By Thomas Albano
When you go fishing, sometimes you’ll catch the big one, other times you’ll reel in an old boot. The NFL Draft works the same way — except millions of dollars, publicity, players’ careers and a lot more are on the line. No pressure, everyone!
When a player gets drafted, the team’s GM has all the faith in the world the player can play their part and bring the team success, while the player hopes to achieve whatever they can — from re-building a franchise to winning the Super Bowl.
But not everything goes according to plan. With that being said, here are five of the biggest busts in NFL Draft history.
5. Charles Rogers
After a stellar career at Michigan, which saw him earn All-America honors in 2002 and comparisons to Randy Moss, Rogers was drafted second overall in the 2003 NFL Draft by the Detroit Lions. His 2003 and 2004 seasons both came to an end due to clavicle injuries, and he was allowed to return home after the 2004 injury — a move Matt Millen later regretted.
Rogers was suspended in 2005 for violating the NFL’s substance abuse policy for a third time, forcing him to miss four games and eventually have to repay a lot of the money paid to him by the Lions. In all, Rogers played just 15 games in a Detroit uniform before being released. He failed to make any other team he tried out for, and he fell to drug, alcohol and criminal problems years following the end of his playing days.
4. Lawrence Phillips
Despite his playing ability, Phillips was already a big risk for any team, considering he found himself in trouble numerous times while playing at Nebraska. He could have been a top-five pick — maybe even a No. 1 — in terms of talent, but in the end, he was selected sixth overall in the 1996 NFL Draft by the St. Louis Rams. The Rams believed in Phillips so much, they traded his predecessor to the Pittsburgh Steelers — that predecessor was named Jerome Bettis.
Phillips’ off-the-field troubles continued in St. Louis, as he was known to stay out in bars till 4 a.m. When he was told he’d be demoted to second-string, he stormed out of the practice facility. After multiple attempts to help him straighten his ways, Phillips was released. The Miami Dolphins ended up giving him a chance, but they released him after pleading no contest to assaulting a woman.
After a comeback stint in NFL Europe, Phillips was signed to the San Francisco 49ers. But by then, his playing ability had seriously deteriorated. Most notably, Phillips missed a tackle on Cardinals cornerback Aeneas Williams during a Monday Night Football game, and Williams would tackle Hall of Fame QB Steve Young, concuss him and end his legendary career.
After being released by the 49ers in November 1999, and failed AFL and CFL stints, Phillips was indicted on multiple assault charges in later years. And after Phillips was charged with first-degree murder for killing his cellmate — a charge in which the death penalty was being sought for — Phillips was found dead, hanging himself in his jail cell, on Jan. 12, 2016.
3. Tim Couch
There’s a world of expectations on the shoulders of anyone drafted first overall, let alone the first pick by an expansion team. That’s the situation Tim Couch — after a great career at Kentucky, where he earned All-America honors and was named 1998 SEC Player of the Year — found himself in. Couch was drafted No. 1 overall in the 1999 NFL Draft by the current iteration of the Cleveland Browns.
Couch could not achieve the same success he had in college. While he threw for just over 11,000 yards in his five seasons in Cleveland, he had a 64-67 TD-INT ratio and was plagued with injuries. To his credit, however, he helped Cleveland achieve a playoff spot in 2002.
After five seasons of injuries and inconsistent play, Couch was released by the organization. After a couple of failed comeback attempts, Couch was out of football, and the Browns have had a QB problem since.
2. JaMarcus Russell
Russell was selected first overall in the 2007 NFL Draft by the Oakland Raiders. But he failed to reach an initial agreement with the team, holding out in training camp until signing a six-year deal worth $68 million (with $31.5 million guaranteed). But Russell did not step onto a field until December, coming in relief of Josh McCown.
Russell was inconsistent as a starter, obtaining a 7-18 record from 2007-2009, an 18-23 TD-INT ratio and just over 4,000 passing yards with a 65.2 passer rating. Meanwhile, the No. 2 pick in the 2007 draft, Calvin Johnson, went on to great success.
Russell was released in May 2010.
1. Ryan Leaf
After Peyton Manning was picked first overall in the 1998 NFL Draft by the Indianapolis Colts, Ryan Leaf seemed like a nice consolation prize for the San Diego Chargers. But Leaf’s playing career was a miserable one, throwing just two touchdowns in his rookie year while being picked off 15 times and owning a 45.3 pass completion percentage.
After missing the 1999 season due to injury, Leaf’s 2000 season was an improvement, but not by much. After being released and failing a physical with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Leaf played four games with the Dallas Cowboys in 2001 before being released. Leaf seemed on his way to playing with the Seattle Seahawks before abruptly retiring.
Leaf’s career was also plagued by behavioral problems. Leaf skipped his interview with the Colts and skipped the final day of a mandatory symposium for rookies. Leaf was known to put blame on teammates for failures and many called his work ethic into question.
Since 2010, Leaf has been in and out of trouble with drugs.