Wednesday, 20 April 2011 14:25

Absolute Worst New Orleans Saints NFL Draft Picks Ever

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In 1967, their first season, the Saints made the worst draft decision in franchise history.

The Saints had traded the No. 1 over-all pick in the draft to Baltimore for backup quarterback Gary Cuozzo, and the Saints had another No. 1 pick, the 26th over-all.

They selected running back Les Kelley of Alabama, who never got on track. He battled a knee injury and measles during training camp and failed to carry the ball or make an official catch all season. A year later coach Tom Fears moved him to linebacker. He played sparingly the next three years before being cut in 1969. Linebacker Willie Lanier (Chiefs) and defensive back Lem Barney (Lions) were on the board when Kelley was picked.

"Kelley should have never been a high draft choice," said Fears.

The Kelley's selection highlights both the failure and curse of the draft. There are no guarantees, even at the top of the first round. Every decision has the potential to either elevate or haunt a team for years to come.

Kelley ranks No. 1 on the list of all-time Saints draft busts, but there are other strong candidates to fill out the top five.

2. Shawn Knight. The Saints needed a defensive end and picked Knight with the 11th over-all selection in 1987.  Knight reported late to camp because of contract negotiations and fell out of favor with the coaches. He had bad feet and his development was retarded from the start. He failed to get a sack while a Saint.

"The drafting of Knight was a mistake," said GM Jim Finks.

3. Larry Burton. The Saints needed a wide receiver with speed and selected track star Larry Burton of Purdue with the seventh over-all selection in 1975.

 He had a track athlete's mentality. Almost from Day 1 he was hobbled by minor pains and strains in his legs (Donte Stallworth had similar problems). He also had shaky hands.

Burton lasted three years without catching more than19 passes in a season. He was waived in 1978. He had 9.3 speed and ll.5 hands.

4. Russell Erxleben. Saints coach Dick Nolan thought he was a special teams star in strong-legged kicker-punter Erxleben from Texas with the 11th over-all pick in the 1979 draft. At Texas, Erxleben had kicked 11 field goals of more than 50 yards and three that covered more than 60 yards. He was the second-highest drafted kicker-punter in NFL history. Two picks later, San Diego picked tight end Kellen Winslow.

Erxleben told Nolan he couldn't take the pressure of kicking field goals after he missed a 34-yarder against the 49ers. He attempted only eight field goals in five season with the Saints.

After retiring from the NFL, he became a financial investor in foreign exchange trading. He was investigated by the IRS and pleaded guilty to for securities fraud. He was sentenced to 84 months in prison and ordered to pay a total of $28 million in restitution and a $1 million fine.

5. Joe Campbell. The Saints thought they were getting just what they wanted when they drafted All-America defensive end Joe Campbell with the No. 7 over-all selection in the 1977 draft. But Campbell couldn't control his temper and his emotional flareups resulted in countless fights at practice and in games. He couldn't get along with the coaching staff and was traded to Oakland in 1981 for a sixth-round draft choice.

"All he was doing was getting in fights and getting kicked out of games," said coach Dick Nolan.

Jonathan Sullivan must be placed in a draft bust category by himself because he took the Saints for $16 million in three seasons.

The Saints selected Sullivan, a defensive tackle from Georgia, with the 6th over-all pick in 2003. They traded up with Arizona to get this pick. The Saints also gave up two No. 1 draft choices to the Cardinals. They also traded second-round draft choices and the Saints received the Arizona fourth-round pick.

Sullivan was president of the "Heavy Lunch Bunch" and his weight sometimes was more than 350 pounds. One road game, he was spotted dining in the media area. He was inactive for that game.

In three seasons with the Saints he had 1.5 sacks and forced a fumble in 36 games before ignominiously dealt to New England for one of its draft busts, wide receiver Bethel Johnson. Sullivan was released later in the 2005 season.

Sullivan was satisfied with taking all millions he pocketed from the Saints to the bank in Griffin, Ga. The money took away his desire to continue his football career.

Other first-round draft busts could join this group: Alvin Toles, Lindsay Scott, Wesley Carroll, Vaughn Dunbar and Royce Smith.

by Ed Staton

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Ed Staton

Ed Staton is a former sports writer for the Times Picayune and New Orleans States Item.  He also served as the New Orleans Saints Information Director.  He has won 43 media awards in writing, design and photography. | This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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