One of the great things about NFL draft busts is that they happen at every position. There is no position that is immune. While we tend to focus on the quarterbacks who flopped, there are plenty of high draft picks on the defensive side of the ball who did the same. For instance, plenty of defensive linemen with high hopes and expectations failed to fulfill their promise. After all, playing in the NFL trenches is by no means easy. While these players might have a good reason for their failures, let’s check out some of the biggest defensive lineman busts in NFL history.
Steve Emtman, 1st Overall, 1992
Emtman won all of the major college awards for defensive players in 1991 while at Washington and ended up in the College Football Hall of Fame.
However, injuries prevented him from ever living up to being the top pick in the 1992 NFL Draft. The three sacks he had with the Colts as a rookie would end up being the highest total of his career. He fought through injuries for six seasons, collecting just eight sacks in his NFL career.
Andre Wadsworth, 3rd Overall, 1998
Wadsworth began his NFL career by holding out for more money on his rookie contract but only delivering five sacks during his rookie season. In his defense, he was right to try and get as much money as he could upfront. Wadsworth’s career was plagued by knee injuries.
After his third pro season, he had just eight career sacks and underwent his third major knee surgery. He couldn’t play in the NFL again, although the Jets gave him a training camp invitation seven years later. However, Wadsworth didn’t make the cut and finished his career with eight sacks in three years.
Johnathan Sullivan, 6th Overall, 2003
At the time the Saints made him a top-10 pick, Sullivan seemed like a safe bet. However, he contributed just 77 tackles and 1.5 sacks during his three seasons in New Orleans. After three years with the Saints, he was traded to New England.
But Sullivan barely lasted a month into his fourth pro season before the Patriots released him and he was never heard from again.
Jamal Reynolds, 10th Overall, 2001
The Packers traded up to get Reynolds with the 10th overall pick after he had been an All-American in college. But he was hit by the injury bug early and never fully recovered. He lasted three years in Green Bay, totaling just three sacks.
When the Packers tried to trade him to the Colts, Reynolds failed his physical. That prompted Green Bay to release him, and despite getting a chance with Cleveland, Reynolds failed to make the roster and his NFL career was over after three seasons.
Vernon Gholston, 6th Overall, 2008
Gholston will be tough for anyone to beat as the biggest bust in NFL history among defensive linemen. He was a dominant force in college, tallying 14 sacks during his last season at Ohio State. However, the Jets tried to move him to outside linebacker in a 3-4 scheme, which didn’t work. He eventually moved back to defensive end, but that move didn’t work either.
Gholston recorded zero sacks in his three seasons with the Jets before being released. He then failed to make an NFL roster during the next two seasons before walking away as one of the biggest busts in NFL history.