Turn the clock back a decade, to this very month in 1997. With no way of knowing it at the time, we were witnessing the worst three-pick, first-round combination in NFL history.
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.
1. Ki-Jana Carter, RB, Cincinnati Bengals (1995)
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"?
2. Ryan Leaf, QB, San Diego Chargers (1998)
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!
3. Akili Smith, QB, Cincinnati Bengals (1999)
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)
There have been some disappointing No. 4's, guys such as Peter Warrick, Keith McCants, Brent Fullwood and others, but none comes close to Schlichter. A self-described gambling addict, he was suspended for a year by the NFL prior to his second season for having massive gaming debts. He played only three seasons with the Colts, washing out of the league with only six starts and three touchdown passes. In the aftermath, he would be in and out of various prisons, becoming fodder for articles and talk shows on the dangers of gambling. It stings a little more for Colts fans that Schlichter came off the board one pick ahead of Jim McMahon.
5. Mike Junkin, LB, Cleveland Browns (1984)
The No. 5 spot hasn't been all that awful, with a few guys such as Curtis Enis and Rickey Dixon stinking it up. However, neither was a bigger disappointment than Junkin. A guy who racked up big stats on a small-school Duke team, he just wasn't a very good player. And to think the Browns swapped a solid veteran in Chip Banks and flip-flopped a couple of draft picks with San Diego just to get a shot at him. Rod Woodson and Jerome Brown went a few picks later, too.
6. Lawrence Phillips, RB, St. Louis Rams (1996)
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)
You have to hand it to the Lions, who bungled this pick twice: first with Rogers and then again with Andre Ware. There were other bad ones, such as Joe Profit, who played only three years in the league, and Brian Jozwiak, who couldn't pass protect. But Rogers was the one who makes you wince. He couldn't get on the field for the Lions despite having immense talent. Then he slammed into a car while driving drunk and killed three teenagers, an offense that only got him one year in prison. The Bills and Buccaneers took a chance on him after he got out, but he ended up out of the league with only 15 games and two career starts under his belt.
8. Larry Stegent, RB, St. Louis Cardinals (1970)
This has actually been a pretty solid pick historically, forgetting that David Terrell hasn't really done much. Normally, you don't rip a pick because of injury, but Stegent is about as bad as it gets. He played in seven games for the Cardinals and registered one catch – one – for 12 yards. That, folks, was his NFL career. Let's recap: one season, one catch, one injury. Done! That's some serious disappointment.
9. Kevin Allen, T, Philadelphia Eagles (1985)
Koren Robinson and Tommy Vardell were a couple of lemons at this pick, but Allen was the worst. He played one NFL season (poorly). Then he tested positive for cocaine when he reported to Eagles training camp in 1986, spent nearly three years in prison for sexual assault and was eventually banned from the NFL. And you can't mention him without the zinger from former Eagles coach Buddy Ryan, who said Allen was a good player to have around "if you want someone to stand around and kill the grass." Pro Bowler Jim Lachey, another offensive tackle the Eagles were considering, was taken three spots later and played 10 years in the league. Whoops!
10. Jamal Reynolds, DE, Green Bay Packers (2001)
This was a toss-up between Reynolds and former Cincinnati pick David Verser, who caught three touchdowns in a four-year career. Reynolds gets the nod because he played a more vital position and the fact that the Packers traded Matt Hasselbeck and another first-round pick to move into this spot. Reynolds, whose lack of size (6-3, 260) hurt him, played three years, totaled 16 games (with no starts) and three sacks. Perennial Pro Bowlers Marcus Stroud and Steve Hutchinson were taken just a few picks later. Well, even Ron Wolf, architect of the 1996 team that won the Super Bowl, makes mistakes.
11. Russell Erxleben, K/P, New Orleans Saints (1979)
Joe Moore and Jerry Tagge were bad picks in this slot, but come on … a kicker? Who takes a kicker with the 11th pick in the draft? Erxleben is the easy choice for biggest bust at this spot. He played only five (very undistinguished) seasons with the Saints, then attempted a comeback with Detroit in 1987. He is the essence of front-office insanity. No matter how good a kicker is in college, he better play at least 10 top-notch years for the team that drafts him this high. And to think, Hall of Famer Kellen Winslow was taken two picks later.
12. Cade McNown, QB, Chicago Bears (1999)
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.
13. Percy Snow, LB, Kansas City Chiefs (1990)
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)
There haven't been a lot of monumental failures at this pick, save for Williams, who had a world of talent and an apparently insatiable marijuana habit. He spent his rookie season as the starting left tackle for the Eagles, then got suspended by the league for failing a banned substance test. Eventually, he flunked a jaw-dropping 15 tests and was banned from the NFL. He resurfaced a few years later, making the rounds in the Canadian Football League and XFL. Adding a little sting to the pick is the fact that offensive tackle Wayne Gandy, who is going into his 14th season and has 200 career starts under his belt, was taken one pick later.
15. Huey Richardson, LB, Pittsburgh Steelers (1991)
Ron Faurot and John Clay were some pretty classic mistakes at this spot, but Richardson is the easy choice. A panic pick after seeing players they wanted come off the draft board earlier, nothing beyond his speed ever translated to the NFL. He played only five games as a rookie for the Steelers, before Bill Cowher took the team over the next year and traded Richardson to Washington. He never panned out there and was eventually cut and signed by the Jets. He was out of the league after three seasons, notching only 16 games of action and not a single start in his career.
16. Dan McGwire, QB, Seattle Seahawks (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)
For the most part, the 17th pick has been very good to teams over the years, making Duncan the slam dunk bust of the crop. First, he started his career with what was considered at the time a nasty holdout. He eventually signed and saw little playing time, playing only eight games. He was used primarily as a kick returner the following year, but had fumbling problems. The NFL was done with him after only two years. His career receiving stats: four catches for 39 yards and one touchdown.
18. Don Rogers, S, Cleveland Browns (1984)
Some people would say Robert Edwards fits here, but his frightening leg injury after a superb rookie season leaves him off the list. Rogers, who died of a cocaine overdose, gets the nod. Like Edwards, his career got off with a bang, winning AFC defensive rookie of the year honors and looking like a great future player. That was until he died of the overdose after year two.
19. Steve Pisarkiewicz, QB, St. Louis Cardinals (1977)
This is a pick littered with great talent over the years, and a few busts: Kyle Boller, Troy Smith, Perry Tuttle and others. Pisarkiewicz gets this spot because the Cardinals were depending on Pisarkiewicz finally moving the team on from an aging Jim Hart. What they got instead was a quarterback who wasn't even consistent enough to get on the field, let alone wrestle the job away from Hart. Pisarkiewicz lasted only two years in St. Louis, one more in Green Bay, and then was out of the league with only 10 games under his belt.
20. Aaron Cox, WR, Los Angeles Rams (1988)
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.
21. Vaughn Dunbar, RB, New Orleans Saints (1992)
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)
Chris McIntosh gets some slack for his neck injury and Lamar King wasn't anything special, but Thomas was a straight bust, lasting only two years in Chicago and then two more with the Houston Oilers. Seven starts in four years isn't what draft evaluators had in mind when they looked at him. In hindsight, a young Ted Washington, taken three picks later, would have looked nice in that defense.
23. Rashard Anderson, CB, Carolina Panthers (2000)
Mike Schad and a few others had a chance to land here, but Anderson was too big a disappointment. A cornerback blessed with great size, he had the potential to be a top-notch defender at a time when corners could still play physical. But he ran into substance-abuse problems after playing 27 games in his first two seasons, and was suspended by the league through 2003. The Panthers released him when his suspension was lifted, and Anderson was never heard from again.
24. Todd Marinovich, QB, Los Angeles Raiders (1991)
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)
Billy Milner and Terrence Flagler were two busts. Johnny Rodgers is in the mix, too, but Harris lives in infamy in the minds of Eagles fans. Once proclaimed as another Ed "Too Tall" Jones by then coach Ray Rhodes, Harris wasn't even as good as Jones' shadow. It was an odd pick in the first place. Harris had started only 19 games in college and had the résumé of a middle-round prospect. He stunk it up with the Eagles and was dealt to Green Bay before the 1999 season in exchange for their own first-round bust from the 1996 draft, John Michels. But Harris never made the team, and ended up in forced retirement after only two seasons and two sacks.
26. Jim Druckenmiller, QB, San Francisco 49ers (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.
27. Rae Carruth, WR, Carolina Panthers (1997)
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.
28. Andy Katzenmoyer, LB, New England Patriots (1999)
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.
29. Dimitrius Underwood, DE, Minnesota Vikings (1999)
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)
Marcus Nash and Craig Powell were bad picks, but Johnson was a disaster. Not only was he a first-round pick, but then-general manager Charley Casserly traded a third-round pick to move up to this spot to take him. By the time training camp was over, the Redskins knew they had made a big mistake. He never played a single regular season game with Washington, and Casserly would later admit to "forcing the guy up the draft board." No kidding! He was cut after his rookie year and picked up by Detroit, but his entire career consisted of three games.
31. Trezelle Jenkins, OT, Kansas City Chiefs (1995)
Frankly, Jenkins just wasn't a very good NFL player. The Chiefs soured on him early, and he ended up playing only nine games in three years with only one start. The Chiefs cut him after three years and he failed to catch on in Minnesota and New Orleans. And in what is probably the ultimate insult, he had a tryout with an XFL team and still couldn't make the cut. In the realm of pro football, you can't do much worse than that.
32. Patrick Ramsey, QB, Washington Redskins (2002)
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.