Scouts, coaches and general managers of all 32 NFL teams are extremely busy at the moment. They’re watching film, going to pro days, interviewing prospects and performing background checks in preparation for the 2014 NFL draft, which will be held May 8-10.
This is the time of year when we hear about a player’s motor. And we’ll discuss whether a defensive lineman is a five-technique, three-technique or zero-technique player. We might also hear buzz about which wide receivers and defensive backs can high-point the ball.
There’s an expansive glossary of terms used in scouting reports as organizations put together their big boards.
Included in the draft lexicon is a term that no one in any war room wants to hear. It’s a four-letter word: the B-word.
When a player doesn’t pan out, especially when he’s drafted early in the first round, the “bust” label stays with him long after his playing days are over.
Even with all the legwork, the draft is an inexact science. Pretty much every draft will include a bust or two.
The 10 biggest NFL draft busts of the last decade all were high first-round picks. There are plenty of busts later in the first round and in the middle rounds, but the earlier a player is drafted, the more his failure resonates.
These rankings are based on a combination of draft position and how little the picks contributed on the field.
No. 10: Mike Williams, WR, Detroit Lions
Year: 2005, Pick No. 10
Detroit Lions general manager Matt Millen loved those first-round wide receivers. The Lions chose a receiver in the first round in three straight drafts. Mike Williams, the last of those selections, wasn’t as big a bust as Charles Rogers. But Rogers doesn’t make this list because he wasn’t drafted within the last decade. He was taken second overall in 2003. The “last decade” begins with 2004.
Williams tried to enter the draft a year earlier, after he helped USC win a national championship in 2003. But a court ruled that he was ineligible because he was less than three years out of high school.
The Lions drafted him after he sat out for a year, and he was a disappointment as a rookie. He caught only 29 passes with one touchdown. The following year, his receptions decreased while his weight increased. He had eight catches with one touchdown.
Williams made just six starts in two seasons with the Lions, and he went to the Oakland Raiders in a draft-day trade in 2007. His conditioning wasn’t any better, and he caught seven passes before the Raiders cut him during the season. The Tennessee Titans picked him up, but let him go before he even caught a pass.
The 6’5″ Williams would rank a lot higher on this list if he didn’t take advantage of the last chance his old college coach gave him. After two years away from the game, Williams reunited with Pete Carroll and caught 65 passes for the Seattle Seahawks in 2010. He was the leading receiver on a team that won the NFC West with a 7-9 record. He caught five passes for 68 yards and a touchdown in the Seahawks’ 41-36 wild-card playoff win over the defending-champion New Orleans Saints.
Williams’ redemption was short-lived, however. He was limited to 18 receptions in 2011 and broke his ankle. He was released before the 2012 season, four years after Millen was fired in the midst of an 0-16 season.
No. 9: Blaine Gabbert, QB, Jacksonville Jaguars
Year: 2011, Pick No. 10
Blaine Gabbert is the most recent draft pick and the only active player (for now) on this list. Perhaps it’s too early to label him one of the 10 biggest NFL draft busts of the last decade.
But that 5-22 record as a starter skewers the equation.
Gabbert, drafted out of Missouri, has the fewest wins of any quarterback picked in the top 10 since 2011. He has the lowest winning percentage of all quarterbacks chosen anywhere in the first round since 2011. Brandon Weeden (5-15) and EJ Manuel (4-6) are the only such quarterbacks who haven’t won more games than Gabbert, and Gabbert’s been in the NFL longer than both of them.
Fellow quarterback Matt Leinart, drafted in same spot as Gabbert five years earlier, was seriously considered for this list. He lost his starting job to Kurt Warner and his career was subsequently knocked off course by injuries.
While Leinart is also deserving of the bust label, Gabbert has been a bigger bust. It’s not like Gabbert lost his starting job to a potential Hall of Famer. He lost it to Chad Henne in 2013 after throwing for one touchdown and seven interceptions while completing less than half his passes.
Gabbert certainly isn’t expected to start for his new team.
The San Francisco 49ers acquired Gabbert for a sixth-round draft pick. He’ll have to fight just to be Colin Kaepernick’s backup. But he’s near the bottom of this list because he has more upside than anyone on it. Then again, it’s easy to have more upside than someone who’s no longer in the NFL.
No. 8: Aaron Maybin, DE, Buffalo Bills
Year: 2009, Pick No. 11
It stands to reason that the franchise with the NFL’s longest active playoff drought would have a player on this list.
Aaron Maybin was a flop in Buffalo. The 6’4″, 245-pounder from Penn State was undersized as a defensive lineman, and it showed. In two seasons with the Bills, Maybin started just one game. He had no sacks. All that dotted his barren stat sheet were 14 tackles and a forced fumble.
The Bills gave up on him, but the light seemingly went on with the New York Jets in 2011. As a third-down linebacker, he notched six sacks and forced four fumbles. That little flash keeps him from being ranked higher on this list.
Maybin fell back to earth with a thud in 2012. He made one tackle in eight games before the Jets released him.
The Cincinnati Bengals signed Maybin in 2013, but released him in training camp in a moment that was shown days later to millions of viewers on HBO’s “Hard Knocks.”
It’s not surprising that the end of the line for one of the biggest modern-day draft busts would be broadcast on reality TV.
No. 7: Derrick Harvey, DE, Jacksonville Jaguars
Year: 2008, Pick No. 8
Among the reasons the Jacksonville Jaguars are 31-65 since their last playoff appearance in 2007, is their spotty record with first-round draft picks. And they make an encore appearance on this list with Derrick Harvey.
Jacksonville traded up with the Baltimore Ravens to draft Harvey. The Ravens used the picks they received to maneuver their way back up the board to draft Joe Flacco.
Flacco led the Ravens to a championship win. Harvey was defensive MVP of the 2006 BCS National Championship game, leading Florida to a victory over Ohio State. But in the pros he had just eight sacks in three seasons with the Jaguars.
By 2010, Harvey slipped down the depth chart and was released in training camp the following season. Harvey unceremoniously finished his career in Denver, making two tackles in five games in 2011.
No. 6: Troy Williamson, WR, Minnesota Vikings
Year: 2005, Pick No. 7
The Minnesota Vikings traded up to draft Troy Williamson in a deal that sent Randy Moss to the Oakland Raiders.
The Vikings dropped the ball on that one, and Williamson dropped plenty of balls in Minnesota. In three seasons as a Viking, the former South Carolina receiver hung onto 79 passes with three touchdowns.
Moss, meanwhile, caught 200 passes during those three years. That includes 98 with a single-season record 23 touchdowns for the 18-1 New England Patriots in 2007.
Williamson was traded to Jacksonville in 2008, but caught just eight passes with a touchdown in two injury-riddled seasons. He was done at age 26.
No. 5: Jason Smith, OT, St. Louis Rams
Year: 2009, Pick No. 2
Jason Smith was the first in a procession of draft busts early in the first round of the 2009 draft. He has a place in the top five because only one other player on this list was drafted higher.
A tackle drafted second overall normally is expected to step in at left tackle and be the quarterback’s blind-side protector, but the former All-American from Baylor couldn’t handle the job. It didn’t help that his career was plagued by concussions. When Smith did get on the field, it was at right tackle.
Smith started just five games as a rookie, then started 15 games in 2010. It was the only season Smith started more than six games, but even then he didn’t provide much return on the Rams’ investment of a No. 2 pick. The Rams ranked 26th on offense in 2010, 25th in rushing and 21st in passing. Pro Football Focus didn’t even rank him among the top 30 tackles who played at least 75 percent of their team’s snaps that year.
The Rams traded Smith to the New York Jets before the 2012 season for fellow tackle Wayne Hunter. Smith appeared in all 16 games that year, but as a backup. The trade was a wash. Both Smith and Hunter were released after the season.
Smith signed with the New Orleans Saints in 2013, but was cut during the preseason. The Jets brought him back, but released him days later. He worked out for the Tennessee Titans, San Francisco 49ers and New York Giants, but couldn’t catch on.
No. 4: Rolando McClain, MLB, Oakland Raiders
Year: 2010, Pick No. 8
We’ve picked on the Jacksonville Jaguars enough. Now it’s the Oakland Raiders’ turn to feel the brunt of our snark.
To say Rolando McClain took early retirement is an understatement. He retired at an age when many Americans are still looking for their first job.
After three disappointing seasons in Oakland, McClain signed with the Baltimore Ravens in 2013. His career already marked by legal troubles, McClain was arrested for disorderly conduct and resisting arrest two weeks after signing with the Ravens. He retired shortly thereafter at age 23.
McClain won the Butkus Award as the nation’s top linebacker in 2009, then entered the draft after his junior season. But he recorded just 6.5 sacks and one interception in three years in silver and black. He was plagued by injuries in 2012 and suspended by the team for two games late in the season for his behavior in the locker room.
Perhaps we haven’t seen the last of McClain. He’s trying to make a comeback, according to the Baltimore Sun. Even if he does put on pads again, McClain has a long way to go before working his way off this list.
No. 3: Aaron Curry, LB, Seattle Seahawks
Year: 2009, Pick No. 4
Even the reigning Super Bowl champions have a skeleton in their draft closet.
Aaron Curry cracks the top three on this list because of how far he fell from his lofty draft prognostications. Multiple draft pundits labeled him as a “safe” pick after he earned All-American honors at Wake Forest.
Opposing quarterbacks were safe, as it turned out, from Curry’s pass rush. He had just 5.5 sacks in two-plus seasons with the Seahawks, then was usurped as a starter in 2011 and traded to the Oakland Raiders. Curry wasn’t any better in Oakland, but in this case the Raiders aren’t the ones responsible for whiffing on the pick.
Curry and fellow draft bust Rolando McClain became teammates with the Raiders. The two already were linked as Butkus Award winners. Curry won the award in 2008, the year before McClain won it.
In 2012, Curry started the season on the PUP list. He played in two games before the Raiders waived him. He took one last shot with the New York Giants in 2013, but didn’t survive the roster cut to 75 and hung up his spikes at age 27,
No. 2: Vernon Gholston, DE, New York Jets
Year: 2008, Pick No. 6
Vernon Gholston might as well have dropped the “l” from his last name, because he was little more than a ghost to opposing quarterbacks.
Gholston had no sacks in three seasons with the Jets. He set a single-season school record with 14.5 sacks at Ohio State in 2007, but the Jets tried to convert the 6’4″, 258-pounder from a 4-3 defensive end to a 3-4 outside linebacker. He was moved to defensive end in 2010, but it didn’t help and he was released after the season with just five career starts under his belt.
Since it became an official statistic in 1982, Gholston is the only defensive end drafted in the top 10 without a sack, according to the Wall Street Journal.
After the Jets cut him loose, the only action Gholston saw was in the preseason. He couldn’t make the Bears in 2011 or the Rams in 2012.
No. 1: JaMarcus Russell, QB, Oakland Raiders
Year: 2007, Pick No. 1
Only one player is a bigger draft bust since 2004 than the guy with the infamous goose egg on the NFL’s career sack list.
JaMarcus Russell is synonymous with NFL draft busts just as the Edsel is synonymous with failed products.
Russell is the only No. 1 overall pick on this list. The Raiders hadn’t won more than five games in any season since 2002 and were coming off a 2-14 campaign when they had the top pick in 2007. But Russell, who won 28 games in three seasons at LSU, went just 7-18 in three seasons before the Raiders released him in 2010.
If this were a list of the biggest all-time NFL draft busts, Ryan Leaf would enter the conversation. Since Leaf flamed out more than 10 years ago, though, Russell doesn’t have to share the stage on this list.
Russell’s ineptitude reached Leaf-like proportions in 2009. He completed just 48.8 percent of his passes; and threw for three touchdowns and 11 interceptions for a passer rating of 50.0, the worst in the NFL since Leaf and two others fell short of that mark in 1998, according to ESPN.com.
After going 2-7 in 2009, Russell lost his starting job to career backup Bruce Gradkowski.
Al Davis made the call in drafting Russell, but the quarterback didn’t show much of a commitment to excellence in Oakland. He got his career off to a bad start when he held out and missed training camp in his rookie season. Then he couldn’t push himself away from the dinner table, letting his weight balloon to nearly 300 pounds. The Raiders ultimately had to eat $39 million even though Russell made it only halfway through his six-year rookie contract.
Although he didn’t catch on anywhere else after the Raiders cut him, Russell remained on the NFL radar as recently as last year. But knee problems kept him from making a comeback. He’ll turn 29 this year, and his status as the NFL’s biggest draft bust of the last decade is likely set in stone.