The NFL Draft is where championship teams are built. If you can repeatedly hit on picks year in and year out, you can begin to build a dynasty. Unfortunately, that’s nearly impossible to do as prospects don’t always pan out the way they’re expected to.
It’s the reason we have the term “busts.”
Offensive lineman Tony Mandarich defined the term in 1989, when he was taken second overall behind Troy Aikman. Mandarich was a complete flop in the NFL despite being one of the top prospects in the draft, starting just 31 games with the Packers – none of which came as a rookie.
He wasn’t the only draft pick who didn’t pan out, though. There have been plenty over the years with several coming in each draft class. Here is the biggest bust each year since Mandarich upped the ante for all who would follow.
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1990: QB Andre Ware, Lions (7th overall)
Ware and Barry Sanders were supposed to be a dynamic duo in Detroit, but Ware couldn't do his part. He hardly played as a rookie, starting just one game. The next three years, Ware started just five more and found his way out of the league by 1994. He was never a factor for the Lions, setting the franchise back a few years with his disappointing play.
Getty ImagesGeorge Gojkovich
1991: DB Bruce Pickens, Falcons (3rd overall)
Arguably the worst draft pick in Falcons history, Pickens started just nine games in his career, intercepting two passes in five years. He played games for the Chiefs, Packers and Raiders before his NFL career was finished by 1995.
1992: QB David Klingler, Bengals (6th overall)
Klingler was a historically great quarterback at Houston, but his NFL career was vastly different. He played just 24 games, throwing 16 touchdown passes and 22 interceptions. He lost the starting job in 1994 after going 0-7 that season and never regained it. He reverted to being a backup with the Raiders for two seasons to close out his NFL career.
1993: S Patrick Bates, Raiders (12th overall)
Bates started just nine games in two seasons. He was traded to Atlanta in 1995, but his career didn’t improve there. He started just nine games for the Falcons before he was benched yet again.
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1994: QB Heath Shuler, Redskins (3rd overall)
Shuler was supposed to be the quarterback who vaulted the Redskins back into prominence, but that never came close to happening. As a rookie, Shuler failed to complete 50 percent of his passes, winning just one of his eight starts. He continued to struggle in Washington for a few more seasons before getting benched and eventually traded to the Saints for a fifth- and third-round pick. His NFL career was over by age 26.
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1995: RB Ki-Jana Carter, Bengals (1st overall)
The No. 1 overall pick rushed for just 1,114 yards in his career. He started only 14 games total after missing his entire rookie season when he tore his ACL in the preseason. He suffered a multitude of injuries from that point forward, failing to ever fit the bill as a No. 1 pick.
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1996: RB Lawrence Phillips, Rams (6th overall)
Phillips won two national titles at Nebraska but struggled as a rookie, rushing for just 632 yards, and it wasn’t much better in Year 2 after the Rams cut him. Phillips constantly found himself in trouble off the field, getting arrested multiple times. His NFL career was over by 1999, when the 49ers waived him. In 2016, he committed suicide while in prison.
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1997: QB Jim Druckenmiller, 49ers (26th overall)
Druckenmiller wasn’t a stud by any means at Virginia Tech, throwing just 31 touchdown passes in two seasons. However, the 49ers thought they had Steve Young’s heir when he was taken 26th overall. Spoiler: he wasn’t. He started just one game in his career and was out of the NFL by 2000, playing his last game in 1998. Needless to say, he wasn’t what the 49ers thought they were getting.
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1998: QB Ryan Leaf, Chargers (2nd overall)
Leaf will always be remembered as the bust who followed Peyton Manning in the draft, and it’s not exactly unfair. Leaf threw two touchdown passes and 15 interceptions as a rookie, struggling with both the mental and physical aspects of the game. He could never cut it as an NFL quarterback, nor could he handle the spotlight. His career was over after just four years, while Manning went on to have a Hall of Fame career.
1999: QB Akili Smith, Bengals (3rd overall)
Smith was taken third overall, a risky pick by the Bengals as they attempted to find their franchise quarterback. He held out as a rookie, which caused him to miss significant time in training camp, leading him to start just four games in 1999. The following year, he started 11 games, but had just three touchdown passes and six interceptions. Smith continued to struggle year in and year out until the Bengals finally gave up on him in 2002.
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2000: DE Courtney Brown, Browns (1st overall)
This was the second year in a row the Browns had the No. 1 pick, and after Tim Couch went 2-12 as a rookie, they hoped to have better fortune on the other side of the ball. They didn’t. Brown played all 16 games in Year 1, but his production was underwhelming (4.5 sacks). He struggled to stay healthy from that point forward, finishing with just 19 sacks in his career.
Getty ImagesGeorge Gojkovich
2001: DE Jamal Reynolds, Packers (10th overall)
As the 10th overall pick, Reynolds was expected to contribute right away. However, he battled injuries as a rookie and never recovered from a production standpoint. He finished his career with three total sacks and 14 tackles. Those numbers would have been good for a player’s first eight games, not his first three seasons. To make matters worse, the Packers traded up to get him.
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2002: QB David Carr, Texans (1st overall)
Carr wasn’t the worst quarterback ever. He wasn’t Ryan Leaf, or Jamarcus Russell, or Tim Couch. He just wasn’t what the Texans wanted him to be: a franchise-altering player. He finished his career with just 65 touchdown passes and 71 interceptions, throwing nine touchdown passes in each of his first two seasons. He seemed to right the ship a bit in 2004 with a 7-9 record, but that was the peak of his career.
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2003: WR Charles Rogers, Lions (2nd overall)
Rogers was expected to be the next great receiver, pairing nicely with QB Joey Harrington, whom the Lions took one year before. Well, he was anything but that, starting just nine games in his career. He caught 36 passes for 440 yards and four touchdowns, flaming out after just three seasons due to a lack of production and recurring violations of the league’s substance abuse policy.
2004: WR Rashaun Woods, 49ers (31st overall)
The 2004 draft was a strong one, headlined by Eli Manning, Larry Fitzgerald, Philip Rivers and Ben Roethlisberger. Woods went 31st overall, proving to be the worst pick of the first round. He finished his career with just seven catches – all of which came in his rookie season – before bouncing from the 49ers to the Chargers to the Broncos. He didn't play a single game after 2004, failing to make an NFL roster.
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2005: WR Troy Williamson, Vikings (7th overall)
Take your pick between Williamson and Mike Williams, both monstrous flops as NFL wide receivers. Williams had the better overall numbers and was drafted three picks later, which makes Williamson the biggest bust of this draft. He caught just 87 passes for 1,131 yards in five seasons with the Vikings and Jaguars, finding himself out of the NFL by 2010.
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2006: QB Matt Leinart, Cardinals (10th overall)
Vince Young and Leinart were both expected to be in the next wave of great young quarterbacks, but neither panned out. Young was at least the Rookie of the Year and had some good moments, whereas Leinart struggled to even secure the job as Arizona’s starter. He finished his career with just 15 touchdown passes in only 18 career starts. Not exactly what you want from the 10th overall pick.
2007: QB Jamarcus Russell, Raiders (1st overall)
Where to begin? Arguably the biggest bust of this century, Russell was believed to have it all – arm strength, physicality, the “it” factor. He had a big arm, but that was about it. Russell was a complete flop for the Raiders, starting just 25 games in his career with 18 touchdown passes and 23 interceptions. His work ethic and conditioning were constant question marks, leading to his demise and eventual departure from the NFL.
2008: DE Vernon Gholston, Jets (6th overall)
Gholston hardly played in his three years with the Jets, totaling just 42 career tackles. Incredibly, he never recorded a single sack in the NFL despite being an elite pass rusher in college. He’s one of the biggest busts in NFL history.
2009: LT Jason Smith, Rams (2nd overall)
Aaron Curry and Aaron Maybin were also busts from this class, but neither was worse than Smith, who was a starter for just one season. The former Baylor tackle looked like an elite prospect, but he struggled with the Rams and eventually bounced from team to team.
He played just 45 games in his career, which is the fewest of any player taken in the first round of the 2009 draft.
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2010: QB Tim Tebow, Broncos (25th overall)
He has a playoff win, which some would argue disqualifies him from being a bust, but Jahvid Best is the only pick to play fewer games from the first round, and he retired due to injury. If Tebow were a second- or third-round pick, this title would likely go to someone like Rolando McClain. However, he was the 25th pick in the draft and was viewed as a franchise quarterback by the Broncos.
He was the furthest thing from that, playing just 35 games with only 17 touchdowns and nine interceptions. Those aren’t first-round numbers for a quarterback.
2011: QB Jake Locker, Titans (8th overall)
The 2011 draft was absolutely loaded at the top … until you look at the quarterbacks taken after Cam Newton. Locker retired from the NFL after four injury-plagued seasons, and though that’s not entirely his fault, the fact that the Titans took him eighth overall was a mistake. Locker played just 30 games and had very little success in them, throwing for 4,967 yards, 27 touchdowns and 22 interceptions.
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2012: WR Justin Blackmon, Jaguars (5th overall)
Remember Blackmon? He’s the guy who was once called Dez Bryant “with all of his brain cells,” yet he’s played just 20 games in his career and has repeatedly found himself in trouble off the field. He had very minimal impact for the Jaguars, catching just 93 passes for 1,280 yards and six touchdowns in his career.
Trent Richardson was a close second as far as busts go, but ultimately Blackmon’s peak was lower than Richardson’s. He was a starter for only one season, playing half as many games as Richardson.
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2013: DE Dion Jordan, Dolphins (3rd overall)
Really, you could pick all but three players in the top 15 from the 2013 draft and label them busts, but Jordan has by far been the worst of the bunch. He’s played just 26 games in his career, recording three sacks.
He’s been out of the game since 2014 as a result of his substance-abuse issues, and it remains to be seen if he ever plays another snap in the NFL. Even if he does, there are no indications he can stay clean, or even be an effective pass rusher.
USA TODAY SportsSteve Mitchell
2014: QB Johnny Manziel, Browns (22nd overall)
Only one player taken in the first two rounds of the 2014 draft has played fewer games than Manziel, and that’s Stanley Jean-Baptiste – the 58th overall pick. Manizel, the 22nd selection, has been a huge disappointment, to the point where he can’t even find a job in the NFL.
It’ll take a great deal of work and success for Manizel to shed the title of being a draft bust, and he may never get that chance. Blake Bortles has been bad for the Jaguars, but no one from the first round of this class has been worse than Johnny Football.
2015: LT Ereck Flowers, Giants (9th overall)
Flowers has been a disaster at left tackle for the Giants, and it would seem that a move to right tackle or guard might be necessary. Through two seasons, he’s been one of the worst left tackles in the NFL, and it’s strange that the Giants haven’t been more open to booting him from that position.
It’s obviously still very early in his career, but Flowers has to turn his game around if he wants to remain at the premier offensive line spot and protect Eli Manning’s blind side.
2016: K Roberto Aguayo, Buccaneers (59th overall)
It’s unfair to call a player a bust after just one season, but considering the circumstances, the position he plays and the fact that the Buccaneers traded up to draft him, it was the worst pick of the draft.
Aguayo still has time to improve in the NFL, but it’s unlikely he will ever live up to the expectations of being a second-round pick. The Bucs have already hinted that they could move on this season by signing Nick Folk. If Aguayo is cut, he’ll undoubtedly be the biggest bust of this class.