It’s no fun digging through NFL draft failures of the past, but it is enlightening.
In some case, you can trace franchises’ demises to one or two failed draft hauls – especially close together. Some teams, such as Peyton Manning’s Indianapolis Colts, were able to maintain team success with quarterback greatness. Others were active enough in veteran free agency to compensate for poor drafting.
But some woebegone franchises of yore – such as the Cleveland Browns, Jacksonville Jaguars and St. Louis Rams – can point directly to their draft failures for their seemingly unending lack of success on the field.
We compiled what we thought were the 125 worst draft classes since the year 2000 (yes, we know that’s technically the previous century, but work with us here), and we cut it off at 2016 for the purposes of this list. In fact, we tended to even cut the 2016 team classes slack considering that 1. some of those players might still emerge, and 2. it wasn’t a pretty draft in general.
So here are the 10 worst team draft classes, and we factored in trades involving those picks (including those for veteran players), as well as the draft prospects those teams passed on. (Note: The picks are listed by round, with the overall selection in parentheses.)
1. 2007 Oakland Raiders
Picks: 1 (1) QB JaMarcus Russell; 2 (38) TE Zach Miller; 3 (65) DE Quentin Moses; 3 (91) DT Mario Henderson; 3 (99) WR Johnnie Lee Higgins; 4 (100) RB Michael Bush; 4 (110) DB John Bowie; 5 (138) DE Jay Richardson; 5 (165) DB Eric Frampton; 6 (175) FB Oren O'Neal; 7 (254) WR Jonathan Holland
Worst pick: Russell
And it’s not close. The next two picks – Calvin Johnson and Joe Thomas – might end up in Canton. Russell started only 25 career games, barely completed 50 percent of his passes and had an 18-23 TD-INT ratio before burning out of the NFL before the age of 25. This was another brutal setback for a franchise that had been in a Super Bowl five years earlier but would not register a winning record for another decade after the Russell pick.
Best pick: Miller
He carved out a nice career as a receiving tight end, even making one Pro Bowl in 2010, which was his final season in Oakland. Miller went on to win a Super Bowl with the Seattle Seahawks (and had a few big playoff games the year before) prior to injuries cutting short his career. And he’s not to be confused with the other Zach Miller, who also was a tight end – and who recently retired as a member of the Chicago Bears.
Overall: It’s awful from top to bottom, save for the decent pick of Miller. The Raiders had five picks in the top 100, and none played more than 62 games in Oakland. The late Moses, who bravely died in a house fire in 2017 while trying to rescue others, was cut by the Raiders about five months after he was drafted, which was shocking for the first pick of the third round. In a loaded 2007 draft class, the Raiders came up almost empty with each of their 11 selections.
2. 2005 Minnesota Vikings
Picks: 1 (7) WR Troy Williamson; 1 (18) DE Erasmus James; 2 (49) OG Marcus Johnson; 3 (80) S Dustin Fox; 4 (112) RB Ciatrick Fason; 6 (191) DT C.J. Mosley; 7 (219) DB Adrian Ward
Worst pick: Williamson
It’s almost a tossup between the two first-rounders, but we’ll go with the higher pick here, even if Williamson lasted slightly longer in the NFL than James did. At least James – nicknamed “The Eraser” in college – could blame injuries for derailing his career. Williamson just couldn’t catch, it turned out. The man the Vikings drafted with the pick they acquired for Randy Moss dropped 11 passes as a rookie and claimed to have bad depth perception. Williamson could fly, but he caught only 87 passes and four TDs in 49 career games with the Vikings and Jaguars.
Best pick: Mosley
Not to be confused with the C.J. Mosley who just signed a megadeal with the New York Jets – and this is the perfect time to invoke the classic line from “Midnight Run,” the 1988 film: “Are all you guys named Mosley?!” – this Mosley turned in a solid career as a reserve defensive lineman for six teams over 11 seasons. Of course, he was ingloriously sent home from the Detroit Lions’ 2013 game against the Atlanta Falcons in London when marijuana was discovered in his hotel room. But he clearly was the standout in this group.
Overall: Brutal. Worse than the picks themselves was the fact that the Vikings twice passed on Aaron Rodgers in Round 1 and have watched him ring up a 42-6 TD-INT line in 22 games (including playoffs) against them over the years since then. If the Packers could draft Rodgers and sit him behind Favre, then the Vikings most certainly should have taken him as the backup to Daunte Culpepper, who would be traded to Miami in the 2006 offseason. The Vikings also took Johnson over Frank Gore, Vincent Jackson and Justin Tuck, and Fason over Darren Sproles and Trent Cole and would miss the playoffs for the following three seasons during the demise of the Mike Tice era.
3. 2006 Miami Dolphins
Picks: 1 (16) DB Jason Allen; 3 (82) WR Derek Hagan; 4 (114) OT Joe Toledo; 7 (212) DT Fred Evans; 7 (226) DT Rodrique Wright; 7 (233) WR Devin Aromashodu
Worst pick: Second-round trade
Speaking of Daunte Culpepper, the Dolphins passed on signing some QB named Drew Brees (who had a busted shoulder, they said) and sent the 51st overall selection to the Vikings for the former first-round QB. Culpepper started the first four games for the Dolphins, struggling during a 1-3 start, before being shut down for the year with – for real – a shoulder injury. It was a bad look, too, when Joey Harrington (who was acquired for a 2007 fifth-rounder) outplayed him for a stretch that year.
Culpepper would be released a year later after a standoff with the team. Among the players selected immediately after the 51st choice at the end of Round 2: Greg Jennings, Bernard Pollard, Andrew Whitworth, Chris Chester, Miami native Devin Hester and Maurice Jones-Drew. All would have been better options than the failed Culpepper trade.
Best pick: Allen
And that’s saying something. The Dolphins never could figure out what to do with Allen, who spent parts of five seasons in Miami and always felt like he was on the verge of breaking out … but who never really did. Nick Saban thought he was landing a safe prospect in his first NFL head-coaching season in Allen, whom he unsuccessfully recruited in college and whom Saban faced for four years in the SEC. This was by no means a loaded first round looking back, but the Dolphins would have been better off drafting Chad Greenway, Tamba Hali or Nick Mangold – all of whom were taken in the 14 picks after Allen.
Overall: Nothing good to say here. Between the missed picks, the failed trades (they also shipped out Brendon Ayanbadejo, who made three Pro Bowls as a special teamer after that, for a seventh-rounder) and losing their fifth-round pick on supplemental pick Manny Wright (whom Saban made cry in training camp), this was a colossal disaster of a draft class. Toledo never played in an NFL game, but he went six picks after four-time All-Pro OG Jahri Evans and 20 picks before DT Kyle Williams, who just wrapped up a tremendous career with the Buffalo Bills.
4. 2012 San Francisco 49ers
Picks: 1 (30) WR A.J. Jenkins; 2 (61) RB LaMichael James; 4 (117) OG Joe Looney; 5 (165) LB Darius Fleming; 6 (180) DB Trent Robinson; 6 (199) OT Jason Slowey; 7 (237) LB Cam Johnson
Worst pick: Jenkins
The highlight of his career might have been being name-dropped in a live episode of NBC’s “30 Rock” shortly after the 49ers drafted him as proof that the show was being aired in real time. As a rookie, Jenkins earned only 37 offensive snaps in three games (despite being healthy all regular season) and was targeted with a mere one pass. And, yep, he dropped it. Jenkins was swapped in a receiver-bust-for-bust trade the following offseason to Kansas City for Jonathan Baldwin and hauled in 17 passes in 28 career games. The 49ers took Baldwin over WRs Alshon Jeffery and T.Y. Hilton.
Best pick: Looney
The 49ers traded up eight spots in Round 4 to land Looney, who started four of his 19 games with the team over three seasons. He went on to have a respectable career elsewhere. Looney even was a 16-game starter for the Dallas Cowboys last season, helping them make the playoffs. The 49ers cut Looney in 2015, but he’s still kicking around and should provide Dallas decent insurance again if he sticks on the roster.
Overall: We cut them a tiny bit of slack because of where they were picking at the end of every round coming off an 11-4-1 season and an appearance in the Super Bowl. But there’s no denying the 49ers had their chances to make good picks and whiffed on them. We can’t fault them for passing on Russell Wilson too much, as they had Colin Kaepernick in the saddle as their rising star. But taking Jenkins in the first and James in the second and trading down twice out of Round 3 (for picks that became Hilton and Lamar Miller) doomed this effort right from the start.
5. 2012 Jacksonville Jaguars
Picks: 1 (5) WR Justin Blackmon; 2 (38) DE Andre Branch; 3 (70) P Bryan Anger; 5 (142) LB Brandon Marshall; 6 (176) DB Mike Harris; 7 (228) DT Jeris Pendleton
Worst pick: Anger
Blackmon at least showed he could play at a borderline elite level briefly. Yes, he was a massive bust at No. 5 overall, arrested in Jacksonville before ever playing a game and later suspended multiple times for other off-field issues. But he showed incredible talent in making the 2012 All-Rookie team and averaged 64 receiving yards per game in his 20 NFL contests.
Anger also has proven he can punt in this league over the past seven seasons for the Jags and Buccaneers. But taking him with the 70th overall selection – over Russell Wilson – will go down as one of the biggest draft regrets of all time. Then-Jaguars head coach Mike Mularkey said the team never considered taking Wilson, feeling it was in good shape with Blaine Gabbert (drafted the year prior) and Chad Henne. Following Wilson’s strong rookie season, the fear of missing out seemed to kick in harder.
“We felt like Blaine was going to be the quarterback,” Mularkey told “PFT Live” in 2013. “Forecasting out whether he’s going to be one of those franchise quarterbacks? I can’t do that.”
Best pick: Marshall
Let’s give proper due to Marshall, who became a very good linebacker. He turned out to be a steal with the 142nd overall pick. The problem? He saw action in only five games as a rookie for the Jags, failing to register a single tackle, before they cut him the following summer. Marshall went on to sign with the Denver Broncos, where he started for most of the past five seasons.
Overall: Similar to Marshall, Branch didn’t become a starter until well into his career – Year 4 and his final season in Jacksonville before signing with the Dolphins. He has become a solid player, just as Marshall and Anger have, but the Jaguars never maximized their value.
The biggest blows to this class were the off-field issues with Blackmon (who hasn’t played a game since 2013) and the Anger-over-Wilson pick.
6. 2008 Jaguars
Picks: 1 (8) DE Derrick Harvey; 2 (52) DE Quentin Groves; 5 (155) LB Thomas Williams; 5 (159) DB Trae Williams; 7 (213) RB Chauncey Washington
Worst pick: Harvey
The Jags zoomed all the way up from the 26th pick (which ended up being Duane Brown) to No. 8 to take Harvey, who would end up setting a franchise record for longest rookie contract holdout – 38 days. That was the only record he set in an uninspiring 47-game career with the team that resulted in a mere eight sacks. He’d go on to play only five more regular-season games in the NFL, all with the Broncos in 2011. The Jaguars traded two third-round picks and a fourth-rounder to land Harvey, and they had to sit idly for more than 100 draft choices before picking again. Among the players who went off the board in that stretch: Jamaal Charles, Josh Sitton, Cliff Avril, Carl Nicks, Pierre Garcon, John Sullivan, Brandon Carr and Jeremy Zuttah.
Best pick: Groves
By no means was he special, and the Jaguars gave up on him after only two seasons, trading him to Oakland for a fifth-round pick in 2010. Groves at least had a solid career that lasted 100 games – nearly double the number Harvey played in the NFL. We’re not going to suggest he was a good selection, but Groves at least didn’t flame out completely. Still, that’s an indication of how rough this class was overall.
Overall: There’s not much else to say. The Jaguars had only a combined 40 games over the previous four seasons, making the playoffs twice in that stretch, as Jack Del Rio appeared to be building a winner in Jacksonville. The aggressive trade up for Harvey reflected how close they felt they were, believing the team was one pass rusher away from being really good a few months after losing to the Patriots in the divisional round of the playoffs. But a slew of poor draft hauls over the successive years helped place this team back into the basement.
7. 2013 Miami Dolphins
Picks: 1 (3) DE Dion Jordan; 2 (54) CB Jamar Taylor; 3 (77) OT Dallas Thomas; 3 (93) CB Will Davis; 4 (104) LB Jelani Jenkins; 4 (106) TE Dion Sims; 5 (164) RB Mike Gillislee; 5 (166) K Caleb Sturgis; 7 (250) S Don Jones
Worst pick: Jordan
The Dolphins shocked just about everyone when they traded up from No. 12 to the third spot to take Jordan. The cost to move up – the 42nd overall pick – wasn’t considered that bad at the time, and they still had a slew of picks upcoming. Most onlookers praised Miami’s approach, with then-GM Jeff Ireland seemingly going for broke that offseason – the final year of Ireland’s contract – with big free-agent signings (Mike Wallace, Brent Grimes, Philip Wheeler and Dannell Ellerbe) and the move up for Jordan. But following a quiet rookie season, Jordan would be suspended twice for substance abuse and would be cut less than four years after the big trade.
Granted, this was a brutal draft, it turned out, but the Dolphins could have stayed at 12 and taken Sheldon Richardson or Star Lotulelei (or, you know, DeAndre Hopkins) and still ended up with Le’Veon Bell with the second-rounder they dealt instead. If you’re going to gamble on players with character questions, at least take those who manage to stay on the field more often than not. Credit to Jordan for later turning his life around and reviving his career, but it never helped Miami in one of its biggest ever draft missteps.
Best pick: Jenkins
He started for two seasons in a four-year stint with the Dolphins, and we give Jenkins the slight nod over Taylor, who went 52 selections higher and started the majority of his NFL games with the Browns. Jenkins, however, went five slots ahead of that year’s biggest draft bargain: David Bakhtiari, who remains one of the best tackles in the NFL. How he fell that far in a brutal class is anyone’s guess, but the Dolphins had four cracks at him in Rounds 3 and 4 and passed every time.
Overall: There’s nothing to like about this class, really. None of the picks were awful talents, but they were all over-drafted and few made their marks in Miami beyond a year or two. Sturgis had a few moments as a kicker, but also his share of yips. Taylor could have become Tyrann Mathieu or Travis Kelce. Thomas, who played only 37 NFL games, was taken one pick after Keenan Allen. From start to finish, the Dolphins’ draft that year was Heartbreak City.
8. 2006 St. Louis Rams
Picks: 1 (15) DB Tye Hill; 2 (46) TE Joe Klopfenstein; 3 (68) DT Claude Wroten; 3 (77) LB Jon Alston; 3 (93) TE Dominique Byrd; 4 (113) DE Victor Adeyanju; 5 (144) WR Marques Hagans; 7 (221) LB Tim McGarigle; 7 (242) OG Mark Setterstrom; 7 (243) OG Tony Palmer
Worst pick: Hill
A former track star with 4.3 speed and an all-ACC pick, Hill appeared to be a solid choice in the middle of Round 1 for a Rams secondary that needed talent. It also looked smart when they traded back four slots to take Hill, adding an early third-round pick to their till. Hill started out well as an All-Rookie selection before two straight season-ending injuries in Years 2 and 3 threw his career off kilter. He’d play a mere 40 NFL games when it was all said and done.
And the pick looked worse later when we saw who the Rams passed on at 11 (Jay Cutler and Haloti Ngata) and at 15 (Greenway, Hali, Mangold) and who they took at No. 63 (Wroten).
Best pick: Adeyanju
For the 113th pick in the draft, Adeyanju wasn’t too bad. He was a contributor to the Rams’ defense for the following four seasons, starting 26 of his 53 games there and running back a fumble 89 yards for a touchdown as a rookie. But he was just a guy in his four NFL seasons, so for Adeyanju to be the best of the Rams’ 10-man class that year – which included five picks in the top 93 overall – well, that’s not good.
Overall: The 2006 draft was not a banner class, but the Rams had chances to draft Ngata, Jahri Evans, Whitworth, Jennings, Brandon Marshall (the wide receiver), Kyle Williams, Jones-Drew, Elvis Dumervil and others. They got none of those players. They also had three seventh-round picks, and none of them were named Marques Colston. The two tight ends and one receiver they took combined to catch 49 passes for 588 yards and three TDs in their careers, and Colston bettered those totals in each of his nine NFL seasons with the New Orleans Saints.
9. 2009 Dallas Cowboys
Picks: 3 (69) LB Jason Williams; 3 (75) OL Robert Brewster; 4 (101) QB Stephen McGee; 4 (110) LB Victor Butler; 4 (120) DE Brandon Williams; 5 (143) DB DeAngelo Smith; 5 (166) DB Michael Hamlin; 5 (172) David Buehler; 6 (197) DB Stephen Hodge; 6 (208) TE John Phillips; 7 (227) DB Mike Mickens; 7 (229) WR Manuel Johnson
Worst pick: First-round trade
The first (20th overall) was traded for wide receiver Roy Williams, who caught 94 passes for 1,324 yards and 13 TDs in 40 games (29 starts) over parts of three seasons with the team. Looking back now, it’s a shock that Jerry Jones and Co. would send a first-round pick to the Raiders for Amari Cooper last year after the failed WR trades for Williams and Joey Galloway at high costs, although kudos to them if Cooper keeps playing the way he did down the stretch. Keeping the 20th pick and taking either Alex Mack or Clay Matthews would have looked a lot smarter in retrospect.
Best pick: Phillips
He might not have been much of a receiver, but Phillips was a good blocker for his four years in Dallas, playing all 16 games three times. In fact, he was still in the league as of last season, starting four games for the Arizona Cardinals. Phillips has had a nice career, and only two non-special teamers drafted after him that year – Ricky Jean-Francois and Captain Munnerlyn – have played more NFL games in their careers.
Overall: This is low key one of the worst draft classes ever, even without a first- or second-round pick. They moved back 24 spots out of Round 2 to take Brewster – instead of picking Andy Levitre or Sebastian Vollmer to aid their ailing offensive line. Among the players the Cowboys passed on: T.J. Lang, Mike Wallace, Louis Vazquez, Michael Johnson, Glover Quinn, Jason McCourty and of course Julian Edelman, although every team except New England failed to see how Edelman's athleticism might translate to the league. Still, Dallas’ class failed to land one true starter, and eight of the 12 picks failed to play more than 12 games in the NFL.
10. 2000 Cleveland Browns
Picks: 1 (1) DE Courtney Brown; 2 (32) WR Dennis Northcutt; 3 (63) RB Travis Prentice; 3 (79) WR JaJuan Dawson; 4 (95) Lewis Sanders; 4 (110) TE Aaron Shea; 5 (130) DB Anthony Malbrough; 5 (146) DB Lamar Chapman; 6 (183) QB Spergon Wynn; 6 (206) OT Brad Bedell; 7 (207) OG Manuia Savea; 7 (209) DE Eric Chandler; 7 (225) DB Rashidi Barnes
Worst pick: Brown
What was supposed to be a franchise cornerstone ended up becoming one of the bigger draft busts of the modern era. After a fairly solid rookie season with 4.5 sacks, Brown played only 31 games the following four seasons and totaled only 12.5 sacks. He spent only one more year in the NFL, 2005 with the Broncos, before being out of the league before his 28th birthday. You could argue that this pick was the start of almost two decades worth of draft futility for the Browns.
Best pick: Northcutt
He spent seven solid years as a gadget weapon for the Browns, and he even had one of the best playoff games for the franchise in the 36-33 loss to the Steelers in the 2002 season with two touchdowns and 167 yards on nine touches. Northcutt ranks in the top 25 all time in punt returns and return yards and ran back three punts in his career for scores. But might a pick such as Chad Clifton, Brad Meester or Mike Brown been better value with the 32nd overall pick? You certainly could argue that.
Overall: All the hope and excitement of football returning to Cleveland the year before was starting to dissipate. Yes, the Browns would make the playoffs a few seasons later, but the draft became an annual obsession-turned-heartache for Browns fans who repeatedly watched their team land high picks following poor seasons and – more often than not – draft the wrong players and misallocate resources. Maybe that’s changed with the team’s recent moves. But 2000 was a flashpoint for the start of a terrible draft run that lasted more than 15 years. Other than landing brief contributors in Brown, Northcutt, Prentice and Shea, this class was right up there among the worst in the franchise’s 2.0 life.
2001 Raiders, Vikings and Packers – Outside of a few dozen really good picks (made by other teams), this whole draft was a tough one for a lot of folks
2012 and 2013 Browns – Take your pick among these two wasteland drafts.
2011 Philadelphia Eagles – Jason Kelce was a great late pick, and Dion Lewis found success after leaving the team, but this was a bad group
2014 Eagles — Marcus Smith, an all-time WTH pick
2014 New York Jets – The 2010, 2012 and 2013 classes weren’t much better, but the Calvin Pryor/Jace Amaro 1-2 punch gives this group the edge
2011 Detroit Lions — Nick Fairley, Titus Young left a pretty bad taste
2005 Lions — So you’re saying Mike Williams over DeMarcus Ware is bad, eh? I still remember Steve Mariucci’s awkward ESPN interview when asked about that decision
2005 Bills — They’ve had a few clunkers in this time period, but this one appeared to be the worst
2007 Rams – On the heels of the 2006 group, this class represented only a small step up
2011 Chicago Bears — How bad is it when local whipping boy, Chris Conte, was the best of the lot?
2007, 2011 and 2013 Indianapolis Colts — Terrible picks way more often than not, via two different front offices
2003 Denver Broncos – Eight of the 10 picks never played more than 18 NFL games
2006, 2007 and 2008 Redskins – Go back and look at these groups, but be ready to avert your eyes quickly
2015 Bengals, Ravens and Steelers – Looking bleak for these AFC North crops
2016 Cardinals, Buccaneers, Bills, Panthers and Browns – Too soon to write these teams’ picks off completely, but … they’re not looking too good
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