The 26 biggest NFL Draft busts of the last 15 years

  • We collected the 27 biggest draft busts in recent NFL draft history. 
  • The group includes 10 quarterbacks and four players drafted by the New York Jets.
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For every Patrick Mahomes or Khalil Mack in the NFL Draft, there is another former top prospect who didn’t pan out.

Whether they failed because of injuries, off-field issues, or just poor play, all of these players provide fascinating case studies of the NFL’s demanding environment and the fleeting nature of athletic success.

Here are 26 of the most notorious draft busts from recent NFL history. The group includes 10 quarterbacks, eight players taken among the first five picks, 24 players who never made a Pro Bowl, and four players drafted by the New York Jets.

Sam Belden contributed to this post.

School: Florida State

Selected: 2nd round (59th overall), 2016 draft, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Played for: Bucs

Pro Bowls: 0

Seasons as primary starter: 1

One thing to know: The Bucs traded up to select Aguayo in the second round after he set an NCAA record for accuracy in college. He was waived before his second season after missing nine field goals and two extra-point attempts his rookie year.

25. Christian Hackenberg, QB

School: Penn State

Selected: 2nd round (51st overall), 2016 draft, New York Jets 

Played for: Never appeared in a regular season game

Pro Bowls: 0

Seasons as primary starter: 0

One thing to know: Hackenberg spent time on the roster of four NFL teams in three years and most recently struggled in his time as a starter in the now-defunct AAF.

24. Rashaad Penny, RB

School: San Diego State 

Selected: 1st round (27th overall), 2018 draft, Seattle Seahawks

Played for: Seattle Seahawks

Pro Bowls: 0

Seasons as primary starter: 0

One thing to know: Penny is heading into the final year of his rookie contract with less than 1,000 career rushing yards and no career starts. Penny has only appeared in 27 games, including just three last year after spending the first 14 weeks on the physically unable to perform list. 

23. Phillip Dorsett, WR

School: Miami

Selected: 1st round (29th overall), 2015 draft, Indianapolis Colts

Played for: Indianapolis Colts, New England Patriots

Pro Bowls: 0

Seasons as primary starter: 0

One thing to know: Dorsett still has time to turn things around, but at 26 years old, his leash is starting to tighten. He caught just 12 passes in 2017 after being traded to the Patriots. After not playing in 2020, he is now on the Jaguars’ roster.

22. Paxton Lynch, QB

School: Memphis

Selected: 1st round (26th overall), 2016 draft, Denver Broncos

Played for: Broncos

Pro Bowls: 0

Seasons as primary starter: 0

One thing to know: Lynch was drafted in the hopes of being the heir to Peyton Manning, but in two seasons he started just four games. He was cut prior to the 2018 season and sat out the entire season. He has since spent time with the Seahawks and Steelers but is again a free agent.

21. Johnny Manziel, QB

School: Texas A&M

Selected: 1st round (22nd overall), 2014 draft, Cleveland Browns

Played for: Cleveland Browns

Pro Bowls: 0

Seasons as primary starter: 0

One thing to know: Cleveland took Manziel after the 2012 Heisman winner sent a text instructing Browns quarterbacks coach Dowell Loggains to hurry up and draft me because I want to be there.” In less than two years, he had checked himself into rehab, was accused of assaulting his girlfriend, and was ultimately released after two seasons and just 258 passes as a professional. He tried a comeback with stints in the CFL and the AAF, but now says he is hoping to become a pro golfer.

20. Taco Charlton, DE

School: Michigan

Selected: 1st round (28th overall), 2017 draft, Dallas Cowboys

Played for: Dallas Cowboys, Miami Dolphins, Kansas City Chiefs

Pro Bowls: 0

Seasons as primary starter: 0

One thing to know: After Charlton was released by the Cowboys in the first month of the 2019 season, he posted a tweet that read “Free Me.” One anonymous individual within the Cowboys organization even called Charlton “soft” after his release, according to NBC Dallas.

19. Amobi Okoye, DT

School: Louisville

Selected: 1st round (10th overall), 2007 draft, Houston Texans

Played for: Houston Texans, Chicago Bears

Pro Bowls: 0

Seasons as primary starter: 4

One thing to know: Okoye knew almost nothing about football when he took up the game as a high school sophomore, but just a few short years later, he heard his name called as the youngest first-round pick in NFL history. Unfortunately, his raw talent never translated into consistent success in the pros, and he was released by the Texans after the 2010 season. He survived a scary bout with anti-NMDA receptor encephalitis in 2013, making several comeback attempts but never appearing in another game.

18. Matt Leinart, QB

School: USC

Selected: 1st round (10th overall), 2006 draft, Arizona Cardinals

Played for: Arizona Cardinals, Houston Texans, Oakland Raiders

Pro Bowls: 0

Seasons as primary starter: 1

One thing to know: Leinart was set to be a top pick in the 2005 draft, but he chose to return to USC for his senior season and saw his stock plummet. He never developed into the franchise signal caller the Cardinals dreamed of and spent four seasons as a backup. He later spent time with the Texans and Raiders but only started one game.

17. Dee Milliner, CB

School: Alabama

Selected: 1st round (9th overall), 2013 draft, New York Jets

Played for: New York Jets

Pro Bowls: 0

Seasons as primary starter: 1

One thing to know: Milliner underwent right shoulder surgery the month before he was drafted. In the years to come, the Alabama native suffered several injuries, appearing in just five games after his rookie season. He was released after his third season and never appeared in another NFL game.

16. DeAndre Baker, CB

School: Georgia

Selected: 1st round (30th overall), 2019 draft, New York Giants

Played for: New York Giants, Kansas City Chiefs

Pro Bowls: 0

Seasons as primary starter: 1

One thing to know: Baker was accused of armed robbery and aggravated assault last summer by friends at a party in Miramar, Florida. He was placed on the commissioner’s exempt list to start training camp and was released by The Giants just prior to the start of the season. The charges were eventually dropped and Baker earned a second chance with The Chiefs, but only played in two games as a backup.

15. Justin Gilbert, CB

School: Oklahoma State

Selected: 1st round (8th overall), 2014 draft, Cleveland Browns

Played for: Cleveland Browns, Pittsburgh Steelers

Pro Bowls: 0

Seasons as primary starter: 0

One thing to know: Gilbert started just three games across two seasons before the Browns traded him to Pittsburgh for a sixth-round pick. The change of scenery didn’t do much. He was suspended for the entire 2017 season for violating the league’s substance abuse policy and hasn’t played in the NFL since.

14. Jake Locker, QB

School:  Washington

Selected: 1st round (8th overall), 2011 draft, Tennessee Titans

Played for: Tennessee Titans

Pro Bowls: 0

Seasons as primary starter: 1

One thing to know: Some originally projected Locker as the top pick in the 2010 draft before opting to return to Washington. A poor senior season didn’t hurt his stock too much as he was still taken eighth overall. He started 23 games in four seasons but was eventually replaced by a rookie, Zach Mettenberger. Locker retired after the 2014 season, citing a lack of desire to keep playing.

13. Derrick Harvey, DE

School: Florida

Selected: 1st round (8th overall), 2008 draft, Jacksonville Jaguars

Played for: Jacksonville Jaguars, Denver Broncos

Pro Bowls: 0

Seasons as primary starter: 2

One thing to know: Harvey entered the 2008 draft as one of the most fearsome pass rushers available, but he never found his footing in the NFL. He was riding the pine by the end of his third season in Jacksonville, finishing his career with 8 sacks in 52 games.

12. Kevin White, WR

School: West Virginia

Selected: First round (7th overall), 2015 draft, Chicago Bears 

Played for: Bears

Pro Bowls: 0

Seasons as primary starter: 0

One thing to know: In five seasons, White is yet to catch a TD in the NFL thanks to series of injuries that have limited him to 17 games and five starts. The Bears let White become a free agent after the 2018 season and he signed with the Arizona Cardinals. He spent the 2020 season with the 49ers.

11. Vernon Gholston, DE

School: Ohio State

Selected: 1st round (6th overall), 2008 draft, New York Jets

Played for: New York Jets

Pro Bowls: 0

Seasons as primary starter: 0

One thing to know: As a prospect, Gholston looked like he had the right combination of size and speed to succeed in the NFL for years to come. He also earned the highest bench press score at the draft combine, teasing Jets fans who wanted an uncompromising defender to make life difficult for division foes like Tom Brady. Unfortunately, Gholston struggled throughout his tenure in New York, starting just five games and going without a sack in three years. He was cut by the Jets after three seasons and never played in another NFL game.

10. Mark Sanchez, QB

School: USC

Selected: 1st round (5th overall), 2009 draft, New York Jets

Played for: New York Jets, Philadelphia Eagles, Dallas Cowboys

Pro Bowls: 0

Seasons as primary starter: 5

One thing to know: Sanchez went to back-to-back Conference Championship appearances in his first two seasons, but he never materialized into a franchise QB. The California native threw 69 interceptions in just four years in New York and was released following the 2012 season. He became a serviceable backup after that, seeing playing time with the Eagles, Cowboys, and Washington. He finished his career with 87 TDs and 89 interceptions in 79 career games. 

9. Justin Blackmon, WR

School: Oklahoma State

Selected: 1st round (5th overall), 2012 draft, Jacksonville Jaguars

Played for: Jacksonville Jaguars

Pro Bowls: 0

Seasons as primary starter: 1

One thing to know: Blackmon is a stark example of how drug and alcohol use can derail a promising career. Things started out well enough, but after leading all rookies with 865 receiving yards in 2012, Blackmon was hit with two suspensions during the 2013 season and hasn’t played in the NFL since.

8. Dwayne Haskins, QB

School: Ohio State

Selected: 1st round (15th overall), 2019 draft, Washington Football Team

Played for: Washington Football Team, Pittsburgh Steelers

Pro Bowls: 0

Seasons as primary starter: 0

One thing to know: Haskins was named the starting quarterback and offensive captain by Washington head coach Ron Rivera heading into the 2020 season, but by the end of the year he’d been demoted to fourth-string quarterback and stripped of his captain title. Rivera even said that benching Haskins ‘helped other players’ according to The Washington Post.

7. Josh Rosen, QB

School: UCLA

Selected: 1st round (10th overall), 2018 draft, Arizona Cardinals

Played for: Arizona Cardinals, Miami Dolphins, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, San Francisco 49ers

Pro Bowls: 0

Seasons as primary starter: 1

One thing to know: After the Cardinals traded up to select Rosen 10th overall in 2018, Rosen’s post-draft press conference didn’t ring of gratitude, but rather smelled of discontent. 

“I thought I should have been picked at 1, 2 or 3. I dropped, and I was pissed. I was really, really angry,” Rosen said. “There were nine mistakes made ahead of me. And I will make sure over the next decade or so that they will know they made a mistake.”

Rosen’s play (or lack thereof) over his first three seasons have only legitimized the decisions of every team who passed on him, and the Cardinals appeared to have made the biggest mistake by trading up to select him. 

6. Trent Richardson, RB

School: Alabama

Selected: 1st round (3rd overall), 2012 draft, Cleveland Browns

Played for: Cleveland Browns, Indianapolis Colts

Pro Bowls: 0

Seasons as primary starter: 3

One thing to know: Richardson was hyped as the game’s best running back prospect since Adrian Peterson. He had a solid first season for the Browns, but they gave up on him quickly, shipping him to Indianapolis for a first-round pick after just 17 games. From there, his career fell off a cliff. Richardson rushed for just 1,082 yards over his final two seasons, appearing in his final NFL game in 2014. He spent the 2017 season playing for the Saskatchewan Roughriders of the CFL and recently found some success in the AAF.

5. Dion Jordan, DE

School: Oregon

Selected: 1st round (3rd overall), 2013 draft, Miami Dolphins

Played for: Miami Dolphins, Seattle Seahawks, Oakland Raiders, San Francisco 49ers

Pro Bowls: 0

Seasons as primary starter: 0

One thing to know: Jordan made one start for the Dolphins. That number would be higher, but the Arizona native just couldn’t stay out of his own way as a young player, racking up three drug suspensions before his third season. After failing a physical with the Dolphins after the 2016 season, he ultimately caught on with the Seahawks but started just three games in two seasons before bouncing around to Oakland and San Francisco.

4. Vince Young, QB

School: Texas

Selected: 1st round (3rd overall), 2006 draft, Tennessee Titans

Played for: Tennessee Titans, Philadelphia Eagles

Pro Bowls: 2

Seasons as primary starter: 4

One thing to know: Despite throwing more interceptions (13) than touchdowns (12) his rookie season, Young’s career got off to a promising start thanks to several fourth-quarter comebacks and game-winning drives. He was rewarded with a trip to the Pro Bowl. But things regressed during his second season as he threw 17 interceptions and just 9 touchdowns. He appeared in one more Pro Bowl following the 2009 season when the Titans went 8-2 with him as a starter. But he played just two more seasons. In 2012, 2013, and 2014, he signed with different NFL teams but was cut before each season. He signed with the Saskatchewan Roughriders of the CFL in 2017 but was cut before ever appearing in a game.

3. Robert Griffin III, QB

School: Baylor

Selected: 1st round (2nd overall), 2012 draft, Washington Redskins

Played for: Washington Redskins, Cleveland Browns, Baltimore Ravens

Pro Bowls: 1

Seasons as primary starter: 2

One thing to know: Griffin was the toast of the league after his rookie season, which ended with a Pro Bowl appearance and the Offensive Rookie of the Year award. It was all downhill from there, as the dual-threat’s play suffered thanks to a series of frustrating knee injuries, as well as a growing rift with the coaching staff. He was released in 2016 and signed with the Browns, but played in just five games thanks to a shoulder injury. He has spent the last three seasons as a backup with the Ravens.

2. Jason Smith, T

School: Baylor

Selected: 1st round (2nd overall), 2009 draft, St. Louis Rams

Played for: St. Louis Rams, New York Jets

Pro Bowls: 0

Seasons as primary starter: 1

One thing to know: Smith’s smaller size and inexperience with an NFL-style offense provided meaningful question marks in the months leading up to the 2009 draft. But the Rams, in need of a franchise left tackle to anchor their rebuilding project, still jumped at him early. They were quickly disappointed by his slow transition to the professional game and growing injury history, eventually trading him to the Jets in 2012. He never started another game, bouncing around the league for a couple of years before hanging up his cleats.

1. JaMarcus Russell, QB

School: LSU

Selected: 1st round (1st overall), 2007 draft, Oakland Raiders

Played for: Oakland Raiders

Pro Bowls: 0

Seasons as primary starter: 2

One thing to know: Russell was the definition of a can’t-miss prospect when he declared for the 2007 draft. With a 6-foot-6, 260-pound frame and an absolute cannon for an arm, many scouts envisioned him developing into a superstar with the ability to beat defenses with monster passes and surprisingly nimble footwork. It never happened. Russell completed 52.1% of his attempts and was released after the 2009 season. Russell attempted multiple comebacks to the NFL but was never signed by a team.

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