Every year teams load up their draft boards with prospects they feel can help them repeat as champions, solve issues to make them competitive, or for the right athlete to keep them relevant and in contention. Every football team has needs and all eyes are fixed on the college landscape. Who is the next Dan Marino, Gale Sayers, or Jerry Rice? Many names are shouted and exclaimed, but very few measure up to the reputation that proceeds them. Here are ten examples of highly touted collegiate stars who were dominant on the gridiron in the NCAA. However, these ten blockbusters fizzled out once they reached the NFL. Like the month of March, they came in like a lion and left the league like a lamb. Their careers have been hugely unsuccessful compared to what they were projected to accomplish. To give you some background on the selection process, all ten of these players were one or more of the following: Heisman award winner, number one overall draft pick, and/or a first round selection.
10. Matt Leinart – QB
10th Overall Pick, 2006 – Arizona Cardinals
Seemingly, Matt Leinart was tailor-made for the NFL when he emerged from USC. The quarterback’s last game in his collegiate career was one that would go down in folklore. Leinart was a three-time Heisman finalist that flawlessly operated USC’s pro-style offense with grace and fluidity. An offense that featured Dwayne Jarrett, Reggie Bush, and Lendale White. An offense that could easily accumulate five hundred yards in a game. Leinart was a part of a team that set records in many different categories. The most impressive was owning one of the longest winning streaks in college football history and nearly winning three straight national championships. The Pete Carroll commanded team functioned as their name would entail, like a rogue Trojan brigade sacking coliseums of different teams, week after week. The same prominence did not translate for Matt Leinart when he reached the next level. His pro career mostly consisted of unproductive numbers and comprising the role of a backup quarterback for his brief stay in the NFL.
9. Mike Williams – WR
10th Overall Pick, 2005 – Detroit Lions
Seemingly, the Lions have always been on a quest for a truly dominant receiver. Their prayers were answered when the Lions drafted Calvin Johnson in 2007 with the second overall pick. In fact, Megatron may very well continue on to be the greatest receiver of all time. However, the Lions had their share of hiccups before they were graced by Calvin Johnson’s presence.
In 2005, Mike Williams was a highly touted receiver coming to the NFL by way of USC. In college, Williams was dominant and he was a finalist for the Heisman trophy. In his last collegiate year, Williams would collect 95 grabs for over 1,300 yards and 16 reception touchdowns. In the NFL, Mike Williams’ talent would not materialize. He would be taken with the number ten pick in the 2005 NFL Draft and in two seasons with Detroit, he would accumulate less than 450 receiving yards. Ouch.
8. Charles Rogers – WR
2nd Overall Pick, 2003 – Detroit Lions
The Lions own yet another player in this list, Charles Rogers. The Michigan State product had all the makings of an NFL star. He won both the Biletnikhoff trophy and Paul Warfield trophy in his final year as Spartan. He would post similar numbers to Mike Williams while wearing the Spartan green. Rogers was a unanimous first-team All-American. In 2003, the Detroit Lions took Rogers with the second pick overall in the draft. Seemingly, Detroit found their number one receiver and Rogers was the local hero who would help turn the franchise around. Sadly, Rogers would only accumulate 440 yards and 36 receptions in two NFL seasons. Having been compared to Randy Moss with his 4.4 speed in the 40, Rogers was poised to be a firecracker. Instead, he was a box of poppers. Rogers would submerge into legal troubles off the field and would never even show a faint glimmer of brilliance like he did in his collegiate years. This indictment would lead to Detroit going after Mike Williams in 2005 and ultimately their best receiver in history: Calvin Johnson in 2007.
7. Vince Young – QB
3rd Overall Pick, 2006 – Tennessee Titans
Vince Young had it all coming out of college at Texas: A National Championship, blazing speed, and a set of intangibles that had not been seen in the college circuit for years. As a junior, Vince Young would finish second to Reggie Bush in Heisman voting. His numbers were stellar: Over 3,000 yards passing and over 1,000 yards rushing. This was a precedent, something never seen nor observed in the game before. The trendy quarterback in the Big 12 was Brad Smith. The Missouri star was a consistent 2,000/1,000 contributor in each of his seasons. But Vince Young raised the bar. He would accrue 38 total touchdowns in 2005, leading the Longhorns on a storied championship run. To this day, many say the USC/Texas Rose Bowl of 2005 is the greatest college football game ever. Furthermore, “InVinceAble” holds many UT records, as well as Rose Bowl and BCS records. Seemingly he was a mythical creature of historic proportion. What has not been historic is Vince Young’s NFL career. He has played for five different NFL teams and has often been relegated to the backup QB position. He has thrown more interceptions than touchdowns in his career and only had three starts for the Philadelphia Eagles in 2011, posting a 1-2 record. The man was supposed to be dynamic and change the game. Instead, he was simply a dud.
6. Courtney Brown – DE
1st Overall Pick, 2000 – Cleveland Browns
Penn State is known as Linebacker University. Brandon Short and LaVarr Arrington both lived up to the hype that surrounded them. Although both men had brief NFL careers, they were prodigious in the time they had on the field. Courtney Brown (shown below missing a tackle) was supposed to have the same impact for the Cleveland Browns. He didn’t. The Nagurski award winner accumulated a record thirty-three career quarterback sacks and seventy tackles for loss. However, Courtney Brown would only accumulate nearly half those sacks in a long and dull six year career. His best season was his rookie campaign and from there it was a slippery slope downhill. Brown had the tools and unrivaled measurables: 6’4, 270 pounds, with a 4.5 forty-yard time. However, the skill and talent did not matriculate in to anything academic in Brown’s NFL career.
5. JaMarcus Russell – QB
1st Overall Pick, 2007 – Oakland Raiders
In 2007, the NFL Draft sported one of its thinnest classes of all time. Leading the way for the 2007 recruits was JaMarcus Russell, who was actually a very good college quarterback. In his senior year he was a part of an LSU National Championship team that handily defeated Notre Dame. He was economical as a starter and efficiently managed the game for the Bayou Bengals. The Oakland Raiders at the time were a maligned franchise, searching for a solution at the quarterback position. Marcus Tuiasosopo wasn’t the man that the Raiders thought he would be. They were searching for someone new, someone fresh, someone simple: JaMarcus Russell. With the first pick in the 2007 NFL Draft, the Raiders selected Russell. However, Russell’s tenure as quarterback with the Raiders was extraordinarily short lived. To this day, he is classified by many as one of the worst NFL Draft busts in history. In Russell’s defense, in a typical draft he would have been a mid-round selection. However, the timing was not right and Russell was the sparkling ornament of the 2007 NFL Draft and by virtue of this, he earned the number one selection which led to his ultimate demise.
4. Tim Couch – QB
1st Overall Pick, 1999 – Cleveland Browns
The Cleveland Browns have had their fair share of busts, but Tim Couch takes the cake. This quarterback was supposed to bring “balance to the force” for Cleveland and seemingly he has been an omen of ill repute since his selection in 1999. The turbulent episodes of protégé quarterbacks gone wrong has turned into a potential mini-series platform for the Browns. Couch would continue on to struggle greatly in the NFL, far different from his efforts at Kentucky. In fact, Couch would come in to the league with a 38 touchdown and 4,611 yard campaign in his last season in the NCAA. However, by the conclusion of his career, Couch was comparable to Vince Young; he threw more interceptions than he did touchdowns. One precursor to Couch’s demise was his sluggish speed for a quarterback. He came into the league in an era where the game was getting faster and his 5.2 forty time just could not cut it for a Cleveland franchise sporting a porous offensive line. He was a prototypical gunslinger that fired blanks before he could ever turn in to the outlaw Cleveland had envisioned.
3. Ryan Leaf – QB
2nd Overall Pick, 1998 – San Diego Chargers
Ryan Leaf is one of the most frequently cited busts in NFL history. In fact, he could be the greatest of all-time. The Washington State prodigy entered the 1998 NFL Draft with an air of confidence that quickly deteriorated into arrogance. However, Leaf had all the scouts drooling. For the San Diego Chargers, he was going to be the next Dan Fouts. He was the predecessor to Drew Brees and Phillip Rivers, and at the time he was their quarterback of the future. Or so they thought. He set Pac-10 records and averaged over 330 yards per game. He threw for 33 touchdown passes in an era where thirty touchdown passes was considered a rarity. Leaf was a 6’5″, well-framed signal caller. He had poise, moxie, and an apparently advanced skill set. What Leaf lacked was character. His behavior was poor and his conduct disgusting. He had a sense of entitlement and terrible attitude. Nevertheless, Leaf signed a huge contract with San Diego after he was drafted. The funds allocated were one of the worst investments in sporting history. Leaf envisioned awards, Super Bowl rings, and decadence. Instead, he finished with a 50.0 QB rating in his tentative career. Ryan Leaf will forever be associated with the term: overhyped primadonna.
2. Eric Crouch – QB
Third Round Selection, 2002 – St. Louis Rams
Heisman winner Eric Crouch was the only star football player on this list to not be drafted in the first round. In fact, his fall from grace began from the very moment he won a Heisman trophy with the Nebraska Cornhuskers. It was obvious that the football gods had a soft spot for Nebraska and Eric Crouch when they ascended to play the Miami Hurricanes for a National Championship in 2002, despite the fact that they were trounced by two-loss Colorado just weeks before. Furthermore, the Joey Harrington led Oregon Ducks were removed from the title hunt and relegated to the Rose Bowl. Nebraska would follow up with the good graces by being thumped by a dominant Miami Hurricanes. Eric Crouch was also one of a kind, in terms of Heisman winners: He threw more interceptions than touchdowns but still won the trophy. The justification, of course, was that the Heisman is a team award as much as it as commemorates individual performance. Pageantry decayed to disdain rapidly, and this hex would only follow Crouch to the NFL when he was selected by the St. Louis Rams. Crouch would emerge as a wide-receiver and in spite of this, his career never got off the ground. He bounced around from practice squad to practice squad, acquired and waived like a pony on a carousel. In his next adventure, Crouch was assigned to NFL Europe when it was still in existence. Once NFL Europe dissolved, he emerged in the CFL and finally crash landed in the AAFL. Crouch’s fall was dismal to witness from its genesis.
1. Ron Dayne – RB
11th Overall Pick, 2000 – New York Giants
To this day, it would be hard to contest that Ron Dayne is the greatest collegiate running back. As a freshman at Wisconsin, he shattered NCAA rushing records in a single season when he rumbled for 2,109 yards and added 20 touchdowns to his resume. In fact, Dayne had one of the most productive careers in NCAA history. This is infallible and this is not arguable. Dayne would accumulate 7,125 rushing yards and 71 rushing touchdowns in an illustrious and immaculate four-year NCAA career. Dayne would win a Heisman trophy and as a senior, he would eclipse the 2,000 yard mark yet again. To this day, this has not been replicated. The first stunner was the fact that Dayne somehow fell to the New York Giants sitting with the number eleven pick overall in the 2000 Draft. What would follow is even more of a shocker.
In his collegiate career, Dayne had a 6.0 yards per carry average in his senior year. In seven-years as a NFL running back, he would finish with an overall average of 3.8 yards per carry. Even more astonishing, Dayne would not have a single 1,000 yard campaign, despite having two effortless 2,000 yard campaigns when he was a Bucky Badger. Finally, Dayne would finish with just twenty-eight rushing scores in his abysmal seven-year stint, averaging just four rushing touchdowns per year. When Dayne was a bull charging toward daylight at Wisconsin, he averaged nearly eighteen rushing touchdowns per year. Ron Dayne is a great running back and he did not earn this title because he was an exaggerated prospect. Dayne was afflicted with overachieving at titanic levels. In a four year span in college, he had put together a body of work that has still not been reproduced. While many experts and analysts predicted Dayne would put up more human-like numbers at the higher level of the NFL, he seemingly nose-dived in the complete opposite direction. It is for this reason that Ron Dayne’s legacy has cemented him as the best college football player who tanked in the pros. A man who put up mediocre figures in the NFL, when he was an unstoppable wrecking machine in his collegiate prime. Ron Dayne is guilty of being a supernatural entity who showed typical human weaknesses. In many ways, he was a messianic figure crucified for then playing at an average level. This is the curse of Ron Dayne.