Many times in the NFL Draft, what you see is not what you get. The draft evaluation process has so many factors that it’s nearly impossible to predict who won’t be able to hack it in the NFL. We all know the guys that make it because we follow them for years. But for every Peyton Manning, there are many more Ryan Leafs. Let’s look back on some of the biggest dupes in NFL Draft history.
Ryan Leaf (No. 2 overall, Chargers, 1998)
Remember when there was a debate about him or Peyton Manning? It didn’t take long for the Chargers and everyone else to see Leaf had flamed out. He went 3-6 in 1998, throwing two TD passes and 15 interceptions. His highlight reel consisted of a shouting match with a reporter. He missed the 1999 season with a labrum tear. In 2000, he played in 11 games, throwing 11 touchdowns and 18 picks. He spent one more year in the league with Dallas, and several comeback attempts with the Bucs and Seahawks didn’t work out. He’s had numerous run-ins with the law since his playing days ended, getting arrested twice (once in Texas and once in Montana) and has had issues with substance abuse while incarcerated. Leaf was released from prison on Dec. 3, 2014 after spending two years behind bars.
Heath Shuler (No. 3 overall, Redskins, 1994)
You thought the Redskins’ RG3/Kirk Cousins/Colt McCoy controversy was the first time there was a QB scandal in DC? Think again. The Redskins thought they’d landed the guy to lead them to their fourth Super Bowl win. Likely wanting some insurance, the Redskins also drafted Gus Frerotte in the seventh round that year. Shuler struggled, throwing five interceptions in one game, and was ultimately replaced by Frerotte. Shuler was 1-7 as a rookie, 3-2 in his second season, and by 1997 was in New Orleans, where he started nine games and went 4-5. Foot injuries ultimately led him to retire, but Shuler is no stranger to Washington. He’s now an elected House member, representing the 11th district in North Carolina.
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Andre Ware (No. 7 overall, Lions, 1990)
Finally, Barry Sanders was going to have a signal-caller worthy of handing him the ball. Ware had a phenomenal final season at Houston before turning pro, throwing 46 touchdowns and just 15 interceptions. Not to mention the 4,699 yards passing. That helped win him the Heisman Trophy as he became the first black quarterback to do so. The Lions expected similar results and a possible backfield of Ware and Sanders that could lead them to the franchise’s first Super Bowl. Not so much, as in four seasons with the Lions he played in only 14 games. He finished his NFL tenure in 1994 with career totals of five touchdowns, eight interceptions, 1,112 passing yards, and a 63.5 passer rating. The irony of Ware’s career is that he washed out of not only the NFL, but the CFL, where he played for three teams.
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JaMarcus Russell (No. 1 overall, Raiders, 2007)
He had a tremendous junior season at LSU, throwing 28 touchdowns and just eight interceptions. He led LSU to a Sugar Bowl win over Notre Dame. The 6-foot-6, 260-pounder seemed to be the perfect fit to get the Raiders out of a funk that seemed to last since they got trounced in the Super Bowl in January 2002. Not exactly. His career got off to a rough start when his holdout lasted into Week 1 of the 2007 season. The Raiders eventually gave him $31.5 million in guaranteed money. In 2008 he showed some flashes, throwing 13 touchdowns and eight interceptions in 15 starts (he went 5-10). But in 2009 he finished with the lowest quarterback rating, lowest completion percentage, fewest passing touchdowns, and fewest passing yards among qualifying quarterbacks in the NFL.
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David Carr (No. 1 overall, Texans, 2002)
He was the first pick of the new expansion Houston Texans. He was supposed to be the man who catapulted the franchise into success from the start. It didn’t quite work out that way. While the Texans invested $60 million in Carr, they didn’t invest enough in the men trusted to protect him. Carr was sacked 76 times as a rookie and stumbled to a 4-12 record in his first year, throwing just nine touchdowns. In 2004, there was more of the same, as Carr was sacked a league-high 49 times. In 2009, the tally was 68 sacks, also an NFL high. Carr was never upright long enough to get his feet under him with the Texans, but he eventually left Houston and became a backup for the Panthers, 49ers and Giants, winning a ring with Big Blue in 2011. He retired after the 2012 season.
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Joey Harrington (No. 3 overall, Lions, 2002)
Needing a signal caller, the Lions went for what seemed like a no-brainer pick in Harrington. His tenure was a non-starter, however. Detroit went 3-13 in his rookie season, one in which Harrington only completed 50.1 percent of his passes and threw 12 touchdowns against 16 interceptions. He went 3-9 as the Lions lost 13 games. His sophomore season was also a struggle, as Harrington threw 22 interceptions. Detroit went 5-11. Year 3 showed some promise, with Harrington throwing 22 touchdowns and 12 interceptions, but the Lions still stumbled to a 6-10 record after a 4-2 start. By 2005, Harrington had been benched by head coach Steve Mariucci for Jeff Garcia. In 2006 Harrington was dealt to the Dolphins, but his most likely claim to fame came a year later when he became the man who replaced Mike Vick with the Falcons.
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Tim Couch (No. 1 overall, Browns, 1999)
Couch’s performances were erratic, and his time with the Browns was up and down. His first year, Couch managed to throw for 15 touchdowns and 13 interceptions despite being sacked 56 times. In 2001, he threw for a career-high 3,040 yards, and carried some momentum into the following season. In 2002, Couch looked like he was finally going to take hold as the team’s starter, going 8-6 and leading the Browns to the playoffs. But timing is everything. Couch suffered a broken leg in the final game of the season, and journeyman Kelly Holcomb led the team to its only playoff appearance since rejoining the league. By 2003, the magic was gone, and by 2004, Couch was out of the league.
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Akili Smith (No. 3 overall, Bengals, 1999)
Needless to say, 1999 wasn’t a great year for quarterbacks. Before the most recent NFL Collective Bargaining Agreement, draft picks held out for as much coin as possible. Smith was a great example of how that could blow up a career before it even began. He seemed to never fully get his feet under him and started just 17 games in four seasons with the Bengals. He went 3-14, throwing just five touchdowns. Smith tried his hand north of the border, but couldn’t cut it in the CFL, either. He is now a deacon and a high school coach.
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Art Schlichter (No. 4 overall, Colts, 1982)
The problem was Schlichter was a gambler. His poor choices followed to the NFL from Ohio State, where his stats weren’t very good anyway, but the expectations were high. Schlichter reportedly lost his entire signing bonus by the middle of his rookie year. In addition to other bets, the straw that broke the camel’s back was in 1983, when he reportedly lost almost $500,000 on college basketball. Bookies threatened to expose him, so he flipped and went to the FBI. The NFL suspended him and he missed the entire 1983 season. By 1985, when rumors surfaced that he was gambling again, Schlichter was cut with this stat line: 0-6, three touchdowns, 11 interceptions. There are certainly bigger names who have been busts, but Schlichter may have been the biggest bust no one remembers.
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Rick Mirer (No. 2 overall, Seahawks, 1993)
When you look back on the debate between Mirer and Drew Bledsoe, it’s almost laughable, but in 1993, the Patriots had the No. 1 pick and Bill Parcells had a decision to make. Lucky for Parcells, he made the right one, picking Bledsoe. Why? Mirer never amounted to much. It didn’t start off poorly, though. Mirer was thrown into the fire his rookie season, going 6-10 for the Seahawks, throwing 12 touchdowns and 17 interceptions, and ended up finishing third in the Rookie of the Year voting. Yet he never built off that, and over his next three seasons, Mirer threw 29 touchdowns and 39 interceptions. He was shipped out of Seattle in 1997, and bounced around between the Bears, Packers, Jets, 49ers and Raiders.
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Vince Young (No. 3 overall, Titans, 2006)
Young said he debated walking away after going 8-5 his rookie year, but he returned anyway, going 9-6 in his second season and leading the Titans to the playoffs. In the 2008 opener, Young injured his knee and lost his job to Kerry Collins. He didn’t get his job back until the following season when the Titans were 0-6. He went 8-2 as a starter that year, but it was too late to rally for a playoff berth. In 2010, Young was 4-4, but in what would be his final game with the Titans, after suffering an injury, he threw his shoulder pads into the crowd in a loss to Washington and reportedly got into a heated debate with coach Jeff Fisher. Tennessee released him before the 2011 season, and after one unremarkable year in Philadelphia, Young was more or less out of the league. He's been no more than a practice squad player since.
Cade McNown (No. 12 overall, Bears, 1999)
The Bears made McNown the highest-selected quarterback in franchise history since Jim McMahon – unfortunately, they weren’t rewarded for doing so. McNown, a UCLA product, had questions about his arm strength going into the draft, and once he was on the field with the Bears, had many more questions arise. McNown ended up going 2-4 as a rookie and 1-6 in 2000. Shoulder injuries kept him off the field consistently, but even when he was on the field, there wasn’t much to show for it. The Bears traded him to the Dolphins before the 2001 season, but he never played a snap in Miami. He was dealt again to the 49ers and never played again.
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Trent Richardson (No. 3 overall, Browns, 2012)
Richardson was already on his third NFL team in four seasons before being cut by the Raiders. The Browns picked him thinking he’d carry over some of that 1700-yard spark that he showed at Alabama, but after some knee issues slowed him down in the preseason, Richardson got off to a slow start. He ended up with 950 yards and 11 touchdowns in 15 games as a rookie, which made the Browns dealing him to the Colts after Week 2 of the following season so stunning. Richardson scored on his first carry as a Colt against the 49ers, but was beaten out by Donald Brown for the starting job down the stretch. Last year, he carried the ball just 159 times for 519 yards and was inactive for the Colts' final two playoff games. He signed with the Raiders after his release, but that didn't last long.
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Curtis Enis (No. 5 overall, Bears, 1998)
Another player who held out for a big contract, Enis struggled mightily to stay on the field. He tore a knee ligament in November 1998 and essentially was ineffective while on the field. He played in just nine games as a rookie (starting one), 15 in his second year (rushing for 927 yards), and played in 12 games by his third year, making just five starts. His knees gave him trouble, however, and he retired due to a degenerative condition.
AFP/Getty ImagesTANNEN MAURY
Lawrence Phillips (No. 6 overall, Rams, 1996)
Phillips’ woes started at Nebraska, where he was the focal point of the team’s offense, but began attracting negative attention after an arrest on charges of assaulting his girlfriend. Phillips played in Nebraska’s Fiesta Bowl win in 1995, and then went pro. He showed flashes, but the only stat that mattered was this one: in fewer than two years with the Rams, he spent 23 days in jail. He was released midway through the 1997 season. The Dolphins picked him up for two games that year, but released him after he pled no contest to assaulting a woman in a nightclub in Florida. Phillips was currently serving a 31-year sentence in California prison for attacking his former girlfriend and for assault (he drove his car into three teenagers in 2005), but on Jan. 13 was found dead in his prison cell after a possible suicide.
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Ki-Jana Carter (No. 1 overall, Bengals, 1995)
Carter’s career was over practically before it even got off the ground thanks to a slew of injuries. On the third carry of his first preseason game, he tore up his knee and missed his entire rookie season. It didn’t get better after that. A torn rotator cuff, broken wrist, and dislocated knee cap were also on tap for him in subsequent seasons. In seven NFL seasons, Carter tallied 319 carries, 1,144 yards, and 20 touchdowns.
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Charles Rogers (No. 2 overall, Lions, 2003)
After drawing comparisons to Randy Moss in college, Rogers seemed like a no-brainer for the Lions. Having selected Joey Harrington the year before, they needed to give him weapons to run an offense. Rogers seemed up to the task in his rookie campaign. He had 22 catches for 243 yards and three touchdowns in the season’s first five games, but missed the rest of the year after breaking his collarbone. In 2004, another broken collarbone ended his season after just five plays. The Lions let Rogers go home to rehab, and by the time 2005 came around, Rogers was suspended for a third violation of the league’s substance abuse policy. Once he returned from suspension and a bitter dispute with the team about his signing bonus, Rogers played in nine games, making just three starts and catching 14 passes for 197 yards. He was released in 2006.
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Johnny Lam Jones (No. 2 overall, Jets, 1980)
It isn’t often that a gold-medal sprinter also plays football, but that's exactly what Jones did. He got his nickname from his coach at Texas while in college to help differentiate him from another teammate. Jones didn’t dazzle in college, averaging 28 catches a year. But his robust yard-per-catch average (18.9) was enough to get the Jets to bite. He had problems catching the ball with the Jets, however, and considering Gang Green traded two first-round picks to get him and paid him the first NFL contract worth over $1 million, he was a pretty big bust. In his five seasons with the Jets, he never surpassed 43 catches or 734 yards in a single season.
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Peter Warrick (No. 4 overall, Bengals, 2000)
As a dynamic kick returner and receiver at Florida State, Warrick was thought to be one of the more versatile receivers coming into the draft in a long time. As a senior he averaged 127 all-purpose yards per game. When he got to the Bengals, he was going to continue to dazzle for young quarterback Akili Smith. That might have been the problem. Warrick never took off, and neither did the Bengals. His ceiling season came in 2003 when he caught 79 passes for 819 yards and seven touchdowns and even had 273 punt return yards on 25 attempts, running one back. But a creaky knee never let him take part in the Carson Palmer-led Bengals offensive rebirth, and he missed most of 2004. By 2005, Warrick was in Seattle and after that, out of the NFL.
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Tony Mandarich (No. 2 overall, Packers, 1989)
Here is a fun fact about Mandarich: He was taken after Troy Aikman, and ahead of Barry Sanders, Derrick Thomas, and Deion Sanders. Mandarich is the only player of those five not in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Swing and a miss. He was touted as the best offensive lineman to ever go into the draft, so he held out until right before the start of the regular season. He later admitted to steroid use and blamed that and his work ethic for his subpar play in Green Bay. He was cut in 1992, and then went to rehab for drug and alcohol use. He made a return to the NFL in 1996, and then started 16 games for the Colts in 1997. A shoulder injury forced him to retire after 1998.
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Steve Emtman (No. 1 overall, Colts, 1992)
Injuries besieged Emtman's career. In each of his first three seasons after the Colts selected him, Emtman wound up on injured reserve. His rookie campaign, he blew out his knee. The second season, he tore the patellar tendon in his other knee. He was reportedly the first known NFL player to suffer that injury at the time. In 2014, Victor Cruz suffered the same injury. Emtman beat the odds and came back, but hurt his neck, causing nerve damage. He was forced to retire at the age of 27.
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Dewayne Robertson (No. 4 overall, Jets, 2003)
Though Robertson started all 16 games with the Jets as a rookie, he never posted overwhelming stats or seemed to live up to the expectations after Gang Green traded up to get him. In five seasons with the Jets, he never had more than four sacks. He played for Denver for one season after that, but was out of the league by 2009.
Courtney Brown (No. 1 overall, Browns, 2000)
A year after the Browns picked Tim Couch, they whiffed again at No. 1 overall. Brown was never a terrible player, but he could not stay on the field. After starting all 16 games as a rookie and recording 4.5 sacks, he recorded just as many sacks in his second season despite only playing five games due to injury. From 2002-04, Brown only played in 28 games, recording just eight sacks. He was cut by the Browns in 2005 and played his final year in the NFL with the Broncos as a backup.
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Aundray Bruce (No. 1 overall, Falcons, 1988)
The next Lawrence Taylor, he was not. Bruce was expected to be another revolutionary linebacker, but instead proved to be average at best. He had 12 sacks in his first two years in the league, and started all 16 as a rookie with the Falcons. But by Year 3 he was relegated to a backup role, and he was gone after his fourth year with the team. He ended up playing seven seasons with the Raiders, but he was never a game-changing player.
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Keith McCants (No. 4 overall, Buccaneers, 1990)
A standout at Alabama, McCants was thought to possibly be the No. 1 pick that year, but rumors of a knee injury had him fall to the Buccaneers. He inked a then-record $2.5 million bonus, but proved to be an underachiever. It didn’t help that he was forced to switch positions from outside linebacker to defensive end after his rookie season. He did record 12 sacks in three seasons with the Bucs before being released and signing with Houston. He famously was the man who separated Kevin Gilbride and Buddy Ryan on the Oilers sideline when the two went at it in the 1993 finale.
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Vernon Gholston (No. 6 overall, Jets, 2008)
Gholston was the epitome of a player who ascended at the NFL Scouting Combine and fell flat on his face in the NFL. Teams were impressed with his measurables, his speed, his reps, you name it, but none of it ever translated to the football field. He had 21.5 sacks while at Ohio State, fifth-most in school history. In three seasons with the Jets, he had none. He only started five games, period. He tried to latch on with the Bears, Rams and Redskins, but to no avail.
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Brian Bosworth (No. 1 overall, Seahawks, 1987 supplemental draft)
The Boz! What a terror in college. One of the most high-profile college players in history won the Butkus Award twice at Oklahoma playing for Barry Switzer. He was a consensus All-American twice. But none of the pizzazz and talent translated to the NFL. Bosworth was besieged by bad shoulders, and on top of that, between the rumored steroid use and shenanigans off the field (like not wanting to be drafted by a list of teams), his performance just wasn’t there. He played only three seasons with the Seahawks and moved on to an acting career.