The NFL Draft has become an incredible spectacle for both professional football teams and fans alike, considering the extent of which some of the top picks can alter the course of a franchise. After all, look what John Elway did for the Denver Broncos or Peyton Manning for the Indianapolis Colts. Of course, if things happen to go in the other way — like Ryan Leaf for the San Diego Chargers — it can set a franchise back for a long, long time. So how do teams avoid making this mistake? Easier said than done. As this list will show you: all that glitters is not gold, and there’s no such thing as a “can’t-miss” player when it comes to the NFL Draft. Here are the 15 biggest busts in recent NFL Draft history, and a quick update on where they are today.
David Carr, 2002 NFL Draft
The strong-armed David Carr was the first overall selection for the newly-established Houston Texans franchise. But Carr spent his first few seasons taking a merciless beating from opposing defenses, finishing his career with 65 touchdowns passes and 71 interceptions. There were many whispers that Carr simply absorbed too much punishment early on, leading to his love of the game literally being beaten out of him. Carr currently works as an analyst for the NFL Network, and will be remembered as the guy the Houston Texans took instead of future Hall of Fame defenders like Julius Peppers and/or Ed Reed.
Blaine Gabbert, 2011 NFL Draft
Many people thought Blaine Gabbert had the highest upside of any quarterback in the 2011 NFL Draft, which led the Jacksonville Jaguars to trade up from the #16 overall pick to the #10 overall to select him. After a miserable three-year stint with the Jaguars, Gabbert spent three years in San Francisco, before signing with the Arizona Cardinals this past offseason. He’ll go down in infamy for being taken one spot after perennial Pro Bowl tackle Tyron Smith, and one spot before J.J. Watt, who could be on his way to the Hall of Fame some day. Even the Washington Redskins, whom the Jaguars traded with the for the #10 pick, were able to get a Pro Bowl player (Ryan Kerrigan) with the 16th overall pick (which originally belonged to Jacksonville).
Trent Richardson, 2012 NFL Draft
In what appeared to be a star-studded 2012 NFL Draft, the Cleveland Browns were so enamored with Trent Richardson that they sent Minnesota three draft picks to simply move up from #4 overall to #3 overall, in order to draft Richardson. But after a somewhat promising rookie season, Richardson had a miserable sophomore season in Cleveland, leading the Browns to trade him to Indianapolis. Over the next four years, Richardson bounced around three more NFL teams. His most recent (and perhaps final) comeback attempt was with the Baltimore Ravens in the summer of 2016, but they waived him right at the start of training camp. Richardson will be known as the guy Cleveland took with their top pick ahead of Pro Bowl players like Luke Kuechly and Fletcher Cox (not to mention Russell Wilson, too).
EJ Manuel, 2013 NFL Draft
In fairness to EJ Manuel, when the Buffalo Bills took him with the 16th pick in the 2013 NFL Draft, most analysts considered the pick to be a gross reach. But that pick looks even worse when you juxtapose it with the fact that Tyler Eifert, Desmond Trufant, DeAndre Hopkins, Le’Veon Bell, and Travis Kelce were all taken in the sam draft, after Manuel. Manuel lasted four non-descript years in Buffalo before signing with the Oakland Raiders this past offseason, to back up quarterback Derek Carr.
Johnny Manziel, 2014 NFL Draft
One of biggest questions entering the 2014 NFL Draft was around which team would have the chutzpah to draft the reckless Johnny Manziel. Eventually, the Cleveland Browns (of all teams) decided to take on that risk, which backfired in their face. Manziel made more headlines off the field than on it, for his partying ways and numerous allegations for substance abuse issues. He lasted only two seasons in Cleveland, before they parted ways with him. To date, no team has been ready to try and take on Manziel as a reclamation project. The Browns could’ve easily taken quarterback Derek Carr, one of the best young quarterbacks in the game right now, instead of Manziel. Other notable stars from that same draft? How about Allen Robinson, Jarvis Landry, and Devonta Freeman.
Matt Leinart, 2006 NFL Draft
When Matt Leinart decided to return to school for the 2005 college football season, he shocked the football world. Many people felt the reigning Heisman Trophy winner would’ve been the first overall pick in the 2005 NFL Draft, ahead fellow quarterbacks Alex Smith and Aaron Rodgers. Leinart ended up being taken with the 10th overall pick in the 2006 NFL Draft, selected by the Arizona Cardinals. Leinart struggled to replicate his success in college at the NFL level, due to a mixture of injury issues and the penchant he enjoyed for reveling in his celebrity status gained at the University of Southern California. After an unremarkable six-year career in the NFL came to an end, he later signed a deal with the Pac-12 Network to become a studio analyst.
Ted Ginn Jr, 2007 NFL Draft
Ted Ginn Jr was an absolutely electrifying athlete at Ohio State University, capable of scoring from anywhere on the football field. The problem was, he never really had a true position on the field. Because of his speed, he was converted into a wide receiver, even though he never really showed the hands required for the position. He was selected by the Miami Dolphins with the ninth overall pick, but lasted three forgettable seasons there. Having signed with the New Orleans Saints this past offseason, he’s on his 5th NFL team in 11 years. Dolphins fans probably don’t want to be reminded that Patrick Willis, Marshawn Lynch, and Darrelle Revis were all picked after Ginn in that same draft.
Brady Quinn, 2007 NFL Draft
Considered perhaps the top-rated quarterback in the 2007 NFL Draft, Brady Quinn saw an Aaron Rodgers-like tumble on draft day, falling to the #22 overall pick before being taken by the Cleveland Browns. But that’s about all Quinn and Rogers would end up having in common. He played for five teams in 8 years, throwing 12 touchdown passes (and 17 interceptions) total in his career. In a cruel twist of irony, two of the best players in the NFL in recent years — tight end Greg Olsen and safety Eric Weddle — were taken in after Quinn was selected. Today, Quinn is an analyst for Fox Sports.
Vernon Gholston, 2008 NFL Draft
More than a handful of NFL Draft analysts wondered, aloud, whether Vernon Gholston was more of a “workout warrior” than bonafide stud prospect. That didn’t stop the New York Jets from selecting Gholston with the sixth overall pick in the 2008 NFL Draft. In three seasons for Gang Green, Gholston started just five games, and never recorded a sack. After his NFL career ended two seasons later, he still never recorded a single sack. With his playing days behind him, Gholston opened wellness center for individuals and families experiencing mental and behavioral challenges for adults and adolescents.
Aaron Curry, 2009 NFL Draft
Aaron Curry was one of the hottest names in the days leading up to the 2009 NFL Draft, and looked like one of the true “can’t miss” prospects in the draft. But Curry’s failure in the NFL once again proves how much of an inexact science the NFL Draft really is. Curry was taken 4th overall by the Seattle Seahawks, ahead of future Pro Bowl linebackers like Clay Matthews III, Brian Cushing, and Brian Orakpo. For all of Curry’s physical gifts, it appeared that he could never really master the mental aspects and work ethic required to succeed in the NFL. Perhaps he’s taken those lessons learned, and is trying to teach them to other athletes, as he’s currently the head coach for the 49ers of the University of North Carolina at Charlotte.
Charles Rogers, 2003 NFL Draft
The Detroit Lions made wide receiver Charles Rogers the second overall pick in the 2003 NFL Draft, and few people at the time could disagree with the pick. The Fred Biletnikoff Award-winner and Unanimous All-American was considered by some people to be the best player in college football during the 2002 season. But issues with injuries, and a subsequent addiction to prescription painkillers resulted in his demise; he was out of the league by 2005. He now works at an auto repair shop in Fort Myers, Florida, even though he admitted that he actually doesn’t know much about cars, and likens himself to be more of a “PR guy.”
Robert Gallery, 2004 NFL Draft
Standing 6’7 and 323lbs, offensive tackle Robert Gallery from the University of Iowa was regarded as “the best lineman to come out of college in years.” He was taken 2nd overall in the 2004 NFL Draft by the Oakland Raiders, ahead of future superstars like Larry Fitzgerald, Phillip Rivers, Ben Roethlisberger, and the late Sean Taylor. Gallery mostly struggled when he got to the NFL, saving his career from being a total bust with a somewhat passable performance when he moved to playing guard. Gallery retired in 2012, and now spends his days collecting and restoring classic cars for a high-end custom car builder in the greater San Francisco area.
Troy Williamson, 2005 NFL Draft
The Minnesota Vikings drafted Troy Williamson with the seventh overall pick in the 2005 NFL Draft, and envisioned him being the replacement for the departed Randy Moss (whom they traded that offseason). It didn’t really bother them that Williamson had less than 500 yards receiving in two of the three years he was at the University of South Carolina, even though it should have in retrospect. Williamson struggled mightily with dropped passes during his three seasons in Minnesota, and was out of the NFL two seasons later. He finished his career with 87 total receptions; by comparison, 13 NFL wide receivers had more receptions than that in this past season alone. After his NFL career ended, he’s apparently gotten into the restaurant business, opening a Which Wich in Aiken, South Carolina, with plans for a Smoothie King location as well.
Sam Bradford, 2010 NFL Draft
The fact that Sam Bradford declared for the 2010 NFL Draft having missed the entire season leading up to the draft should’ve been a harbinger of things to come. Bradford hasn’t exactly been a bona fide “bust,” considering he’s the starting quarterback of the Minnesota Vikings heading into the 2017 NFL season. But, it’s really difficult to say he was a great pick at #1 overall in 2010, when NFL superstars like Ndamukong Suh, Gerald McCoy, and Trent Williams were taken among the top five picks, and safety Earl Thomas was taken 14th overall.