The 50 Most Spectacular Busts in Sports History
I'm not going to beat around the bush here—sports has seen its fair share of draft busts.
Whether it was a guy who was touted as the "next big thing," or was a high draft pick and fell flat on his face, fans are promised big things but often find bigger disappointment.
How can a guy be measured as the worst of all time, though?
I broke it down quite simply:
- How high was he drafted?
- Just how crappy was he?
- Was his crappiness due to something out of his control—like an injury—or was he just lacking talent?
- Did he have legal issues that derailed his career?
Using that simple formula, I was able to determine the most spectacular busts in sports history. Apologies if any of your favorite teams were the ones who drafted these guys.
Draft Position: No. 10 overall, 2006
Man, this really kills me putting my main man—and near twin—on here, but as much as I'll always have adoration for Matt Leinart, his pro career flopped big time.
As a former Heisman Trophy winner and two-time national champion—though one was vacated—Leinart looked like he had all the skills necessary to perform in the NFL.
Besides his leadership and size, his charisma seemed to play into the face of the franchise role just perfectly.
Draft Position: No. 1 overall, 2007
As I mentioned in the opener, one of the major factors I considered in all of these rankings was if a serious injury played a major part in the decline of a guy's skills.
In Greg Oden's case, it might be the only factor, as he has only suited up for a mere 84 total games since being the No. 1 pick in 2007.
Oden's worked hard to get back on the floor with the Miami Heat this year—which should be commended—but he's a mere shell of the player he once was.
Draft Position: No. 4 overall, 2004
Entering the college ranks as one of the top players in the country, point guard Shaun Livingston had the option to go to any college he wanted to.
After skipping the process of selecting a high-profile school, the kid entered himself into the NBA draft instead, getting selected as the No. 4 pick by the L.A. Clippers.
It seemed to be a good match, with an exciting point guard coming to Hollywood.
Draft Position: No. 13 overall, 2004
Much like the previously mentioned Shaun Livingston, Sebastian Telfair was one of the most talked about high school players in the entire country, even finding himself in a feature with Sports Illustrated.
Looking back on that now would cause some fans to laugh, though, as Telfair has bounced around the league since being drafted 13th by the Portland Trail Blazers, playing for seven teams and not even coming close to the all-world hype he was talked about when entering the league as a teen in 2004.
He's currently playing in China.
Draft Position: No. 1 overall, 1990
The only reason why former NFL quarterback Jeff George isn't higher on this list is because, for some unknown reason, teams always kept the flame-throwing signal-caller on their radar as an injury replacement each season.
Sure, George had a cannon of an arm, but his meager stats suggest that he should have never last 12 years in the league.
To think that he was the No. 1 overall pick is actually pretty funny to me.
Draft Position: No. 1 overall, 1980
This picture of former top pick Joe Barry Carroll going against the legendary Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is about the closest he'd ever get to the Hall of Fame.
Taken by the Golden State Warriors first overall, he actually earned the nickname, "Joe Barely Cares" because of his lack of desire to play.
He did wind up lasting 10 years in the league with decent numbers but provided little impact for a top pick.
Draft Positions: Emtman, No. 1 overall. Coryatt, No. 2 overall, 1992
I promise you that I'm not picking on the Indianapolis Colts with this one.
But after seeing how not just one but both of their top two picks—the first couple of the draft—ended up as busts, I have to ask who was doing the scouting in Indy.
Emtman's body lasted just 18 games in three seasons with the Colts before playing elsewhere for another three.
Coryatt wasn't much better, though, totaling just 8.5 sacks in his seven years in the league.
Draft Position: No. 5 overall, 1988
The first MLB player to be mentioned on my list, this Billy Bene might share a name with the well-respected current GM of the Oakland A's, but he typically gets thought of in a negative light when people talk about him.
Part of that is his play on the baseball field, as he failed to ever reach the majors, going just 18-34 with a 5.45 ERA in nine seasons in the minors.
It could also have something to do with his recent arrest for selling illegal karaoke jukeboxes.
Either way, it's not good stuff for Bene.
Draft Position: No. 12 overall, 1992
Can you believe this guy was actually nicknamed "Baby Jordan" when he played in the league because of his leaping ability?
Draft Position: No. 1 overall, 2013
Is it too early to put current benchwarmer Anthony Bennett on this list?
But as someone who has extra incentive in him because I'm a Cleveland Cavs fan, I just had to show my frustration somehow.
And to be honest, according to stat geeks, Bennett deserves to be on here—as his numbers pan out to potentially being the worst ever for a rookie.
Draft Position: No. 25 overall, 2010
Yep, I'm saying it—Tim Tebow was a bust.
I know that the numbers suggest he is a winner. After all, he did win two national titles while at Florida and a Heisman trophy as well as leading the Denver Broncos to the playoffs in 2011 however unconventional it was.
Tebow is a good guy and a polarizing figure, but he failed to develop as a passer—as his career 47.9 percent completion percentage suggests—making him a liability under center.
Draft Position: No. 2 overall, 2005
It's not that Marvin Williams isn't a solid player, it's just that he's not a star, either.
And when a team invests a top pick in a guy—more so, the No. 2 overall—that team typically expects the player to change the franchise for the better.
Williams' career numbers are on par with a role player, suggest that he's more "just there" than trying to dominate.
Draft Position: No. 9 overall, 1998
I'm not so sure that Sean Burroughs was ever really expected to redefine the third base position when he first got drafted, but I'd think that the San Diego Padres were hoping for better numbers than he produced.
In just four seasons with the team, he blasted just 11 homers and drove in 133 runs, before playing for a few more teams until this past season.
Draft Position: No. 2 overall, 1989
I'm really glad that I remembered former Duke star Danny Ferry was drafted with the second selection in his draft class, because he was one of the worst picks at that slot ever.
Yeah, Ferry played 13 total seasons and even won a title his last year, but don't think he had anything to do with it.
His most famous moment may have been nearly fighting with Michael Jordan during a playoff battle.
Draft Position: No. 3 overall, 2001
Just because his name sounds like a solid hockey name, it doesn't mean that Alexander Svitov ever became the star the Tampa Bay Lightning had hoped he would be.
Dude lasted just three years in the NHL, and although he's still playing professionally, it's not in the grand stage.
Draft Position: No. 2 overall, 1993
Rick Mirer reminded every single NFL general manager that just because a guy played at Notre Dame, he wasn't destined to become the next Joe Montana.
With a career record of 24-44 in eight seasons and a TD-INT ratio of 50-76, it looks like Mirer proved that seeing how he was the No. 2 pick in the draft.
Draft Position: No. 4 overall, 1994
Every young athlete dreams of the chance to play as a professional one day, with the hopes of not only winning a title or more, but earning a hefty paycheck at the same time.
So for anyone out there who gets the chance to, don't ruin the opportunity like Jason Bonsignore did, who refused to first sign his contract, and then is regarded as the worst draft pick of the franchise that picked him, the Edmonton Oilers.
Draft Position: No. 1 overall, 1996
Yes, former pitcher Kris Benson may have had a smokin' hot wife, Anna Benson, but honestly, that's about the only reason fans even remembered this guy.
With pedestrian numbers, Benson didn't turn into the ace everyone touted him as, instead hovering right around .500 for his career.
Draft Position: No. 1 overall, 1998
In a long line of L.A. Clippers draft busts, Michael Olowokandi might be one of the worst.
It's not that he flamed-out like some of the other guys who may have been high selections—he did last 10 seasons in the league—it's that he was a reach from the very beginning, coming from small school the University of the Pacific.
For failing to do what a top overall pick is supposed to do, "The Kandi Man" lands here.
Draft Position: No. 1 overall, 1984
Anytime teams hear about a guy being a multisport star, they usually drool over the perceived athleticism of that guy.
I can't help but think this was the case with former top pick Shawn Abner.
Drafted by the New York Mets, Abner failed to ever drive in more than 16 runs in a season, blast more than three homers or hit over .279 in six years.
Draft Position: No. 3 overall, 2002
While it pains me personally to add former NFL quarterback Joey Harrington to this list because of my love for playing with the Oregon Ducks on NCAA 2002, his numbers were too terrible to ignore.
Known as "Heisman Harrington" because of a campaign to get him college football's most prestigious individual award, Joey couldn't translate his game to the pros, going just 26-50 and having a TD-INT rate of 79-85 in his six years.
Draft Position: No. 3 overall, 1994
How bad was Heath Shuler for the Washington Redskins?
So poor that the team replaced him with a guy—Gus Frerotte—who actually was dumb enough to headbutt a wall.
All kidding aside, Shuler may have been smart enough to play the position, but he didn't have the skills, lasting just 22 total starts in his career, and throwing 15 touchdowns to 33 picks.
Draft Position: No. 3 overall, 2000
Remember how I mentioned Michael Olowokandi may have topped the list of worst draft picks by the beleaguered L.A. Clippers franchise? I might take that back after remembering Darius Miles.
Known for his lack of effort and off-the-court problems, Miles totally flopped not just in L.A., but with the other three teams he played for as well.
For all future NBA players, please don't model your game, attitude or decision making after Miles if you want to stick around the Association.
Draft Position: No. 1 overall, 1974
The first player ever drafted by the Washington Capitals franchise, Greg Joly might have a name that puts a smile on everyone's face, but it's too bad his hockey game did the exact opposite.
Touted as the next Bobby Orr—seriously—the defenseman was forced to play from the very beginning for the worst team in NHL history (the Caps went 8-67-5), scoring only one goal in 44 games his rookie year and ending his career with just 97 total points.
Draft Position: No. 1 overall, 1972
Don't be fooled by his killer afro, because the 6'11" former center may have looked the part of an NBA player in the disco era, but he didn't play like one.
LaRue Martin lasted just four seasons in Portland, averaging just 14 minutes per game, and ending with a scoring and rebounding average of 5.3/4.6.
There shouldn't be any debate as to Martin being one of the worst No. 1 picks in NBA history.
Draft Position: No. 3 overall, 2006
It might be a bold move, but saying that Vince Young was one of the best quarterbacks to ever play college football in the 2000s isn't a stretch.
He was constantly on the highlight reel with plays that were either winning big games for Texas, or extending plays with his mobility.
And although Young actually got off to a great start in his pro career by winning the AP Offensive Rookie of the Year Award, he did little after that.
Drafted No. 3 overall by the Tennessee Titans, Young had some solid seasons in Nashville but has ultimately lacked the focus to become as great as he could have been. Not to mention he now finds himself bankrupt, per the Houston Chronicle, as he seemed to spend his millions like people hand out candy on Halloween.
Draft Position: No. 1 overall, 1994
Here are a few names who were drafted after the New York Mets took Paul Wilson No. 1 overall in the 1994 draft—Nomar Garciaparra, Paul Konerko and Jason Varitek.
Now those guys might not be waiting for their call to join the Hall of Fame, but they would have been a much better option than Wilson, who ended his seven-year MLB career with a 40-58 record in 153 career starts, carrying a lifetime ERA of 4.86.
Draft Position: No. 101 overall, 2005
I know that former Ohio State stud running back Maurice Clarett probably wasn't expected to do anything when he came into the league as a surprise third-rounder back in 2005.
I also don't think the Denver Broncos—or anyone, at that—thought he wouldn't even survive training camp, getting cut before ever even taking a snap for the team.
After an unbelievable freshman campaign in Columbus that ended with a national title, Clarett showed that his talent was immense—he just got caught up in other things to distract him.
Draft Position: No. 1 overall, 1997
Before there was Justin Verlander or Max Scherzer, the Detroit Tigers thought that their ace would be former No. 1 overall pick Matt Anderson.
A flame-throwing righty, the guy had the build and stuff to dominate in the majors—or so scouts thought.
Anderson is one of the rare busts on this list that actually has a winning record—he finished at 15-7 with a 5.19 ERA in seven years—but that's hardly what the Tigers thought they were getting when they snatched him first overall.
Draft Position: No. 1 overall, 1999
I'd really just like to point out that Patrik Stefan, a former first overall pick in the NHL draft, missed an empty-netter that any of our grandmothers could have made.
That's not the only reason he was a bust—that would be because of his 188 total points in eight NHL seasons—but it definitely doesn't help his claim.
Draft Position: No. 1 overall, 2002
Playing for four different teams in his five-year career, is there any doubt that former top pick Bryan Bullington was a total bust?
Add in his 1-9 overall record, 5.63 ERA and a measly 10 games started, and Bullington might just be the worst No. 1 pick who actually made it to the majors in history.
Draft Position: No. 1 overall, 1989
He may have been known as "Never Nervous Pervis" from his days at Louisville, but when suiting up in the NBA, Pervis Ellison sure looked lost and a little nervous playing with those pros.
Battling injuries throughout his 11-year career, Ellison averaged just about 40 games per season, tallying 9.5 points and 6.7 rebounds per game, which is considered underwhelming if you ask me.
Draft Position: No. 1 overall, 1995
Coming out of Penn State, the Cincinnati Bengals thought that they tabbed the talented Ki-Jana Carter as their franchise back for years to come.
Didn't happen that way, as Carter suffered a knee injury on just his third carry in the preseason, setting the stage towards a seven-year career that saw him rush for just 1,144 yards.
Draft Position: No. 1 overall, 1971 and 1975
It's bad enough to get noticed for being a bust after being selected first overall one time, but poor Danny Goodwin has the distinction of it happening to him twice!
Unfortunately, carrying that rare title didn't help Goodwin too much, as he managed to somehow last seven seasons but hit just .236, jacking 13 homers and driving in just 81.
I guess being first twice isn't as good as it might sound.
Draft Position: No. 1 overall, 1993
Originally touted as the next Mario Lemieux, right winger Alexandre Daigle did nothing to help his new franchise do anything memorable—besides losing—as the Ottawa Senators won just a total of 33 games in the first three seasons with Daigle on the ice for them.
He got handed the highest rookie contract in NHL history yet spoiled any future success by totaling just 327 points in his 10 seasons.
Draft Position: No. 1 overall, 1988
As a speedy linebacker from Auburn, Aundray Bruce made scouts' jaws drop with his athleticism and raw talent.
It's too bad the workouts didn't translate into production on the football field while wearing pads, as Bruce registered just 32 sacks in his 42 starts over an 11-year career.
Oh, and to add insult to Atlanta Falcons fans, Neil Smith—who was selected No. 2—finished with 105 careers sacks, and three wideouts—Tim Brown, Sterling Sharpe and Michael Irvin—are all going to be Hall of Famers.
Draft Position: No. 3 overall, 1999
Look, I'm mindful that the Cincinnati Bengals have more than a few guys on this list, so I promise I'm not just picking on them.
But I'd think that any football fan would agree that Akili Smith was an absolute garbage selection at No. 3 in the 1999 NFL draft.
He may have run an entertaining offense while at Oregon for the Ducks, but he struggled in the league, lasting just four years, finishing with a 3-14 record.
Draft Position: No. 3 overall, 1986
As part of the one of the most tragic draft classes in NBA history when it came to drugs—with Len Bias (No. 2), Washburn, William Bedford (No. 6) and Roy Tarpley (No. 7) all having drug problems—Washburn merely went through the motions of playing basketball during his short career.
Draft Position: No. 1 overall, 1983
The only U.S. high school player taken with the first overall pick in the NHL, Brian Lawton just couldn't cut it when on the ice with the big boys.
Envisioning him as a scorer, the Minnesota North Stars instead got a guy who couldn't even sharpen his own skates or tape his own stick, as Lawton finished his nine-year career with 112 total scores and 154 assists.
He recently got arrested this past summer, just adding to his legacy.
Draft Position: No. 1 overall, 1991
Brien Taylor was supposed to be the once-in-a-generation talent that the New York Yankees seemingly always somehow get.
Despite all the buzz around the hard-throwing lefty, Taylor never even made his way to the Bronx, failing to ever strap on a Yankees uniform in the Stadium.
Over the course of seven minor league seasons, Taylor went just 22-30 with a 5.12 ERA, while showing that the Yanks do, in fact, strike out once in awhile.
Draft Position: No. 4, 1982
Showing that he had serious talent by finishing in the top six during the Heisman voting three times in his collegiate career at Ohio State, the Indianapolis Colts had banked on the fact that Art Schlichter could resurrect their franchise, as they selected him No. 4 overall.
Draft Position: No. 2 overall, 1984
Don't get me wrong, Sam Bowie wasn't a terrible basketball player—and I'm not saying that just because we both went to the University of Kentucky—he just had some bad luck.
Injuries aside, Bowie isn't known as a bust because of what he failed to do on the court when actually playing, but because of what a certain guy who was drafted after him did.
Michael Jordan was selected right after Bowie at No. 3, finishing his career with six titles and five league MVP awards, going down as the greatest player in history—and the big man is constantly reminded of that just about, oh, every day.
Draft Position: No. 2 overall, 1989
Like a few other names on this list, Tony Mandarich was a complete beast while at the combine, displaying freak strength and agility for a dude his size.
That's what made the Packers fall in love with him, selecting the former Michigan State left tackle second overall.
Draft Position: No. 2 overall, 2003
Considered one of the most polished receivers to come out of college, Charles Rogers was believed to be a stud in the making.
It's too bad for both him and the Detroit Lions that it didn't work out that way.
Sadly, his one shining moment might be his Madden 2004 commercial.
Draft Position: No. 1 overall, 2001
It's crazy to think that Michael Jordan was such a dominant player during his NBA career but is pretty awful at evaluating talent as a front-office executive.
Striking out big time by selecting former high school star Kwame Brown with the top pick in the 2001 NBA draft, Jordan actually experienced what it was like to fail when it came to basketball.
It's not that Brown was just ill-prepared for the pro game, but he just didn't seem to care, lacking any focus or drive to get any better.
He's somehow managed to stick around for the past 13 years, playing for a variety of teams in that span.
Draft Position: No. 1 overall, 2007
When fans debate the ultimate draft bust, JaMarcus Russell’s name usually has a tendency to find its way towards the top—and with good reason.
Russell's three seasons as the Oakland Raiders quarterback were completely lackluster, proving that he didn’t have the wherewithal to hold down the responsibilities of being a starting quarterback in the league.
Rather than inflate his stats, dude packed on the pounds by ballooning to a huge weight, and ultimately getting in trouble off the field to make matters worse.
Draft Position: No. 1 overall, 2004
Being a hometown kid from nearby San Diego, the Padres believed that they not only secured a guy who wanted to succeed for the proximity of staying close by, but also a dynamic infielder who could become the next great All-Star.
Instead, they got a kid who battled serious drug problems and felt entitled to all the millions he had been given, with him drunkenly assaulting a high school lacrosse player with a golf club and yelling, “I’m F'ing Matt Bush” during the altercation, per the Union Tribune.
In prison now, Bush actually chose to stay there until 2016 because his alcohol problem is so bad.
Draft Position: No. 2 overall, 2003
Other than LeBron James, there was no player selected ahead of Darko Milicic in the 2003 NBA draft when the Detroit Pistons thought the 17-year-old Serbian was a franchise changer.
That was a big mistake, as the proceeding picks were Carmelo Anthony (No.3), Chris Bosh (No. 4) and Dwyane Wade (No. 5).
Think the Pistons want a mulligan after seeing how Darko's NBA career ended up?
Draft Position: No. 2 overall, 1998
Each time I write about Ryan Leaf, the natural first thought becomes, "How was this guy even considered a threat to Peyton Manning at No. 1?"
Comparing where the two are at this point in their lives—with Manning set to play in his third career Super Bowl and Leaf in prison—I can't believe the Indianapolis Colts had to even think twice about whom to select.
As it stands, Leaf went to San Diego to play for the Chargers, totaling a 4-17 record with 14 touchdowns and 36 interceptions in 25 career starts, showing his immaturity with teammates, coaches and the media in the failed process.
And in the, "I can't make this stuff up" department, news came out in the past few days that Leaf actually convinced the Colts to draft Peyton Manning rather than himself, because he didn't want to play in Indy.
Ryan, every single Colts fan thanks you.
Draft Position: No. 6 overall, 1996
Some may think that putting former NFL running back Lawrence Phillips as my biggest bust in sports history might be crazy.
Alas, you need a refresher.
Blessed with all the physical tools to be a dominating running back, it's what he did and didn't do once in the NFL that makes him an enormous bust.
Rushing for just over 1,400 yards in three seasons for the Rams, Dolphins and 49ers, Phillips seemed to find trouble everywhere he went, getting busted several different times and ultimately winding up in prison.