Unlike any other sport, any draft pick made by a football franchise is made with the expectation they can help now. There are some exceptions to the rule in the way of quarterbacks that will learn an offense behind a veteran, but almost every other position’s rookies are drafted in attempt to better that part of the team immediately.
Due to the expectation that comes with being drafted, teams usually know what they have in the first couple years, if not first couple games of that player’s career. Some of our future “stars” entered the league with a great deal of hype and were able to live up to and break through the expectations they drew from their stellar college careers. Others were players giving a chance to prove their worth outside the 1st round and as far as a late round draft pick. 5th-round NFL Draft pick Jordan Howard was able to give the Bears 1,313 rushing yards in his rookie year.
On the flip side are always the busts. As far as this criteria goes, we will not move out of the 1st round. The 1st-rounders are without a doubt supposed to contribute right off the bat for the franchise that used such a coveted pick for their services. Some of these picks are on their last leg to prove their worth, and some are even unemployed as the 2017 season rolls around.
20. Bust – Kevin White
Entering the 2015 NFL Draft, the top two wide receivers were Amari Cooper (who will land on the flip side of this list) and Kevin White. Kevin White put together a 109 catch season at West Virginia that resulted in 1,447 yards and 10 touchdowns. Cooper would go first of the two at number 4 overall, but White wasn’t long after being picked number 7 overall by the Chicago Bears.
His rookie season would result in zero games played due to injury. He would then go on to play the first four games of his second season. White accumulated 19 receptions for 187 yards and zero touchdowns. The Bears are officially rebuilding entering 2017, and if White can’t find production in an offense short of weapons, then the bust title may come true.
19. Star – Jameis Winston
Jameis Winston faced some bizarre character issues during his college career at Florida State and into his time with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Whether he has overcome them or not, Winston has shown that he is a legit NFL quarterback.
Winston put together a college career which consisted of a BCS National Championship, a Heisman Trophy and AP College Player of the Year. In his second season as a starter, he only managed to lead the Seminoles to a 13-0 record and a trip to the College Football Playoff. Winston took over the starting role as soon as being drafted by the Bucs in 2015. The young quarterback has already been to a Pro Bowl, has thrown for over 4,000 yards in both seasons under center, and seems poised to take the Buccaneers back to the playoffs.
18. Bust – Nelson Agholor
Once again, the rumor around Eagles camp is that Nelson Agholor is looking good and will compete for the starting role, this time inside at the slot position(s). As an Eagle fan, we have been here before. Agholor has even put together preseason games that have given us hope. With Alshon Jeffrey and Torrey Smith now commanding the outsides, the time Agholor will fight for will be with Zach Ertz and Trey Burton on the inside.
In two seasons in which he was given almost every chance to make an impact, Agholor has accumulated just 59 receptions, 648 yards and 3 touchdowns. It would be nice to see him succeed because that means the wide receiver position improves even more, but it doesn’t seem likely.
17. Star – Amari Cooper
We mentioned Cooper before. Until recently there weren’t too many things associated with the Raiders making the smart move. In the case of Kevin White vs Amari Cooper, Oakland nailed it. At Alabama, Cooper was a National Champion, Biletnikoff Award winner, and an All-American. He put together a final college season in which he brought in 1,727 receiving yards to go along with 16 touchdowns. He would go number 4 overall to the Oakland Raiders and would prove his worth right away.
Cooper has been to Pro Bowls in each of his two seasons in the league, and has broke the 1,000 receiving yard barrier in back-to-back years. Furthermore, Cooper helped the Raiders back to the playoffs for the first time in 13 seasons.
16. Bust – Breshad Perriman
Breshad Perriman entered the 2015 NFL Draft with sub-4.3 speed and a knack for big plays at Central Florida. The Ravens used the 26th pick of the 1st round in hopes of having a new number 1 wide receiver when Steve Smith Sr. did decide to retire. Until then, the Ravens hoped to sport a playmaking duo at the wide out position. So far, we have not been able to see enough of Perriman to get excited.
Perriman did not see the field in his rookie year. After battling injury, he was placed on season ending injury reserve in November 2015. He was able to remain healthy for the 2016 season, but finished the year with one start, 499 yards, 33 receptions and 3 touchdowns. The Ravens hope Perriman improves those numbers in 2017.
15. Star – Vic Beasley
Our list may be overflowing with offensive skill players, so we also wanted to pay tribute to one of the better young defensive players in the NFL today. When you think of the NFC Champion Atlanta Falcons, you think high octane offense. The defense is an afterthought and after the Super Bowl, maybe some say a liability. None of this, however, is Vic Beasley’s fault. Beasley was able to singlehandedly keep the Falcons defense afloat. Despite their ranking of 27th out of 32 in points against, Beasley made a Pro Bowl, led the league in sacks, and made First Team All Pro in just his second season in the NFL.
14. Bust – Sammy Watkins
The once coveted big time play maker, Sammy Watkins has been traded to the Los Angeles Rams in exchange for former 6th-round pick EJ Gaines. Watkins was drafted 4th overall in the 2014 NFL Draft. It looked like the hype was real as he hauled in 65 receptions for 982 yards and 6 touchdowns in his rookie season. In year two, the injury bug began to show its face, but Watkins still put together a stellar second year with his first and thus far only 1,000-receiving yard season. It was in his third year that stability really became an issue. Watkins saw just 8 games of action that included 28 receptions and 430 yards. The Bills decided their Sammy Watkins experiment was over, as they made the trade in the 2017 offseason.
13. Star – Landon Collins
This year the New York Giants took the offense to the next level with the addition of Brandon Marshall. But in previous years, it was the Giants defense that was being revamped. A key to the success of that revamping was the selection of Landon Collins with the 33rd overall pick in the 2015 NFL Draft.
The Giants got themselves an All-American and National Champion in Collins. He has entered the league and proved he can perform at the next level as well. In 2015, he provided one interception and 80 tackles. In year 2, Collins became an All-Pro and Pro Bowler. He gave the Giants 5 interceptions, including one for a touchdown, one fumble recovery, and 100 tackles.
12. Bust – Laquon Treadwell
Entering the 2016 NFL Draft, Laquon Treadwell was regarded as one of the top two wide receivers. He was coming off a junior season in which he went for 1,153 receiving yards and 11 touchdowns. It seemed like a nice addition for the Minnesota Vikings who selected him 23rd-overall. The Ole Miss standout would go on to have a nightmare of a rookie season. Treadwell only managed to get on the field for 80 snaps as a rookie. In those 80 snaps, the wideout snagged one catch for 15 yards.
11. Star – Dak Prescott
The quarterback position is one that NFL teams are always looking to fill with the next franchise player. It is one of the bigger crapshoots in sports. Especially when it comes in the form of a 4th-round pick.
Dak Prescott entered the NFL world as Tony Romo’s backup. There was always hope he could take over one day, but that day came quicker than anyone had thought. In fact, Dak only moved up to 2nd on the depth chart due to an injury to Kellen Moore, and a failed trade for Josh McCown. Romo would end up going down, and the position was Prescott’s. He responded with a 67.8 completion percentage, 3667 passing yards, 23 passing TDs, 6 rushing TDs, and just 4 interceptions en route to a 13-3 Cowboys record.
10. Bust – Blake Bortles
2016 was supposed to be Blake Bortles’ coming out party. Now it looks like 2017 may be his do or die season. The Jaguars haven’t had a true franchise quarterback since Mark Brunell, and the position has been even more unstable since the David Garrard days. It looks lie Bortles may be veering more towards the Blaine Gabbert/Byron Leftwich territory rather than Mark Brunell, or even Garrard.
The Jaguars used the 3rd-overall pick in the 2014 NFL Draft on Bortles. Critics wrote his 11 touchdown and 17 interception rookie season as a product of a rookie quarterback playing on a terrible team. After throwing for 35 touchdowns his second season, interceptions still continued to rack up. Year 3 resulted in just 23 touchdowns and 16 interceptions. Neither the Jags nor Bortles have been improving.
9. Star – Tyreek Hill
Tyreek Hill took was able to dominate games with his special teams expertise. He then found himself as the focal point of Andy Reid’s offense. Despite becoming part of the offense late, Hill contributed 61 receptions for 593 yards and 6 touchdowns through the air. He added 3 touchdowns and 267 yards on the ground. This does not even include his 3 special teams touchdowns.
Hill headed to his first Pro Bowl as a 2016 rookie. The 5th-round pick will figure to play an even bigger role in 2017. Andy Reid has expressed the need for Hill to expand his role in the Kansas City Chief offense.
8. Bust – Johnny Manziel
Guess this one was a little obvious. Johnny Manziel is the only member of our list that is out of football, and has been out of football since 2015. The controversy was there since college, but Manziel still showed the ability to be one of the greatest college football players of all time. That is not even over-selling. After redshirting through 2011, Manziel would take home the 2012 Heisman Trophy. He would finish top 5 in 2013, and in 2014 the Cleveland Browns used their 1st round pick on the dual-threat quarterback.
Manziel would sit behind Brian Hoyer until Week 15 of his rookie season. His first start would result in a 30-0 loss while Manziel went 10-18 with 2 interceptions and 3 sacks. In 2015, Manziel would get his first win in a Week 2 victory as he filled in for Josh McCown. After McCown’s play floundered, Manziel would be named starter. That is until videos surfaced of him partying in Texas during his bye week. Those themed videos are still surfacing.
7. Star – Jay Ajayi
This 5th-round pick out of Boise State played sparingly his rookie season. Jay Ajayi carried the ball just 49 times, before being named the starting running back heading into his second year. Unfortunately for Ajayi, the Dolphins would sign and give Arian Foster the starting job, causing Ajayi to get disgruntled and ultimately leave home for their season opener. As we know, the Arian Foster experiment did not work and Ajayi exploded for a superb second season in the NFL. He would rush for 200+ yards in consecutive games, making him just the fourth player in history to accomplish the feat. The Dolphins would go on to make the playoffs for the first time since 2008, and Ajayi would head to the Pro Bowl after accumulating 1,272 rushing yards.
6. Bust – Ereck Flowers
Teams continually use top picks on offensive lineman. Offensive tackles can be the cornerstones of a successful NFL franchises. Ereck Flowers was selected with the 9th-overall pick of the 2015 NFL Draft. The All ACC performer from Miami is entering his 3rd season on the New York Giants’ offensive line. Flowers at left tackle is described as a huge gamble. It is also said that this is a make or break year for both Flowers’ career and the Giants, as they went out and spent on veteran help in efforts to make another Super Bowl run. At 36, Eli Manning is nearing the end of his career and he has a huge question mark protecting his back side.
5. Star – David Johnson
Unlike other positions, teams are able to find serviceable running backs all throughout the NFL Draft. Perhaps the top running back in the game today, David Johnson was selected with a 3rd-round pick. The Arizona Cardinals landed Johnson after a four-year career at Northern Iowa. There, he accumulated 4,682 rushing yards, but still, he entered the 2015 season as the 4th-string running back in Arizona. By December he was rushing the ball 29 times for 187 yards and 3 touchdowns vs the Philadelphia Eagles.
Johnson entered 2016 with great expectations and he was able to fulfill them. Johnson went for 1,239 rushing yards, 879 receiving yards and 20 total touchdowns. It will be interesting to see how high Johnson’s ceiling will go.
4. Bust – Marcus Smith
Marcus Smith was a widely scrutinized 1st-round pick for the Philadelphia Eagles. The team used the 26th overall pick on Smith despite his 2nd-4th round projection. But even a 4th round pick wouldn’t have been worth Smith’s services. His career thus far has resulted in zero games started, 37 out of a possible 48 appearances, 4 sacks, 12 tackles and 6 assists.
The 2014 draft pick was released during the 2017 offseason. And two days later, he would be picked up by the Seattle Seahawks. The Seahawks are notorious for getting the best out of their defensive players, but if they manage to get Marcus Smith out of bust territory, it would still be a surprise.
3. Star – Carson Wentz
The debate heading in to the 2016 NFL Draft was which quarterback would go first between Jared Goff and Carson Wentz. The answer would end up being the former. He would head to the Los Angeles Rams (we’ll get an update on him in the last 2 spots). The Eagles would complete a process of trades in moving up to number 2 overall to land their quarterback, Carson Wentz. After a rookie season that included a 3-0 start and some downs there after, Wentz appears to be the real deal behind center. The Eagles have had an array of quarterbacks since Donovan McNabb’s departure and the North Dakota native should prove to provide a stability the franchise has lacked. His 16 touchdowns to 14 interceptions isn’t eye-popping, but it appears he possesses all the tools and some to be a successful NFL player.
2. Bust – Jared Goff
We discussed the 2nd-overall pick in the 2016 NFL Draft, now here is the number 1 overall pick. The Rams acquired the pick from the Tennessee Titan in exchange for the 2016 15th-overall pick, two 2016 2nd-rounders, a 2016 3rd-rounder, and a 1st and 3rd pick in 2017. The newly-relocated Rams were looking to add their franchise quarterback for their new start in Los Angeles, but Goff would wait behind Case Keenum for the first 9 games of 2016. In all Goff would end up starting only 7 games. In those games the Rams went 0-7 and Goff threw 7 interceptions compared to just 5 touchdowns.
1. Star – Ezekiel Elliott
There is not much that can stop Ezekiel Elliott from being a great NFL running back. Unfortunately he has run into some off field situations that have resulted in a 6-game suspension to start his second NFL season.
Strictly on the field, Elliott is one of the top running backs in the game today despite playing just one season thus far. Elliott entered the 2016 NFL Draft on the heels of back-to-back 1,800-plus rushing yard seasons at Ohio State. The Cowboys would select him 4th-overall. From there he and Dak Prescott would transform the Cowboys into a new generation. The team would go 13-3 and Elliott would earn a Pro Bowl nod in his rookie season. His 1,631 rushing yards was top in the NFL, and the rookie was named first Team All-Pro.
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