JaMarcus Russell went from being the No. 1 pick in the 2007 draft to out of the NFL in three seasons
The term “draft bust” can often be mercilessly and unfairly given to players for issues beyond their control. If a player has a devastating knee injury his rookie season, is he really a bust or just unfortunate.
Take Ki-Jana Carter, for instance. The Cincinnati Bengals drafted the Penn State running back as the top pick in the 1995 NFL Draft. He tore a ligament in his first preseason game and never recovered. It seems cruel to label him as a bust for this misfortune.
But there are players who are taken as the first pick in the draft and really do not live up to expectations, either because of their own selfishness or through issues that the scouts never saw. Here are the five worst No. 1 overall draft picks in NFL history.
5. Aundray Bruce, LB, Auburn
1988 NFL Draft – Atlanta Falcons
Bruce led Auburn to the 1987 SEC title and his size and speed led many scouts to believe that he could be the next Lawrence Taylor. During his rookie season, it appeared that he could live up to that potential, as he recorded six sacks, snagged two interceptions and forced two fumbles. That first season would be his best. For the rest of his career with the Falcons and Raiders, Bruce struggled to understand the playbook and the complexity of pro football in general. He never grasped it and is best remembered for missed assignments instead of big plays.
4. Terry Baker, QB, Oregon State
1963 NFL Draft – Los Angeles Rams
Baker is the only player to win a Heisman Trophy and play in a Final Four, which shows you the range of his athleticism. However, the Rams could not find a place where he excelled. He only threw 21 passes during his career, four of which were intercepted. Los Angeles then tried him at running back, but he only rushed for 164 yards. Some say he was ahead of his time as a dual-threat quarterback, but in the 1960s, he was considered a bust. Baker did manage to complete his law degree at USC during that period so his time in L.A. was not a total loss for him.
3. Jay Berwanger, RB, University of Chicago
1936 NFL Draft – Philadelphia Eagles
Berwanger was both the first Heisman Trophy winner and first No. 1 NFL Draft pick. He also was the first bust because he priced himself out of pro football. Berwanger was asking for $1,000 a game at a time when many players were making $50 on Sunday. The Eagles traded his rights to the Chicago Bears, who could not afford him either. In the end, Berwanger become a successful businessman in the Chicago area. As he said in 1999, “It worked out okay.”
2. Bobby Garrett, QB, Stanford
1954 NFL Draft – Cleveland Browns
We remember Jim Plunkett and John Elway, but Bobby Garrett was Stanford’s first big-time quarterback and Browns head coach Paul Brown thought he was a surefire replacement for Otto Graham. There was only one big problem. Garrett stuttered so badly that he could not call the plays in the huddle. While the college game may work around the limitations of a gifted athlete, the pros do not. Brown quickly traded Garrett to the Green Bay Packers, who did not learn of his stutter until he arrived in Wisconsin. Sadly, Garrett only played nine games in the NFL.
1. JaMarcus Russell, QB, LSU
2007 NFL Draft – Oakland Raiders
With his size and athleticism, one could tell by watching Russell play one game with LSU that he had the makings of an NFL quarterback and the Raiders took him with their top pick. Over the next three seasons, Russell demonstrated a poor work ethic in the film and weight room, which resulted in inconsistent play that ranged from mediocre to bad. He also had an apparent affinity for Purple Drank (a combination of prescription-strength cough syrup and soda), which compounded the problem. The Raiders released him in 2010 and other than a handful of tryouts, Russell has been out of the league ever since.
— Written by Aaron Tallent, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Tallent is a writer whose articles have appeared in The Sweet Science, FOX Sports’ Outkick the Coverage, Liberty Island and The Washington Post. Follow him on Twitter at @AaronTallent.