Pundits and executives will often claim that a bad draft pick, especially at a spot like quarterback, can set you back five years. Others will claim you really can’t examine a draft class until at least five years later.
Today, as the NFL has finally returned and we’re now getting to see this year’s rookie class in action, let’s think back to the 2012 NFL Draft. At first, the Draft was about “Suck for Luck” before becoming focused around Heisman Trophy winner Robert Griffin III; and, if you looked closely, you’d see enough hype about Trent Richardson, Justin Blackmon, and Quinton Coples in there as well.
You notice something about most of those names? They were busts! Let’s take a look back at a draft that produced some stars, but also some of the more memorable busts in recent history.
Believe it or not, there are some basic ground rules here, The first one should be pretty obvious – if you’re a bust, you had to have either gone in the first two rounds. I don’t understand the argument for saying a fourth-rounder was a bust on a list like this; a bad draft pick, sure, but a bust?
On the other side of the spectrum, a “star” on this list can’t have come from the first two rounds so guys like Bobby Wagner, Lavonte David, Andrew Luck, and others are ineligible. But Alfred Morris, Kirk Cousins, and even undrafted players like Johnny Hekker would be eligible.
15. Bust: Quinton Coples – New York Jets (16th overall)
In Coples’ defense, he really wasn’t as much of a bust as other players on this list and actually produced 4.5 sacks or more in each of his first three seasons with the New York Jets, but given the ex-North Carolina Tar Heel was drafted to a Rex Ryan scheme when his defenses were still elite…how did things go wrong with Coples?
Many pegged the current free agent to be a bust prior to the 2012 NFL Draft, but there were times where it appeared as if Coples was going to be “the guy” for the Jets alongside Muhammad Wilkerson. But, maybe the draft experts were right…
“To me, the bust potential is high, and the earlier you take him the more risk there is inherent in that,” Mike Mayock said before the draft. “So, for me, Quinton Coples is not even a draftable player.”
14. Star: Justin Tucker – Baltimore Ravens (Undrafted)
Is putting an undrafted kicker on this list cheating? Well, given Tucker is quickly becoming one of the greatest kickers in NFL history – and that’s despite major changes to what was always seen as an easy way to get points – and he’s made two All-Pro teams since 2012, we’ll give him the benefit of the doubt just off how efficient he’s been.
Even in Tucker’s worst season from a field goal percentage rate, the Texas alum only made 82.5 percent of his kicks because he missed six of his 10 attempts from 50 yards or more. In 2016? Tucker was perfect in ten attempts from that range. Not bad! If Baltimore is headed for yet another postseason-less season in 2017, at least Tucker is around to impress with his leg.
13. Bust: Robert Griffin III – Washington Redskins (2nd overall)
Many of you will complain I put Robert Griffin III so low on this list – or, some of you may wonder why he’s even on this list at all – but I’ll say here what I’ve said multiple times: Robert Griffin III is a bust only because the Washington Redskins allowed him to be. Had Griffin not bullied the Redskins into letting him play Week 1 in 2013 not even eight full months after a torn ACL, there’s a chance the former Heisman Trophy winner could have returned confident and not as shy in the pocket as he was in real life.
But again, there’s so many what-ifs that go into the Robert Griffin III-Washington Redskins situation that we could make an entire article on them. But for now, Griffin makes the list and we wonder when he’s going to get another quarterback job.
12. Star: Alfred Morris – Washington Redskins (173rd overall)
I feel like every recent NFL article I’ve done has included Alfred Morris in some form or another, but including him here has nothing to do with my FAU bias, I promise! In fact, Morris’ first two or three seasons, which all resulted in Pro Bowl berths and him leading the NFL in rushing as a rookie, may have been enough to land him on this list had we done this in 2014 or 2015. That’s what happens when you fight, fight, fight for FAU where home is a paradise…
With Ezekiel Elliott’s status unclear for the next few months (as we write this, Elliott’s suspension has been upheld but further decisions can still be made), Morris may be able to show off some of his previous form with the Dallas Cowboys this year. I’m sure Cowboys fans would be thrilled if Morris can lead the way, especially with the Redskins potentially contending for a playoff spot as well…
11. Bust: Brandon Weeden – Cleveland Browns (22nd overall)
Over five years since the 2012 NFL Draft, I can’t be the only one still asking why the Cleveland Browns would use a first-round pick on a 27-year-old quarterback. What was the point? I understand Colt McCoy likely wasn’t going to be a two-or-three-year answer and the top quarterbacks were already off the board, but why not take a chance on someone like Russell Wilson or Kirk Cousins later? Was a 27-year-old really going to help the Browns and become their franchise quarterback?
For that, I don’t blame Weeden – if he was going to be drafted that highly, it should have been as a late second-round, early third-round pick – but I do blame the Browns for taking an unnecessary risk. Somehow, this isn’t even the Browns’ biggest mistake on this list…
10. Star: T.Y. Hilton – Indianapolis Colts (92nd overall)
While Ryan Grigson was abysmal in his final years as the Indianapolis Colts’ general manager, we will admit he did a fine job at addressing positions of need in the 2012 NFL Draft beyond selecting Andrew Luck with the top pick. Coby Fleener may not quite have been the tight end he was in college, but the Colts were still able to find a solid weapon in three-time Pro Bowler T.Y. Hilton with the 92nd overall pick.
Initially drafted to be another weapon alongside Reggie Wayne and a possible heir if things worked out, Hilton has become one of the league’s better slot receivers and should be an important factor in the Colts’ 2017 season, especially with Luck out indefinitely. Is Hilton the NFL’s most underrated receiver right now? Ask enough people and you may find the consensus answer to be yes.
9. Bust: A.J. Jenkins – San Francisco 49ers (30th overall)
I’ve never understood this pick, in part because recent years had shown the San Francisco 49ers’ offense were going to be built on running back Frank Gore as much as possible and hitting Michael Crabtree and Vernon Davis on shorter routes. You could argue adding a playmaker like Jenkins would fix that, but would it actually have? Then again, this entire draft was a bust for the 49ers as by the time Chip Kelly took over following the 2015 season, no players – and especially not Jenkins, traded to Kansas City after one season – remained from the 2012 class.
“People point to 2012. That was a bad draft,” former 49ers general manager Trent Baalke said in 2016. “I’ve got no one to blame but myself for that because I was making the decisions, had the final say on who we drafted.”
8. Star: Vontaze Burfict – Cincinnati Bengals (Undrafted)
If not for the guideline we put about no first or second-rounders being included as “stars” on this list, either Seattle’s Bobby Wagner or Tampa Bay’s Lavonte David would have made it here (the other would probably have replaced Tucker, but we digress), but the undrafted-Burfict is the option here. Say what you want about Burfict’s penchant for late hits and character issues, but denying the impact he’s had on what was previously a ‘meh’ Cincinnati Bengals defense can’t be brushed off.
When Burfict is healthy and eligible to play,, you can see with the eye test alone how valuable he is to the Bengals, something they deserve credit for after taking a risk on him following the 2012 NFL Draft. Not at all a bad signing, especially when Burfict was named an All-Pro in his second season.
7. Bust: Mark Barron – Tampa Bay Buccaneers (7th overall)
Is Mark Barron a bust? Three years ago, this would have been an easy answer, but things have certainly been on the upward front for the former Alabama safety after a 2014 trade to the-then St. Louis Rams. Now playing as a hybrid linebacker/safety for the Rams, Barron’s improvements since the trade still aren’t enough to save him from being a bust.
Tampa Bay used the seventh overall pick on him in 2012 expecting him to be a franchise cornerstone at safety the way Ronde Barber was at cornerback, yet they dealt him after only 37 games and his stats really are what they are because Los Angeles’ secondary isn’t exactly the best. You hate to see someone that exemplified the Alabama way like Barron struggle and be called a bust, but that’s how the cookie crumbles.
6. Star: Kirk Cousins – Washington Redskins (102nd overall)
We’ve now hit the part of the list where you should have a very good idea of who will make the top busts and who will be among the top starts, with Washington Redskins quarterback Kirk Cousins among the latter group. In a way, Cousins is one of the few stars on this list to where there actually was some hope for him entering the league; at one end of the spectrum, Cousins would supplant Robert Griffin III if the former Heisman winner battled injuries or was a bust, while a strong RGIII -or even solid performances for an injured Griffin – could lead to Cousins being dealt a la Matt Cassel.
5. Bust: Shea McClellin – Chicago Bears (19th overall)
So if you figured Cousins would be among this list’s stars, you had to have expected to see Shea McClellin among the busts, no? This may be easy to forget because of how bad the Chicago Bears have been in recent years, but there once was a time when the team’s defense was not only solid, but fielded some great homegrown talent. Drafted with the 19th overall pick in 2012, McClellin figured to continue a trend which had been in place for nearly a hundred years!
Well, at least McClellin won a Super Bowl last year with the New England Patriots because his time in Chicago was less than stellar. Beginning his career as a defensive end, McClellin switched to linebacker when Marc Trestman took over in 2013 and joined the Pats following four middling years in Chicago. And no, this pick is not justification for Lovie Smith’s firing following the 2012 season.
4. Star: Josh Norman – Carolina Panthers (143rd overall)
Why wasn’t Josh Norman drafted higher? Actually, I’ll let ESPN’s David Newton take things from here:
“Why wasn’t Norman drafted higher? In part because he was considered an unfinished product that hadn’t played big-time college football. That his official 40-yard dash time entering the draft was relatively slow, at 4.66 seconds, didn’t help. But the Panthers saw a big cornerback (6-foot, 183 pounds) who could play in zone or man coverage.”
Since 2012, Norman has provided fans with shutdown dominance at the cornerback position, admittedly entertaining fights with Odell Beckham Jr. that some hope ends with them getting together, and questioning the NFL’s franchise tag policy by forcing the Panthers to revoke it last year. To think that 12 cornerbacks went before Norman is insane in hindsight, but Marty Hurney knew what he was doing in the late rounds.
3. Bust: Trent Richardson, RB, Cleveland Browns (3rd overall)
Rarely will people argue that the Cleveland Browns made a right call on a draft pick that wound up being a bust, but choosing Trent Richardson with the third overall pick in 2012 made sense. True, they may have gone too high on a running back – I’ve always been in the “don’t take running backs higher than tenth overall unless they’re generational talents” party and I didn’t think Richardson was quite generational – but he was an All-American at Alabama and would give the Browns an instant impact on offense.
But somewhere along the way, things went wrong and Richardson was traded to Indianapolis the following season. Again, you can’t blame the Browns because Richardson, struggling with weight and ball control, was out of the league by 2016 but still…how did this go so poorly? More important, how is there someone higher than Richardson on this list?
2. Star: Russell Wilson – Seattle Seahawks (75th overall)
Was there anyone else who would have even been remotely eligible for this spot? Maybe there’s an argument for Cousins given the situation he walked into as Robert Griffin III’s backup, but to pass on Russell Wilson? Overcoming criticism about his height, his demeanor, Matt Flynn signing a big contract with the Seahawks a month before they drafted the Wisconsin quarterback, and even the Super Bowl interception that cost them their second straight Lombardi Trophy in early 2015, Wilson is quickly paving the way for a Hall of Fame plaque and with good reason.
Take this from someone who wasn’t willing to accept Wilson was a star until the 2015 season: doubting Russell Wilson may have been one of the bigger mistakes we’ve made in recent years. How’s that for going two picks after a punter?
1. Bust: Justin Blackmon – Jacksonville Jaguars (5th overall)
In a way, you hate to see Justin Blackmon at the top slot here because it wasn’t injuries or clashes with coaches that made him a bust, but substance abuse issues; and, if we think about it, Blackmon’s rookie season numbers of 64 catches for 865 yards and five touchdowns from Chad Henne aren’t bad at all. However, Blackmon playing his final game in October 2013 and essentially vanishing from the NFL since – he did turn up at an Oklahoma State football camp this summer – put him as the biggest bust from this class.
If you want to make the argument he shouldn’t be eligible because of his off-the-field issues, you could remove him, push everyone up, and add Jets second-rounder Stephen Hill, but I don’t know how Blackmon doesn’t take the top slot.
Am I being too hard on Blackmon? Who do you think was the biggest bust? Which “star” surprised you the most? Make sure to let us know in the comment section below!
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