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Top 10 NFL Draft Busts- Running Back

Updated on September 9, 2014

They were expected to be the workhorse of the offense but failed to impress. Today, I rank the top 10 running back draft busts in NFL history.

10. Ricky Bell

He played for a poor team and was unable to perform at a high level.

While at USC, Ricky Bell gained a reputation as a great blocker and between the tackles runner. In 1975, Bell led the Trojans to a 7 - 0 start to their season and he led the nation in rushing gaining 1,875 yards as he finished third in the voting for the Heisman Trophy. In 1976, he led the Trojans team to an 11 - 1 record crowned by its victory over Michigan in the Rose Bowl. That year he set the USC single game rushing record of 347 yards against Washington State.

Bell was the first overall pick in 1977 by Tampa Bay. He signed a five year contract for a reported $1.2 million. It was by far the richest contract ever signed by an NFL rookie at that time. This draft choice was somewhat controversial because Pittsburgh running back Tony Dorsett was being projected as an arguably better back than Bell. He only rushed for 1,000 yards once in his career in 1979. Not what you would want from a draft's first pick. In the meantime, Tony Dorsett played on a perennial playoff team, was on a Super Bowl winner in his rookie year after gaining 1,007 yards in a 14-game season. Dorsett retired at number two behind Walter Payton on the all time rushing list and is currently number eight all time. In five seasons in Tampa Bay, Bell rushed for just over 3,000 yards and 16 touchdowns

Notable running backs in draft- Tony Dorsett, Wendell Tyler

9. Roger Vick

He could not live up to the New York spotlight.

Having the draft held in your hometown with all your fans in attendance would be enough pressure for anyone. For some reason it seems to affect the Jets more than the Giants because the Jets have made some truly incomprehensible moves in the first round of many NFL Drafts. As the names in this list testify to, picking a running back in the first round is an iffy prospect at best. Picking a fullback in the first round doesn’t mean you’re going to improve your chances of success when it comes to improving your running game. The Jets found that out when they selected a fullback in Roger Vick with the 21st overall pick in 1987.

In three seasons in New York, Vick gained 1,289 yards in his career with a 3.9 yards per carry average and 10 touchdowns. His poor production gave the Jets another draft bust.

Notable running backs in draft- Christian Okoye, Timmy Smith, Bo Jackson


8. Blair Thomas

He was brought in to be Freeman McNeil's successor, but injuries kept him from doing so.

While at Penn State, Blair Thomas was a member of the National Championship team as a freshman. He finished second on the Nittany Lions’s all time rushing list with 3,301 yards and 21 touchdowns, just 97 yards shy of the Penn State record set by Curt Warner. He was also the first player in school history to rush for more than 1,400 yards in two seasons. In 1989, he was named the MVP of the Holiday Bowl and the Senior Bowl.

Thomas was the second overall pick in 1990 by the Jets. Despite leading NFL rookies in yards per carry and AFC rookies in total yardage, he is considered another in a long line of Jets draft disappointments. Thomas rushed for only 2,000 yards and five touchdowns in his four seasons with the Jets. Thomas suffered a series of nagging injuries beginning in 1992 and was released by the Jets following the 1993 season. He tried to make comebacks with other teams, but injuries continued to plague him.

Notable running backs in draft- Emmitt Smith, Larry Centers, Brian Mitchell

7. Rashaan Salaam

He is one of the many disappointing Heisman trophy winners to play at the pro level.

As a junior at Colorado, Rashaan Salaam had one of the best individual seasons in college football history. He rushed for a school record 2,055 yards and becoming only the fourth college running back to run for more than 2,000 yards in a season. He also amassed 24 touchdowns and helped lead Colorado to an 11–1 record and won the 1994 Heisman trophy. He decided to forego his senior season and enter the NFL draft.

Salaam was the 21st overall pick in 1995 by Chicago. He rushed for 1,074-yards his rookie season but only averaged 3.6-yards per attempt. He played two more seasons for the Bears with his production dropping each year because of injuries and fumble problems. In 1999 he attempted a comeback with the Cleveland Browns but only played two games that season and was never able to make it back to the NFL.

Notable running backs in draft- Terrell Davis, Curtis Martin


6. D.J. Dozier

He was a two sport athlete that wasn't successful at either one at the pro level.

D.J. Dozier led Penn State in rushing all four seasons of his college career and scored the winning touchdown in their Fiesta Bowl victory over Miami that gave them the 1986 National Championship.

Dozier was the 14th overall pick in 1987 by Minnesota. The Vikings’ running game had been struggling with Darrin Nelson who had gained 793 yards in 16 games during 1986. The running game production fell even farther with Dozier on the team. Five of his seven career touchdowns came in his rookie season. In his five seasons in the NFL, the last one with the Lions, he gained a total of 691 yards. He was splitting the final two seasons of his football career with playing minor league baseball in the New York Mets’ system and in 1992 he began playing baseball full time.

Notable running backs in draft- Christian Okoye, Timmy Smith, Bo Jackson

5. Curtis Enis

He continued the legacy of disappointing Penn State running backs.

At Penn State, Curtis Enis put up impressive numbers before a gift acceptance scandal ended his college career in his junior year.

Enis was the fifth overall pick in 1998 by Chicago. He initially held out and ended up missing 26 days of training camp before signing his contract two weeks before the season opener. Midway through his rookie year, he tore his ACL and was lost for the year. The next season, he came close to running for 1,000-yards finishing with 916yards without ever rushing for more than 100 yards in a game. He was forced to retire after 2000 due to a degenerative condition in his left knee. In three seasons, he rushed for just short of 1,500 yards.

Notable running backs in draft- Fred Taylor, Ahman Green, Michael Pittman


4. Bo Matthews

He had a long career doing what he wasn't brought in to do.

Bo Matthews was the second overall pick in 1974 by San Diego. The pick was questionable at best due to the fact he only rushed for 488 yards in his senior season at Colorado. He finished with 328 yards in his rookie season with the Chargers. That was the high point of his career. He played for eight seasons because of his blocking ability which the Chargers could have found much later in that draft if blocking was what they were looking for.

Notable running backs in draft- John Cappelletti

3. Joe Profit

Knee injuries shortened his promising career.

Joe Profit was the seventh overall pick in 1971 by Atlanta. A knee injury he received in the fourth game of his rookie year caused his career to take a downward spiral. In his rookie season, he rushed three times for 10 yards and a touchdown. The next year, 40 for 132 and no touchdowns. In 1973, 18 times for 55 yards and two touchdowns. In his three year career with Atlanta and New Orleans, he rushed for under 500 yards and three touchdowns.

Notable running backs in draft- John Riggins, Don Nottingham

2. Ki-Jana Carter

Injuries set back his promising career.

While at Penn State, Ki-Jana Carter was a standout player on the explosive offense that propelled the 1994 Penn State team to a 12-0 undefeated season. Despite playing only three seasons, he is still in the top ten among Penn State running backs, having compiled 2,829 yards rushing on 395 attempts and scoring 34 touchdowns.

Carter was the first overall pick in 1995 by Cincinnati. His career was plagued by numerous injuries including a torn ACL, torn rotator cuff, broken wrist, and dislocated knee cap. In seven NFL seasons, he played in 59 games, started 14 of them, and compiled 1,144 rushing yards and 20 touchdowns on 319 attempts, and 66 receptions for 469 yards and a touchdown.

Notable running backs in draft- Terrell Davis, Curtis Martin

1. Lawrence Phillips

His off the field law breaking became the focus of his time in the league.

By his sophomore year at Nebraska, Lawrence Phillips became the focal point of the offense. He tied a school record by rushing for 100 yards or more in 11 straight games in 1994 despite frequently playing against eight or nine-man defensive fronts. During his time in Nebraska, he led the team to back to back national championships. Midway through his junior year, he was suspended for assaulting his girlfriend which raised questions about his character.

Phillips was the sixth overall pick in 1996 by St. Louis. The Rams fell into the conceit that affects all NFL teams at one time or another. They feel that if we can just get this super-talented player into our controlled environment and show him a little “tough love”, we can turn him around. Phillips only played for the Rams for one and part of a second season. He attempted a comeback in 1999 but his skills had eroded too much by then. After holding out of practice in dispute of playing time, the Rams were forced to release him. Since his retirement, he has been arrested multiple times and is currently serving a 31 year prison sentence.

Notable running backs in draft- Eddie George, Mike Alstott

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