The NFL is a league of elite athletes, where only the best of the best can succeed and make a name for themselves. However, not every player who enters the NFL lives up to the expectations or the hype. Some players fail miserably, either due to lack of talent, poor work ethic, bad attitude, injuries, or other factors. These players are often labeled as busts, flops, or simply the worst players ever. In this article, we will rank the top 10 worst NFL players ever, based on their performance, impact, and legacy. We will also explain the reasons why they are considered the worst, and what went wrong in their careers.
10. Colin Kaepernick
Colin Kaepernick is a former quarterback who played for the San Francisco 49ers from 2011 to 2016, is widely recognized for his protest against racial injustice and police brutality, which involved kneeling during the national anthem before games.
While some praised him for his stand, others denounced him for disrespecting the flag and the country.
This act sparked a wider movement in the NFL and beyond, although it also made him a polarizing figure.
However, Kaepernick’s career as a player was not very impressive.
He had a promising start, leading the 49ers to the Super Bowl in his second season, where they lost to the Baltimore Ravens.
He also set several records, such as the most rushing yards by a quarterback in a single game (181) and in a single postseason (264).
However, his performance declined over the next few seasons, as he struggled with accuracy, decision-making, and consistency.
He also had several injuries and conflicts with coaches and teammates.
He was benched in 2015 and opted out of his contract in 2017.
Since then, he has not played in the NFL, as no team has signed him, despite his attempts to return.
Many believe that he has been blackballed by the league for his controversial protest, while others argue that he is simply not good enough to play at the highest level.
9. Isaiah Wilson
Isaiah Wilson is a former offensive tackle who was drafted by the Tennessee Titans in the first round of the 2020 NFL Draft. He was expected to be a key contributor to the Titans’ offensive line, which was one of the best in the league. However, Wilson turned out to be a huge disappointment, as he barely played in his rookie season, and was involved in several off-field issues.
Wilson played only four snaps in one game for the Titans, as he was placed on the reserve/COVID-19 list twice, and was suspended for violating team rules.
He also had a DUI arrest, a trespassing citation, and a police incident where he allegedly threatened to jump off a balcony.
He showed a lack of commitment and professionalism and reportedly had weight and conditioning problems.
The Titans traded him and a 2022 seventh-round pick to the Miami Dolphins in March 2021 for a 2021 seventh-round selection.
However, he was released by the Dolphins after only three days, after he was late for his physical and team meetings, and skipped a voluntary workout.
After his release from the Dolphins, Wilson was signed to the New York Giants’ practice squad during the 2021 season but was released in January 2022.
8. John McKay Jr.
John McKay Jr. is a former wide receiver who played for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers from 1976 to 1978.
He was the son of John McKay, the legendary coach of the USC Trojans and the first head coach of the Buccaneers.
He was drafted by the Cleveland Browns in the 16th round of the 1975 NFL Draft but chose to play for the Southern California Sun of the World Football League instead.
After the WFL folded, he was selected by the Buccaneers in the 1976 NFL Expansion Draft.
McKay Jr. was a mediocre player, who had only 41 receptions for 632 yards and two touchdowns in his three-year career.
He was also a controversial player, who was accused of nepotism and favoritism by his teammates and opponents.
Many believed that he was playing ahead of better receivers because he was the coach’s son, and that he received preferential treatment from his father.
He also had a feud with quarterback Steve Spurrier, who allegedly tried to get him injured by throwing passes over the middle of the field.
McKay Jr. retired after the 1978 season, he was forced to retire due to complications from a broken hand.
7. Rocky Thompson
Rocky Thompson is a former running back and defensive back who played for the New York Giants from 1971 to 1973.
He was drafted by the Giants in the first round of the 1971 NFL Draft, after a stellar college career at West Texas State, where he was a two-time All-American and a world-class sprinter.
He was expected to be a star player for the Giants, who needed a boost in their offense and special teams. However, Thompson was a bust, who never lived up to his potential and was also a liability on defense and special teams, where he was often beaten by faster and stronger players.
He had only 217 rushing yards and 85 receiving yards in his three-year career and scored only three touchdowns.
6. Babe Laufenberg
Babe Laufenberg is a former quarterback who played for the San Diego Chargers and the Dallas Cowboys from 1988 to 1990.
He was drafted by the Washington Redskins in the sixth round of the 1983 NFL Draft, after a successful college career at Indiana, where he set several passing records and won the Sammy Baugh Trophy.
He spent most of his career as a backup or a practice squad member and played in only six games in the NFL.
Laufenberg was a terrible player, who had only five touchdowns and 11 interceptions in his career and ended with a 45.9 passer rating.
He is best remembered for his disastrous performance in the final game of the 1990 season, when he started for the Cowboys against the Atlanta Falcons, with a playoff spot on the line.
He completed only 10 of 24 passes for 129 yards and four interceptions, and the Cowboys lost 26-7.
He was booed and mocked by the fans, and berated and benched by coach Jimmy Johnson.
After the 1990 season, he actually played eight years as a quarterback. He became a sportscaster and a radio host after retirement.
5. Ted Gregory
Ted Gregory is a former defensive tackle who was drafted by the Denver Broncos in the first round of the 1988 NFL Draft.
He played college football at Syracuse, where he was a consensus All-American and won the Outland Trophy as the best interior lineman in 1987.
He was expected to be a dominant force for the Broncos’ defense, but he turned out to be a huge mistake.
Gregory’s problems started when he met Broncos coach Dan Reeves for the first time after the draft.
Reeves, who was also listed as 6’1″, was shocked to see that he was taller than Gregory, who had lied about his height. Gregory was actually closer to 5’9″, which made him undersized for his position. Reeves later said, “I’m taller than he is!” and regretted drafting him.
Gregory also had a knee injury that he suffered in his last college game, which limited his mobility and strength.
He failed to impress the Broncos in training camp and was traded to the New Orleans Saints before the season started.
He played only three games for the Saints and injured his knee again.
He never played in the NFL again and is considered one of the biggest draft busts in Broncos’ history.
Gregory suffered a ruptured disc in his back that left him temporarily paralyzed.
He ranked eighth in Deadspin’s list of “The 100 Worst NFL Players of All Time.”
4. Rusty Lisch
Rusty Lisch is a former quarterback who played for the St. Louis Cardinals and the Chicago Bears from 1980 to 1984.
He played college football at Notre Dame, where he backed up Joe Montana and set several passing records.
However, he was drafted by the St. Louis Cardinals in the fourth round of the 1980 NFL Draft but spent most of his career as a backup or a practice squad member.
Lisch had only one touchdown and 11 interceptions in his career and ended with a 25.1 passer rating.
He had a challenging performance in the final game of the 1984 season when he started for the Bears against the Green Bay Packers.
He completed only 10 of 24 passes for 129 yards and four interceptions, and the Bears lost 26-7.
He was booed and mocked by the fans and berated and benched by coach Mike Ditka.
Ditka inserted running back Walter Payton at quarterback, who did a better job than Lisch.
He was named the worst player in NFL history by sports blog Deadspin in 2011.
The blog wrote: “If you have one game you need to lose, and you require a quarterback to take you there, Lisch is – hands down – the man you want.”.
3. Ryan Leaf
Ryan Leaf is a former quarterback who played for the San Diego Chargers and the Dallas Cowboys from 1998 to 2001. He played college football at Washington State, where he was a finalist for the Heisman Trophy and won the Sammy Baugh Trophy as the best college passer in 1997.
He was selected as the second overall pick by the Chargers in the 1998 NFL Draft, after Peyton Manning, but his career was ruined by poor performance, bad behavior, injuries, and lack of work ethic.
Leaf had a disastrous rookie season, throwing only two touchdowns and 15 interceptions, and posting a 39.0 passer rating. He also had several conflicts with coaches, teammates, and the media, and was fined for cursing at a reporter. He missed his entire second season due to a shoulder injury and never regained his form or confidence. He played only 21 games in four seasons and had a 4-17 record as a starter. He threw 14 touchdowns and 36 interceptions and had a 50.0 career passer rating. He was released by the Chargers in 2001 and signed with the Cowboys, but he played only four games and was cut after the season.
After his NFL career, he completed his degree at Washington State.
He had legal troubles involving drugs beginning in 2010 when a Texas judge sentenced him to 10 years probation.
Two years later, Leaf pleaded guilty to felony burglary and drug possession in Montana.
After a suspended sentence with a stint in drug rehabilitation, Leaf began serving a seven-year sentence in state prison in December 2012.
He was released from prison in Montana on December 3, 2014.
He has since become a motivational speaker and a college football analyst and has shared his story of addiction and recovery.
2. Akili Smith
Akili Smith is a former quarterback who played for the Cincinnati Bengals from 1999 to 2002.
He played college football at Oregon, where he had a breakout season in 1998, throwing for 3,763 yards and 32 touchdowns.
He was selected as the third overall pick by the Bengals in the 1999 NFL Draft1, ahead of future stars like Donovan McNabb, Edgerrin James, and Champ Bailey.
Smith was a bust, who never adapted to the NFL game or the Bengals’ system.
Smith had a challenging start to his NFL career.
He had a holdout that lasted until the first week of the regular season and missed most of the training camp and preseason.
He started only four games as a rookie and threw only two touchdowns and six interceptions.
He also suffered a toe injury that sidelined him for the rest of the season.
He never improved his accuracy, decision-making, or pocket presence, and was plagued by injuries and inconsistency.
He played 22 games in four seasons and had a 3-14 record as a starter.
He threw five touchdowns and 13 interceptions and had a 52.8 career passer rating.
He was released by the Bengals in 20021, not 2003, and failed to make the rosters of the Green Bay Packers, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and Frankfurt Galaxy.
He retired in 2007 and is regarded as one of the worst draft picks in Bengals’ history.
1. JaMarcus Russell
JaMarcus Russell is a former quarterback who played for the Oakland Raiders from 2007 to 2009.
He played college football at LSU, where he won the Manning Award and the Sugar Bowl MVP in 2006.
He was selected as the first overall pick by the Raiders in the 2007 NFL Draft, and signed a six-year, $68 million contract, with $31.5 million guaranteed.
Russell was a flop, who failed to justify his draft status or his contract. He had a lengthy holdout that lasted until the second week of the regular season and missed most of the training camp and preseason. He started only one game as a rookie and threw two touchdowns and four interceptions.
He became the full-time starter in 2008, and showed some flashes of potential, but also struggled with accuracy, turnovers, and leadership.
He regressed in 2009, was benched after nine games, and threw three touchdowns and 11 interceptions. He also had weight and conditioning issues and was accused of being lazy and unmotivated.
He played only 31 games in three seasons and had a 7-18 record as a starter. He threw 18 touchdowns and 23 interceptions and had a 65.2 career passer rating.
He was released by the Raiders in 2010, and never played in the NFL again. He is widely considered the biggest draft bust of all time, and the worst player in NFL history.
Russell’s life after football was indeed challenging. He has also accepted responsibility for his NFL failure, and has said, “I blame myself. I could have given football more. I could have done more as a professional.”