We’re always talking about the players that impress us each year, but we rarely talk about the worst NFL players in the league. They don’t get any attention and while that’s for good reason, we’re going to take a step back and display some of the players that didn’t meet expectations.
Let’s be honest, the NFL is a ‘what have you done for me lately’ type of league. Those that play well are the ones that make headlines, the ones that get playing time, the ones that receive awards, the ones that sign big contracts, and the ones that get inducted into the Hall of Fame.
With that said, the worst NFL players are the ones that find themselves on the bench and eventually cut from the team when things don’t work out. It’s clear that NFL coaches don’t have time for these players and owners aren’t willing to pay them good money to under-perform.
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Who Are the Worst NFL Players of All-Time?
I’m sure you have several players roaming around inside your head that fit the description of one of the worst NFL players of all-time — I know I do. Some of them played in the league recently, while others have been out of the league for a long time. Either way, their play never sufficed.
Some players were never put in a good enough position to succeed, some weren’t committed enough, some didn’t have the talent, some couldn’t execute when their name was called, and some of them just failed to live up to the hype they received prior to entering the league.
It doesn’t matter which category they fell under, we’re going to rank who we believe to be the worst NFL players of all-time. Our list includes quarterbacks, wide receivers, running backs, linebackers, and even kickers — no one is safe when looking at the worst NFL players ever!
25. K Joe Danelo
Joe Danelo was drafted in the 10th round of the 1975 NFL Draft by the Miami Dolphins. While he never kicked a field goal for Miami, he was signed as a replacement kicker for the Green Bay Packers. In 12 games with the team, he made 11/16 field goals in his first NFL season.
Danelo went on to play a total of 10 years in the NFL for the Packers, New York Giants, and Buffalo Bills. He had some good moments, but overall he struggled to find consistency. He only made 133/228 career field goals (58.3%), including 8/21 in 1976 and 9/20 in 1979.
24. WR Alex Van Dyke
Alex Van Dyke was a wide receiver drafted in the second round of the 1996 NFL Draft by the New York Jets. Though he had high expectations coming into the league, he never lived up to the hype and only lasted five years — three with the Jets and two with the Philadelphia Eagles.
In those five years, Alex Van Dyke finished with just 26 catches on 61 targets for 219 yards and 3 touchdowns. Most of that came in his first season with the Jets, finishing with 17 receptions on 43 targets for 118 yards and one touchdown. It wasn’t the type of career they were hoping for.
23. WR Kenny Jackson
Kenny Jackson was one of the best wide receivers in Penn State history, holding 27 school records by the time he left. The Philadelphia Eagles invested a lot in him, selecting him with the 4th overall pick in the 1984 NFL Draft. He spent 8 years in the NFL, 7 of which with the Eagles.
Unfortunately, his college success didn’t translate to the NFL. Being picked 4th overall comes with a lot of expectations, but his 126 receptions in 8 years wasn’t what the Eagles wanted. In fact, 117 of those receptions came in his first four years, at which point he quickly declined.
22. K Neil O’Donoghue
Neil O’Donoghue was born in Ireland and is known as the tallest place kicker in NFL history. Unfortunately, his 6’6’’ frame wasn’t enough to find much success in the NFL. He was drafted in the 5th round of the 1977 NFL Draft by the Buffalo Bills and spent 9 years in the league.
The Bills quickly released him after only making 2 of his 6 field goals in the first five games of the season. He then went 24 of 42 over the next two seasons with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He finished his career with the St. Louis Cardinals, making 88 of 141 field goals in 6 seasons.
21. QB Mike Phipps
Mike Phipps was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2006 for his success at Purdue University. That success never shifted over to the big leagues, despite being selected third overall by the Cleveland Browns in the 1970 NFL Draft — two picks behind Terry Bradshaw.
The Browns were hoping Phipps was their answer at quarterback, but that never happened. He spent 7 years with the team and finished with 40 touchdowns and 81 interceptions. He then played 5 seasons with the Chicago Bears, recording 15 touchdowns and 27 interceptions.
20. QB Craig Whelihan
Craig Whelihan was drafted by the San Diego Chargers in the sixth round of the 1995 NFL Draft. He didn’t see action until the 1997 season when he replaced Stan Humphries as starter midway through the season. He would then replace Ryan Leaf as starter during the 1998 season.
In his two seasons with San Diego, he had a 2-12 record as starter, totaling 14 touchdowns and 29 interceptions. San Diego released him after the 1998 season and was signed by the Oakland Raiders. He didn’t last long in Oakland and was released before the 1999 season began.
19. WR Renaldo Nehemiah
Renaldo Nehemiah never played football in college, but his success in track and field drew a lot of interest from NFL teams ahead of the 1982 season. He signed with the San Francisco 49ers and there was a lot of hope that his speed would translate well as a wide receiver on the field.
Unfortunately, that never happened. He spent three years in the NFL and finished his career with 43 receptions, 754 yards, and 4 touchdowns. The 49ers lost interest in Nehemiah after drafting Jerry Rice in 1985. Following his release, Nehemiah returned to track and field for five years.
18. DE Vernon Gholston
Vernon Gholston was an extremely successful defensive end at Ohio State, which led to him being drafted sixth overall by the New York Jets in the 2008 NFL Draft. He only spent three years in the NFL, all with the Jets, and is regarded as one of the biggest busts in NFL history.
Despite being known for his sacks in college, he never recorded a sack at the professional level. He played in 45 games with the Jets and only recorded 42 tackles. He was later signed by the Chicago Bears and St. Louis Rams, but didn’t last longer than a month with either team.
17. QB Chris Weinke
Chris Weinke spent six years in the Minor League Baseball system before becoming the starting quarterback at Florida State University at the age of 26. He not only won a National Championship, but became the oldest player to win a Heisman Trophy, at the age of 28.
The Carolina Panthers drafted him in the fourth round of the 2001 NFL Draft. He spent five years in the NFL as a backup quarterback, recording 15 touchdowns and 26 interceptions. He finished his career with a 2-18 record and has the second-longest losing streak in history (17 games).
16. QB Babe Laufenberg
Babe Laufenberg was drafted by the Washington Redskins in the sixth round of the 1983 NFL Draft. Though he spent 8 years in the NFL with five different teams, Laufenberg was never good enough to earn a consistent role in the NFL. He was frequently the odd man out on the roster.
Babe played in 16 games, had a 2-5 record, and finished his career with 5 touchdowns and 11 interceptions. He had three stints with the Washington Redskins, two stints with the San Diego Chargers, and stints with the New Orleans Saints, Kansas City Chiefs, and Dallas Cowboys.
15. RB Michael Haddix
Despite being inducted into the Mississippi State Hall of Fame for his success in college, Michael Haddix failed to perform well at the next level. He was drafted 8th overall by the Philadelphia Eagles in the 1983 NFL Draft and never lived up to their expectations.
He played 8 years in the NFL for the Eagles and Green Bay Packers. Despite playing in 120 games and starting in 52 of them, he only recorded 1,635 yards and 3 touchdowns in his career. He holds the record for fewest yards per carry by a running back with more than 500 carries.
14. K Happy Feller
Happy Feller was the first kicker selected in the 1984 NFL Draft, going to the Philadelphia Eagles in the fourth round. Despite finding a lot of success in College with the Texas Longhorns, things didn’t go well for him at the NFL level. In fact, he only lasted three years in the league.
His first season was spent with the Eagles, a season that saw him make just 6 of his 20 field goals. He then moved on to the New Orleans Saints for two seasons, but only made 10 of his 22 field goals. The only positive was that he made 27 of 28 extra point attempts in his career.
13. QB Kim McQuilken
In terms of quarterback ratings, Kim McQuilken owns one of the worst at 17.9 over his 7-year career. He was drafted by the Atlanta Falcons in the third round of the 1974 NFL Draft. Though he played in 26 games, he only started 7 of those and finished with a 2-5 record in those starts.
He also owns one of the worst TD-INT ratios in NFL history. In 26 games, he finished with just four touchdowns and an unacceptable 29 interceptions. His worst game came in 1975 when he finished with five interceptions in 26 attempts — he only had five completions in that game.
12. QB Art Schlichter
Art Schlichter was a very successful quarterback at Ohio State, consistently finishing in the top-six of voting for the Heisman Trophy. Unfortunately, his gambling addiction took precedence over his professional career, which led to his NFL career being cut short after just four seasons.
He was drafted fourth overall by the Baltimore Colts in the 1982 NFL Draft, but only played in 13 NFL games before beginning a career in the CFL. In those 13 games, he finished with an 0-6 record as a starter and threw just three touchdowns — compared to his 11 interceptions.
11. RB Rocky Thompson
Rocky Thompson was widely known for his success as a track and field star, winning the AAA Championships with a 10.1 100-meter run. He was later drafted by the New York Giants with the 18th overall pick in the 1971 NFL Draft. As a first round draft pick, expectations were high.
Unfortunately, he only lasted three seasons in the NFL and never amounted to the running back New York was hoping for. In 29 games, Thompson finished his career with just 217 yards and one touchdown on 68 carries. A majority of those statistics came in his first year with the team.
10. QB Cade McNown
The Chicago Bears had a lot of faith in Cade McNown, drafting him out of UCLA with the 12th overall in the 1999 NFL Draft. He only started six games his rookie year and played in 15 games total. He finished that year with a 2-4 record — throwing for 8 touchdowns and 10 interceptions.
He followed that up with a 1-8 record the following year, which included 8 touchdowns and 9 interceptions. During the 2001 preseason, the Bears traded him to the Dolphins, where he became the third-string quarterback. He was then traded to the 49ers, but never played again.
9. QB King Hill
King Hill could easily find himself on any list of draft busts. He was a successful quarterback at Rice Institute, but it never really transferred to the NFL. He was drafted by the Chicago Cardinals with the first overall pick in the 1958 NFL Draft — a large honor that never materialized.
Though he spent 12 years in the NFL — with the Chicago Cardinals, St. Louis Cardinals, Philadelphia Eagles, and Minnesota Vikings — he only had two seasons of more than 1,000 passing yards and finished his career with an abysmal 37 touchdowns and 71 interceptions.
8. QB/K Bob Timberlake
Bob Timberlake had a lot of success with the Michigan Wolverines — especially in 1964, which included a Big Ten Championship, a Rose Bowl victory, and finishing fourth in Heisman voting. He was drafted in the third round of the 1965 NFL Draft and 13th round of the 1965 AFL Draft.
Despite competing to be the Giants’ starting quarterback, Timberlake instead landed as the team’s place kicker for his entire rookie season. After hitting his first field goal of the season, he would miss his next 14 attempts. He was cut the following season and never played again.
7. QB Heath Shuler
The Washington Redskins viewed Heath Shuler as their quarterback of the future after selecting him with the third overall pick in the 1994 NFL Draft. Unfortunately, his 4-9 record as a starter in his first two seasons with the team (13 touchdowns and 19 interceptions) wasn’t enough.
He was eventually benched in favor of Gus Frerotte in his third season and traded to the San Francisco 49ers prior to the 1997 season. He would start 9 games for the 49ers and finish with a 4-5 record (2 touchdowns and 14 interceptions). A foot injury eventually ended his brief career.
6. RB Lawrence Phillips
Lawerence Phillips enjoyed a very successful career at Nebraska, which included a 1,826-yard, 16-touchdown season in 1994. He was selected with the sixth overall pick in the 1996 NFL Draft by the St. Louis Rams. Unfortunately, he was haunted by legal troubles and a lack of work ethic.
Phillips only played three years in the NFL, including stints with the Rams, Miami Dolphins, and San Francisco 49ers. He played in 35 games, recording 1,453 yards and 14 touchdowns on 424 attempts (3.4 yards per attempt). Teams weren’t willing to take the risk due to his character.
5. QB Rusty Lisch
Rusty Lisch was drafted out of Notre Dame by the St. Louis Cardinals in the fourth round of the 1980 NFL Draft. He began his career as a third-string quarterback and only played two games his rookie year — completing 6 of 17 passes (35.3%) for 68 yards and three interceptions.
Interceptions became a common occurrence for him, while touchdowns were as rare as it gets. He finished his five-year career with an 0-1 record, one touchdown, and 11 interceptions in 30 games. In his final season, he once played so badly that he was replaced by Walter Payton.
4. WR Charles Rogers
Charles Rogers is one of the biggest draft busts in NFL history. Coming out of Michigan State, he was widely regarded as the top wide receiver in the country. That led to him being drafted second overall in the 2003 NFL Draft by the Detroit Lions — something they’ll later regret.
Rogers spent just three years in the league due to injuries, off-the-field issues, and struggles on the field. In just 15 games played, he finished his career with 36 catches on 84 targets for 440 yards and 4 touchdowns. For reference, Andre Johnson was drafted third overall in that draft.
3. QB Akili Smith
Akili Smith was drafted third overall in the 1999 NFL Draft by the Cincinnati Bengals — behind Tim Couch and Donovan McNabb. You would think that’s a good thing, considering how well he played his senior year at Oregon, but Akili Smith quickly proved many people wrong in the NFL.
Smith spent four years with the Bengals and played in 22 games — starting 17 of those games. He finished his career with a 3-14 record as a starter, recording 2,212 yards, 5 touchdowns, and 13 interceptions. Though he bounced around for several years after that, he never played again.
2. QB Ryan Leaf
Ryan Leaf is a name that often comes up when talking about the worst NFL players to ever suit up. He was drafted with the second overall pick in the 1998 NFL Draft by the San Diego Chargers after a successful college career that included 59 touchdowns and 24 interceptions.
He would go on to play three years in the league — two with the Chargers and one with the Dallas Cowboys. He played 25 games and started 21 of them — finishing with a 4-17 record as a starter. His 14 touchdowns and 36 interceptions were far from what was expected at the time.
1. QB JaMarcus Russell
JaMarcus Russell had everything he needed to succeed as a quarterback in the NFL — he had size, he had an arm, and he could run the ball. He was also drafted first overall in the 2007 NFL Draft by the Oakland Raiders. Unfortunately, his inconsistent play led to a very brief career.
He went on to play three years with the Raiders, playing in 31 games and starting 25 of them. He finished with a 7-18 record, 18 touchdowns, 23 interceptions, and 4,083 yards. He was sacked 70 times (64 in his final two seasons) and averaged just 131.7 yards per game.
Not All NFL Players Find Success In the Big Leagues
Every football player dreams of one day earning their spot among the greatest to ever play. Unfortunately, that’s something only a very few players will accomplish in their careers. In fact, most players will wind up with forgettable careers as some of the worst NFL players ever.
It’s a harsh reality, but a reality nonetheless. That’s what makes the NFL such a tough sport to compete in — with so many players trying to make a name for themselves, it’s not going to happen for everyone. Of course, that’s why we need to tip our hats to those that succeed.
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Although the 25 players listed above are regarded as some of the worst NFL players ever, that doesn’t mean the modern era won’t usher in some new names. Every single year we see players fail to live up to expectations and you truly never know who will be next to do so.
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