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  • Writer's pictureFred Wheeler

Ten Biggest NFL Draft Busts 2000-2020

Updated: Sep 26, 2023

In just a couple of days, the 2021 NFL Draft opens up in Cleveland where fans of every team will be there to see their squad’s future stars drafted. In 15 years, some fan bases will look back and remember this draft as the year their team turned around their fortunes; some will be celebrating a player who will be inducted into their team’s Ring of Honor, and one or two might even be looking forward to that day in Canton when they can celebrate a new Hall of Fame inductee.

There will also be the fan bases who enter the gates to the draft this year and be cursing their team’s pick in just a few years. That’s the nature of the draft. For every Peyton Manning, Khalil Mack or Julio Jones, there is a Ryan Leaf, Tony Mandarich or David Terrell. Sometimes teams are blinded by college production, a position of need or (maybe worst of all), they fall in love with a player and can’t see the forest for the trees. Whatever the reason, every year brings us at least a player or two who is highly drafted and just fails to make an impact, leaving fans frustrated and (usually) a coach and a GM out of a job. These are the players I’ll be listing today.

Before we begin unveiling our top 10 of suck, a few notes on how I chose these players.

1. We hear about the “average” NFL career being about three years. That’s every player taken into account, some play only a game, some are around for 20 years. A rookie who makes an opening day roster averages a six-year career while first-round picks average nine. If you can’t hit that six-year average, you’re a bust.

2. I’m only counting the Best (Worst?) of the Best. You need to be drafted in the Top 10 to be considered. Why? Because inside the Top 10 you are generally considered to have only minor flaws if any at all. You are the prototype for your position and are thought of as a perennial Pro Bowl/All-Pro-type player.

3. They just couldn’t hack it. Many of the players on this list were given chance after chance to produce for not just the team that drafted them, but usually at least one other team and were STILL outplayed by lower drafted players.

4. They self-destructed. For whatever reason, a huge character flaw was missed during the background check, something so bad that no other team wanted to give them a second chance.

So, now that we know the rules, here are the Biggest NFL Busts since 2000.

#10 – Mike Williams – Drafted #10 in 2005 (DET) – His best year (2010) nearly eclipsed the rest of his career. He managed 65 REC, 751 Yds, and two TDs in that one season vs 62 REC, 776 Yds, and three TDs for the other four seasons combined in his five-year career. Not a great start but Williams wasn’t the worst of the three wide receivers that the Lions drafted in the first round from 2003-05. I just couldn’t bring myself to bad-mouth Charles Rogers (No. 2 in 2003) who passed away in November 2019. Williams (and Ohio State’s Maurice Clarett) challenged the NFL’s draft eligibility rule in 2004 and despite an earlier ruling allowing them, it was later overturned leading to Williams sitting out the '04 season. He currently coaches at Wharton HS in Tampa, FL.

#9 – Jason Smith – Drafted #2 in 2009 (STL Rams) – It’s sometimes a little hard to quantify if an offensive lineman is a bust. So much of what they do is dependent on other players. But, if that player is drafted with an eye towards replacing a future HOFer (Orlando Pace) it becomes a steep hill to climb. Smith was viewed as a future cornerstone when he was drafted and I’m not ashamed to say that I held that view too. Unfortunately, losing your position to a rookie in your second year doesn’t do much for your stature. After three years, the Rams traded Smith to the Jets for *checks notes* Wayne Hunter? Ugh. After one year with the Jets, he was released. Smith currently owns an equestrian center in Fairfield, TX.

#8 – Aaron Curry – Drafted #4 in 2009 (SEA) – 2009 wasn’t exactly a banner year for the NFL draft, other than No. 1 overall pick Matt Stafford. Only one other Top-10 pick to date has been to a Pro Bowl (B.J. Raji – DT, 2011). Still, hopes are always high for a player drafted inside the Top 10 and Aaron Curry was no different. Considered the best linebacker in the 2009 draft, Curry was even in the discussion for the No. 1 pick; not a stretch as he had racked up awards at Wake Forest culminating with a 2008 First-Team All-American selection and the 2008 Butkus Award (Best Linebacker). After losing his starting role in his third season with Seattle, he was traded to Oakland for a pair of picks. He played only 13 games for Oakland over the next two years. Since retirement Curry has joined the coaching ranks and is currently a defensive assistant for Seattle.

#7 – Josh Rosen – Drafted #10 in 2018 (ARI) – It might seem a bit hasty to label someone a bust just three seasons after they were drafted, especially when they’re still occupying a roster spot in the NFL. It’s a little different, though, when that player's roster spot is with their fourth team in three years. That’s Josh Rosen. One of a quintet of QBs selected in the first round in 2018, Rosen is the only one where there is a general consensus that his selection was a mistake (Sam Darnold is a close second, though). Prior to the draft, there were concerns about Rosen that he might be “too intelligent” and that football may not be his number one priority given that his family was very successful otherwise. Rosen is currently signed to a one-year deal with the San Francisco 49ers.

#6 – Justin Blackmon – Drafted #5 in 2012 (JAX) - After a wildly successful college career, back-to-back Biletnikoff and Warfield trophies as well as two unanimous All-American selections, Blackmon followed it up with a 64-catch, 5-TD rookie season. However, before the season he was arrested for a DUI offense in Stillwater, OK, and yes, this is a recurring theme. Suspended prior to the 2013 season for violating the NFL’s Substance Abuse Policy, he only played four games that year before violating the policy again in November. He has not played since. This might be one of the more tragic bust stories on this list as he seemed to be well thought of by everyone he came into contact with, but alcohol just wouldn’t let him go. I spent a considerable amount of time trying to track down where he is now but, it seems, that Justin Blackmon is a ghost, though he still occupies a spot on the Jacksonville roster (suspended). Here is the most recent article on his whereabouts.

#5 – Trent Richardson – Drafted #3 in 2012 (CLE) – Maybe we’re used to seeing ‘Bama stars not quite pan out in the NFL, they’ve certainly had more flops than successes. For whatever reason, Trent Richardson has to be near the top of that list. Coming out of Alabama after his junior season, he was compared to the likes of Emmitt Smith, Earl Campbell and O.J. Simpson (for the right reasons). Named as one of three “sure-thing” players in the draft by Bill Polian, Richardson was the focus of much speculation leading up to his selection. His rookie season seemed to be a sign of good things to come finishing just shy of 1,000 yards and with 12 TDs. Then, in a shocking move, the Browns traded Richardson to the Colts just two weeks into the 2013 season. Splitting time with Ahmad Bradshaw seemed to sap Richardson’s confidence and his production suffered. After being released in 2015, Richardson has bounced around but is still playing to this day. For the Caudillos de Chihuahua of the Fútbol Americano de México.

#4 – Kevin White – Drafted #7 in 2015 (CHI) – It certainly doesn’t help anyone to completely miss their rookie season, but that’s how Kevin White’s career began in Chicago and it didn’t get any better from there. A stress fracture was discovered in his left tibia just before the season began, requiring a steel rod to be inserted, causing him to miss the 2015 season. The next year he was able to play four games before a fracture in his left fibula required another surgery and another trip to the Injured Reserve list. 2017 began and ended the same way as his two previous years, with a fracture (shoulder blade) and a trip to the IR. After playing nine games in 2018, he was a free agent with the Bears declining his fifth-year option. Sitting out the 2019 season, White was signed by San Francisco to the practice squad for 2020. He signed a futures contract on Jan 4, 2021, with the 49ers.

#3 – Justin Gilbert – Drafted #8 in 2014 (CLE) – When a player is All-Conference for three years running, a national award finalist for their position and a consensus All-American, you should feel good about their chances of performing at a high level in the NFL. If anything, Justin Gilbert’s position on the list should show just what a crapshoot the draft can be. Nothing in his college background, his workouts or his interviews raised any red flags (and they would have been duly reported had they shown). What you can never know about any player you’re drafting is how much they WANT to play football. In the end, that’s what killed Gilbert’s career; laziness or maybe just a lack of "want to". After just two years, the Browns had seen enough and traded him to division rival Pittsburgh. It only took the Steelers a year to see he wasn’t worth the trouble and they cut him following the 2016 season. An internet search found a possible Facebook page where it appears Gilbert is living a quiet life in Texas near his hometown.

#2 – JaMarcus Russell – Drafted #1 in 2007 (OAK) – Of all the players that Oakland drafted in Al Davis’ final years that didn’t pan out (looking at you Rolondo McClain and Darius Heyward-Bey), Russell had to be the most galling for fans of the Black and Silver. With a college career that was good, but by no means great, Russell finished it off with a performance that had to have heavily influenced NFL scouts, a 41-14 thumping of Notre Dame in the 2007 Sugar Bowl. Size and arm strength pushed him up the draft board leading to the Raiders to select him with the first overall pick. After holding out until the beginning of his rookie year, he started only ONE game before taking over as the starter in 2008, his second season. That run ended in 2009 when he was replaced by Bruce Gradkowski. Released in May 2010, Russell was arrested some months later for possession of codeine syrup though a grand jury declined to indict him. JaMarcus Russell is currently the quarterbacks coach at his alma mater Williamson HS in Mobile, AL.

And without further ado, I present the biggest bust from the NFL draft between 2000 and 2020.

#1 – Vernon Gholston – Drafted #6 in 2008 (NYJ) – Compiling this list wasn’t easy. My nature is that I want to be as accurate and factually correct as possible. But dealing with the variables of “who was worse” made that difficult for me as so many “busts” are emotional decisions and I’m sure you could come up with a list of the biggest busts between 2000 and 2020 while not repeating but a name or two on this list. However, for me, Gholston was the easiest part of this list, mostly because not only did he not last in the NFL, but because he also couldn’t do what he was drafted for – rushing the passer. In 45 career games from 2008-10, Gholston recorded no sacks, no forced fumbles and no fumble recoveries. None, zero, zilch. He recorded as many sacks in his final college regular-season game against Michigan (three) as he played seasons in the NFL. After being released by the Jets, Gholston signed with Chicago and then the St. Louis Rams without playing a game for either team. Post-football, Gholston opened a business aimed at providing aid to workers and their families in creating a path to mental wellness in Somerset, NJ.

Honorable(?) Mention

Aaron Maybin – Drafted #11 in 2009 (BUF) - Maybin started one game in four years (two for BUF, two for NYJ) recording just six sacks, all of them in 2011.

Robert Gallery – Drafted #2 in 2004 (OAK) - Gallery soon had the nickname of “Highway 77” because it was the quickest route to the QB. He DID play eight seasons with OAK and SEA. A bust at both right and left tackle, most of his success came at left guard.

Dewayne Robertson – Drafted #4 in 2003 (NYJ) - Robertson came into the league with the moniker “Baby Sapp” for comparisons of his play to HOFer Warren Sapp. All comparisons stopped when play began as Robertson never lived up to neither the nickname nor the draft spot, finishing his career with just 16 sacks over six seasons with the Jets and Broncos.

2011 first-round QBs not named Cam Newton – Only two players drafted inside the Top 10 in 2011 failed to make a Pro Bowl – Jake Locker (No. 8) and Blaine Gabbert (No. 10). Locker had concussion and injury issues and was out of the NFL by 2014. Gabbert is still hanging on in the "best job in pro sports" (Tom Brady’s backup) winning a ring this past season. Christian Ponder, drafted No. 12 by the Vikings, wasn’t much better, with the 2012 season as his high-water mark. In a twist, Gabbert and Ponder did spend a season (2016) on the San Francisco roster together.

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