You know why the NFL draft is so popular? Because it's the NFL's season for optimism. Everyone can feel good, because hey, you're about to get a future Pro Bowler, right? At the very least, a starter? Because that's what good teams do. They draft well.
Bad news, though: Your team can screw this up dreadfully, and they've done it before. There's no team out there that hasn't botched a first-round draft pick. In fact, some teams make a habit of it. There's no team that's immune from it this year, either.
So, on the eve of the draft, here's a reminder for all 32 teams of just how poorly things can go. From laughable arrogance to the truly tragic, here's a cautionary tale for all 32 teams on how injury, poor performance or legal entanglements can submarine a career.
New York Jets: Vernon Gholston, 6th overall, 2008. Vernon Gholston played three years for the Jets and gave them exactly as many sacks as Verne Troyer. When you spend the sixth overall pick on a sack specialist, you're probably expecting, I don't know, at least one sack every three years.
Honorable Mentions: Blair Thomas, Roger Vick, Johnny Mitchell
[Related: Top 10 regrettable NFL draft picks]
New England Patriots: Tony Eason, 15th overall, 1983. Not that Eason was a terrible player, but the Patriots took him one spot after the Bills took Jim Kelly and 12 spots before the Dolphins took Dan Marino. They eventually got Tom Brady in the sixth round, though, so don't shed too many tears for the Pats.
Honorable Mentions: Kenneth Sims, Chris Singleton, Andy Katzenmoyer
Miami Dolphins: Eric Kumerow, 16th overall, 1988. Had the Dolphins not taken Eric Kumerow in 1988, Dan Marino's Dolphins teams might not have always had been so defensively deficient. This, really, was compounding an error, since they did it the year after they took John Bosa, a defensive bust of equal caliber. Kumerow played three years for the Dolphins and totaled five sacks. You really suck, Vernon Gholston.
Honorable Mentions: John Bosa, Jamar Fletcher, Yatil Green
Buffalo Bills: Tom Cousineau, 1st overall, 1979. Tom Cousineau had a really enjoyable career, if you happen to love the Montreal Alouettes. He never played a snap for the Bills. After being drafted, he took the more lucrative offer from the CFL team. The good news is that he eventually came back, and the Bills traded his rights to Cleveland for a draft pick that turned into Jim Kelly. If that's too happy an ending for you, see the Bills formidable list of honorable mentions below.
Honorable Mentions: Mike Williams, John McCargo, J.P. Losman, Aaron Maybin
Pittsburgh Steelers: Jamain Stephens, 29th overall, 1996. Even the Steelers, the NFL's beacon of draft glory, have had their missteps. After three years with the Steelers, Bill Cowher watched Stephens show up to training camp completely out of shape, then fail to complete a series of 40-yard dashes. Cowher then cut him right there on the spot.
Honorable Mention: Huey Richardson
Cleveland Browns: Courtney Brown, 1st overall, 2000. The Browns have blown quite a few draft picks, but not getting any return on the top overall pick in the draft isn't easy ‒ and the Browns did it two years in a row (see: Couch, Tim). With Brown, it wasn't anyone's fault, really. He had a lot of promise, but just couldn't stay healthy. In five years, he was gone from Cleveland, and after six, he was out of the league.
Honorable Mentions: Tim Couch, William Green, Brady Quinn
Baltimore Ravens: Kyle Boller, 19th overall, 2003. Another model of draft consistency, the Ravens don't actually offer much to choose from. But there is Kyle Boller. Boller was intended to stop the revolving door of suck that occupied the spot under center for the Ravens, which included Jeff Blake, Chris Redman, Elvis Grbac, Tony Banks, and Trent Dilfer. In the end, he just made that list one name longer.
Honorable Mention: Travis Taylor
Cincinnati Bengals: Akili Smith, 3rd overall, 1999. There's a lot to choose from here. Maybe the worst thing about Akili Smith is that the Bengals could've had the draft bounty that the Redskins got from the Saints in the Ricky Williams trade. They turned it down because they believed so much in Akili Smith. Oops!
Honorable Mentions: David Klingler, Ki-Jana Carter, Peter Warrick
Houston Texans: David Carr, 1st overall, 2002. The Texans were literally going to build their team around Carr, the first player they ever drafted. And they did, in the sense that a wobbly foundation made for a wobbly team. The Texans struggled as long as Carr was their guy. It didn't help that they couldn't protect him, but he hasn't distinguished himself anywhere else, either.
Honorable Mention: Travis Johnson
Indianapolis Colts: Jeff George, 1st overall, 1990. Jeff George's attitude made him very difficult for the Colts to deal with, but at least he made up for it with wildly erratic and endlessly frustrating quarterback play. The Colts liked that he threw the football really hard, but in exchange, had to deal with his inability to throw it to players wearing colors similar to his own.
Honorable Mentions: Steve Emtman, Trev Alberts
Jacksonville Jaguars: R. Jay Soward, 29th overall, 2000. Soward started a total of two games as a Jaguar. He was suspended multiple times by the league for violations of the substance abuse policy and later admitted he was an alcoholic. He resurfaced four years later in Canada, and in 2011, played for the Wenatchee Valley Venom of the … I don't know. Whatever league isn't embarrassed by having a team called the Wenatchee Valley Venom.
Honorable Mention: Matt Jones
Tennessee Titans: Andre Woolfolk, 28th overall, 2003. It's tempting to put Pacman Jones here, but he actually gave them some productive play before becoming America's foremost criminal mastermind. Woolfolk started 11 games in four years before washing out of the league.
San Diego Chargers: Ryan Leaf, 2nd overall, 1998. Both quarterbacks drafted at the top of the 1998 draft are still making headlines ‒ Peyton Manning, for football reasons, and Ryan Leaf, for other reasons. This is the draft bust by which all other draft busts are measured. I don't know that there can ever be another Ryan Leaf. He may be the GOAT in this category, and his records may be untouchable.
Honorable Mention: The Chargers have had some, but everyone pales in comparison to Leaf.
Oakland Raiders: JaMarcus Russell, 1st overall, 2007. Russell is maybe the second-biggest quarterback bust ever, but he's still no Ryan Leaf. He played three miserable years for the Raiders before they released him and no one else bothered to even pretend they might want to sign him. Some of that might have been due to the codeine syrup arrest.
Honorable Mention: Todd Marinovich, Robert Gallery
Denver Broncos: Tommy Maddox, 25th overall, 1992. Tommy Maddox as a first-round bust? Don't tell that to the Los Angeles Xtreme. They won the XFL Championship in 2001 because of Maddox, in a game dozens of people watched. Maddox did have some success with the Steelers later replacing Kordell Stewart, but who wasn't going to look good replacing Kordell Stewart?
Honorable Mention: Jarvis Moss
Kansas City Chiefs: Todd Blackledge, 7th overall, 1983. Like Tony Eason, Blackledge is also a victim of being taken in the same first round as John Elway, Dan Marino and Jim Kelly. Unfortunately for Blackledge, he wasn't even as good as Tony Eason. He's become the best college football analyst of the bunch, though. Who doesn't love "Todd's Taste of the Town"?
Honorable Mention: Trezelle Jenkins, Sylvester Morris.
Philadelphia Eagles: Mike Mamula, 7th overall, 1995. Mamula's the one who always gets held up as the example of a guy who looked great in workouts, but couldn't really play a lick. What's the saying? Looks like Tarzan, plays like Jane? Mamula was partially a victim of the hype that surrounded him. His career actually wasn't terrible ‒ 31.5 career sacks ‒ but it wasn't what was expected of him when was taken seventh overall, either.
Honorable Mentions: Jay Berwanger, Kevin Allen
Washington Redskins: Heath Shuler, 3rd overall, 1994. Everyone's excited about Robert Griffin III, but it's not the first time the Redskins thought they had their quarterback of the future (my apologies for bringing this up, Redskins fans). Unfortunately, Shuler's Redskins section on Wikipedia isn't much bigger than the section about his real estate career.
Honorable Mentions: Desmond Howard, Rod Gardner
Dallas Cowboys: David LaFleur, 22nd overall, 1997. In a four-year career, LaFleur averaged fewer than 200 yards receiving per season. That's about 12 yards per game, which isn't what you're looking for out of a first-round tight end. The other tight end taken in the first round that year fared slightly better.
Honorable Mention: Bobby Carpenter
New York Giants: Rocky Thompson, 18th overall, 1971. Thompson was a world class sprinter, which makes the most surprising thing about his inclusion here the fact that he wasn't drafted by the Raiders. He gained 177 yards his rookie year, 35 yards the next year, and 5 yards the next year. I'd have loved to see his career go on for about 10 more years, when he'd rush for -1,982 yards in a season before retiring.
Honorable Mentions: Cedric Jones, Ron Dayne, Derek Brown
Green Bay Packers: Tony Mandarich, 2nd overall, 1989. He was 6-5, over 310 pounds and had a 40-time better than some wide receivers. He also came with the attitude of an entitled superstar, but unfortunately, he was also a terrible, terrible NFL offensive lineman. After his career, he admitted steroid use, among other things: "I went through NFL practice day after day with drugs and syringe in my crotch." Given all the steroid use, there was probably plenty of room for them.
Honorable Mention: Jamal Reynolds
Chicago Bears: David Terrell, 8th overall, 2001. Terrell played four years with the Bears, was released, and then had brief stints with Patriots and Broncos, but never caught another NFL football. Santana Moss, Reggie Wayne, Chad Johnson, Chris Chambers, Steve Smith, and T.J. Houshmandzadeh were all taken after him in the same draft.
Honorable Mentions: Curtis Enis, Cade McNown
Minnesota Vikings: Dimitrius Underwood, 29th overall, 1999. The summary of Underwood's professional career on Wikipedia is so bizarre that it's difficult to believe any of it is true. If I had to pick one line to distill the essence, it would be this one: "After he escaped from a psychiatric care facility, he was released from the Dolphins in December 1999." Underwood never played for the Vikings. Or the Dolphins. He did have four sacks in 2000 with the Cowboys, though.
Honorable Mentions: D.J. Dozier, Troy Williamson
Detroit Lions: Charles Rogers, 2nd overall, 2003. When Charles Rogers told ESPN in 2009 that he "blew every day," he was talking about his use of marijuana. He could've also been talking about any part of his game, though. Four-hundred and forty yards was his career total. Twenty yards fewer would've really been ideal.
Honorable Mentions: Chuck Long, Andre Ware, Mike Williams, Joey Harrington
Carolina Panthers: Rae Carruth, 27th overall, 1997. Carruth had a good rookie season and might've gone on to a respectable career, but things were complicated by that one time he arranged to have a woman eight months pregnant with his child shot and killed in traffic. His current projected release date is 10/22/18.
New Orleans Saints: Russell Erxleben, 11th overall, 1979. If you're going to take a kicker 11th overall, you'll want to get more than five years and zero Pro Bowls out of him. In fact, you know what? Just don't take a kicker 11th overall.
Honorable Mentions: Jonathan Sullivan.
Atlanta Falcons: Aundray Bruce, 1st overall, 1998. Bruce was taken first overall in a first round that included 15 players who would go on to Pro Bowls, and two who would go on to the Hall of Fame. Bruce was never really close to either. He had a long career, but it wasn't terribly productive. He had six sacks in each of his first two years, but after that, was mostly a backup/spot player.
Honorable Mentions: Bruce Pickens
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Keith McCants, 4th overall, 1990. Drafted in '90 and cut in '93, the NFL didn't work out tremendously well for Keith McCants. He did get picked up by Houston, though, and helped separate Buddy Ryan and Kevin Gilbride in their 1994 coach fight. If McCants hadn't been there, who knows how many more old man punches may have tickled Gilbride's mustache?
Honorable Mention: Eric Curry
Seattle Seahawks: Brian Bosworth, 1st round supplemental draft, 1987. Bosworth came out of the supplemental draft, but that still cost the Seahawks a first-round pick, so he counts. He didn't really count on this play, though, when Bo Jackson ran through him like he wasn't there. However, if you're looking for someone to coolly subdue three incompetent criminals with automatic weapons in a grocery store, there's no one better.
Honorable Mentions: Dan McGwire, Rick Mirer
Arizona Cardinals: Wendell Bryant, 12th overall, 2002. In three years, Wendell Bryant collected twice as many violations of the league's substance abuse policy (three) than he did sacks (1.5). Drug problems continued to plague him, even after football. He eventually did pop back up in the UFL in 2009 and 2010.
Honorable Mention: Andre Wadsworth
St. Louis Rams: Lawrence Phillips, 6th overall, 1996. If there's a Mt. Rushmore of draft busts, I've got Phillips on it, next to Ryan Leaf, Tony Mandarich and JaMarcus Russell. If there's a criminal Hall of Fame, though, Phillips is a solid candidate there ‒ for numerous, numerous legal infractions, he's currently in Kern Valley State Prison and isn't eligible to get out until 2033.
San Francisco 49ers: Jim Druckenmiller, 26th overall, 1997. Two years and one start. That's all the 49ers got out of the big, prototype quarterback out of Virginia Tech. They released him, allowing the Dolphins to pick him up, and then the Fish released him before he ever got to see the field. He did have a stint in the XFL, but he was no Tommy Maddox.
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