TUSCALOOSA, Ala. (BVM) – The state of Alabama is known for its production of powerhouse athletes. The University of Alabama and Auburn University, specifically, have a pipeline straight to the NFL unmatched by any other program in the country. The state has had no shortage of professional football royalty, but there have been a few who have fallen short of their expected greatness. Let’s take a look at the four biggest NFL busts in recent history.
Rolando McClain, Alabama
McClain played linebacker for Alabama from 2007-09 and was unanimously recognized as an All-American. The four-star recruit earned an athletic scholarship to Alabama after a strong prep school career at Decatur High School in Decatur, Alabama. There, McClain combined for 210 tackles and 24 tackles for a loss his last two seasons and was selected to play in the first Offense-Defense All-American Bowl in Fort Lauderdale, Florida in 2007. In Tuscaloosa, the true freshman started eight games and finished with 75 tackles, two interceptions and a sack. McClain improved his next season and compiled 95 tackles, three sacks, one interception and earned AP third-team All-American honors and a first-team All-SEC selection. His final year with the Crimson Tide was his best as McClain tallied 105 tackles, four sacks, 14 quarterback hurries, two interceptions and a forced fumble. He was named SEC Defensive Player of the Year and earned a first-team All-SEC selection for the second-straight year. McClain won the 2009 Lambert Award, which is given to the best collegiate linebacker, and was the first Alabama linebacker to do so. He was also awarded the 2009 Dick Butkus Award, only the second Crimson Tide player to achieve that feat. McClain chose to forgo his senior season at Alabama and declared for the 2010 NFL Draft after the Crimson Tide’s BCS National Championship title.
Considered the best linebacker entering the draft, McClain was selected eighth overall by the Oakland Raiders. The highest drafted Alabama linebacker since 1990, McClain combined for 185 total tackles, five-and-a-half sacks and one interception in his first two seasons. An obvious powerhouse on the field, McClain had off-field issues that began to affect his play. In 2012, the Raiders owned the worst defense in the league and McClain was replaced by rookie Miles Burris due to repeated mistakes and apparent poor decision making. This move caused a rift between McClain and the Raiders and resulted in the linebacker being waived in April of 2013.
McClain signed with the Baltimore Ravens that same month, but never registered a snap with the team. He was arrested twice that year for driving violations, disorderly conduct and resisting arrest. The Dallas Cowboys acquired McClain in 2014, and though it was seen as a risk due to the linebacker’s declining play and character issues, a one-year contract went into effect. The trade proved successful despite McClain’s groin and knee injuries and McClain finished the season with 87 total tackles, one sack and one forced fumble. Dallas signed McClain the following year before he was then suspended for the first four games for violating the league’s substance abuse policy. The linebacker went on to be suspended from the NFL three more times and was reported to be addicted to codeine, which ended his professional career indefinitely.
Carnell ‘Cadillac’ Williams, Auburn
Williams entered Auburn in 2001 after graduating from Etowah High School in Attalla, Alabama. His style and speed garnered the nickname “Cadillac” which stuck with him throughout his football career. As a true freshman, Williams quickly worked his way up to starting running back before he suffered a broken collarbone in the Iron Bowl and was sidelined for the remainder of the season. Nonetheless, Williams amassed 614 yards on 120 carries and six touchdowns through just nine games his first season. Williams saw a similar season the following year with 141 carries for 745 yards and 10 touchdowns through seven games before a broken left fibula cut his season in half. It was his junior year Williams was finally healthy and set the Auburn single-season record with 17 touchdowns and earned a career-high 1,307 yards on 241 attempts.
His final year as a Tiger, Williams led his team to an SEC Championship and Sugar Bowl victory and finished 13-0. He earned All-American honors and was named All-SEC first-team as both a running back and return specialist, while he led the Tigers in rushing with 239 carries for 1,165 yards and 12 touchdowns. Williams broke multiple Auburn records which included most rushing attempts (741) and most rushing touchdowns (45) and finished second in total rushing yards (3,831) behind Bo Jackson.
Drafted by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers with the fifth pick of the 2015 NFL Draft, Williams had an impactful year as a rookie. He tallied 1,178 rushing yards on 290 carries with six touchdowns and was awarded the Associated Press NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year award. Williams’ familiarity with injury eventually returned in the following seasons and prevented the tailback to reach another 1,000-yard season in his professional career. His 2007 and 2008 seasons were cut short with a torn patellar tendon in his right and left knees, respectively. With surgery and rehab, Williams worked his way back to health and in 2009, recorded his first 100-yard rushing game in two seasons for the Bucs. Though he fell just short of the AP 2009 Comeback Player of the Year Award to Tom Brady, Williams finished his season with 821 yards on 210 carries and four touchdowns.
Williams became an unrestricted free agent in 2011 and signed with the St. Louis Rams to back up Steven Jackson in the backfield. He rushed for just 361 yards on 87 attempts and scored a single touchdown in what would be his final season in the NFL. Williams went on to coach at the prep level at IMG Academy before he became the running backs coach at Auburn in 2019. A career riddled with injury, Williams’ playing legacy will always be attached to “what if.”
Ronnie Brown, Auburn
Brown was a three-year starting running back for Cartersville High School in Georgia and rushed for 4,936 yards and 12 touchdowns through his prep years. He continued to Auburn and played under coach Tommy Tuberbill from 2000-04. After he redshirted his freshman year, Brown shared the backfield with Cadillac Williams and their dominance cemented the tailbacks’ legacy as the best duo of their time. In 2002, Brown had his best season with a career-high 1,008 yards on 175 carries with 23 touchdowns while Williams was injured on the sideline. His stats dropped the following season when Williams returned, but led the Tigers to a 13-0 record and amassed 153 carries for 913 yards, 34 catches for 313 yards, and nine total touchdowns. Brown left Auburn ranked No. 7 in school history for rushing yards (2,707) and No. 5 in rushing touchdowns (28).
Surrounded by hype, Brown was selected with the second overall pick in the 2015 NFL Draft by the Miami Dolphins. And though Brown has a decade of professional football under his belt, his time in the NFL fell short of expectations. The feature back for the majority of his six seasons in Miami, Brown saw a career-high 1,006 yards on 241 carries with five touchdowns in 2006 and fell to a slow decline afterwards. Brown signed with the Philadelphia Eagles as a free agent in 2010 and with the San Diego Chargers in 2012, registering no notable stats. After a summer with the Houston Texans in 2014, Brown finished his career back with the Chargers that same year. He failed to receive a contract extension from the Chargers in 2014 and is now a financial advisor for Wells Fargo in Atlanta.
Trent Richardson, Alabama
A first-round draft pick and Heisman Trophy finalist, Richardson was a professional football hopeful who didn’t live up to his widely anticipated greatness. Richardson, a Pensacola, Florida native, was a dual-sport athlete at Escambia High School and lettered in football and track and field. At Escambia, Richardson amassed 2,100 yards on 228 carries his senior year with 25 touchdowns and earned the first ESPN RISE National Football Player of the Week award. The five-star recruit and No. 2 running back in the nation committed to Alabama in 2009 and quickly proved his worth.
Slated as one of the best tailbacks since Adrian Peterson, Richardson was an unstoppable force for the Crimson Tide under Nick Saban. He played behind Mark Ingram Jr. his first two seasons and recorded 145 carries for 751 yards and eight touchdowns his freshman year. With Ingram’s departure to the NFL ahead of the 2011 season, Richardson stepped into the program’s lead role and surpassed expectations. The running back saw two national championships with Alabama, had six consecutive 100-yard rushing games and scored two or more touchdowns in seven games his junior year. Richardson finished third in the Heisman race in 2011 and declared for the draft after his junior season.
Selected by the Cleveland Browns with the third overall pick in the first round of the 2012 NFL Draft, Richardson failed to reach his expected potential. The running back suffered a torn meniscus during the 2012 BCS National Championship and after a subsequent knee surgery, never regained his top-tier speed and agility. Richardson was traded to the Indianapolis Colts mid-season in 2013 and was released the following year. He played four games in the CFL in 2017 and eight games in the AAF before its collapse in 2019. Richardson signed with the Caudillos de Chihuahua of the Liga de Futbol Americano de Mexico in 2021 and is a current player on their roster.