The Rams’ Biggest Draft Bust, Lawrence Phillips, Spent the Rest of His Life in Prison

Trouble loves young NFL stars. There’s something about their off-the-field behavior that attracts violence. Maybe it’s due to the violent nature of the sport itself. Football is structured around combat after all. Or maybe it’s a result of being thrust into the spotlight. Sometimes, as in the case of the Ram’s ex-running back, Lawrence Phillips, it’s just part of who they are. 

A promising career for Lawrence Phillips

In the beginning, things looked promising for Phillips. He got his start playing college ball for the Nebraska Cornhuskers in 1993 where he was a naturally talented and productive running back.

Over the course of his college career, he managed to rack up 2,777 rushing yards, 30 touchdowns, and he averaged just over six yards per carry. That kind of on-the-field consistency earned him the eighth spot in 1994’s Heisman vote, and garnered the attention of NFL scouts. He as drafted sixth overall by the (then) St. Louis Rams in the 1996 draft.  

That’s where his professional career began to stall. All the potential that he had in college just didn’t translate to the NFL. Over his four seasons in the NFL he failed to make good on his early promise. He managed only 1,400 rushing yards and 14 touchdowns. He also moved between four teams in trades. Many even consider Phillips the greatest college bust of all time. He certainly was the Ram’s worst pick

His greatest failure came in his final season playing with the 49ers. He missed a key block that opened the way to veteran quarterback Steve Young, who suffered a career-ending injury off the play. 

In truth, it wasn’t entirely his performance on the football field that caused his downfall. It was his off-the-field antics too.  

Trouble begins

Looking back, there was always a black mark against Phillips. He had his fair share of issues off the football field while he was still in college. In 1994, Phillips was accused of assaulting a fellow student by grabbing her around the neck.

Again in 1995, Phillips was accused of assaulting his ex-girlfriend by climbing through a window and dragging her out to the street by her hair before continuing to strike her. Despite the aggressive nature of the attack, Phillips received only a year’s probation as well as court-mandated participation in an anger management program.

That was just one incident in a long line of violent, criminal behavior. The anger management class did little; his aggressive tendencies followed him to the NFL. During his time playing pro football, he was arrested numerous times for charges like drunk driving and additional assaults. Eventually, his behavior drove him out of the league altogether.   

The straw that broke the camel’s back came in 2005. Phillips, who was wanted on two different warrants for assaulting yet another ex-girlfriend, was arrested for trying to hit a group of people with his car following a schoolyard football game gone wrong. With the addition of a weapon’s charge, Phillips received a 31-year prison sentence.

What might’ve been for Phillips


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It’s sad to see the wasted potential, no matter the arena in which it occurs. Phillips spent a decade in prison, from 2006 to 2016, before the trauma overwhelmed him. During that time, Phillips murdered his cellmate for unknown reasons and received a life sentence. In 2016, Phillips took his own life, according to Sporting News.

At some point, Phillips’ intended path veered off the beaten trail. Perhaps there should have been a peaceful ending to his story. During his draft class, analysts predicted that the Ravens would pick Phillips with the fourth overall pick. Instead, they chose Jonathan Ogden who went on to have an incredible career. But for Phillips, fate never intended a happy ending.