You never know what you’re going to get in the NFL Draft, as some players can become Hall of Famers from later rounds, while top picks can end up being so bad that they’re out of the league within a couple of years. There have been some massive draft blunders over the years, but a few that really take the cake. Here are the five worst NFL Draft picks ever.
5. (Tie) Baker Mayfield and Sam Darnold
The 2018 NFL Draft was loaded with talent, and the Cleveland Browns had the chance to finally grab a franchise quarterback. They opted for 2017 Heisman winner Baker Mayfield, while the New York Giants selected Saquon Barkley second overall. The third pick went to the New York Jets, and they took USC quarterback Sam Darnold.
Many were sold on Mayfield and Darnold to become franchise quarterbacks, while also saying the Buffalo Bills drafted Josh Allen too high at seventh overall. Within just a couple of years, Mayfield and Darnold departed their teams and became teammates and backups with the Carolina Panthers while Allen became one of the best QBs in the league. Other players that both teams passed up on include Denzel Ward, Bradley Chubb, and Quenton Nelson.
4. Tony Mandarich
Four of the first five selections in the 1989 NFL Draft were enshrined into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Troy Aikman was a mainstay with the Dallas Cowboys, Barry Sanders became one of the best running backs of all time, Derrick Thomas was one of the 1990s best linebackers and Deion Sanders is a cornerback that current-day players all looked up to.
Then, there’s Tony Mandarich. The Michigan State offensive tackle was dubbed “The Incredible Bulk” by Sports Illustrated but flamed out with the Green Bay Packers. Mandarich played four seasons in Green Bay before he was out of the NFL for several years, and ended with a modest comeback with the Indianapolis Colts.
3. Lawrence Phillips
The 1996 NFL Draft was pretty loaded, with the top three picks all being perennial Pro Bowlers and the fourth would end up being a Hall of Famer in the form of left tackle Jonathan Ogden. At the sixth pick, the St. Louis Rams were in need of a running back and passed up on Michigan’s Tim Biakabutuka and Ohio State’s Eddie George in favor of Nebraska rusher Lawrence Phillips.
Phillips didn’t even make it through two seasons before the Rams let him go as he was having a lot of trouble off the field, including staying out drinking until the morning of gamedays. Phillips played in just 35 games during his career, having short stints with the Dolphins and 49ers. What made the pick really hurt was that the Rams traded away Jerome Bettis to make room for Phillips on the roster.
2. Ryan Leaf
Heading into the 1998 NFL Draft, it should’ve been clear that Peyton Manning was the top overall player, but there was still a debate on whether the Indianapolis Colts should select him or Washington State quarterback Ryan Leaf. The Colts made the right choice by taking Manning, and Leaf fell to number two where the San Diego Chargers thought they found their franchise player.
Unfortunately, Leaf had a laundry list of problems both on and off the field, and only lasted with the Chargers for three seasons. By 2002, Leaf was out of the league and finished with a horrid 14 touchdowns to 36 interceptions. During that time, he had a record of 4-17 as a starter, including an 0-3 mark as the Cowboys started in 2001 when he received a second chance. Even worse, the Chargers passed up on the opportunity to draft Heisman winner and Hall of Famer Charles Woodson.
1. JaMarcus Russell
After a fine career at LSU that included a Sugar Bowl victory over Brady Quinn’s Notre Dame squad, JaMarcus Russell was the clear-cut number-one pick in the 2007 NFL Draft because of his impressive arm strength and mobility. The Raiders were the “winners” of the sweepstakes but quickly discovered that Russell’s head wasn’t in the game.
Russell wasn’t focusing on learning the playbook or practicing his hardest and the end result was just three years in the NFL. Russell threw for only 18 touchdowns compared to 23 interceptions, and he lost 18 of the 25 starts that he made. Some teams flirted with the idea of allowing Russell to make his comeback in the 2010s, but he ultimately played his final game in 2009 as the biggest draft bust of all time.