NFL's worst players by franchise in the Super Bowl era: AFC
Today kicks off our 'NFL Worst Week', which will highlight some of the worst players, plays and decisions made over the history of the NFL. Here, we pick out the worst player of each AFC franchise in the Super Bowl era (Here's the worst of the NFC). These are the players who were drafted high by the teams involved, signed to huge free-agent contracts or acquired for far too much trade capital, but completely failed to perform. It's not quite as interesting when an undrafted free agent washes out and gets cut before he ever gets a shot at the big time, but there's always a story behind a player who was once great at some level, and just got kicked in the butt by the NFL—or by life in general—at some point.
A few qualifications: The player had to play in the Super Bowl era. The player started 16 games for the franchise. The player is no longer active in the NFL. (Though, we made a few exceptions for the absolute worst.)
I tried my best to choose players who started 16 games, and since Aaron Maybin failed to even come close to that target, Patulski lands atop a field that also includes the likes of Mike Williams and J.P. Losman. Patulski is an old-school draft bust, the No. 1 overall pick in 1972 who was out of the league by 1977. At least he dodged the social-media firestorm that would have followed him through a modern-era career. "In tough situations, he would take the easy way out," his Buffalo coach, Lou Saban, told the L.A. Times back in 1993. "To be aggressive, it just wasn't him." The '72 draft produced five Pro Bowlers among the top 10 picks, plus a Hall of Famer (Franco Harris, No. 13). Patulski never came close to either.
Tough to separate this duo because, right in the heart of Dan Marino's legendary career, the Dolphins spent back-to-back first-round picks on Bosa (1987) and Kumerow (1988). The duo combined for just 12 sacks with the Dolphins, each playing all of three seasons before calling it quits. Miami then spent a 1989 Round 1 selection on RB Sammie Smith, who fumbled enough to make it seem like he might be actively sabotaging the Dolphins.
Not every guy on this list is a draft bust, I promise, but there's really no avoiding it when defining a "worst" player as someone who let down his franchise and fans, and completely failed to execute on the field. To wit: Johnny "Lam" Jones, the No. 2 pick at the 1980 draft. Jones averaged fewer than 500 yards receiving in his five seasons with the Jets, who sent the 13th and 20th selections to San Francisco for a shot at the University of Texas athlete. A gold medal-winner in the 4x100 relay at the 1976 Olympics, Jones never parlayed his world-class speed into any measure of sustained NFL success.
A couple of reasons for including Dykes here. First, he was a member of the 1990 Patriots, a 1–15 debacle of a team arguably on par with the 2008 Lions and 1976 Bucs as the worst in NFL history; and second, his career ended shortly after he suffered an eye injury during a nightclub fight. Dykes, too, was a first-round pick, for which he returned 83 catches.
I wanted to drop monster DT Sam Adams on the list, just to mix things up—Adams inked an $11 million deal prior to the 2006 season, played sparingly as his weight hovered between 350 and 400 pounds, then was released ahead of '07. Unfortunately for Smith, though, there is a long drop from the worst Bengal to any other contenders. Smith, the No. 3 pick in 1999, threw five career touchdown passes. Five. He was 3–14 as Cincinnati's starter, most of those decisions coming during an extended 2000 run with the first team. That year, he averaged 113.9 yards per game and finished with an egregious completion percentage of 44.2.
While Garcia did not start 16 games for the Browns, he made it to double digits (10) so we'll allow it. Even amongst the trash heap that is Cleveland's quarterback history, Garcia's $25 million contract stands out. The return on that investment was a string of 10 mostly brutal starts, including one of the worst quarterbacking performances in NFL history—an 8-for-27, three-interception, 0.0 QB rating performance vs. Dallas.
Grbac started 14 regular-season games and two playoff contests for the Ravens in 2001, which fortunately brings his total to the magical 16-game mark. You might recall that the 2000 Ravens won the Super Bowl, leaning on RB Jamal Lewis and an all-timer of a defense to mitigate Trent Dilfer's limited talents under center. Grbac was supposed to be a $30 million upgrade over Dilfer as Baltimore aimed for a repeat. Instead, he threw just 15 touchdowns to 18 interceptions that season, and was picked off three more times in a playoff loss at Pittsburgh. That was his final game with the Ravens.
Somehow, the 1980 first-round pick managed to hang on in Pittsburgh for seven seasons—first as Terry Bradshaw's backup and then as a starter—despite posting mostly miserable stats. Malone never topped a 54% completion rate in any season; he never threw more than 16 touchdown passes, and in five of the six seasons in which he attempted a pass, he finished with more interceptions than touchdowns. And all that may still have been water under the bridge had Malone's presence not led the Steelers to pass on hometown hero Dan Marino at the 1983 draft.
We're making an exception on the non-active player requirement for this one, because of the extremely unfortunate outcome of Richardson's time in Indianapolis (QB Art Schlichter was completely awful for the Baltimore Colts, but he didn't start 16 games). What is a worse reality for the Colts: that they sacrificed a first-round pick to acquire Richardson? Or that they held back two years' worth of Super Bowl goals by trying to use Richardson as a lead back? The 2013 and '14 Colts had other issues, namely in the trenches on both sides of the ball, but Richardson's sluggish style was an eyesore. He barely averaged more than 3.0 yards per carry in 29 games alongside Andrew Luck.
Jacksonville made Harvey the eighth-overall pick at the 2008 draft. By the 2010 season he was on his way out of town, as Jeremy Mincey began cutting into his snap count. The Jaguars' flip-flopping between 3–4 and 4–3 schemes did not help Harvey's NFL transition, but he has little room for excuses. Making matters worse: Jacksonville traded four picks to Baltimore for the right to take Harvey—for only eight sacks in three seasons. After Harvey was waived by the Jaguars, he was signed by the Broncos for a season, before his NFL career came to an end.
The Texans' status as a relatively new franchise limits the amount of botched draft picks and free-agent additions on the books. Wade may stand alone atop (on the bottom of?) the latter. After four years in Miami, Wade—a decent right tackle but nothing extraordinary to that point—signed a five-year, $25 million Texans contract, with $10 million guaranteed. He made it just two injury-plagued seasons into that deal before being released. Side note for you David Carr haters: He was not nearly as bad as history remembers him. Thrown into the fire on an expansion team, behind a miserable O-line (including Wade), Carr still managed to hang up some respectable numbers.
Let's not overthink this one. The freshly retired Locker, the eighth-overall pick in the 2011 draft, is among the most disappointing draft picks in recent memory. The oft-injured quarterback never played more than 11 games during any one season, and Tennessee's fortunes tumbled along with him—from nine wins during his rookie year (when they still had Matt Hasselbeck under center) to six the following and eventually to last season's 2–14 meltdown.
Digging back to the earliest days of the Super Bowl era for this one, if only because most of Denver's recent draft busts (Marcus Nash, Jarvis Moss, something called a Ted Gregory) played so few games with the franchise. Then still a member of the AFL, Denver tossed a pair of first-round picks San Diego's direction for the third-year quarterback. Tensi promptly tanked, ceding his starting gig in 1970 just as the AFL and NFL joined as one. He finished his Broncos career 10-21-1 with a 43% completion rate, 38 touchdowns and 45 interceptions.
Who else was it going to be be? Leaf's descent from college superstar and Peyton Manning's main rival for the No. 1 draft pick to NFL dud was shockingly rapid (he was named the No. 1 draft bust on an episode of NFL Top 10). The No. 2 pick in 1998, Leaf turned in a brutal rookie season—two touchdowns, 15 interceptions and a 39.0 QB rating. His sophomore campaign wasn't much better, either, as the Chargers stumbled to 1–8 in his starts. He was a Cowboy by 2001 and gone from the league by '02.
More regrets from the 1983 draft. This time, it's the Chiefs who blew it, choosing Blackledge with the seventh pick over Jim Kelly and Dan Marino, among others (heck, even Ken O'Brien would have been a better option). Blackledge's best season for Kansas City came in ... uh ... hold on ... 1984, maybe? His 147 completions and 1,707 yards that year were career highs. His career 60.2 quarterback rating was not the greatest.
Trended a touch quarterback-heavy down the stretch here, but the AFC West has claimed some real stinkers. Unofficially tabbed with the nickname "Jam Jam" (presumably as in, "Hey, Jamarcus, what do you want for lunch?" "Jam covered in a different flavor of jam"), Russell came off the board No. 1 at the 2007 draft. That's one pick before Calvin Johnson, two before Joe Thomas, six before Adrian Peterson, 11 before Marshawn Lynch and, well, you get the idea. Russell battled weight issues during his career—a brief, three-year career that saw him go 7–18 for the Raiders, with aggressively pedestrian numbers across the board.