Transitioning from a great high school football player to a great college player can be difficult as your opposition gets bigger and faster at the next level. However, that’s nothing compared to the jump from college to the NFL. Those in the professional ranks are the best of the best, and many great college players that were thought to have a significant impact ended up being busts in the NFL. Here are the five biggest blue-chip college football legends that ended up being NFL busts, ranked on how legendary their college careers were.
5. Troy Smith
For better or worse (mostly worse), Ohio State has put a lot of quarterbacks in the NFL. The one that had perhaps the most heralded college football career was Troy Smith, who started for three seasons in Columbus after watching from the sidelines for more than two years. In 2005, Smith would get his big chance and he didn’t disappoint with 2,282 passing yards, 16 touchdowns, and 4 interceptions to go along with 611 rushing yards and 11 touchdowns.
The following year, it was all about Smith, who focused more on passing and boosted his numbers tremendously. In 2006, he won just about every award imaginable, including a 91.63% Heisman vote. However, Smith was a fifth-round draft pick in 2007, starting in just eight career NFL games and throwing for 1,734 yards before ending his career in Canada.
4. Matt Leinart
A highly-recruited high school quarterback, Matt Leinart came to USC with an already loaded roster and wound up winning more than a dozen individual awards, including the 2004 Heisman Trophy. In three seasons as the Trojans’ starter, Leinart racked up 10,693 yards and 99 touchdowns, leading to being drafted 10th overall in 2006.
Leinart started with the Arizona Cardinals and spent eight NFL seasons with a combined four teams. However, he couldn’t stay in the starting lineup and finished with just 4,065 yards, 15 touchdowns, and 21 interceptions over 33 games.
3. Tim Tebow
Those that actively dislike sports can still name some athletes due to their ability to transcend into the mainstream. One of those athletes is Tim Tebow, who was one of the best college football players ever thanks to his time at Florida. Tebow won a Heisman, two Maxwell Awards, two BCS Championships, and much more.
The Denver Broncos selected him 25th overall in 2010, but he never panned out. Sure, there was that one playoff upset over the Steelers, but that was mostly Demaryius Thomas and the defense winning the game. Tebow made just 16 NFL starts, throwing for 2,422 yards.
2. JaMarcus Russell
The only player on the list to not win the Heisman, JaMarcus Russell came out of LSU as the best quarterback prospect since Peyton Manning. Gifted with physical tools, Russell had a strong arm but lacked the motivation to make it work in the NFL. Russell was the 2006 Manning Award winner and was selected first overall by the Raiders in the 2007 NFL Draft.
Russell played in just three seasons with Oakland, and then never played in the NFL again. To make matters worse for the Raiders, the next two selections were Calvin Johnson and Joe Thomas, both of whom became all-time greats.
1. Johnny Manziel
With a nickname like “Johnny Football,” you have to live up to the reputation, but it seemed like football was the least of Johnny Manziel’s concerns following his playing days at Texas A&M. Manziel was only a three-star recruit coming out of high school but took the college football world by storm in 2012 with 5,116 total passing and rushing yards with 47 combined touchdowns against just nine interceptions.
Manziel would win the Heisman and posted similar stats the following year with 46 touchdowns and 4,873 yards. The Cleveland Browns made him the 22nd overall selection at the 2014 NFL Draft, but his off-the-field issues caused him to lose the job quickly. He was out of the NFL by the end of the 2015 season.