NFL Draft Busts
Top 10 NFL Drafts Bust
The first round of the NFL Draft can be a hit or miss proposition. While some players selected will go on to Hall of Fame careers, it’s even more likely that they’ll quickly fade into obscurity or suffer a career-ending injury. Players who fail to live up to high expectations are often known as “busts.”
The following group of college standouts would turn out to be the 10 biggest busts of the NFL draft, regardless of which year they were taken. Not only did they underperform, but in many cases they cost coaches their jobs and generally brought bad publicity to the league.
Ryan Leaf – 1998 NFL Draft
Regarded as one of the biggest flops in NFL history, Leaf entered the 1998 draft alongside Peyton Manning. At the time, many thought the 6’5”, 240-pound Leaf was actually the better of the two quarterbacks. In fact, the San Diego Chargers traded two first-round picks, a second-rounder, a reserve linebacker and a Pro Bowler in order to move up to the number two spot in the draft.
After the Colts took Manning with the first overall selection, the Chargers proudly took Leaf. Following the draft, Leaf stated, “I’m looking forward to a 15-year career, a couple of trips to the Super Bowl, and a parade through downtown San Diego.” But it was not to be, as maturity issues seemed to derail his pro career almost from the beginning.
After a promising start, Leaf began to struggle and seemed to wilt under the pressure of being a NFL quarterback. He had to be restrained from attacking a member of the media, and a wrist injury plagued him throughout his short career.
Numerous teams were intrigued by his physical talent, and he ended up on the rosters of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Dallas Cowboys and Seattle Seahawks following his release from the Chargers. His career lasted from 1998 until 2002, where he completed 315 of 655 passes for 3,666 yards. He had 14 touchdowns and 36 interceptions.
David LaFleur – 1998 NFL Draft
An All-American tight end from LSU, LaFleur was selected with the 22nd pick in the first round of the 1997 NFL Draft. He was meant to be the successor to Pro Bowl tight end Jay Novacek, but things never quite worked out that way.
Troy Aikman personally worked out David LaFleur and gave his approval, and the
Dallas Cowboys thought they had got a tight end to replace Novacek’s catch totals, while improving their run blocking (Novacek wasn’t known for his blocking skills). Like most tight ends who are supposed to be great blockers, though, LaFleur turned out to be too big to run effective pass routes and get open.
In his rookie season, LaFleur caught 18 balls for 122 yards and two touchdowns. The following year, he had 20 receptions, followed by 35 in 1999. In 2000, his receiving numbers dropped to 12 catches for 109 yards and only one touchdown. He was gone from the Cowboys following the 2000 season, and he never played again in the NFL.
Lawrence Phillips – 1996 NFL Draft
While he displayed his athletic talent at the University of Nebraska, Phillips also showed that he had a penchant for breaking the law. The most notable incident came when he dragged his ex-girlfriend down a flight of stairs. That stunt caused him to be suspended, but he eventually worked his way back onto the field and had an impressive showing in the 1995 Fiesta Bowl against the University of Florida.
The St. Louis Rams took Phillips with the sixth pick in the 1996 NFL Draft. While he played his rookie season, his carries were reduced in 1997, and he refused to attend team meetings and practice. While coach Dick Vermeil called him the greatest runner he had ever coached (this was before Marshall Faulk entered the picture), the team was left with no choice but to cut him in November of 1997.
Phillips signed with the Miami Dolphins but was cut after a poor on-field performance. He was also arrested for assaulting a woman in a nightclub.
He later made a comeback with the San Francisco 49ers, but missed a block which resulted in the end of quarterback Steve Young’s career. He then went to the Arena Football League, but he was released after leaving the team without telling the coach.
In 2005, Phillips drove his car into three teenagers following a dispute. He was arrested and later found guilty of seven counts of assault with a deadly weapon. He faces up to 20 years in a state prison.
Blair Thomas – 1990 NFL Draft
Thomas was a member of Penn State’s 1986 National Championship team, as well as a Heisman Trophy runner-up in 1989. In need of a quality running back, the New York Jets selected him 2nd overall in the 1990 NFL Draft. Emmitt Smith, the NFL’s all-time leading rusher, was taken with the 17th pick.
While his rookie season showed signs of promise, nagging injuries began to plague him in 1992. The Jets released him following the 1993 season. He moved to the Patriots in 1994, but ended up on the Dallas Cowboys’ roster by the end of the season. His final stop was with the Carolina Panthers, where he ended his career in 1995.
In his four seasons with the Jets, Thomas rushed for 2,000 yards and five touchdowns. His total career numbers are 2,236 yards and seven touchdowns.
Todd Marinovich – 1991 NFL Draft
Also known as “Todd Marijuanavich,” this USC quarterback took his team to the Rose Bowl as a freshman. As his college career progressed, the stories increased about recreational drug use and problems with the law (including a rape charge) . Therefore, it’s no surprise that he ended up on the Oakland Raiders.
The Raiders took him with the 24th pick of the 1991 draft, but he didn’t get to start until the final week of the regular season. He threw three touchdowns in that game and started for the team in the playoffs.
The next year, Marinovich and Jay Schroeder played musical quarterbacks for the Raiders. Marinovich threw three interceptions against the Philadelphia Eagles and was benched for good. It was his last game in the National Football League.
Following his NFL career, Marinovich played in the Canadian Football League and the Arena Football League. Legal troubles followed him wherever he went, and he has been arrested a number of times for drug possession and failure to pay child support to three different women.
Alonzo Highsmith – 1987 NFL Draft
A member of the 1983 Miami Hurricanes national championship squad, Highsmith was selected by the Houston Oilers with the third overall pick in the 1987 NFL Draft. Expected to be their running back for years to come, Highsmith was less than impressive in his rookie season. In fact, the Oilers spent their first-round pick the following year to select yet another running back, Lorenzo White.
Highsmith also played for the Cowboys and Buccaneers, but a series of knee injuries led to his retirement in 1992. Following the NFL, he turned to a career as a professional boxer and amassed a record of 27-1-1 in the heavyweight division. As of this writing, he works as a scout for the Green Bay Packers.
Aundray Bruce – 1988 NFL Draft
Playing linebacker for Auburn University, Bruce was hyped by many as the next Lawrence Taylor. The Falcons bought into the hype, taking him with the first overall pick in the 1988 NFL draft by the Atlanta Falcons (ahead of players like Neil Smith, Tim Brown, Sterling Sharpe and Michael Irvin).
Bruce never lived up to his star billing, starting only 42 games in his 11-year NFL career. In 1991, he played occasionally at tight end for the team, but he was released after the season was over. He signed with the Raiders in 1992 and played with them until retiring in 1998. He had 32 career sacks and only four interceptions.
Mike Williams – 2002 NFL Draft
A standout offensive tackle for the University of Texas, Williams was expected to be a force in the NFL for many years to come. The Buffalo Bills took him with the fourth overall pick in the 2002 NFL Draft (ahead of players like Brian Westbrook, Clinton Portis, Ed Reed and Albert Haynesworth).
While he was adequate at run blocking, he struggled at times in pass protection. He was eventually moved to left guard, but a series of injuries eventually led to the Bills cutting him after the 2005 season. He signed with the Jaguars in 2006, but another injury caused him to be placed on injured reserve for the year.
Mike Williams the offensive tackle should not be confused with Mike Williams, the draft bust taken by the
Detroit Lions with the 10th pick of the 2005 NFL Draft. Mike Williams the wide receiver and the Lions’ 2003 draft pick, Charles Rogers, are almost bad enough to make this list. Most of the players on this list were drafted higher than Mike Williams (WR), while Charles Rogers showed flashes of talent, and his career was partly hampered by recurring injuries (and drug charges). While neither one made this list, both reflect badly on the seemingly endless term of Matt Millen as the Detroit Lions GM.
Curtis Enis – 1998 NFL Draft
After a huge career playing halfback for Penn State, Enis was taken by the
Chicago Bears with the fifth overall pick in the 1998 NFL Draft (ahead of runners like Fred Taylor and Ahman Green).
He rushed for 497 yards in his rookie season, following that up with 916 yards and three rushing touchdowns in 1999. In 2000, he only rushed for 84 yards and a touchdown. Curtis Enis was cut from the Bears following the 2000 season, and he never played in the NFL again.
Tony Mandarich – 1989 NFL Draft
When he entered the 1989 draft, Mandarich was hailed by Sports Illustrated as the best offensive line prospect of all time. Troy Aikman went to the Cowboys with the first pick in the draft, and then the Green Bay Packers selected Mandarich. The next three players taken were Barry Sanders, Derrick Thomas and Deion Sanders.
Mandarich went through a lengthy holdout, and he only signed a week before the regular season. His play on the field was not up to expectations, and he spent the first year mainly playing special teams. The next year wasn’t much better, and Mandarich was eventually released by the team after playing three seasons.
In 1996, Mandarich made a comeback of sorts, playing until 1998 with the Indianapolis Colts. While his performance wasn’t Pro Bowl level, it was solid enough for “The Incredible Bulk” to salvage a little bit of his pride.
These days, Mandarich splits his time between homes in Arizona and Ontario. After a time as a football analyst, he started a photography studio which now includes web design and video production.
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