16 College Football Stars Who Disappointed in the NFL
The college football scene has become bigger and more extravagant as the seasons have gone on. And the prospects that head to the NFL Draft with hopes of becoming successful pros have more pressure on them than ever before. But the jump from college football to the NFL remains a difficult one, and many of the most pedigreed college stars have dismal professional careers. Everyone can’t be Patrick Mahomes, the electrifying QB from Texas.
There were too many college-stars-turned-NFL-flops to squeeze onto our list. But there are a few that stand out above the rest. Here’s a look at 16 college football stars who have disappointed in the NFL. (And is there a chance that the player on page 16 makes a comeback?)
Matt Barkley – QB
As a four-year starter with broken records as the USC Trojans quarterback, Matt Barkley had a high draft stock even as he passed up going into the 2012 NFL Draft to play one more year of college ball. But a subpar senior season at USC hurt Barkley’s draft campaign, and he ended being selected in the fourth round by the Eagles. He saw limited action in Philadelphia, before getting a chance to start some games for the Chicago Bears in 2016. In six games with Chicago, Barkley went 1-5 with eight touchdowns, 14 interceptions, and 43 yards lost due to sacks.
Next: The next player on our list never saw an NFL snap …
Eric Crouch – QB
Although he won a Heisman Trophy as a quarterback, the St. Louis Rams drafted Crouch hoping to turn him into a wide receiver. (They believed he was too small to be a quarterback in the NFL.) In the end, Crouch played neither position because of a freak leg injury he sustained before the season ever started. He, sadly, never played a game at the professional level.
Next: From big draft stock to little playing time …
Ryan Leaf – QB
Expectations for this Washington State Cougars product were brutally high — as they should have been, given that he was the second overall pick in the 1998 Draft behind Peyton Manning. Leaf didn’t quite live up to those expectations, however, tallying 14 touchdowns and 36 interceptions during his four-year NFL career. (Well, technically it was three seasons since he was sidelined all of 1999 by a shoulder injury he sustained in training camp.)
Next: Not exactly stats you want to lead the league in …
Tim Couch – QB
The Cleveland Browns are on our lists a fair amount, and Tim Couch is one of their most notable draft busts. After this Kentucky Wildcats quarterbacking extraordinaire was selected first overall by Cleveland in 1999, he went 2-12 in addition to leading the league in getting sacked (56 times) and losing yards due to being sacked (359). Despite leading the Browns to a 9-7 record and a playoff appearance in 2002, he was released in 2003 season and hasn’t played a regular-season game since.
Next: Even a Super Bowl appearance couldn’t help this former college star’s career …
Rex Grossman – QB
Grossman’s college football resume is chalk full of bowl game victories and Player of the Year honors. (Not to mention Heisman Trophy consideration.) But his career after leaving the Florida Gators didn’t live up to that same standard. When Grossman wasn’t battling injuries — which hampered his first few seasons in the pros — he struggled to find consistency on the gridiron. His stint on the Chicago Bears team that went to Super Bowl XLI is the one highlight on his NFL CV. (The Bears lost that game to Peyton Manning’s Colts, and Grossman never rebounded professionally.)
Next: Untimely stints on IR …
Courtney Brown – DE/DL
Brown is one of those “What if?” stories that comes out of the NFL Draft. The Cleveland Browns thought they’d struck gold when they selected the defensive juggernaut out of Penn State with the first overall pick in 2000. But following a solid rookie campaign, Brown sustained a knee injury in his sophomore season and never fully recovered. It’s anyone’s guessed how Brown’s career in Cleveland would’ve panned out if he hadn’t been injured.
Next: And speaking of career-threatening injuries …
Robert Griffin III – QB
The 2012 NFL Draft was heavily hyped because of the stacked prospect class, which Baylor product RGIII topped. He went second overall to the Washington Redskins, and some critics thought he’d have a more fruitful playing career than first overall pick Andrew Luck out of Stanford. But RGIII’s NFL legacy will be the long list of injuries he sustained including tears to multiple parts of his knee and a number of concussions. The Redskins are still to this day criticized for how they handled his mounting ailments during the start of his NFL career.
Next: And rounding out our stretch of “What if?” stories on this list …
Brady Quinn – QB
Quinn entered the NFL Draft with a stunning college football CV, and the Cleveland Browns were hoping the Notre Dame product would help them find some consistently good play. But after playing in just one game in 2007, he ended both of the following seasons on IR, and concussions marred the end of his playing career. He now serves as a college football and NFL analyst for Fox Sports, although he has never officially retired from playing in the NFL.
Next: A franchise’s first-ever draft pick …
David Carr – QB
Of course the expectations for David Carr were ridiculously high. In addition to his successful career at the helm of the Fresno State Bulldogs, he was the Houston Texans first draft pick in franchise history. Unfortunately, the offensive line in front of Carr gave him no help, and he was sacked a staggering 249 times in five seasons with Houston. Carr had opportunities to play with three other teams after that, but the wear-and-tear of being clobbered all those seasons prior was too much for him.
Next: Did moving positions hurt this former college star?
Vernon Gholston – DE
Gholston was an assassin on the Ohio State Buckeyes defensive front, which was exactly what the New York Jets were hoping he would bring to the team when they drafted him in 2008. But Gholston struggled when the Jets tried slotting him as an outside linebacker. Despite moving him back to defensive end before his tenure in New York was up, he never recorded a single sack and never adjusted to the NFL.
Next: Some quarterbacks just can’t make the jump to the NFL …
Vince Young – QB
Vince Young will forever go down in Rose Bowl history for his MVP performances for the Texas Longhorns in 2005 and 2006. So naturally, the Tennessee Titans were stoked to select him with the third overall pick in the 2006 Draft. But although he was voted the AP’s Offensive Rookie of the Year, Young never fully grew and adjusted into an NFL quarterback. He retired in 2011, with his Rose Bowl smackdowns of Michigan and USC remaining his legacy.
Next: Speaking of USC and the 2006 draft class …
Matt Leinart – QB
After a successful college career on a stacked Trojans team, QB Leinart entered the NFL Draft with two national championships and a Heisman Trophy to further boost his stock. But his accuracy and smarts never translated at the NFL level, and after going 8-10 with 15 touchdowns and 21 interceptions, Leinart called it a career in 2013. He has since become a real estate agent — and a sports analyst on the weekends.
Next: A puzzling decline …
Trent Richardson – RB
Out of all the college football stars who struggled in the NFL, running back Trent Richardson is probably the most mysterious case. His stellar college career with the Alabama Crimson Tide made his draft stock soar, and he was taken third overall in the 2012 Draft behind Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III. (And arguably had a better rookie season than both quarterbacks.) But his production took a major dip in the following season, dropping from 950 rushing yards in 2012 to 563 in 2013. His numbers continued to drop, and he never quite got his groove back.
Next: There’s no pay cut big enough to get this former college star back in the NFL …
JaMarcus Russell – QB
At the conclusion of his three-year college career at LSU, JaMarcus Russell had thrown for 6,625 yards with 52 touchdowns and had a 61.9 completion percentage. But at the end of his three-year stint with the Oakland Raiders — who drafted him first overall in 2007 — he was 7-18 with 18 touchdowns, 23 interceptions, and 457 yards lost due to being sacked. He tried to make a comeback in 2016 and offered to play for free. Nobody took him up on that.
Next: Love him or hate him, this quarterback makes the list …
Tim Tebow – QB
Sure, Tim Tebow proved to be an incredibly polarizing figure. But even if you were a fan there was no denying it — the guy didn’t have the chops to have a long NFL career. Even with a Heisman Trophy and two national championships under his belt, NFL scouts weren’t crazy about Tebow’s undisciplined play. He managed a successful 2011 season with the Denver Broncos before opposing teams got hip to his playing style and his lack of NFL-caliber ability was exposed. In 2012, he was replaced by Peyton Manning. Tebow unsuccessfully tried to play for other teams before trying his hand as an analyst and as an MLB player.
Next: Last, but certainly not least …
Johnny Manziel – QB
He certainly didn’t get the nickname “Johnny Football” by having a bad college football career. Manziel had star power as the Texas A&M quarterback who became the first freshman to ever win the Heisman Trophy. But his stock plummeted mightily not long after he was drafted by the Cleveland Browns in the 2014 NFL Draft. Manziel showed up late for practices despite playing poorly on the gridiron and was constantly battling personal issues off the field. (Including domestic violence allegations from his girlfriend and a substance abuse problem.) He has since stepped away from the pros and logged some playing time in the CFL. It remains to be seen if the NFL gives this former college football star another chance …
Check out The Cheat Sheet on Facebook!