Close isn't close enough at the NFL Draft -- it isn't horseshoes. It's a painstaking evaluation process for all 32 teams, where you almost need to take out nearly all the variables around a given prospect (program, competition, supporting cast, etc.), and try to decipher whether or not his collegiate success and talent can translate in the NFL. This is an inexact science, of course, and there are always diamonds in the rough that fall through the cracks.
Of course, Tom Brady is the easiest example of this -- the greatest quarterback of all time, being selected No. 199 overall in 2000. If anyone even had even the slightest inkling of what was to come with Brady, he would have been off the board much, much sooner. On the opposite end of that spectrum are the busts -- those prospects who were viewed extremely high, but failed to come close to living up to those expectations. It's that bust category that we're going to dive into a bit deeper for our discussion today.
Below, you'll find some of the biggest first-round misses dating to 2000. What makes these busts even worse, is that there were legends not only on the board but heard their names being called immediately after that selection. So, not only will you see the busts, but you'll also find out who the star they were selected over was as well.
2020 draft: Jalen Reagor over Justin Jefferson
This is the most recent example we have on this list and has quickly become one of the bigger blunders in recent draft memory. The Philadelphia Eagles were on the clock at No. 21 overall and in search of a wide receiver. There, they chose to select TCU pass catcher Jalen Reagor, who did not pan out. In two seasons with Philadelphia, Reagor played in 45 games (24 starts) and caught 72 passes for 799 yards and four touchdowns. He was traded to the Vikings prior to the 2022 season and is now a mere role player.
To make matters worse with the Eagles missing on the first-round pick, they chose Reagor over Justin Jefferson, who went off the board immediately after Reagor did at No. 22. Jefferson has since established himself as arguably the top wide receiver in the entire NFL. He has three straight seasons of over a 1,000 yards receiving, including a 2022 campaign in which he led the league in receptions (128) and receiving yards (1,809).
To put even more salt in the wound for Philly was the viral clip of the Vikings front office celebrating and rushing to make the Jefferson pick after the Eagles passed on him and opted for Reagor.
2007 draft: JaMarcus Russell over Calvin Johnson
It's never a good thing when the highlight of your pro career is draft day, but that exactly how it unfolded for JaMarcus Russell. The former Raiders No. 1 overall pick is looked at as one of the biggest busts in NFL history. After he was taken with the top spot in the 2007 NFL Draft, he lasted just three seasons in the league. Russell appeared in 31 games as a pro and went 7-18 in his 25 starts for Oakland. In his final season in the league in 2009, Russell completed just 48.8% of his passes and threw just three touchdowns along with 11 interceptions while the Raiders went 2-7 in his starts that year. Yuck.
Meanwhile, the very next pick after Russell at that draft wound up to be Calvin Johnson, who is considered to be one of the greatest wide receivers of his era and has since been inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Over his career, Johnson set the NFL receiving yards recent for a season with 1,964 and has the most consecutive 100-yard receiving games (8) in league history. Every which way, Megatron was a dominant force on the field, which the Raiders just missed out on having. To make matters worse with this pick, legendary left tackle Joe Thomas came off the board at No. 3 overall. That means two Hall of Fame talents were called right after Russell. Ouch.
2003 draft: Jerome McDougle over Troy Polamalu
The Philadelphia Eagles traded up 15 spots to take defensive end Jerome McDougle with the No. 15 overall pick in the 2003 draft, which is a move they'd later come to regret. At the time, there was the promise that the Miami product would help the club get after the quarterback, but that never came to pass. Injuries derailed McDougle's career and was limited to just 37 games throughout his four seasons in the NFL. He only managed three sacks and 38 tackles over that time.
The salt in the wound with this pick is that not only did a star defensive player come off the board right after McDougle, but he dominated within state lines. At No. 16, the Steelers selected safety Troy Polamalu, who spent his entire 12-year Hall of Fame career in Pittsburgh and was one of the more dominant players of his day. He helped the Steelers win two Super Bowls, was an eight-time Pro Bowler, and won the NFL's Defensive Player of the Year in 2010. He's a member of the NFL's 2000s All-Decade Team and was named to the Pittsburgh Steelers All-Time Team. He'll be remembered as one of the best NFL players to roll through Pennsylvania, but that could have happened in Eagles green had things turned out differently.
2007 draft: Adam Carriker over Darrelle Revis
Adam Carriker had himself a modest NFL career that stretched over the course of seven years where he earned around $18.6 million. For the average dude on the street, you'd sign up for that every day of the week. However, the former Nebraska defensive end didn't exactly live up to the No. 13 overall billing when the St. Louis Rams picked him back in 2007. In two seasons with the Rams, Carriker managed 55 tackles and two sacks before being traded to Washington. He did put together a solid 2011 season where he totaled 5.5 sacks and 33 tackles, but that flash was all we got.
What makes this draft miscue sting is that the Jets selected legendary cornerback Darrelle Revis with the very next pick. Revis evolved into arguably the top cornerback of his era and was a legit shutdown corner for New York. He spent 11 years in the league, was named to the Pro Bowl seven times and was a four-time first-team All-Pro selection.
2002 draft: David Carr over Julius Peppers
David Carr was picked to usher in a new era in the NFL as he joined the new expansion team in the Houston Texans. However, his arrival to Houston didn't produce a ton of wins out of the gate. For his Texans tenure, Carr went 23-53 as a starter and completed 60% of his passes while averaging 176.2 yards passing per game. Not exactly what you'd be hoping for from a No. 1 overall pick at quarterback, but Carr was admittedly in a tough position and led the league in sacks in three out of the first four seasons of his career.
Had the Texans elected to bolster their defense upon first entering the league, they likely would have found a little more success as the Carolina Panthers were able to select pass rusher Julius Peppers right after Carr. Peppers went on to have a tremendous career that wrapped up back in 2018. He was named to nine Pro Bowls over his career and is a member of the All-Decade Teams for both the 2000s and 2010s. Peppers also holds the NFL record for most forced fumbles of all time.
2000 draft: Peter Warrick over Jamal Lewis
The Cincinnati Bengals were hoping to get a major boost to their offense when they selected receiver Peter Warrick No. 4 overall. However, the pass catcher never really lived up to that billing. After three consecutive seasons where Warrick hovered around 650 yards receiving, he did pop for 819 yards in 2003, but that's as prolific as he became. The Florida State product was limited to just four games the following year, joined the Seahawks in 2005, and was then out of the league.
While it may have been tough to imagine the Bengals selecting a running back after already having Corey Dillon on the roster at the time, had they brought in Jamal Lewis, they'd be looking at one talented backfield. Lewis was selected right after Warrick by the Bengals' then-AFC Central rivals in the Baltimore Ravens. Lewis went on to be one of the better backs in franchise history for the Ravens, leading the league in rushing in 2003. He's the franchise's all-time rushing yards leader and is first in team history with 45 rushing touchdowns. To make matters worse, Lewis did play some of his best football against the Bengals, averaging 109.1 rushing yards per game against them throughout his career on 5.2 yards per carry.
2004 draft: Robert Gallery over Larry Fitzgerald
At the time Robert Gallery was drafted, the Oakland Raiders hoped they were getting someone who could man left tackle for them for the foreseeable future. However, the No. 2 overall pick in 2004 was widely considered a bust at that spot before finding relative success at right tackle and guard later on in his career. Instead of Gallery, the Raiders could have selected wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald, who was picked No. 3 overall by the Arizona Cardinals. Fitzgerald was one of the more dependable and durable wide receivers of his era and seems well on his way to one day being enshrined in Canton as a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He holds every meaningful receiving record in Cardinals history and is No. 2 all time in receiving yards, only trailing Jerry Rice. That seems like someone whom the Raiders -- and every other team in the league -- would like to have attached to their organization.
2005 draft: Fabian Washington over Aaron Rodgers
You can make a case that essentially everyone in the NFL whiffed on this and not just the Raiders, who took cornerback Fabian Washington one pick before Aaron Rodgers. However, it's a bit more jarring when they are stacked right next to one another. Washington played just three seasons with the Raiders before going elsewhere around the league, but never really blossomed into a first-round talent in the secondary. Meanwhile, had the team drafted Rodgers they would have been in a much more advantageous position when Rich Gannon announced his retirement later that summer. With Kerry Collins under center that following season, the Raiders went 4-12, which was one of the worst records in the entire NFL. Of course, if Rodgers was still able to become the quarterback we know today the Raiders may be held in the same regard as we do the Packers and possibly have a Super Bowl title to show for it.
2005 draft: Mike Williams over DeMarcus Ware
This is another missed opportunity by a team in the 2005 draft. Had the Detroit Lions elected to address their defense instead of bringing in receiver Mike Williams at No. 10 overall, they could have been looking at a generational pass rusher. Once the Lions took Williams, the Dallas Cowboys tapped outside linebacker DeMarcus Ware at No. 11 overall. Ware went on to be one of the best pass rushers of his era and is Dallas' all-time leader in sacks, forced fumbles, tackles for a loss, and quarterback hits. He also helped the Denver Broncos to a Super Bowl 50 title. As for Williams, he caught just 37 passes throughout his 22 career games with the Lions and totaled 449 yards receiving.
2002 draft: Napoleon Harris over Ed Reed
The Raiders unfortunately have a lot of misses on this list. The latest is picking linebacker Napoleon Harris No. 23 overall back in 2002. The Northwestern product was productive out of the gate and even had a 2003 season where he totaled 110 total tackles and three forced fumbles. However, Harris' career with the Raiders only lasted three seasons after being drafted. Right behind him on draft day, the Ravens selected safety Ed Reed, who put together a Hall of Fame career. Reed was another player who simply dominated the competition over his time in the league and holds the Ravens franchise record in interceptions, interception return yards, and passes defended. Reed also is tied for the most playoff interceptions (9) in NFL history.
2011 draft: Jake Locker over Tyron Smith
The Titans were coming off of the lackluster Vince Young era and were trying to again find a starting quarterback in the first round. After Cam Newton was taken No. 1 overall by Carolina, Washington's Jake Locker was the next signal-caller off the board as Tennessee selected him with the No. 8 overall pick. Unfortunately for the Titans, Locker's tenure wasn't exactly prolific. He completed just 57.5% of his passes over his four-year NFL career and was 9-15 in the 23 games he started for Tennessee. In his final season in 2014, he lost the starting job by Week 5 and would then go on to retire from NFL in March of 2015, citing that he lost in passion for football.
While you can never truly fault a team for taking an honest swing at trying to find a franchise quarterback, it does sting that stud offensive tackle Tyron Smith was scooped up by Dallas right after Locker. Smith has been arguably one of the best tackles of his era, earning eight Pro Bowl selections over the course of his career along with four All-Pro nods. He was also named to the NFL 2010s All-Decade Team. While missing out on Smith is bad enough, star pass rusher J.J. Watt also came off the board just three picks after Locker.
2013 draft: Datone Jones over DeAndre Hopkins
The Green Bay Packers did have the likes of Randall Cobb, James Jones and Jordy Nelson on their roster at the time, but could you imagine what Aaron Rodgers -- who already had an MVP and Super Bowl title under his belt -- would've been capable of had he been given DeAndre Hopkins?
The current Cardinals wide receiver was taken No. 27 overall by the Houston Texans in 2013, which was one pick after the Packers selected defensive end Datone Jones out of UCLA at No. 26. Jones never lived up to his first-round billing with the Packers, only starting seven games over his four-year tenure with the team and tallied nine sacks.
Meanwhile, Hopkins is considered to be one of the best receivers in the NFL to this day and has six seasons where he totaled over a 1,000 receiving yards. It should be noted that Green Bay did select Davante Adams the following year, but Hopkins would have been just as prolific in this offense.
2017 draft: John Ross over Patrick Mahomes
The Bengals are sitting pretty with Joe Burrow currently at the helm at quarterback, but there is an alternate universe where Patrick Mahomes is QB1 in Cincinnati. At the 2017 NFL Draft, the Bengals spent the No. 9 overall pick on wide receiver John Ross. Immediately following that pick was Mahomes to Kansas City where he has since established himself as an all-time talent with two Super Bowl rings on his finger.
Ross played just four seasons with the Bengals and only totaled 957 yards over that stretch. His best year came in 2019 when he caught 506 yards over eight games, but missed time due to a shoulder injury.
While the Bengals did have Andy Dalton solidified as its starter at the time, there was a case to move off of him at this juncture if they were bold enough. While he had three years left on his contract, there was no guaranteed salary left at that time and he was coming off a season where he was 6-9-1 as the starter. Dalton would then go under .500 for the rest of his tenure in Cincinnati and would eventually leave the franchise following the 2019 season. Again, it would have been a bold move had the Bengals bet on Mahomes' potential and ousted Dalton, but it would have paid off immensely.