The NFL Draft is the most expensive crapshoot in the world.
Despite spending millions of dollars on scouting, background checks and Wonderlic tests — as well as hundreds of hours breaking down film — teams still get it wrong. Some organizations are simply pathetic – the Raiders, Cardinals, and Jets come to mind – while others [Patriots, Steelers] generally get it right. Time will tell how the current crop of NFL rookies pans out. But with the 2019 NFL season just unfolding, we think this a good time to reveal our list of the worst draft picks in NFL history.
These are not the biggest busts, defined as players who came out of college full of promise but never panned out. No, these are genuine bad decisions, bona fide what-where-they-thinking-when-they-picked-this-guy head-scratchers.
Terry Baker [1st overall, Los Angeles Rams, 1963]. A quarterback/point guard at Oregon State, Baker is only person to win the Heisman Trophy and play in the Final Four in the same season. He played just 18 games – while starting only one — during a short, unproductive three-year career.
Jay Berwanger [1st overall, Philadelphia Eagles, 1936]. The first Heisman Trophy winner was also the first player selected in the inaugural NFL draft, in 1936. The standout halfback demanded $1,000 per game from the Eagles, an unheard-of amount at the time. After he couldn’t come to an agreement with Philly, Berwanger was dealt to the Chicago Bears, who couldn’t sign him either. Jay Berwanger never played a snap in the NFL.
Maurice Clarett [101st overall, third round, Denver Broncos, 2005]. After a stellar freshman season at Ohio State, Clarett was dismissed from the team for character issues and never wore the Scarlet and Gray again. He moved to Los Angeles and developed a dependence on drugs and alcohol. Clarett participated in the 2005 NFL Combine, where he was dubbed Slow-Mo after running a 4.82 in the 40. Undeterred, Denver passed on Brandon Jacobs and Darren Sproles to get Clarett, who was cut one month into his rookie training camp.
Archie Griffin [24th overall, Cincinnati Bengals, 1976]. This Ohio State legend may be the most heralded college player of all time. The only man in history to win the Heisman Trophy twice, Griffin lacked the size, speed, and strength to play at the next level. The Bengals passed on future Hall of Famers Harry Carson and Jackie Slater to take Archie, whose pro career was a huge disappointment.
Art Schlicter [4th overall, Baltimore Colts, 1982]. The Colts bet heavily on Schlicter, who was frequently spotted at Scioto Downs with notorious gamblers during his time at Ohio State. He missed the 1983 season after being suspended by the NFL for gambling, returned, then was out of the league by 1986. Schlicter, who was arrested for ticket fraud in 2011 and is currently serving a ten-year jail sentence, compiled a 42.6 QB rating in six NFL starts, winning none of them.
Todd Blackledge [7th overall, Kansas City Chiefs, 1983]. What were the Chiefs thinking? They passed on Jim Kelly and Dan Marino to take Blackledge, who threw 26 touchdowns and 32 interceptions while completing fewer than 50 percent of his passes in five years in Kansas City.
Russell Erxleban [11th overall, New Orleans Saints, 1979]. This three-time All-American booted an NCAA-record 67-yard field goal for the Texas Longhorns in 1977. That’s nice, but for the lowly Saints – with so many needs – to pick a kicker in the first round was absurd. Erxleben, who twice has been convicted of investment fraud, ended up playing just five seasons in New Orleans, making four of eight career field goal attempts.
David Carr [1st overall, Houston Texans, 2002]. The first-ever selection of the Houston Texans was a terrible one. This Fresno State product was never a legitimate NFL quarterback, yet the Texans picked him ahead of Julius Peppers, Ed Reed, and Brian Westbrook. Easily one of the worst No. 1 overall picks in history.
Todd Marinovich [24th overall, Oakland Raiders, 1991]. Marinovich was never very good and his off-the-field problems at USC should have been a red flag. But that’s the sort of decision that makes the Raiders the worst organization in football. Bottom line on Todd: eight starts, eight TDs, nine picks, 50 percent completion rating.
Lawrence Phillips [6th overall, St. Louis Rams, 1996]. Despite a slew of concerning off-the-field incidents at Nebraska, including choking a fellow student and dragging his ex-girlfriend by the hair down three flights of stairs before smashing her head into a mailbox, the Rams decided Phillips was worth the risk. He wasn’t. In his two years with St. Louis, the troubled running back spent 23 days in jail. Lawrence Phillips, who died in prison in 2016, was out of the league by 1999.
The Cincinnati Bengals have given us so many “worsts.” How about Jack Thompson – the Throwin’ Samoan — going third overall in 1979? Or David Klingler with the sixth overall pick in 1992? Woeful as those two were, neither matches Akili Smith [3rd overall, 1999]. Despite his success at Oregon, everyone but the Bungles could see that Smith’s skills did not project to the next level. In four awkward seasons, Smith won three of 17 starts and threw five touchdowns against 13 interceptions.
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