The journey of every NFL draft pick is different. Some culminate in reaching the highest of highs: Selected as an All-Pro, winning a Super Bowl, or being MVP. Others are not so lucky but still manage to carve out serviceable careers as decent players. Some flame out within a few years. Of all the possible results for a draft pick, being a “draft bust” has to be considered among the worst. Being a bust means you didn’t just have a poor career — it means you had a poor career despite sky-high expectations. But what happens when NFL draft busts leave the league? Let’s take a look at five of the biggest busts ever and see where they are now.
In 2000, experts regarded Penn State defensive lineman Courtney Brown as one of the top defensive players in football. The Cleveland Browns made him the first overall pick in that April’s NFL draft.
Unfortunately for Cleveland, Brown never lived up to his earlier promise of greatness. Unlike his defensive teammate at Penn State, LaVar Arrington, Brown didn’t even muster a few decent seasons. He was out of the league by 2005, and he is currently known for his missionary work.
Steve Emtman was the number one overall pick of the Indianapolis Colts in 1992. He was a standout defender in college at Washington, finishing fourth in the Heisman voting at one point. Emtman’s pro career didn’t pack the same punch, however. He played in only 50 games over six seasons for the Colts, Dolphins, and Redskins. Today, after dabbling in the construction business he now runs a property management firm.
When the Browns returned to the NFL in 1999, they planned to do it behind Kentucky QB Tim Couch, their first overall pick that year. While Couch wasn’t terrible for his entire tenure in Cleveland — he led them to a playoff birth — an injury led to a QB battle with Kelly Holcomb before he received his outright release.
Couch didn’t have the worst career of all time, but based on his draft position, Browns fans had higher expectations for him. That’s why he gets the NFL draft bust label. Nowadays Couch continues to keep tabs on the Browns from his home in Kentucky, where he played his college ball. He also does some television work during Browns games.
Russell was lights-out in college. He went 21-4 for an outstanding set of LSU teams. He played so well he left college early, forgoing his senior year to try his luck at the draft. He went No. 1 overall to the Oakland Raiders, and he went on to be one of the worst NFL draft busts in history. Russell’s story doesn’t have a completely unhappy ending, however.
According to the Big Lead, Russell discovered a passion working with quarterbacks at the high school in his Alabama hometown. While he didn’t turn out to be the great NFL player many thought he was destined to become, he was able to give something back to the next generation of football players in his community.
There was significant debate among many intelligent football people, fans, and media members alike about whether the Colts should select Peyton Manning or Ryan Leaf with the first overall pick in the 1998 NFL draft. The Colts went with Manning, leaving the Chargers to select Leaf.
The question of what would have happened if the roles were reversed is one of football history’s great hypotheticals. Manning, of course, went on to become one of the game’s great quarterbacks, leading the Colts and Broncos to Super Bowl victories. Leaf went on to have an objectively terrible pro career, flaming out after a few seasons.
After having a rough go of it after football including a stint in prison, Leaf now works as an ambassador at a recovery community to help others avoid the mistakes he made.