5 biggest draft day blunders in NFL history

These picks had NFL teams waiving red flag
Vernon Gholston and Ryan Leaf, NFL draft busts
Posted at 2:00 PM, Apr 24, 2024

With the NFL Draft on tap starting Thursday night, takes a look back at the five worst first-round picks in modern NFL history.

JaMarcus Russell, QB, Oakland Raiders, No. 1, 2007

JaMarcus Russell, Oakland Raiders QB, 2007
Oakland Raiders quarterback JaMarcus Russell passes against the Denver Broncos in the second quarter of a game in Oakland, Calif., Sunday, Dec. 2, 2007.

The top pick of the Raiders in 2007 only lasted three seasons in the NFL.

Although he started 25 of the 31 games in which he played, Russell was turnover-prone, throwing 23 interceptions and fumbling 25 times. The writing was on the wall for Russell when the Raiders traded for Jason Campbell before the 2010 season.

Russell finished with a career passer rating of 65.2. Ouch.

Ki-Jana Carter, RB, Cincinnati Bengals, No. 1, 1995

Ki-Jana Carter, Cincinnati Bengals, injured in 1995 preseason game
Cincinnati Bengals running back Ki-Jana Carter sits on the bench with his left knee iced after getting injured on his third carry of the game against the Detroit Lions during his NFL debut, Thursday, Aug. 17, 1995, in Pontiac, Mich.

The Bengals traded up in the 1995 NFL Draft to select the former Penn State running back with the first overall pick. But he barely saw the field during his time in Cincinnati, tearing a ligament in his knee on his third carry in the first preseason game of his rookie year. The injury forced him to miss the entire 1995 season.

Carter returned to play in all 16 games in 1996 and all but one game in 1997 before breaking his wrist in the 1998 season opener. He was placed on injured reserve after dislocating a kneecap in the third game of the 1999 season and was released by the Bengals the next year.

Ryan Leaf, QB, San Diego Chargers, No. 2, 1998

Ryan Leaf, San Diego Chargers, 1998
San Diego Chargers rookie quarterback Ryan Leaf tries to figure out what play is being called from the bench during the first quarter against the San Francisco 49ers, Saturday, Aug. 8, 1998, in San Diego. Leaf completed 14 of 20 passes for 116 yards and one touchdown.

The No. 2 overall pick from Washington State wasted little time drawing the ire of the Chargers, skipping the final day of a mandatory rookie symposium and incurring a $10,000 fine.

Three days before the third game of his rookie season, Leaf was hospitalized for a viral infection that he attributed to "turf burn," played poorly in a 23-7 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs (completing only one of 15 passes for 4 yards with two interceptions and four fumbles) and then went on a locker room tirade aimed at a San Diego reporter that was caught on camera. He was soon after benched for the remainder of the 1998 season.

The downward spiral continued in 1999, when Leaf suffered a season-ending shoulder injury in his first training camp workout, had to be restrained by coaches after being heckled by a fan and was suspended after getting into a shouting match with general manager Bobby Beathard.

Leaf returned for the 2000 season, but the damage had been done. He was released in 2001, having won just four games as a starter, had a failed comeback attempt with the Dallas Cowboys and finished his NFL career with a putrid 14-to-36 touchdown-to-interception ratio.

Charles Rogers, WR, Detroit Lions, No. 2, 2003

Charles Rogers holds up Detroit Lions jersey at 2003 NFL Draft
Charles Rogers, a wide receiver from Michigan State, holds up a Detroit Lions jersey after he was selected as the second overall pick at the NFL Draft, Saturday, April 26, 2003, in New York.

The former Michigan State star couldn't make it through a full season in the three years he spent in Detroit. The second overall pick in the 2003 NFL Draft suffered a season-ending injury in the fifth game of his rookie year. He suffered another season-ending injury in the 2004 opener and returned to his home state of Florida as the Lions carried on without him.

A third violation of the NFL's substance abuse policy in 2005 resulted in a four-game suspension and led the Lions to file a grievance, claiming the team was owed $10 million of the $14.2 million Rogers received in bonuses for violating a clause in his contract.

Rogers amassed just four touchdowns in his brief NFL career. He died of liver failure in 2019 in Fort Myers, Florida. He was 38.

Vernon Gholston, DE, New York Jets, No. 6, 2008

Vernon Gholston sits on bench, New York Jets, 2010
New York Jets defensive end Vernon Gholston sits on the bench during the second half of a game, Sunday, Sept. 26, 2010, in Miami Gardens, Florida. The Jets defeated the Dolphins 31-23.

The sixth overall pick in the 2008 draft, this former Ohio State pass rusher started just five games in three seasons with the Jets and never recorded a sack.

That's hardly the kind of production expected from the defensive end who set a school record for the Buckeyes with 14 sacks as a redshirt junior in 2007.

He was cut after three seasons and never caught on with another NFL team.

Coming Thursday: You've seen the biggest draft busts in NFL history. Now check out the five picks that turned the fortunes of a franchise — and the NFL — for the better.