Some time this fall, Baker Mayfield is going to get a chance to prove why he was a Heisman Trophy winning quarterback and worth a no. 1 overall selection by the Cleveland Browns.
Looking at recent history, it will probably be sooner than later for the Oklahoma product.
Thus, it begs the question: Will he be more like Eli Manning, or doomed to JaMarcus Russell-like NFL totals?
No one will really know until he is thrust into a starting role, which we believe is a near dead certainty for one of the NFL’s worst franchises over the last couple of decades.
Boom or bust, Mayfield will be the author of his own fortune/misfortune.
We’ve already told you about wunderkinds who went on to glory in the “Big 4” and any analysis wouldn’t be complete without delving into those who failed to deliver on early promise. Some may surprise you.
Hideki Irabu – MLB
The late Hideki Irabu was something of a pioneer in major league baseball circles. That is, when his contract was bought by San Diego in 1997 — which was subject to widespread criticism by other major league clubs — it led later to the creation of the posting system now in use between the MLB and the NPB. A hard-throwing righthander in Japan who debuted as a teenager with the Chiba Lotte Marines in 1988, Irabu was highly sought after. Later in his NPB career he was tops in the loop in wins in 1994, ERA in 1995-96 and strikeouts in 94-95. Even though the Padres owned his rights, he refused to sign, saying he’d only play with the Yankees. After a lengthy back and forth, he was traded to New York and signed a four-year, $12.8 million contract. After eight minor league games, Irabu, then 28, was called up and his first start on a weeknight brought out fans in droves, when they otherwise might stay away. However, for a guy making a pretty huge salary — for the time — Irabu was rather underwhelming. Questions about his fitness, especially from loudmouth owner George Steinbrenner marred his early career, too. He would end up posting very pedestrian totals in six major league seasons (34-35 record, 5.15 ERA, 1.405 WHIP) and was gone by 2002.
Mark Appel – MLB
Only three first overall picks in the history of the MLB draft have ever retired before playing in a big league game and 2013 no. 1 Mark Appel is the latest. A Houston native who was drafted first by the Astros in 2013 out of Stanford, the NCAA superstar got a $6.35 million bonus after his senior year. Astros GM Jeff Luhnow said Appel was “the most significant investment the Astros have made in their history in an amateur player.” The expectation was that the 6’5″ righthander would reach the bigs in quick order, but it wasn’t to be. He reached only as high as AAA, with a trade to Philadelphia in 2016 involving Ken Giles thrown into the mix. Earlier this year, after recording a 4.87 ERA, 25-18 record and 1.467 WHIP in 88 total appearances, Appel took an indefinite leave from major league baseball.
Matt Bush – MLB
It only took 2004 first overall selection Matt Bush 12 years to reach the big leagues. We are being tongue-in-cheek, here, but that is a long, long time in pro sports. Originally a shortstop, the San Diego Padres settled on him at no. 1 in 2004 after considering Scott Boras represented players Stephen Drew and Jered Weaver. However cheapskate owner John Moores wouldn’t accede to Boras outrageous bonus demands for those two. Bush was pretty much a bust from the start as a hitter, and was converted to a hard-throwing pitcher who lit up the radar gun at 98 MPH. However, the first in a series of injuries, a torn UCL, forced him out of half the 2007 minor league season and all of 2008. Behavioral issues would see him traded to Toronto, who released him for further transgressions and he would miss all of 2009. He languished in the Tampa organization for a couple of years, was released in 2012 and didn’t play at all until Texas signed him in late 2015. In 2016-17 he redeemed himself by becoming a workhorse reliever, but after 21 games this year, he’s injured again and done until 2019.
Brady Aiken – MLB
We’ll call Brady Aiken’s case a preview to a future flop. At one time a terrific California high school hurler who pitched the United States U-18 team to a gold medal in the Baseball World Cup, Aiken was later ranked the top prospect for the 2014 draft. Houston (there are the Astros again) selected him first a year after tabbing the now retired Mark Appel at no. 1 in 2013. The Astros initially offered Aiken a $6.5 million signing bonus, but when it was discovered the young pitcher’s physical wasn’t up to snuff, the offer was reduced to $5 million. That became a sticking point, causing Aiken to become first no. 1 since 1983 not to sign with the team that selected him. He later re-entered the draft and was picked 17th overall by Cleveland in 2015. His stats in the lower ranks of the Indians system in 2016 and 2017 were not good at all. He was 7-18 in 40 starts, with a combined ERA of 5.05 and a WHIP of 1.727. Aiken, who may still be recovering from Tommy John surgery performed a few years back, has yet to throw in a game in 2018.
Matt Anderson – MLB
He may have had a funky delivery, but 1997 first overall pick Matt Anderson could bring it. The Louisville, KY native was a star with the Rice University who set school records for wins (30), saves (14) and had a minuscule 1.82 ERA his final season with the Owls. The Tigers, seeing all that potential, called his name first and signed him to a $2.5 million bonus. The next year, after just 30 games in the minors, the hard-throwing reliever was called and actually pitched very well, going 5-1 in 42 games with a 3.27 ERA. That was to be his one good season in a seven-year career. That funky delivery caused a catastrophic muscle tear in his armpit in 2002, which had a negative impact on his vaunted velocity, which at one time touched 100 MPH, but was limited to under 90 for the rest of his career. Anderson last pitched in the majors for Colorado in 2005, when he registered a 12.60 ERA and 3.000 WHIP in 12 games.
JaMarcus Russell – NFL
No other position has been as popular at no. 1 in NFL drafts over the years as quarterback. In fact, since 1998, 15 college pivots have heard their names called first. They have ranged from great like Peyton Manning and Alex Smith to depressingly underwhelming, think Tim Couch and our subject here, JaMarcus Russell. He was such a bust, we are submitting a word to the football vernacular that should adequately describe present and future QB flops: and that is “JaMarcursed.” Russell was an imposing 6’6″ signal caller at LSU who simply stood head and shoulders above the competition. After a great junior season in 2006, where he passed for 3,129 yards and 28 TDs (8 INTs) in 13 games, he decided to forego his senior year to enter the draft. Oakland, which suffered through a terrible 2-14 record in 2006 and the mediocre quarterbacking of Aaron Brooks, decided to make Russell a Raider at no. 1. But, warning signs of Russell being a head case went unheeded and the ego-driven QB held out, missing training camp and not getting into action until week 2 of the 2007 season. He never panned out, playing in just three forgettable seasons with Oakland before being released for good.
Eric Fisher – NFL
Typically, most no. 1 overall picks, in any sport, do something to distinguish themselves in the pros. Well, there are exceptions, as seen here. As we detailed in Jake Long’s story, there have been only four offensive tackles taken at no. 1 in the history of the NFL draft. He turned out to be a good one. The last OT taken, Eric Fisher, not so much. The Kansas City Chiefs, who could have drafted future Pro Bowler and First Team All-Pro OT Lane Johnson out of Oklahoma, opted to take Fisher, from smaller MAC school Central Michigan. After all, Fisher was a highly rated lineman who was considered one of the top tackles in a draft short on quarterbacks and offensive talent. After signing a guaranteed contract worth $22.1 million (with a $14.5 million signing bonus), Fisher struggled in his first year with the Chiefs, ranking 70th according to Pro Football Focus. He improved somewhat after that disastrous 2013 campaign, but we did say above that hyped up players needed to distinguish themselves somehow. Well, Fisher has yet to do that in five seasons as a starter in K.C. The clock ticks.
Sam Bradford – NFL
Great players are supposed to make those around them better. In the case of Sam Bradford, saying he hasn’t fulfilled his early promise might be a little harsh, but looking at his career we don’t see anything that jumps out at us. Bradford was a super-duper star at Oklahoma, winning a Heisman Trophy in 2008 among a trove of other collegiate accolades. He had an injury marred 2009 season with the Sooners, but that didn’t deter the St. Louis Rams from picking him first overall in 2010. Right out of the gate, Bradford was good, starting all 16 games for the Rams and passign for 3,512 yards and 18 TDs, earning him a nod as Offensive Rookie of the Year. Unfortunately, that was the only one of two seasons he would start all 16 games. In years since, he has missed 49 games due to various injuries. However, injuries aside, he has never been a Pro Bowler or anything else in years he’s played 10 or more games and never taken any of his teams to the playoffs. Maybe that will happen in Arizona this season?
Courtney Brown – NFL
Being labeled the biggest draft bust in Cleveland Browns history is something of a dubious accomplishment. In the history of the club’s no. 1 overall selections, the team has famously whiffed on QB Bobby Garrett in 1954 and Tim Couch in 1999. The jury is out on 2017 no. 1, DE Myles Garrett and this year’s pick, QB Baker Mayfield. In 2000, the Browns wold make it 3-for-3 in selecting a talented player who would make an awful pro, tabbing Penn State DE Courtney Brown at numero uno. As a feared edge rusher at Penn State, Brown finished his career with a NCAA record 33 sacks and 70 tackles for a loss. The Browns, then, made the imposing Brown the first pick overall in 2000. He was pretty good in his rookie campaign, registering 69 tackles and 4.5 sacks in 16 games, all starts. Unfortunately, Brown was seemingly made of glass and injuries derailed his performance. Yet, even when fairly healthy, he never got close to the production from his freshman year.
Ki-Jana Carter – NFL
The Browns aren’t the only Ohio pro football club to have a dubious past with no. 1 or first round draft picks. In 1995, the Bengals were in an awful state, coming off a second straight 3-13 season and owning the first overall pick for the second year in a row. Needing a running back, they saw Penn State superstar Ki-Jana Carter as the answer and made him no. 1. They signed him to a then record rookie contract (seven years for $19.2 million, including an $7.125 million bonus) and from the get-go he was a regular on the disabled list. However, even when he was healthy for short stretches, Carter didn’t show the Bengals, nor the Washington Redskins and New Orleans Saints later, much of the raw talent he displayed with the Nittany Lions. In 59 total NFL games (14 starts), Carter ran for a grand total of 1,144 yards and 20 touchdowns. Not exactly a robust legacy.
Anthony Bennett – NBA
Talented Canadian ballers have become more prevalent in the NBA in recent years, with names like Andrew Wiggins, Jamal Murray, Tristan Thompson and Kelly Olynyk carrying on the legacy started by Hall of Famer Steve Nash. But, for every Wiggins or Murray, there is an Anthony Bennett. The big forward from the Toronto area was a star in high school, eventually heading south to play at Findlay Prep in Henderson, NV. It was there that he established himself as the nation’s top forward in the 2012 high school class. After getting interest from a number of NCAA schools, Bennett committed to UNLV and played very well, despite limited playing time due to a lingering shoulder injury. In 2013, Bennett declared for the NBA draft after that good first season, and the Cavaliers — sans LeBron and awful the previous season — snapped him up. Bennett was not able to duplicate his college performance in any way with Cleveland and after 52 lackluster games, was dealt to Minnesota. He wasn’t much better with the T-Wolves, nor with Toronto in 2015-16 or Brooklyn in 2016-17. He was last seen scuffling in the G-League with the Maine Red Claws.
Greg Oden – NBA
You know you’ve been a bust when you tell the world that it is in fact true. Greg Oden, so great in one year of NCAA hoops with the Ohio State Buckeyes, has admitted he was the biggest bust in the history of the NBA. Or something like that. One of few freshmen to be named First Team All-American, Oden helped lead the Buckeyes to the national championship game in 2007. He averaged 15.7 points, 9.6 rebounds and 3.3 blocks per game during the 2006-07 NCAA season and ended it with 25 points, 12 rebounds and four blocks in a 84-75 loss to Florida. The Portland Trail Blazers won the draft lottery against near impossible odds in 2007 and took the towering center first overall. However, his NBA career got off on the wrong foot, er, the wrong leg as it were. Before the 07-08 season, and after signing a contract with two guaranteed seasons, Oden had surgery on a bum right knee and missed the whole campaign. In 2008-09, he had a chance to show the NBA he belonged. But, a noticeably heavier Oden injured his foot in his debut game and missed more games. Injuries, as much as fairly mediocre numbers would footnote his brief 105-game NBA career.
Andrea Bargnani – NBA
European stars in the NBA are nothing new. Italian born players have not been that prevalent, but a few have done fairly — and continue to do so — like journeyman Marco Belinelli and Danilo Gallinari. One of their brethren, though, who gets singled out for scorn after being a teenage phenom is Andrea Bargnani. He was 17 when he started playing professionally in Italy in 2002, and by 2005-06 he was one of the best all around players in the LBA. The 7’0″ foot center could do it all, like defend, distribute the ball and shoot well from three-point range, drawing comparisons to Dirk Nowitzki. The Toronto Raptors believed in his skill set enough to take him first overall in 2006, ahead of LaMarcus Aldridge. After a decent first season, which led Raptors brass to exercise the third-year option on his rookie contract — guaranteeing him money through 2008-09 — Bargnani’s production sagged. The fans, who had warmed up to him in his rookie season, soon began to call for a trade. He flopped in the playoffs that year and despite increased production in later years, was seen as a bust. Expected to be a centerpiece, he wasn’t able to make those around him better or lead the team to playoff success. He was traded to the Knicks in 2013 and his career went down the tubes after that.
Kwame Brown – NBA
If ever the NBA had a reason to give the stink eye to high school phenoms, the league need look no further than the tepid career put in by Kwame Brown. The South Carolina native was a power forward/center with few peers in Georgia high school basketball circles and ranked top three nationally with guys like Eddy Curry and Tyson Chandler. In his senior year at renowned Glynn Academy in Brunswick, Georgia, Brown averaged 20.1 points, 13.3 rebounds, 5.8 blocks and 2.0 steals per game. The Washington Wizards and Michael Jordan were so enraptured, they made him the first ever high school baller to be taken no. 1 overall, in 2001. He even told then Wizards coach Doug Collins after a pre-draft work out “if you draft me, you’ll never regret it.” After his first very mediocre NBA season, we’re sure the Wiz had many regrets. In fact, in 607 NBA games, starting with 253 in Washington, he never fulfilled his considerable promise. Brown finished a career that saw him play for seven different teams in 12 seasons with an average 6.6 points, 5.5 rebounds and 0.9 blocks.
Blake Griffin – NBA
We’ll probably take a lot of flak for this one. However, other than collect a handful of individual awards, what has 2009 no. 1 overall pick Blake Griffin really done? Just the third ever first overall pick in Clips history, the Oklahoma City native was a slam-dunking monster in high school who won four state titles and then later a multiple award winning forward with the Oklahoma Sooners, including the 2009 NCAA player of the year. It was easy for the Clippers to select Griffin at no. 1 and in his first five seasons there, he was an All-Star and Rookie of the Year in 2011. Looking into his playoff history, though, we see a whole lot of just OK and not outstanding. Great players, who are surrounded by the likes of DeAndre Jordan, Chris Paul and JJ Redick, to name a few, are supposed to do great things in the playoffs. Even though he was a star in the regular season, he couldn’t help elevate somes pretty darned good Clippers teams beyond the second round, in any of six post-seasons Griffin took part in. That is why he gets special mention here.
Rick DiPietro – NHL
Of the four first overall picks the New York Islanders have had in their history, only one can be considered a true bust. He would be goaltender Rick DiPietro, who, when he was at full health, never really lived up to being a no. 1. The Lewiston, ME born DiPietro was a teenage star in the U.S. National Team Development system, earning a scholarship to Boston University, where he had one great season as the Terriers no. 1 netminder. His most historic moment as a collegiate goalie came when he nearly set a NCAA record, stopping an astounding 77 shots in a 3-2 quadruple overtime loss to St. Lawrence in the NCAA regional finals. An Islanders scout must have been in the building that night watching the award-winning puckstopper, because the Isles cleared the decks to make him their goalie of the future by trading away Roberto Luongo. His first season was forgettable and in a career that spanned 12 seasons, he was only healthy enough to be a full-time starter in four. And his overall numbers were nothing to write home about. In 318 games he logged a goals against average of 2.87 and a save percentage of .902. Add to that a less-than-impressive post-season resume that included a 2-7 record, .904 save percentage and 2.60 GAA. The worst part of it all, though, is that he is receiving $1.5 million a year as part of a 16-year buyout the team had to negotiate with him in 2013.
Erik Johnson – NHL
Hockey is huge in Minnesota and in the early part of this millenium’s first decade, defensive phenom Erik Johnson was a state darling. He was so good as a high schooler and later as a member of the USNTDP program that he became the first American-born defenseman to be selected first overall without having played Canadian major junior or collegiate hockey. And, he was also the first ever Minnesotan to be drafted first overall and after not signing with the St. Louis Blues, the first player in 44 years to play college hockey after being taken numero uno. After one season as a Golden Gopher, Johnson played just one game of minor league hockey before making the big club for good in 2007-08. He’s been a what can only be charitably described as a dependable NHLer since, never really distinguishing himself or taking his or his team’s game to the next level. Johnson has never been an All-Star, a Stanley Cup winner, a Norris Trophy candidate or anything of note. He has been pretty much anonymous, which isn’t what the Blues — or later the Colorado Avalanche — had or have expected.
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins – NHL
Being a first overall pick in any sport can include many potential pitfalls, criticism and outrageous expectations. However, it is incumbent upon said phenoms to mature over time and try to prove the naysayers wrong. In seven seasons, though, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins has yet to show anyone his game has evolved to the next level. Not that he is a bad player, but the Burnaby, B.C. native has been just, well, ho-hum. The Oilers draft history is fraught with questionable top-10 first round and first overall picks and RNH is just one of them. He was a scoring star in minor hockey and then a first overall pick in the WHL bantam draft by the Red Deer Rebels in 2008. By his third season in the league, Nugent-Hopkins piled up 106 points in 69 games. The Oilers, who missed the post-season for the fifth time in a row after going to the 2006 finals, tabbed Nugent-Hopkins at no. 1 in 2011. He did have a great first season, scoring 52 points in 62 games and finishing second in Rookie of the Year voting. Since then, though, it’s been a whole lot of very average to below-average production from the now 25-year-old. He still has a chance to redeem himself, but that window is slowly closing.
Nail Yakupov – NHL
Chief among Edmonton Oilers draft failures was that of Nail Yakupov’s selection at no. 1 overall in 2012. A year after taking Ryan Nugent-Hopkins first overall, the moribund Oilers set their sights on speedy Russian sniper Nail Yakupov of the OHL’s Sarnia Sting. All anyone needs to know how things worked out can be seen in the off-season news he left the NHL to return to Russia to play in the KHL. Yakupov decided to take his game to North America in 2010 and in two junior seasons racked up 80 goals and 170 points in 107 games. He was decent in his rookie campaign with Edmonton, scoring 17 goals and adding 14 assists in 48 games of the lockout shortened 2012-13 season. That would pretty much be it for anything nearing an affirmation of his vaunted hockey gifts. He would play three more seasons with Edmonton, registering a ho-hum 80 points in 204 games, along with a terrible -84 plus-minus. The Oilers were so enamored, they flipped him to St. Louis in 2016, for a low level prospect and a third round pick. His ice time was cut with the Blues and after nine points in 40 games he was done there too. A free agent in 2017, he took a league minimum contract to try and prove himself with Colorado. He provided the Avs with 16 points in 58 games and may never be heard from again.
Rick Nash – NHL
Big body, check. Natural scorer, check. First overall NHL pick, check. Real confirmation of early promise, nope. Going into their third year of existence, the Columbus Blue Jackets were fresh off a terrible 22-win season and had the no. 1 pick in 2002. Looking for a player to build around, the Jackets saw in London Knights hulking sniper Rick Nash as just that guy. He was OHL rookie of the year for the Knights in 2001 and in 128 total games with London fired 76 goals and added 87 assists for 163 points. Those kind of numbers weren’t standout, but he was a big guy who could create space for others, while also scoring goals in the dirty areas. For nine years in Columbus, Nash was a reliable sniper, clicking for 289 goals in 674 games. Yet, in all those years, the team made the post-season just once, getting dusted in four games by Detroit in 2009 (Nash had a goal and two assists). A trade to the New York Rangers in 2013 looked to be the tonic, but save for one season, the expensive winger’s production was below average. We look at Nash as an example of a pretty good regular season guy who didn’t make anyone else look good and he might not play in the NHL again after a brief stint in Boston.