From Penn State Standouts To NFL Busts
Penn State football is consistently recognized for continuing a tradition of excellence on the gridiron while producing quality young men committed to serving a higher cause by participating in something bigger than themselves. Scores of talented players made a name for themselves donning the blue and white, but not every player’s collegiate stardom transferred to the next level. With the NFL draft approaching, take a look at some of the most notable Penn State stars that developed into NFL busts.
LB Aaron Maybin: 1st round (11th overall) in 2009 NFL Draft
Aaron Maybin can be remembered one of two ways. A quiet contributor in 2007 with four sacks, Maybin was nothing more than a young reserve with loads of potential after redshirting in 2006 as a four-star recruit. He was expected to play an increased role the following year, but what Maybin accomplished in 2008 was unprecedented. He terrorized the Big Ten as a redshirt sophomore, serving as an integral piece in defensive coordinator Tom Bradley’s ferocious front seven. Maybin recorded 49 total tackles, 20 for a loss, 12 sacks, and three forced fumbles, establishing himself as a can’t-miss NFL prospect while helping the Nittany Lions clinch a Rose Bowl berth. The consensus All-American continued his hot streak by tearing up the NFL Scouting Combine, highlighted by a 4.64 40-yard dash — an impressive feat for a 6-foot-4, 249-pound edge rusher.
Despite the countless accolades, question marks still lingered over Maybin as a prospect. He was a ‘tweener for NFL standards, meaning he wasn’t necessarily a linebacker, but didn’t fit the mold of a traditional defensive end. Another issue certain teams had with Maybin was the lack of continuity — after all, he only produced one season of consistent play. His breakout campaign in 2008 awarded him the label of a proverbial “One-Hit Wonder,” but that didn’t stop the pass-rusher needy Buffalo Bills from selecting him with the No. 11 overall pick in the 2009 NFL Draft — with former Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year and now three-time Pro Bowler Brian Orakpo still on the board.
Maybin wasted no time starting off on the wrong foot, promptly engaging in a contract holdout spanning the entirety of Buffalo’s training camp. Finally in late August, the two sides came to terms on a five-year deal that would guarantee Maybin $15 million — keep in mind this was before the NFL’s rookie salary scale was implemented. “There’s a lot of catching up that I have to do. But we still have three weeks to go,” Maybin said in a conference call with ESPN. “I’m really excited about getting back out there, getting back on the field. And I think I’ll be fine.”
Contrary to Maybin’s beliefs, he was far from “fine.”
Maybin followed up his contract holdout with a listless rookie performance. The player Buffalo drafted to bolster a defense that produced just 24 sacks in 2008 barely made an impact, recording nine tackles and one forced fumble, and failing to record a single sack. Orakpo, on the other hand, enjoyed a tremendous rookie campaign in Washington. He posted 38 tackles, 11 sacks, and one forced fumble en route to a Pro Bowl berth, becoming the first Redskin rookie to do so since 1978.
The pressure was on for Maybin to perform in his sophomore campaign, but his efforts went to no avail. Maybin once again failed to record a sack, posting a paltry five tackles in 11 games of action. Tensions reached a boiling point just before midseason, with head coach Chan Gailey opting to leave Maybin on the sideline as a healthy scratch for Buffalo’s week seven matchup against the Baltimore Ravens.
The 2011 offseason spelled the end of the line for Maybin in Buffalo. With training camps wrapping up around the league, the Bills placed Maybin on waivers, becoming an unrestricted free agent after clearing waivers the next day. The New York Jets signed him with the hopes of revitalizing the once-touted pass rusher’s career. Rex Ryan found a role for the hybrid defender, slotting him in as a situational pass rusher. Maybin’s new role seemed to fit him perfectly, as the third-year linebacker responded with six sacks and four forced fumbles. Unfortunately, Maybin failed to continue his rate of production, culminating in his release eight games into the 2012 regular season. Maybin was then picked up by the Cincinnati Bengals, only to become a cut-day casualty, failing to hang around in training camp. The last stop for Maybin was a stint with the Toronto Argonauts of the Canadian Football League, but at that point the former first rounder realized his football days were done.
Maybin retired at the age of 26, and is now enjoying a blossoming career as an artist — a damn good one at that. However, the former Nittany Lion star will forever be remembered throughout Buffalo lore as the player who more or less played a significant role in setting an already woeful defensive unit back a few years, while Brian Orakpo currently sits as one of the NFL’s best edge-rushers with 40 career sacks in six seasons.
RB Ki-Jana Carter: 1st round (1st overall) in 1995 NFL Draft
Ki-Jana Carter might be labeled as a bust in the NFL, but was dealt a disastrous hand right off the bat. Carter left Penn State as one of the school’s most prolific rushers, recording 2,829 yards and 34 touchdowns as a Nittany Lion, while averaging a staggering 7.2 yards per carry. In an era where running backs were still drafted in the top-10, and the term “Feature Back” still held some merit, drafting a proficient runner like Carter — who was up for a Heisman in 1994 after an eye-popping junior season — early in the first round made sense.
The Cincinnati Bengals shared that sentiment, using the top overall pick to select Carter in a first round that featured five running backs hearing their names called. The pick was applauded by some, and criticized by others, but at the time Carter’s stock could not rise any higher. As if the pressure of being the first overall pick wasn’t enough, the Bengals signed Carter to a seven year, $19.2 million rookie contract, which included a $7.125 million signing bonus. Riding the momentum from an illustrious collegiate career, Carter was poised to translate that talent to the NFL level. Unfortunately, his rookie season ended before it even began, after Carter tore the ACL in his left knee on only the third carry of his first preseason game, sidelining him for the entire year.
His injury would unfortunately be the first of many in what proved to be a career riddled with ailments. His two most productive seasons came in his first two active seasons. Carter compiled 728 yards and 15 touchdowns, flashing the talent he displayed on a weekly basis at Penn State. His early production proved only to be a flash in the pan, as a rotator cuff injury sustained against the Denver Broncos early in the 1997 season opened the door for Corey Dillon to emerge as the team’s go-to back. While Carter managed to muscle through his injury, he was never the same player moving forward.
Bad luck continued to haunt Carter in Cincinnati, as a broken wrist sidelined him in 1998, and a dislocated knee cap brought the same result in 1999. The Bengals couldn’t wait any longer for the player they hoped would transform the franchise to develop, and cut him in 2000. Carter seemed to breathe new life into his career with the Washington Redskins in 2001 after spending the previous season out of football. He recorded 308 yards and three touchdowns, but it was at this point that his career came to an end.
Carter would finish his career in New Orleans, compiling only 89 yards and one touchdown in two seasons of action. He may have been a bust, but he left experts and fans alike asking, “What if?” What if Carter had stayed healthy during his stay in Cincinnati? Might he have developed into the franchise player the team hoped he would have become when he was drafted No. 1 overall? Perhaps, but the reality remains that, in retrospect, Cincinnati passed over Warren Sapp, Derrick Brooks, and Curtis Martin with the first overall pick in 1995 — all of whom are now enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, with the latter ending up as one of the most dominant running backs of his era, recording 10 straight 1,000 yard seasons from 1995-2004.
DE Courtney Brown: 1st round (1st overall) in 2000 NFL Draft
Courtney Brown and Aaron Maybin’s collegiate resume’s are strikingly similar, the only difference being Brown’s more consistent level of production. Brown was a first team All-Big Ten selection in 1998, and again in 1999. Brown was a consensus All-American, named both Big Ten Lineman of the Year and Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year, and left Penn State with 33 career sacks — a NCAA record at the time — and 70 tackles for a loss. If that wasn’t enough to make NFL general managers salivate, the 6-foot-4, 285-pound beast ran a 4.52 second 40-yard dash at Penn State’s pro day. To put Brown’s tantalizing traits in perspective, think back to the hype that surrounded former South Carolina defensive end Jadaveon Clowney prior to the 2014 NFL Draft.
A team in dire need of a franchise-changing player, the Cleveland Browns selected Brown with the top pick in the 2000 NFL Draft, passing over his college teammate LaVar Arrington, who would be selected right after Brown by the Washington Redskins.
In the beginning, it seemed as though Brown might live up to the once-in-a-generation hype that hung over his head throughout his career. In his first two seasons, Brown recorded nine sacks, 75 tackles, two forced fumbles, and three fumble recoveries, one of which he returned for a touchdown. Even more impressive, four and a half of Brown’s nine sacks over his first two years came in the first five games of his sophomore campaign, along with his lone defensive score.
However, just as was the case for Ki-Jana Carter, injuries would haunt Brown for the entirety of his career. An ankle injury, followed by two serious knee injuries, derailed the two seasons following his rookie year. A torn bicep limited him to six sacks through 13 games in 2003, and a left foot injury in 2004 held him to only two games.
He was released by the Browns in 2004, eventually signing with the Denver Broncos, where he hoped good fortune and health could follow him. This would not be the case, as a serious left elbow injury ended an otherwise unproductive 2005 season, and another major knee injury claimed his entire 2006 year. In all, Brown underwent five major knee surgeries over the course of his underwhelming career — three of which were performed on the same knee.
Brown eventually retired from the NFL after 2006, leaving Cleveland Browns fans to wonder what could have been if the team had opted to go a different direction with the top overall pick in 2000. The 2000 NFL Draft was loaded with talent, but defensive stalwarts like linebacker Brian Urlacher, and defensive ends Shaun Ellis and John Abraham stand out as the most prominent names overlooked by Cleveland. To make Browns fans cringe even more, Urlacher and Abraham will likely have their busts enshrined in Canton when both become eligible for the Hall of Fame.
There are plenty of other candidates for this list, but nevertheless, these players’ underwhelming NFL careers prove the age old saying, “All that glitters, is not gold.”
Photo: AP Photo/Reed Saxon