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Top 5, Dead Or Alive: The Worst Draft Busts In Sports History

Welcome to the first installment in the new era of Top 5 Dead Or Alive. This feature, returning from a hiatus, is designed specifically to make life hell for our employees. Each week, we’ll ask one of our writers to come up with a definitive list of the five best people, places or things in a particularly subjective category — then, we’ll ask you to tell him who or what is missing from the list. Feel free to be a total dick.

Today, we’ve asked summer intern Zach Berger to name the five worst draft busts in sports history in honor of last night’s NBA Draft. Tell him what he missed in the comments, e-mail him, or tweet at him.

Draft busts are always a fun topic to talk about. Everyone wants to be the one to accurately predict a bust for a told-you-so moment a few years down the road. Everyone wants to claim they knew this player or that player wasn’t made for the next level. But the truth of the matter is that predicting a bust is nearly impossible and scouting is one of the toughest jobs in any professional sports league. On the other hand, hindsight is 20/20.

Considering how NBA drafts typically work out, the majority of the players selected last night will never make an impact in the league. Chances are, only a handful of the lottery picks will still be talked about three or four years from now.

Anthony Bennett of UNLV was selected first overall by the Cleveland Cavaliers last night. Indiana’s Victor Oladipo and Cody Zeller went second and fourth to the Magic and Bobcats respectively. Georgetown’s Otto Porter went third to Washington. Maryland’s Alex Len went fifth to the Suns.

Will all five of them be NBA all-stars? Absolutely not. Will more of them be busts than not? Probably. I wouldn’t be remotely surprised if Oladipo was the only very successful player of the five. I’ll add that Porter will almost certainly be a solid NBA role player thanks to his shot, but he isn’t Stephen Curry.

But when you think about the draft and you think about draft busts, you naturally want to talk about the National Football League. The NFL Draft is a bigger sporting event than the Stanley Cup Finals. Last year’s first round averaged around 6.2 million viewers at any given point in time, while the Blackhawks-Bruins series averaged 5.76 million viewers a game on NBC (Game 1 and 4-6).

There will always be iconic first overall busts like JaMarcus Russell, drafted out of LSU in 2007 by the Oakland Raiders. Russell was essentially a useless blob of fat for his entire short-lived career in Oakland. He won’t make my list, simply because the Raiders were desperate for a quarterback and took the best one on the board. There was not one good quarterback in that 2007 NFL Draft. But Calvin Johnson, Adrian Peterson, Patrick Willis, Marshawn Lynch, and Darrelle Revis were all taken later in that first round.

There is that rare case when a bust makes a comeback and proves the haters wrong, as San Francisco 49ers quarterback Alex Smith has done. Smith was the first overall pick in 2005 NFL Draft. He sucked for a bunch of years, but he turned his career around in 2011 when Jim Harbaugh took over the team. Smith had his best career completion percentage that season (61.3 percent) to go along with 3,144 yards (his most ever), 17 touchdowns, and five interceptions.

Smith lost his job after getting injured 10 games into the 2012 season despite playing his best football ever (he was completing 70.2 percent of passes when he went down), but he proved to draft busts everywhere that it is possible to turn it around. That isn’t always the case. In fact, it almost never is.

Let’s take a quick look at the criteria that I’ll be using to analyze the worst draft busts ever:

1. How high was he drafted? If you were the tenth overall pick and you suck, you are not making the list.

2. Just how shitty was he? There have always been high draft picks that are solid role players through their entire career but never have the impact that was expected. When I say bust, I mean the guys that really stunk up the joint, like when Vernon Gholston never registered a sack in the NFL.

3. What did the team that drafted him give up to get him? If a team traded a ton to obtain a pick that was used to draft a bust, that is what we call a bust multiplier. It adds on to the bust status because you cost your team more than just the draft pick that they spent on you.

4. Who was taken after him? When a player turns out to be a bust, it’s often worse when you look back and realize that a bunch of Hall of Famers were drafted after him.

So without further ado, here are five guys whose pictures would fit perfectly next to “draft bust” in the dictionary:

  • Anonymous

    Ricky? That shit cray. Gimme Charles Rogers. Or Drew Henson, even. Akili.

  • Seahawk

    Or Jamarcus.

  • gmab

    Ricky Williams – Over 10,000 career yards rushing and 2400 receiving. More rushing yards than Herschel Walker, Roger Craig or Larry Csonka. Yep, total bust…

  • Zach Berger

    I mentioned in the article that I didn’t pick JaMarcus because the Raiders desperately needed a quarterback and took the guy that was widely thought to be the best one on the board. There wasn’t one good quarterback taken after him, so it’s hard to put him in the top (or bottom) five for me. Jamarcus Russell was horrific, don’t get me wrong.

  • Zach Berger

    Ricky was a good running back, but with the value Ditka put on him by trading an entire draft’s worth of picks plus another first and third, he’s a massive bust in my book. To live up to the amount that Ditka spent to get him, he’d have to be a top 10 running back of all time. He didn’t come close.

  • Zach Berger

    See my response to @mattrud:disqus.

  • Zach Berger

    As for the three you mentioned… if I didn’t put JaMarcus on my top five, I couldn’t put Akili on there. Henson wasn’t drafted high enough in either league to be a real bust. Rogers is top ten for sure.

  • Renaldo Johnston

    Homie… you’re a doggone fool for having Ricky ahead of Kwame. Ricky was a good number 1 pick, it’s irrelevant what Ditka gave up to get him.

  • Seahawk

    Gotcha. Thanks for the list, good fun..

  • gmab

    So basically you are applying only criteria #3 to him? Because criteria #1 is not significant since he was only the #5 pick and not #1 or 2 like others listed, or many others that could have been mentioned. Criteria #2 is out as I previously stated (i.e. #27 in all time rushing). And criteria #4 you listed is not valid. I understand your point that Ditka gave up a ton for him, but he still had a very solid career that most others would not label a bust – especially by all 4 criteria you outlined.

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