Give a sports executive full autonomy and he’ll make at least one or two brutal decisions, even if the majority of his trades or draft picks are slam dunks, touchdowns, home runs, or … slapshots? Basketball, hockey, and baseball executives might be the most prone to making mistakes given their respective leagues seem to have more trade activity – the Major League Baseball Draft, meanwhile, has 40 rounds in which General Managers can screw up.
However, that doesn’t mean National Football League (NFL) General Managers are exempt from making poor transactions; in fact, given they make so few trades, especially during the season, the real bad ones are amplified. Likewise, each team only gets seven draft picks every year to help fill out a 50-team roster, so those picks are incredibly important. It’s one thing to mess up on a late-round pick, but to do so on a first-round pick can severely impact a franchise’s progress. In recent years alone, there has been far too many wasted draft picks and brutal trades – and no, we’re not including over-hyped travesties such as Johnny Manziel, because, well, it just wouldn’t be fair to other teams. We’ll limit our Cleveland Browns mentions as that franchise’ fanbase has suffered enough.
20. Draft Pick: John Ross
The Cincinnati Bengals drafted wide receiver John Ross in the first round of the 2017 NFL Draft to help its struggling passing game and develop a potential successor to A.J. Green. It was expected that the ninth overall pick could come in and dominate as a rookie, especially considering he posted the fastest ever 40-yard dash time (4.22) at the NFL Draft Combine, breaking the 4.24 record previously set by Chris Johnson.
However, Ross has played in only one game through five weeks with the Bengals and has just one catch for 12 yards. Beyond the chance of injuries stunting his growth, he’s only 5-foot-11, which might limit his ceiling in the NFL. It’s early in his career, but he might just be another Tavon Austin.
19. Trade: Bears Deal Martellus Bennett for Draft Pick
The Chicago Bears don’t exactly have a reputation for making quality player personnel decisions; after all, this is the team that employed Jay Cutler for the better part of a decade. Despite his relative ineptitude under center, Cutler had some decent weapons on offense with the Bears, two of which we’ll get to in this list. The first is Martellus Bennett, a tight end who has amassed 30 touchdowns and 4,481 receiving yards through 10 NFL seasons.
Bennett was most productive with the Bears, scoring 14 touchdowns in three seasons. However, the team opted to trade him along with a sixth-round pick to the New England Patriots for a fourth-round pick following the 2015 season. Bennett recorded a career-high seven touchdowns with the Patriots, providing relief behind Rob Gronkowski and proving he was still in his prime.
18. Draft Pick: Jaylon Smith
The Dallas Cowboys have made headlines in the last few years for its tone-deaf moves such as employing Greg Hardy despite the mounting evidence that he didn’t belong in the NFL; yet, the team has, for the most part, done a great job assembling and stockpiling talent through the draft. The one exception might be 2016 second-round pick Jaylon Smith, an outside linebacker who previously played for Notre Dame.
Although he’s the team’s leading tackler through five games this season, there’s reason to expect it won’t last. Smith missed his entire rookie season with an injury and has admitted himself that he needs to improve in a lot of areas. He’s not exactly known for getting to the quarterback and had only 4.5 sacks through three years in college. Myles Jack, taken two picks later, might have been the smarter pick at linebacker, or the Cowboys could have added tight end Hunter Henry as a replacement for Jason Witten, much like the Chargers did for Antonio Gates.
17. Trade: Eagles Lose LeSean McCoy
It’s hard to look back on any moves the Eagles made in recent years with regret as the team appears to be taking flight under the leadership of Carson Wentz, who has quickly proven himself capable of being an elite quarterback in the NFL. Their run game has been decent this year with LaGarrette Blount and Wendell Smallwood, but can you imagine how dangerous they would be with LeSean McCoy still dodging would-be tacklers and breaking ankles from the backfield?
Shady is still one of the most explosive running backs in the league, yet for some reason, in 2015, the Eagles (*cough* Chip Kelly *cough*) decided to trade McCoy to the Buffalo Bills for injury-prone linebacker Kiko Alonso, who only played 11 games in Philadelphia and was a disaster.
16. Draft Pick: C.J. Beathard
A bad draft pick is one who might not live up to expectations set by his draft position, but still has a decent career all things considered. What’s even worse is when you haven’t heard of the player, unless you’re a fan of that team. That’s where C.J. Beathard falls. A third-round pick of the San Francisco 49ers in the 2017 NFL Draft, there’s still obviously plenty of time for the quarterback to make a name for himself, but it was a curious selection to say the least.
It’s obvious the 49ers are tanking once again this season, so it somewhat makes sense they would opt to start veteran Brian Hoyer instead of an unproven rookie. Yet, if you can’t beat out Hoyer that says a lot about your ability. That’s even ignoring the fact he only completed 56.5 percent of his passes with Iowa last season and only threw for 17 touchdowns compared to 10 interceptions.
15. Trade: Eagles Lose DeMarco Murray
Again, the Eagles are seemingly in a good place right now, so it’s hard to really invest a lot of hatred toward their recent missteps, but the way they have handled the running back position is a little curious, to say the least. After dealing LeSean McCoy to the Buffalo Bills, the team found its replacement in DeMarco Murray, who had just posted a career-best season with the Dallas Cowboys.
Murray went from 1,845 rushing yards in 2014 to 702 the following year in his first and only season with the Eagles. His yards-per-attempt dropped from 4.7 to 3.6, suggesting his career might be fading quickly. However, he rebounded following a trade to Tennessee by posting 1,287 rushing yards and nine touchdowns. What did the Eagles receive? A swap of fourth-round picks that saw them jump up 13 spots.
14. Draft Pick: Phillip Dorsett
Even with all its injuries at the wide receiver position, the New England Patriots have been unable to get much out of Phillip Dorsett, so that should tell you all you need to know about his talent and value within the NFL. A former member of the University of Miami, Dorsett was drafted with the 29th overall selection in the 2015 NFL Draft by the Indianapolis Colts and was thought to be a complement to T.Y. Hilton in what should have been a dominant Colts’ passing attack with Andrew Luck under center.
Instead, Luck has been injured quite frequently, and Dorsett has been unable to hold on to the ball. In his two seasons with the Colts, he was targeted 99 times, but only made 51 catches, three of which were for touchdowns. He showed improvement in his second season, but apparently not enough.
13. Trade: Browns Pass On Carson Wentz
We said we’d take it easy on the Browns, but we’ve already highlighted enough poor decisions made by the Philadelphia Eagles that we feel we owe that franchise a bit of credit. The Browns, meanwhile, have made some truly awful decisions at the top of the draft in recent years, but none will sting more than passing on Carson Wentz, who now looks like he could have become the franchise quarterback the team has been looking for since, well, ever.
Browns’ Chief Strategy Officer Paul DePodesta said this about Wentz after the team traded down from the second overall pick with the Eagles: “Even though you have a desperate need for [a quarterback], you have to resist the temptation of taking that guy just because you have a need if you don’t believe he’s one of those 20 guys at the end of the day.” Through Week 5 of the 2017 NFL season, Cleveland has a 1-20 record since passing on Wentz.
12. Draft Pick: Robert Nkemdiche
Robert Nkemdiche was an impressive defensive tackle in college; through three years at Ole Miss, the Atlanta, Georgia native recorded 81 tackles, 16 of which were for a loss, and six quarterback sacks. It’s worth noting, however, that he missed a handful of games in all three seasons due to injury, especially considering he has been in and out of the lineup in 2017 due to injury and struggled to even see the field in 2016, his rookie season, despite being a first-round pick.
Nkemdiche was taken with the 29th pick by the Arizona Cardinals. He had just three tackles in his rookie season in limited action and was called out by his head coach Bruce Arians for a lack of maturity. It hasn’t gone any better this season for the Ole Miss alumnus. Arizona would have loved to selected either Vernon Butler or Emmanuel Ogbah, who went one and three picks after Nkemdiche respectively.
11. Trade: Saints Give Up On Brandin Cooks
This is a trade that we’re still having trouble wrapping our heads around five weeks into the NFL season. The rich got richer in this transaction as the New England Patriots added standout wide receiver Brandin Cooks and a third-round pick from the New Orleans Saints in exchange for a first-round pick and a fourth-round pick.
Sure, the Saints were impressed by wide receiver Micheal Thomas and had relative depth at the position, but why not keep together what could have been a star-studded receiving core for Drew Brees? Cooks has fit in quite well with New England and has a career-best 21.1 yards-per-reception average through five games. Meanwhile, the Saints used the first-round pick to shore up its offensive line with the selection of Wisconsin alumnus Ryan Ramczyk.
10. Draft Pick: Paxton Lynch
Paxton Lynch was thought to be the future franchise quarterback in Denver, relieving a tired and old Peyton Manning. Instead, a rookie nobody had heard of – Trevor Siemian – came out of nowhere to win the starting job at the beginning of the 2016 season. Many expected he would hold the fort, while allowing Lynch time to develop and learn, but here we are five weeks into the season and Siemian is still starting, while Lynch sits on the sidelines.
The 26th overall pick in the 2016 NFL Draft played in three games last season and completed 59 percent of his passes for a total of 497 yards, two touchdowns, and one interception. He was sacked nine times and had a less-than-impressive 79.2 quarterback rating. He’s getting close to career backup status.
9. Trade: Bills Give Up On Sammy Watkins
Leave it to the Buffalo Bills to give up on a player before he potentially finally reaches his expected ceiling. Buffalo invested a lot in improving its wide receiving core in 2014 when it selected Sammy Watkins with the fourth overall pick. It was a bit of a reach for the talented receiver, but he showed flashes of dominance in his first two seasons by recording over 2,000 combined passing yards and 15 touchdowns, despite missing three games due to injury.
However, injuries limited his performance in 2016 and, rather than anticipating a bounce-back season, Buffalo made an out-of-the-blue trade by dealing Watkins to the Los Angeles Rams for cornerback E.J. Gaines. While Gaines has actually been quite good for the Bills through four games, it wasn’t the team’s defense that needed upgrading.
8. Draft Pick: Christian Hackenberg
It’s hard to hit on a quarterback outside of the first round, but it’s even harder if you don’t give him an opportunity, especially considering you haven’t had a capable quarterback in a decade. The New York Jets drafted Christian Hackenberg in the second round of the 2016 NFL Draft with the thought that he might even start for the team as a rookie that season; however, the Penn State alumnus didn’t play in a single game as a rookie and has yet to take one snap in the NFL through five weeks of the 2017 season.
Instead of handing him the keys this year as they should, the tanking Jets signed veteran Josh McCown, who, in typical Jets fashion, is having a career-best season and screwing up the tank job in the process. If Hackenberg doesn’t see the field at all this season, he will become only the third quarterback taken in the first two rounds of the draft to not play a single snap in his first two seasons.
7. Trade: Seattle Trades Three Picks for Percy Harvin
Percy Harvin was thought to solidify an already-great wide receiving core in Seattle, but instead he created tension and turmoil and had an unremarkable career that ultimately led to the rapid decline of his career. A first-round pick of the Minnesota Vikings in the 2009 NFL Draft, Harvin was a consistent performer with the team for four seasons, but didn’t necessarily show any signs of improvement.
Yet, the Seahawks traded three draft picks, including a first-round selection, for the University of Florida alumnus. He missed all but one game due to injury in his first season with the team and was rarely used the following season, before being shipped out to the New York Jets. He was out of the league within two seasons to the surprise of nobody.
6. Draft Pick: Laquon Treadwell
This one stings perhaps worse than the others, as the author of this list selected Treadwell in a keeper league rookie draft with the thought that he was going to quickly become a star in the league. Others thought the same thing. The Vikings were in desperate need of a talented wide receiver and selected Treadwell with the 23rd overall pick in the 2016 NFL Draft.
Yet, despite its void at the wide receiver position, Treadwell started only one game for the Vikings in 2016 and made one catch for 15 yards. He has five catches for 42 yards through five weeks of the 2017 season, but that’s hardly anything worth being excited about, especially for a player drafted in the first round. Fortunately, the Vikings found a late-round steal in Stefon Diggs in that same draft.
5. Trade: Raiders Get Practically Nothing for Carson Palmer
In 2011, the Oakland Raiders, then a tragically-awful team, acquired former top pick Carson Palmer from the Cincinnati Bengals, where he was failing to meet expectations after seven seasons with only two playoff appearances, both of which result in one-game exits. While Palmer wasn’t a disaster in Oakland, he wasn’t that great either. However, a lot of the blame can be placed on his supporting cast, or lack thereof, as well as the team’s inept coaching and management.
Palmer lasted only two seasons in Oakland before he was essentially given away to the Arizona Cardinals for a swap of draft picks. In the four seasons that followed, Palmer posted a 35-17-1 record as a starting quarterback and won his first career playoff game in 2015. In a league where it’s so hard to find a quality quarterback, the Raiders can’t be forgiven for giving up on an established veteran while getting nothing in return.
4. Draft Pick: Greg Robinson
You may have noticed we haven’t included any offensive line players in this list, which isn’t surprising. Few fans really care about the players on the offensive line and it’s hard to really get a read on how good a player is at that position, especially for the casual fantasy-playing fan. Subsequently, it’s hard to truly label an offensive lineman as a bust, unless it’s one who was taken early in the draft.
That’s the case with offensive tackle Greg Robinson, an Auburn alumnus who was selected second overall by the Rams in 2014. In three seasons with the team, Robinson was part of a brutal line that allowed its quarterback to be sacked among the most times in the league. It’s an indictment on his play that the team dealt him to the Detroit Lions in the 2017 offseason for only a sixth-round pick. They’re lucky they even got that.
3. Trade: Bears Sour On Brandon Marshall
Brandon Marshall (the wide receiver, not the linebacker with the Denver Broncos) had some of his best seasons as the leading wide receiver with the New York Jets, so it’s a little curious that the Chicago Bears gave him up for next to nothing, especially considering their need at the position. Evaluating trades in the NFL can be really weird at times, because Marshall was still an elite, but aging, receiver. Although he only had 721 receiving yards in the season before he was dealt, he recorded seven consecutive 1,000-plus yard seasons prior.
The Bears thought his career was essentially done, which is why they traded him to the Jets for a fifth-round draft pick. Can you imagine a six-time All-Star in any other league being dealt for a fifth-round pick? Needless to say, Marshall posed 1,502 receiving yards in his first season with the Jets, the second-best mark of his career, and led the league in touchdowns with 14. Ouch.
2. Draft Pick: Blake Bortles
We spared Manziel, but it’s almost impossible to ignore the disastrous career of Blake Bortles, despite the fact he still manages to hold a full-time starting job in the league. The Jacksonville Jaguars desperately needed a quarterback, so it’s hard to fault them for reaching in 2014 on Bortles, who was highly-touted coming out of Central Florida, but it’s become quite apparent he is not a starting quarterback and would not be one on any of the other teams in the league, save for maybe the Browns – sorry.
Through 50 career starts, Bortles has a career record of 14-36 to go along with 76 touchdowns compared to 55 interceptions. In 2015, he led the league with 18 interceptions and is well on his way to posting double-digits in the category once again this season, unless the Jaguars finally decide to bench him. The funniest part about the 2014 NFL Draft is that, after Bortles and Manziel, the next two quarterbacks drafted were Teddy Bridgewater and Derek Carr.
1. Trade: Colts Trade First Rounder for Trent Richardson
Trent Richardson is now playing for the Saskatchewan Roughriders. That should tell you all you need to know about how badly this trade worked out for the Indianapolis Colts. But first, we can’t spare the Browns, who originally selected the running back with the third overall pick in the 2012 NFL Draft. Although he had a decent 1,317 yards from scrimmage in his rookie season, the underlying signs were there that he was not a lead back in the league, specifically his 3.6 yards-per-attempt average.
Despite that, the Colts, needing help at the position, gave the Browns a first-round pick just two games into the 2013 NFL season in exchange for Richardson. Somehow, he was even worse with a better offensive team, as he recorded only 977 yards on 316 carries through two seasons with the Colts for an awful 3.1 yard-per-attempt average.
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