Ranking the 5 worst #1 picks in the NFL Draft
NFL Draft season is, perhaps, the most exciting time in the offseason calendar, yet it doesn’t always end well for the team with the first overall pick.
NFL franchises are usually at the forefront of the draft order due to their poor performances in the prior season, which means they are the most desperate for salvation in the form of franchise talent.
Often, quarterbacks are the chosen prospects due to the importance of their position on the field, but there is no guarantee of success in the NFL.
The pressure, increased quality of opponents, and even managing fame and wealth can derail young prospects in the NFL, and this is something we’ve seen all too regularly.
Who are the 5 worst first-overall picks in NFL Draft history?
5. Ki-Jana Carter - Running Back, 1995 NFL Draft, Cincinnati Bengals
Ki-Jana Carter is a player who, under normal circumstances, wouldn’t have even made this list, yet it’s impossible to overlook his dismal career in the NFL.
Injuries are the main reason why Carter found it so difficult to take his collegiate prowess into the professional sphere, but his talent was so strong that the Cincinnati Bengals traded up to take him with the first overall pick in the 1995 NFL Draft.
Carter was expected to be the franchise running back for the Bengals, having excelled at Penn State, rushing for 2,829 yards over three seasons. In that time, he also scored 34 rushing touchdowns, including a phenomenal final year in which he found the endzone 23 times.
Unfortunately for Carter and the Bengals, he tore his ACL in the opening pre-season game and didn’t return until the 1996 season.
For the four seasons he was in Cincinnati, Carter rushed for just 747 yards before moving to Washington and later New Orleans.
In his final two seasons with the Bengals, injuries kept him on the sidelines for all but four matches.
A total of seven seasons in the NFL saw Carter rush for 1144 yards, a tally far below what his talent deserved.
Carter wasn’t a bad running back; however, he made this list because, for a first overall pick, his career was a serious disappointment.
4. David Carr - Quarterback, 2002 NFL Draft, Houston Texans
Being drafted as the first-ever Houston Texan was an unenviable position for David Carr when the expansion franchise took the quarterback with the first overall pick in the 2002 NFL Draft.
Carr had a serviceable NFL career, where he played for three different teams, yet considering he was the first quarterback selected in the draft, his performances were a disappointment.
While very few have anything bad to say about Carr’s professionalism, it was his play on the field that drew criticism.
He was behind a historically poor offensive line in Houston, but being sacked 249 times over five seasons is hardly a sign of glowing quarterback play.
Carr had a very slow-release time which didn’t become a problem until he arrived in the NFL, making him incapable of making sharp progress up the field. He held onto the ball for too long and just didn’t play well as a starting quarterback in the NFL.
It's not his fault where he was drafted, but you’d expect more from a player of that reputation, and his play was a serious disappointment.
3. Aundray Bruce - Linebacker, 1988 NFL Draft, Atlanta Falcons
It’s telling that a linebacker hasn’t been chosen with the first pick of the NFL Draft since Aundray Bruce went to the Atlanta Falcons in 1988.
Bruce was a victim of his era, with every team looking for the next Lawrence Taylor, a dominant linebacker who could get to the quarterback and lead a defense.
However, there are very few players like Taylor, and in elevating Bruce up to the first overall pick, the Falcons probably set him up to fail.
He spent four seasons in Atlanta, but managed to record just 16 sacks, which is hardly a high number for a player who was brought in to be a jack-of-all-trades on defense.
Bruce simply struggled to match up to expectations, and perhaps the Falcons front-office simply misjudged his abilities. It says a lot that in his entire NFL career, which spanned 151 games, he never finished an individual season with more than six sacks.
Bruce wasn’t a bad NFL player, and going any later than 10th overall in 1988 would have been fine. But when you consider his unimpressive statistics and the fact he has scared teams off selecting linebackers first overall ever since, it’s pretty hard not to label him a poor NFL Draft Pick.
2. Tim Couch - Quarterback, 1999 NFL Draft, Cleveland Browns
Tim Couch is a player who never fully got the chance to showcase his talent in the NFL, at least, from a health perspective. Many spoke glowingly about his arm talent, and he was a prodigious quarterback coming out of Kentucky.
Once again, considered an NFL Draft bust because of his historic lack of production, it’s worth noting that Couch never worked with a full set of tools in the NFL.
His shoulder and arm ligaments had been so damaged over the years that he was unhealthy pretty much for the entirety of his career.
Once again, Couch was the victim of a team needing a figurehead. The year 1999 was the first year back in the NFL for the Browns after the Art Modell fiasco, and he was perhaps catapulted up their NFL draft board to help sell tickets and give the team some quarterback hope.
“Tim was no bust. It kills me when people call him a bust. His arm was just so torn up he couldn’t play anymore,” Former Browns Offensive Coordinator, Bruce Arians, said of Couch in an interview with Peter King.
Couch is remembered as a bust because he spent so few years in the NFL. His career in Cleveland came to an end after five seasons.
In that time, he threw for 11,131 yards and 64 touchdowns and led the Browns to the playoffs in 2002.
He wasn’t ever able to show what he could do in the NFL because of physical limitations, but when you’re taken first overall as a quarterback in the NFL Draft, you have to hope for more production than what Couch offered.
1. JaMarcus Russell - Quarterback, 2007 NFL Draft, Oakland Raiders
There is no competition for this spot, with JaMarcus Russell undoubtedly the worst first overall NFL Draft Pick of all time, and perhaps even one of the worst NFL Draft picks in general.
Russell was drafted in 2007 and arrived at a historic franchise with the Oakland Raiders, who had a set of fans that would defend a loyal player to the hilt.
It was the perfect situation for a player to walk into, yet Russell simply wasn’t interested in doing any work… at all.
From minute one, Russell’s NFL career was just plain bad. He held out throughout the entirety of his first training camp and into the first week of the NFL season, until he finally signed a six-year deal that is believed to have been worth around $68 million dollars.
Russell didn’t make his NFL debut until December of that season, and he didn’t start until the last game of his rookie year.
As questions of Russell’s work ethic became more prominent, the infamous story of Raiders coaches giving him a fake play-tape to study now holds legendary status.
Russell was out of the NFL after just three seasons and threw for just 18 touchdowns for a total of 4,083 yards.
He was, perhaps, the costliest draft bust in NFL history, and it was entirely self-inflicted. His unwillingness to work marked him for failure, and the Raiders paid the price and will never be allowed to forget it.