Monday, April 12, 2010

Worst NFL Draft Picks: 1980-1989

The NFL Draft is only two weeks away. Each year, millions of NFL fans watch the draft, hoping their team can either pick the player that will finally turn their team around, or pick up the missing piece they need to win the Super Bowl. But the draft is a high-risk game of chance, as for every superstar like Peyton Manning, Deion Sanders, and Adrian Peterson, there's also going to be players like Ryan Leaf and Tony Mandarich that fail to meet expectations. Sometimes it's due to injury, other times it's due to a lack of commitment on the player's part, but mostly it's based on a team's management greatly overrating a player's ability to step up and adapt to the NFL. Whatever the reason, there is always going to be NFL Draft Busts, and here is The Canon Review's biggest draft busts for each year in the 1980s.

1980 - Johnny "Lam" Jones, WR, NY Jets, 2nd pick in the Draft

The Jets were looking for a game-changing player in the 1980 Draft, and thought they landed one in Jones, an All-American at Texas who also won the Olympic Gold Medal as part of the 1976 U.S. 4x100 relay team. While Jones was definitely one of the fastest players in the NFL, he didn't have any other skills beside speed. He couldn't catch the ball very well, which is only the most important skill for a wide receiver, and his route running was questionable at best. Basically, the only thing the Jets could do with him was run him down the sideline on a deep route and hope he catches the ball. After five frustrating years, the Jets finally let go of Jones before the 1985 season. To make matters worse, with the next pick in the draft, the Cincinnati Bengals picked OT Anthony Munoz, who went on to become a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame and is considered one of the best offensive lineman ever.

1981 - Rich Campbell, QB, Green Bay Packers, 6th Pick

Campbell is a man that is largely forgotten, and for good reason. An All-American at the University of California, the Packers chose Campbell to be the quarterback of the future and lead them back into the playoffs. However, in four years with the Packers, Campbell never even started a game for the team, as he couldn't beat Lynn Dickey for the starting role. Campbell only threw 68 career passes before the Packers let him go. Just two picks later, the 49ers picked a defensive back by the name of Ronnie Lott, only one of the best defensive players to play football. I'm almost positive that the woebegone Packers of the 1980s could have used Ronnie Lott.

1982 - Kenneth Sims, DE, New England Patriots, 1st Pick

1982 was not the NFL's strongest draft, as there were a lot of candidates for worst pick to choose pick. However, I decided to start with the top pick and went with Kenneth Sims, a University of Texas product who, while he lasted eight years with the Patriots, never met expectations and was really an average player at best. Sims was plagued by injury, playing only a full season once, and was often criticized for his poor conditioning and practice habits.  After being arrested for possession of cocaine in June of 1990, the Patriots released Sims, and he never played another down of NFL football.

1983 -  Todd Blackledge, QB, Kansas City Chiefs, 7th Pick

Blackledge had just come off leading his Penn State Nittany Lions to the national title, and in 1982, won the Davey O'Brien Award for being the best quarterback in the nation, over future legends like John Elway, Dan Marino, and Steve Young. Needless to say, the Chiefs felt they had a star in the making when they picked Blackledge seventh overall, ahead of both Marino and Jim Kelly, who both are in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Blackledge, meanwhile, is not. In seven seasons with the Chiefs and Pittsburgh Steelers, Blackledge threw for more interceptions than touchdowns and completed less than 50 percent of his passes. Today, Blackledge is a college football analyst for ESPN, where he is a lot better than he was as an NFL Quarterback.

1984 - Kenny Jackson, WR, Philadelphia Eagles, 4th Pick

This was probably the worst first round of the 1980s, as due to the USFL signing up a lot of the top rookies, the talent pool in the NFL Draft was a lot shallower than usual. Jackson, interestingly enough, was Blackledge's top target at Penn State, and was a two time All-American during his collegiate career. The Eagles, looking for another deep threat for Ron Jaworski, took the local kid Jackson. Like Johnny Lam Jones, Jackson had good speed, but that was about it, as he never caught more than 40 balls in a season and was released a few years later. He spent the next few years with Houston and back in Philadelphia, but mainly as a special teams gunner. Jackson now is a broadcaster and a restaurant owner, so at least he's had some success after college.

1985 - Kevin Allen, OT, Philadelphia Eagles, 9th Pick

The Eagles make their second straight appearance on this list, and nearly made a third because their 1983 first rounder, RB Michael Haddix, wasn't very good either. Allen was selected to help protect QB Ron Jaworski from pass rushers like Lawrence Taylor. Allen was described by coach Buddy Ryan as "a good football player ... if you want someone to stand around and kill the grass". Not only did he suck at football, Allen tested positive for cocaine in 1986, and then was charged and convicted of sexual assault, serving three years in prison. For the record, Kevin Allen only played one season, and wasn't very good either, which is exactly the opposite of what you expect from your first round selection. To make matters worse, future All-Pro tackle Jim Lachey was taken only three picks, and seven picks later, a guy by the name of Jerry Rice was selected.

1986 - Anthony Bell, LB, St. Louis (now Arizona) Cardinals, 5th Pick

The Cardinals were in need of a spark on the defensive side of the ball, and thought they found one in Bell. Why they felt that way is a mystery to most people, as Bell didn't even make his All-Conference team his senior year. Bell spent five years with the Cardinals, and although he started for four of them, he hardly ever made a big play and never started another NFL game after leaving the Cardinals in 1990. If the Cardinals really wanted an impact player, they should have taken Leslie O'neal, who had 12.5 sacks as a rookie and 132.5 career quarterback sacks.

1987 - Alonzo Highsmith, RB, Houston Oilers (now Tennessee Titans) 3rd Pick

1987 offered a lot of possible choices for this spot, but ultimately I went with the highest pick in Highsmith. Highsmith was the main ballcarrier for the Miami Hurricanes back when they were dominating college football. A large power back with some speed, Highsmith looked as if he could become one of the best running backs in the NFL, and he very well could have, except for the fact that he hurt his knee. After his knee injury, Highsmith was not the same player he once was, and retired after the 1993 season. He later became a professional boxer, compiling a career record of 27-1-2. Today Highsmith scouts potential draft picks for the Green Bay Packers.

1988 - Aundray Bruce, LB-DE, Atlanta Falcons, 1st Pick

It was only a matter of time before the Falcons made this list.  In 1988, the Falcons picked Bruce over future All-Pros like wide receivers Michael Irvin, Sterling Sharpe and Tim Brown, defensive end Neil Smith, and safety Bennie Blades, believing that Bruce would become the next Lawrence Taylor. Instead, Bruce often played like James Taylor. Bruce was blessed with exceptional speed and a 6'5" 245 lb pound frame, and was a heck of an athlete. Unfortunately, he became more known for his partying exploits off the field than anything he did on the field, and would oftentimes make a dumb play due to his lack of preperation and understanding of the team's defensive scheme. The Falcons did not do any favors to Bruce, as they kept changing his role, the defensive formation, and even tried to make him a tight end. Finally, after the 1991 season, the Falcons released Bruce, and he signed with the Raiders, where he became a solid backup at defensive end for a number of years, but never came close to meeting the expectations of being the next LT.

1989 - Tony Mandarich, OT, Green Bay Packers, 2nd Pick

The first five selections in the 1989 Draft were Troy Aikman, Mandarich, Barry Sanders, Derrick Thomas, and Deion Sanders. Three of those men are in the Hall of Fame, and Deion will be once he becomes eligible, the fifth man is Mandarich. Mandarich was deemed the best offensive line prospect of all-time by Sports Illustrated, and was thought of as a can't-miss prospect. Mandarich ended up missing, all right. While Mandarich was as strong as an ox and built like Brock Lesnar, he also had the mobility of a phone booth and therefore, was not able to handle speedy pass rushers. He also used steroids and had a substance abuse problem, so it was small wonder that the Packers released Mandarich after only three seasons. After a brief stint in the Canadian Football League, Mandarich came back to the NFL with the Indianapolis Colts, where he spent a couple of season as a starting guard for the team, and by most reports, did all right for himself, but never became the super dominant lineman that he and many others thought he would.

Well, thanks for reading, and if you have any ideas for future posts on The Canon Review, than let me know either by leaving a comment or e-mailing me at Here are a few videos of these men, in case you wanted to watch them.

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