Skip to main content
Original Issue

The 8 Debate

Biggest NFL Draft Busts

With the April 25 NFL draft approaching, fans and front-office types are eagerly anticipating what talent their teams will land. The higher the pick, the greater the anticipation—and, sometimes, the greater the disappointment. In that sobering vein, here are the biggest draft busts of all time.

8 Russell ErxlebenP-K Saints (No. 11 in 1979)

A three-time All-America at Texas, Erxleben set the NCAA record with a 67-yard field goal. In four seasons with New Orleans he made four field goals.

7 Rick MirerQB Seahawks (No. 2 in 1993)

Bill Walsh called the Notre Dame product the "second coming of Joe Montana." Alas, Mirer wasn't even your average Joe: He threw 41 touchdowns and 56 picks in four seasons in Seattle. The Bears dealt a first-round choice for Mirer in '97, but he started just three games for Chicago.

6 Art SchlichterQB Colts (No. 4 in 1982)

The Ohio State star could run and throw, but he also gambled: His betting habits caused the league to suspend him for the '83 season. Two years later his career ended; he passed for just 1,006 yards and three touchdowns.

5 Tom CousineauLB Bills (No. 1 in 1979)

After holding out for a bigger payday, Cousineau played two years in the CFL. When he joined the NFL, Buffalo promptly moved him to Cleveland for a future draft pick—which at least didn't turn out badly. The Bills used it to select QB Jim Kelly.

4 Lawrence PhillipsRB Rams (No. 6 in 1996)

Phillips's run-ins with the law overshadowed his breakouts on the field. In two seasons in St. Louis he spent 23 days in jail for DUI. He retired in 1999 and is serving 31 years for assault.

3 Tony MandarichT Packers (No. 2 in 1989)

SI tabbed the 6' 6", 315-pound Michigan State senior as "the best offensive line prospect ever." Oops. Turns out, steroids played a large part in Mandarich's size and prowess. Alcohol and painkillers didn't help his progress, and Green Bay released him in '92.

2 Ryan LeafQB Chargers (No. 2 in 1998)

Leaf's most notable performance in the NFL was his profanity-laced "Knock it off" tirade at a reporter during his rookie season. In 18 starts with San Diego he lost 14 times, throwing 13 touchdowns and 33 picks. He's currently serving a seven-year sentence in Montana for drug possession and burglary.

1 JaMarcus RussellQB Raiders (No. 1 in 2007)

After Russell held out through training camp and the preseason, Oakland signed him to a contract worth $61 million, with $32 million guaranteed. He returned the favor by going 7--18 in three seasons.

No one's saying teams should shutter their war rooms—after all, 98 members of the Pro Football Hall of Fame were first-round picks. But consider that 15 of their fellow enshrinees were taken in the 10th round or lower, and another 15 went undrafted, including cornerback Dick (Night Train) Lane (left).

Who should be on the list? Join the debate.