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May 02, 2020

Worst Week: The worst draft picks in Philadelphia sports history

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102918-MarkelleFultz-USAToday Bill Streicher/USA Today

Philadelphia 76ers guard Markelle Fultz talks with recording artist Lil Uzi Vert after a victory against the Atlanta Hawks at Wells Fargo Center.

It's Worst Week here at PhillyVoice. 

Over the next few days, we'll be looking back at some of the worst decisions, outcomes and experiences the major sports teams have had in the city of Philadelphia. Tuesday we took a look at the 10 worst trades in the history of this city.

With the 2020 NFL Draft still fresh in mind after the Eagles controversial selection of quarterback Jalen Hurts in the second round, we thought the perfect first installment would be a look at the 10 worst draft picks in city history.

Here's some insight into our methodology first. We are limiting this list to first round picks. Why? Well, in the four major sports it goes without saying that the first round is the most valuable, and in the NFL and NBA, first-round picks are expected to make an impact immediately.

We gave weight to how high the pick was, and how far short of expectations the player fell. If the player was used to eventually receive some kind of compensation, it helped their ranking. If they suddenly retired and never played football again, well, it hurt their cause.

Before we dive in to the Top 10, here's a look at some draftees who fell short of making the final cut:

Dishonorable mention

J.D. Drew, Phillies (2nd overall pick in 1997)
We know you hate Drew — why wouldn't you? The team's second pick in 1997 refused to sign in Philly and went on to have a very solid big league career with the Cardinals, Dodgers, Braves and Red Sox. He was kind of a jerk about it, but players refuse to sign all the time (Drew himself was drafted three separate times). The Phillies also got a compensation pick the next year (after taking Pat Burrell first overall). Plus, if the Phillies never took Drew, who would fans throw batteries at? This was a bad pick, but it didn't screw over the entire franchise like some of the picks on our list did.
Sharone Wright, Sixers (6th overall pick in 1994)

Wright was okay as a rookie, making the All-NBA Second Team, but he was traded in his second year at the trade deadline and his return was pretty lacking — Tony Massenburg, Ed Pinckney, a 1996 2nd-round draft pick (Ryan Minor) and a 1997 2nd-round draft pick (James Collins). In his new home of Toronto, a car accident ended his NBA career.

Bernard Williams, Eagles (14th overall pick in 1994)

In his first season, Williams — an offensive tackle — was an All-Rookie Team selection. But it was downhill from there. Several positive marijuana tests ended his NFL career after one season. He played later in the first iteration of the XFL.
Glen Seabrooke, Flyers (21st overall pick in 1985)
A talented two-way player who was only able to make it into the NHL for six career games. His career was over due to injury by age 21 (he later sued Flyers team doctors for rushing his rehab and permanently damaging his arm).
Anthony Hewitt, Phillies (24th overall pick in 2008)

The fact that you've never heard of Anthony Hewitt is a testament to the kind of disappointment he was. The Phillies, in the peak of their powers in 2008, selected him in the first round, tagging him as what they hoped would be Jimmy Rollins' heir apparent at shortstop. Hewitt is just 30 years old right now, and should be in his prime playing for The Phillies. However, he's no longer playing organized baseball. 

And now for the top 10:

10. Kevin Allen

EAGLES OFFENSIVE TACKLE | 9TH-OVERALL PICK IN 1985 | STATS: 16 CAREER G, 4 CAREER STARTS

Some of the stories of these draft picks are wild. Allen was ranked by Deadspin a few years ago as the fourth worst NFL player ever. And he was the Eagles' first-round pick in 1985. From their top 100 list:

4. Kevin Allen; offensive tackle; Eagles; 1985: The ninth overall pick out of Indiana had a special way of blocking opposing pass rushers. He would lean his body forward, then fall down. In 1986 Allen was arrested on rape charges; he wound up serving 33 months in federal prison. Wrote Kevin Noonan of the Wilmington News Journal: “Never had the Eagles had a combination of bad person-bad player that could match this guy.” [Deadspin]

Allen was described by then-head coach Buddy Ryan as a player who would only be useful "if you want someone to stand around and kill the grass..." Jerry Rice was drafted six picks after Allen was in 1985. Woof. 

9. Marvin Barnes

SIXERS POWER FORWARD | 2ND-OVERALL PICK IN 1974 | STATS: NEVER PLAYED FOR THE 76ERS

In the 1974 NBA Draft, the Sixers passed up on future Hall of Famers Bobby Jones, Jamaal Wilkes and George Gervin, as well as several other All-Star caliber players (like Campy Russell and Brian Winters) to take Marvin Barnes second overall. Barnes had a fantastic career — averaging 16 points and 9.1 rebounds per team over a 13-year pro career — just not with the Sixers. 

The Providence product was also drafted by St. Louis of the ABA, where he decided to go instead of the NBA (for more money). Philly would not get compensated in any way for the No. 2 overall pick spurning them for a completely different league.

8. Ryan Sittler

FLYERS LEFT WING | 7TH-OVERALL PICK IN 1992 | STATS: NEVER PLAYED FOR THE FLYERS

Sittler was just a case of really, really bad luck. He was the sixth-ranked prospect when he was drafted and was a star at Michigan in college. They the injuries piled up. Injury after injury after injury. Here's an excerpt from an account of his short-lived pro career from the Palm Beach Post:

During a brawl in his first game back with Hershey, Sittler tripped over a stick and went down. When he turned to get up, Springfield winger Mike Harding delivered a punch, breaking Sittler's cheekbone in three places, cracking his orbital bone and crushing his sinus cavity. He underwent five hours of surgery, during which three plates and 13 screws were inserted in addition to a bone graft. 
"It took 21/2 months to come back," Sittler says. "All the work I'd done in the summer was lost. When I did start practicing, I banged knees with a guy and tore my MCL (medial collateral ligament), which put me out another month." [Palm Beach Post]

Sittler never made it to the NHL over the life of his rookie contract with the Flyers and was later released.

7. Jeff Jackson

PHILLIES OUTFIELDER | 4TH-OVERALL PICK IN 1989 | STATS: NEVER PLAYED FOR THE PHILLIES
How bad do you have to be at baseball to not even have a Wikipedia page? Jackson, the Phillies' fourth-overall pick back in 1989 was so bad he never made it to higher than Double-A, and never hit better than .242 (in Clearwater). He played five minor league seasons and was cut. We'd like to tell you more about Jackson but, frankly there isn't much out there about the guy. The only other thing we know is that the Phils passed over Frank Thomas to take him. What a bad pick!

6. Jahlil Okafor

SIXERS CENTER | 3RD-OVERALL PICK IN 2015 | STATS: 14.6 PPG, 5.9 RPG IN 105 (OF 269) GAMES

The Sixers opted for Okafor over Kristaps Porzingis in the 2015 draft, and it appears they probably picked the wrong big man. Okafor couldn't make it fit at power forward for the Sixers and was sent packing after two and a half seasons (for Trevor Booker and a second rounder). Like many other draftees on this list, Okafor had some off-the-court issues, but on it he never really gave the Sixers what they wanted, or what they needed. That this valuable asset from The Process era wound up pretty much going to waste makes him one of the worst picks in Philly history.

5. Jerome McDougle

EAGLES DEFENSIVE TACKLE | 15th-OVERALL PICK IN 2003 | STATS: 3 SACKS, 2 TFL IN 33 GAMES

This is another weird one. Two years after being drafted in the first round. McDougle was shot during an armed robbery and the subsequent surgery cost him his third NFL season. Then in 2006, the Eagles lost to the Buccaneers 23-21. It was McDougle's fault. Why? Well, he was penalized twice in the same play when he kicked the referee's flag in anger after being flagged for a facemark. The 30 yards set up a Bucs field goal to win the game. 

McDougle was a talented pass rusher who not only had some character issues but also had injury problems. In what should have been 64 starts over his four Eagles' seasons, McDougle played in just 33, starting none. The Birds were unable to get anything for McDougle, who was cut, played four games for the Giants in 2008 and never played again.

4. Larry Hughes

SIXERS SHOOTING GUARD | 8TH-OVERALL PICK IN 1998 | STATS: 9.6 PPG IN 100 GAMES

Hughes was OK. And he was traded for Tony Kukoc in his second year with the Sixers, who was eventually traded for Dikembe Mutombo (who won defensive player of the year in Philly). But one can't help but wonder if the Sixers could have — or should have — gotten more with that pick. The two selections immediately after Hughes were Dirk Nowitzki and Paul Pierce, two players who would later win NBA championships. Would the Allen Iverson Sixers' have had a bigger title-winning window if they got that pick right?

We do know whose fault this pick is: Larry Brown. The head coach vowed to take Hughes in 1998 despite where he was on the front office's draft board. There is really no telling if Pierce or Nowitzki would have been better fits with the early 2000s Sixers than Hughes was during his brief time in the city. But having a ball dominant shooting guard paired with Iverson was probably never going to work. Hughes went on to have a very solid NBA career with seven other organizations, averaging 14.1 points per game over his career. 

3. Marcus Smith

EAGLES DEFENSIVE END | 26TH-OVERALL PICK IN 2014 | STATS: 23 CAREER TACKLES IN 37 GAMES

A puzzling pick at the time — the Eagles could have drafted DeMarcus Lawrence or Kelvin Benjamin — Smith was a project of a pick to be sure, but he turned into a project that just never got finished. He appeared in just eight games his rookie year, played 6% of the Eagles' total defensive snaps and didn't record a tackle. A year later, he played in 13 games and on 11% of defensive snaps (though he did contribute on special teams). By the time his third and final Eagles season came along, he still played in just 21% of snaps. He offered well short of the kind of production one would want from a first round pick.

The Eagles let him walk for nothing in 2017, and he has had two one-year stints with the Seahawks and Redskins. At 28, he is still trying to prove he was worthy of being drafted in the first round. 

2. Markelle Fultz

SIXERS POINT GUARD | 1ST-OVERALL PICK IN 2017 | STATS: 7.7 PPG IN 33 (OF 164 POSSIBLE) GAMES

Fultz was the No. 1 prospect heading into the 2017 draft, and the Sixers had one bullet left in The Process chamber before they would ultimately start contending. They had already accumulated future All-Stars in Embiid and Ben Simmons and needed a third piece for their Big 3. Trading up with the Celtics (who took Jason Tatum), Philly fans were feeling on top of the world as Fultz was added to the fold. But the good feelings would end there.

A two-year long drama that saw Fultz, among other things, impress in the summer league, injure his ankle, forget how to shoot a jump shot, miss nearly all of his rookie year with a shoulder injury, post a random triple-double in April before being benched in the playoffs, begin the 2018-19 season in the starting lineup before forgetting how to shoot again (and missing time for thoracic outlet syndrome), and finally, a trade for 10 cents on the dollar to the Orlando Magic.

All of this adds up to what can surely be labeled the worst draft pick in Philadelphia sports history.

1. Danny Watkins

EAGLES OFFENSIVE GUARD | 23rd-OVERALL PICK IN 2011 | STATS: 23 NFL STARTS

Watkins was the Eagles' first-round draft pick in 2011, and was expected to slot in and start at offensive guard as a rookie, and for the foreseeable future. In 2014, he retired from the NFL to work as a firefighter in Waco, Texas. Everything in between went pretty much as you'd expect. 

The surprise 26-year-old rookie, whom most on draft night had never heard of, started the 2011 season inactive and didn't see the field until Week 4. He wound up starting 23 games while impressing no one. The Eagles cut him after two seasons and he played one more as a backup for the Dolphins before retiring. This pick, even as it is less impactful than the Fultz one, is just too ridiculous not to make No. 1. 

Said our Sixers' writer Kyle Neubeck: "The stakes are obviously much higher missing on Fultz so he’s worthy there, but drafting a 26-year-old firefighter with no chance to succeed is a lot less defensible than Fultz having a completely unprecedented breakdown."


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