You’ll often hear the adage that the NFL Draft is more of an art than a science. After all, you have to combine a bunch of empirical data (like a player’s height, weight, speed, and strength) with a lot of totally subjective observations (game film, playing style, college scheme), and then use all of that to determine how that player will fare several years from now.
That’s why guys like offensive tackle Eric Fisher somehow end up being taken as the #1 overall pick in the NFL Draft, and guys like Tom Brady end up being selected with the 199th pick in the NFL Draft.
So we decided that we’d go back and look through each NFL Draft since 2000, and determine the worst selection in each of those years — the guys that NFL teams went all in on, and totally missed on that pick.
As a special bonus, we’ve included a section with a few “Honorable Mentions.” Without further delay, here are The Worst NFL Draft Picks Every Year Since 2000.
2000: Courtney Brown, DE, Cleveland Browns
In a draft loaded with Hall of Fame caliber talent, Courtney Brown was considered the top prospect. If you could design a defensive end in a laboratory, he would look like 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!
But nagging injuries (he missed over 1/3rd of the games in his six year NFL career) 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.
Looking back at it now, if you’re grading the 2000 NFL Draft, Brown was obviously the worst pick. And the best pick of the draft is just as obvious… With the 199th pick in the sixth round, the New England Patriots selected Tom Brady from the University of Michigan. The rest is history…
2001: Jamal Reynolds, DE, Green Bay Packers
Reynolds was a highly decorated defensive end for coach Bobby Bowden at Florida State. At 6-foot-3 and 265 pounds of chiseled stone, Reynolds looked the part of an NFL wrecking machine. But things went downhill from the moment Green Bay selected Reynolds with the tenth overall pick in the 2001 draft.
Due to multiple knee injuries, Reynolds never started a game in the NFL, playing in just 18 of a possible 48 games from 2001 through 2003. Reynolds accumulated a grand total of three sacks and two forced fumbles in three NFL seasons. If they passed on Reynolds, the Packers could have taken Reggie Wayne, Drew Brees or Steve Smith.
2002: Joey Harrington, QB, Detroit Lions
It’s fair to question whether Joey Harrington was worthy of the #3 overall pick, but you can’t question just how horrendous his situation was in Detroit. Harrington was surrounded by a rotating cast of subpar running backs, lousy wide receivers, and a mediocre offensive line that gave him little protection. On top of that, his own head coach actively tried to replace him. Head coach Steve Mariucci preferred a veteran quarterback, and criticized Harrington for each and every mistake.
According to team sources, it got so bad that Harrington was petrified to throw anything besides a check down pass. Mariucci openly feuded with team president Matt Millen over Harrington’s status as the starter; because Mariucci wanted to replace Harrington with Jeff Garcia (Mariucci’s quarterback during his coaching days with the 49ers).
After a disappointing four-year career in Detroit, Harrington was out of the NFL just two seasons later. In 81 career NFL games, Harrington threw just 79 touchdowns and 85 interceptions. Harrington will be remembered as the guy the Lions took instead of future Hall of Famers like Dwight Freeney, Julius Peppers, or Ed Reed.
2003: Charles Rogers, WR, Detroit Lions
Want proof that Joey Harrington had virtually nobody to throw the football to? One of the “studs” the Lions selected to catch passes from Harrington turned out to be one of the worst draft picks in NFL history.
The Detroit Lions made wide receiver Charles Rogers the second overall pick in the 2003 NFL Draft. But issues with injuries, and a subsequent addiction to prescription painkillers resulted in his demise; he was out of the league by 2005.
Rogers finished his NFL career (3 seasons) with 36 catches for 440 yards. To make matters worse, the player selected one pick after Rogers, was Andre Johnson. Johnson finished his career with 1,062 catches and 14,185 yards. And if they decided to draft for the defensive side of the ball, they could have landed Terrell Suggs (#10) or Troy Polamalu (#16).
2004: Robert Gallery, LT, Oakland Raiders
There are a handful of teams who show up more than others on this list. As you might have guessed, the Oakland Raiders are one of them. Offensive lineman Robert Gallery is evidence that there is no such thing as a “can’t-miss-prospect.” Coming out of Iowa, every general manager and draft analyst labeled Gallery as the best prospect to come along in a decade. Boy were they wrong…
Gallery was selected with the #2 overall pick in the 2004 draft (after Eli Manning) and he quickly became one of the worst left tackles in the NFL. He was so bad, the Raiders were forced to move him to guard, where he was at least half decent.
In every season of his 8-year NFL career, Gallery was a league leader in terms of sacks given up. But here’s where it REALLY gets ugly for the Raiders. The players selected shortly after Gallery; Larry Fitzgerald, Philip Rivers, Ben Roethlisberger. Because they’re the Raiders, the whole Gallery fiasco somehow doesn’t even crack the Top 3 of their all-time worst draft selections.
2005: Troy Williamson, WR, Minnesota Vikings
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.
When Minnesota drafted Williamson, there was a young quarterback from the University of Cal who was still on the board. His name was Aaron Rodgers – ever heard of him? The Vikings ended up with a receiver who 99% of NFL fans already don’t remember, and the Green Bay Packers ended up with one of the best quarterbacks in NFL history.
2006: Matt Leinart, QB, Arizona Cardinals
If social media and smartphones were as common in 2006 as they are today, Matt Leinart might have been the original Johnny Manziel. During his college days at USC, Leinart was arguably a bigger national celebrity than most NFL quarterbacks!
Leinart enjoyed the Los Angeles party scene, and was infamously photographed at a Las Vegas nightclub hooking up with Paris Hilton. Although his skills as a quarterback didn’t translate from college to the pro’s, according to sources, Leinart never lost his touch when it came to partying like a rock star.
In his six NFL seasons, Leinart only started 18 games, and in those games he put together miserable totals of 15 touchdowns and 21 interceptions. Instead of Leinart, the Cardinals could have taken Haloti Ngata, Maurice Jones-Drew, or one of a handful of offensive lineman who made multiple Pro Bowl appearances.
2007: JaMarcus Russell, QB, Oakland Raiders
Possibly the biggest draft bust in NFL history, former quarterback JaMarcus Russell was a train wreck from the moment he walked across the stage at the NFL draft. As the 1st-overall pick in the 2007 draft, the Raiders rewarded Russell with a $61 million contract.
As soon as Russell got his first taste of NFL money, he let himself go, gaining more than 30 pounds in the offseason. Rather than accepting blame for his poor play, Russell claimed “the game wasn’t fun for me” and even went as far as blaming teammates saying “I’m not the one who gave up 42 points on defense.”
Russell played in 25 games for the Raiders, throwing 18 touchdowns and 23 interceptions. After just three seasons, he was out of the NFL at the age of 24.
2008: Vernon Gholston, DE, New York Jets
More than a handful of NFL Draft analysts wondered, aloud, whether Vernon Gholston was more of a “workout warrior” then bonafide stud prospect. That didn’t stop the New York Jets from selecting Gholston with the sixth overall pick in the 2008 NFL Draft.The Jets drafted Gholston to be a pass rushing force, but in three seasons in the NFL, he didn’t record a single sack.
Look at those arms! It’s shocking that a player with that type of gladiator like physique (and no major injuries) could amount to so little in the NFL. Plain and simple, Vernon Gholston was a much better athlete than an actual football player. His impressive pre-draft workouts helped him earn a top 10 selection, but he could never translate his physical gifts into sacks or tackles. Gholston lacked the desire to truly be great, often loafing around on the field and not putting forward his best effort.
2009: Aaron Curry, LB, Seattle Seahawks
The biggest bust from the 2009 NFL Draft class is probably the hardest decision we had to make as we were compiling this list. In addition to the Seahawks selecting Aaron Curry with the #4 pick, the Raiders infamously reached for receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey with the #7 pick, and the Buffalo Bills ended up with Penn State defensive end Aaron Maybin at #11. Leading up to the draft, Curry was labeled as the can’t-miss prospect out of Wake Forest— the best player to ever come out of that program.
Though, after four disappointing years, he retired before the start of the 2013 season, and he officially became a draft bust. Here’s a fun fact… Since 2000, only three linebackers have been taken in the first four picks of a draft: LaVar Arrington, Aaron Curry, and Von Miller.
The Seahawks passed up on linebacker Clay Matthews, All-Pro center Alex Mack, and electrifying running back LeSean McCoy.
2010: C.J. Spiller, RB, Buffalo Bills
With #9 pick in the first round, the Buffalo Bills selected Clemson running back C.J. Spiller. In college, Spiller was a human highlight reel, and a human Swiss-Army knife on the football field. He did it all, and he did it well. In his senior year, Spiller rushed for over 1,200 yards, had more than 500 yards receiving, and scored 5 touchdowns on kickoff and punt returns. But up against better competition, Spiller never found that magic in the NFL.
His lack of size (5-foot-11 and 200 pounds) limited him to 38 starts, throughout his injury plagued career. In the past three seasons Spiller has played for four different teams, and has been cut and resigned by the Chiefs three times in 2017.
By taking Spiller at the top of the draft, Buffalo passed on a boatload of talented players; safety Earl Thomas, defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul, tight end Rob Gronkowski, and receivers Demaryius Thomas and Dez Bryant.
2011: Blaine Gabbert, QB, Jacksonville Jaguars
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, one year in Arizona and is currently serving as Marcus Mariota’s backup in Tennessee.
He’ll go down in infamy for being taken one spot before J.J. Watt, who seems destined to earn a spot in the Hall of Fame someday.
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). Some other players taken after Gabbert in the draft; Mark Ingram, Justin Houston, DeMarco Murray. Did we forget to say J.J. Watt?
2012: Trent Richardson, RB, Cleveland Browns
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, Fletcher Cox, and Russell Wilson. The last time Richardson was in the news, he was the starting running back for the Saskatchewan Roughriders of the Canadian Football League.
2013: EJ Manuel, QB, Buffalo Bills
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 DeAndre Hopkins, Le’Veon Bell, and Travis Kelce were all taken in the same draft, after Manuel.
In his 28 games as the Bills starting quarterback, he threw for just 19 touchdowns compared to 15 interceptions. Manuel lasted four non-descript years in Buffalo before signing with the Oakland Raiders for the 2017 season. As of this writing, Manuel is a free agent, and there are no indications of that changing any time soon.
Manuel is one of many Florida State quarterbacks to produce very little at the pro level. Others on that list; Christian Ponder (2011), Chris Weinke (2001), and Danny Kanell (1996). The jury is still out on Jameis Winston.
2014: Johnny Manziel, QB, Cleveland Browns
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 never became a full-time starter for Cleveland and he went from “Johnny Football” to “Johnny Clipboard” — and then finally “Johnny Unemployed.” 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.
2015: Kevin White, WR, Chicago Bears
Coming out of West Virginia, Kevin White checked all the boxes for a star wide receiver. Does he have the size? White is 6-foot-3 and 220 pounds of solid muscle. Does he have the speed? In pre-draft workouts White ran a blazing 4.35 seconds in the 40-yard dash, easily one of the fastest times at the combine that year. With measurables like that, there was no way a talent like White would fall out of the top 10.
But fast forward four years, and White has played in only 5 games due to multiple season ending injuries.
It’s hard to label Kevin White a bust, because we’ve barely had the chance to see him play. But as the old saying goes, the best ability is availability. Players drafted after White; Todd Gurley, Melvin Gordon, Marcus Peters and Landon Collins.
2016: Paxton Lynch, Quarterback, Denver Broncos
The NFL has way too much of a tendency to fall in love with the “measurables” — height, wingspan, 40-yard dash time, bench press repetitions, and things like that. So when Paxton Lynch entered the 2016 NFL Draft standing 6’7, weighing 245 lbs, and showing off elite arm strength, people thought Lynch — who played in a spread offense in college — could be a taller Marcus Mariota.
In the process, they overlooked all the important parts of playing quarterback, which Lynch totally lacked: reading defenses, throwing accurately while throwing on the move, and being able to anticipate passing windows (throwing to where a receiver will be instead of where they currently are).
The Broncos waived Lynch prior to the start of the 2018 season.
2017: John Ross, WR, Bengals
With the 9th overall pick, the Cincinnati Bengals drafted receiver John Ross, hoping to form one of the NFL’s top pass catching duos alongside All-Pro A.J. Green. In his final year at Washington, Ross played 13 games and hauled in 76 receptions for 1,122 yard and 17 touchdowns.
But things haven’t gone according to play for Ross and the Bengals. In his rookie season, Ross logged one touch, a 12-yard rush which ended with him fumbling the ball. He was placed on injured reserve on December 4, 2017 with a shoulder injury, ending his rookie season.
To make matters worse… After the Bengals drafted Ross with the 9th pick, here are the next three players off the board (sit down before you read this) … Patrick Mahomes (#10), Marshon Lattimore (#11) and DeShaun Watson (#12). All three players are on their way to becoming elite players at their respective positions.
2018: Josh Rosen, QB, Cardinals
We tend to overlook just how much bad circumstances can set even the most talented rookies up for failure. In 2018, Josh Rosen was drafted by a team who strongly preferred another quarterback in his draft class (the Arizona Cardinals were desperately hoping to land Josh Allen), and put him in a situation with a head coach who was hilariously in over his head (Steve Wilks) and an offensive coordinator who developed a reputation of not having evolved his offense in over a decade (Mike McCoy).
And to make matters worse, after deposing of both of those individuals, the Cardinals went out and hired a new head coach who made no secret about wanting to bring in “his guy” (Kyler Murray), to effectively replace Rosen.
2019: Daniel Jones, QB, Giants
Make no mistake: there wasn’t a single team in the NFL who would’ve drafted Daniel Jones with a top 15 pick in the 2019 NFL Draft, which makes New York Giants’ General Manager David Gettleman’s public posturing that much more ridiculous.
It’s well understood around the NFL that Gettleman was infatuated with Jones because of the fact that he “looked” like an NFL quarterback, and he was coached by Duke University head coach David Cutcliffe, who famously coached Peyton and Eli Manning when those two were in college. So, the Giants badly reached when drafting Jones with the 6th overall pick in the 2019 NFL Draft, and have put him in a situation where he’ll face enormous pressure from a fan base and media ready to pounce on every mistake he makes.
Honorable Mention: David Carr (2002)
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 like Julius Peppers and/or Ed Reed.
Honorable Mention: Ted Ginn Jr (2007)
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.
Ginn signed with the New Orleans Saints in the 2017 offseason, his 5th NFL team since entering the league. 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. Ginn has put together a more productive career than most of the other players on this list, but he earned a spot as an honorable mention when you consider what the Dolphins could’ve had instead.