Top 10 Successful College Football Players That Failed in the NFL
Many college footballs players dream of making it to the NFL. While only a fraction of the those who play college football eventually play on Sundays there were a lot of “sure” bets that failed to live up to expectation or just simply failed due to injury or lack of talent. Here is the top 10 list of college football players that were considered NFL busts. Hut, hut, hike!
10. Bo Jackson
The first inclusion on this list is sure to create a great deal of controversy, but there’s little doubt that Jackson failed to live up to his potential as a professional football player. Jackson, who became a cultural icon for his “Bo Knows” advertising campaign, was a tremendous two-sport athlete at Auburn. He not only ran for more than 4,000 yards during his football career, he also once hit over .400 for the Tigers baseball team. Yet in four seasons with the NFL’s Raiders, he had managed less than 2,800 yards rushing while essentially playing second-fiddle to Marcus Allen. Jackson’s career ended prematurely due to a hip injury, so there will always be questions about whether or not Jackson would have eventually lived up to the massive hype.
9. Art Schlichter
Like Jackson, our #9 selection failed to perform up to expectations in the National Football League, but like Jackson, there are extenuating circumstances to consider. Art Schlichter, a former Ohio State quarterback and the 1981 Big Ten Conference Most Valuable Player (MVP), was chosen fourth overall by the Baltimore Colts in the 1982 NFL Draft. Many thought that Schlichter would easily start for Baltimore and would essentially be the future of the franchise. It was not to be, however, and Schlichter failed to beat out Mike Pagel as a rookie. Off the field, a long-term gambling addiction took control of his life, and he would later be suspended indefinitely by the league for betting on football. Schlichter was reinstated for the 1984 season, but his poor play and his gambling continued, and by the end of 1986, he was out of the NFL for good, having played in just 13 career games.
8. Ricky Williams
While it is difficult to call someone who is still actively playing in the NFL “a bust,” Williams has failed to live up to expectations thus far during his professional football career. The two-time Doak Walker award winner and former Heisman Trophy recipient out of Texas is a former Pro Bowl MVP, but it’s the circumstances surrounding Williams’ career that have caused many to label him a bust. Then New Orleans Saints coach Mike Ditka traded an entire draft’s worth of picks, not to mention a 1st and a 3rd round pick the following year, to acquire Ricky in 1999. He ran for over 1,000 yards twice for New Orleans, but still underperformed in the eyes of many and was dealt to Miami. In his first year as a Dolphin, Williams ran for over 1,800 yards and led the league in rushing. Then the fun started. Williams reportedly tested positive for marijuana three times. Then he retired, tested positive for drugs again, signed to play in the CFL, announced his desire to return to the NFL, became the subject of endless trade rumors before eventually returning to the Dolphins, where he is currently the starting running back and is looking to shed the bust label for once and for all.
7. Gino Torretta
Unlike Williams, former Miami Hurricanes quarterback Gino Torretta ended his collegiate career without much attention from NFL scouts and draft experts. Despite throwing for more than 3,000 yards as a senior and winning the 1992 Heisman Trophy as well as the Davey O’Brien, Johnny Unitas and Maxwell Awards, few expected that he would successfully make the transition to the pro game. He didn’t. A 7th round selection of the Minnesota Vikings, Torretta played for five different NFL clubs from 1993 through 1997, playing in just one regular season game during that time. He retired before the 1998 season and has since gone on to pursue an entrepreneurial career.
6. Rashaan Salaam
A virtual unknown for most of his collegiate career, former Colorado Buffaloes running back Rashaan Salaam shot to stardom after running for more than 2,000 yards and winning the Heisman Trophy during the 1994 season. He continued to show flashes of stardom early on in the NFL, running for more than 1,000 yards as a rookie with the Chicago Bears. However, he soon fell victim to injuries, fumbles and drug problems. After three years with the Bears, he was let go and signed by the Cleveland Browns. Salaam played in just two games for the Browns, and bounced around between different teams and different leagues before his career officially came to an end in 2004.
5. Archie Griffin
Only one player in college football history has, to date, ever won the Heisman Trophy on more than one occasion, and that honor belongs to former Ohio State tailback Archie Griffin. Griffin ran for more than 1,300 yards in each of his last three seasons in Columbus, Ohio, becoming the first player ever to lead the Big Ten in rushing in three consecutive seasons. He ran for more than 100 yards 34 times during his career, and was selected in the first round of the 1976 NFL Draft by the Cincinnati Bengals. He did play seven seasons in the National Football League, but failed to make the kind of impact one would expect from a two-time winner of college football’s most prestigious award. After gaining just over 2,800 yards with the Bengals, Griffin ended his career in the USFL. On a side note, Archie Griffin is now the spokesperson for the high school student athlete awards program, Wendy’s High School Heisman.
4. Jason White
When Oklahoma Sooners quarterback Jason White decided to stay in school after winning the Heisman Trophy in 2003, it seemed that he would likely join Griffin as a two-time winner of the award. It was not to be, however, as White would have to settle for becoming just the third quarterback to repeat as recipient of the Davey O’Brien Award. He also won the Maxwell Award and the Johnny Unitas Award in 2004, and ended his career as Oklahoma’s all-time leaded in passing yardage and touchdown throws. However, White also ended his career with severe knee problems, having suffered through reconstructive surgeries on each knee during his time with the Sooners. As a result, he drew little attention from the NFL, going undrafted and spending part of the 2005 season with the Tennessee Titans before retiring from the game due to his injuries.
3. Andre Ware
In 1989, Houston quarterback Andre Ware became the first African-American quarterback in NCAA history to win the Heisman Trophy award, throwing for more than 4,600 yards and setting over two dozen NCAA records in the process. Drafted by the Detroit Lions in the first round of the 1990 Draft, Ware would play in just 14 games over four seasons for the Lions, throwing for just over 1,100 yards and tossing more career interceptions (8) than touchdowns (5). After leaving Detroit and spending a cup of coffee with the Raiders, Ware went off to the CFL, where he would play for four teams in four years and would once again fail to make a major impact. Ware has since returned to his native element, and is currently working as a college football analyst for ESPN.
2. Gary Beban
In 1967, Gary Beban became the first (and thus far only) UCLA Bruin to win the Heisman Trophy. The quarterback was a three-time All Pac-10 Conference selection during his career, set a school total yardage record that would last for 15 years, and was eventually inducted into the Rose Bowl Hall of Fame. Beban was drafted by the Washington Redskins in the second round of the 1968 Draft, but NFL success eluded Beban, who played five games as a quarterback and threw only one pass during his two year professional career. In 1970, Beban retired from football and began a career in business, cementing his status as yet another college football legend that went on to become an NFL footnote.
1. Terry Baker
Generally recognized as the first Heisman Trophy winner to become an NFL bust, former Oregon State quarterback Terry Baker tops our list of the Top 10 College Football Players That Failed in the NFL. As a senior, Baker threw for nearly 3,500 yards. He also ran for more than 1,500 yards and scored a combined 38 touchdowns passing and rushing. Baker was named the 1962 Liberty Bowl MVP and would go on to win the Heisman and the Maxwell award that season. He was selected first overall by the Los Angeles Rams in the 1963 NFL Draft. He played there for just three seasons, but enjoyed little success, perhaps due to Rams coach Harland Svare’s inability to fully utilize Baker as a dual-threat. Regardless of the reason, Baker would start just one game in the NFL running for just over 200 career yards, throwing 0 touchdowns and 4 interceptions. The end result is that Baker failed to duplicate his NCAA success at the next level, and in doing so, set the stage for the many, many Heisman busts to come.
Written by Chuck Bednar