The Worst NFL Draft Bust Was Chosen Over Barry Sanders and Deion Sanders

We’ve seen many draft busts throughout NFL history, with names like Ryan Leaf and Tim Couch among the most famous. A common thread between the poorest picks is that they’re nearly all quarterbacks. But the worst NFL draft bust ever may be a different offensive player.

Tony Mandarich wasn’t a QB, so he’s not as well remembered as those guys. But Green Bay Packers fans will never forget this pick, because the team passed on many future Hall of Famers when it chose Mandarich 30 years ago.

The rise and fall of the worst NFL draft bust ever

Tony Mandarich only played one season at Michigan State. But it was impressive enough that the Packers took the 6-foot-5, 311-pound offensive tackle with the No. 2 overall pick in the 1989 NFL Draft behind only Troy Aikman.

Troy Aikman holds up his jersey after being named the No. 1 draft pick by the Dallas Cowboys
Troy Aikman after becoming the No. 1 draft pick | Bettmann/Getty Images

During the pre-draft process, Mandarich hosted his own combine and impressed NFL scouts. He did 39 repetitions of 225 pounds on the bench press and ran a 4.69 40-yard dash. The young athlete made the cover of Sports Illustrated. And the magazine even declared him “the best offensive line prospect ever.”

Leading up to the draft, teams pegged him as the best player on the board. Mandarich didn’t want to play in Green Bay, however, and he held out of camp when they refused to pay him the $1.1 million annual salary he wanted.

The Packers eventually gave in, and Mandarich became the first offensive lineman to make seven figures a year. But he missed all of training camp and was addicted to painkillers. His legend was torn down within months of entering the NFL. He never even played for the Packers in 1992, the final year of his contract.

After taking several years off, Mandarich returned to the league and played with the Colts from 1996-98. But it wasn’t enough to prevent him from forever being labeled a bust.

Who was picked after him in the draft?

The 1989 NFL Draft was filled with guys who went on to be NFL superstars with long careers. The list of players drafted after Aikman and Mandarich include Barry Sanders, Derrick Thomas, and Deion Sanders, who went third, fourth, and fifth respectively.

Of those top five picks, all but Mandarich are now in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Instead of Mandarich, the Packers could have taken either Sanders or Thomas with much better results.

Instead, they used the No. 2 pick on a player who didn’t even finish his rookie contract and only played with them for three seasons.

The effect drafting Mandarich had on the Packers

Using such a high pick on Mandarich put the Packers in a bad position. They thought he’d be the centerpiece of the team’s offensive line, but this obviously didn’t work out. Having such a big disappointment on the O-line affected the whole offense. The Packers went 6-10 in 1990 and 4-12 in 1991.

Green Bay suffered at the running back position since they passed on Barry. They could’ve also chosen to beef up their defense with Deion or Thomas. Any of those players would’ve been a much wiser investment and likely helped the Packers win more games.

Green Bay didn’t return to the postseason until 1993, and they didn’t win their division again until 1996. Drafting the biggest NFL draft bust in history caused the Packers to experience a rough period for several years.