The Biggest Heisman Trophy Busts in NFL History

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It’s one of the most iconic trophies in American sports — the Heisman. First awarded in 1935 to University of Chicago halfback Jay Berwanger, the Heisman is the most recognizable symbol of college football, and the so-called “elite fraternity” of winners become instant legends of a game originating back to the mid-19th century.

It would stand to reason that the winner of the Heisman Trophy would, more often than not, go on to reach stardom in the NFL. Judging by recent history, though, that has not been the case. Of the 16 Heisman winners since 1999, only four have made at least one Pro Bowl, and none have made more than two. Two Heisman winners during that span — Eric Crouch and Jason White — never even played in a single NFL game.

That got us thinking — who are the biggest Heisman busts? To answer that question, PointAfter examined the NFL careers of each Heisman winner since 1970, the year of the NFL-AFL merger. After analyzing the numbers, we then came up with a “Bust Index” to help us get a true picture of which Heisman winners were the biggest letdowns.

The Bust Index has three main components:

  • Statistical evidence: This one’s pretty self-explanatory. It judges a player based on the (lackluster) numbers he put up during his career. The worse the stats, the higher the score. A primary guideline for this category is Pro Football Reference’s Approximate Value stat, which is an attempt to put a single number on the value of a player. This is not a be-all and end-all stat for judging a player, but it served as a useful guidline for making comparisons.
  • Role in team success: Typically, missing on a first-round draft pick (which most of these players were) spells doom for a team’s success. Players whose teams consistently struggled scored higher in this category.
  • Expectations: This one is probably the most critical component. For a player to truly be a bust, there must be a certain level of expectation of him being successful in the NFL. Heisman winners who were first-round draft picks were typically viewed as being bigger busts than later-round picks.

Each component is graded on a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 representing the biggest bust score. The player with the highest aggregate score for all three categories earns the dubious honor of being the biggest Heisman bust in the modern era. But hey, at least they have that cool trophy.

*Note: All stats for active NFL players are through Week 8 of the 2015 NFL season.

#26. Vinny Testaverde – University of Miami, 1986

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Bad stats: 2/10
Role in team success: 4/10
Expectations: 10/10

Overall Bust Index: 16/30

Testaverde threw for 2,557 yards and 26 touchdowns in 1986, becoming Miami’s first Heisman winner. He was taken with the No. 1 overall pick in the 1987 draft and played a remarkable 21 seasons in the NFL, with two Pro Bowl appearances.

But Testaverde’s career was one of a journeyman — he played for seven different teams, and never stayed in one place for more than six seasons. He made three playoff appearances as a starter — one with the Browns and two with the Jets — with two wins. Though most would consider a career spanning three different decades a resounding success, the fact that he was unable to stick with one franchise qualifies him (just barely) as a Heisman bust.

#25. Ty Detmer – BYU, 1990

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Bad stats: 7/10
Role in team success: 8/10
Expectations: 1/10

Overall Bust Index: 16/30

Under the tutelage of then-BYU quarterbacks coach Norm Chow, Detmer and the Cougars offense put up video-game-like numbers. During his Heisman-winning season, Detmer passed for 5,188 yards and 41 touchdowns, setting numerous NCAA records.

NFL scouts, though, were deterred by Detmer’s diminutive size — he’s listed at 6’0″ and 189 pounds by Pro Football Reference. Because of this, he fell all the way to pick No. 230 in the 1992 draft. He spent his pro career mostly as a backup, though he did get a chance to start for the Eagles in 1996. He made 11 starts that year and won seven of them as the team advanced to the playoffs. He finished that season with 2,911 passing yards, 15 touchdowns and 13 interceptions — not bad for a ninth-round pick, but enough to land him on the Heisman bust list.

#24. Mike Rozier – University of Nebraska, 1983

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Bad stats: 4/10
Role in team success: 5/10
Expectations: 9/10

Overall Bust Index: 18/30

Rozier was the focal point of the 1983 Cornhuskers offense that many consider one of the greatest in college football history. That season, he rushed for 2,148 yards and 29 touchdowns and beat out Steve Young in the Heisman Trophy voting.

Rozier was taken by the Houston Oilers with the No. 2 overall pick in the 1984 NFL supplemental draft, which was held for college seniors who had already signed with either the United States Football League or the Canadian Football League. He was the leading rusher on two Oilers playoff teams and made two Pro Bowl appearances. He lands on this list because of his underwhelming career relative to his draft position. The other three top-four picks of the 1984 supplemental draft — Steve Young, Gary Zimmerman and Reggie White — all became Hall of Famers.

#23. Reggie Bush – USC, 2005

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Bad stats: 4/10
Role in team success: 4/10
Expectations: 10/10

Overall Bust Index: 18/30

In 2005, Bush had 2,890 all-purpose yards and 19 touchdowns as the primary option in a star-studded USC backfield that included Matt Leinart and LenDale White. Though the official Heisman records exclude Bush due to his off-field transgressions, he was among the most unanimous winners in the award’s history.

All of this set the bar for his NFL career unreasonably high. Though he’s never made a Pro Bowl, he’s been a good NFL running back throughout his 10-year career. Bush was a key member of the Saints’ Super Bowl-winning 2009 team, and he’s racked up nearly 10,000 career all-purpose yards. Like Testaverde, though, he’s bounced around a few times, currently playing for his fourth team. Injuries have been a constant hindrance, and his recent torn MCL has knocked him out for the rest of 2015. Bush has been a great supporting player for several successful NFL offenses, but much more was expected of the guy who made plays like this one on a regular basis while in college.

#22. Danny Wuerffel – University of Florida, 1996

Andy Lyons/Getty Images

Bad stats: 9/10
Role in team success: 9/10
Expectations: 1/10

Overall Bust Index: 19/30

With Wuerffel at the helm, Florida won four consecutive SEC championships from 1993 to 1996. He threw for 3,625 yards and 39 touchdowns in 1996 en route to a national championship.

Despite his college successes, his NFL prospects were never very promising. Undersized at 6’1″, he was taken with the No. 99 pick by the Saints in the 1997 draft. He spent his six-year NFL career primarily as a backup, with just 12 career touchdown passes.

#21. Chris Weinke – Florida State University, 2000

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Bad stats: 9/10
Role in team success: 9/10
Expectations: 1/10

Overall Bust Index: 19/30

Weinke’s college career took an interesting path. As a high school senior, he was drafted in the second round of the 1990 MLB draft by the Blue Jays and spent six seasons as a first baseman in the minor leagues. He made the switch to football in time for the 1997 season at age 25.

Weinke slid to the fourth round of the 2001 draft in large part to his age (he was 28 at the time of his selection). He was the Panthers’ starter during the 2001 season and struggled mightily, leading the team to a 1-15 record. He made just five more starts over the next four seasons before being released.

#20. Archie Griffin – Ohio State University, 1974 & 1975

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Bad stats: 5/10
Role in team success: 7/10
Expectations: 8/10

Overall Bust Index: 20/30

Griffin played four years for Ohio State under legendary head coach Woody Hayes, and the Buckeyes finished each season ranked in the top five. He was picked by the Bengals with the No. 24 pick in the 1976 draft.

Griffin spent all seven of his NFL seasons in Cincinnati and was a member of the 1981 team that lost in Super Bowl XVI to the 49ers. While he had a fine pro career, more was expected of the Heisman’s lone two-time winner.

#19. Ron Dayne – University of Wisconsin, 1999

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Bad stats: 6/10
Role in team success: 6/10
Expectations: 8/10

Overall Bust Index: 20/30

“The Dayne Train” rewrote the record books during his four years at Wisconsin. He led the Badgers to two Rose Bowl wins and is the NCAA’s all-time leader in career rushing yards with 7,125.

Dayne was picked by the Giants with the No. 11 overall pick in the 2000 draft. A big, bruising back, he teamed with the versatile Tiki Barber to form a “thunder and lighting” duo and had great success in his rookie season. He ran for 770 yards and helped lead the team to a berth in Super Bowl XXXV, which the Giants lost to the Ravens. His production steadily declined in subsequent years, though he had a brief resurgence later in his career with the Houston Texans, rushing for a combined 1,385 over his last two seasons.

#18. Troy Smith – Ohio State University, 2006

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Bad stats: 9/10
Role in team success: 9/10
Expectations: 2/10

Overall Bust Index: 20/30

In each of his two years as the Buckeyes’ starting quarterback, Ohio State finished in the top five. Smith led the team to the national championship game in 2006 and won the Heisman Trophy in a landslide vote.

At 6’0″, though, NFL scouts weren’t too high on his chances of succeeding at the next level. The Ravens chose Smith with the No. 174 overall pick in the 2007 draft, and he played sparingly during his four-year NFL career. He made eight starts and finished with 1,734 passing yards, eight touchdowns and five interceptions.

#17. Tim Tebow – University of Florida, 2007

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Bad stats: 7/10
Role in team success: 7/10
Expectations: 6/10

Overall Bust Index: 20/30

In four years at Florida, Tebow enjoyed one of the most decorated careers in college football history. During his four years in The Swamp, the Gators won two national championships and three BCS bowl games. Tebow threw for 9,285 yards and rushed for 2,947 for his career, with 145 total touchdowns.

After his college career ended, Tebow was among the most polarizing players of the 2010 draft. His unorthodox throwing motion and muscular build — uncharacteristic of prototypical NFL quarterbacks — made many skeptical. The Broncos drafted him with the No. 25 pick, and in 2011 he posted a 7-4 record as a starter, helping lead the team to a playoff win over the Steelers. Even with his team’s success, Tebow struggled as a passer, completing 46.5 percent of his throws that season. His career deteriorated pretty quickly after that, which lands him on this list, but he’ll always be a part of one of the most memorable plays in NFL playoff history.

#16. John Cappelletti – Penn State University, 1973

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Bad stats: 4/10
Role in team success: 9/10
Expectations: 8/10

Overall Bust Index: 21/30

During his Heisman-winning season, Cappelletti rushed for 1,522 yards and 17 touchdowns as the Nittany Lions went undefeated and won the Orange Bowl.

The Rams took Cappelletti with the No. 11 overall pick in the 1974 draft. He played five seasons in Los Angeles, never leading the team in rushing, before finishing his career with the Chargers. He rushed for 2,951 yards and 24 touchdowns in nine seasons.

#15. Bo Jackson – Auburn University, 1985

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Bad stats: 4/10
Role in team success: 7/10
Expectations: 10/10

Overall Bust Index: 21/30

Given his place in American pop culture, labeling Jackson as a “bust” is a bit tone-deaf. His post-Auburn life has been nothing short of a success. He is the only athlete to be named an All-Star in two sports, and he became a national icon with his role in Nike’s “Bo Knows” ad campaign.

In judging his NFL career alone, however, Jackson was a bust. He was the No. 1 overall pick in the 1986 draft by the Buccaneers and refused to sign with the team after they gave him an ultimatum to choose one sport. Though he shined whenever he was on the field, he appeared in just 38 games over four seasons and split carries with Marcus Allen for the majority of his career. For these reasons, Jackson was a bust in the NFL, yet he remains one of the most remarkable athletes of all time.

#14. Gino Torretta – University of Miami, 1992

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Bad stats: 10/10
Role in team success: 10/10
Expectations: 1/10

Overall Bust Index: 21/30

Torretta’s college success is hard to top — in his last two years, he led Miami to a combined 23-1 record and a national championship, winning the Heisman during his senior year. In the NFL, however, Torretta was nothing more than an afterthought.

He was taken with the No. 192 pick in the 1993 draft by the Vikings and spent the entirety of his five-year career in obscurity. He played in only two games and threw a total of 16 pass attempts. Given how late he fell in the draft, it’s clear little was expected of him, but he still lands on the list for his complete lack of production.

#13. Charlie Ward – Florida State University, 1993

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Bad stats: 10/10
Role in team success: 10/10
Expectations: 1/10

Overall Bust Index: 21/30

Ward is the second two-sport star to appear on this list. As a college quarterback, he led the Seminoles to a 23-2 record in his two years as a starter, with two Orange Bowl wins and a national championship. As a basketball player, Ward averaged 8.1 points and 2.6 steals per game for the Seminoles in four seasons.

After his college career ended, Ward made it clear to NFL teams that he would stick to basketball unless he was drafted in the first round of the 1994 NFL draft. Due to his small size and possible risk of choosing basketball over football, he went undrafted. Instead, he was taken by the Knicks with the No. 26 overall pick in the 1996 NBA draft. He spent 11 seasons in the NBA, averaging 6.3 points per game and shooting 36 percent from 3-point range. Though his NBA career was a success, his absence from the NFL makes him a bust in this context.

#12. Jason White – University of Oklahoma, 2003

Jeff Gross/Getty Images

Bad stats: 10/10
Role in team success: 10/10
Expectations: 1/10

Overall Bust Index: 21/30

White narrowly beat Pittsburgh wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald in the 2003 Heisman voting. That season, he threw for 3,846 yards with 40 touchdowns as the Sooners posted a 12-2 record.

Despite his impressive college résumé, White’s prospects as an NFL quarterback were nonexistent. He tore both of his ACLs while in college and required two reconstructive surgeries. He became just the third Heisman winner to go undrafted by the NFL after Charlie Ward, who instead played in the NBA, and Pete Dawkins, the 1958 winner who chose a career in the military over football.

#11. Pat Sullivan – Auburn University, 1971

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Bad stats: 9/10
Role in team success: 9/10
Expectations: 4/10

Overall Bust Index: 22/30

During his Heisman-winning season, Sullivan threw for 2,262 yards and 21 touchdowns, leading the Tigers to a berth in the Sugar Bowl. He was selected by the Falcons with the No. 40 overall pick in the 1972 NFL draft.

His career in the NFL was unremarkable. He attempted just 220 passes in four seasons with a subpar 42.3 percent completion rate. After his playing career ended, he worked in the insurance and radio business before becoming a college coach. He spent five seasons as the head coach of TCU and eight at Samford, retiring in 2014.

#10. Charles White – USC, 1979

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Bad stats: 6/10
Role in team success: 9/10
Expectations: 7/10

Overall Bust Index: 22/30

In his junior and senior seasons at USC, White was dominant. He rushed for a combined 3,909 yards and 32 touchdowns, leading the Trojans to two Rose Bowl wins. He ranks fourth all-time on the NCAA career rushing yards leaderboard.

White’s NFL career, however, was a disappointment. The Browns took him with the No. 27 pick in the 1980 draft, and he rushed for only 1,378 combined yards in his first six seasons. He battled a drug addiction during his career, which greatly hindered his play. He signed with the Los Angeles Rams in 1985, reuniting with his former college coach, John Robinson. White did enjoy a resurgent 1987 season, leading the league with 1,374 rushing yards.

#9. Desmond Howard – University of Michigan, 1991

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Bad stats: 5/10
Role in team success: 8/10
Expectations: 9/10

Overall Bust Index: 22/30

Though he lands on the list of Heisman busts, Howard is one of the most iconic winners in the award’s history. His most memorable moment came against Ohio State in 1991, when he returned a punt 82 yards for a touchdown, striking the “Heisman pose” in the end zone.

Though he became one of the best return men in NFL history — his 99-yard kickoff return in Super Bowl XXXI earned him the game’s MVP award — Howard lands on this list due to his pedestrian numbers as a wide receiver. He caught just 123 passes during his nine-year career for 1,597 yards and seven touchdowns. The Redskins were probably hoping for more than just a return specialist when they took Howard with No. 4 overall pick in the 1992 draft.

#8. Eric Crouch – University of Nebraska, 2001

Elsa/Getty Images

Bad stats: 10/10
Role in team success: 10/10
Expectations: 2/10

Overall Bust Index: 22/30

In the 2001 Heisman voting, Crouch edged out fellow quarterbacks Rex Grossman and Ken Dorsey for the award. That season, Crouch did most of his damage with his legs, rushing for 1,115 yards and 18 touchdowns.

As a pro prospect, few teams saw him as an NFL quarterback. Many believed he had the athleticism to play wide receiver or defense, and the Rams took him with the No. 95 overall pick in the 2002 draft. He never appeared in an NFL game, though he spent several seasons in the Canadian Football League, the All-American Football League and the United Football League.

#7. Robert Griffin III – Baylor University, 2011

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Bad stats: 6/10
Role in team success: 7/10
Expectations: 9/10

Overall Bust Index: 22/30

Griffin was a dual-threat nightmare for opposing Big 12 defenses during his Heisman-winning season. He threw for 4,293 yards and rushed for 699, with 47 total touchdowns. He led the Bears to their second 10-win season in program history.

The Redskins took Griffin with the No. 2 overall pick in the 2012 draft, trading four draft picks to move up from the No. 6 slot. He initially lived up to the hype, passing for 3,200 yards and 20 touchdowns during his rookie season and leading Washington to the playoffs. He suffered a serious knee injury in the playoffs, requiring reconstructive offseason knee surgery, and his career hasn’t been the same since. His quarterback rating fell from 75.6 during his rookie year to 42.2 the following year, and he was much less effective as a runner. An injury-plagued 2014 was mostly a lost season, and he has yet to play in 2015. Coaching dysfunction has not helped matters, but his swift fall from grace earns him a spot among the 10 worst Heisman busts.

#6. Sam Bradford – University of Oklahoma, 2008

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Bad stats: 6/10
Role in team success: 8/10
Expectations: 10/10

Overall Bust Index: 24/30

Bradford posted insane passing numbers during his Heisman-winning season. He threw for 4,720 yards and 50 touchdowns, leading the Sooners to the BCS Championship Game.

His NFL career has been uninspiring, though that’s not entirely Bradford’s fault. The Rams took him with the No. 1 overall pick in the 2010 draft, and he is the only one of the top seven picks in that draft to have never made a Pro Bowl. He showed promise during his first three years but suffered a torn ACL in 2013, then another torn ACL prior to the start of the 2014 season. His attempt at a comeback with the Eagles has gone poorly, and his future as a starting quarterback appears to be in jeopardy.

#5. Johnny Rodgers – University of Nebraska, 1972

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Bad stats: 9/10
Role in team success: 9/10
Expectations: 7/10

Overall Bust Index: 25/30

Rodgers was a lethal all-purpose threat during his college career. He had 5,586 career all-purpose yards and 44 total touchdowns — including eight return scores. The Huskers won two national championships during his three-year career.

Despite being picked by the Chargers with the No. 25 pick in the 1973 draft, Rodgers chose instead to sign with the Montreal Alouettes of the Canadian Football League. He had four successful seasons in Canada and signed with the Chargers in 1977. Injuries kept him from making an impact in San Diego, and his NFL career ended after just 17 games.

#4. Rashaan Salaam – University of Colorado, 1994

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Bad stats: 8/10
Role in team success: 9/10
Expectations: 8/10

Overall Bust Index: 25/30

Salaam’s 1994 season is one of the best by a running back in college football history. He rushed for 2,055 yards — the sixth-highest single-season rushing total ever at the time — and 24 touchdowns, leading the Buffaloes to an 11-1 record.

The Bears chose Salaam with the No. 21 overall pick in the 1995 draft, and initially he thrived. He rushed for 1,074 yards and 10 touchdowns as a rookie, but his career quickly took a downturn. His lack of work ethic and marijuana use were the primary factors of his steep decline, and he was out of league after four seasons.

#3. Johnny Manziel – Texas A&M University, 2012

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Bad stats: 9/10
Role in team success: 9/10
Expectations: 7/10

Overall Bust Index: 25/30

“Johnny Football” took the college football world by storm as a redshirt freshman in 2012. That season, he threw for 3,706 yards and 26 touchdowns and rushed for 1,410 yards and 21 scores, becoming the first freshman ever to win the Heisman Trophy.

Since being taken by the Browns with the No. 22 overall pick in the 2014 draft, his off-field transgressions have kept him from having NFL success. He entered rehab for alcohol addiction prior to the start of the 2015 season and has yet to secure a starting job in Cleveland. He still has plenty of time to prove us wrong, but so far his career has been nothing short of a disappointment.

#2. Matt Leinart – USC, 2004

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Bad stats: 8/10
Role in team success: 9/10
Expectations: 9/10

Overall Bust Index: 26/30

Leinart had one of the most accomplished careers in college football history. In three seasons as the Trojans’ starter, he posted a 37-2 record with two national championships. He threw for 10,693 yards and 99 touchdowns during that time, leading the way for one of college football’s greatest dynasties.

His pro career, however, was an enormous letdown. The Cardinals chose him with the No. 10 overall pick in the 2006 draft and started him 11 times during his rookie season. He showed some promise that year, throwing for 2,547 yards with 11 touchdowns and 12 interceptions, but was never able to replicate that meager success. A broken collarbone ended his second season after just five games, and he made just two starts in the next five seasons before being released by the Bills in 2013.

#1. Andre Ware – University of Houston, 1989

Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Bad stats: 10/10
Role in team success: 10/10
Expectations: 9/10

Overall Bust Index: 29/30

Though Leinart had the more impressive college career, no Heisman winner has disappointed more than Ware. Ware lit up the scoreboard in 1989, throwing for 4,699 yards and 46 touchdowns en route to becoming the first African-American quarterback to win the award. He was picked by the Lions with the No. 7 overall pick in the 1990 draft, with Detroit hoping to form a dynamic duo between Ware and the 1988 Heisman winner, running back Barry Sanders.

Visions of the franchise succeeding with those two never materialized. In four years with the Lions, Ware played in just 14 games. He made six career starts and finished with 1,112 passing yards, five touchdowns and eight interceptions. His inability to secure a starting job for any significant amount of time earns him the title of biggest Heisman bust in modern NFL history.

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