Some people call the NFL Draft a crap shoot. But evaluating players, developing talent, and putting prospects in places to succeed are all art forms that ensure that your team doesn't draft a bust. Draft busts set your franchise back years, especially when they were high selections.
This has become evident with the New York Jets recently. The team took Zach Wilson with the second overall pick out of BYU in 2021. The signs have been there for a while, but just over two and a half years into his career, he can officially be labeled a bust. Wilson was demoted to third string after struggling as the Jets starter all year (and the last two years). His poor play since entering the league means he is most definitely one of the biggest draft busts over the last 10 years, but he is far from the only one. Where does Wilson rank on the list of busts, and who else has flopped in recent draft classes? We will answer those questions below. Here are the 10 biggest NFL draft busts of the last 10 years.
The 2013 class is the oldest class a player can be from to qualify for this list. No players from the 2023 draft were considered, as they haven't played long enough and still have plenty of time to develop.
10. Solomon Thomas (DL): San Francisco 49ers, 2017 – No. 3
It is very impressive that the San Francisco 49ers are where they are today despite having two of the biggest whiffs over the last decade. There will be more on the other player later, but Solomon Thomas did not meet the expectations that are associated with being the number three overall draft pick. Thomas was a questionable pick to begin with because he was a tweener who didn't seem ideal to play defensive end or defensive tackle at the NFL level, and he definitely hasn't appeased those concerns during his playing career.
The Niners allowed Thomas to start his first two seasons because of his draft position alone, but the team couldn't force him into a starter role forever and he lost his starting job by year three. Seven years into his career and now with the New York Jets, Thomas only has 12.5 career sacks. He has been a little bit better since leaving San Francisco, but not by much.
9. Greg Robinson (OT): St. Louis Rams, 2014 – No. 2
Luckily for the then-St. Louis Rams, the team didn't completely miss in the 2014 NFL Draft class because they also picked Aaron Donald. While their later first-round pick was one of the best selections of all time, their first pick in the first round went down as a massive bust. Greg Robinson was supposed to be a sure-thing offensive tackle prospect, but he was ineffective and often penalized with the Rams. The team moved on from the number two overall pick after just three years, and he only lasted three more years in the league after that. He stuck around in the league for as long as he did not by merit but because of where he was drafted. Donald might have saved Robinson from more people viewing him as one of the biggest NFL Draft busts ever.
8. Luke Joekel (OT): Jacksonville Jaguars, 2013 – No. 2
Missing on an offensive lineman early in the draft hurts, as fans are usually not ecstatic about taking lineman early. Luke Joekel was one of many draft busts to come out in 2013, a draft class that is considered by many to be the worst ever. Joekel struggled to stay healthy, and he wasn't great when he was on the field. The Jaguars didn't help their case when they forced him into playing right tackle his rookie season despite being a career left tackle player.
7. Mitch Trubisky (QB): Chicago Bears, 2017 – No. 2
Mitch Trubisky was supposed to be the quarterback that finally worked out for the Chicago Bears. The team took him second overall despite the fact that he only started 13 games in college. Trubisky had four bad years in Chicago before settling in as a career backup. Trubisky's shortcomings can be largely attributed to his accuracy issues. There is a spot for Trubisky in this league as a dependable backup quarterback, but that is never what you want out of your number two draft choice. To make matters worse, Patrick Mahomes – the best quarterback in the league – was taken with the 10th pick in this draft class.
6. Clelin Ferrell (DE): Oakland Raiders, 2019 – No. 4
If there is a team that can compete with the Cleveland Browns in the 21st century for being the worst team at evaluating talent and making bad draft choices, it is the Oakland/Las Vegas Raiders. They had a ton of bad selections more towards the middle of the first round, but Clelin Ferrell stands out as the Raiders' worst choice in recent memory – Jamarcus Russell was drafted with the first pick in 2007 – as he was the number four overall pick. Ferrell was forced into action early in his career because of his draft status, but he wasn't a Raiders' priority by his third season after two bad years to start his career.
Ferrell's status as a bust isn't completely on him, though. Most draft experts pegged the defensive end as a late first-round pick, yet the Raiders reached way early to secure him within the top five. The team even had two more first-round picks where they likely could have still drafted Ferrell later in the round. The pass rusher was never great at getting past offensive tackles, nor was he strong enough to be a good run defender.
5. Kevin White (WR): Chicago Bears, 2016 – No. 7
Many highly picked receivers in recent draft classes have burst onto the scene and created names for themselves. That wasn't the case with Kevin White, though. The receiver is one of the most forgettable players in recent memory. White missed his entire rookie season due to injury, and he racked up an embarrassingly low 28 catches in his career. Injuries were always White's biggest problem, and while they are unfortunate, it doesn't erase the fact that he didn't become the player the Bears drafted him to become.
4. Zach Wilson (QB): New York Jets, 2021 – No. 2
Zach Wilson's tenure as a starter is done, his Jets career likely won't last much longer, and it is very possible he will be out of the league sooner rather than later. Wilson struggled in all aspects of quarterbacking as a professional. He couldn't read defenses, his accuracy was poor, and quite frankly, he just always looked lost on the football field.
Even though he lasted nearly three years as the Jets starter, you can argue that him playing hurt the team even more than teams whose high draft picks haven't been able to get onto the field, á la Trey Lance. Even worse, Wilson wasn't supposed to be the starter this year. The Jets had already given up on him and replaced him with Aaron Rodgers, but Wilson was forced back into action after Rodgers got hurt in Week 1. Wilson has more interceptions (25) than touchdowns (21), and he only threw over 300 yards twice.
3. Trey Lance (QB): San Francisco 49ers, 2021 – No. 3
There is still time for Trey Lance to find a home and shed the bust label, but for now, he has not accomplished nearly enough for a top-three pick, especially at the quarterback position. Although Zach Wilson's career seems shaky after his recent benching, Lance ranks worse on this list because Wilson at least started 31 games (although poorly). The quarterback out of North Dakota State was a backup his rookie year and got hurt during his second start (fourth career) in year two.
The Niners moved on from their prized draft pick after only two seasons, and he hasn't seen the field this year as the Dallas Cowboys' third-stringer. Again, there is time for Lance to shed the bust label, but as of now, he fully fits the criteria for a massive NFL Draft bust. He hasn't produced more than anyone else on this list, and he only ranks better than the next two players on this list because their careers are completely over.
2. Josh Rosen (QB): Arizona Cardinals, 2018 – No. 10
Expectations were high for Josh Rosen when the Arizona Cardinals took him in the first round. He was supposed to be their franchise quarterback for the next decade plus. Instead, Rosen lasted one year in Arizona before he was replaced by Kyler Murray. The team traded him to the Miami Dolphins, and he only lasted two more seasons before he was out of the league. Rosen started fewer games in his career (16) than games NFL teams play in a regular season (17). He had 21 interceptions to only 12 touchdown passes in his career. Rosen famously said “nine mistakes were made ahead of me,” but Rosen is clearly one of the biggest draft mistakes of all time.
1. Justin Gilbert (CB): Cleveland Browns, 2014 – No. 8
Draft busts and the Cleveland Browns are synonymous together. Justin Gilbert might not have been a top-five pick, but he is worthy of being ranked as the biggest draft bust in the last 10 years because he really accomplished nothing in his professional career. Gilbert only started three games in his career, and he was out of the league after his third season, a season that was already with a team that didn't draft him (Pittsburgh Steelers). The cornerback only had one career interception. The nine players drafted directly after Gilbert all made at least one Pro Bowl.
Funny enough, the Browns also took Johnny Manziel in the first round of this draft. Manziel was drafted too low (22nd) to make this list, but he is widely regarded as one of the biggest failures of this century.