59-0 against the Patriots, and continued to fight for the starting position before retiring in 2011... only to decide to return to the NFL a month later to replace Peyton Manning on the Colts after his neck injury. Collins again disappointed, lost the starting role after a concussion, and retired for good after that season.
  • Tony Eason was a QB selected #15 overall out of Illinois in the historically strong 1983 Draftnote  by the New England Patriots as the heir apparent to long-time starter Steve Grogan. Eason and Grogan traded the starting job back and forth for two seasons until Eason finally won it outright in 1985 and led the Patriots to the franchise's first Super Bowl appearance, becoming the first team to make the Super Bowl after winning three road playoff games. However, he also became the only starting QB in Super Bowl history to fail to complete a pass as he and the Patriots were annihilated by the legendary '85 Bears defense. He was pulled from the game after going 0/6 passing, suffering three sacks, and losing a fumble, while the Bears went on to win 46-10, the largest margin of victory for a Super Bowl at the time (and still second largest ever). Eason had one more solid season the following year, but injuries and ineffectiveness saw him released in 1989. He spent one final season with the Jets (ironically backing up Ken O'Brien, who was selected after Eason in the same draft class).note  While his Super Bowl appearance keeps from being considered a true bust, Eason goes down as a disappointment especially when considering the strong QB draft class he was part of and his selection ahead of Hall of Famer Dan Marino.
  • Vince Ferragamo had a very unique career arc. Drafted in the fourth round in 1977 out of Nebraska by the Los Angeles Rams, he served as a backup for two years before being thrust into the starting role in the middle of the 1979 season after starter Pat Haden broke his finger. He performed well enough to get the 9-win Rams all the way to the franchise's first Super Bowl appearance. He and Colin Kaepernick remain the only QBs to reach the Big Game in their first season as a starter. Ferragamo lost the Super Bowl but won the starting job and performed very well the following season. However, his career trajectory was radically altered when he signed with the CFL's Montreal Alouettes in 1981 for a contract more than double the size of the Rams' offer. This proved a disastrous decision: already prone to interceptions in the States, he was unprepared for the Canadian style of play and was benched after throwing 25 INTs to just 7 TDs. He returned to the Rams the following year and eventually regained the starting job, but he still threw more picks than scores in his sole full year under center. He was shipped off to the Bills in 1985, where he put up one more dreadful season, and retired after another year on the Packers bench.
  • Matt Flynn was mainly a backup QB who put up a few very exciting moments that never amounted to a full career as a starter. A seventh-round pick out of LSU in 2008, Flynn was a backup to Aaron Rodgers with the Green Bay Packers, where he proved very capable. In a Week 17 game against the Lions in 2011, the Packers, who had already secured the #1 seed in the playoffs, rested a number of their starters, while the Lions were still playing for the #5 seed. In an ultimately meaningless game for Green Bay, Flynn threw a franchise-record six touchdown passes, surpassing both Brett Favre and Rodgers' best numbersnote . After that season, he got big-money offers from all over the league as a starter, eventually signing with the Seahawks before losing the starting job to a rookie Russell Wilson in the preseason. In the next two years, he was traded or cut by the Seahawks, Raiders, and Bills before landing right back in Green Bay, whose season was in a death-spiral after Aaron Rodgers was injured. He went back to playing admirably (even overcoming a 23-point deficit in a comeback victory against Cowboys) and kept the team afloat until Rodgers healed. Debate continues over whether or not he might have been a suitable starting QB somewhere, but Packers fans are just as happy to never find out.
  • Don Gault was an undrafted QB out of Hofstra (which no longer plays football) who joined the Cleveland Browns in 1968. He is notable for just one thing: posting a 0.0 passer rating in his one and only start in the NFL in 1970 after stepping off the bench in relief the week prior. In one of the worst pro football passing efforts ever, Gault threw 16 passes and completed two to the other team and only one to his own. Though that one throw was, surprisingly, a pretty deep 44-yard ball, this is still the lowest completion percentage of any QB to post the dreaded 0.0. He was benched at the half, future draft bust Mike Phipps led the Browns to a come-from-behind victory, and Gault never played another snap in the pros. Combined with his poor performance as a backup, Gault's career passer rating was 2.2.
  • Jeff George was the #1 overall pick in 1990 and a prominent example of a bust for the team that drafted them who still managed to eke out a decent career, albeit one that never lived up to his draft stock. George was drafted out of Illinois by the Indianapolis Colts, who traded up for the pick and offered the Indy-native the then-richest rookie contract in league history. Despite boasting a powerful arm, the QB struggled mightily with interceptions and didn't bring the team many wins, which, coupled with a reported attitude problem, led to him being traded to the Atlanta Falcons. George had a better performance there, even taking them to a playoff appearance, but he was suspended for most of 1996 after a televised sideline argument with the coach. He was next dealt to the Raiders and put up strong numbers for two seasons before an injury benched him and sent him to Minnesota. George filled in for an injured Randall Cunningham, put up an 8-2 record as a starter, and won his first playoff game, but a lengthy contract dispute kept the team from re-signing him. He played his last seasons as a starter in Washington, playing his last game in 2001, but continued to bounce around other teams as a backup until 2006. He publicly kept seeking jobs as a starting QB into the early '10s, when he had entered his forties and hadn't played in nearly a decade.
  • Joe Gilliam was one of the first African-American QBs to play in the Super Bowl era, being drafted by the Steelers in the 11th round in 1972 out of Tennessee State. After spending his first two seasons as a backup, "Jefferson Street Joe" won the starting job over Terry Bradshaw in 1974, making him the first African-American QB to start on opening day in the Super Bowl era. Although the Steelers started the season 4-1-1, it was almost entirely due to their defense, as Gilliam completed less than 50% of his passes while tossing 4 TDs against 8 INTs. Additionally, he ran afoul of Chuck Noll's game plans and dealt with heavy substance abuse issues off the field that affected his play. He was benched after week 6, with Bradshaw reclaiming the starting role and guiding the Steelers to the first of four Super Bowls that decade. Gilliam was cut after the next year, could not land a spot on another NFL team, and spent many years in the semi-pro ranks, going through rehab, and dealing with homelessness, at one point having to pawn off both of his Super Bowl rings. He started to turn his life around in the late '90s, cleaning himself up and opening up a football camp for teens in 2000, but tragically relapsed later that year and died of a cocaine overdose on Christmas Day.
  • Rex Grossman was a QB drafted #22 overall by the Chicago Bears in 2003 out of Florida, where he was a Heisman runner-up in one of the closest votes of all time. After spending the majority of his rookie year on the bench, he was named starter in his second season only to suffer a season-ending knee injury after three games. He didn't even make it out of the preseason in year three before suffering a fractured ankle. His propensity for injuries had him looking like a total bust... until 2006, when he paired with the Bears' elite defense to lead the team to a 13-3 record and an appearance in Super Bowl XLI. That year, he earned the nickname "Sexy Rexy" and became something of a Memetic Mutation, with his gunslinger style of play being referred to as either "F*ck it, I'm going deep!" or "Unleashing the Dragon", and analysts referred to him as either "Good Rex" or "Bad Rex" due to his wildly inconsistent performances. In some games, he dominated with near-perfect passer ratings; in others, he performed miserably with single digit ratings.note  He set the NFL record for worst passer rating by a winning QB with at least 15 passing attempts (1.3 out of 156.3) and also became the second QB to have a 0.0 rating during a season in which his team made the Super Bowl.note  Unfortunately, "Bad Rex" showed up in the Super Bowl, throwing two picks (one returned for a TD) and fumbling twice, leading to a Bears loss; he frequently appears on "worst performances/worst QBs to play in a Super Bowl" lists. Grossman suffered yet another knee injury the following year and made just one start the next year before moving on to a short stint in Houston and several seasons as a backup in Washington, officially retiring in 2015 after not seeing the field for several years.
  • Christian Hackenberg was drafted #51 overall in 2016 by the New York Jets out of Penn State. Despite only being a second round pick, his name appears on a number of "colossal draft bust" lists due to both his immense college hype and the spectacularity of his failure as a pro, as he never saw the field in a regular season NFL game. A five-star recruit out of high school and the #1 QB prospect in the nation, Hackenberg was named Penn State's starting QB as a true freshman, set numerous program records, and was named Freshman of the Year. Draftniks said that he likely would have had a first round grade in the 2014 Draft had he been eligible, but his numbers declined the next two seasons, particularly his completion percentage, and he became known for taking far too many sacks. One of the most polarizing draft prospects in years, with grades ranging from "top 10 pick" to "undraftable", the Jets took him in the second round hoping to develop his immense tools as their QB of the future. After several disastrous preseason showings, including multiple pick sixes, he entered his rookie year as the fourth string QB (most teams rarely carry more than three). Entering his second season, he came in last in a three-way competition for the starting job and became only the second QB drafted in the top two rounds since the merger to not attempt a pass in his first two seasons.note  The following offseason, he was traded to the Raiders for a conditional 7th round pick, the "condition" being that he made their roster after final cuts... which he did not. He bounced around to the Eagles and Bengals practice squads, failed to catch on in either, and that was it for his NFL career; he put up a likewise terrible performance in the AAF in 2019. Perhaps worst of all for Jets fans, two whole rounds after Hackenberg was selected, the Cowboys selected multi-Pro Bowl QB Dak Prescott. Further, his presence on the roster was the reason why the Jets did not consider Patrick Mahomes or Deshaun Watson in the 2017 Draft.note 
  • Randy Hedberg was one of a number of terrible QBs to play for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers during their 0-26 start who is particularly notable for having the worst career passer rating of any modern era QB with over 50 attempts: a flat-out 0.0. An eighth round pick out of the D-II Minot State in 1977, the rookie was thrust into starting four games and playing in relief in another three for the terrible team. With 90 passing attempts, Hedberg completed 25 (a truly abysmal 27.78%) and threw ten INTs against zero TDs. After his second game that season with a 0.0 rating, Hedberg never played in the pros again and returned to his alma mater to coach; he currently serves as a QB coach at North Dakota State, where he's developed a reputation as a good developer of pro talent, having coached high draft picks like Carson Wentz and Trey Lance.
  • Peyton Hillis had one of the strangest One Season Wonder careers of any NFL player, one that many fans would likely struggle to even remember happened were it not for Hillis being featured on the cover of Madden NFL 12. A seventh-round draft pick out of Arkansas in 2008, Hillis originally played as a fullback, a position that had largely faded from relevance completely by then. In his third season, he wound up on the moribund Cleveland Browns and was positioned as a halfback, where he saw unexpected success as a rusher and receiver and scored 13 touchdowns (tying for third most overall that season). He still played for a 5-11 team, ranked outside the top five in almost every statistical category, and wasn't selected to a Pro Bowl or any other honors. How did he get placed on a Madden cover, usually reserved for MVPs and Super Bowl winners? That year's athlete was selected via a fan poll, and since Hillis had been a major contributor to the Browns' surprise blowout victory over the otherwise-invincible New England Patriots that season, their long-suffering fanbase was energized to make him the representative of the NFL on that year's title. This also made Hillis arguably the only athlete to actually have his career ruined by the legendary "Madden Curse"—he missed several games after making the cover, allegedly due to seeking an extension and a higher salary that would better reflect his new profile than his relatively meager rookie contract. His declining performance in the games he did play ensured that he was released by the Browns after that year, and he only started in three more games before he was out of football entirely.
  • Gary Huff led the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to their first ever victory in 1977. Unfortunately for Huff, this meant that he was on the carousel of QBs that the Bucs cycled through in the historically terrible start of their franchise, and his achievement of winning an otherwise-meaningless game was the highlight of a very poor career. Huff was drafted by the Chicago Bears in the second round in 1973 out of Florida State but performed poorly as a starter, leading to him being traded to the Bucs in '77, where he continued to play badly. Huff never saw a NFL field again after 1978, having won only a quarter of his games as a starter and put up 15 career TDs against 50 INTs. He subsequently took on coaching and admin roles, which included him briefly seeing action as a player-coach for the USFL's Memphis Showboats in 1985.
  • Gary Keithley was a second-round pick out of Texas in 1973, going to the St. Louis Cardinals. In his rookie season, the QB stepped in for his first game as starter in relief to Jim Hart. In potentially the worst quarterbacked game of the modern era, Keithley and his opponent, Falcons QB Bob Lee, both posted a passer rating of 0.0, with Keithley completing two of ten passes for nine yards, a pick-six, and no touchdowns. Unlike Lee, who was benched, Keithley played the whole game and won thanks to a strong defense. He started again in Week 2, against the Cowboys, where he became the only QB to go 0.0 in two straight games, once again being completely useless as his team got blown out; he never played another snap.
  • Eddie Lacy was a RB drafted by the Green Bay Packers in the second round in 2013 out of Alabama, where he had been part of three BCS Championship teams. Lacy immediately broke out as one of the league's most dynamic power backs, breaking Packer franchise rookie records and winning Offensive Rookie of the Year. However, while he had a strong sophomore season, Lacy began to struggle with his weight and staying in playing shape, which likely contributed to a sharp decline in performance and multiple injuries. He was out of football after spending 2017 on Seattle's bench, and his story stands out as a high-profile example of the difficulties many players face with maintaining pro-level conditioning.
  • Byron Leftwich was a QB drafted #7 overall in 2003 out of Marshall by the Jacksonville Jaguars. He showed enough production to avoid being a true draft bust but still had a once-promising career derailed by injuries and general bad luck. Leftwich first garnered national attention in college when he suffered a broken tibia during the first quarter of a game but came back to play after halftime with two of his linemen carrying him up the field between snaps. He possessed a powerful arm and massive frame but lacked mobilitynote  and had a long, awkward throwing motion making him a divisive draft prospect. Nonetheless, he took over as starter four games into his rookie season and led the team a winning record as starter over the next three years, but injuries continued to plague him while backup David Garrard played well in relief, leading to the Jags releasing Leftwich in 2007. He signed as a backup with Atlanta after the Michael Vick dog fighting scandal, losing both of his two games as a starter, and spent three seasons as a backup with the Steelers as part of their Super Bowl XLIII-winning team. He has since gone on to a more successful coaching career as The Lancer to his former OC in Pittsburgh, Bruce Arians, who he followed to Arizona and Tampa Bay and winning Super Bowl LV as OC with Tom Brady at QB.
  • Dorsey Levens, like Peyton Hillis above, was a RB with an average career who is most notable for being featured on a Madden NFL cover after a brief streak of good play only to immediately be hit by the "Madden Curse". His case is unique, however, in that he was placed on the cover in the middle of the season off of his performance in just a few games. Levens, a fifth round pick by the Green Bay Packers in '94 out of Georgia Tech, led the team in rushing in their Super Bowl XXXI victory (with a modest 61 yards) and had a great showing the following year, but a Game-Breaking Injury reduced his productivity. However, he bounced back with a few strong performances in the first few games of the '99 season, and when all-time great Barry Sanders abruptly retired right before the game was set to hit store shelves in some international markets, Levens was picked as his last-minute replacement. By the time the game was in stores, his play had already leveled off to average; he was injured again the following season, bounced around a few more teams, and was out of football after 2004.
  • Rusty Lisch was a backup QB for the Rams and Bears in early '80s. A fourth round pick out of Notre Dame in 1980, his notability comes from the 1984 season, during a stretch which is widely considered the worst by any QB in modern NFL history. While serving as a 3rd string QB for the Bears, he was pressed into duty after injuries to the starter and backup. In 85 pass attempts, he managed to throw six interceptions (two returned for touchdowns), zero touchdowns, and also fumbled five times. He was so bad that Bears HC Mike Ditka benched him—not for another QB, but for running back Walter Payton (who threw a pair of TD passes in relief). A 2011 Deadspin article named Lisch as the "worst player in NFL history", stating:
    "Sure, [Ryan] Leaf and [JaMarcus] Russell were bigger busts. Lisch, after all, was a fourth-round pick who had backed up Joe Montana at Notre Dame. But if you have one game you need to lose, and you require a quarterback to take you there, Lisch is — hands down — the man you want."
  • Johnny Lujack was a QB at Notre Dame drafted #4 overall in 1946 by the Chicago Bears, though he wound up returning to school first, having served in the Navy during WWII, and won the Heisman after already being drafted to the pros (the only time that's ever happened). Lujack joined the Bears in 1948 and succeeded Sid Luckman as starter the following year, putting up a remarkable breakout season where he led the league in passing yards and touchdowns. This briefly made him one of the most famous athletes in the country and seemed to ensure that the Bears would remain the league's dominant team. However, his production fell off quickly after that (despite nods in the first two Pro Bowls), and he retired early in 1952 to be an assistant coach at his alma mater. He was passed over for the head coaching job after two seasons and instead moved into a career as a commentator and car salesman.note 
  • Tommy Maddox was a QB drafted #25 overall by the Denver Broncos in 1992 out of UCLA. Intended to serve as John Elway's successor, he performed poorly the few times he came off the bench, and when Elway launched a genuine Career Resurrection and led the league in passing the next year, Maddox was traded away to clear salary cap space. He was out of the NFL by 1997 and entered a career as an insurance salesman, which would have cemented him as a tremendous draft bust. However, unlike most folks on this page, Maddox was able to salvage a short but inspiring comeback to cap off his time as a player. After several years out of football, he returned to the Arena League in 2000, then joined Vince McMahon's short-lived first iteration of the XFL the next year as the QB of the Los Angeles Xtreme, which he led to a championship while winning the league's only MVP. His performance was enough to get him back into the NFL, and he won Comeback Player of the Year in 2002 after winning the starting position with the Pittsburgh Steelers and putting up a winning record. His play wasn't exactly lights out, though (he threw nearly as many INTs as TDs), and his success didn't stretch past that year, as injuries led to him being replaced by Ben Roethlisberger. However, Maddox was on the bench for the Steelers' victory in Super Bowl XL, giving him the distinction of winning a championship in two different leagues; he was released after that season and retired soon after.
  • Don Majkowski, known to fans as the "Majik Man", was a QB drafted in the tenth round by the Green Bay Packers out of Virginia in 1987. After sharing playing time with Randy Wright for his first two seasons, Majkowski had a breakout year in 1989, leading the NFL in passing yards and just losing out (to Joe Montana) on the league MVP award; after that incredible season, fans thought he might finally lead the Packers into a new era after decades of mediocrity. This hope was dashed when he suffered a torn rotator cuff in 1990 and was never able to get back to his previous level of performance. In the end, Majkowski became primarily known for being The Pete Best to the legendary Brett Favre, who came in off the bench after he sustained another injury (a torn ligament in his ankle) during a 1992 Week 3 game and finally did take the Pack back to the promised land.note  Majik played the next four season as a backup on other teams before retiring after 1996 (the same season, incidentally, in which the Packers won the Super Bowl with Favre).
  • Gary Marangi was a third round pick by the Buffalo Bills out of Boston College in 1974. Meant to serve as a backup QB, Marangi was forced to step in after starter Joe Ferguson went down for 1976 with a back injury. In that seven-game span, he threw 16 interceptions and completed a staggeringly anemic 35.3% of his passes, still the worst single-season completion record for a QB with over 200 attempts. He was out of pro football after the next season.
  • Marcus Mariota was the #2 pick in 2015, a QB drafted by the Tennessee Titans out of Oregon after winning the Heisman and leading the Ducks to the National Championship game in 2014. Mariota was generally popular (especially in his birth state of Hawaii), put up solid numbers in his first two seasonsnote , and took the Titans to their first playoff appearance in nine years and first playoff win in 14 (where he became the first player to catch his own pass and score a touchdown in the postseason). However, the mobile QB was inconsistent, hamstrung by overly risk-averse play, and frequently sidelined by injuries. After the team missed the playoffs again in 2018, he was benched in the midst of the next season in favor of Ryan Tannehill, who broke out to much greater success. In 2020, he was signed by the Raiders as a backup, primarily subbing in for running plays, before being signed by the Falcons in 2022.
  • John "J.K." McKay Jr. was a WR for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers during the first few years of the teams existence in the late '70s. His notability comes not from his own skill but from being one of the prime examples of Nepotism in pro football history. He played for his father, John McKay Sr., at USC and then followed him to the NFL, signing with the Bucs after his dad landed the head coaching job. Despite being drafted in the sixteenth round, J.K. played in 41 games, starting 30 of them, and managed just 43 total catches in his three seasons with the Bucs. J.K. was one of the starters for the Bucs during their record-setting 26-straight-game losing streak. Other players, including QB Steve Spurrier, came to resent the senior McKay due to the perception that his son was continuing to get playing time while better players rode the bench behind him. (Spurrier allegedly intentionally threw high passes over the middle of the field when throwing to J.K. in attempt to get him injured so other, better players could see the field.) J.K. was forced into retirement after three seasons in the NFL due to complications from a broken hand. He later served as a GM in the first iteration of the XFL and then as Head of Football Operations of the AAF, two pro leagues which both infamously folded after just one season each.
  • Kim McQuilken was a QB drafted in the 3rd round of 1974 out of Lehigh (then D-II and now FCS) by the Atlanta Falcons. A third-string backup, McQuilken started seven games for the Falcons over three seasons and put up some truly abysmal performances in that short span of time; over 10% of his pass attempts resulted in interceptions, 28 in total against only 4 TD passes. He left the NFL in 1980 after a few years as a backup in Washington, holding a career passer rating of 17.9, the worst in the modern era among a passer with over 200 attempts. After some time as a starter in the USFL, he left football to start a career as a marketing executive with Turner Broadcasting, including some time as a top exec of Cartoon Network.
  • Neil O'Donnell was a QB drafted by the Pittsburgh Steelers in the third round in 1990 out of Maryland. He moved into the starting job in his second season, leading the Steelers to a winning record over the next four years and being selected to a Pro Bowl in 1992. However, he was very much a classic "game manager" who focused on low-risk passes and avoiding turnovers while empowering the team's strong run game and defense. In the final year of his contract, O'Donnell led the Steelers to Super Bowl XXX, where they lost to the dynastic Cowboys as he threw three costly picks, one returned for a touchdown. His serviceable play in Pittsburgh wouldn't earn him a spot on this list... but then the New York Jets offered him a five-year $25 million deal in free agency the following offseason, making him one of the ten highest paid QBs in the league. He immediately disappointed, going 0-6 in his first six starts in New York before suffering a season-ending shoulder injury. He rebounded somewhat the following year, going 8-6, but Jets coach/GM Bill Parcells opted to release him and take the cap hit. He had another poor season with the Bengals (who also offered him a big contract) the year after, then spent the final four years of his career in Tennessee as a backup before retiring in 2003, holding the lowest career interception percentage at that time but very little else to explain his big paydays. Expect to hear O'Donnell's name whenever all-time free agent busts are discussed.
  • Brock Osweiler was a QB drafted in the 2nd round in 2012 out of Arizona State by the Denver Broncos. He played sparingly in his first three seasons as Peyton Manning set single-season passing records and led Denver to a Super Bowl appearance. In 2015, age and injuries caught up to Manning, and after a disastrous performance where he put up a 0.0 passer rating, Denver switched to Osweiler for the rest of the regular season. He initially acquitted himself well but was benched during the regular season finale after committing three turnovers. Rested and healthy, Manning was named starter for their playoff run and led the team to a Super Bowl victory. Allegedly miffed at his benching, Osweiler lined up free agent visits with other teams despite Denver's stated desire to re-sign him. The Houston Texans infamously offered him a 4-year, $72 million deal, one much larger than any other player of Osweiler's experience level had ever been offered, without having him meet with HC Bill O'Brien first. Though the team won their division, the two frequently clashed, with O'Brien benching him late in the year after he reached a franchise-record 16 interceptions on the season. He returned to the field during the playoffs when replacement Tom Savage was injured but threw three picks and led to the Texans' elimination. Early in the following offseason, the Texans engaged in a "cash dump" trade, essentially giving away Osweiler and a 2nd round pick to Cleveland in exchange for a mere 4th round pick just so the cap-space-flush Browns would absorb the remaining money owed to him. He was cut by the Browns before the season, returned to Denver as a backup, and signed with Miami the following year before announcing his retirement. When it comes to all-time most disappointing free agent signings, expect Osweiler's name to be near the top.
  • Nathan Peterman is a QB most infamous for his time with the Buffalo Bills who ranks high on many "worst QBs ever" lists. Drafted in the fifth round in 2017 out of Pitt as a backup, Peterman was moved to the starting position mid-season due to Tyrod Taylor's struggles. His tenure as the Bills' starter didn't even last half a game—Peterman threw five interceptions before halftime and was quickly returned to the bench. "Petermeme", as he came to be known, filled in for three more games with the Bills to relieve injured starters, contributing to one sloppy win in a snowstormnote  and playing atrociously in the other two, recording the dreaded 0.0 passer rating in one and throwing multiple costly picks in both. He was let go by the Bills after just two seasons and is currently a backup for the Las Vegas Raiders.
  • Terrelle Pryor entered college at Ohio State as one of the most hyped high school QBs ever, and his college performance mostly lived up the hype, putting up promising performances as a dual-threat in 2009 and 2010. Pryor's college career came to a sudden halt after he received multiple suspensions for driving with a suspended license and breaking NCAA rules about selling memorabilia. He was picked up in the third round of the 2011 Supplemental Draft by the Oakland Raiders as the final pick made by Al Davis before his passing. After two seasons on the bench, Pryor was named the Raiders' starting QB in 2013 and showed flashes of promise, including pulling off the longest ever run by a QB in NFL history at 93 yards. Injury and inconsistent play led to him being benched and traded away, and Pryor jumped around the benches of multiple teams over the next few years. Desperate to see some time on the field, he switched to wide receiver for the Cleveland Browns in 2016 and actually had a stand-out year, putting up over 1,000 receiving yards. This proved to be a flash in the pan; he spent the next three seasons as a journeyman, putting up middling performances wrecked by injury at every stop before finally stepping down from football.
  • Mark Sanchez is a QB most famous for his time with the New York Jets, who drafted him at #5 overall in 2009 out of USC. Although he was able to take the Jets to two consecutive AFC Championship games in the 2009-10 seasons, the Jets were very much led by their dominant defense and running game while Sanchez was merely asked to limit mistakes. He had a mediocre year in 2011 and a horrible one in 2012, when he became known for the Butt Fumble—an infamous play committed on a Thanksgiving primetime game against the arch-rival Patriots where Sanchez's head collided with the rear end of an offensive lineman, causing him to drop the football, which was recovered by the Patriots and returned for a touchdown. After 40 straight weeks of the Butt Fumble as their Worst of the Worst "Not Top 10" play, ESPN retired it so other embarrassing plays could have a chance of winning the "top" spot.note  A shoulder injury cost him the 2013 season and the Jets released him the next year. Sanchez signed with the Eagles as a backup, and when starter Nick Foles was injured, he briefly returned to form and got a bit of redemption by leading the Eagles to a win on the Butt Fumble's anniversary. However, he soon regressed, bounced around as a backup in Denver, Chicago, and Washington for the next few years, and retired in 2019. He currently works as a game analyst for FOX.
  • Dennis Shaw broke multiple NCAA records as a passer in college at San Diego State and, despite the perceived lesser competition of his conference, was drafted in the second round by the Buffalo Bills in 1970. His initial performance as a rookie was far from exemplary, throwing twice as many INTs as TDs, struggling with fumbles, and winning just three games. Somehow, the AP made him the only QB to win Offensive Rookie of the Year for the first 37 years of the award. Shaw did not improve in the following years; he lost the starting job after three seasons, and he bounced around a few other teams before retiring from the NFL after 1978.
  • Timmy Smith is perhaps the greatest One-Hit Wonder in NFL history. While many of the other players on this list at least had one good season, this RB's claim to fame comes from a single game where he utterly dominated on football's biggest stage—Super Bowl XXII with Washington. Smith, a rookie 5th round draft pick from Texas Tech, entered the game with just 126 yards in the regular season to his name. He then rattled off a Super Bowl record 204 yards rushing as Washington blew out the Denver Broncos 42-10. Smith played in just nine more games afterward, totaling 476 yards rushing before being out of football in three years.
  • Duane Thomas was drafted #23 overall in 1970 out of West Texas State (now West Texas A&M) by the Dallas Cowboys. One of the biggest One-Season Wonders in NFL history, the HB got tangled in a nasty contract dispute with the team after a solid rookie season. Dallas attempted to trade him away to the Patriots, but Thomas came right back to Dallas' training camp a week later after Pete Rozelle voided the trade. His relationship with the franchise now completely poisoned, Thomas chose to become an Elective Mute in protest, not saying a word to anyone in public, including practices or meetings, throughout the whole season. Despite this, he remained extremely effective on the field during his sophomore season and would have been a favorite to win the Super Bowl MVP if that award had not been voted on by the same media group he had largely refused to speak to the day before. He was let go at the end of the season and bounced around a number of teams and leagues over the next decade, where his continued use of hardball salary negotiating tactics ensured he never stayed in one place for too long.
  • Daryl Turner was a WR drafted in the second round in 1984 by the Seattle Seahawks out of Michigan State. His numbers were fairly average save for a disproportionate number of his catches being made for touchdowns in his first two seasons. "Touchdown Turner" led the league in TD catches in 1985, but his productivity dropped after that peak. After he was benched in his fourth season, Seattle attempted to trade him to Cleveland, but the Browns infamously backed out in the middle of a press conference when they found out about Turner's back problems and drug issues. He was cut by Seattle after the failed trade and never played in the NFL again.
  • Chris Weinke had one of the most unique college careers of any player; a high MLB draft pick out of high school, Weinke spent six years playing minor league baseball before finally enrolling in college in 1997 at age 25. At age 28, he became the oldest Heisman winner ever after leading Florida State to an undefeated season and championship. Despite this success, the QB's age caused him to fall to the fourth round in the 2001 Draft, where he was selected by the Carolina Panthers. He was still viewed as a potentially strong prospect and was named the starter in his rookie season... in which the team went 1-15. Weinke put up the second-longest losing streak of any starting QB in NFL history at 17 games before being benched, left Carolina to serve as a backup in San Francisco in 2007, and retired the next year.
  • Charles White was a Heisman-winning RB at USC before he was drafted #27 overall by the Cleveland Browns in 1980. White put up poor numbers and struggled with both injuries and a cocaine addiction. The Browns cut him in 1985, and he signed with the L.A. Rams (now coached by John Robinson, his former college coach). After two more years of barely seeing the field behind Hall of Famer Eric Dickerson, Robinson bailed White out of jail after a cocaine arrest in the 1987 offseason and promised to keep him on the team if he stayed clean. This moment of sobriety, coming right before the 1987 player strike, opened up an incredible opportunity for the former bust: after never rushing for more than 350 yards in a single season, White led the entire league in rushing yards, winning a Pro Bowl selection and Comeback Player of the Year. This proved to be a flash in the pan, however; he regressed the following season and retired afterwards.
  • Jameis Winston was the #1 overall pick in 2015, selected by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers after a Heisman- and BCS Championship-winning career at Florida State. Though he was a controversial choice for some due to a then-ongoing sexual assault investigation from his college years, Winston set franchise records for a rookie QB and was even selected to a Pro Bowl in his first season. He continued to stand out as a passer for the Buccaneers, even after the league issued him a suspension in 2018 for a groping allegation, and his productivity truly exploded in his fifth season when, under new head coach Bruce Arians, he led the league in passing yards and completions, claimed multiple franchise records, and became one of only seven QBs to pass for over 5,000 yards in a single season. He was then... let go by the Buccaneers. Why? Because he also led the league in interceptions that year; besides becoming the sole member of the "30 TD-30 INT Club", Winston also became the first QB to throw 30 INTs in a season in over thirty years and the first ever to throw seven TDs for the opposing team in that span.note  The following offseason, the Bucs opted to replace the boom-or-bust Winston with the much more dependable Tom Brady (who immediately took the team to a Super Bowl), and he landed in New Orleans to back up (and eventually succeed) Drew Brees.
  • David Woodley was an eighth round pick out of LSU in 1980, heading to the Miami Dolphins as they sought a replacement at QB for Bob Griese. He was named starter but had an issue with interceptions and was regularly benched in favor of longtime backup Don Strock, most notably after a terrible performance in the famous "Epic in Miami" playoff game in his second year, and the Dolphins often ranked near the bottom in the league in passing even as the team generally performed well. After he laid an egg in Super Bowl XVII the following season, completing only four passes, the Dolphins decided that they needed to take the best available QB in the next draft to make their team truly competitive; they massively lucked out when Dan Marino dropped into their hands, and Woodley was quickly out of a job. The Steelers took a swing at him when trying to find a replacement to Terry Bradshaw, but he soon washed out and was out of the league by 1987. Tragically, Woodley also suffered from severe alcoholism and almost immediately began experiencing health issues after football; he died of liver failure in 2003.
  • Elbert "Ickey" Woods is one of biggest One Season Wonders in NFL history. A second-round pick for the Bengals in 1988 out of UNLV, the RB had a breakout rookie season, rushing for over 1,000 yards and 15 touchdowns in the regular season and putting up franchise record-setting numbers in the playoffs on the way to the team's Super Bowl appearance that year. His awkward touchdown celebration dance, the "Ickey Shuffle", ensured he remained a part of NFL lore even after multiple ACL injuries completely ruined his productivity the following season. Woods left pro football after just four years.

     Notable Disappointing Coaches and Executives 
  • Bill Arnsparger first rose to prominence as the DC for the Miami Dolphins from 1970-73, helping the young franchise win two Super Bowls behind his No-Name Defense. In 1974, he rode the highs of his success with the Dolphins to become HC for the New York Giants, at that time a struggling franchise clinging to life while bouncing between stadiums. After two losing seasons, he was fired after an 0-7 start in '76. He returned to the Dolphins two days after his firing, serving once again as the DC and created another elite unit known as the Killer-B's. In 1983, he was named as HC for LSU, finding more success this time before resigning to become the AD for Florida. After improving the university's image, he resigned in 1992 to become the DC for the San Diego Chargers, retiring after losing Super Bowl XXIX before passing away in 2015.
  • Bill Austin is best known as the last HC to be fired by the Pittsburgh Steelers. He started his NFL career as a lineman for the Giants during the '50s; the thirteenth round pick out of Oregon State won a championship with them in 1956 before going into a career as an assistant coach. He spent a year at Wichita in 1958 before Vince Lombardi, his former OC in New York, hired him as an o-line coach in Green Bay, where he developed future Hall of Famers Forrest Gregg and Jerry Kramer and won two championships. After spending a year with the Rams in 1965, he was hired by the Steelers as their HC the following year. Austin tried to replicate Lombardi's disciplinarian coaching style but instead wound up working his players into the ground, going 11-28-3 in three seasons with the Steelers before he was fired. He reunited with Lombardi as his o-line coach, this time in Washington, but took over as the team's interim coach following Lombardi's tragic death from cancer a week before the 1970 season began, going 6-8 before he was fired at the end of the season. He spent the next 15 years as an o-line coach for several teams before retiring and passed away in 2013.
  • Bert Bell is most famous for being the founder of the Philadelphia Eagles and a Hall of Fame commissioner responsible for greatly growing professional football. He was also one of the worst coaches the league has ever seen. Bell was originally a college player and coach before he founded the Philadelphia Eagles in 1933 and appointed himself as head coach in 1936 after co-founder Lud Wray failed to put up results and was pushed out of ownership. As the sole owner and with no one able to fire him, he put up an atrocious record of 10-44-2 over five seasons. Bell's struggle to sign talent to his terrible team caused him to lead the charge in devising and adopting the Draft in 1936, though the Eagles' first #1 pick chose a career in sales over football, meaning even this innovation didn't help the team. The only thing that could end Bell's reign in Philly was selling the Eagles, which he did in 1941 by swapping with Pittsburgh Steelers co-owner Alexis Thompson. Bell then briefly became HC in Pittsburgh until Steelers co-owner and GM Art Rooney finally fired him from his coaching job after two more losses, lowering his career win percentage to .179, still the absolute worst of anyone with that career length (and will almost certainly remain the worst unless another owner decides to one day follow in his footsteps). After years of (somewhat) redeeming his reputation as league commissioner, Bell poetically died of a heart attack watching an Eagles-Steelers game in 1959.
  • Ed Biles served as DC to Bum Phillips during the Houston Oilers' "Love Ya Blue" era in the late 1970s. When Phillips was unexpectedly fired by the famously hard-to-please Bud Adams in 1981 despite the team coming off of its third straight playoff season, Biles was promoted to the HC position. The team quickly fell off, dropping to 7-9 in his first year before plummeting after star RB Earl Campbell was injured. Biles secured only one win in the following two years before retiring in the middle of the '83 season after a 13-game losing streak.
  • Gus Bradley rose to prominence as the DC of the Seattle Seahawks from 2009-12, laying the foundation for their vaunted "Legion of Boom" secondary and riding that success to become HC of the Jacksonville Jaguars. The Jaguars struggled mightily during his first three seasons with the team, compiling just a 12-36 record. Management then shocked fans and media by bringing Bradley back for a fourth as one of the few head coaches in NFL history to be retained despite not taking his team to a winning record in his first three seasons. He was fired near the end of that season with a 2-12 record. His .226 winning percentage was second worst in NFL history at the time behind only Eagles owner/coach Bert Bell among HCs to last over 50 games.note  Well liked by his players and considered one of the best defensive schemers/playcallers in the league, Bradley is a shining example of The Peter Principle in the NFL, having simply been in over his head as HC. He has since returned to the DC role for several teams and is unlikely to be considered for a HC job anytime soon.
  • Joe Bugel was an offensive coach for Washington in the 1980s who was the architect of the famous Hogs o-line that won two Super Bowls from 1981-89. Another example of The Peter Principle, he had far less success as an HC. As HC for the Phoenix Cardinals from 1990-93, he put up four straight losing seasons before getting the boot. After another assistant gig with the Oakland Raiders, he was promoted to HC in 1997 and went 4-12 in his only season before returning to his prior assistant position. He retired from coaching in 2009 and passed away in 2020.
  • Bill Callahan was the OC for the Oakland Raiders under Jon Gruden before Gruden was traded to Tampa Bay. As part of the terms of the trade, Gruden was not permitted to bring any of his former staff with him, and owner Al Davis elevated Callahan to the HC position. He built off of Gruden's success and brought the Raiders all the way to the Super Bowl in his first year as HC, where they faced off against... Gruden and the Buccaneers. The Raiders got blown out completely by Gruden in the Big Game, which many attributed to Callahan not changing his friend's playbook once he left town; many Raiders fans and even players speculated that he even intentionally sabotaged the team due to his disputes with Davis. Callahan lost the locker room the following season, the team collapsed, and he was fired. He bounced around the college ranks and assistant jobs in the NFL for the next two decades and even served as an interim HC in Washington for most of 2019, but he was never rehired to be HC for another NFL team. At just 46 total games, Callahan had the shortest career of any HC to reach the Super Bowl.
  • Hugh Campbell was a colossus of the CFL, winning ten total Grey Cups with the Edmonton Eskimos as a player, coach, and executive. Five of those victories were won consecutively when he was the team's HC with superstar QB Warren Moon under center from 1978-82. After Campbell spent '83 as HC of the USFL's Los Angeles Express, Houston Oilers owner Bud Adams hired him as HC in 1984, hoping to use him as leverage in the bidding war for Moon's services. The plan worked, but it didn't bring the Oilers many wins; Campbell lost his first ten games with the struggling franchise and was fired with two weeks remaining in his second season with just an 8-22 (.267) record. Campbell subsequently returned to success in Canada and was later inducted into that nation's Hall of Fame.
  • Marion Campbell started his time in the NFL as one of the last two-way players, drafted by the 49ers in 1952 in the fourth round out of Georgianote  before joining the Philadelphia Eagles in 1956. The "Swamp Fox" was selected to two Pro Bowls and helped the Eagles win a championship before retiring in 1961. His subsequent career in coaching was a true aberration: with three separate hirings as head coach (two to the same team) amounting to nine seasons (only five complete) without a single winning record, his career longevity and multiple second chances stands apart in the "Not For Long" league's history and can only be explained by his popularity with players, his genuine success as a DC, and sheer luck. After thriving as a position coach for defensive lines like the Vikings' "Purple People Eaters" and Rams' "Fearsome Foursome", he was picked to serve as the DC for the young Atlanta Falcons. Unfortunately, the Falcons were terrible, even with Campbell assembling a fairly strong defense, and he was thrust into the HC position in 1974 after his predecessor, Norm Van Brocklin, was fired mid-season. The team performed even worse under him, and he was fired at the insistence of GM Pat Peppler (who replaced him as HC) in the middle of the 1976 season. He made his way back to his former team in Philly, becoming DC under Dick Vermeil and helping to revive the Eagles' fortunes by forging a league-leading defense that managed a Super Bowl appearance. Then Vermeil retired after the '82 players strike, thrusting Campbell back into the HC position. The results were the same: the team posted three straight losing seasons, and he was fired with one game left in 1985. Shockingly, he then made his way back to his old job as the DC at Atlanta, Peppler having moved on after likewise failing and the owner regretting his earlier decision. Just one year later, the Falcons fired their HC and, for the third time, Campbell inherited the position and put up a string of losing records before abruptly retiring in the middle of the 1989 season. His 34-80-1 (.300) lifetime record is far and away the worst of anyone to coach over 100 games. After one year as a DC at his alma mater, he retired for good in 1994 and passed away in 2016.
  • Cam Cameron had several years of experience as a coach, including a tenure as HC at Indiana and a solid run as the OC for Marty Schottenheimer's San Diego Chargers, when he was hired to replace Nick Saban (see below) as head coach of the Miami Dolphins in 2007. This turned out to be his only year as an HC in the NFL—his Dolphins put up a 1-15 record, the worst in franchise history, and Cameron was fired at the end of the season. He was subsequently picked up as the OC for the Baltimore Ravens. The team as a whole performed very well during his tenure, but they were best known for their defense, and after Cameron was unexpectedly fired late in the 2012 season, the team went on an unexpected Super Bowl run without him. He returned to the college ranks and hasn't coached in the NFL since.
  • Dave Campo was the worst HC in Dallas Cowboys history, being the only one to compile a losing record and fail to post a single winning season. An experienced assistant for decades at the college and pro levels, Campo served as DC in Dallas for five seasons (1995-99) and won a Super Bowl in his first season. He was promoted to HC in 2000 after the firing of Chan Gailey and took the team to three straight 5-11 records, with his tenure being marred by a number of questionable coaching decisions (most notably a mind-boggling PAT decision in a 2001 Thanksgiving home game that left the broadcasters in disbelief and Cowboys fans actively booing himExplanation ). Campo was fired after his third losing season and returned to his assistant role.
  • Adam Gase first rose to prominence as the OC of the 2013 Denver Broncos, which boasted the most productive passing offense in NFL history. While most attributed this to the talents and leadership of Peyton Manning, Gase was able to ride Manning's endorsement to a HC job with the Miami Dolphins in 2016, making the playoffs in his first year despite the Dolphins' offense still sitting in the bottom half of the league. The Dolphins regressed immediately afterwards, their offense never improving and many players voicing a disdain for his abrasive personality and style. Gase was fired after 2018 but, to the shock of many, quickly landed the HC job with the New York Jets.note  Once again, their offense remained bottom-tier, and multiple players, including star safety Jamal Adams, sought to leave the team citing Gase's poor leadership, particularly after former Dolphins players like QB Ryan Tannehill and RB Kenyon Drake saw their performances drastically improve outside of Gase's system. The Jets went 7-9 and 2-14 before he was fired. Following this, Gase failed to land any coaching position in both the NFL and college ranks. He wound up getting hired as the OC for a high school team in his hometown in Michigan, showing how much his reputation has been damaged.
  • Abe Gibron had been a Pro Bowl guard for the Cleveland Browns in the early '50snote  prior to his retirement in 1959, when he entered a career in coaching and worked up the ranks to become head coach of the Chicago Bears in 1972. In his three years at the position, Gibron posted the worst win percentage of any coach in the Bears' long history (11-30-1, .268). After his firing, the Bears drafted Walter Payton and began to turn things around. Meanwhile, Gibron went across town to be HC of the short-lived WFL's Chicago Fire; when that folded, he became the new Tampa Bay Buccaneers' first DC, thus getting to claim partial responsibility for their historically terrible first two seasons. More than his poor coaching record on the field, Gibron was most famous for being NFL Films' favorite character: a massive man who weighed in at over 300 pounds, his personality was as big as his appetite, and he could always be found screaming and cursing on the sidelines, providing viewers plenty of entertainment.note  Gibron had numerous health problems late in life and died from a stroke in 1997.
  • Ryan Grigson was the GM of the Indianapolis Colts from 2012-16. Originally an offensive tackle drafted out of Purdue by the Bengals in the 6th round in 1995, he moved into scouting after his brief playing career, eventually landing the Colts GM job in 2012. His first draft choice as GM was by far his best, selecting obvious generational QB prospect Andrew Luck with the #1 overall pick. On the strength of Luck and some quality holdovers from the previous regime, the Colts made the playoffs in each of his first three seasons, earning Grigson an "Executive of the Year" award along the way. However, he struggled mightily to add any new talent, blowing multiple first round picks (see Bjorn Werner and Trent Richardson in "Draft Busts" for some examples). His major free agent signings were also disastrous, including veteran o-lineman Todd Herremans (benched after two starts and released in-season) and safety LaRon Landry (hit with a PED suspension and released after two poor seasons). As the holdover players moved on to other teams or retired, the Colts were left supported almost entirely by an overworked Luck. Grigson's particular failure to address the offensive line led to Luck suffering the first in a series of injuries that prematurely ended his career a few seasons later. Despite an overall winning record with the team, he was fired after 2016 after two straight seasons missing the playoffs and amid reports of a "toxic environment" that he had created in the Colts organization. He moved into a front office role with the Cleveland Browns... who went 0-16 in his only year with the team.note  Grigson stands as a prime example of an executive who coasted on one great player falling into his lap despite failing in every other aspect of team building.
  • Phil Handler first joined the Chicago Cardinals as a guard from TCU in 1930 and moved into coaching in 1937 after retiring from play. Despite the Cards being terrible through his time as an assistant, he was promoted to head coach after Jimmy Conzelman left in 1943 for a front office position with the MLB's St. Louis Browns. The team didn't post a win all season, though this was blamed on the lack of available talent during World War II. Attempting to solve this, the Cards merged with the Pittsburgh Steelers for the next season; with Handler still serving as a co-coach, Card-Pitt also went winless. Despite going 0-20, he remained HC of the Cards in 1945 and improved their record to 1-9, breaking a still-record 29-game losing streak. Despite posting a single win over three years as HC, he still wasn't fired and stepped right back into his assistant position when Conzelman returned and led the team to a championship in 1947. When Conzelman retired, disagreements among ownership led to the Cards naming two HCs, Handler and Buddy Parker; unsurprisingly, this was a disaster, and Handler was put into an office job midseason after the team went 2-4. However, he again wound up as a co-HC in 1951 for the last two games of the season after Curly Lambeau abruptly retired. Counting his seasons as a co-HC, his 4-34 record (.105) is the worst among any HC with a career spanning five seasons; that record is better than his 1-19 (.050) run where he had sole responsibility. His story has a happy ending, though: Finally fed up with the losing Cardinals, Handler quit and moved across town to the Bears, where he served George Halas as a beloved assistant coach and scout for 16 years on a much better team before dying of a heart attack minutes after a dramatic Bears win in 1968.
  • Lou Holtz was a Long Runner college coach most famous for being the face of Notre Dame football in the late '80s and early '90s. However, long before most of that run of college success, he was hired to coach the New York Jets in 1976 after a strong stint at NC State. Reportedly, he was frustrated by the lack of control he had over adult pro players compared to the young unpaid amateurs he was used to. After the Jets went 3-10 in his first year, Holtz quit with one game left in the season, claiming "God did not put Lou Holtz on this earth to coach in the pros." According to many reports, however, Holtz did flirt with the idea of returning to the pros, as he was heavily recruited by the Minnesota Vikings during his Notre Dame run. Many think that his unexpected retirement from Notre Dame was taken in preparation for that job, only for Dennis Green to keep a hold of the position by winning a playoff game soon after.
  • Hue Jackson had a great deal of football experience when he was appointed the head coach of the Cleveland Browns, having been an assistant coach for five colleges, an NFL Europe team, and five NFL teams (including one 8-8 year as HC of the Oakland Raiders) before taking the helm in Cleveland in 2016. At this point, the Browns had hired six HCs in the last decade, with only a single winning season in that time, and were coming off a 3-13 season. Thus, the team went into the hire resigned to the idea that their rotating coaching lineup may have been a bigger part of the problem than the talent itself and resolved to give their new coach time to develop players and build a winning culture. They did not fire Jackson when the Browns got even worse in his first season, going 1-15, with everyone figuring he couldn't possibly repeat that record. He didn't—the Browns instead went 0-16 the next year. Though he still wasn't fired, the writing was on the wall for Jackson in 2018; though he technically broke Cleveland's two-year losing streak with a tie in the opening game and eventually tripled his total wins with the Browns with two narrow victories, Jackson was fired mid-season after a three-game losing streak. His record with the Browns (3-36-1, a .088 win percentage) is the worst ever for a HC that lasted 40 games.note 
  • Chip Kelly coached the Philadelphia Eagles from 2013-15 and the San Francisco 49ers in 2016, coming off of a highly successful college career at Oregon. Much of his success was attributed to his up-tempo spread-option offensive system (which set NCAA records for plays run per game) and his pioneering use of GPS and accelerometer technologies to gather player movement and speed data on the field for analytic purposes. With the inherent talent advantage for offenses at the top NCAA programs, his system was a Lightning Bruiser; however, once he got to the NFL's better disciplined and more athletic defenses and more stringent rules regarding pace of play, it proved to be much more fragile. He saw some success in his first pro season, setting an NFL record averaging one offensive snap every 23.9 secondsnote  on the way to a playoff appearance. As defenses adjusted, however, his scheme's fragility became more obvious. He cycled through multiple QBs as the offense struggled, while the defense, forced onto the field with shorter breaks due to the offense's tempo, dropped from middle of the pack to bottom five in the league by Kelly's third year. After his second season, his Control Freak tendencies grew after convincing the owner to give him GM responsibilities while former GM Howie Roseman was Kicked Upstairs. He made multiple unpopular trades with his new powers, sending away the franchise's all-time leading rusher LeSean McCoy while bringing in disappointing former #1 overall pick Sam Bradford at QB. Kelly was fired with one week remaining in the season after going 6-9. He was hired the next year by the 49ers, where he fueled the fire of the Colin Kaepernick controversy by initially naming draft bust Blaine Gabbert starter but switching to Kaepernick mid-season on the way to a 2-14 record. He was fired again and returned to the college ranks, leaving a disappointing legacy as another failed college coach at the NFL level.
  • Lane Kiffin was hired as HC of the Oakland Raiders in 2007 after a brief but very successful two-year stint as the OC for USCnote . Raiders owner Al Davis' hire of the 31-year-old coach, the youngest in modern NFL history to that point, was met with skepticism from many. Typically, head coaches hired from the college ranks have some experience as head of a program or had spent a good deal of time in the NFL (Kiffin had only one year as a quality control coach with the Jaguars). Many believed that his hiring had more to do with the pedigree of his name, as his father Monte had been in the NFL for 25 years as a defensive coach and coordinator, had developed the Tampa Cover 2 defense that brought the Bucs a Super Bowl win against the Raiders a few years before, and had turned down HC offers several times. Kiffin immediately clashed with Davis, criticizing his selection of LSU QB JaMarcus Russell with the #1 overall pick and neglecting to give him much time and attention to develop, likely contributing to Russell becoming one of the most notorious draft busts of all time (see above). After bringing the team only four wins in his first season, Davis tried to get Kiffin to resign, which he refused. Early the next season, Davis fired Kiffin after he put up a 1-3 record, accusing him of dishonest conduct, and he returned to coaching at the college level.
  • Rich Kotite put up a poor but not dreadful lifetime record as a head coach (41-57, .418) and even won a playoff game, but those numbers are somewhat distorted by the conditions of his early coaching career. Kotite, initially an 18th round tight end in 1965 out of the small Wagner College, entered coaching after an unremarkable playing career. After a run as the OC for the New York Jets, he was hired to be OC for the Philadelphia Eagles in 1990, only to ascend to the top spot after Buddy Ryan was fired for reasons more to do with his personality than his on-field performance; Ryan's Eagles had made the playoffs the last three years. The offensive-minded coach rode the wave of the tremendous defense Ryan had built but soon became reviled in Philly for his blasé attitude, once remarking "8-8 is great!" after a .500 season. He was fired after a late-season collapse in 1994 (also marked by him sarcastically mocking the owner in press conferences). He returned to the Jets and was awarded the HC position, only to earn his spot on this list by putting up the worst HC record in an already-not-illustrious franchise history. After going 4-28 over two seasons, Kotite resigned and never coached in the NFL again.
  • Frank Kush was a College Hall of Fame coach responsible for bringing Arizona State to football prominence. However, his college career was cut short by controversy after he punched his own punter; following a year in the CFL, he landed with the long-suffering Baltimore Colts in 1982. His NFL debut was abysmal, going winless (0-8-1) in the strike-shortened season. This performance earned the Colts the #1 pick, which they spent on generational QB John Elway... who refused to play for the team, in no small part because of his distaste for Kush's Drill Sergeant Nasty style and apparent ineptitude at the pro level. The Colts actually improved quite a bit the following year, going 7-9, but the damage was done; the Colts jumped town to Indy the following year, and Kush resigned a week before the end of another losing season in order to return to Arizona to claim an HC post with the USFL, which folded after a year, ending his coaching career.
  • Rod Marinelli was a Marine Corps veteran who entered a long coaching career after being wounded while serving in the Vietnam War. Following years at the high school and college levels, he was hired by Tony Dungy as a defensive line coach for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The success of the defense under Marinelli saw him promoted to assistant HC in 2002 when the Bucs won Super Bowl XXXVII, then hired by the Detroit Lions in 2005 to be their HC. Despite being well-liked by his players, Marinelli proved to be one of the more dramatic failures as head coach in league history. He went 10-38 (.208) over three seasons with the Lions, the last of which being their infamous 0-16 winless season. Marinelli stepped back down the ladder into the assistant position and has continued to wander the league, his terrible performance in Detroit (worse than any HC with that tenure length save Hue Jackson and Bert Bell) and advanced age (born in 1949) ensuring he won't move back up anytime soon.
  • Mike Mayock was a safety out of Boston College drafted in the 10th round of 1981 by the Steelers who also played for the Giants and in the CFL before moving into broadcasting. When NFL Network launched in 2004, he became their most prominent draft expert and, like Matt Millen before him as a player-turned-broadcaster, parlayed that success into being named GM of the Raiders in 2018. While Raiders head coach at the time Jon Gruden (see above under "Notorious") gained notoriety for different reasons, Mayock's comes the sheer failiure in the first round of the draft despite his background. Owing to the Khalil Mack trade, Mayock exercised six first round picks in his three seasons, all of whom were busts or disappointments. His first draft saw the team select DE Clelin Ferrell (#4), RB Josh Jacobs (#24), and S Jonathan Abram (#27). Ferrell was a major disappointment while Jacobs and Abram struggled with injuries, leading to the new regime in 2022 not picking up any of their fifth year options. In 2020, he selected WR Henry Ruggs (#12) and CB Damon Arnette (#19), both of whom were released the very next year following off-field incidents detailed above under "Notorious Players". That same draft also saw him take two major reaches in the third round: WR (converted QB) Lynn Bowden Jr., who was traded away during his first training camp, and S Tanner Muse, a fringe draftable prospect who was released having never played a snap for the team. His final first round pick in 2021, OL Alex Leatherwood, was considered another major reach and struggled as they tried him at different positions on the OL as a rookie, allowing the 2nd most sacks and committing the 4th most penalties in the league. Mayock was fired after 2021.
  • Josh McDaniels got his start in New England as a personnel assistant during their first Super Bowl victory and was on the coaching staff during the next two before being elevated to OC. His position as a disciple of Belichick helped him land the HC job with the Denver Broncos in 2009, which was by most accounts a disaster, as he first alienated starting QB Jay Cutler so badly that the team had to trade him to Chicago, then got caught in a cheating scandal (not dissimilar from Belichick's "Spygate" controversy) that led to him being fired in the middle of his second season. McDaniels returned to the Patriots and helped to win three Super Bowls (and appear in another) through the '10s. He was offered and accepted the HC job with the Indianapolis Colts in 2018, only to once again mimic Belichick by withdrawing from the offer the day of its announcement and staying with the Patriots. In 2022, he accepted his third HC offer with the Las Vegas Raiders.
  • Ray McLean was the least successful coach in the history of the Green Bay Packers. A former two-way player for the Chicago Bears during their '40s championship dynasty, McLean was hired as a backfield coach in Green Bay in 1951. In part due to his popularity with players, he was the sole piece of continuity in the coaching staffs of Curly Lambeau's unsuccessful successors, Gene Ronzani and Lisle Blackbourn. He stepped in for two losses as a co-interim HC after the former's mid-season resignation in 1953 and was promoted to HC under a short-term contract in 1958 after the latter was fired. The team completely bottomed out to a still-franchise-worst 1-10-1 record under McLean, which led to his replacement the following year. While this would have been considered a coaching failure in itself, McLean's entire tenure through the '50s only became more infamous with time; his roster turned out to be full of Hall of Famers who quickly realized their potential once Lombardi took over and immediately turned the Packers into the most dominant team of the '60s. McLean died from cancer a few years later at just 48 years old.
  • Matt Millen started out as a LB for the Oakland/Los Angeles Raiders, the San Francisco 49ers, and Washington after being drafted in the second round in 1980 out of Penn State. Millen saw a good deal of success as a player—though he was never exactly a star, he won at least one Super Bowl on each team (two with the Raiders, making him the only player in NFL history to win a Super Bowl with three different franchises) and was selected to a Pro Bowl in '88. He retired after his fourth Super Bowl win and became a commentator best known for filling in for John Madden when he couldn't make it to a game due to his phobia of flying. Millen left the booth to become GM and CEO for the Detroit Lions from 2001-08 despite having zero experience in or qualifications for operating a football team. It showed: during his tenure, the Lions had the worst 8-year record in NFL history (31-84), leading to actual protests by fans to have him fired (and counter-protests by fans of other NFC North teams to keep him around). He finally got the boot in week 4 of 2008, but the damage was done. Already 0-4 by that point in the season, the Lions that Millen had built ended the season 0-16, the first winless season under the 16-game schedule.
  • Jack Patera was the first HC of the Seattle Seahawks. After a journeyman two-way playing career, followed by a journeyman defensive coaching career, he took the task of building up a new franchise from scratch and didn't do a terrible job at it, being named Coach of the Year in 1978 after posting a winning record in the franchise's third year. However, Patera was also known as a real Drill Sergeant Nasty, and he was fired during the 1982 players' strike after he was found to have illegally fired one of his players for participating in lawful union activity. He never was involved in football again and passed away in 2018.
  • Matt Patricia was a successful DC for the New England Patriots during an era where they were the top scoring defense twice and brought the team to two Super Bowl wins and one loss. In 2018, the Detroit Lions hired him to replace Jim Caldwell, the only full-time Lions coach with a winning record since the '70s,note  right after he had notched another winning season. Patricia failed to improve on Caldwell's record, ending up going first 6-10, then 3-12-1, and was fired after a 4-7 start to 2020, leaving him with a much worse 13-29-1 (.314) record. In contrast to Caldwell, who had been generally successful and well liked, many past and present players rejoiced at Patricia's firing. He returned to the Patriots in 2021 as an assistant.
  • Bill Peterson was a successful college coach at Florida State in the mid to late '60s, leading the Seminoles to a Gator Bowl victory in 1964. After one season at Rice, Peterson made his way to the NFL and landed the head coaching job with the Houston Oilers in 1972. However, his success in college did not translate to the pros: The Oilers finished 1-13 in both 1972 and 1973, putting up an 18-game losing streak that spanned from Week 4 of the '72 season until Week 8 of the following season. Peterson wasn't around for all of that; he was fired after an 0-5 start in '73, giving him a 1-18 record (.053, the lowest winning percentage of any HC to last more than one season) in what turned out to be his only NFL coaching gig. He later served as the AD for Central Florida in the early '80s before passing away in 1993.
  • John Rauch had been a hugely successful college QB who found that playing in the NFL wasn't for him (understandable, given that his team was so bad that it literally disintegrated; see his entry above under "Draft Busts"). However, his quick exit from the pros soon proved to foreshadow a characteristic that followed him the rest of his time in football: a general lack of commitment in the face of adversity. He entered the college coaching ranks immediately after leaving the pros and bounced across five programs in the next decade, not an unknown number for a coach rising up the ranks. He then returned to the pros and succeeded Al Davis as the head coach of the Oakland Raiders when he became AFL Commissioner. Rauch helped launch the Raiders' dynasty, putting up three great seasons and bringing them to a Super Bowl appearance in his second, but he grew tired of Davis' continued Executive Meddling and quit (setting the stage for John Madden's legendary run). He was quickly hired by the Buffalo Bills, where he saw much worse results and clashed frequently with players (including his team's biggest talent, O.J. Simpson). When owner Ralph Wilson intervened on the players' behalf (a rather drastic case of OOC Is Serious Business for Wilson), Rauch quit again. He bounced around a few more teams in the NFL and CFL, this time getting fired rather than quitting, before landing with the expansion Tampa Bay Buccaneers as the team's first OC. Infamously, the Bucs put up what is likely the NFL's worst offensive performance ever on their way to an 0-14 record. Rauch wasn't around to see it — in the middle of a Week 5 game in which the Bucs were shut out for the third time that season, he left the stadium and quit. He'd find another assistant gig in Atlanta that season but retired from coaching soon after, though he did return for one last go as an assistant coach and executive for the USFL's Tampa Bay Bandits. He died in 2008.
  • Jim Ringo was a Hall of Fame center for the early '60s Green Bay Packers. Like teammates Bart Starr and Forrest Gregg, he had a poor career as a coach, though Ringo had an even worse go at it then they did. After Lou Saban quit the Buffalo Bills in the middle of the 1976 season over a disagreement with owner Ralph Wilson, Ringo ascended from OC to HC while the team was 2-3; they lost all nine of their remaining games, but Wilson kept Ringo on due to blaming Saban for the unraveling. After the Bills only posted three wins the following year, Ringo resigned and served as an assistant for the rest of his coaching career. He passed away in 2007.
  • Clive Rush had a short tenure as HC of the Boston Patriots that went down as one of the most turbulent in AFL/NFL history. After briefly playing for the Packers in 1953, Rush entered college coaching and eventually became the OC of the New York Jets in 1963, where he constructed the record-breaking system that made Joe Namath a star and won the team its upset in Super Bowl III. Rush immediately became a hot coaching commodity and was scooped up by the Patriots in '69. Unfortunately, Rush was a deeply troubled man who suffered from alcoholism and other severe mental health issues. He had terrible relationships with almost everyone in the Pats organization stemming from his hair-trigger temper and occassional manic episodes, most notably swerving the team bus into oncoming traffic to punish his players with fright after a loss. In the middle of his second season, Rush missed a game after suffering from an irregular heartbeat during an apparent nervous breakdown. He resigned two days later, having posted a 5-16 record with the Pats, and never coached in the pros again. He was later fired after a single year coaching the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy for similar reasons. Rush died from a heart attack in 1980 at just 49 years old.
  • Nick Saban has been the colossus of college coaching in the 21st century, winning a record seven FBS national championships with LSU and Alabama. Between those stops, however, he spent two disappointing years (2005-06) in the NFL as head coach of the Miami Dolphins. His first season got off to a rough start as the team went 3-7, including a five game losing streak, before rallying to win their final six games behind an emergent running game and stout defense. Seeking to improve their anemic passing attack, Miami looked to upgrade their QB position and had two options the following offseason: sign free agent QB Drew Brees or trade for Minnesota QB Daunte Culpepper. Both were coming off of season-ending, career-threatening injuriesnote . In a decision that altered the course of NFL history, the Dolphins medical staff would not sign off on Brees, causing the team to trade for Culpepper, who played poorly and was placed on IR after only four games due to lingering knee issues; Brees helped turn the Saints into a Super Bowl-winning powerhouse. The Dolphins traded for draft bust QB Joey Harrington (see above), who did not perform much better, culminating with a 6-10 record for Saban and the Dolphins. Further tarnishing Saban's legacy is that, throughout the final month of the season, he was heavily linked to the open Alabama HC position. In response to reporters asking about the position, he infamously replied: "I guess I have to say it: I'm not going to be the Alabama coach." Less than two weeks later, Saban quit to take the Alabama job.
  • Dave Shula is the son of the legendary Hall of Fame coach Don Shula, the winningest coach in NFL history. As a head coach, Dave was... not as successful and ranks as one of the clearest examples of Nepotism in NFL history. After a single year as an undrafted player with the Baltimore Colts, Shula joined his father as an assistant on the Miami Dolphins. The elder Shula never officially appointed an OC while Dave was with the team, which may have been why Jimmy Johnson brought Dave in to be the Dallas Cowboys OC in 1989. The Cowboys went 1-15 that season, and while they improved the next year, Shula clashed with the players, was demoted, and immediately left Dallas to take an assistant job with the Cincinnati Bengals.note  After one year, Shula was promoted to HC at age 32, becoming one of the youngest to ever claim that position and getting it over Bill Cowher, who landed with the Steelers instead and went on to a Hall of Fame career. He put up four-and-a-half losing seasons in Cincy, including a 1-8 record against Cowher and 0-2 against his own father, and was eventually fired midway through the 1996 seasonnote  after putting up a terrible 19-52 win record (.268), the worst in Bengals franchise history and the worst in the Super Bowl era among coaches who lasted more than four seasons. His failure was so complete that he didn't coach football again until he was offered an assistant spot at his alma mater Dartmouth 22 years later.
  • Mike Singletary got into coaching after a Hall of Fame career as a LB for the Chicago Bears (see NFL Defensive and Special Teams Players for more details). In 2008, he was promoted to interim HC of the San Francisco 49ers after the in-season firing of Mike Nolan. Singletary turned around the 2-5 team, finishing 5-4 and being named full-time head coach after the season. However, his demonstrative, hot-headed coaching style (most likely based on that of his own HC, Mike Ditka) quickly burned out his players. Notable incidents include sending star TE Vernon Davis to the locker room after committing a penalty (which he "explained" in a rambling press conference that quickly spawned several memes), literally dropping his pants in an attempt to fire up his team during a halftime speech, losing his temper on the sideline during a blowout, and firing his OC immediately after defending him in a press conference. He also drove several players, including former All-Pro safety Michael Lewis and rookie RB Glen Coffee, into quitting the team. On the field, his decision making wasn't much better, frequently switching his starting QB as well as the entire offensive scheme at times, leading to poor results. He was fired with one week to go after putting up a 5-10 record in his third season with the team and has since bounced around to several more stops as an assistant coach, as well as positions in the high school, AAF, and Spring League levels.
  • Gene Smithnote  served as GM of the Jacksonville Jaguars from 2009-12 and is widely considered one of the worst football executives in recent NFL history, perhaps second only to Matt Millen above. The Jaguars failed to post a winning record in any of his four seasons in charge, finished last in their division twice, and went 2-14 in his final season as GM, the worst record in team history to that point. Smith was inept at managing the roster, releasingnote  or tradingnote  franchise mainstays for middling draft picks. He then signed a number of aging veteran free agentsnote  who all flamed out within one or two seasons after signing. He also traded up in two of the four drafts he oversaw for QB Blaine Gabbert and WR Justin Blackmon, both busts. The final nail in Smith's coffin came during the 2012 Draft when, in the 3rd round, he selected a punter (Brian Anger) with Russell Wilson still on the board. Smith has not worked in the NFL since his firing.
  • Steve Spurrier was a Heisman-winning QB for Florida in the '60s who, after a 10-year NFL career that turned out to be a bust, returned to his alma mater as head coach in the '90s, where he won a national championship. Utilizing his famous "Run and Gun" offense, in which a receiver goes in motion before the play and adjusts his route on the fly based on the defensive alignment, Spurrier became a hot coaching candidate among NFL teams and was ultimately hired by Washington in 2002, signing the largest deal for a coach in NFL history at the time. However, his offensive system translated poorly to the pro game with its more restrictive rules regarding pre-snap movement and more disciplined defenses. He also signed a large number of his former Florida players, leading to accusations that he played favorites, and also brought the majority of his Florida coaching staff despite many being underqualified for NFL coaching positions. Spurrier struggled to a 12-20 record in two seasons, his once-vaunted offense finished in the bottom 10 of the league both years, and he cycled through four starting quarterbacks in that time. He resigned after 2003 and returned to the college ranks, leaving a very disappointing legacy in the NFL.
  • Joe Thomasnote  served two utterly disastrous stints as GM of the Baltimore Colts (1972-76) and the San Francisco 49ers (1977-78), earning him a reputation as one of the worst executives in NFL history. Brought in by new Colts owner Robert Irsay, Thomas started out with a bang by firing head coach Don McCafferty, who was two years removed from winning Super Bowl V and had taken the Colts to the AFC Championship game the prior season, just five weeks into the season. He then ordered replacement coach John Sandusky to bench all of the team's veterans, including legendary QB Johnny Unitas, in favor of younger players. The result: the Colts experienced their first losing season in 16 years and entered a lengthy fall from their former greatness. Thomas responded by firing Sandusky and trading away Unitas and most of their veteran players. In the middle of the next season, Thomas fired Sandusky's replacement, Howard Schnellenberger, and took over interim HC duties himself, finishing with a 2-9 record in that role. Thomas was eventually fired after five seasons in which the team went through five HCs, including himself. He somehow immediately landed another GM position in San Francisco, with his first act being to fire the HC. During what has been described as a "chaotic ego trip", Thomas literally threw out much of the 49ers history, demanding that the team "focus on the future". A team secretary went dumpster diving to save some of the franchise's priceless historic artifacts, including their AAFC charter, and hid them in her house until Thomas was fired two years later. In that time, he infamously traded five draft picks (including the 1979 #1 overall pick) for a 31-year-old O. J. Simpson coming off of a knee injury who retired after two middling seasons. He also found time to fire two more head coaches: Ken Meyer after his first season and Pete McCulley after just nine games, giving the latter coach the distinction of the shortest non-interim HC career in the modern NFL. This circus led to Thomas' firing and replacement by Bill Walsh, who led the Niners to the franchise's greatest heights. Despite his disastrous career, Thomas spent his final years as the Vice President of the Dolphins until passing away in 1983.
  • Marc Trestman was HC for the Chicago Bears from 2013-14, coming to the NFL after winning two Grey Cup championships with the Montreal Alouettes of the CFL. An offensive-minded coach, he took over from the defensive-oriented Lovie Smith after he was fired despite going 10-6 the previous season. Trestman did immediately improve the offense to become the #2 scoring offense in the league, but the defense took a major step back. With two weeks to go in the 2013 season, the Bears were 8-6 and one win away from clinching the division when they suffered one of the worst losses in franchise history in week 16, a 54-11 blowout at the hands of the Eagles, then lost in gut-wrenching fashion to the rival Packers in a week 17 game to determine the NFC North winner. The entire team crashed the next season, finishing 5-11 as the Bears put up one of their worst defensive performances in decades. Trestman was fired, spent a season as OC with the Ravens before being fired again midseason, then returned to the CFL where he won another Grey Cup in Toronto. His tenure is reviled by Bears fans as the end of an era for an elite defensive unit, while his NFL failure has also cast a pall over CFL-to-NFL coaches as none have been interviewed for NFL HC jobs since.
  • Ken Whisenhunt entered coaching in the '90s after an unsuccessful playing career as a TEnote  and worked his way up the ranks to be OC for the Pittsburgh Steelers, helping the team win Super Bowl XL. He was viewed as a likely successor to Bill Cowher as the Steelers' head coach before being unexpectedly passed over for Mike Tomlin. Whisenhunt and many of his fellow Steelers staff subsequently left Pittsburgh for the Arizona Cardinals, who hired him for their HC spot in 2007. He experienced early success with the long-struggling franchise and, in 2008, led his 9-7 team on an unexpected Cinderella run to their first Super Bowl appearance... against Tomlin and the Steelers, which narrowly defeated the Cards. That victory seemed to prove that the Steelers had made the right decision, which proved more true with each passing year as Whisenhunt's records fell from just over .500 to well below that mark. He was fired from Arizona after 2012 and was picked up by the Chargers as an OC. After greatly improving that team's offense in his first year, he secured another HC gig with the Tennessee Titans. Unfortunately, the team heavily regressed under his stewardship, and he was fired in the middle of his second season after going 3-20. Whisenhunt's 52-73 record (.416, including playoffs) remains the worst career win percentage of any HC to reach the Super Bowl.

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