Of all the great players to ever suit up for the Trojans of the University of Southern California, few players truly embodied everything that program was about the way Matt Leinart did. The two-time national champion, two-time First-team All-American, and two-time quarterback of the year was the most successful quarterback in school history, and the savvy maestro of one of the most exciting offenses in college football history.
But Leinart, by his own admission, enjoyed his newfound celebrity a bit too much after getting to the NFL. The success he found in Los Angeles didn’t follow him to Arizona, who selected Leinart in the first round of the 2006 NFL Draft. Between a myriad of injuries weaved in with generally poor performances, Leinart was out of the NFL by 2011.
NFL Résumé: 7 years, 4,064 career passing yards, 15 touchdowns, 21 interceptions, 70.2 passer rating
During his four years at the University of Wisconsin, Ron Dayne set the the NCAA Division I-A rushing record for total yards in a career, and became one of the most decorated college football players ever. He won the Heisman Trophy, among a slew of other postseason awards, ahead of nominees like Michael Vick and Drew Brees.
But when he got to the NFL, Dayne’s size (approximately 250 lbs on a 5’10 frame) and lack of commitment to keeping his weight down frustrated New York Giants head coach Jim Fassel, who began to phase Dayne out of the offense. Dayne played a total of seven years in the NFL, and never ran for more than 800 yards or seven touchdowns in a given season.
NFL Résumé: 8 years, 3,722 yards rushing, 3.8 yards per carry, 28 rushing touchdowns
To this day, Archie Griffin remains the only player in the history of college football to win the Heisman Trophy two times during his collegiate career. Griffin ran for over 1,400 yards in three of his four seasons in college, and is the only player in college football history to play in four straight Rose Bowl games.
But at the professional level, Griffin had a very mediocre seven-year stint with the Cincinnati Bengals. He never ran for more than 700 yards or three rushing touchdowns at any point in his career.
NFL Résumé: 7 years, 2,808 yards rushing, 7 rushing touchdowns
There have been many great college football players in recent years, but perhaps none of them have been as famous — for many reasons — as Tim Tebow. The three-time All-American, two-time SEC Player of the Year and two-time BCS national champion won the Heisman Trophy in 2007. However, many NFL scouts believed he would be a very poor fit at quarterback at the professional level, and that Tebow would have to change positions to enjoy a long pro career.
Spurning that idea, Tebow tried his hand at quarterback in the NFL, with very limited success. While he did lead the Denver Broncos to a playoff win in his second season (2011), by 2012, he was out of the league. There was a brief moment where he was signed by the Philadelphia Eagles in 2015 in training camp, but he never made the team’s final roster.
NFL Résumé: 3 seasons, 2,422 career passing yards, 17 touchdowns, 9 interceptions, 75.3 career passer rating
As a redshirt freshman in 2012, Johnny Manziel became the first freshman and fifth player in NCAA history to pass for 3,000 yards and rush for 1,000 yards in a season. “Johnny Football” became a national sensation, culminating with his Heisman Trophy award in 2012. After leaving Texas A&M, and as he slid down into the latter portion of the 2014 NFL Draft, amidst questions of his reckless personal style(s) on and off the field, he sent a text to then Browns quarterback coach Dowell Loggains, pleading his case for the Cleveland Browns to take him, saying “let’s wreck the league.”
Instead, between a total lack of commitment to football, and an alarmingly increased drinking problem, Manziel was out of the NFL by 2015.
NFL Résumé: 2 years, 1,290 passing yards, 5 touchdowns, 7 interceptions, 74.4 passer rating
In the run-and-shoot system employed by the University of Houston Cougars in the early 1990’s, Andre Ware threw for 4,699 yards and 44 touchdowns as a junior, setting 26 NCAA records en route to winning the Heisman Trophy.
But Ware quickly became of one of the “poster children” for NFL teams becoming wary of college quarterbacks playing in this style of offense. Between 1990 and 1999, Ware played for seven different football clubs in the NFL, CFL, and even NFL Europe. He actually won the Grey Cup in 1997 — the Lombardi Trophy of the Canadian Football League — as the quarterback of the Toronto Argonauts.
NFL Résumé: 4 seasons, 1,112 career passing yards, 5 touchdowns, 8 interceptions, 63.5 career passer rating
The Detroit Lions made Michigan State wide receiver, Charles Rogers, the second overall pick in the 2003 NFL Draft. At the time, few people disagreed with the pick. In his two seasons with the Spartans, Rogers broke numerous receiving records and finished with 2,821 yards and 27 touchdowns. As suggested in the Magazine cover above, Rogers was thought to be the best player in college football — regardless of position.
But issues with injuries and a subsequent addiction to painkillers resulted in his demise. In three NFL seasons, Rogers totaled just 36 receptions and was out of the league by 2005. Fast forward 14 years, Rogers was reportedly working at an auto repair shop in Fort Myers, Florida. He tragically passed away in late 2019.
NFL Résumé: 3 years, 36 receptions, 440 yards, 4 touchdowns
During Richardson’s three years at Alabama, he displayed tremendous talent, performing at the highest level (3,860 yards and 42 touchdowns) while facing elite competition (the SEC) at a position that typically translates well from college to the pros (running back). But as we now know, that wasn’t the case with Richardson.
After a somewhat promising rookie season, the Browns shocked the NFL by abruptly trading Richardson to the Colts in Week 3 of the 2013 season. 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. In 2017, desperate to keep his football dreams alive, Richardson had stints with the Saskatchewan Roughriders of the Canadian Football league and the Birmingham Iron of the now-defunct Alliance of American Football.
NFL Résumé: 3 years, 2,032 yards rushing, 3.3 yards per carry, 17 rushing touchdowns
Joey Harrington was an absolute monster in his senior season at the University of Oregon — finishing the season with 34 touchdowns compared to just 6 interceptions. Harrington carved up the Colorado defense to the tune of 350 yards and 4 touchdowns in the Fiesta Bowl. After this stellar performance, the Lions selected Harrington with the #3 pick in the 2002 NFL Draft.
But there were early warning signs that Harrington’s career in Detroit was destined for failure. According to team sources, team president Matt Millen drafted Harrington despite the fact that head coach Steve Mariucci was completely opposed to the pick. In 81 career NFL games, Harrington threw 79 touchdowns and 85 interceptions. Since retiring in 2009, Harrington has served as an analyst for Fox Sports, and occasionally covers games for Oregon, his alma mater.
NFL Résumé: 6 seasons, 14,693 total passing yards, 79 touchdowns, 85 interceptions, 69.4 career passer rating
Ryan Leaf is synonymous with the term bust. After having a successful 1997 season at Washington State – 3,968 yards, 34 touchdowns, and 11 interceptions – Leaf was the second overall selection in the 1998 NFL Draft by San Diego; behind some guy named Peyton Manning.
But Leaf’s rookie season was one of the worst in NFL history. In nine games, he threw just two touchdowns and 15 interceptions. He missed the 1999 season due to a shoulder injury and didn’t look any better in 2000 or 2001 with Dallas. Life after football was not easy for Leaf. He landed a coaching gig at West Texas A&M but was fired when it was discovered that he was asking players for pain pills. Unfortunately, his addiction eventually grew worse. In 2012, Leaf was sentenced to seven years in prison for burglary and drug possession charges. He’s since been released and now works as an ambassador for Transcend Recovery Communities. Leaf has also gotten back into football, being hired as a college football analyst by ESPN in 2019.
NFL Résumé: 3 seasons, 3,666 passing yards, 14 touchdowns, 36 interceptions, 50.0 career passer rating
Linebacker Brian Bosworth drew a lot of attention during his playing days at the University of Oklahoma. Aside from being an excellent player on the field (Bosworth finished fourth in Heisman voting in his senior year), his off-the-field persona was larger than life. He was the first pick in the 1987 NFL Supplemental Draft and offered what was the biggest rookie contract at the time.
But Bosworth only played 24 games in three seasons and totaled just four career sacks. After a few injury-plagued seasons, “The Boz” retired due to a nagging shoulder injury. He moved around as a commentator for a few networks before getting involved in acting. His credits include Stone Cold, The Longest Yard (2005), and a trio of Revelation Road films. Nowadays, he’s often featured in several TV commercials, alongside former college superstar, Bo Jackson.
NFL Résumé: 3 seasons, 4 sacks, 3 fumble recoveries
Ironically, there was a huge contingent of Cleveland Browns fans who argued that the team should’ve taken Peter Warrick, and not Courtney Brown, with the #1 overall pick (what a lose-lose situation). Warrick was one of the most electrifying players in college football history, and would’ve easily won the 1999 Heisman Trophy if not for his arrest for a theft charge after accepting heavily discounted clothing from a local Dillard’s department store. Add in the fact that he ran a slower than expected time in the 40 yard dash (between 4.57 and 4.63) prior to the NFL Draft, and the red flags begin mounting.
He just simply couldn’t replicate in the NFL what he did in college. His career highs in Cincinnati were 79 passes for 819 yards and 7 touchdowns in 2003, but a knee injury in 2004 forced him to miss 12 games, and likely contributed to his early retirement after the 2005 season.
NFL Résumé: 6 seasons, 2,991 career receiving yards, 20 total touchdowns
How can we not include the non-studying, Sizzurp-drinking, belly-expanding quarterback with the golden arm and the aluminum foil work ethic? If you carved a Mount Rushmore of the biggest busts in NFL Draft history, Jamarcus Russell is unquestionably on the short list of people who’d be carved into it. After a stellar collegiate career, many scouts and draft experts thought Russell was one of the most talented draft prospects in recent history. After all, he threw for over 6,600 yards and 52 touchdowns during his three seasons at LSU, earning First-Team All-SEC honors in 2006.
But in 25 games as the starter for the Oakland Raiders, he won only seven of them, completing less than 49% of his passes in 2009, his third (and final) season in the NFL.
NFL Résumé: 3 seasons, 4,083 yards passing, 18 touchdowns, 23 interceptions, career passer rating of 65.2
If you want to make a pie chart of the reasons why David Klingler ended up being one of the biggest busts in NFL history, you could cut the pie right down the middle, attributing half of it to being a product of the run-and-shoot offense at the University of Houston (and struggling to acclimate to the NFL game as a result), and the other half as simply being drafted by one of the most hapless NFL organizations throughout the 1990’s (the Cincinnati Bengals).
Regardless, after winning a grand total of four games in his first 24 starts over three seasons, the Bengals — who had used the 6th overall pick in the 1992 NFL Draft on Klingler — found themselves with the worst record in the NFL after the 1994 season, and the first pick in the ensuing NFL Draft.
NFL Résumé: 6 seasons, 16 touchdowns, 22 interceptions, 3,994 yards passing
NFL scouts used to say that if you could design a defensive end in a laboratory, he would look like Penn State defensive end Courtney Brown. At 6-foot-5 and 275 lbs, Brown ran the 40-yard dash in a mind-blowing 4.52 seconds. That is faster than some running backs and wide receivers. He was part of a dominant Nittany Lions defense and took home Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year honors in 1999, helping him become the first overall pick in the 2000 Draft.
But because of nagging injuries and a lack of a killer instinct, he never lived up to the lofty expectations. Hall of Famer Warren Sapp was once quoted as saying Courtney Brown “Look like Tarzan, play like Jane.” Brown retired after the 2005 season — finishing his career with a total of 19 sacks in six season. Cleveland fans still consider him one of the biggest busts in franchise history, which is saying something.
NFL Résumé: 7 NFL seasons, 19 sacks, 6 forced fumbles