NFL's 10 worst draft classes by team of the Super Bowl era
The No. 1 draft pick at the first-ever NFL draft was, by modern definitions, a bust.
That player was Jay Berwanger, a University of Chicago superstar who was the inaugural Heisman Trophy winner. The Eagles were unable to sign Berwanger after drafting him in 1936, so they traded his rights to the Bears. They, too, failed to meet Berwanger's demands and so the legendary halfback never played a down in the National Football League.
The draft has become no less of a crapshoot in the 79 years since Berwanger's holdout. Some teams have had less luck than others.
NFL Worst Week on SI.com comes to its conclusion with a look back at the most painful missteps in recent NFL draft history. The 10 worst draft classes by team of the Super Bowl era:
10. Detroit Lions, 2005
The NFL draft has seen more than its fair share of inept front offices. Colts fans probably still curse Chris Polian's name for some of his work, and there was a stretch during the '70s (you'll see one of the classes later) where the Chiefs appear to have made picks by pulling names from a hat.
There is not a general manager more synonymous with botched drafts, though, than Matt Millen. Just imagine what his legacy would be if he hadn't brought Calvin Johnson to Detroit. Consider the this class's spot on our list something of a lifetime achievement award for Millen.
Top to bottom, this probably was his worst draft. The Charles Rogers-led debacle of 2003 at least produced Cory Redding, who was a 16-game starter for the Colts last year and signed with Arizona this off-season. Ernie Sims and Jonathan Scott have held on following Millen's laughable 2006.
The only active player left from the Lions' 2005 class is Orlovsky, who is about to enter the second season of his second stint as Detroit's backup quarterback. He has thrown for just shy of 3,000 yards in his career, although he's most famous for running out of the end zone for a safety during that 0–16 season. Cody latched on as a nose tackle in Houston from 2009–12, finishing with 1.5 sacks and 59 tackles as a Texan. Millen traded up to get him in Round 2 at the expense of Detroit's 2005 fourth-rounder.
9. Miami Dolphins, 1984
Notable picks: Jackie Shipp, LB (14); Jay Brophy, LB (53); Bud Brown, DB (305)
In 1980 the Dolphins drafted future Hall of Famer Dwight Stephenson. Their 1982 class was led by WR Mark Duper and '83, of course, brought Dan Marino.
Then there's the 1984 draft.
Shipp, like Brown, stuck around on the roster for a few nondescript seasons. The cost to land Shipp, however, only made his lack of production sting more—Miami dealt away its own first-rounder plus two thirds to move up for the Oklahoma product. Just four of the Dolphins' 12 picks remained with the team into the '84 season, not including fifth-round QB Dean May (one career completion). RB Joe Carter (No. 109) rushed for a grand total of 589 yards as an NFL back.
8. Minnesota Vikings, 2005
Notable picks: Troy Williamson, WR (7); Erasmus James, DE (18); C.J. Mosley, DT (191)
Not quite. Williamson scored three touchdowns in three seasons for the Vikings, who eventually traded him away to Jacksonville for a sixth-round pick. That marked a miserable return on the franchise's investment—Minnesota traded Randy Moss to Oakland for the No. 7 pick it used to take Williamson.
Of course, Williamson looks like freaking Jerry Rice compared to the career James put together. After a 4.0-sack rookie season, James was unable to stay healthy. The Vikings traded him, too, getting all of a conditional seventh-rounder back from Washington. (James received an indefinite suspension from the league in 2009.)
Second-round guard Marcus Johnson did play 53 career games, most with Minnesota. However, the silver lining in this class was Mosley, the lone member of it still an active player. Mosely played one year as a Viking and has added nine more with the Jets, Browns, Jaguars and Lions.
7. Oakland Raiders, 2001
Notable picks: Derrick Gibson, DB (28), Marques Tuiasosopo, QB (59), Chris Cooper, DT (184)
Let's just get right to it: Where's the JaMarcus Russell draft class? The Raiders' 2007 effort certainly was a dud in its own right, led by the decision to nab Russell, a legendary bust, at No. 1. But the class was not without its merits—TE Zach Miller and RB Michael Bush have carved out lengthy careers, for starters—so it dodges the humiliation of landing in our top 10.
No such luck for the bunch that came six years earlier. While Gibson may not have been a Russell-level disappointment, he did not come close to living up to his Round 1 billing. Over five seasons in Oakland, Russell notched two interceptions, 3.0 sacks and averaged 31.8 tackles. The Raiders declined a $10 million option on his contract in March 2006, at about the same time that they cut QB Kerry Collins.
Tuiasosopo's career never got off the ground. He did start one game each in 2003 (a loss to K.C.) and 2004 (a loss to the Jets), accounting for a large chunk of his 49 career completions. DeLawrence Grant (No. 89) and Cooper (184) combined for 15.5 sacks in their careers—nothing special but enough to earn a hat tip in the Raiders' 2001 class. Seventh-rounder Ken-Yon Rambo was still kicking around the CFL as of 2013; he caught 17 passes in the NFL, all for Dallas.
6. Atlanta Falcons, 1967
Notable picks: Leo Carroll, DE (31); Jimmy Jordan, RB (57); Bobby Moten, WR (215)
What makes those three players at all notable? They're the only three, of Atlanta's 16 draft picks, to see action in the regular season. Jordan played one game without a carry, Moten three without a catch. Carroll made it longest by far, 27 games—all with either Green Bay or Washington.
The Falcons initially held the No. 3 pick in the 1967 draft, but they traded it to San Francisco. The 49ers then used that selection on one Steve Spurrier, sending back Bernie Casey, Jim Wilson, Jim Norton to Atlanta. Wilson and Norton were both off the Falcons' roster by 1968, while Casey was flipped for Tom Moore, a former Pro Bowler who totaled 178 yards from scrimmage in one season with his new team.
5. St. Louis Rams, 2006
Notable picks: Tye Hill, CB (15); Joe Klopfenstein, TE (46); Victor Adeyanju, DE (113)
It's not always fair to play the whole "they took this player when this other player was available!" game—the NFL draft can be fluky, in general, and scheme/team fits are vital. That said, the Rams used the No. 15 pick on CB Tye Hill while the likes of Antonio Cromartie and Johnathan Joseph were still on the board in Round 1.
The Rams traded down from No. 11, thereby allowing Denver to nab Jay Cutler. Their reward was an extra third-rounder in '06, which they used on DT Claude Wroten (26 career games, zero starts, 1.5 sacks). The Rams' second-rounder, Klopfenstein, had little more to show for his career (34 catches, two touchdowns) despite playing almost twice as many games as Wroten. Adeyanju warrants a mention because he at least was a contributor for a bit. He recorded 3.0 sacks, recovered four fumbles and even scored a touchdown between 2006–09. Not much, but enough for him to stand out amongst this mess.
4. Green Bay Packers, 1981
Notable picks: Rich Campbell, QB (6); Gary Lewis, TE (35); Tim Huffman, G (227)
Until Tony Mandarich came on the scene in 1989, Campbell probably held the honors as Green Bay's all-time biggest draft bust. He might still have a case even if we take Mandarich into account. The Packers already had a serviceable option at quarterback—veteran Lynn Dickey, who led the league in passing (and touchdowns and interceptions) in 1983.
By then, Campbell's career already was headed for home. His career stats: seven games, 31-of-68 passing, 386 yards, three touchdowns, nine interceptions. Lewis caught 21 passes over a brief career. The Packers' third-round pick, punter Ray Stachowicz, finished his career with more kicks blocked (four) than seasons played (three). Ninth-round guard Tim Huffman did play five seasons for the franchise, starting 25 games, while fifth-round DE Byron Biggs and 12th-round linebacker Cliff Lewis suited up in a combined 102 contests. That's hardly enough to salvage this class.
3. Kansas City Chiefs, 1975
Notable picks: Elmore Stephens, TE (34); Morris LaGrand, RB (137)
The Chiefs made 11 draft picks in '75. One player, LaGrand, ever saw action in a regular-season game. The rest of the class reads like the names EA Sports used to fill in rosters on its "NCAA Football" series: Cornelius Walker, Wayne Hoffman, John Snider, etc.
Again, these rankings tried to favor (or is it punish?) those teams that blew their early-round picks. But this set of picks from the Chiefs had such little impact in the NFL that it's impossible to ignore.
And the reason Kansas City did not have a Round 1 pick is because it traded it away to Houston as part of a deal for John Matuszak. In case you don't remember Matuszak, either, he did win a pair of Super Bowls (both with the Raiders), but he lasted just two seasons with the Chiefs. He's more famous for having played Sloth in "The Goonies".
2. New Orleans Saints, 1979
Notable picks: Russell Erxleben, P (11); Jim Kovach, LB (93); Harlan Huckleby, RB (120)
Your eyes do not deceive you. The Saints took a punter with the 11th-overall pick. Well, technically, Erxleben was a kicker/punter, but he was unable to find any success with the former gig in New Orleans (4-for-8 in career field goals). He wasn't even a standout as a pro punter, either—his yards-per-punt clip of 40.6 ranks 128th all-time. In his first game with the franchise Erxleben threw an interception off a botched field goal snap; in his final game there he was carted off the field after failing to make a tackle on Henry Ellard's 72-yard punt return, part of a 26–24 Saints loss that knocked them out of the playoffs.
The Saints' second-round pick in '79, LB Reggie Mathis, started all 16 games his second season. Unfortunately, that also marked the end of his time in New Orleans. Mathis went on to play in the USFL, CFL and Arena Football League. Huckleby spent six years in the NFL, all with Green Bay.
Kovach did what he could to salvage this class. The linebacker out of Kentucky played for Saints for six-plus seasons, starting 58 games. He even earned a second-team, All-NFC nod in 1983. Not bad for a guy selected 82 picks after a punter.
1. Philadelphia Eagles, 1992
Notable picks: Siran Stacy, RB (48); Casey Weldon, QB (102); Mark McMillian, DB (272)
Uh ... wow. If we were retroactively handing out draft grades, this Eagles effort would get a ¯\_(ツ)_/¯. A Football Outsiders study two years ago, based on Pro Football Focus's "Career Adjusted Value" metric, determined that Philadelphia's '92 class was the least productive in NFL history. (The '75 Chiefs missed the cut because they did not have enough picks in the top 222 slots, which was a listed criteria.)
Stacy was the Eagles' highest selection—he played 16 career games and never attempted attempted a single carry in the regular season. Philadelphia had traded away its Round 1 pick the previous season so it could draft offensive lineman Antone Davis, who then spent four rather forgettable years with the team. Weldon, runner-up to Desmond Howard for the 1991 Heisman Trophy, never suited up for the Eagles after being taken in Round 4. He later served as a backup in Tampa Bay and Washington, with additional stops in NFL Europe and the XFL.
The only real player of note to come from Philadelphia's 1992 draft was McMillian. A 10th-rounder, the Alabama product actually led the league with three interception returns for touchdowns (and eight interceptions, total) in 1997. Unfortunately for the Eagles, he put together that performance for the Chiefs.
Not sure this counts as a silver lining, but the Eagles did manage to land an all-timer on the NFL's best-name list: punter Pumpy Tudors, selected No. 299.