Draft time is coming, which means the national pass time of remembering all the biggest mistakes NFL teams have made through the years, with Ryan Leaf and Tim Couch being the measurement of failure with top picks joined in recent years by JaMarcus Russell and Vincent Gholston, comprising some of the list that features the worst draft picks ever made in NFL history.
10 – Heath Shuler, Washington Redskins
Shuler’s stats in the NFL? Four seasons, 22 starts, and 8-14 record with a 49.2% completion rate but the big zinger was 15 touchdowns to 33 interceptions. He was the number 3 pick coming out of Tennessee in 1994, as the Redskins passed over nine other pro bowl selections in the first round and a hall of famer in Larry Allen, coming in the second round. Shuler lost his starting place to a seventh round pick, Gus Ferrotte, and was out of the league by 1997. His career after football in business and politics has one much better.
9 – Rich Cambpell, Green Bay Packers
The 1981 NFL draft wasn’t exactly overflowing with quarterbacks, but the Packers took Campbell at sixth, with hall of famers like Ronnie Lott, Mike Singletary and Howie Long coming later on. Campbell, coming out of Califronia, like Aaron Rodgers, never started a single game for the Packers, playing in a total of 7 games and throwing 68 passes for them before leaving the NFL in 1984.
8 – Russell Erxleben, New Orleans Saints
It takes a lot of guts to take a special teams player with the 11th pick, and Erxleben had bust written all over his forehead before the team was even coined. In five seasons with the Sains (1979-1983) and another comeback one in 1987 with the Lions, he managed to attempt only 8 field goals, making only four of them, after setting the NCAA record a few years earlier. He was mostly used as a punter in the NFL.
Erxleben went into business post-retirement, but pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit securities fraud, mail fraud and money laundering, and a second count for securities fraud, in connection with misleading statements regarding the past performance of Austin Forex. He spent five years in prison, but was recently arrested again on various Federal charges related to an alleged Ponzi scheme.
7 – Akili Smith, Cincinnati Bengals
The number 3 pick in the 1999 NFL draft lasted only four seasons in the NFL, starting a total of 17 games, posting a 3-14 record while completing only 46.6% of his passes, throwing five touchdowns to 13 interceptions. Smith was on various practice squads after that, but never made it past that level, ending his NFL dream quite soon, later playing in Europe and Canada. These days he is coaching high school football in California. The Bengals missed 12 pro bowlers that were taken behind Smith, including one quarterback, in the first round alone.
6 – Tim Couch, Cleveland Browns
Couch was the can’t miss prospect of the 1999 NFL draft after being an All-American the previous year with Kentucky. Couch did lead the Browns to the postseason, but mounting injuries caused a lot of inconsistency and eventually, despite decent completion numbers (69.8%), he did throw more interceptions than touchdowns in his five seasons with the team and was out of the league by 2003. He made several unsuccessful comeback attempts, and is currently working as a broadcaster on Fox, while enjoying the life of being married to a Playboy Playmate.
5 – Reggie Rogers, Detroit Lions
Rogers, a defensive tackle, was an All-American during his final season with the Washington Huskies, but everything went downhill for him after being the number 7 pick in the 1987 draft. He played only six gamed during his rookie season, suffering from certain emotional problems, with the Lions sending him to seek counseling. He played only 5 games in 1987 before driving into another car while drunk and killing three teenagers, getting sent to prison for 16 months. He did return to the NFL and played with the Bills and Bucs briefly after his release, but was out of the league after the 1992 season.
4 – Vernon Gholston, New York Jets
Gholston was the number 6 pick in the 2008 draft, the second defensive end taken off the board. He didn’t get to play in his original position early on, only later getting a chance to play as a defensive end, eventually leaving the Jets after three seasons without a single sack to his name, despite playing a total of 601 defensive snaps. It’s not that much for a player who should have been a starter, but 600 others recorded at least one during that timespan. Gholston tried his luck with the Rams and Bears in 2011 and 2012, but didn’t make it.
3 – Art Schlichter, Baltimore Colts
The Colts used their number 4 pick on Schlichter, coming out of Ohio State, being the first quarterback taken off the board. He didn’t start a single game during his rookie season, but missed the entire 1983 year after his involvement in gambling activities warranted a year long suspension. Schlichter was reinstated in the league and got to start six more times for the Colts, but didn’t make it past the 1985 season, with his gambling continuing to plague his life. On September 15, 2011 Schlichter was sentenced to 10 years in state prison for his involvement in a million-dollar ticket scam.
2 – JaMarcus Russell, Oakland Raiders
Maybe this one will have a happy ending, but it seems the comeback attempts of the number one pick in the 2007 NFL draft isn’t going to get another chance in the NFL. Russell started in only one game during his rookie year, but became the full time starter in 2009, winning only five games completing 53.8% of his passes, throwing 13 touchdowns to 8 interceptions. Russell was again the starter in 2009, but managed to play in nine games as a starter, winning only two of them. He made $31 million off his time with the Raiders, but they released him before the 2010 season began.
1 – Ryan Leaf, San Diego Chargers
In a 1998 draft full of stars and a few future hall of famers, the Chargers crashed and burned with their selection of Ryan Leaf coming out of Washing State, the number 2 overall pick. Leaf had a rough rookie campaign, starting in nine games, winning three of them. He missed the entire 1999 season due to injury, but a strong preseason won him the starting job once again in 2000, in which he started nine games, winning only one of them. He started three more times in 2001, losing three games, and tried his luck with the Bucs and the Cowboys but never got a chance.
In April 2010, he pled guilty in Amarillo, Texas to seven counts of obtaining a controlled substance by fraud and one count of delivery of a simulated controlled substance. On March 30, 2012, he was arrested on burglary, theft and drug charges in his home town of Great Falls, Montana. On June 19 of that year, Leaf was sentenced to seven years in custody of the Montana Department of Corrections.