Worst all-time first-round picks
By Charles Robinson, Yahoo Sports
April 24, 2007
The culprits: Jon Harris. Jim Druckenmiller. Rae Carruth.
Three cities just collectively gagged.
That trio, each a failure in his own unique way, represents the essence of what can go wrong in the first round of the NFL draft. Despite the tens of thousands of hours of preparation and dissection, we still end up with first-round quarterback tandems like Todd Marinovich and Dan McGwire (1991) or Tim Couch and Cade McNown (1999). Somehow, a team still reaches for Dimitrius Underwood. Somehow, the NFL keeps allowing Penn State running backs to apply for admission into the league.
In the NFL draft, the only real certainty is that there will be some monumental busts.
So what are the criteria for a major bust? If you washed out of the league fast, you probably qualified. Character and production had a lot to do with it, too. Injuries? Those are taken on a case-by-case basis. In many cases, just being a bad player doesn't make for an epic bust. There are a lot of bad players, but they don't all qualify for the worst first-round busts ever.
Now, some things can keep you from being a bust. If a player struggles with one team and goes on to be productive for another, they are not necessarily a bust. Nor are they if they never play for the team that drafts them (as with Bo Jackson and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers).
It's a lot to digest, and certainly everyone has their own qualifications, but here’s our list of worst busts at every first-round slot since the 1970 NFL merger.
For a variety of reasons, there have been plenty of letdowns at this pick: guys like Tim Couch, Courtney Brown and Steve Emtman. Some might add Tom Cousineau, but despite fleeing to the Canadian Football League, he had a decent NFL career and Buffalo did eventually trade him for a draft pick that became Jim Kelly. Carter gets the nod, despite the fact that he had a knee injury during his rookie season. Some like to blame that injury for his career struggles, but that's somewhat of a myth. Carter did have a few healthy years in the league, and simply wasn't a very effective runner. He didn't see holes all that well and wasn't as consistently physical as his size (5-foot-10, 220-plus) would indicate. And let's face it: Penn State cranked out plenty of first-round running backs who struggled in the NFL. Can you say "system back"?
This pick came down to Leaf and Charles Rogers, but this really has been one of the biggest letdown positions in the draft. Aside from Leaf and Rogers, the lineup of mediocrity has been stunning: Darrell Russell (whose life and career ended in a tragic car accident in December 2005), Rick Mirer, Blair Thomas, Tony Mandarich, Lam Jones, Steve Niehaus, and on and on. And while Rogers had an amazingly short and problematic run with Detroit, the nod goes to Leaf. The Chargers traded two first-round picks, a second-round pick and Pro Bowler Eric Metcalf for a quarterback who would alienate teammates, infuriate fans and produce a mere 21 starts with 14 touchdowns and 36 interceptions. And to think he was weighed against Peyton Manning. Yeesh!
This is another pick that for various reasons has produced some real ulcers: Heath Shuler, Joey Harrington, Gerard Warren, Andre Wadsworth, Bruce Pickens and others. But Smith takes the cake, and might be one of the worst first-round picks ever. At a time when the Bengals desperately needed a star quarterback to pull them out of their decade-long malaise, Smith was a dud – a scant five touchdowns and 13 interceptions in four seasons. What's worse, the Bengals passed up on guys like Edgerrin James, Torry Holt, Champ Bailey, Chris McAlister and others, and dismissed a huge trade package from the Saints, who were trying move up to grab Ricky Williams. Ouch!
4. Art Schlichter, QB, Baltimore Colts (1982)
5. Mike Junkin, LB, Cleveland Browns (1984)
We could bring up other crummy picks, but nobody holds a candle to Phillips, who ranks as one of the worst human beings – not to mention athletic busts – in league history. Forget that his talent was overrated thanks to Nebraska's offensive line and scheme. Phillips' history of domestic violence in college should have kept him from being drafted, let alone becoming a first-round pick. Now he's a scar on the league that exposes what some franchises will overlook for talent. His pro career amounted to four years split between three franchises with trouble at every stop. In October, he was found guilty of seven counts of assault with a deadly weapon after trying to run down three teenagers with his car. Maybe the Rams should have drafted Eddie George, who went six picks later.
7. Reggie Rogers, DE, Detroit Lions (1987)
8. Larry Stegent, RB, St. Louis Cardinals (1970)
9. Kevin Allen, T, Philadelphia Eagles (1985)
10. Jamal Reynolds, DE, Green Bay Packers (2001)
11. Russell Erxleben, K/P, New Orleans Saints (1979)
Phil Dokes and Wendell Bryant were bad choices at this spot, but neither was as maddening as McNown. Chosen to solidify the offense on the heels of the three-headed quarterback monster of Erik Kramer, Steve Stenstrom and Moses Moreno, McNown did quite the opposite. In many ways, he was another Ryan Leaf but at a lower pick, with poor accuracy and a general demeanor that rubbed teammates the wrong way. He played only two years in Chicago, before being traded to Miami and then San Francisco, where he never played a single down and washed out after four years in the league.
An extremely productive pick over the years, there haven't been a lot of huge misses, unless you count the extenuating circumstances of David Overstreet (died in auto accident) or Leon Burns (repeated injuries). Snow was more of a natural bust, when you consider the hype he generated at Michigan State as the country's best linebacker. Snow crashed a moped in training camp in 1991 and was never the same player. His career flamed out after only three active seasons with just one start in his final two. Maybe first-round picks should stay off of anything with a motor and only two wheels during their career.
14. Bernard Williams, OT, Philadelphia Eagles (1994)
15. Huey Richardson, LB, Pittsburgh Steelers (1991)
William Green, Reidel Anthony and Hart Lee Dykes were in contention, but McGwire was supposed to be an eventual offensive savior. But instead of becoming Dave Krieg's successor, he floundered in all of his preseason opportunities. He was so bad that Seattle ditched the idea of McGwire as the quarterback of the future and tabbed Rick Mirer in the first round only two years later. He was out of the NFL after only five seasons with an anemic career stat line: 13 games (most in mop up duty), two touchdowns, six interceptions. Hey, it could have been worse: Seattle could have taken Todd Marinovich instead.
17. Clyde Duncan, WR, St. Louis Cardinals (1984)
18. Don Rogers, S, Cleveland Browns (1984)
19. Steve Pisarkiewicz, QB, St. Louis Cardinals (1977)
He was going to be the guy who combined with Henry Ellard to give the Rams a potent 1-2 punch. Unfortunately for Cox, a second-round pick named Flipper Anderson stole all of his thunder. Cox hung around in the league for six years, but his numbers steadily got worse after posting 590 receiving yards and five touchdowns as a rookie. He finished his six-year career as a bit player, with career totals of 1,732 yards and eight touchdowns.
This is another one of those spots that has cranked out good bang for the buck. Sylvester Morris was a disappointment, but you could blame his fall the injury bug. L.J. Shelton was a sieve on the offensive line, but Dunbar – a Heisman finalist and All American – was supposed to carry the New Orleans offense into the next millennium. Instead, he played two active seasons because of injuries (and yes, he was a disappointment before them) and finished his career with 935 yards and five touchdowns.
22. Stan Thomas, T, Chicago Bears (1991)
23. Rashard Anderson, CB, Carolina Panthers (2000)
There were other picks who could have landed here – guys such as Leo Hayden, Bob Buczkowski, Reggie McGrew and Leonard Renfro – but Marinovich was a bigger crash than all of them. Perhaps the most statistically prolific quarterback in high school history and an on-again, off-again success at USC, the Sports Illustrated cover boy was one of the most hyped players in the draft. His "recreational issues" (read: drug use) and sour relationship with some of his coaches led to a slip to the Raiders, who gobbled Marinovich up and then watched him fall apart in only two years. He ultimately lost his quarterback job with Jay Schroeder and was released after just two seasons. In the years since, he's bounced around football leagues and police reports – often due to his issues with drugs.
25. Jon Harris, DE, Philadelphia Eagles (1997)
Erik Flowers, Reggie Dupard and a few others earned consideration, but Druckenmiller was supposed to be the next great Pennsylvania-reared wonder … and the heir apparent to the throne that had gone from Joe Montana to Steve Young. Despite being blessed with great size (6-5, 230) and arm strength, he was far too erratic for San Francisco's offense. The 49ers ditched him two years later when Jeff Garcia came along. He was dealt to Miami and cut, and ended up throwing only 52 passes in his NFL career, before bouncing around with the XFL, AFL and a failed comeback attempt with the Colts. Well, at least the 49ers didn't take Rae Carruth, who was the next pick in the 1997 draft.
Even among the likes of Aaron Gibson and Todd Kelly, it's hard to argue this one. Say what you want about what the Panthers could have known about Carruth as a person, it's simply a disaster of a pick when a player puts out a hit on his girlfriend and unborn child and then participates in her shooting. Rae Carruth the player started out promising and then tailed off with injuries and a lack of production. Rae Carruth the human being is serving at least 18 years in prison and will always be remembered as one of the league's nightmares. In turn, that blight will be linked the Panthers forever.
This is a tough pick because remarkably, most guys taken in this spot have had solid, productive careers and hung around the league for a while. You could put Booker Moore here, but he was a good player for the Bills before his nerve disorder cut his career short. Katzenmoyer gets the nod despite the fact that he really didn't get a great deal of time to develop on the NFL level. His massive college hype leads more people to call him a bust than anything else. He actually had a solid rookie season and could have turned into a good player had a neck injury not cut his career short at only two years.
It's hard to keep R. Jay Soward, John Avery and Jamain Stephens out of this spot, but Underwood is arguably the dumbest pick ever made in the first round. Despite the warning signs, Underwood sat out his last season at Michigan State for no legitimate reason and coaches at MSU told NFL scouts he wasn't mentally stable, Underwood was physically impressive enough to get the Vikings to take a leap … right off a cliff. He fled training camp on his first day, never to return. The Vikings cut him before the regular season began, at which point the Dolphins claimed him. He then went on to play for the Cowboys in 2000-01. Long story short, he attempted suicide twice in an abbreviated career and was never heard from again.
30. Andre Johnson, T, Washington Redskins (1996)
31. Trezelle Jenkins, OT, Kansas City Chiefs (1995)
OK, so it seems a little harsh to drop Ramsey here considering he has thrown more touchdowns (34) than interceptions (29) in his career. And he did start and have an oh-so-brief flourish with the Redskins. But up to now, he qualifies as little more than Steve Spurrier's busted project. He does still have some time to turn it around, but it's been over two years since Ramsey has seen significant playing time, and he fell to No. 3 on the Jets' depth chart last season. His strong arm and experience will keep him on the backup rungs for a few more years, but he'll probably never be more than that. Which, in first round terms, is a miss.
Updated on Tuesday, Apr 24, 2007 2:42 pm, EDT