The NFL draft is supposed to be a moment when the world is introduced to the next generation of stars. After conquering the college football circuit and being put through a rigorous NFL combine, players are picked up based on their past performance with the hopes they’ll continue to shine in a professional league.
Even with coaches, owners, and scouts working together, some players enter the NFL and never live up to their potential. Here are some of the worst NFL draft picks of the past 20 years.
1999: Akili Smith Bloomed Too Late
The Cincinnati Bengals saw enough evidence of Akili Smith in college to draft the quarterback in the first round. Smith spent four years in Ohio while managing to score five touchdowns for 13 interceptions.
The Oregon product didn’t flash until later in his career, but NFL scouts were over the moon for his potential as a starter. He never developed into the passer he should have been, and is now on a list of terrible first-round busts by the Bengals, including David Klinger.
2000: Courtney Brown Never Got Past His Rookie Season
The worst Cleveland Browns’ draft pick ever came at the strike of the new millennium when the franchise selected defensive end Courtney Brown from Penn State.
Brown had a productive rookie campaign, recording 69 tackles for 4.5 acks. As for his sophomore season, it was cut short due to an injury. The first overall pick had issues staying healthy for the rest of his career, and struggled on the field. He finished his career with the Denver Broncos in 2005.
2001: David Terrell Was Prototypically Disappointing
David Terrell was coming off back-to-back 1,000 receiving yards at Michigan when he became the apple of NFL scout’s eyes. The Chicago Bears took advantage by drafting the prototypical athlete with the eighth selection in 2001.
Terrell struggled to find his footing in the Windy City, which lead to his release in 2004. Meanwhile, the college standout did make attempts to revive his career with the Denver Broncos and the New England Patriots. After trying out for the Kansas City Chiefs in 2008, he was cut for Amani Toomer.
2002: David Carr Couldn’t Stay On His Feet
While he was the quarterback for Fresno State, David Carr completed 7,849 yards and threw 65 touchdowns.
Carr’s professional career started off on the wrong foot, and he became one of the most sacked quarterbacks his rookie season. His status as a high draft pick with a so-so career has led him to be considered as a draft bust. However, he did receive a Super Bowl ring as a backup for the New York Giants in 2012.
2003: Charles Rogers Was A Mess Off The Field
Detroit Lions general manager Matt Millen had problems drafting the right players in the first round. With the second overall pick in 2003, the Lions selected Charles Rogers, a wide receiver out of Michigan State. The team never saw any red flags when it turned out there quite a few.
First, he broke his collar bone over a speed drill at practice. Next, he was suspended for four games for a violation of the league’s substance abuse policy. It’s pretty clear drafting Rogers was a big mistake.
2004: Michael Clayton Never Got Over His Sophomore Slump
In his first NFL season, Michael Clayton caught 80 passes for 1,193 yards and seven touchdowns. He became one of the critical building blocks for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers offense. Sadly, he wasn’t able to come close to a follow-up from his spectacular rookie season.
The following seven seasons, Clayton caught a total of 143 receptions for 1,762 yards for three touchdowns. He did enjoy a career resurgence in 2008 when he caught 484 yards.
2005: Troy Williamson Couldn’t See
One of the worst mistakes NFL scouts made was not understanding that Troy Williamson had problems. Before making the jump from South Carolina, there was concern over with his depth perception, meaning he had trouble locating the ball whenever it was in the air.
The scouts didn’t care about the drops in college, figuring they coach his butter fingers away. However, his inability to make plays due to his depth perception issue ended his career altogether.
2006: Matt Leinart Couldn’t Stay Healthy
It’s not easy being a starting quarterback in the NFL. Leinart was drafted by the Arizona Cardinals and it didn’t take long for the USC standout to become injury-prone.
It was tough on the former 10th overall pick. Leinart never lived up to the hype and bounced around the league before retiring. He only managed to play six seasons in the NFL while spending most of his tenure on injured reserve. These days he works as a college football analyst.
2007: JaMarcus Russell Couldn’t Maintain His Weight
LSU fans were over the moon when the quarterback was taken first overall by the Oakland Raiders. Nevertheless, the excitement quickly decreased in a hurry as Russell immediately became known as the biggest bust in NFL history.
After failing to catch on to the concepts and schemes of reading an NFL defense, Russell started to quickly fade from the spotlight while gaining weight at an alarming rate. His lack of effort was legendary. Russell’s coaches on the Raiders’ staff sent him blank tapes to watch and even those sat dormant.
2008: Vernon Gholston Didn’t Try Hard Enough
At 6’3″ and a magnificently sculpted 260 pounds, the Vernon Gholston looked how a professional athlete should look. Gholston never displayed the ability to turn the corner against offensive tackles, though, especially during his time at Ohio State.
In three seasons with the New York Jets, the pass rusher never recorded a sack. Nevertheless, he had 14 of them in his final season of college football. Gholston could have at least tried harder to overcome his inconsistency on the field.
2009: Aaron Curry Only Lasted Four Years
Aaron Curry was considered one of the most athletic linebackers in the 2009 draft. The Seattle Seahawks used the fourth overall pick to select who they thought was the nation’s best college linebacker. As you’ve probably guessed by now, they were wrong.
After entering the NFL Curry seemed to have lost all the motivation needed to succeed in the NFL. He was out of the league four years later. Too bad the Seahawks didn’t use the pick to select Malcolm Jenkins.
2010: Rolando McClain Retired In 2013
Rolando McClain was a fantastic standout at the University of Alabama. It looked like an excellent decision for the Raiders to draft him eighth overall. He played the game his whole life but never really had to work hard to be great at it, until the NFL.
The Raiders gave him a five-year contract worth $40 million, and his work ethic was exposed quickly after signing. McClain dealt with off-field problems which led to his eventual retirement in 2013.
2011: Jake Locker Was As Fragile As They Come
The most games Jake Locker ever played was 1. He suffered four different injuries from 2012-2014, leading to a decision to never look back. The retirement came as a shock to fans around the league. Instead of giving an explanation, the Washington native simply returned home while keeping silent for four years.
He had a way out if he wanted it: baseball. But he turned down an offer from the Los Angeles Angels, who selected him in the 10th round.
2012: Trent Richardson’s Legs Gave Up On Him
Richardson was a consistent running back at Alabama, and there are many factors as to how the college star became another bust in the NFL. In college, he suffered a torn meniscus in his left knee, which damaged his ability to return to his peak form.
He wasn’t able to make up for it after the Browns shipped him to Indianapolis,and was out of the league by 2014. He did start four games with the Saskatchewan Roughriders for one season in 2017.
2013: Dion Jordan Missed Out On His Potential
It wasn’t until Dion Jordan’s sophomore season that he was turned into a defensive end. The athlete was not the normal size for his position, but the Miami Dolphins drafted him anyway. However, after his rookie campaign, he never lived up to expectations scouts had anticipated.
Jordan would spend the next three years violating the league’s policies. He was suspended on three separate occasions including once in 2015. The Dolphins cut ties with the former third overall pick in 2017.
2014: Justin Gilbert Was Traded To A Division Rival
Despite Johnny Manziel on the roster, the Justin Gilbert was more disappointing. After a slow start to the season, along with an illness and heel injury, Gilbert was traded to 2017. For Browns fans, it was just another draft disappoint they would try to forget.
The Browns would ship him to their division rivals in the AFC East, two years after Cleveland took a chance on him. In Pittsburgh, Gilbert continued to show a serious lack of interest in playing football, and it showed.
2015: Kevin White Needed Bubble Tape Around Him
The Bears saw something amazing in wide receiver Kevin White and selected him with the seventh overall selection in 2015. Nobody saw it coming when White’s ability to stay became very inconsistent, especially when he needed a steel rod installed in his left tibia.
When he returned in 2016, he played just four games before fracturing his fibula in that same leg and missing the rest of that year. Then, he fractured his left shoulder in the first game of the 2017 season.
2016: Paxton Lynch Didn’t Study Enough
The Broncos needed a quarterback following Peyton’s Manning ride into the sunset. Paxton Lynch was regarded as an NFL-ready arm and seemed ideal. However, it takes more than a big-time arm to get the offense going.
Quarterbacks need to have a high IQ, and the Memphis native wasn’t football smart. He needed to have an understanding of the game to line up under center, but found himself riding the bench instead. Essentially, Lynch just wasn’t ready for the NFL.
2017: John Ross’ Size Is Holding Him Back
John Ross tied Donte Stallworth for the fastest time ever ran at the 40-yard dash with 4.22 seconds. The kid was an athlete, and scouts were quick to take note of that. But, there was no way of telling if Ross was another combine superstar or a player ready for the leap to the NFL.
He may or may not make big plays in traffic because he’s not big enough to handle himself against NFL defensive backs.
2018: Hayden Hurst
Hayden Hurst was the Baltimore Ravens “other” first round draft pick in 2018. Unlike Lamar Jackson, though, the tight end’s future isn’t looking so bright. The foot surgery he had before the season to repair a stress fracture caused him to sit on the sideline.
He was also already 25-years-old when he came into the league, the Ravens will have to do everything they can to get their tight end on the right path to succeed as soon as possible.