What makes a guy an NFL bust? There are many things that go into the equation that can make a guy a bust. Players don’t get to pick what team they get drafted by which plays a huge part of becoming a bust. Teams who draft players not based on how the player fits in their schemes is an ingredient for disaster. Also, timing is huge too. A player can get drafted at a time in their life where they are young and still figuring things out. Putting them as the head of an NFL franchise magnifies those things.
The majority of the players who make it to the NFL have been dreaming about that day for a long time so when they finally make it to the league they feel like they have accomplished their dream. The difference between those players and the players who achieved great success at the college level are they aren’t happy to simply make it to the NFL, they want to be the best the NFL has to offer.
Sometimes, for reasons mentioned earlier and a plethora of other factors, they just can’t handle the pressure of the professional game and crack. Sometimes their style of play simply doesn’t translate to the NFL. The Pac 12 has had a large number of draftees become some of the all-time greats. However, they have had their fair share of busts as well. These are the biggest NFL Draft busts from the Pac 12.
Matt Leinart – Quarterback (University of Southern California 2002-2005)
College Accolades: 2003 Pac-10 Offensive Player of the Year, 2004 AP Player of the Year, 2004 Consensus All-American, 2004 Heisman Trophy Winner, 2004 Manning Award, 2004 Walter Camp Player of the Year Award, 2005 Johny Unitas Golden Arm Award
Definitely, the most decorated, as far as awards go, on this list. Matt Leinart led the Trojans to the National Championship game three times while being the USC starting quarterback and won two of them.
Every year he started at USC he was in the race for the Heisman, which he won in 2004. Leinart threw for 807 completions, 10,693 yards, 64.8 completion percentage, and 99 passing touchdowns. He was drafted by the Arizona Cardinals 10th overall in the 2006 NFL Draft.
His first year he was the starter for Arizona and didn’t impress. His mediocre rookie season led to the arrival of Kurt Warner the next year to take the starting job. Warner leading the Cardinals to the Super Bowl solidified his place as the starter.
After his fourth year with the Cardinals, Leinart was bounced to the Houston Texans where he lasted one season than after that ended his career with the Oakland Raiders. In six total seasons in the NFL, he only started 18 games (8-10 record) with the career stats of 4,065 passing yards, 15 touchdowns, and 21 interceptions.
Joey Harrington – Quarterback (University of Oregon 1998-2001)
College Accolades: 2001 PAC-10 Offensive Player of the Year
Harrington was drafted 3rd overall by the Detroit Lions in the 2002 NFL Draft. You can say that Harrington was a good example of a quarterback or any player leaving for the draft at the right time after a hot season. His stats as a starter made it seem like Harrington could develop into a franchise quarterback.
The Detroit Lions gave him his fair chance to show promise which he never did. In four years he started 12, 16, 16, and 11 games for the Lions. His stats in those 4 years were 10,242 total passing yards, 60 touchdowns, and 62 interceptions. The Lions, in that four-year span with Harrington starting, went 18-37. He would spend his last two years with the Miami Dolphins and the Atlanta Falcons but never showed the value of being the 3rd overall pick.
Ryan Leaf – Quarterback (Washington State University 1995-1997)
College Accolades: 1997 PAC-10 Offensive Player of the Year
It’s hard to imagine that there was a prospect that caused people to think “Should the Colts take Peyton Manning 1st overall?” Well, it happened and that player was Washington State’s Ryan Leaf. It is safe to say the Indianapolis Colts made the right decision.
Leaf threw for 3968 yards, 33 touchdowns, and 11 interceptions his junior year at Washington State and declare for the NFL Draft. The Chargers selected him with the 2nd overall pick in the 1998 NFL Draft. His tenure with the Chargers was short and horrific.
His stats as a starter were 4-14, 13 touchdowns, and 33 interceptions. Chargers parted ways with him after only two seasons. In his ESPN E60, Ryan talks about him playing so bad that it led him into a deep depression. This man was the ultimate definition of someone with the utmost confidence but also the ultimate definition of a bust. The story of Ryan Leaf is probably the most interesting out of everyone on this lost.
Mike Williams – Wide Receiver (University of Southern California 2002-2003)
College Accolades: 2003 All-American
Williams at USC was an immediate standout. He only played two seasons in which he finished at USC with a total of 176 receptions, 2579 yards, and 30 touchdowns. He put together an impressive resume in only a short time at USC.
Williams had to sit out the 2004 season after unsuccessfully declaring for the NFL Draft. Entering the NFL already was shaky for Williams after getting his appeal rejected for the NFL to let him declare after only two seasons. He fought to get his third year of eligibility back but it didn’t work out, forcing him to sit out one season.
You can say that it didn’t hurt his draft stock because he still got drafted 10th overall by the Detroit Lions in the 2005 draft. His stats in only two seasons with the Lions were 37 receptions, 449 yards receiving and only 2 touchdowns. After two years with the Lions, he spent the year with Tennessee and Oakland.
After sitting out 2008 and 2009, he joined the Seattle Seahawks in 2010. William’s stats in two seasons with Seattle were 83 receptions, 987 yards, and 3 touchdowns. He tried to make it in the Canadien Football League but failed to make a regular season roster.
Steve Emtman– Defensive Tackle / Defensive End (Washington University 1990-1991)
College Accolades: 1990 and 1991 Pac-10 Defensive Player of the Year, 1991 All-American, 1991 John Outland Trophy, 1991 Vince Lombardi Trophy
Steve Emtman was seen as an elite defensive player coming out of college. He won back to back Pac-10 Defensive Player of the Year awards and was seen as such a transcendent talent that the Indianapolis Colts drafted him 1st overall in the 1992 NFL Draft.
In three years with the Colts he only started 14 games, had 74 tackles, and 5 total sacks. The low production had a lot to do with Emtman blowing out his knee his rookie season. Injuries were a huge contributor to him being such a bust. He could never rehab and get his body fully healthy to reach his true potential that he once had shown at Washington University.
Physically the NFL game took a huge toll on Emtman’s performance. In his NFL career, he blew out both knees and also fought a horrible neck injury. Leg injuries alone are tough but rarely do you hear about a player coming back full strength after a neck injury with the physicality football involves. He wrapped up his career in 1997 after stints with the Miami Dolphins and Washington Redskins.
Terry Baker – Quarterback (Oregon State University 1960-1962)
College Accolades: 1962 All-American, 1962 Maxwell Award, 1962 Heisman Trophy
Terry Baker came from a different generation of football. Baker’s passing stats are nothing compared to the air raid offensive stats of today but back then they were impressive. Out of three seasons at Oregon State, he only threw for 1000 plus yards one time and that was in his last year.
His legs were a huge part of his game at Oregon State. In three years in college, he rushed for 610 yards, 355 yards, and 538 yards respectively. His dual-threat talent made him the 1st overall pick by the Los Angeles Rams in the 1963 NFL Draft.
The Rams found out that his arm talent wasn’t as good as they hoped or expected to be. In three seasons with the Rams, he threw for 154 yards and a not a single touchdown. He was utilized more as a rusher and receiver. He racked 512 total yards on the ground and through the air. He had one rushing touchdown and two receiving touchdowns all in his final NFL year. He left the game after the 1965 season.
Reggie Rogers – Defensive End (University of Washington 1984-1986)
College Accolades: 1986 All-American
Rogers was a two-sport athlete at the University of Washington. He was drafted 7th overall in the 1987 NFL Draft by the Detroit Lions. Rogers’ problem that caused him to be a bust was that he couldn’t stay out of trouble off the field.
In a serious accident where he drove through an intersection and killed three teenagers landed Rogers in jail. Charged with negligent homicide, he served 16 months in prison. This serious offense wasn’t the last time that he would be in trouble with the law.
In the span of 1990-2011, he was charged with six DUIs. To show how arrogant Rogers was, during one of his arraignments on why he should get granted with leniency, he responded “Because I’m Reggie Rogers. In case you don’t remember, I once carried the entire state of Washington on my back.”
You can for sure argue that Rogers’ own arrogance drove him to be a bust, but with such a unique character, no one but him can tell you what led him to make those poor decisions. Rogers passed away in 2013 due to a drug overdose at the age of 49.