With the draft approaching, hope springs eternal. Sometimes, that hope turns into utter disaster and a series of “What If’s”. This is a look back to all drafts since 1978 to identify the worst pick by each franchise, starting with the current NFC franchises. Most of these picks are going to come from very early in the draft, because expectations matter. Hundreds of seventh round picks have failed to make a roster; when the top pick in the draft is out of the league in a few years, that is far more crushing.
Arizona Cardinals: QB Kelly Stouffer, 6th overall pick in 1987. Wendell Bryant is a strong candidate as well, with only 1.5 career sacks and out of league after playing three games in his third season. Andre Wadsworth was certainly a huge disappointment due to injury. The nod, though, goes to Stouffer, who never even suited up for the Cardinals. The franchise was entering its final year in St. Louis when it selected Stouffer while Neil Lomax was still the starting quarterback. Stouffer and the team could not come to a contract agreement, and he held out for the entire season. The next year, he was traded to Seattle for what was originally safety Kenny Easley, who failed a physical (and would eventually retire). The Cardinals eventually got a decade of backup guard play out of Joe Wolf from the trade.
Atlanta Falcons: DB Bruce Pickens, 3rd overall pick in 1991. The Falcons don’t have much of a history of outright busts, but Pickens would have to qualify. Two years earlier, the team selected Deion Sanders with a top five pick. It didn’t work out in 1991, as Pickens started 8 games in his career with the Falcons. Many expected Todd Lyght to go before Pickens, and the Falcons could have had the 12 year starter selected by the Rams two picks later instead.
Carolina Panthers: WR Rae Carruth, 27th overall in 1997. In the Panthers’ history, they don’t really have a notable history of early busts. Jason Peter turned out to be a disappointment and had his own drug issues, but it was the previous year’s pick that ended up the most notable pick. Carruth was charged and convicted for the murder of the mother of his unborn child in 1999. Before he was released as the news emerged, he was already a football bust with 18 catches in his last two years.
Chicago Bears: WR David Terrell, 8th overall in 2001. The Bears can also boast RB Curtis Enis and
DT Jimmy Kennedy, DE Michael Haynes (note: I initially crossed up bad defensive linemen from Penn State in same draft) but Terrell came in with big expectations and delusions of grandeur, and could not live up to them. He was arrested for battery a few years ago, and in case you are curious, Wikipedia lets you know that he is still a free agent.
Dallas Cowboys: LB Billy Cannon, Jr. 25th overall pick in 1984. The Cowboys are another franchise that doesn’t have a notable history of busts–you could argue that Felix Jones and Bobby Carpenter have been among the worst recently, and they played with the franchise for several years. The most tragic, though, goes to another son of a former NFL player, when the Cowboys selected Texas A&M’s Billy Cannon, Jr. He played only eight NFL games, forced to retire after a spinal injury in his rookie year.
Detroit Lions: WR Charles Rogers, 2nd overall in 2003. The Detroit Lions, on the other hand, could loan some busts to other teams. Mike Williams and Andre Ware could easily be the top selection for most franchises. The easy choice here, though, is Charles Rogers, selected one pick ahead of Andre Johnson. Rogers was awesome in college, but couldn’t stay healthy or clean when he got to the NFL, finishing with 36 career catches.
Green Bay Packers: OT Tony Mandarich, 2nd overall in 1989. It wasn’t just that Mandarich turned out to be a huge disappointment. The expectations were slightly outrageous, with people calling him better than Anthony Munoz. It was also what the Packers missed out on by selecting Mandarich in 1989. The next three players taken? Barry Sanders, Derrick Thomas, and Deion Sanders, all in the Hall of Fame.
Minnesota Vikings: WR Troy Williamson, 7th overall in 2005. The Vikings have a pretty good history in the draft, but 2005 was a bad year. The team selected Troy Williamson as a speed reach with the 7th pick, and added Erasmus James eleven picks later. [Update: as readers have pointed out Dimitrius Underwood in 1999 should have been strongly considered. I overlooked him since he did not ever even play for Minnesota after being the 29th pick].
New Orleans Saints: P/K Russell Erxleben, 11th overall in 1979. Drafting a punter with the 11th pick should automatically qualify as a bad pick, even if he set a record in college with a 67 yard field goal. When that punter throws an interception in overtime of his first game after a bad snap, well, it didn’t take long for the returns to show how foolish it was. Erxleben (pronounced Irks-Lay-Ben) served time securities fraud, and was back in the news this year after being arrested for being part of a Ponzi scheme.
New York Giants: TE Derek Brown, 14th overall in 1992. Yes, we can all hate the Giants because they don’t have a horrific pick. Brown was part of an amazing New York drafting tight ends era, as the Jets took Johnny Mitchell with the very next pick. Brown had 11 catches as a Giant in 3 years with the team.
Philadelphia Eagles: OT Kevin Allen, 9th overall in 1985. Everyone points to Mike Mamula as the example of a workout warrior who is a bust. Mamula actually had 8.5 sacks one year and 8.0 in another. Meanwhile, the true turd in the punch bowl was Kevin Allen. At the start of his second year with Philadelphia, Buddy Ryan said “He’s a nice big ol’ fat kid who could probably go somewhere they want to stand around and kill the grass.” Allen wouldn’t practice with cramps, and the team placed him on the non-football injury list saying they could find no medical reason for his complaints, then released him. A few days later, news broke that Allen was arrested for sexual assault, for which he would eventually be convicted.
San Francisco 49ers: QB Jim Druckenmiller, 26th overall in 1997. Could have gone J.J. Stokes because of the picks given up to move up to draft him, but Druckenmiller was a completely wasted pick as the heir apparent to Steve Young. He finished with a 29.2 passer rating, and remember, that was playing with Terrell Owens. He did later star for the Memphis Maniax of the XFL, which is nice.
Seattle Seahawks: QB Dan McGwire, 16th overall in 1991. Mark McGwire’s younger brother was not able to generate the same amount of juice in football. At least there were no other good quarterbacks drafted that year, excluding those that texted pictures to Jenn Sterger.
St. Louis Rams: RB Lawrence Phillips 6th overall in 1996. It takes a lot to not put Jason Smith, 2nd overall in 2009, here when he was traded for peanuts three years later. Phillips, though, joins the other social misfits on this bust list. He assaulted an ex-girlfriend at Nebraska, and his issues were well known entering the league. The Rams traded away Jerome Bettis to draft Phillips, and released him before the end of his second season.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: DE Keith McCants, 4th overall in 1990. Taken between Cortez Kennedy and Junior Seau, McCants never really lived up to the hype that had him being mentioned as the possible top pick in the 1990 draft. He was recently among the athletes featured in the documentary “Broke” on ESPN.
Washington Redskins: QB Heath Shuler, 3rd overall in 1994. Heath Shuler was beaten out by Gus Frerotte. He did lead the league in yards per completion in his rookie year, but since he completed 45% of his passes, that wasn’t a particularly good thing. Shuler served in the U.S. House of Representatives as a “blue dog” Democrat from North Carolina until this year, when he announced he would not run again after re-districting. He also named his children “Island” and “Navy.”
[photos via NY Daily News, mlive.com, wwltv.com, upi.com]