Top NFL draft busts of all time — where are they now?
The road from top NFL draft pick to super-stardom is lined with the guys that didn’t make it.
The 2019 NFL draft will be the 53rd in league history, and there have been numerous first-round picks who have gone from can’t-miss studs to can’t-find flameouts. In some cases, it’s only taken a few short seasons to find that a guy with unlimited potential can only turn it into half-decent performance.
For every late-round surprise, there’s been a first-round flop. Here are some of the biggest NFL draft busts in history — and what’s become of them since:
Trent Richardson, RB, Browns No. 3/2012
Richardson was viewed as a stable, durable three-down back coming from Nick Saban’s Alabama squad. He showed promise during his rookie season, but was traded to Indianapolis in 2013 and never really found his footing thereafter, bouncing through Oakland and Baltimore. He showed flashes of brilliance in a CFL stint, though legal problems prevented him from sticking in the league long-term.
In 2019, he joined the fledgling AAF, playing a key role for the Birmingham Iron, though the league’s early demise cut off the 29-year-old’s momentum toward an NFL comeback.
Career NFL stats: 46 GP, 2032 rushing yards, 17 touchdowns
Vince Young, QB, Titans No. 3/2006
Young was an electric presence at the University of Texas, sparring with soon-to-be fellow NFL flame-out Matt Leinart. His performance in the 2006 Rose Bowl earned him plenty of pre-draft hype, even with concerns about his unorthodox throwing style and a low score on the Wonderlic test. Instead of being the unique combination of passing and running the Titans hoped for, Young never quite live up to his high ceiling, dealing with injuries and sparring with coach Jeff Fisher.
By 2014, Young was out of pro football, gaining some notoriety for having gone bankrupt, despite a four-year, $25 million contract. In March, he was fired as a development officer at Texas for poor job performance.
Career NFL stats: 60 GP, 50 GS, 8964 passing yards, 57.9 comp%, 46 TD, 51 INT
JaMarcus Russell, QB, Raiders, No. 1/2007
The unwitting poster boy for modern day NFL draft busts, Russell was a can’t-miss stud coming out of LSU, a combination of arm strength and size. The Raiders gave him a six-year contract worth up the $68 million, with $31.5 million guaranteed. His work ethic, fitness and inconsistency doomed him career, which lasted just 31 career games and ended after three seasons in 2009.
In 2016, he reportedly wrote letters to all 32 NFL teams offering to play a season for free, but found no takers.
Career NFL stats: 31 GP, 25 GS, 4043 passing yards, 52.1 comp%, 18 TD, 23 INT
Tony Mandarich, OT, Packers No. 2/1989
Mandarich was the “best offensive line prospect ever” coming out of Michigan State: he stood at 6-foot-6, weighed 330 pounds, clocked a 4.65 40-yard dash, a 30-inch vertical and wowed at the Scouting Combine with an eye-popping 39 bench press reps at 225 pounds. His attitude and poor performance, however, saw him last three seasons with the Packers. He spent two years in a rehabilitation facility for drugs and alcohol and attempted a short-lived comeback with the Colts before retiring in the 1998.
It was years later that Mandarich admitted to steroid use during his playing days. The Packers passed on Barry Sanders, Derrick Thomas, Deion Sanders and other long-time NFLers to draft him. Now 52, he’s 24 years sober and operates a photography studio/media company out of Phoenix.
Career NFL stats: 86 GP, 2 fumbles recovered
Charles Rogers, WR, Lions No. 2/2003
Rogers broke numerous Michigan State and NCAA records before capitalizing on a junior-year catch in which he leaped two Notre Dame defenders to score a sensational touchdown in 2002. Broken clavicles in each of his first two seasons sent him down a path to drug addiction that ultimately ended his NFL career after three seasons, despite the highly touted package of hands, speed and size that garnered him all the attention.
As of 2017, the former pass-catcher was working at an auto repair shop in Fort Myers, Florida.
Career NFL stats: 15 GP, 36 receptions, 440 yards receiving, 4 TDs
Ryan Leaf, QB, Chargers No. 2/1998
Perhaps best known for being the biggest bust in NFL history, Ryan Leaf had a successful three-year career at Washington State before declaring for the draft. He and Tennessee product Peyton Manning were hotly debated as the top-two picks, with Leaf ultimately going to San Diego second. His time with the Chargers got off to a poor start — a $10,000 fine for missing a rookie symposium — and went downhill from there. His poor play, worse attitude and injuries saw him abruptly retire at 26, after two putrid seasons in San Diego, a failed comeback with the Cowboys and a last-ditch effort with the Seahawks.
Leaf’s legal troubles began a few years later in 2009, with an indictment on burglary and controlled-substance charges, an ordeal that ended with him getting 10 years of probation in addition to a $20,000 fine. In a five-day span in 2012, he was arrested twice for burglary, theft and drug charges which ultimately landed him in jail. He was released in 2014.
Since his playing days ended, Leaf has been a college football coach, business development manager, broadcaster and, as of 2018, an ambassador for a sober community.
Career NFL stats: 25 GP, 21 GS, 3666 passing yards, 48.4 comp%, 14 TD, 36 INT
Vernon Gholston, DE, Jets No. 6/2008
Gholston was expected to be the perfect fit for the Jets’ defense, bringing speed, strength and “long limbs” to the outside pass rush. Instead, he was unable to pile up the stats many predicted, falling out of favor in New York after three seasons and a grand total of zero sacks in three NFL seasons, with few other stats worth mentioning.
In 2015, he mysteriously tweeted about a tryout with the Washington Redskins, though what came of it is less of a mystery. Two years later, he opened a wellness center in New Jersey, attempting to work with individuals experiencing mental and behavioral challenges.
Career NFL stats: 45 GP, 34 tackles, 1 QB hit
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