New list of top 50 NFL Draft busts has a shocking 49ers player
By Peter Panacy
The list of biggest NFL Draft busts is ever-changing, and the 49ers have some players on the top 50, including one surprising recent addition.
Sadly for him (although it’s probably great for his continued career), former San Diego Chargers quarterback Ryan Leaf is still the No. 1 biggest NFL Draft bust of all time, according to a recently compiled list of the 50 biggest draft busts of the last 50 years, put together by USA Today Sports’ Nate Davis.
Leaf might never shake that moniker, and he might not want to either. After all, fans still call out his name 25 years later after San Diego grabbed him at No. 2 overall in the 1998 NFL Draft.
Simply put, Leaf is still pretty famous because of the failure.
The rest of that list, however, is ever-changing and will see names added and subtracted with each passing year.
OK, so, where do the San Francisco 49ers come into all of this? They’ve had their share of draft busts over the years, and there have been some notable swings and misses under the current regime of general manager John Lynch and head coach Kyle Shanahan.
Especially what happened in Round 1 of the 2017 NFL Draft, but let’s not go there. OK, the Niners’ third-overall selection of defensive end Solomon Thomas that year ended up at No. 39a on Davis’ list.
But that’s not the surprising addition we’re talking about here.
49ers QB Trey Lance is a surprise addition to biggest NFL Draft bust list
Thomas didn’t pan out for San Francisco, but he at least contributed four years before the 49ers let his rookie contract expire without picking up his fifth-year option.
For the most part, quarterback Trey Lance has either been injured or relegated to backup duties since the Niners aggressively traded up for the right to select him at No. 3 overall in the 2021 NFL Draft.
Part of the reward for sending off multiple first-round picks to get to that spot would have been playing Lance fairly soon in his career, yet he sat behind quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo for all but two starts in 2021 and then suffered a season-ending ankle injury two weeks into the 2022 season.
And while Lance remains largely an unknown entering 2023, his future could be considered bleak with fellow quarterback Brock Purdy seemingly the favorite to start.
That influenced Davis’ decision to rank Lance in the top 10 of biggest draft busts of the last 50 years, coming in at No. 6a:
"Maybe a premature corollary, but inexperience and injury limited Lance to four starts in his first two seasons – and no guarantee he’ll be the guy in 2023 given the ascent of Brock Purdy, “Mr. Irrelevant” in 2022. Worse, not only did San Francisco pass on the same studs the Jets did, the Niners bartered three first-rounders to get into position for Lance. Soon, he might be dealt."
The “we don’t know” argument still applies to Lance, yes. However, with each passing month, the noise about him being a bust will grow louder until proven otherwise.
Perhaps the discussion will turn after Lance turns heads between now and Week 1 of the 2023 season. For now, though, he’s being associated with “bust” status by writers like Davis.
As for Davis’ 10 biggest draft busts of all time? Here you go:
- QB Ryan Leaf, Chargers, 1998 NFL Draft
- OT Tony Mandarich, Packers, 1989 NFL Draft
- QB JaMarcus Russell, Raiders, 2007 NFL Draft
- QB Jeff George, Colts, 1990 NFL Draft
- RB Lawrence Phillips, Rams, 1996 NFL Draft
- QB Zach Wilson, Jets, 2021 NFL Draft
- QB Trey Lance, 49ers, 2021 NFL Draft
- Jets trading down in 1997 NFL Draft
- Colts drafting John Elway in 1983 NFL Draft
- QB Robert Griffin III, Redskins, 2012 NFL Draft
- What Rams did with picks acquired from Washington for Griffin
- EDGE Aundray Bruce, Falcons, 1988 NFL Draft