Every year, the NFL draft brings hope and optimism for downtrodden franchises.
Owning the first overall pick is a rare opportunity to draft a player that can redefine the future of a team.
Of the 85 players that went first in their draft, 43 made a Pro Bowl appearance.
Twelve of those players have been inducted into the Hall of Fame, as well.
With the first pick in the 1998 NFL Draft the @Colts select…Peyton Manning.
— NFL (@NFL) April 11, 2021
Unfortunately, not everyone was able to deliver on their potential.
Here are the top three busts of all time that went first in their respective draft year.
Steve Emtman, 1992
The 1992 draft is often regarded as one of the worst draft classes ever.
None of the players selected won an MVP or ever made it to the Hall of Fame.
Nonetheless, the Indianapolis Colts had an opportunity to select a solid contributor but ultimately came away with little.
They chose Steve Emtman, a highly decorated defensive end during his time with the Washington Huskies.
Happy Birthday to 2006 @cfbhall inductee Steve Emtman!@outlandtrophy winner placed fourth in @HeismanTrophy voting and was Co-MVP of @rosebowlgame as @UW_Football claimed share of 1991 national championship pic.twitter.com/NglFEn5coG
— Football Foundation (@NFFNetwork) April 16, 2021
He was a two-time Pac-10 Defensive Player of the Year and won nearly every individual award for a defensive lineman in 1991.
In that final season as a Husky, Emtman was a unanimous All-American and won a national championship.
Along with fellow first-rounder Quentin Coryatt, Emtman was supposed to lead the Colts’ defense for the next decade.
Instead, injuries kept him off the field for the majority of his career.
His three years in Indianapolis all concluded with a season-ending injury that landed him on the injured reserve list.
He had issues with his knees the first two seasons, then suffered a spinal disc herniation in 1994 after just four games.
By 1997, he was out of the league.
In seven seasons, he played 50 games and recorded just eight sacks.
Ki-Jana Carter, 1995
Ki-Jana Carter was another No. 1 draft pick hampered by injuries.
The running back was fresh off a stellar junior year at Penn State, in which he rushed for 1,539 yards and 23 touchdowns.
Ki-Jana Carter was incredible at Penn State
In his final season (1994) he accumulated 1662 yards from scrimmage and 23 touchdowns on just 212 touches (7.8 yards per touch)
Carter weighted in at the 1995 combine at 5 foot 8 and 227 pounds. Absolute bully and incredible speed. pic.twitter.com/WlGtFKIqbJ
— Russell Clay (@RussellJClay) March 26, 2020
He helped cap off an undefeated season with Co-MVP Honors in a Rose Bowl victory and finished second in the Heisman voting.
The Cincinnati Bengals were so enamored with Carter’s skills that they traded their first and second-round picks with the Carolina Panthers to take the former Nittany Lion.
Injuries, however, derailed his career almost immediately.
Carter tore his ACL on just his third touch of his first preseason game and missed his entire rookie season.
He did appear in 31 games over the next two years but rarely got consistent playing time.
Then, he suffered injuries in back-to-back campaigns that limited him to just four games.
Carter managed to stay afloat in the league until 2004 but was stripped of the dynamic ability he once possessed.
In seven seasons with three different teams, he rushed for just 1,144 yards and 20 touchdowns.
Carter also serves as a cautionary tale, as he holds the distinction of the last running back to go first overall.
The last RB selected No. 1?
Ki-Jana Carter, Penn State (1995).
Before that, Bo Jackson (1986). https://t.co/5sV4Y7FPpc
— Josh Norris (@JoshNorris) November 2, 2017
JaMarcus Russell, 2007
The story of Jamarcus Russell is one of unfortunate circumstances.
He was the top quarterback prospect in a draft class absolutely loaded with future stars.
At the 2007 LSU Pro Day, QB JaMarcus Russell showed off his arm, leading one notable analyst to say that Russell's Pro Day was the best ever for any QB
The Raiders were convinced and selected him 1st overall in the 2007 #NFLDraft ahead of #2 Calvin Johnson & #3 Joe Thomas
— NFL Research (@NFLResearch) March 12, 2020
However, there was no other direction for the Oakland Raiders, who owned the worst quarterback room in the league.
Lane Kiffin actually wanted to take Megatron with the first overall pick, but the late Al Davis was too smitten with Russell to be convinced otherwise.
The Raiders were in desperate need of a franchise signal-caller after their carousel of quarterbacks combined for just 2,850 passing yards, seven touchdowns, and 24 interceptions the year prior.
Russell’s combination of physical traits and steady development at LSU made him all the more enticing.
He did not have the gaudiest statistics in college, but his 6’5″ frame with a cannon arm made scouts drool.
His career got off to a rocky start when he missed the entirety of training camp and the first week of the regular season due to a contract dispute.
Russell also struggled with his work ethic and failed to put in the time and effort to elevate his game.
As a result, Russell never earned the trust of the coaching staff and left the team wishing for a mulligan.
In 31 games across three seasons with the Raiders, Russell recorded 4,803 yards,18 touchdowns, and 23 interceptions.
While he had the tools to establish himself as an elite player, he will ultimately go down as one of the biggest busts ever.