5 worst first overall picks in NFL draft history

The first overall pick in the NFL Draft is met with intrigue virtually as soon as the regular season finishes, and early draft positions are set. Plenty of first overall picks have been home runs and have lit up the league since entering. These include Myles Garrett of the Cleveland Browns, the first overall pick in the 2017 draft, and Peyton Manning, who the Indianapolis Colts took first in 1998.

However, many teams have whiffed on the first overall pick, perhaps due to filling a need rather than going to the best player available or missing some character flaws in the interview process. Here are five of the worst first overall draft picks in NFL history.

Five worst first overall NFL Draft picks ever

#5 – Tim Couch

Tim Couch of the Cleveland Browns
Tim Couch of the Cleveland Browns

Quarterback Tim Couch was drafted first overall by the Cleveland Browns in 1999, returning to the league as an expansion after the team’s 1996 relocation to Baltimore. Couch didn’t live up to his promise coming out of Kentucky and spent five underwhelming years in Cleveland before leaving the NFL following the 2003 season.

Battling injuries throughout his career, Couch never passed for more than 18 touchdowns in a season and finished his career with more interceptions (67) than touchdown passes (64).

Couch did, however, have one iconic moment as the Browns starter:

#4 – Courtney Brown

Courtney Brown with the Cleveland Browns
Courtney Brown with the Cleveland Browns

A year later, in 2000, the Cleveland Browns held the first overall pick again, taking Penn State defensive end Courtney Brown at No. 1. Brown, too, would fail to live up to expectations in Cleveland as he battled ankle and knee injuries throughout his career.

Brown’s best statistical season for the Browns was a 6.0 sack season in 2003, not quite what you want for a No. 1 pick. Courtney Brown would be out of the league by the ’04 season after a year with the Denver Broncos, ending his NFL career with just 19.0 sacks in six seasons.

Five worst first overall NFL Draft picks ever

#3 – Ki-Jana Carter

Ki-Jana Carter of the Cincinnati Bengals
Ki-Jana Carter of the Cincinnati Bengals

The Cincinnati Bengals took Penn State running back Ki-Jana Carter with the first pick in the 1995 draft, but his career was almost over before it began. He tore a ligament in his knee on his third ever carry in a preseason game, missing his entire rookie year.

During his career, Carter would battle various injuries, including kneecap, shoulder, and wrist troubles. Carter managed seven years in the league despite the injury woes but only had 1,144 rushing yards in his career.

#2 – Steve Emtman

Steve Emtman
Steve Emtman

The Indianapolis Colts drafted defensive end Steve Emtman first overall out of Washington in the 1992 NFL Draft. Despite being voted into the College Football Hall of Fame, Emtman would never replicate his college form in the pros.

Across six seasons, Emtman ended the season on the injured reserve list in half of them. He would only have 8.0 sacks across a disappointing career for the Colts, Miami Dolphins, and Washington Redskins.

#1 – JaMarcus Russell

Players Rookie Premiere
Players Rookie Premiere

Not just the biggest No. 1 draft pick but arguably the biggest draft bust in league history, JaMarcus Russell tops our list. The LSU quarterback was taken first overall in 2007 by the Oakland Raiders but never had the discipline or work ethic to make it into the pros.

Russell never seemed to be committed to the Raiders, and his 7-18 record as a starter meant he was out of the NFL by 2009 after passing for just 18 touchdowns against 23 interceptions in 25 starts.

According to a Sports Illustrated report published in 2016, Russell said:

“When I was initially drafted into the NFL as the Number 1 overall pick there were enormous expectations heaped upon me. It did not help that I went to a struggling team that lacked infrastructure and veteran leadership. It also did not help that I was 20 years old and became a millionaire overnight.”

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