Who Were the Biggest First Round Busts In NFL Draft History?

Published 04/28/2021, 12:23 PM EDT


The cream of the crop. That’s the best way to describe players picked in the first round of the NFL Draft. The best football players from across the country are scouted and only the best of the best make up the first 32 of each year’s draft class.

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But one thing that everyone in the NFL community can agree with is that a first-round pick is not always guaranteed to succeed. Many individuals who were exceptional athletes back in college have failed to make a mark in the league.

And some among others struggled more than usual. Such players are referred to as draft busts. The NFL has had its fair share of such busts. So with the 2021 NFL Draft fast approaching us, we take a look at some of the first round draft busts over the years.

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NFL Draft first-rounders don’t always guarantee success

Paxton Lynch (2016) – Drafted as the replacement for legendary QB Peyton Manning, the Denver Broncos got it awfully wrong with this one. The franchise traded up to land the QB with 26th overall pick only to see him go 1-3 in two seasons.

Lynch has been a free agent ever since the franchise cut him in 2018.

Isaiah Wilson (2020) – Isaiah Wilson is the latest to be added to the list of first-round draft busts in the NFL. The Tennessee Titans drafted the O-Linesman with the 29th overall pick in 2020. Wilson though never quite found a footing and played just four snaps with the franchise in 2020.

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He went after the team on social media and soon got cut. The Miami Dolphins picked him up days later. But then proceeded to release him after the signing due to certain incidents he was involved in off-the-field. He’s currently trying to pursue a career in the rap industry.

Tim Couch (1999) – Selected first overall by the Cleveland Browns before the turn of the millennium, Couch wasn’t as bad as some of the players on this list. He played for five seasons and won 22 games. But the hype surrounding him was unreal.

Drafted as the man to turn the Browns’ fortune around, Couch failed to live up to the hype big time. This isn’t something Jacksonville Jaguars fans would want to hear. But Couch remains an example of how even a generational talent worth drafting with the first pick can turn out to be a bust.

Ryan Leaf (1998) – It’s crazy to imagine how the Indianapolis Colts landed Peyton Manning with the first pick in the 1998 NFL Draft, while the San Diego Chargers got QB Ryan Leaf with the next pick.

DENVER, CO – OCTOBER 4: Peyton Manning (18) of the Denver Broncos passes against the Minnesota Vikings. The game was played at Sports Authority Field at Mile High in Denver. (Photo by Helen H. Richardson/The Denver Post)

Leaf was considered as one of the best alongside Manning. But their career trajectories couldn’t be any more different. While Peyton Manning became a five-time MVP winner, Leaf bowed out after three seasons in the NFL with a 4-17 losing record.

JaMarcus Russell (2007) – JaMarcus Russell, the QB from LSU is regarded as the biggest draft bust in NFL history. Russell had it all and blew it. The quarterback was drafted first overall by the Las Vegas Raiders in 2007. Russell was the man late-owner and NFL legend Al Davis handpicked to lead them to a fourth Super Bowl.

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But none of that happened. The towering 6’6″, 265 lbs QB hardly ever put in the effort to make it in the big league. The QB lasted three seasons in the league after having a pass completion percentage of 52.1% as the Raiders lost 18 of the 25 games he started.

Is there any other player you’d add to this list? Perhaps someone you think might fail to make the transition to the NFL from the 2021 draft class?

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Shivayan Roy

561 articles

Shivayan Roy is currently an NFL writer at EssentiallySports. After completing his Masters Diploma in Journalism from the Asian College of Journalism, Roy functioned as a reporter for Goal.com and extensively covered the FIFA U-17 World Cup.

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