The 40 Most Disappointing Draft Picks of All Time

April 25, 2019 by Grant Suneson

After the NFL season ends, teams turn their attention to the new crop of young players that will soon be joining the league via the NFL Draft. Franchises look for players that can address weak points on the team, ideally setting the team up for a deep playoff run. Yet this is not always the case. Even the most highly-touted draft picks can sometimes fail to pan out.

When professional sports franchises get a high draft pick, they hope the athlete could grow into a superstar and bring the team to a championship level — and maybe even one day make it to the Hall of Fame. While players like Sidney Crosby and LeBron James lived up to expectations, other athletes who seemed destined for greatness never did.

There are many reasons a player’s career can fail to live up to expectations — the athlete might struggle with character issues or injuries, play for a team that constantly fires its coaches, or just have some bad luck. Wasting a high pick on a player who doesn’t produce can set a franchise back years.

24/7 Wall St. reviewed the length and quality of the professional careers of high draft selections in the four major sports, using data from the Sports Reference family of sites to determine the most disappointing draft picks in American sports history. There are very few recent draft picks on this list as it takes years to determine if a player has failed to live up to his perceived potential.

Click here to see the most disappointing draft picks of all time.
Click here to see our detailed findings and methodology.

Source: Brian Bahr / Getty Images

40. Darko Milicic
> League: NBA
> Drafted: 2nd overall, Detroit Pistons, 2003
> Position: Center
> Professional games played: 468

Drafted second overall in 2003 behind LeBron James and ahead of Carmelo Anthony, the Detroit Pistons had high expectations for Darko Milicic. His career started off with some promise, as Milicic won an NBA championship as a rookie. However, much of his playing time came once the Pistons were winning big, earning him the nickname “The Human Victory Cigar.” Milicic slightly improved after leaving Detroit, but he never excelled and retired at 28.

Source: Al Bello / Getty Images

39. Rick DiPietro
> League: NHL
> Drafted: 1st overall, New York Islanders, 2000
> Position: Goalie
> Professional games played: 318

Rick DiPietro was the first goalie to be drafted first overall since the NHL and WHA merged. DiPietro became the primary starter for the New York Islanders at 22 but failed to mature into the standout netminder the Islanders anticipated. He received a 15-year contract, but a series of injuries prevented him from playing in more than a handful of games after 2007.

Source: Jason Miller / Getty Images

38. Trent Richardson
> League: NFL
> Drafted: 3rd overall, Cleveland Browns, 2012
> Position: Running back
> Professional games played: 46

The University of Alabama has a rich tradition of producing NFL running backs, and Trent Richardson was one of the most highly sought after. The Cleveland Browns drafted him third overall in 2012, and Richardson played well in his rookie season. Two games into the following season, he was traded to the Indianapolis Colts for a first-round pick. Richardson was then traded traded again, signing with three teams in just four seasons and never playing a full season. He ended up in the Canadian Football League, then the now-defunct Alliance of American Football.

Source: Dilip Vishwanat / Getty Images

37. Jason Smith
> League: NFL
> Drafted: 2nd overall, St. Louis Rams, 2009
> Position: Tackle
> Professional games played: 45

The St. Louis Rams drafted Jason Smith out of Baylor in 2009. His career ended just a few years later. Smith started all but one game in his second year but later struggled with concussions. After spending three years in St. Louis he served as a backup for the New York Jets for one season, then hung up his cleats for good.

Source: Andy Lyons / Getty Images

36. Jonathan Bender
> League: NBA
> Drafted: 5th overall, Toronto Raptors, 1999
> Position: Small forward
> Professional games played: 262

Jonathan Bender was a phenom from Picayune High School in Mississippi who eschewed college basketball and declared himself eligible for the 1999 NBA Draft. The Toronto Raptors drafted him and immediately traded him to the Indiana Pacers. In his first game, the 6-11 forward scored 10 points. But Bender’s career never panned out and knee injuries sidelined him for three seasons. He played seven seasons for the Pacers and one for the New York Knicks. Bender retired after the 2009-2010 season because of knee problems at age 25. Bender has not let his athletic career define his life. He created a rehabilitation device that alleviates stress on joints and helps people walk.

Source: The Trading Card Database

35. Mark Merchant
> League: MLB
> Drafted: 2nd overall, Pittsburgh Pirates, 1987
> Position: Outfield
> Professional games played: 0

Drafted by the Pittsburgh Pirates one spot after Hall of Famer Ken Griffey, Jr., Mark Merchant was a highly-touted outfielder. Merchant failed to make it to the major leagues, spending most of his eleven-year career at the AA level. Merchant is one of just four second overall picks who retired without playing a major league game.

Source: Doug Pensinger / Getty Images

34. Heath Shuler
> League: NFL
> Drafted: 3rd overall, Washington Redskins, 1994
> Position: Quarterback
> Professional games played: 29

University of Tennessee quarterback Heath Shuler was picked third overall by the Washington Redskins after being named SEC player of the year. But things never clicked for Shuler, who threw 33 interceptions compared to just 15 touchdowns in his four-year career. Shuler later found his calling as a politician, representing North Carolina in the House of Representatives for three terms.

Source: Jamie Squire / Getty Images

33. Danny Hultzen
> League: MLB
> Drafted: 2nd overall, Seattle Mariners, 2011
> Position: Pitcher
> Professional games played: 0

Danny Hultzen’s promising pitching career has been derailed by injury issues. Hultzen was drafted by the Seattle Mariners second overall in 2011, and by 2013, he was dominating his AAA competition. But Hultzen needed surgery after the season to repair a damaged rotator cuff and missed the entire 2014 season. He appeared in just five total minor league games in 2015 and 2016. After sitting out 2017, he signed with the Chicago Cubs minor league system in an attempt to revitalize his career.

Source: Gary Mook / Allsport / Getty Images

32. Trev Alberts
> League: NFL
> Drafted: 5th overall, Indianapolis Colts, 1994
> Position: Linebacker
> Professional games played: 29

Trev Alberts was one of the best defensive players ever to play at the University of Nebraska. He won the Dick Butkus Award and the Jack Lambert Trophy as the nation’s top linebacker following his senior season in 1993. He was injured in Nebraska’s game against Oklahoma that year and played the national championship game against Florida State wearing a cast and still recorded two sacks. He was eventually inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame. Alberts was selected fifth overall by the Indianapolis Colts in 1994. However, injuries prevented him from equaling his stellar collegiate career.

Source: Jed Jacobsohn / Getty Images

31. Greg Oden
> League: NBA
> Drafted: 1st overall, Portland Trail Blazers, 2007
> Position: Center
> Professional games played: 105

Greg Oden will go down as one of the biggest “what ifs” in NBA history. The Portland Trail Blazers drafted the skilled center with 2007’s first overall pick — just ahead of Kevin Durant. In a sign of things to come, Oden missed his entire first year after knee surgery. The Ohio State product showed promise on the court, but a slew of knee surgeries kept him off the court for three seasons. Oden later tried to play for the Miami Heat and even a team in China.

Source: Topps / Amazon

30. Steve Niehaus
> League: NFL
> Drafted: 2nd overall, Seattle Seahawks, 1976
> Position: Defensive tackle
> Professional games played: 39

Steve Niehaus became a forgettable first ever draft pick for the Seattle Seahawks franchise. Initially, the defensive tackle from Notre Dame looked to be worth the high draft pick, being named to the all-rookie team of 1976. Niehaus required shoulder surgery after that season, but even after the procedure the injury made it impossible for him to play at his peak again. Niehaus played four seasons before retiring.

Source: Christian Petersen / Getty Images

29. Hasheem Thabeet
> League: NBA
> Drafted: 2nd overall, Memphis Grizzlies, 2009
> Position: Center
> Professional games played: 224

It’s been said that in basketball you can’t teach height, and at 7’3”, Hasheem Thabeet has plenty of that. Thabeet came to the United States from Tanzania and played college basketball at the University of Connecticut, where he led the Big East Conference in blocked shots in all three years he played for the Huskies. He was chosen as the second overall pick in the 2009 NBA Draft by the Memphis Grizzlies, but his basketball skills were undeveloped. In his first five years, Thabeet played on four NBA teams and three developmental league teams. Now in his 30s, Thabeet is attempting an NBA comeback.

Source: The Trading Card Database

28. Daniel Dore
> League: NHL
> Drafted: 5th overall, Quebec Nordiques, 1988
> Position: Right wing
> Professional games played: 17

Daniel Doré never panned out as the hometown hero the Quebec Nordiques wanted him to be. Drafted fifth overall, Doré played 16 games as a 19-year-old in his rookie year. However, he only played one more NHL game after that, spending time in the minor leagues and even a roller hockey league before getting a job as a scout for the New York Rangers.

Source: Carthage College

27. Augie Schmidt
> League: MLB
> Drafted: 2nd overall, Toronto Blue Jays, 1982
> Position: Shortstop
> Professional games played: 0

Augie Schmidt was originally drafted in the eighth round by the Cincinnati Reds, but he decided to attend the University of New Orleans instead. That proved to be a smart decision because he batted .342 in the three years he played at the university. The Toronto Blue Jays liked Schmidt enough to make him the second overall pick in 1982. The problem for Schmidt was the Blue Jays already had a solid shortstop in Alfredo Griffin, and a future star, Tony Fernandez, in their farm system. Schmidt never played a game in the major leagues. He kicked around the minor leagues for five years and never hit over .300.

Source: Lisa Blumenfeld / Getty Images

26. Marcus Fizer
> League: NBA
> Drafted: 4th overall, Chicago Bulls, 2000
> Position: Power forward
> Professional games played: 289

After Michael Jordan retired, the Chicago Bulls struggled. Fans hoped Marcus Fizer from Iowa State would be able to steer the franchise back to postseason success. Fizer looked good his rookie year, but his minutes dropped along with his productivity after a coaching change in 2001. Fizer later blamed his attitude and work ethic for his struggles. After leaving the NBA, Fizer played basketball in Spain, Puerto Rico, Taiwan, and Argentina.

Source: Gary Mook / Allsport / Getty Images

25. Steve Emtman
> League: NFL
> Drafted: 1st overall, Indianapolis Colts, 1992
> Position: Defensive end
> Professional games played: 50

Steve Emtman looked like a surefire star, winning the Outland Trophy for best interior lineman and the Lombardi Award for best lineman or linebacker during his senior season at the University of Washington. But Emtman’s body couldn’t hold up to the rigors of being an NFL defensive tackle. He suffered two devastating knee injuries and a herniated disk in his neck and retired after six injury-plagued seasons.

Source: The Trading Card Database

24. James Ray
> League: NBA
> Drafted: 5th overall, Denver Nuggets, 1980
> Position: Power forward
> Professional games played: 103

James Ray might have been a bust in the NBA, but off the court he’s had an impact on young people. Ray played his college ball at Jacksonville University and was the highest-drafted player to come out of Jacksonville. However, he played just 103 games for the Denver Nuggets and averaged just 3.2 points per game. With players such as Alex English, Kiki Vandeweghe, David Thompson, and Dan Issel on the roster, there simply wasn’t enough playing time for Ray. He took his game to Italy and Turkey before retiring. Ray then started a program in Jacksonville to counsel at-risk youth to try and make a difference in their lives.

Source: Lisa Blumenfeld / Getty Images

23. Michael Olowokandi
> League: NBA
> Drafted: 1st overall, Los Angeles Clippers, 1998
> Position: Center
> Professional games played: 500

Usually, players who are labeled “busts” don’t play in many games. Even though Michael Olowokandi played in 500 games over nine seasons, he severely underperformed based on his top overall selection. Olowokandi never developed much of an offensive game, shooting a dismal 43.5% from the field for his career, even though centers tend to shoot a higher percentage. His lackluster career is only magnified by the fact that the Los Angeles Clippers selected him ahead of stars like Dirk Nowitzki, Vince Carter, and Paul Pierce.

Source: Doug Pensinger / Allsport / Getty Images

22. Ki-Jana Carter
> League: NFL
> Drafted: 1st overall, Cincinnati Bengals, 1995
> Position: Running back
> Professional games played: 59

Though Ki-Jana Carter was drafted first overall in 1995, he barely eclipsed 1,000 rushing yards for his entire career. On just the third carry of his rookie preseason, Carter tore his ACL and ended his first year before it began. Carter worked back over the next two seasons, but other injuries like a dislocated kneecap and torn rotator cuff kept him off the field. Carter moved on to the Washington Redskins and New Orleans Saints but saw sparse playing time and retired after the 2004 season.

Source: Lisa Blumenfeld / Getty Images

21. Nikoloz Tskitishvili
> League: NBA
> Drafted: 5th overall, Denver Nuggets, 2002
> Position: Power forward
> Professional games played: 172

The Denver Nuggets hoped Nikoloz Tskitishvili would be the next European success story — another Dirk Nowitzki. It didn’t happen. The best season for the 7-0 forward/center from Tbilisi, Georgia, was his first, in 2002-2003. He played in 81 games and averaged 3.9 points per contest, both career highs. He played 2.5 seasons with the Nuggets, then moved on to Golden State Warriors, Minnesota Timberwolves, and Phoenix Suns, where he ended his NBA career in 2006. What galls Nuggets fans is the team passed on players such as Amar’e Stoudemire, Caron Butler, and Carlos Boozer who all had solid careers in the NBA.

Source: Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

20. Dewon Brazelton
> League: MLB
> Drafted: 3rd overall, Tampa Bay Devil Rays, 2001
> Position: Pitcher
> Professional games played: 63

The Tampa Bay Devil Rays were still a very young franchise when they drafted Dewon Brazelton third overall in 2001. The team would go on to lose 106 games in Brazelton’s first year with the team in 2002. That year, the right-hander appeared in just two games, posted one loss, and had an earned run average of 4.85. His career never got better. Brazelton played for five years and compiled a record of 8-25 and a painful ERA of 6.38.

Source: Jonathan Daniel / Getty Images

19. Jay Williams
> League: NBA
> Drafted: 2nd overall, Chicago Bulls, 2002
> Position: Point guard
> Professional games played: 75

Big things were expected of Jay Williams after the Chicago Bulls drafted the guard out of Duke University, where he won a national championship and was named college player of the year. After a rookie season in which he averaged 9.5 points and 4.7 assists per game, Williams crashed his motorcycle into a streetlight in June 2003, shattering his pelvis, dislocating his knee, and tearing up his ligaments. He was never the same player after the accident. Williams had to battle suicidal thoughts in the years that followed. He wrote a book about his adversity and has gone on to become a college basketball analyst.

Source: Panini America

18. Chris Washburn
> League: NBA
> Drafted: 3rd overall, Golden State Warriors, 1986
> Position: Center
> Professional games played: 72

Chris Washburn played in just 72 games in his NBA career. Washburn was taken third overall by the Golden State Warriors in the infamously snakebitten 1986 Draft, just one spot behind Len Bias. Also like Bias, Washburn’s career was cut short because of drug issues. Washburn was suspended in 1989 for multiple failed drug tests and had never played another NBA game after.

Source: Topps / Amazon

17. Jack Thompson
> League: NFL
> Drafted: 3rd overall, Cincinnati Bengals, 1979
> Position: Quarterback
> Professional games played: 51

Jack Thompson was touted as a can’t-miss quarterback after he set many Pac-10 Conference passing records at Washington State University. The Cincinnati Bengals hoped Thompson could succeed Ken Anderson, a Pro Bowl quarterback who had led the team to the playoffs, but then injuries began to hamper Thompson’s game. He never completed more than 49% of his passes for the Bengals in a single season. His interceptions also exceeded his touchdown passes each year. Thompson finished his career with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 1984.

Source: Mike Powell / Getty Images

16. Mike Junkin
> League: NFL
> Drafted: 5th overall, Cleveland Browns, 1987
> Position: Linebacker
> Professional games played: 20

The Cleveland Browns were so excited about Mike Junkin, they traded up in the draft so they could select him. The pick was a surprise to many, but Cleveland liked his style of play, which coach Marty Schottenheimer compared to “a mad dog in a meat market.” Unfortunately for the Browns, Junkin never met their expectations. A series of injuries and a lack of production limited Junkin’s time in Cleveland to two years. He played for the Kansas City Chiefs for a season before retiring.

Source: Topps / Amazon

15. Danny Goodwin
> League: MLB
> Drafted: 1st overall, California Angels, 1975
> Position: First baseman, designated hitter
> Professional games played: 252

Danny Goodwin was a high school catching prospect from Peoria, Illinois, who was the only baseball player selected first on two different occasions. The first time he was picked by the Chicago White Sox but turned down their offer. He went to Southern University on a scholarship, and then was drafted by the California Angels. Goodwin suffered an arm injury playing in the minor leagues, and the Angels shifted him to first base. He proved to be little more than a serviceable first baseman and designated hitter in the seven years he played for the Angels, Minnesota Twins, and the Oakland A’s. Goodwin holds the dubious honor of being the least productive major leaguer ever taken first overall.

Source: Topps / Amazon

14. Art Schlichter
> League: NFL
> Drafted: 4th overall, Baltimore Colts, 1982
> Position: Quarterback
> Professional games played: 13

Art Schlichter’s career in the NFL was more defined by off-field issues than on-field production. He couldn’t win the starting job and appeared in just three games for the Baltimore Colts in his rookie year. Before his second season, Schlichter lost hundreds of thousands of dollars gambling. He told the NFL about his gambling problem and received a year-long suspension in 1983. Schlichter played just two more years with the Colts before leaving the league. Schlichter was charged with fraud and forgery numerous times after leaving the NFL. He’s currently in prison in South Carolina after pleading guilty to fraud in 2011. He’s set to be released in 2020.

Source: Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

13. Dave Chyzowski
> League: NHL
> Drafted: 2nd overall, New York Islanders, 1989
> Position: Left wing
> Professional games played: 126

After winning the first four Stanley Cups of the 1980s, the New York Islanders were looking to set themselves up for success in the 1990s. Dave Chyzowski was supposed to be the cornerstone of that success, going second overall in the 1989 Draft. After getting significant playing time at ages 18 and 19, his career fizzled out. Chyzowski never played more than 13 NHL games in a season for the rest of his career.

Source: Sports Memorabilia / Amazon

12. Len Bias
> League: NBA
> Drafted: 2nd overall, Boston Celtics, 1986
> Position: Power forward
> Professional games played: 0

Len Bias is one of the most tragic stories in sports history. The promising power forward from the University of Maryland seemed destined for stardom after he was drafted by the Boston Celtics second overall in 1986, but he died less than 48 hours after being drafted. Bias and some friends were taking cocaine into the early morning hours when Bias began having a seizure. He died shortly after. The coroner’s report said an excessive amount of cocaine interrupted his heartbeat.

Source: Ezra Shaw / Getty Images

11. JaMarcus Russell
> League: NFL
> Drafted: 1st overall, Oakland Raiders, 2007
> Position: Quarterback
> Professional games played: 31

LSU quarterback JaMarcus Russell’s college success, along with his ability to throw the ball over 70 yards on his knees, made him an easy choice for the Oakland Raiders to draft first overall in 2007. But once Russell was drafted, his struggles began. The QB held out from camp in search of a larger contract. Once he did come to camp, he was out of shape and failed to mesh with his teammates and coaching staff. Russell threw more interceptions than touchdowns in his NFL career and the Raiders cut him after just three years.

Source: George Rose / Getty Images

10. Bruce Pickens
> League: NFL
> Drafted: 3rd overall, Atlanta Falcons, 1991
> Position: Defensive back
> Professional games played: 48

Bruce Pickens was touted as one of the most athletic defensive backs in the 1991 Draft. But off-field issues stymied his career before it even began. Pickens was involved in a lawsuit with his representatives and even threatened to sue the Atlanta Falcons. Pickens eventually signed mid-season but didn’t play much. Pickens showed some promise in his sophomore season, but Atlanta traded him away the next year. Pickens bounced around to three other teams, and his career ended after the 1995 season.

Source: Bobbs

9. Steven Chilcott
> League: MLB
> Drafted: 1st overall, New York Mets, 1966
> Position: Catcher
> Professional games played: 0

It was a stroke of good luck for the Mets that they gained the right to sign future Hall of Fame pitcher Tom Seaver in 1966. But it was the Amazins’ bad luck that they drafted Steve Chilcott as the No. 1 overall pick that same year. Chilcott was a lefty-hitting high school catcher, scouted by Casey Stengel himself. However, because of injuries to his throwing shoulder, Chilcott never made it to the major leagues. He was the first overall draft pick to never reach the majors since baseball’s first amateur draft was instituted in 1965.

Source: Danny Moloshok / Getty Images

8. Charles Rogers
> League: NFL
> Drafted: 2nd overall, Detroit Lions, 2003
> Position: Wide receiver
> Professional games played: 15

Charles Rogers was one of the nation’s best college wide receivers at Michigan State University. He stayed in Michigan after he was drafted by the Detroit Lions as the second overall pick in 2003. Rogers signed a contract worth $39.5 million that included a guaranteed signing bonus of $14.4 million. However, injuries to his collarbone and an addiction to painkillers short-circuited his career. Rogers played parts of three seasons and caught a total of 36 passes for 440 yards and four touchdowns. Rogers was out of football after the 2005 season.

Source: Topps / Amazon

7. Brien Taylor
> League: MLB
> Drafted: 1st overall, New York Yankees, 1991
> Position: Pitcher
> Professional games played: 0

Brien Taylor was touted as one of the best amateur pitching prospects ever. Scouts were amazed by the movement on his pitches, and the New York Yankees were excited to add him to the organization. Taylor looked like a surefire star in the minor leagues, throwing a 98 mile per hour fastball with a great slider, until disaster struck. Taylor’s brother was involved in an altercation in a North Carolina bar late one night. Taylor went to confront his brother’s assailant and got into a scuffle. In the midst of the fight, Taylor injured his shoulder, tearing his rotator cuff completely off the bone. He tried to get back into baseball, but the injury was too severe and he couldn’t rebound from it. In 2012, Taylor was sentenced to more than three years in prison on drug charges.

Source: Streeter Lecka / Getty Images

6. Adam Morrison
> League: NBA
> Drafted: 3rd overall, Charlotte Hornets, 2006
> Position: Small forward
> Professional games played: 161

Adam Morrison was the shaggy-haired face of the underdog Gonzaga University basketball squad that reached the NCAA Tournament Sweet 16 in 2006. Morrison was a scoring machine, dueling with Duke’s J.J. Redick for the national scoring title. Unfortunately for Morrison, that success did not follow him to the NBA. Morrison, who has diabetes, found it difficult to manage his condition over the NBA’s rigorous 82-game regular season. He also was sidelined in 2007 by a knee injury that compromised his ability to play defense. After averaging 11.8 points per game as a rookie, his numbers declined the following two years and he was out of the league after the 2009-2010 season.

Source: Jamie Squire / ALLSPORT / Getty Images

5. Akili Smith
> League: NFL
> Drafted: 3rd overall, Cincinnati Bengals, 1999
> Position: Quarterback
> Professional games played: 22

Upon hearing the term “draft bust,” Akili Smith is likely one of the first names that comes to mind for many sports fans. Smith impressed NFL scouts in his lone year at the University of Oregon, and the Cincinnati Bengals took him third overall, hoping they found their franchise quarterback. But Smith’s college skills didn’t translate to the NFL. He later said that he partied and drank alcohol to excess, which likely contributed to his struggles. Smith started 17 games for the Bengals over four seasons, throwing just five touchdowns.

Source: Center Ice Collectibles / Amazon

4. Alexandre Volchkov
> League: NHL
> Drafted: 4th overall, Washington Capitals, 1996
> Position: Center
> Professional games played: 3

Alexandre Volchkov never materialized into the star player the Washington Capitals clearly hoped he would become. The Russian center was drafted fourth overall after a promising amatuer career. But Volchkov could only manage to get into three NHL games, spending just 30 total minutes on the ice. Volchkov spent years in developmental leagues before heading back to Russia in 2000.

Source: Christian Petersen / Getty Images

3. Mark Appel
> League: MLB
> Drafted: 1st overall, Houston Astros, 2013
> Position: Pitcher
> Professional games played: 0

One of the most recent players on this list, Mark Appel may also be one of the most surprising. Appel was drafted first overall in 2013, and the Houston Astros expected him to be the pitching centerpiece of the dynasty they had worked for years to build. But Appel could never find the success many in baseball thought he would, posting high ERAs in the minor leagues. Now Appel says he is taking an “indefinite break” from baseball and is pursuing some of his other interests. If he never comes back, he will be just the third number one overall pick who never made it to the major leagues.

Source: Elsa / Getty Images

2. Ryan Leaf
> League: NFL
> Drafted: 2nd overall, San Diego Chargers, 1998
> Position: Quarterback
> Professional games played: 25

Ryan Leaf and Peyton Manning were neck and neck in the race to be the top pick in the 1998 Draft. The Indianapolis Colts were split between the two, but ultimately chose Manning, who went on to be an all-time great NFL player. Leaf dealt with maturity issues as well as substance abuse problems that quickly derailed his career. After his career ended, Leaf became addicted to painkillers and was arrested for breaking into several homes of friends to try to steal their pills. After getting out of prison, Leaf got sober and now hosts a radio sports talk show.

Source: Jason Miller / Getty Images

1. Anthony Bennett
> League: NBA
> Drafted: 1st overall, Cleveland Cavaliers, 2013
> Position: Power forward
> Professional games played: 151

Anthony Bennett became one of the most surprising top overall picks in the NBA, when the Cleveland Cavaliers drafted him first overall in 2013. Many scouts and NBA executives didn’t think Bennett should have been drafted that highly, and it appears they were right. Bennett shot an abysmal 39.2% from the floor in his four years in the NBA. He bounced around four teams in his tenure. He was traded by the Cavs to the Minnesota Timberwolves, who cut him after the season. He also played sparingly for the Toronto Raptors and Brooklyn Nets. Bennett is currently trying to revive his career in the NBA’s developmental G League, so his days in the league may not be totally finished. The bust label, however, will surely stick to Bennett indefinitely.

Detailed Findings & Methodology

Being labeled a “draft bust” is something every highly-touted prospect wants to avoid, but it’s an inevitable reality of professional athletics. And there are lots of ways a player’s career can fizzle out.

Injuries are one of the most common reasons for setbacks among athletes on this list. Brien Taylor had all the makings of an ace pitcher. The hard-throwing lefty dominated the minor leagues. But Taylor severely injured his rotator cuff in a fight. The New York Yankees’ prospect never got back to his peak and failed to make it to AAA before hanging up his spikes for good.

The Cincinnati Bengals drafted running back Ki-Jana Carter with the top pick in the 1995 draft, banking on the Penn State product to be a workhorse. Carter tore his ACL on the third carry of the pre-season at a time when those injuries were much tougher to come back from. He never regained his explosiveness and failed to live up to expectations.

Other players, though never injured, struggled more with the mental aspect of being a professional athlete. Notable quarterback busts like Ryan Leaf and Akili Smith said they weren’t focused enough on football to be successful. Both also said substance abuse issues made it difficult for them to play well.

Some athletes lost their dream simply because of unfortunate incidents outside the game. Jay Williams had a promising rookie season for the Chicago Bulls but lost his ability to play basketball after a severe motorcycle accident. Perhaps the most tragic entry on this list is Len Bias, who died from a drug overdose just two days after being selected second overall by the Boston Celtics.

Some players have been able to shed their initial labeling as a “bust” by reinventing their careers. Josh Hamilton was drafted first overall in 1999, but his drug addiction nearly ended his career. After battling addiction for years, Hamilton finally got sober and made it to the majors at age 26. He later won American League MVP with the Texas Rangers.

Tony Mandarich was once labeled the best offensive line prospect ever, but he could never perform the way the Green Bay Packers had hoped he would when they drafted him. Mandarich had taken steroids in college and quit when he got to the NFL. Compounding his struggles, he was hooked on painkillers and alcohol. Mandarich left the Packers after three seasons. He avoided making this list because got clean and was able to play three productive years with the Indianapolis Colts after a four-year layoff.

When a high draft pick struggles, it can be tough on a team and a fan base. Sometimes, going back and comparing the pick to the other players a team could have selected instead can add salt to the wound. The career of Detroit Pistons draft pick Darko Milicic looks much worse when compared with the careers of Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh, and Dwyane Wade, the three players drafted immediately after him.

Greg Oden and Kevin Durant both could have easily gone first in the 2007 NBA Draft. But Oden was selected first by the Portland Trail Blazers. Oden struggled with knee injuries, only playing in 105 NBA games. Durant, meanwhile, has become a superstar, winning an MVP award and an NBA championship with the Golden State Warriors.

A bust in the making, Mark Appel, stepped away from baseball in 2017. The Houston Astros selected him first in the 2013 draft. He was immediately followed by Kris Bryant, who won Rookie of the Year award in 2015 and MVP the next year as well as a World Series with the Chicago Cubs.

24/7 Wall St. reviewed the top picks from each of the four major U.S. sports leagues — the MLB, NBA, NHL, and NFL. Players were ranked based on their draft position, how many games they played, and how effective they were in those games. Only players who were drafted in the first five picks overall in their respective sport were considered. We considered MLB draft picks starting in 1965, NHL draft picks starting in 1980, NFL draft picks starting in 1966, and NBA draft picks starting in 1976. The number of games played by an athlete only includes top level competition. Minor league and developmental league games do not count.