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

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  1. Art Schlichter’s replacement at Ohio State was Mike Tomczak. Mike was a walk-on at the Bears 1985 training camp and got signed for being tough plus mean when mad. He managed to have a long NFL career playing for the Bears, packers, browns and steelers.

  2. Wasn’t Art Schlichter the Redskins guy who ran into that wall absentmindedly for no reason and got a severe injury from it? I think so..

  3. “failed to perform up to expectations in the National Football League”
    I guess Leaf did perform to his expectations.

  4. I agree that Ryan Leaf should be on the list, but how about the biggest bust in the last ten years: JaMarcus Russell. As a lifelong Raiders fan, the agony and anguish he brought to the organization will not be forgotten for many years to come.

  5. Oh yeah, and how can we leave out Lawernece Phillips? Much was expected of this RB coming out of Nebraska in 1996. All he did after that was rack up a rap sheet as thick as a phone book. Last I heard he was sentenced to 31 yrs in prison for beating his girlfriend and trying to run over some teenages.

  6. I agree that Bo Jackson and Ricky Williams don’t belong on this list. I believe Williams is amazing. He is still a productive runner despite having retired and returned.

  7. Tosin Kazeem on

    1)Why is Bo Jackson on this list?

    2)Why is Ricky williams on this list? he's still playing and is just off a 1000 yard season

    3)What about guys like couch, leaf, howard etc.. leinart makes more sense to be on this list than jackson

  8. Ridiculous to put Bo Jackson on this list. So he backed up a HOFer his first two years? Big deal. The guy averaged 5.4 yards per carry for his career….that's better than Jim Brown. He was a unique talent that would have easily been in the all time top 10 backs if he stayed healthy.

    I wish clueless people would stop making football lists.

  9. Bo Jackson and Archie Griffin have no business on this list. I'm a Bama fan, so I hate Auburn and the Small Ten as much as the next guy, but Jackson and Griffin both had some productive seasons in the NFL. Granted Archie never lived up to the hype of the only two time Heisman winner, but he was still only a late first rounder and SIX other RBs you've never heard of were taken before him in the 76 draft; Archie wasn't thought of very highly by NFL scouts….. And to have Bo on there is totally wrong. Dude was one of the best athletes to ever live, would have had an outstanding career in the NFL and MLB. Getting his hip knocked out of socket was just bad luck.

    You could have about 100 people on that list that were bigger busts than Jackson and Griffin. Where is Danny Wuerfel (or any other qb that played for Spurrier)? Ryan Leaf, Tony Mandarich, Brian Bosworth, Andre Bruce, Akili Smith, Cade McNown… any of those would have been better choices than Griffin or Bo.

  10. Chunky Charles on

    I expected from the moment I entered this top ten list not only to see Ryan Leaf's name, but to see his name at either the #1 or #2 spot. Like many people already pointed out, he should have been on this list.

    I grew up in Montana and remember watching him play high school ball when I was just a kid. He did everything right (football wise) and was the perfect quarterback until he entered the NFL. He isn't just the biggest flop in football history, he is the biggest flop in SPORTS history.

  11. Randle Lowrance on

    Another name worth noting is one of my favorite college players with a failed attempt in the NFL is Eric Crouch of Nebraska. I was really pulling for that young man to go on and find success at the next level.

  12. Interesting list, but it's not complete without Mandarich or Couch. I would have put them both in the top 5.

  13. I'm not sure what I was surprised about more: Seeing Terry Baker on this list, or not seeing Brian Bosworth. Baker played before the days of "play me or trade me", and was forced to play in a scheme that he was ill-suited for. After a few years, he said to heck with it, and went on to become a successful corporate attorney in Portland.

    Bosworth just never lived up to the hype coming into the NFL. I'm not sure what his excuse was.

  14. I'm from Fresno, and David Carr was/is a complete bust as a pro. Used to think it was just poor protection, but he just can't handle the big times.

  15. Bo's 4 year rushing stats are affected by the fact that he started all the seasons late because he was still playing baseball. Leaf or Couch are much better examples than Bo.

  16. alot of these guys weren't supposed to be stars. how can you be a bust when you dont get drafted until the 5th or 7th rounds.

    what about Shuler, Leaf, Couch, Lawrence Phillips, Kijana Carter, Emtman?

  17. The Third Chimp on

    Oh yeah bo's stats:

    38 games: 16 TDs – 5.4 yard average. He would have made it to the hall of fame had he not got injured.

    this list is a joke, like ryan leaf and tim couch.

  18. Brian Bosworth would have been a good addition as would Ryan Leaf. The addition of Bo Jackson is worthy of consideration if only from the vast potential he had. The fact he was almost superhuman makes his total yardage of 4,000 seems like a failed NFL career, even if injuries were the culprit. His upside, as they say, was off the charts and he could have been one the best ever, but he is just a could-have-been story. That is what makes him a justified NFL bust.

    • He only played 8 games a season because of baseball. You understand the simple theory that it is harder to gain more yardage when you play less games than others, right?

  19. Saying Bo Jackson was a bust is like saying Gale Sayers is also. Jackson was turning into an awesome back, and his injury was a total fluke. A better choice there would be Brian Bosworth, who was way hyped and was never the same after Bo Jackson ran over him like he was a rag doll.

    • Not to mention henonly played have the games in NFL career cause of basebal scheduel and one only people to win MVP of all-stat game and pro bowl in same year an injury shouldn't put you on this list

      • I totally agree that Bo Jackson should not be on this list and Brian Bosworth should be. Bo made Boz look like an incompetent fool — which Boz was. Bo may have played “second fiddle to Marcus Allen” at first, but Bo played “second fiddle” to no one after the first year or two. Bo in my opinion could have been in the Hall of Fame if he had not gotten injured. We will never know for sure. In any case Bo should not be on this list and Boz should.