Every year, a handful of players taken in the first round turn out to be busts. It’s a disappointing trend in the NFL, but it’s the harsh reality teams and players have to face. There are a number of guys taken in recent drafts who are on the verge of becoming draft busts. Whether it’s due to injury, poor play or both, these players are trending in the wrong direction.
There’s still time for each of them to turn around their careers, but it’ll take a lot for them to avoid the daunting “bust” label in the near future.
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Laquon Treadwell, WR, Vikings
When the Vikings took Treadwell 23rd overall last year, he was expected to solidify the wide receiver position alongside Stefon Diggs. He did anything but that, catching just one pass for 15 yards in nine games.
In fact, he was so bad in 2016 that the Vikings gave him a paltry 80 snaps on offense – a little more than one game’s worth, for reference. He struggled to grasp Minnesota’s offense, and he was unable to separate from defenders due to poor route running and a lack of top-end speed. Those were two concerns many people had for him coming out of Ole Miss, and up to this point, they’ve been true.
It’s obviously still incredibly early in his career and a player’s legacy can’t be defined by one season, but all signs are pointing towards Treadwell becoming a marginal No. 2 receiver, at best.
Ereck Flowers, OT, Giants
All indications pointed to the Giants moving Flowers from his post as the team’s left tackle this season, but the front office opted to pass on potential replacements in free agency and the draft. As a result, he’ll likely remain on the left side where he’s struggled for the past two seasons. He’s consistently rated as one of the worst left tackles in the NFL, allowing 47 hurries and eight hits in 2016 – both among the most in the league.
If Flowers experiences another sack-filled season in which he can’t keep defenders off Eli Manning, the Giants are going to have a big decision to make. It won’t be whether to cut him, but a position change could be on the horizon. His leash should be relatively short this season in the event that he continues to struggle.
Kyle Fuller, CB, Bears
Fuller is squarely on the roster bubble this season and is in danger of not even making the team. That’s quite the downturn from being the 14th overall pick in 2014, but he’s struggled since coming into the NFL.
The young cornerback missed all of 2016 due to injury after starting every game in 2015. He wasn’t great two years ago, but at least he was on the field making an impact with two interceptions and nine passes defensed. The Bears have taken the steps to potentially replace him, signing both Prince Amukamara and Marcus Cooper.
If healthy, Fuller should have a good chance at making the 53-man roster. Of course, he’ll need to play much better than he did as a rookie in order for that to happen, but he still has room to grow if granted the chance.
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Marcus Smith, DE, Eagles
The Eagles surprised a lot of people in 2014 by taking Smith 26th overall. He wasn’t a big-time prospect, or a guy with double-digit sack potential, but even with relatively low expectations, he’s failed to meet them.
In three seasons, Smith has four total sacks, 18 tackles and the same number of starts in the NFL as both you and I: zero. He’s had very little impact for the Eagles, who have already declined his fifth-year option. Smith has to make a big jump in 2017 in order to make up for the past three years, which will be difficult with Derek Barnett now in the mix.
Smith is on pace to become one of the bigger draft busts in recent history, contributing very little on the defensive side of the ball.
Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY SportsMark J. Rebilas
Tavon Austin, WR, Rams
Austin’s bank account is feeling full despite the fact that the eighth overall pick in 2013 has yet to put up 1,000 yards receiving in a single season. In fact, he has just 1,642 yards in four years to go along with 968 yards rushing, scoring 20 offensive touchdowns.
There’s no doubt he’s a versatile weapon who can have an impact in the passing game, on the ground and on special teams, but he simply hasn’t lived up to the hype as a top-10 pick. Part of that has to do with the Rams’ misuse of him, but if Sean McVay can’t get the most out of him this season, no one can.
The Rams clearly haven’t given up on their No. 1 receiver just yet after signing him to a four-year, $42 million extension last offseason – a colossal mistake, in all honesty – but another poor season in 2017 could change the team’s mind about him. He’ll count nearly $15 million against the cap this season.
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Luke Joeckel, OL, Jaguars/Seahawks
Joeckel was a complete mess at both tackle and guard for the Jaguars the past four years, missing a total of 25 games in that span. He struggled in pass protection, wasn’t a dominant run blocker and failed to stay healthy in two of his first four seasons. All this after going second overall in 2013.
The Seahawks are giving him a chance to revive his career with a one-year, $8 million contract, but there’s no guarantee he’ll improve at this point. Joeckel will get the opportunity to reclaim his place as an NFL left tackle in Seattle, but he needs to improve dramatically to get to that point.
Perhaps Russell Wilson’s escapability and elusiveness will mask Joeckel’s inefficiencies and lower his number of sacks allowed.
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Justin Gilbert, CB, Browns/Steelers
Gilbert has done very little in the NFL besides struggle and find himself in trouble off the field. Yet, it still might be a bit early to slap him with the “bust” label. At just 25 years old, Gilbert is still young and has plenty of time left to prove he can be a decent player.
Will being “decent” help Gilbert avoid being a bust, though? That’s the question because after all, he was the eighth overall pick in 2014. He showed flashes of potential as a rookie, knocking down eight passes and intercepting one in two starts. It wasn’t a great season, but it was better than his past two.
The biggest concern with Gilbert is the fact that he might not be fully committed to football. Joe Thomas questions his desire to play in the NFL, which is worrisome for the Steelers – especially after his recent four-game suspension. It wouldn’t be outrageous to call him a bust at this point.
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Greg Robinson, OL, Rams
The Rams declined Robinson’s fifth-year option in 2018, which is never a good sign for a former first-round pick. He’s primarily played left tackle in the NFL up to this point, but that’s bound to change in 2017. Andrew Whitworth is taking over that position, while Robinson will likely be moved to right tackle going forward.
The coaching staff has realized Robinson can’t hold up on the left side protecting Goff’s blindside, so the next step is to make him a run-blocking mauler on the right side. He’ll still have to hold his own in pass protection at right tackle, but it’ll be an easier assignment than facing the league’s best pass rushers on the left side.
Perhaps Robinson can save his career and make a living at right tackle the way the Lions moved Riley Reiff over last season. The switch will help hide his flaws, but it probably won’t be a perfect fix.
Nelson Agholor, WR, Eagles
Agholor was expected to be the Eagles’ next great receiver, going 20th overall in 2015. Since then, he’s struggled with not only drops, but overall production. In 28 career games, he has just 59 catches for 648 yards and three touchdowns – numbers that would be disappointing for a single season, never mind two years.
The third-year receiver has had very little to be excited about thus far, and it’s hard to see his production improving any time soon. The Eagles added Alshon Jeffery and Torrey Smith in free agency, who are certain to receive more playing time than Agholor. Jordan Matthews is also in the mix, proving to be a more reliable target than Agholor, too.
If he doesn’t turn it around relatively soon – and I mean by the midway mark of this season – the term “bust” is going to be attached to his name for a while. It’s hard to see Agholor making a big jump in Year 3.
Sammy Watkins, WR, Bills
Watkins is a tremendous talent at wide receiver. He has the speed, leaping ability and athleticism to win consistently as a No. 1 wideout, but injuries have limited him to just 37 games in three seasons. In those 37 games, he’s had mixed results.
His career stat line sits at 153 catches for 2,459 yards and 17 touchdowns. By comparison, Odell Beckham Jr. has 288 catches, 4,122 yards and 35 touchdowns in 42 career starts. Granted, Beckham is off to the best start in NFL history for a receiver, but it shows how different their careers have been despite Watkins going eight spots earlier.
Watkins is trending toward becoming a bust because he’s missed so much time, and when he has been on the field, he’s struggled a bit – particularly this past season. It’s unfair to call a player a bust simply based on injuries, which is why Watkins has avoided that label up to this point, but another injury-plagued season – or one with fewer than 1,000 yards – and Watkins will be in the conversation after going fourth overall in 2014.
Blake Bortles, QB, Jaguars
Bortles has had an up-and-down start to his NFL career, but there have been far more low points than high ones. After throwing 35 touchdowns and 18 interceptions in 2015, Bortles regressed this past season, struggling in just about every department. He’s completed just 58.8 percent of his passes in three seasons with 69 touchdowns and 51 interceptions, averaging a measly 6.6 yards per attempts – including an awful 6.2 this past season.
Some would already consider Bortles a bust after three rough years, but there’s still time. He’s just 25 years old and was the third overall pick in 2014, so the potential is there. There are just massive adjustments and improvements that need to be made. Even he admits he needs to cut down on “stupid” mistakes and turnovers, which have plagued his career.
If he struggles in the first half of the upcoming season, he could wind up on the bench. In that case, he’d be deserving of the “bust” label, and might never earn another job as a starting quarterback. Fortunately, his position garners a longer leash than most in the NFL, but Bortles’ arrow is pointing down as of now.