The 2021 NFL Draft is just three weeks away and that means a fresh crop of draft busts. Okay, it also means a fresh crop of potential game-changers. But we know that most picks won’t work out. So much so, that to trim this list down, we focused on just the worst picks to come out of the top-10 in the NFL Draft in the last 10 years.
The 10 Biggest Busts Taken in the Top-10 of the NFL Draft
Luke Joeckel – OT – Texas A&M
Dion Jordan – DE/OLB – Oregon
Drafted 2nd/3rd – 2013 – Jacksonville Jaguars/Miami Dolphins
Stats: (Joeckel) 50 gms; (Jordan) 63 gms, 108 tackles, 13.5 sks, 3 FF, 1 FR
Our list kicks off with a two-for. It may strike some as odd though because Luke Joeckel started every game he played in his career and Dion Jordan appeared in 13 games (and even started one) for the 49ers last season. But Joeckel lasted just five seasons before retiring. A blown knee ended his Jags tenure after they declined his fifth-year option.
Jordan has dealt with substance abuse that caused him to miss the entire 2015 season and left him as a free agent in 2016 despite being reinstated. Miami drafted him after he recorded 23.5 sacks over his final two seasons in college. He recorded three sacks in San Fran in 2020.
Both Joeckel and Jordan played longer than the rest of the players on this list. But that isn’t the point with either of them. Building from the trenches has a practical application in that those guys tend to have long (and hopefully productive) careers. Especially with the second and third picks of the NFL Draft. Instead, you got a left tackle-turned-guard and a rotational end with five career starts and 13.5 sacks in seven years as a pro.
Jake Locker – QB – Washington
Drafted: 8th Overall – 2011 NFL Draft – Tennessee Titans
Career Stats: (9-14), 57.5% cmpl, 4967 yds, 27 TD:22 INT
Once deemed the apparent first-overall pick, Jake Locker’s NFL career suffered a big blow before it ever really began. Locker stayed in school for his senior season and saw his stock drop, leaving him from presumptive number one to being the eighth pick of the Tennessee Titans.
Locker represented hope after Vince Young’s era unceremoniously ended and the Titans tried to make do with Kerry Collins and then Matt Hasselbeck. He ended up being a poster child for an ill-afflicted career. Injuries allowed him to make just 23 starts. His accuracy never improved from college either and he had just one season with a positive TD: INT ratio.
He walked away in 2014 at a time when he was the healthiest he’d been since entering the league and returned to his hometown. Sports Illustrated had to track him down to get his story on why he quit. The funny thing is how much worse his selection would have looked in history had he actually gone first overall.
John Ross – WR – Washington
Drafted: 9th Overall – 2017 NFL Draft – Cincinnati Bengals
Career Stats: 27 gms, 51 rec (123 tgts), 733 yds, 10 TDs
You never want to label a player just finishing out his rookie deal a bust but that is where John Ross finds himself after an underwhelming and injury-marred four years with the Bengals. He had torn his ACL and labrum in college. He’d repeat the labrum and deal with a groin injury once in the league. His 2020 season was cut short because of a foot injury.
Blazing speed and an impressive redshirt junior season (81 catches, 1150 yards, 17 touchdowns) made him an intriguing pairing with then Bengals receiver A.J. Green. Unfortunately, Ross shared Green’s ability to find the trainer’s table.
The Giants are banking that a change in scenery (and training staff) will be enough to refresh his career. He brings an added element of speed that their current group lacks. In theory. We don’t know if Ross will ever stay healthy. Nor do we know to what extent repeated leg and foot injuries will do to his speed long-term; an issue as he doesn’t have the hands for a possession guy.
Solomon Thomas – DL – Stanford
Drafted: 3rd Overall – 2017 NFL Draft – San Francisco 49ers
Career Stats: 48 gms, 95 tkls, 6 sks, 1 FR
Man, the 49ers are sure lucky the Bears traded with them to take Mitchell Trubisky. Otherwise, we might be having far louder discussions about their passing on the same generational talents at quarterbacks; a search that continues today. They took a tweener in Solomon Thomas after a collegiate career that saw him record 12 total sacks as a sophomore and junior.
Thomas peaked as a rookie, starting 12 games and recording three sacks, and getting his lone fumble recovery. He’d appear in all 16 regular-season games the following season, but his stats dropped across the board.
The 49ers ended up moving on from their other first-round pick that year, Reuben Foster, for non-football reasons. That just served to further bury just how bad the Thomas pick actually was. He’s now with the Raiders and the only thing that could make that pick worse is if he somehow catches on with the 49ers former Bay Area rivals.
Trent Richardson – RB – Alabama
Drafted: 3rd Overall – 2012 NFL Draft – Cleveland Browns
Career Stats: 46 gms, 614 ru., 2032 yds, 3.3 YPC, 17 TDs
The 2012 NFL Draft was particularly rough for the usual suspects. Trent Richardson burst onto the scene in the NFL after a storied college career that saw him rack up 3130 yards, 35 touchdowns, and win two BCS National Championships.
Richardson rushed for 950 yards and 11 touchdowns as a rookie for the Browns. The team went just 5-11 that season and the next, Richardson was shipped to Indy for a first-round pick (which ended up being fourth overall) in addition to a bevy of other selections.
That Cleveland was able to get that kind of package back is more impressive than Richardson’s production in 2012, which isn’t as great as it sounds given his 3.6 YPC average. He only lasted one more full season, spent with the Colts, in which he ran for 519 yards at a 3.3 YPC clip and three touchdowns. Indianapolis cut him after the 2014 season citing “weight issues, accessibility, and absence“.
Dee Milliner – CB – Alabama
Drafted: 9th Overall – 2013 NFL Draft – New York Jets
Career Stats: 21 gms, 63 tot tkls, 3 INT, 19 PD
Back-to-back Bama boys as Dee Milliner joins Richardson on this list. Perhaps we should preface this with the fact that Milliner was a five-star recruit who many draft analysts saw as a rightful top-five pick. Coming out of college after leading the nation in pass breakups, he lit up the combine with an impressive 40-yard dash and strong vertical jump numbers.
He appeared in 13 games as a rookie, starting 12, and even won AFC Defensive Player of the Week honors in Week 17 of that season. Unfortunately, that was the pinnacle of his professional career as injuries took a serious toll on his career. A shoulder injury kept him from benching for scouts at the combine and really set the tone for the rest of his career.
Milliner underwent surgery five times before entering the NFL and landed on the IR once there as well. He only played three seasons, being cut and re-signed by the Jets several times in that span, never again regaining the form he showed as a rookie.
Justin Gilbert – CB – Oklahoma State
Drafted: 8th Overall – 2014 NFL Draft – Cleveland Browns
Career Stats: 35 gms, 42 tot tkls, 1 INT, 1 TD, 9 PD
Poor Browns fans. They really have lived a hard sports life. As if trying to outdo the Jets from the year before, the Browns actually traded up to land Justin Gilbert who picked off 12 passes in his sophomore and senior season combined. Then he clocked the fastest 40-yard dash of any defensive back and showcased his other eye-popping athletic abilities.
But, as former teammate Joe Thomas said, “If you don’t like football, it doesn’t matter how talented you are, your star will burn out quick.” Gilbert struggled with the mental side of the game, often getting picked on in coverage. That is when he wasn’t completely lost.
When the team that traded up to make you a top-10 pick decides to trade you in the division, that’s a big red flag. That’s exactly what the Steelers should have thought about when the Browns shipped him over for a sixth-round pick just two years into his career. Gilbert was out of the league by 2017.
Josh Rosen – QB – UCLA
Drafted: 10th Overall – 2018 NFL Draft – Arizona Cardinals
Career Stats: 20 gms (3-13), 54.8% cmpl, 2845 yds, 12 TDs, 19 INTs
At first, it seemed like bad luck. Just as when a new general manager comes in and wants to hire a new head coach, head coaches (and GMs) usually get hired and want to draft their own quarterback. That’s where Josh Rosen found himself after the Cardinals took him before firing his head coach the following season. The guy they hired had a little idea of who he wanted.
Rosen got beat up during his brief stint as the Cardinal “Quarterback of the Future”, getting sacked 45 times in 14 games. He was shipped off to the Dolphins for a song where he managed to get into six games and start three. But he was still inaccurate and looked like a guy who hadn’t played much. He spent time on the Bucs practice squad last season but was signed off by the 49ers who re-upped this offseason.
He was plagued by character issues coming out of college. There were worries about his commitment to and love for football. Those questions are still being asked and, to be quite honest, it’s hard to say they were wrong given what we know about recycled quarterbacks in the NFL.
Kevin White – WR – West Virginia
Drafted: 7th Overall – 2015 NFL Draft – Chicago Bears
Career Stats: 17 gms, 25 rec (48 tgts), 285 yds
One year of true production in the spotlight saw Kevin White rocket up draft boards in 2015. The 6-foot-3 physical specimen caught 109 balls for 1447 yards and 10 touchdowns as a senior for the Mountaineers. He’d had just over 500 yards the year before though he did have five touchdowns.
Then he ran a 4.35 in the 40 at 6-foot-3 and the buzz grew with some even suggesting he be the first wideout selected; ahead of Amari Cooper who had two 1000-yard seasons on his collegiate resume. The Bears took White with the highest draft pick they had in a decade and injuries beset him almost immediately.
He missed his entire rookie campaign with a stress fracture in his shin. White made it four games the following year before another leg fracture. 2017, his third year? One game. White made it through his rookie contract (because Bears). But injuries saw him cut from the Cardinals without playing a down and the 49ers after just three games. He’s never scored a touchdown in the NFL.
Justin Blackmon – WR – Oklahoma State
Drafted: 5th Overall – 2012 NFL Draft – Jacksonville Jaguars
Career Stats: 20 gms, 93 rec (180 tgts), 1280 yds, 6 TDs
The Jaguars have a…complicated draft history. At one point, they selected two quarterbacks in the top-10 of the NFL Draft within four years of each other, Blaine Gabbert and Blake Bortles. But no pick in that span was as unsuccessful as Justin Blackmon. Always finding trouble, even in college, Blackmon had a DUI two years before coming out of college.
Teams were willing to overlook the numerous red flags because he had such a prolific college career. 233 receptions for 3304 yards and 38 touchdowns will make any collegiate career stand out. That Blackmon posted those numbers in just two seasons is why he got several passes.
But it wasn’t meant to be in the NFL. Blackmon was suspended indefinitely in 2013 following several more run-ins with the law involving alcohol abuse including being arrested for DUI two months after being drafted. He applied for reinstatement in 2015 but was denied and hasn’t really been heard from since.
New Draft Busts On the Way
Listen, this is just poking fun at something