Top 10 Illinois football NFL Draft busts of all time

Illinois football has had some talent over the decades, but some of that talent hasn't translated into the NFL ranks. Some NFL teams have taken a chance on an Illini player and have been burnt.
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2nd Round, #57 Pick. RB Mikel Leshoure. 4. . 50. Leshoure. 2011 NFL Draft. RB Mikel Leshoure. . player

  • 807 yards, 9 TDs, 3.7 YPC
  • 17 games, 14 starts
  • 0 Pro Bowls
  • 1 NFL team
  • 2 seasons

Illinois took a couple of gut punches with two of the greatest running backs to ever play in Champaign being busts. The first one was Mikel Leshoure. He was insane in his final year with the Illini.

Leshoure ran for 734 yards in 2009, so no one saw what he was about to do in 2010. Leshoure was the star of the Orange and Blue during that 2010 campaign. Illinois won the Texas Bowl over future Heisman Trophy winner Robert Griffin III, and Leshoure dazzled on the field. That year, he rushed for an Illinois single-season record 1,697 yards and had 17 touchdowns. He also added 196 yards and three touchdowns receiving.

The big junior year for Leshoure had NFL teams calling. He was picked by the Detroit Lions in the second round, pick No. 57, in the 2011 NFL Draft.

Leshoure’s career started rocky, as he tore his Achilles before his rookie season got off the ground. He came back in 2012 and led the Lions in rushing with 798 yards and nine touchdowns. The following year, he played in three games and had nine yards rushing.

Before the 2014 campaign started, the Lions cut Leshoure, and he never saw another NFL snap. The second-round draft pick finished his time in the professional ranks with 807 yards and nine touchdowns on the ground and 214 yards receiving. Leshoure set an Illinois record with 1,697 yards on the ground as a junior. Who would have known that would be over 600 yards more than his entire NFL career combined?

Mendenhall. 2008 NFL Draft. RB Rashard Mendenhall. RB Rashard Mendenhall. 55. player. . . 1st Round, #23 Pick. 3

  • 4,236 yards, 37 TDs, 3.9 YPC
  • 72 games, 62 starts
  • 0 Pro Bowls
  • 2 NFL teams
  • 6 seasons

Mikel Leshoure had a special season for the Illini, but he flamed out of the NFL quickly. Honestly, I didn’t have huge expectations for him, but I thought he would be a good NFL running back with a long career. I can’t say the same for Rashard Mendenhall.

I thought Mendenhall was going to be a great NFL running back. He had the physical build mixed with speed that was rare. Mendenhall was the leader of the Illinois offense that propelled the program to the Rose Bowl in 2007. His running ability was something I had never seen for the Illini, and honestly, I haven’t seen it since.

In that great 2007 campaign, Mendenhall ran for 1,681 yards, which was an Illinois record at the time, and 17 touchdowns. He also had 318 yards and two touchdowns receiving. His 6.4 yards per carry average was mind-blowing. This guy will always be an Illinois legend.

Mendenhall then entered the NFL. With pick No. 23 in the first round of the 2008 NFL Draft, the Pittsburgh Steelers selected the Illini running back. I thought this was the perfect landing spot for a big physical ball carrier like Mendenhall.

In the fourth game of his rookie season, Mendenhall took a hit from Ray Lewis and fractured his shoulder. He ended up winning a Super Bowl that season, but he didn’t get to participate. A few years later, Mendenhall got back to the Super Bowl and was the leading rusher for the Steelers.

A first-round pick who set the Illinois single-season rushing record should have great expectations. Mendenhall had a solid career in the NFL for someone who was a fifth or sixth-round NFL Draft pick. He only had two seasons of averaging over 4.0 yards per carry, but at the end of the day, injuries got to him. The broken shoulder, an Achilles injury, and a torn ACL, among other things, hampered his great potential.