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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. Individuals who are notable for their on-field accomplishments and more positive off-field reputations can be found on the National Football League Names To Know, National Football League Quarterbacks, and National Football League Non Player Figures pages. This page is for those players 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.


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. 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 
  • Kevin Allen was an offensive tackle from Indiana drafted #9 overall by the Philadelphia Eagles in 1985. Very soon, he proved to be an abysmal talent; in his first start, he contributed to allowing 8 sacks from the New York Giants, then by midseason was relegated to special teams, and during the offseason moved to center. Buddy Ryan thought so little of Allen as a talent that he once said that he looked like a USFL reject and was only useful if you wanted him to stand around 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. A 2011 Deadspin article ranked him as the 4th-worst NFL player of all time, citing his horrible blocking technique and rape conviction, and opining that "never had the Eagles had a combination of bad person-bad player that could match this guy." 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 a Hall of Fame wide receiver Jerry Rice.
  • Deandre Baker is a corner out of Georgia who was originally drafted by the New York Giants in 2019, who traded back into the first round to select him #30 overall. He started 15 games as a rookie and put up a rather middling performance, but gained infamy the following offseason when he and another NFL corner (Quinton Dunbar of Seattle) were arrested under charges of armed robbery and aggravated assault with a firearm after the pair allegedly robbed guests at gunpoint during a house party. While the charges against Dunbar were quickly dropped, Baker was initially prosecuted and faced 10 years up to life in prison. He was quickly placed on the Commissioner's Exempt List and released by the Giants just before the 2020 season. However, the charges against Baker were also later dropped, and he signed to the Chiefs practice squad.
  • Jovan Belcher was a linebacker for the Kansas City Chiefs who was mostly anonymous during his brief careernote . In the middle of the 2012 season, however, 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' head coach and general manager. Belcher's 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 (chronic traumatic encephalopathy, caused by repeated blows to the head).
  • David Boston was a wide receiver who was 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. Boston's size soon rivaled that of many lineman, 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. Boston 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.
  • Antonio Brown was one of the most dominant—and controversial—receivers of The New '10s. Despite a productive college career where he averaged over 100 receptions per season, Brown fell to the 6th round in the 2010 Draft, where the Pittsburgh Steelers selected him, due to concerns over his size (5'10", 180 lbs) and him coming from a smaller program (Central Michigan). Despite initially being buried on the Steelers' WR depth chart, Brown made an immediate impact as a return specialist as a rookie and captured a starting job during his second season. From 2013 to 2018, Brown set an NFL record by becoming the first player to ever have six (let alone five) straight seasons with at least 100 receptions. His skill, coupled with his unique style and personality, made him one of the NFL's biggest stars and led to him gracing the cover of Madden NFL 19. However, Brown's relationship with the Steelers (and QB Ben Roethlisberger in particular) went deeply south in 2018, and he asked for a trade. He was dealt to the Raiders for surprisingly little (third- and fifth-round draft picks). What followed was an offseason of bizarre injuries (getting frostbite on his feet from a cryo-therapy chamber), an odd holdout that wasn't about money (the NFL would not approve his favored helmet model), an altercation with GM Mike Mayock (where he cursed out his own boss), and illegally recording and releasing a phone call with head coach Jon Gruden that finally led to his release. Not even a full day later, he was signed by the Patriots. Shortly thereafter, a civil suit was filed by a former personal trainer accusing Brown of rape, with several other similar incidents quickly became public. Brown played in a single game for the Patriots and was released after it came out that he was sending threatening texts to his accuser. After that, Brown's behavior continued to plummet. 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  Despite playing only a single game, AB remained a fixture of NFL media through 2019, with endless speculation over which team may be willing to deal with the baggage he would bring in exchange for his talent, whether the league would even let him return, and what possibly led to such a sudden and unexpected public meltdown. Brown was ultimately issued an eight-game suspension for the 2020 season. 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, and would later win the Super Bowl in the same season, where he had a receiving touchdown from Brady.
  • Josh Brown was a kicker for several teams, most notably the New York Giants. He was a solid-if-unspectacular kicker throughout his 14-year career, but will now be 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, 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 and the NFL reopening their investigation even though his playing career is almost certainly over anyway.
  • Vontaze Burfict is a linebacker 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, he was considered a sure-fire 1st round pick and drew comparisons to Hall of Famer Ray Lewis. However, Burfict's overly aggressive playing style made him a magnet for penalties. After a miserable NFL Combine performance in 2012, Burfict's 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 has frequently been penalized for hits to the head of opposing players as well as cheap shots on defenseless receivers (both things the NFL is actively trying to discourage). Perhaps the most glaring 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 winnote . 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 wide receiver 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 he accidentally shot himself in the thigh. Apparently, he thought an expired carry license from another state would be acceptable in New York City (which has some of the most restrictive gun laws on America) and that sticking a loaded gun with the safety off in his pocket was a good idea; he should consider himself lucky he didn't accidentally shoot himself somewhere else. He served a two-year prison sentence as a result of the crime, returned to the NFL afterwards for a mostly unimpressive stint before retiring in 2013, and coined the term "Plaxidental shooting".
  • Rae Carruth was a former wide receiver for the Carolina Panthers, who during his career was considered a rather nondescript, average player despite being a first round pick out of Colorado. During his third professional season in 1999, his pregnant girlfriend was mortally wounded in a drive-by shooting in Charlotte, North Carolina, but survived just long enough to accuse Carruth of arranging the hit. (Her son was delivered and saved by Caesarean section, but his prenatal trauma led to cerebral palsy.) Arrested for murder, he was acquitted on that charge but convicted of conspiracy to murder, receiving a 19-year prison term.
  • Mark Gastineau was a defensive end for the New York Jets, which drafted him in the second round in 1979 out of the Division II East Central Oklahoma State following a standout Senior Bowl performance. A critical component of their "New York Sack Exchange" defense, Gastineau lead the league in sacks for two years and was selected to five Pro Bowls. Gastineau was also the Heel of the league throughout the decade. While he was beloved by a certain subset of fans in New York and Jersey for his toughness and attitude, he was widely hated by 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 Gastineau 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 cancernote . 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, Gastineau 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 wide receiver who began his career in 2012 and has played with the Cleveland Browns, New England Patriots, and Seattle Seahawks. 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, Gordon has also played less than half the total games he could've theoretically played during his career because he has repeatedly been suspended by the NFL for violating their substance abuse policy, with drug use issues dating back to his time in college at Baylor, where he was suspended for multiple failed drugs 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 (1,646) and became the first player in NFL history to record two consecutive 200+ yard receiving games. Since then, Gordon's total games played has averaged a little over four per season. Because many of Gordon's 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. Gordon himself is also 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 his multiple suspensions and when his inevitable repeat violation will occur.
  • Derrius Guice was a running back for the Washington team. Picked in the second round of the 2018 Draft after a promising run at LSU where he set several school records, Guice was plagued by injuries that sidelined him through his entire rookie season. He played five games late in his second year that showed some glimpses of promise, but injuries once again ended his season. The following offseason, Guice was arrested and charged with assault after a series of domestic abuse incidents. This, accompanied by a number of sexual assault allegations dating back to his college years, led to him being let go by Washington.
  • Greg Hardy is a defensive end who was a dominant pass rusher for the Carolina 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 commissioner Goodell revising 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 most infamous for his brutal playing style. Drafted #15 overall out of Tennessee by the Tennessee Titans in 2002, Haynesworth committed what has come to be known as "the Stomp" in a 2006 game against the Cowboys. 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 Gurode's 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. Haynesworth was suspended for five games, the longest suspension in league history at the time for an on-field incident.note  Haynesworth returned and had the most successful seasons of his career the next two years, earning Pro Bowl nods in each season. 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. During the season, he got into an altercation with the Patriots defensive line coach and was cut. He finished the season in Tampa Bay but was released early in the offseason, ending his career.
  • Thomas Henderson was a linebacker who most famously played with the Dallas Cowboys, who drafted him #18 overall out of the Division 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 of this, he also was one of the first players to publicly struggle with drug addiction. Henderson's 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 the team 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 Henderson for the rest of the season and traded him away at the first opportunity. Henderson 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. Henderson's 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 was rewarded for turning his life around by winning the Texas lottery in 2000.
  • Aaron Hernandez was a former tight end drafted in the fourth round out of Florida by the New England Patriots in 2010. Hernandez was the other 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 committed suicide in his prison cell; autopsy results indicated that he, too, had CTE.
  • Richie Incognito is a guard who plays for the Raiders, who also played for the Rams, Bills and Dolphins. For much of his career, 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 with the Dolphins, 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, as well as a voicemail that Incognito had left on Martin's phone, which included racial slurs and death threats. Incognito was later permanently suspended from the team and eventually released, while Martin was traded to the 49ers, where he reunited 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 
  • Chad Johnson was a wide receiver who played ten years with the Cincinnati Bengals. A second round pick out of Oregon State, Johnson was one of the most productive wide receivers of the '00s, setting most of the Bengals receiving records and leading the league in receiving yards in 2006. Johnson's impressive on-field talents were almost completely eclipsed by his ability to capture media attention. Possibly the Ur-Example of a "diva" receiver, Johnson showed a clear savvy for marketing his own brand, from his Motor Mouth barrage of one-liners that made him a fixture of Mic'd Up features, his extravagant touchdown celebrationsnote , his early adoption and use of Twitter, and, most famously, legally changing his name to Chad Ochocinco so the name on his jersey matched his #85. Ochocinco was traded to the Patriots in 2011, where his performance severely plummeted. He was released after that season, changed his name back to Johnson, and signed with the Miami Dolphins, hoping for a career resurrection. Instead, Johnson was released during the preseason after he was arrested for a domestic battery charge against his wife of a single month; the meeting where head coach Joe Philbin informed Johnson of this release was infamously recorded for the HBO documentary series Hard Knocks. Johnson played another two years in the CFL and even played one game in a Mexican professional league in 2017 before hanging up the helmet.
  • Adam "Pacman" Jones is a cornerback 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, Jones got into several fights at strip clubs, broke his parole, and was investigated for drug use soon after joining the league. 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 reasons—he missed all of the 2007 season. 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, Jones 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.
  • Dave Meggett was a running back, receiver, and return specialist 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 before retiring in 1998. Meggett set numerous return records along the way and was briefly the leader in career punt return 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 couldn't get a job with any team but the Jets afterwards and even there was off the team after just one season. Meggett lost all $10 million he made in the NFL to paying child support and legal fees and lost all of his post-NFL jobs due to sexual assault charges. He was ultimately convicted of burglary and sexual assault in 2010 and sentenced to 30 years in prison.
  • Lawrence Phillips was a running back drafted at #6 in the 1996 Draft by the St. Louis Rams. While highly productive on the field in college at Nebraska, Phillips had numerous character concerns including several assault charges and NCAA investigations. Phillips lasted only two years in St. Louis before he was released due to off-field misconduct. He attempted to catch on elsewhere in the NFL, then NFL Europe, and finally the Arena and Canadian leagues, but flamed out in each. Following his playing career, Phillips was arrested for assault and was sentenced to 25 years in prison. While serving that sentence, he was also convicted of domestic abuse against a former girlfriend, adding 31 years to his sentence (later reduced to 7). Later, he was charged with the first-degree murder of cell mate, who Phillips allegedly choked to death. The day after a judge ruled that there was enough evidence to take Phillips to trial for murder and with prosecutors seeking the death penalty, Phillips committed suicide by hanging.
  • Ray Rice was a running back for the Baltimore Ravens from 2008 to 2014. A second round pick out of Rutgers, Rice was a key factor in their ground game, using his speed and smaller than NFL 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, New Jersey 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 somewhat bizarre press conference that he and his fiancée claimed it was a mutual fight, that they were both to blame, and that Rice was going into an intervention program to change. This led to widespread outrage amongst the public 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 ended their contract with Rice and the NFL put him on indefinite suspension. While the suspension was later reversed on appeal based on the argument that the original 2-game punishment had already been applied (i.e., he shouldn't be subject to double jeopardy), 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 "don't do what I did".
  • Bill Romanowski was a linebacker who played 16 years in the NFL, winning four Super Bowls (two with San Francisco, two with Denver, and then played in a fifth with Oakland), but 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 in a pile-up for a loose football, 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 Romanowski 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.
  • Art Schlichter was an Ohio State QB drafted #4 overall by Baltimore Colts in 1982. During his first training camp, 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. After the Colts, he signed with the Buffalo Bills for short time, but, soon after his signing, the USFL folded and gave the Bills Jim Kelly. He went to the Arena League and had some success. He is more notable, however, for the extent of his gambling addiction. He was losing 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 has spent most of the past 25 years in prison, including a 10-year sentence for the Wendy's scam since 2012.
  • O.J. Simpson was a dominant running back. Nicknamed "Juice" because of his shared initials with a certain orange-flavored beverage, 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 six 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  Simpson's 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 a moderately popular movie actor, appearing in The Naked Gun trilogy. Then, in 1994, he allegedly killed his wife and her friend. O.J. 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.
  • Darren Sharper was a safety who played for the Green Bay Packers, Minnesota Vikings, and New Orleans Saints. He was one of the best safeties in the league in the late '90s and '00s, retiring with the 6th-most interceptions in league history and played 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, four of which were assaulted within two days of each other in two different states. 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 Pro Football Hall of Fame when he was nominated in 2016 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 reputation of the league.
  • Donté Stallworth played wide receiver 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, Stallworth has become active in political journalism, serving a six-month fellowship for the Huffington Post in 2014-15.
  • 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). 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 passed away from a heart attack in 2010.
  • Michael Vick was a quarterback who most famously played for the Atlanta Falcons. While there were athletic quarterbacks before him, Vick was at a level all on his own. 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. A tremendous athlete and rusher, Vick set 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 quarterback 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 quarterbacks could see sustained success at the professional 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 which he called "Bad Newz Kennels". 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 starting quarterback. After a whirlwind Redemption Quest, he proved to still be an excellent quarterback, leading the Eagles into the 2010 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 New York Jets and Pittsburgh 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, Vick is also known for being something of a Fountain of Expies, as his success started a wave of quarterbacks 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.
  • Kellen Winslow II was a tight end 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, as well as 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 still later pled guilty to another count of rape and a sexual battery charge, accepting a 14-year prison sentence in the process.

     Notorious Coaches and Owners 
  • William "Lone Star" Dietz was a successful coach for a number of college teams in the early 20th century. He spent only two season 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 Football Team's 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) the team 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 when it had become a point of controversy.
  • 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 "gentleman'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). The next year, he was inducted into the Pro Football 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.
  • Bobby Petrino had two decades of experience as a quarterback 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 head coach job with the Atlanta Falcons, who were seeking to improve Michael Vick's passing ability. Just a few months after Petrino's 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 team 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 head coach 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. Petrino's season is seen by many as one of the most shameful head coach tenures 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. Richardson was 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. Richardson 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, Richardson's 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.
  • Gregg Williams had been a prominent defensive coach for numerous teams for over a decade in the NFL, including a brief stint as the head coach of the Buffalo Bills, before he became defensive coordinator for the New Orleans Saints in 2009 and helped lead the team to a Super Bowl championship. Declining performance and conflicts with head coach Sean Payton led to Williams moving to the St. Louis 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 offensive players to remove them from the game. Further investigations in "Bountygate" revealed that Williams 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 for a lifetime ban on Williams) and signed a contract to become a member of the Tennessee Titans' coaching staff within the day. He has since continued to bounce around the league, even briefly returning to an (interim) head coach position with the Cleveland Browns after the mid-season firing of Hue Jackson (see below under "Notable Disappointments"). He again gained notoriety during the 2020 season while defensive coordinator of the Jets, where he openly critiqued the offense of head coach Adam Gase while potentially angling to replace him as interim head coach, 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 a generally a subjective list, there's a good rule to follow: If the player was highly drafted but released or traded for minimal compensation before the expiration of his rookie contract, he likely qualifies.

     Notable Quarterback Draft Busts 
  • Todd Blackledge was drafted by the Kansas City Chiefs with the #7 overall pick in 1984 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 was in and out of the Chiefs starting lineup over five years with the team, never starting more than eight games in a season while throwing more interceptions than touchdowns and completing fewer than 50% of his passes. He was the second quarterback chosen out of the NFL record six who were taken in the first round of the '84 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 also considered the biggest bust in Chiefs draft history. He currently serves as a color commentator for ESPN's college football broadcasts.
  • 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. In fact, he did not start a single game in his four years with the Packers. He was traded to the Raiders where he again failed to start a single game, 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 two picks ahead of Hall of Famer Ronnie Lott. The Packers wouldn't draft a QB in the first round until Aaron Rodgers in 2005, a much better return on investment.
  • Jim Druckenmiller was selected #26 overall in 1997 by the San Francisco 49ers out of Virginia Tech. Physically talented but considered a major developmental project, he was intended to serve as the successor to Steve Young. However, he struggled in what little time he did see the field for the 49ers, throwing just one touchdown pass to four interceptions while completing a measly 40% of his passes. He was traded to the Dolphins, who were similarly seeking a long-term 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 as well as leading all quarterbacks in rushing yards during the league's sole season. Unlike Maddox, Druckenmiller's NFL comeback attempt fell short. Despite some tryout offers with NFL teams, he was not signed and was out of football soon after.
  • 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 interception 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 quarterbacks who were selected in the 2011 Draft's first round, along with Jake Locker and Christian Ponder (see both below).
  • 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, Griffin quickly proved more capable as a passer than Vick ever was. He 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. 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 Griffin 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 2015 regular season. He was released from Washington afterwards and signed with the Cleveland Brownsnote  in an attempt to resurrect his career. In the Browns' 2016 opener, he got hurt again, this time a shoulder injury that kept him out for much of the season, and wasn't in football in 2017. In 2018, Griffin signed with the Ravens as a backup; many have suggested that the Ravens kept him on the roster for three seasons just to keep other teams from using him to help them prepare for the Ravens' current #1 rushing QB, Lamar Jackson, before releasing him in 2021. "RG3" stands as a prime example of a one-season wonder.
  • 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 Haskins 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. However, poor performance and character concerns led to Haskins being benched early the next season by new coach Ron Rivera, who placed him as the third-string behind Alex Smith and Kyle Allen. The concerns of his character and work ethic were so great that Smith, a well-known Nice Guy who almost never speaks ill of his teammates, told the media that Haskins needed to buckle down and start putting in more effort. Though he later returned to the field after injuries to both fellow QBs, those earlier concerns about his dependability proved valid when Haskins was pictured visiting a strip club without a mask after a game, the most egregious of several violations he had made of the team's COVID-19 policies. Haskins was cut by the team soon after, making his case one of the fastest and most dramatic wash-outs of a high-drafted quarterback in recent memory; he subsequently signed with the Pittsburgh Steelers.
  • 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. In four years with the Bengals, Klinger went 4-20 as as a starter. After his release, he spent two seasons a backup with the Raiders but never again started a game. Klinger is one of the many issues that plagued the Bengals in the mid-late '90s, leading to them becoming known as the "Bungles".
  • Ryan Leaf was a quarterback most famously employed by the San Diego Chargers, who drafted him #2 overall out of Washington State in 1998. Leaf is generally considered to be the biggest draft bust of all time, if not one of the worst NFL QBs period (#1 pick Peyton Manning—at the time often compared to Leaf note —was drafted in the same year and went on to immeasurable success). In his rookie season, he posted a passer rating of 39.0, which is statistically lower than if he had thrown every single pass into the ground. Even worse, San Diego had traded two 1st round draft picks and a 2nd round pick to trade up 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. Injuries, a standoffish nature with the media, and poor work ethic (he often played golf while the team's other quarterbacks studied film) drove him out of San Diego after three years and out of the NFL entirely after one more (he played as a backup to the Cowboys for four games in 2002). 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 quarterbacks coach at West Texas A&M, a position he lost after it was revealed he was using the position to illegally obtain pain pills. After serving two-plus years of a seven-year sentence 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. Unfortunately, he was arrested the following year for domestic battery and pled guilty to a misdemeanor false imprisonment charge, losing both his job and much of the good will he had built up over the previous years in the process.
  • 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 Trophy and BCS National Championship. According to most draft prognosticators, Leinart 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 in the fourth week of the season but had a mediocre rookie performance (with a 4-7 record as starter). He won the starting job in his second year but played poorly (posting a 61.9 QB rating) and was lost for the season when he broke his collarbone. Warner took the starting job back and did not relinquish it until he retired two years later (during which time he took the Cardinals to their only Super Bowl.) Leinart was his presumptive successor, but he lost the preseason QB competition to journeyman Derek Anderson and was released before the start of the regular season. Leinart 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 interceptions) 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, not making a single startnote . He won the starting job his second season, but injured his shoulder three weeks in and missed four games with the injury before returning, finishing the year 4-7 as a starter with more interceptions than touchdowns. A foot injury claimed most of Locker's 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, ending his career. He is one of the three draft bust quarterbacks who were selected in the 2011 Draft's first round, along with Blaine Gabbert (see above) and Christian Ponder (see below).
  • Paxton Lynch was drafted #26 overall in 2016 by the Denver Broncos out of Memphis. Denver was 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. Lynch struggled to adapt to the pro game, failing to win the starting job in either of his first two seasons and playing only in injury relief. During the preseason of his third year, he was demoted to 3rd string and then released during final cuts. He then bounced around as bottom of the roster fodder to a few more teams.note 
  • 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. Todd's 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 being conditioned to be the ultimate athlete. Todd was raised on a very strict diet (his mother was not even allowed to eat sugar or salt while pregnant with him), was forbidden to indulge in normal childhood activities (such as watching cartoons), and was 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 was forced into action as a redshirt freshman after an injury to the starting QB and played extremely well, leading USC to the Pac-10 title and a Rose Bowl victory. Believed to be a Heisman favorite his next year, Marinovich struggled instead; his play also began to decline and he began skipping classes and dabbling in drugs, which led to a one-game suspension. 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. Interesting historical footnote: Marinovich was selected eight picks ahead of another QB who would go 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, McGwire is notable for his immense arm strength, with it claimed that he once (likely apocryphally) 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, the Seahawks made a coaching change before the season and McGwire struggled to adjust to the new offensive system, performing poorly during training camp and the preseason. He wound up as the third string quarterback that year and Seattle went on to draft Rick Mirer with the #2 overall pick the following offseason. McGwire ultimately only started three games as a Seahawk while Mirer was out with an injury, completing less than 50% of his passes and throwing six interceptions. 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 Major League Baseball 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, McNown 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 McNown 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 interceptions than touchdowns while completing just 54% of his passes. He was named starter for his second season but would battle injuries while remaining largely ineffective. The following offseason, the Bears traded McNown to Miami for some late round picks, ending his career in Chicago win just three wins in 15 starts. He never started another game, leading to him being considered one of the biggest draft busts in Bears history.
  • 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, O'Brien considered quitting football but was convinced to play by Eagles Owner/Coach Bert Bell who gave O'Brien a $12,000 signing bonus, a significant amount for the time. O'Brien's 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 touchdowns to 34 interceptions. O'Brien retired and began a career as a firearms instructor with the FBI. His involvement in professional 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 passed away after a battle with cancer in 1977.
  • Mike Phipps was the #3 overall pick in the 1970 Draft, selected just two spots after Terry Bradshaw. Phipps, a Purdue product, was picked by the Cleveland Browns, who had traded away star wide receiver Paul Warfield to the Miami 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 would be an important component of Don Shula's dominant '70s Dolphins team, Phipps threw more interceptions than touchdowns every year he was with the Browns. 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. Cleveland wouldn't see the playoffs again until 1980. Phipps was traded to the 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 professional ceiling. Nonetheless, the Vikings surprised the draft community with their high selection of Ponder, a move 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 traded for veteran Donovan McNabb with plans to develop Ponder behind him. McNabb lost five of his six starts before the team benched him in favor of Ponder, who didn't perform much better, and the team struggled to a 2-8 record with him under center. Ponder was more successful in his second season, largely playing a game manager role while RB Adrian Peterson carried the offense on his way to a 2,000+ yard MVP season. However, Ponder 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 quarterbacks who were selected in the 2011 Draft's first round, along with Blaine Gabbert and Jake Locker (see both above). Ponder is now known more as the husband of Samantha Ponder, current host of ESPN's Sunday NFL Countdown.
  • Josh Rosen was drafted #10 overall in 2018 out of UCLA by the Arizona Cardinals; when interviewed about the selection, Rosen infamously stated that "nine mistakes" had been made before him, words that would come 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. Rosen was traded to the Miami Dolphins the next year, where he mostly served as a backup behind Ryan Fitzpatrick. The Dolphins then chose to pick college star Tua Tagovailoa in the next draft and waived Rosen after no one was willing to trade for him. Though Rosen landed a spot on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers practice squad and later signed with the San Francisco 49ers, the utter collapse of his value in just two years due to circumstances largely outside his control set him as one of the more dramatic examples of a draft bust.
  • JaMarcus Russell was the #1 overall pick in the 2007 Draft out of LSU and spent his short three-year career as the quarterback for 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 was the 2009 season, 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. He once sent letters to every NFL team offering to play a season for free, but no NFL team wanted to sign him. He 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 Russell's case is that he was drafted ahead of first-ballot Hall of Famer Calvin Johnson and likely future Hall of Famers Joe Thomas and Adrian Peterson.
  • 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 Trophy. 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, opening the door for Frerotte. 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 for 3rd and 5th round picks, where he put up even worse statistics as he threw two touchdowns to 14 interceptions. A significant foot injury cost him his second season with the Saints, after which he signed with the Raiders where he re-injured his foot, ending his career. Shuler ended his career with more than twice as many interceptions as touchdowns. Fun fact: He later served in the US Congress as a representative from North Carolina.
  • Steve Spurrier was a Heisman-winning quarterback for Florida in the '60s who was drafted #3 overall in 1967. 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, only to lose it after throwing three interceptions in a single half, being benched, and watching Brodie reclaim his spot with a comeback run. That was the most success Spurrier saw in the pros. 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—Spurrier was cut, failed to catch on with any other teams, and ended his pro football career. He would have 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".
  • 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 who failed to live up to expectations once in the NFL. Tedford coached at Fresno State, Oregon, and Cal-Berkeley where he coached 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 all failed to live up to the expectations of being first round draft choices in the NFL. Their collective record as NFL starters is just 98-127 (43.6%), they combined for a completion percentage of 54.6%, threw more interceptions (230) than touchdown passes (202), and posted an anemic combined QB rating 68.6. The NFL's backlash toward the failures of Tedford's quarterbacks likely greased the rails for Aaron Rodgers' (who played at Cal under Tedford) draft day slide to #24 overall. Rodgers ultimately bucked the trend but would ironically be the last first round pick quarterback produced by Tedford (who would later be fired from Cal, serve as an NFL offensive coordinator for a time, then return to Fresno State as head coach).
    • Trent Dilfer is widely considered the worst starting QB to ever win a Super Bowl, winning XXXV with the Baltimore Ravens during his only season with the team. Dilfer 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 Major League Baseball'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 all of their 1999 draft picks as well as two from the 2000 Draft, but the Bengals 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 team's playbook. In four years with the team, Smith 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) as well as 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 Edgerrin James, Ricky Williams, Torry Holt, Champ Bailey, and fellow QB Daunte Culpepper).
    • David Carr was the first draft pick in the Houston Texans' history. He 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, the lack of talent around him, particularly on the offensive line, quickly became apparent. Carr started all 16 games despite being sacked an NFL record 76 times. (He is also third on that list, being sacked 68 times three seasons later.) In his five years as starter with the Texans, Carr never had a winning season, threw more interceptions than touchdowns 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" quarterback: quickly getting the ball out of his hands with low-risk short passes that bogged down many drives. Released after his fifth season with the team, Carr bounced around to several teams as backup, including the New York Giants' Super Bowl XLVI championship team (he did not attempt a pass that season), and was out of football after 2012. Notably, David is the older brother of Raiders QB Derek Carr.
    • Joey Harrington, selected two picks after David Carr, was heralded by local Detroit media as a "savior" for the long-suffering franchise. Harrington struggled with turnovers during his Lions tenure, including a league leading 22 interceptions 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, Harrington was traded to Miami in the final year of the tumultuous Nick Saban era and continued to struggle. Harrington signed with Atlanta as a free agent the following offseason, where he was expected to back up superstar Michael Vick before he was infamously 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, Harrington briefly signed with New Orleans, was released, and out of football soon after.
    • 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 team 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 injured during the preseason of his fifth year in the league, being placed on injured reserve and 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.
  • Mitchell Trubisky was selected #2 overall by the Chicago Bears in 2017, after a trade up. During his college career at North Carolina, Trubisky 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 as their new head coach and found immediate success, going 12-4 while Trubisky became the Bears' first Pro Bowl quarterback since 1986. Unfortunately, Trubisky regressed in his third season and was benched just three games into his fourth (though did re-enter the starting lineup later in the season following an injury to his replacement). He ended his Bears rookie contract with a winning record as starter and having thrown more touchdowns than interceptions, which would normally mark a quarterback as a disappointment at worst rather than an outright bust. However, Trubisky's So Okay, It's 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 quarterbacks who he was drafted ahead of—generational talents Patrick Mahomes and Deshaun Watson.
  • Andre Ware was drafted #7 overall by the Detroit Lions in 1990 after winning the Heisman Trophy at Houston. During his Heisman-winning campaign, Ware set 26 NCAA passing records while playing in Houston's passing-heavy "Run & Shoot" offense. Many were curious to see how Ware transitioned to the NFL's more conservative, run-heavy offensive style. Unfortunately, that transition went poorly, and Ware struggled to even win the backup job in Detroit, much less start. Ware 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.

     Other Notable Draft Busts 
  • Trev Alberts was a linebacker drafted #5 overall by the Indianapolis Colts in 1994 out of Nebraska after trading up from the #7 pick. Alberts badly struggled with injuries, ultimately starting just seven games in three seasons with the Colts before retiring. Alberts is also indirectly 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 general manager 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 would be fired after a 3-13 season 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 Division II team title.
  • Eli Apple was a corner 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, Apple's 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" to the team. He was suspended for the team's final game in 2017 after he refused coaches' orders to practice with the scout team. In 2018, new head coach Pat Shurmur declared that he was giving 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 for 4th and 7th round picks. He struggled in his season and a half with the Saints, particularly in coverage and with penalties (leading the league in coverage penalties in 2019), and they opted not to pick up his 5th year option. Apple signed with the Panthers as a free agent but was released after playing in just two games.
  • Kelvin Benjamin was a wide receiver drafted at #28 overall by the Carolina Panthers in 2014 out of Florida State after making the game-winning TD catch in the BCS Championship the previous year. Benjamin had a breakout rookie season with over 1,000 receiving yards, but an ACL injury in training camp took him out for all of 2015 while his team raced to a Super Bowl appearance. Benjamin returned next year for another solid season but began to develop a reputation for running half-hearted routes and regularly giving up on plays. His production declined sharply the following year as he experienced weight troubles, the death of his mother, and conflicts with QB Cam Newton. Benjamin was traded mid-season to the Buffalo Bills and was cut during the next season as his performance continued to plummet. Benjamin played a few games for the Kansas City Chiefs that season but was cut before they began their playoff run, and he has been out of the NFL ever since.
  • 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 halfback for the University of Chicago. He was also technically the first ever draft bust, since he never actually played for the Eagles. (They were unable to meet his salary demands of $1,000 a game, which is roughly $17,000 in today's money.) He was traded to the Chicago Bears, who also did not meet his salary demands. He never actually played a single down of professional football. (Notably, this was more common in the early years of the Draft, as playing professional football wasn't the lucrative career it is nowadays. Additionally, many of the best collegiate football players were multi-sport stars and would go on to play professional baseball, which was more prestigious and better paying at the time.)
  • Justin Blackmon was a wide receiver 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 NFL 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 NFL suspension to this day.
  • Brian Bosworth, aka The Boz, was a linebacker 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. Prior to the Supplemental Draft, he 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. Regardless, the Seahawks drafted him and convinced him to play for them by giving Bosworth the richest deal in the history of the league for a rookie player at the time. Bosworth played well initially 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, Bosworth 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.
  • Aundray Bruce was a pass-rushing linebacker 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, 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. He is considered the biggest draft bust in Falcons history and is one of the more disappointing #1 overall picks in modern NFL history. He was also the last linebacker to be selected #1 overall.
  • Ahmad Carroll was a corner 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 Pro Bowlers in DE Jason Babin, OL Chris Snee, and future Defensive Player of the Year, S Bob Sanders.
  • Ki-Jana Carter was a running back 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 would never again play at the level he demonstrated in college. He made several comeback attempts but suffered a season-ending injury three more times. When discussing What Could Have Been situations with major draft busts, expect his name to come up. Carter is also the last RB to be selected #1 overall.
  • Ron Dayne was a running back selected #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 Dayne's bowl game statistics are considered unofficial) and won the Heisman Trophy 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. Dayne's college success did not translate to the professional 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), with his coaches becoming 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.
  • Robert Edwards was a running back drafted out of Georgia by the New England Patriots #18 overall in 1998. He rushed 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, Edwards suffered a severe knee injury during the game, nearly requiring amputation below the knee. Edwards 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.
  • Steve Emtman was a defensive lineman selected #1 overall by the Indianapolis Colts in 1992 out of Washington after a dominant college career, which included winning a national championship in 1991 and later entry into the College Football Hall of Fame. Emtman showed initial promise, recording three sacks and picking off Dan Marino for a game-sealing 90-yard interception return for a TD. 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.
  • Jamar Fletcher was a corner 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 the San Diego Chargers. Making the selection of Fletcher 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. That QB? None other than the NFL's all-time leading passer and Super Bowl XLIV champion Drew Brees. Miami, meanwhile, has struggled to find a long-term answer at the QB position in the two decades since.note 
  • Robert Gallery was an offensive 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 2004 Draft. Additionally, offensive linemen have generally been considered one of the "safer" positions to select with a high draft pick. Gallery started his Raiders career at right tackle, where his play was mediocre. Despite this, the Raiders moved him to left tackle in 2006. In his very first game at his new position, he surrendered 3 sacks. In 13 starts that season, Gallery surrendered 10.5 sacks, 4th most in the league. In 2007, he was moved inside to the left guard position, where his performance improved. He played that position for several more seasons in Oakland before signing with Seattle as a free agent on a 3-year deal. Seattle released Gallery 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 helping the situation is that Gallery was drafted ahead of several likely future Hall of Famers in Larry Fitzgerald (pick #3), Philip Rivers (pick #4), and Ben Roethlisberger (pick #11).
  • Vernon Gholston was a pass rusher 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 at the school, Gholston was considered by many to be the best pure pass rusher available in the draft. The Jets tabbed Gholston to play outside linebacker in their 3-4 defense, however, 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, Gholston 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.
  • Ted Gregory was a defensive tackle drafted by the Denver Broncos #26 overall in 1988 out of Syracuse. Listed at 6'1", when then-Broncos head coach Dan Reeves (who is actually 6'1") met Gregory for the first time, he noted that Gregory must be at least four inches shorter than that. Gregory injured his knee during training camp of his rookie season and never actually 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 in RB Thurman Thomas and C Dermontti Dawson.
  • Archie Griffin had a legendary career as a running back at Ohio State, becoming the only college player ever to win the Heisman twice, and was fittingly drafted #24 overall in 1976 by an Ohio team, the Cincinnati Bengals. Griffin played seven seasons with the Bengals, but his play did not see the same level of success in the pros—he put up So Okay, It's Average numbers each season before he was cut and was out of pro football entirely after one season in the USFL.
  • Matt Jones was a wide receiver 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.note  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, Jones' stock soared into first round consideration despite having never played the WR position before. Jones put up a few middling seasons as a #3/#4 receiver in certain packages, starting only five games in his first three seasons. He moved into a starting role for his fourth season, setting his career highs for receptions and receiving yards, but was suspended midway through due to a substance abuse violation stemming from an incident where he was arrested at gunpoint for felony possession of a controlled substance in his home state of Arkansas. He was released by the Jaguars the next offseason after yet another arrest, this time for a violation of the probation from his previous arrest. He attempted to catch on with a few more teamsnote  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 quarterbacks moving to other positions.
  • Dion Jordan was a defensive end drafted #3 overall in 2013 by the Miami Dolphins out of Oregon. Highly athletic with a long, lanky frame, Jordan 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. He's up there with Richardson and Manziel as one of the biggest busts of the 2010s.
  • Dick Leftridge was a running back 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 four carries to his name, and is considered the biggest draft bust in Steelers history.
  • Steve Little was one of the highest drafted punters/placekickers 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 for the team, as kicking specialists are typically selected in the final rounds of the draft if they are drafted at all. 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. Little did not come close to replicating his college success—he missed more than half of his field goals and missed 10 of 51 PAT attempts. He was released in the middle of his third season with the team. Tragically, just a few hours after leaving the facility after being let go, Little was involved in a high-speed car accident. He was paralyzed from the neck down for the rest of his life, shutting the door on any possibility of a comeback attempt.
  • Mike Mamula was a combination Defensive End/Linebacker 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 Mamula was used by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to select Hall of Fame Defensive Tackle Warren Sapp. Later in the round, the Bucs also selected Hall of Fame Linebacker Derrick Brooks, meaning the Eagles essentially passed on two Hall of Fame players for Mamula.
  • Tony Mandarich was an offensive 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 was thought to be 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 soon after, entered treatment for drug and alcohol addiction. Following that treatment, he played a few more years 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 Pro Football Hall of Fame. (Troy Aikman, Barry Sanders, Derrick Thomas, and Deion Sanders were the other players selected.)
  • Aaron Maybin was an edge rusher 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.
  • Booker Reese was a defensive end 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. However, a communications snafu caused the Bucs to accidentally send in the name of the #2 player on their board, offensive lineman Sean Farrell, instead. (Farrell would, ironically, have 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. 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.
  • Greg Robinson was an offensive tackle 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 offensive linemen in the league. He also struggled with his weight, frequently being 15-20 lbs overweight. By his fourth season, the Rams signed a free agent LT to replace him, moving Robinson to guard and RT where he continued to struggle. During the following offseason, he 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 Browns and remained a starter the following season, but his struggles returned and he was also ejected from a game for kneeing an opposing player in the head. During the early 2020 offseason, while a free agent, Robinson was caught with over 150 lbs of marijuana in his car and arrested. Facing up to 20 years of prison time, the incident has likely ended Robinson's career and cemented his status as a bust.
  • Charles Rogers was a wide receiver drafted #2 overall by the Detroit Lions in 2003 after a stellar career at Michigan State. After drawing pre-draft comparisons to Randy Moss, much was expected of Rogers in the NFL. However, just five games into his rookie year, Rogers 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 season began with a four-game substance abuse policy suspension and when he returned, only played sparingly. He was cut after playing in just 15 games for the Lions. To pour salt in the wound for Detroit fans, Rogers was drafted one pick ahead of fellow wide receiver Andre Johnson, a seven-time Pro Bowler who retired in the top 10 for all time NFL receptions and receiving yards.
  • John Ross was a wide receiver 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.
  • Andre Wadsworth was a defensive end 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 after quarterbacks Peyton Manning and Ryan Leaf. This in part fueled a lengthy holdout as Wadsworth sought to be paid closer to the salaries of those quarterbacks. He also sought a provision allowing him to void the contract at any time, something no rookies and even few NFL veterans ever receive. Wadsworth 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. Wadsworth 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.
  • Danny Watkins was a guard drafted #23 overall in 2011 by the Philadelphia Eagles out of Baylor. A Canadian, Watkins 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. Watkins 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. At age 26, he was the oldest player selected in the first round in the NFL's modern era at that time.note  Expected to be a starter from day one, as is typically the case for offensive linemen selected in the first round, Watkins however 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 Watkins badly struggled over the next 1.5 seasons, frequently being overpowered by NFL defenders. The Eagles released him during final cuts of this third season and, after a brief stint with the Dolphins, he was out of football.
  • Bjorn Werner was a defensive end 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, Werner 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.
  • Bernard Williams was an offensive tackle 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, Williams tested positive for marijuana early in the following offseason and was suspended. He never applied for reinstatement to the NFL but went on to play in the XFL, AFL, and CFL. Williams stands out as a disappointing case of What Could Have Been to Eagles fans.
  • Troy Williamson was a wide receiver drafted #7 overall in 2005 by the Minnesota Vikings, using the very same draft 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. Williamson 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.

     Cleveland Browns Busts 
The post-revival Cleveland Browns (1999-onwards) have 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 quarterback drafted #1 overall out of Kentucky by the Browns when they re-entered the league in 1999. Couch was the revived team's starting quarterback on-and-off for five seasons, hampered by inconsistent play and plagued by injuries. He eventually lost his starting job to journeyman backup Kelly Holcomb and, after a brief pre-season stint with the Packers, was out of the league after just six years. Couch was taken ahead of two future Pro Bowl quarterbacks in Donovan McNabb and Daunte Culpepper. He was the first of four failed Cleveland first round picks at quarterback since they re-entered the league.
  • 2000 - Courtney Brown was a defensive end drafted #1 overall out of Penn State. A freakish physical specimen at over 6'5", 280lbs, 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 defensive tackle drafted #3 overall out of Florida. A hulking physical specimen at at over 330lbs, 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.
  • 2002 - William Green was a running back drafted #16 overall out of Boston College. Green's best year with Cleveland was his very first, rushing for over 800 yards as a rookie. However, his production declined over the next three seasons and he also had serious issues with fumbling the football. Off the field, he was arrested for DUI and marijuana possession leading to a four-game suspension, was stabbed by his fiancee during a domestic dispute while suspended, and was then ejected from a game for fighting when he returned to the field. He was released after four turmoil-plagued seasons with the team.
  • 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 with the team, he was traded to the New Orleans Saints for an exchange of 2nd round draft picks (moving the Browns from the #43 pick to the #34 pick). He bounced around the league for several more years as a middling starter.
  • 2004 - Kellen Winslow II - Despite one Pro Bowl season, see his entry under "Notorious Figures" above. Enough said.
  • 2005 - Braylon Edwards was a wide receiver 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.
  • 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 the Browns later admitted to having a higher grade on than Wimbley and who would go 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 season.
  • 2007-2010 were some of the Browns very few exceptions. 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 quarterback drafted #22 overall in 2007. After a stellar career at Notre Dame where he set 36 school passing records, Quinn was projected to go in the top 10 picks of the draft. Surprisingly, he fall all the way to #22 overall where the Browns (who already passed on him earlier with the #3 pick used on Joe Thomas) scooped him up. Quinn 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 which required season-ending surgery. Quinn was again named starter in 2009 but was benched in favor of Anderson during halftime of the season's third game. Quinn regained the job for a few weeks 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 draft pick. There, he lost a competition for the starting job to Kyle Orton and was later jumped on the depth chart by Tim Tebow. He didn't end up playing in 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.
  • 2011 - Phil Taylor was a hulking defensive tackle 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 selected Pro Bowl defensive linemen Cam Jordan and Cam Heyward.
  • 2012:
    • Trent Richardson was a standout college running back for Alabama who was drafted by the Browns #3 overall (behind Andrew Luck and RG3) and underperformed horribly. The Browns franchise took the blame rather than Richardson, and the Browns traded him to the Colts in exchange for a first round draft pick, and again Richardson underperformed horribly. He was released from the Colts, hired by the Raiders in 2015, and released before the preseason was over. Richardson later played in the short-lived AAF, but his yards per carry was still very poor. He also tried to catch on with the XFL but wasn't even drafted. He's currently considered one of the biggest draft busts of The New '10s.
    • Brandon Weeden was a quarterback who the Browns 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 professional 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. This was an already risky move, as it would have seriously reduced his window of productivity even if he immediately jumped out as a major talent. Weeden was one of the five rookie quarterbacks to be named a starter in 2012, the most ever, but he was easily the least successful of the bunch. In his first game against the Eagles, he threw four interceptions and posted 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) team record for passing yards by a rookie. He suffered a broken thumb early in the second season, and replacement QB Brian Hoyer played well enough in Weeden's absence to keep the starting job; Weeden only regained the starting job 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 quarterback bust for the Browns since they returned to the league, perhaps the most gut-wrenching thing to Browns fans is that Weeden was drafted ahead of several other quarterbacks who went on to greater NFL success, most notably Russell Wilson.
  • 2013 - Barkevious Mingo was an edge rusher/linebacker selected by the Browns with the #6 overall pick out of LSU. Extremely athletic with a long frame, Mingo was however 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 to the Colts and Seahawks, but has never played up to his lofty draft status.
  • 2014
    • Justin Gilbert was a cornerback drafted by the Browns out of Oklahoma State with the #8 pick (after trading down from the #4 pick). An extremely athletic corner with good size for the position, Gilbert however struggled as a tackler and had known substance abuse issues. A heel injury and an illness combined to cost Gilbert nearly his entire rookie season, 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 instead. Even at #8, stud WR Odell Beckham Jr. (who the Browns later traded their 2019 1st round pick for) and DT Aaron Donald were available.
    • Johnny Manzielnote  was a quarterback who was 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 at the same time one of the most polarizing prospects of recent years, with scouts calling him everything from a "rare competitor" to "undraftable".note  Another major 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 discovered he has 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's Hamilton Tiger-Cats shortly before the 2018 season and was then traded to the Montreal Alouettes. After one season, he was released by the Als and basically blackballed from the CFL, too. He later landed in the AAF, joining the Memphis Express midway through that league's first season only to see the league fold before its regular season even ended. 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 quarterbacks on this list, the Manziel selection comes as salt-in-the-wound for Cleveland fans because he was drafted ahead of several other quarterbacks who went on to greater NFL success (most notably Teddy Bridgewater and Derek Carr).
  • 2015:
    • Danny Shelton was a massive defensive tackle 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.
    • 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. Erving 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 wide receiver 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. He was traded to the Bills for a 7th round draft pick, released by the Bills, and has bounced around the league ever since. Had they stayed at #2 pick, the Browns could have selected QB Carson Wentz, RB Ezekiel Elliott, CB Jalen Ramsey, or DE Joey Bosa (all Pro Bowlers).

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 
  • Willie Lee "Flipper" Anderson was a second-round pick out of UCLA by the L.A. Rams in 1988 whose So Okay, It's Average career probably wouldn't stand out in the annals of NFL history were it not for a single game in his second year with the team in which he put up 336 receiving yards. This has stood as the single-game record for over three decades, with only all-time elite receivers like Calvin Johnson and Julio Jones putting up 300+ yard games since. This game was a nearly complete aberration; Anderson was not the top receiver for the Rams and put up over a third of his catches for the entire season in just this single showing.note  Anderson was off the team after '94 and spent the next three years bouncing around the league as a reserve player, eventually receiving a Super Bowl ring for sitting on the Broncos' bench in '97 before retiring from football.
  • Blake Bortles was a quarterback drafted #3 overall by the Jacksonville Jaguars in 2014 out of UCF. 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. Bortles was shaping up to be a true draft 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 the team fell just short of an improbable Super Bowl appearance after Tom Brady led a Patriots comeback in the AFC Championship game, 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 team 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 the Rams and Broncos but has not approached 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.
  • Sam Bradford was a quarterback 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, 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, Bradford received a record-shattering 6-year, $78 million rookie deal from the Rams which made him a top five paid QB before even taking his first snap as a pronote . 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, Bradford 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, the Eagles also traded up in the 2016 Draft to acquire QB Carson Wentz, and after starting each of the Eagles' preseason games, Bradford was unexpectedly traded 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 career record of 34-48-1 and a host of season ending injuries, Bradford earned a whopping $129 millionnote  in his nine-year career.
  • Matt Flynn was mainly a backup quarterback 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 (see below) in Green Bay, where he proved very capable, rallying the team when Aaron was injured. 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 team-record six touchdown passes, surpassing both Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers' 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 was healed. Debate continues over whether or not he would have been a suitable starting QB somewhere, but Packers fans are just as happy to never find out.
  • Jeff George was the #1 overall pick of the 1990 Draft and a prominent example of a bust for the team that drafted them who still managed to eek 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, George 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 the team to a playoff appearance, but he was suspended for most of the 1996 season 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 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.
  • Peyton Hillis had one of the strangest One Season Wonder careers of any NFL player, one that many fans would probably 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, Hillis originally played as a fullback, a position that had largely faded from relevance completely by the '10s. 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"—Hillis 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.
  • Dorsey Levens, like Peyton Hillis above, was a running back an average career who is only 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". Levens' 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 So Okay, It's Average; Levens was injured again the following season, bounced around a few more teams, and was out of football after 2004.
  • Rusty Lisch was a backup quarterback 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 head coach Mike Ditka benched him—not for another QB, but for running back Walter Payton (who actually threw a pair of TD passes in relief). A 2011 Deadspin article named Lisch as the "worst QB 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."
  • Tommy Maddox was a quarterback drafted #25 overall by the Denver Broncos in 1992 out of UCLA. Intended to serve as John Elway's successor, Maddox 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 quarterback of the Los Angeles Xtreme, which he led to a championship while winning the league's only MVP. Maddox's 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 put up nearly as many interceptions as touchdowns), 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.
  • Gary Marangi was a third round pick by the Buffalo Bills out of Boston College in 1974. Meant to serve as a backup quarterback, Marangi was forced to step in after starter Joe Ferguson went down for the 1976 season with a back injury. In that seven-game span, Marangi 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.
  • John "J.K." McKay Jr. was a wide receiver 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 professional 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 general manager in the first iteration of the XFL and then as Head of Football Operations of the AAF, two pro leagues which infamously folded after just one season each.
  • Kim McQuilken was a quarterback drafted in the 3rd round of 1974 out of Lehigh, then Division 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 touchdowns. McQuilken 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, McQuilken left football to start a career as a marketing executive with Turner Broadcasting, including some time as a top exec of Cartoon Network.
  • Brock Osweiler was a quarterback selected in the 2nd round of the 2012 Draft out of Arizona State by the Denver Broncos, who had just signed Peyton Manning following his whirlwind free agency tour. Osweiler played sparingly in his first three seasons as Manning returned to pre-injury form, setting single-season passing records and leading Denver to a Super Bowl appearance. In 2015, age and injuries caught up to Manning; after a disastrous performance where Manning 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. While Denver planned to re-sign Osweiler after Manning announced his retirement, Osweiler, allegedly miffed at his benching, lined up free agent visits with other teams. 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 head coach 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 team-record 16 interceptions on the season. He returned to the field during the playoffs when replacement Tom Savage was injured but threw three interceptions and lead 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. Osweiler 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 quarterback most infamous for his time with the Buffalo Bills who ranks high on many "worst QBs ever" lists. Picked in the fifth round of the 2017 Draft 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. Peterman 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 interceptions in both. He was let go by the Bills after just two seasons and is currently a backup for the Las Vegas Raiders.
  • Mark Sanchez is a quarterback most famous for his time with the New York Jets, who drafted him in the first round in 2009 after his successful junior year as the starter for USC. Although he was able to take the Jets to two consecutive AFC Championship games in the 2009 and 2010 seasons, the Jets were a team very much led by their dominant defense and outstanding running game while Sanchez was merely asked to limit mistakes. Sanchez had a mediocre year in 2011 and a horrible year 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. The ball was recovered by the Patriots and returned for a touchdown. After 40 straight weeks of the Butt Fumble as their #1 "Not Top 10" play, ESPN retired it so other embarrassing plays could have a chance of winning the "top" spot. A shoulder injury cost him the 2013 season and the Jets released him in 2014. Sanchez later signed with the Eagles as a backup quarterback. When starter Nick Foles was injured, Sanchez briefly returned to form and got a bit of redemption by leading the Eagles to a win on the Butt Fumble's anniversary, but he soon regressed and started throwing interceptions again. He bounced around as a backup in Denver, Chicago, and Washington for the next few years and retired in 2019, becoming an ESPN college football analyst.
  • Brian Sipe was drafted by the Cleveland Browns in the thirteenth round of the 1972 Draft (#330 overall) out of San Diego State. After two seasons on the bench, Sipe worked his way to become the team's starter, where he put up a perfectly serviceable individual performance for a team that was generally not spectacular. However, Sipe stands out as one of the more notable examples of a One Season Wonder in NFL history for his performance in the 1980 season, where he led the Browns squad to the playoffs for the first time since the year they had drafted him. This team earned the nickname "the Kardiac Kids" for their tendency to just barely win in the fourth quarter or overtime. Sipe not only was selected to his first and only Pro Bowl for this season, but won league MVP. However, the miracles ceased once the Browns hit the postseason, as they lost their first game, on the infamous Red Right 88 playnote , starting the legacy of Browns playoff failures in the '80s; Sipe would be benched before they reached it again two years later, spent a few years in the USFL, and was out of pro football by 1985.
  • Timmy Smith is notable for perhaps being the greatest One-Hit Wonder in NFL history. While many of the other players on this list at least had one good season, Smith's claim to fame comes from a single game—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. Smith 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 the Dallas Cowboys' first round pick in the 1970 Draft out of West Texas State (now West Texas A&M) and one of the biggest One-Season Wonders in NFL history. After a strong rookie season, Thomas got tangled in a contract dispute with the team that dragged on an entire year. Thomas chose to become an Elective Mute, not saying a word during practices or meetings through 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.
  • Jameis Winston was the #1 draft pick of the 2015 Draft, 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 public and 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. Winston continued to stand out as a passer for the Buccaneers, even after the league issued him a suspension in 2018 for a groping allegation. His productivity truly exploded in his fifth season when, under new head coach Bruce Arians, he led the league in passing yards and completions and became one of only seven QBs to pass for over 5,000 yards in a single season. Winston 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 interceptions 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, and Winston landed in New Orleans to back up Drew Brees.
  • Elbert "Ickey" Woods is one of biggest One Season Wonders in NFL history. A second-round pick for the Bengals in the 1988 Draft out of UNLV, Woods 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. Woods' 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.
  • Vince Young was a quarterback whose career was more disappointing because of the immense expectations placed on him than for his performance on the field. Even before his legendary college career at Texas, he 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, the Tennessee Titans wanted a quarterback and had multiple optionsnote . Ownership and management wanted Young for his sky high potential and massive star power, so the Titans selected Young with the #3 overall pick. He initially found massive 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 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. 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 went back to struggling 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 the following offseason and signed as a backup with the Philadelphia Eagles in 2011. Young won his first start for the Eagles but struggled 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 interceptions than touchdowns.

     Notable Disappointing Coaches and Executives 
  • Bill Callahan was the offensive coordinator for the Oakland Raiders under Jon Gruden before the head coach 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 head coach position. Callahan built off of Gruden's success and brought the Raiders all the way to the Super Bowl in his first year as a head coach, where they faced off against... Gruden and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The Raiders got blown out completely by Gruden in the Big Game, which many attributed to Callahan not changing his old friend's playbook once he left town; many Raiders fans and even players speculated that Callahan intentionally sabotaged the team due to his disputes with Davis. Callahan lost the locker room the following season, the team collapsed, and Callahan was fired. He bounced around college and the NFL for the next two decades and even served as an interim head coach in Washington for most of the 2019 season, but he was never rehired to be head coach for another NFL team.
  • Ryan Grigson was the GM of the Indianapolis Colts from 2012-2016. Originally an offensive tackle drafted 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 holdover players 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 offensive 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 the 2016 season after two straight seasons missing the playoffs and amid reports of a "toxic environment" that he had created in the Colts organization. Grigson 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.
  • 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 head coach of the Oakland Raiders) before taking the helm in Cleveland in 2016. Jackson was the sixth head coach that the Browns had in the last decade, with only a single winning season in that time, and were coming off a 3-13 season. For this reason, 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 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 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 head coach that lasted 40 games.note 
  • Lane Kiffin was hired as head coach of the Oakland Raiders in 2007 after a brief but very successful two-year stint as the offensive coordinator 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 brought from the college ranks have some experience as head coach 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 Kiffin's 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 head coaching offers several times. Kiffin immediately came into conflict 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 Kiffin returned to coaching at the college level.
  • Matt Millen started out as a linebacker for the Oakland/Los Angeles Raiders, the San Francisco 49ers, and the Washington team in the '80s and early '90s. Millen saw a good deal of success in this role—though he was never exactly a star player, he won at least one Super Bowl on each team (two with the Raiders) and was selected to a Pro Bowl in '88. Millen retired after his fourth Super Bowl win and became a commentator who was probably best known for filling in for John Madden when he couldn't make it to a game due to his phobia of flying. However, Millen left the booth to become general manager and CEO for the Detroit Lions from 2001 to 2008, 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 the 2008 season, but the damage was done. Already 0-4 by that point in the season, the Detroit Lions that Millen had built ended the season 0-16, the first winless season under the 16-game schedule.
  • Nick Saban has been the colossus of college coaching since the turn of the millennium, winning a record seven NCAA FBS national championships with LSU and Alabama. Between those stops, however, Saban spent two disappointing years (2005-2006) in the NFL as head coach of the Miami Dolphins. Saban's 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. Culpepper played poorly and was placed on IR after only four games due to lingering knee issues; Brees helped turn the Saints into a powerhouse, Super Bowl-winning team. 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 head coach position. In response to reporters asking about the position, Saban infamously replied: "I guess I have to say it: I'm not going to be the Alabama coach." Less than two weeks later, Saban resigned from the Dolphins 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. Don Shula never officially appointed an offensive coordinator while Dave was with the team, which may have been why Jimmy Johnson brought Dave in to be the Dallas Cowboys OC in 1989 for his first year on the job. 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 head coach at age 32. He was one of the youngest to ever claim that position and got it over Bill Cowher, who landed with the Steelers instead and went on to a Hall of Fame career. Shula 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. His failure was so complete that he wouldn't coach football again until he was offered an assistant spot at his alma mater Dartmouth 22 years later.
  • Gene Smithnote  served as general manager of the Jacksonville Jaguars from 2009-2012 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. Smith was inept at managing the roster, releasing franchise mainstaysnote , then trading another cornerstone in DT John Henderson 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 quarterback 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 Shoot" 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. Spurrier 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 following the 2003 season and returned to the college ranks, leaving a very disappointing legacy in the NFL.
  • Joe Thomasnote  served two utterly disastrous stints as general manager of the Baltimore Colts and the San Francisco 49ers in the '70s, earning him a reputation as one of the worst team executives in NFL history. During his first year with the Colts, Thomas fired head coach Don McCafferty two years after he won Super Bowl V. He then ordered replacement coach John Sandusky to bench all of the team's veterans, including legendary quarterback Johnny Unitas, in favor of younger players, then fired Sandusky after the season. He then traded away nearly all of the team's stars, including Unitas, and hired his third head coach in two seasons in Howard Schnellenberger. Thomas fired him in-season, then took over head coaching duties himself on an interim basis, finishing with a 2-9 record in that role. After repeated clashes with ownership, Thomas was fired after five seasons in which the team went through five head coaches, including himself. He somehow immediately landed another GM position in San Francisco, with his first act being... to fire the head coach. During what has been described as a "chaotic ego trip", Thomas literally threw out much of the the team's history, demanding that the team "focus on the future". A team secretary literally went dumpster diving to save some of the team artifacts, including multiple team photos and the team's AAFC charter (a priceless piece of team history), 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 draft pick) for a 31-year-old O.J. Simpson coming off of a knee injury, who would retire after two middling seasons. Despite his disastrous career, he spent his final years as the Vice President of the Miami Dolphins until passing away in 1983.


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