Who was the worst draft pick in National Football League history? There are many names that are thrown around whenever this question is asked.
There is Ryan Leaf, who was drafted second overall in the 1998 NFL Draft, whose career almost instantly fell apart due to a bad attitude, injuries and bad play. There was Akili Smith, whom the Cincinnati Bengals drafted ahead of Edgerrin James, Champ Bailey and Torry Holt, and for some reason, the New Orleans Saints took kicker Russell Erxleben with the 11th pick in 1979 instead of Kellen Winslow or Joe Montana.
Then there was Kevin Allen. Perhaps his NFL career wasn’t as marred by tragedy or failure as those of Leaf or Erxleben, but he was just as much of a bust as perhaps anyone.
Kevin Eugene Allen was born on June 21, 1963 in Cincinnati, Ohio. He was a standout at Northwest High School, and his stellar play there allowed him to move on and play his college ball at Indiana University.
Sometimes, when an athlete ends up being a bust or even an overall failure in life, there aren’t any overt signs of such a destiny early on. He grew to 6-foot-5 and over 280 pounds, which gave him impressive size for an offensive tackle, at least during that era when NFL linemen weren’t as massive as they are these days.
He made himself eligible for the 1985 NFL Draft, and he was considered an interesting prospect, if not a top prospect. Many felt that he had raw talent and could continue to develop once in the pros.
But there was some concern about his inconsistent play and possibly about his mental makeup. A pre-draft analysis said that Allen was “built like Tarzan; plays like Jane.”
That’s not exactly what scouts for individual teams want to hear or read about a player they’re considering taking in the draft.
In the 1980 season, the Philadelphia Eagles, coached by Dick Vermeil, lost the Super Bowl to the Oakland Raiders, 27-10, despite being heavy favorites. Philly was led by Pro Bowl quarterback Ron Jaworski, and the team had high hopes for the immediate future.
Instead, the Eagles experienced a downtown, and after losing in the wild card round in ’81, they missed the playoffs in each of the following three seasons.
They had the ninth overall pick in the 1985 draft, and they had plenty of needs, especially on the offensive side of the ball. They could’ve gotten help at wide receiver by drafting Jerry Rice, who would go on to become the greatest player at that position and one of the game’s all-time greats.
Philly also needed an improved running game. They could’ve rectified that by selecting Herschel Walker, who would go on to star for the Dallas Cowboys over the next several years.
Instead, the Eagles chose Allen, an offensive tackle, with one of the top picks in the entire draft. Not often do NFL teams use first-round draft picks on offensive linemen, let alone an offensive tackle.
But Philadelphia did, which meant that the team must’ve had high hopes for him as a player who would be a cornerstone for years to come, if not a Pro Bowler.
The trouble started almost immediately, as Allen held out of training camp because he wanted a more lucrative contract than what the Eagles were offering him. He eventually agreed to a four-year deal worth $1.65 million with 10 days left in camp.
Still, Allen managed to make head coach Marion Campbell’s starting lineup as an offensive tackle on the left side of the line.
The Eagles opened the 1985 season in East Rutherford, N.J. against the New York Giants. Boasting QB Phil Simms, running back Joe Morris and legendary linebacker Lawrence Taylor, the Giants, coached by Bill Parcells, had championship aspirations.
The Eagles, meanwhile, were simply trying to return to the postseason for the first time in four seasons.
The contest turned into a disaster for Philly. As a left tackle, it was Allen’s job to protect Jaworski and give him protection so he could do his job well.
But Allen failed miserably. Giants defensive end Leonard Marshall had his way with Allen and was able to easily get past him to record 3.5 sacks, while Taylor had 2.5 himself.
In all, Jaworski was sacked an improbable eight times, while completing less than half of his passes and throwing for zero touchdowns. The Giants shut out the Eagles, 21-0, and unfortunately for Philly, it set the tone for the season.
Although the Eagles managed to win five of six games in one midseason stretch, nothing went right for Allen. Rookie Randall Cunningham took over for Jaworski in Week 2, and in his first game, he was sacked five times by the Los Angeles Rams.
In Week 3 against the Washington Redskins, Cunningham was sacked four times, and the following week in a rematch against the Giants, the Eagles QB was sacked seven times. With his team holding a 1-3 record, Campbell was fed up.
He responded by demoting Allen to special teams for the rest of the season. Although the offensive line’s ability to protect the passer improved somewhat, the team overall didn’t, as it finished 7-9 and missed the playoffs.
If the 1985 season was the extent of Allen’s ineptitude as a pro football player, perhaps it would’ve been manageable. In that case, perhaps most of the blame could’ve fallen on the Eagles for blowing their first-round draft pick on a guard, especially one like Allen who wasn’t quite up to the task in the pros.
Instead, it was just the beginning of a downward spiral.
Management replaced Campbell with Buddy Ryan for the 1986 season. Ryan was fresh off helping the Chicago Bears win the Super Bowl, and as their defensive coordinator, he helped them put together what may have been pro football’s greatest defensive unit of all time.
Ryan had also been the defensive line coach for the Minnesota Vikings about a decade earlier when they were a title contender thanks to their defensive line, which was nicknamed the “Purple People Eaters.”
He was a tough, no-nonsense personality, and he would clash with Allen, whom he apparently felt did not give the effort or show the dedication that was needed to field a quality NFL team.
When Allen showed up to an off-season minicamp prior to the 1986 campaign, he was overweight and out of shape. Ryan told the media that the Indiana University product didn’t “fit into any of my plans right now.”
To his credit, Allen went to work and dropped some weight, and once training camp began, he earned the starting left guard spot once again.
Then came the Eagles’ first day of practice.
Towards the end of the session, he collapsed due to dehydration and was hospitalized overnight. It must’ve come as a shock to Ryan, who reassigned Allen’s starting left tackle spot while he was in the hospital.
Although Allen has some minor issues while in college with similar health maladies, there didn’t seem to be any rhyme or reason why he had so much trouble making it through the team’s first practice.
Once Allen got out of the hospital, he returned to practice, but he still wasn’t able to make it through entire practices. Ryan was flabbergasted; he even said that Allen “doesn’t exist.”
At one point, the coach threw some serious shade at the offensive lineman.
“[He’s] a good player to have, if you want someone to stand around and kill some grass,” Ryan said of Allen.
It only got worse. One day, Allen overslept and missed an early practice. The team called his room multiple times and even physically sent someone to his room to pound on the door in the hopes of waking him up.
He did wake up after lunch, but instead of practicing during the team’s afternoon session, he was in the training room, asleep once again.
Weeks later, it became somewhat easier for Allen to hold up during training sessions, but he still seemed to have a concerning lack of stamina.
What was the problem with him? Sure, the practice field at that time of year was very warm and humid, but other players didn’t have any trouble holding up, or at least not nearly as much trouble as Allen.
One member of the organization, Otho Davis, who was the team’s trainer, wondered if Allen’s metabolic system was off. Most athletes burn fat and convert it into energy, Davis thought, but maybe Allen burns muscle instead, which would be the cause of his chronic cramping.
Allen was put on the reserve-non football injury list while the team sent him to numerous doctors to see what the problem was. All the tests that he underwent revealed nothing clinically significant.
Perhaps there was another reason why Allen wasn’t right physically. Another test perhaps found the reason.
Shortly after reporting to the Eagles that summer, Allen underwent a drug test. When it came back, it revealed that he had tested positive for cocaine.
In the 1980s, there was lots of talk that there was a cocaine problem in sports, particularly in the NFL and NBA. While some have dismissed such talk as hyperbole, there are others, including former players, who have admitted that there was a significant drug culture in pro sports at the time.
One Washington Post article in ’86 noted that 43 NFL players had been confirmed as having been involved with illegal drugs only since the start of the decade.
Allen’s positive cocaine test was the last straw for the Eagles. They released him in early October, and it turned out to be the final curtain on his NFL career.
But sadly, it wasn’t his final act of ugliness. In fact, it was just a warmup.
The average NFL career lasts just a few years, and when the careers of most non-stars are over, they seem to vanish from the public eye and settle into a modest life, perhaps working a “normal” day job or getting involved in a business venture.
But Allen had other, more malicious ideas.
At the time of his release by the Eagles, he was living with a roommate named Scott Cartwright, a former intern in the team’s marketing department, in a condominium in Cherry Hill, N.J., a suburb of Philadelphia. Even before the Eagles kicked him off the roster, Allen would engage in a heinous act with his roomie that would forever scar his legacy on and off the field.
Just a week after he left the Eagles, Allen was arrested along with Cartwright on charges of rape. Cartwright pleaded guilty and agreed to testify against Allen, while Allen also pleaded guilty.
According to testimony in court, the two were in Margate, N.J., a beach town on the Jersey Shore, for Labor Day. Cartwright admitted that the two had been “drinking all night,” when they saw a 31-year-old woman getting romantic with her male companion.
Allen and Cartwright pretended to be beach patrol officers. Cartwright proceeded to commit “bodily harm to him, serious bodily harm” to the male companion that left him with a punctured lung, internal injuries, bruises, cuts and an eye injury that compromised his vision.
Meanwhile, Allen committed sexual assault on the woman against her will, according to Cartwright.
The former Eagle was sentenced to 15 years in prison as a result. He only ended up serving 33 months.
The NFL responded by banning Allen for life.
America is a land of second chances, and some believe that even convicted rapists such as Allen deserve a shot at redemption.
Once he was released from Southern State Correction facility in New Jersey in March 1990, Allen applied for reinstatement to the NFL. Commissioner Paul Tagliabue denied the request, feeling that Allen need to go through therapy first.
But the following spring, Allen was allowed to return to the league. It was a quick turnaround, as it came less than five years after the crime that put him behind bars.
He tried out for the San Francisco 49ers and Cincinnati Bengals, hoping to earn a roster spot for the upcoming season. Neither team kept him.
But Allen did find a suitor of sorts in the Kansas City Chiefs. Although he didn’t make their roster, they did send him to the Orlando Thunder, a team in the World League of American Football (WLAF), a developmental league for the NFL that later became NFL Europe.
It gave him an opportunity to show the football community that he could still play. After all, he was only in his late 20s, which is when pro athletes typically reach their peak.
“It’s like a new start,” said Allen. “I’ve just had to deal with this. I have a different perspective. I know I’m going to hear a lot of things, but I know the type of person I am. … It’s not like reading a book by its cover.”
The Thunder eventually gave Allen the starting right tackle spot, and he made the most of it. He ranked among the league leaders in “pancake blocks,” a statistical category that measures how many times an offensive lineman puts a defender on his back.
With Allen’s help, the Thunder tied for the best record in the league at 8-2 and made it to the World Bowl where they lost to the Sacramento Surge.
The following year, Allen made his way to the Arena Football League (AFL). He got to play two seasons for his hometown team, the Cincinnati Rockers, and after that, he split the 1994 campaign with the Charlotte Rage and Miami Hooters.
Allen didn’t make his way back to the big leagues, but he did manage to at least somewhat salvage his dignity after that Labor Day of infamy in ’86.