The NFL is hard. Just ask anybody who has played in it. No matter where you are drafted or where you went to school, there is never a guarantee that you will make it as an NFL player.
And just as often as there are first round busts from the NFL drafts, there are diamonds in the rough. First and second round picks are supposed to be the cream of the crop. All the talent in the world, the college resume and the signing bonus on top of that. But seemingly just as often as these players hit, they also falter and become “busts.”
On the other hand, the NFL is filled with guys who were late round picks, undrafted or simply overlooked. Some of the greatest players of all time have been picked in the 6th or 7th round, or even not at all. Just take Tom Brady for example. A 6th round pick out of Michigan in the 2000 NFL Draft. At that point in the draft, expectations are low. Brady has now become one of, if not the best quarterback in NFL history.
This just goes to show that it goes both ways. Sometimes guys never reach their potential or live up to the expectations set for them. Other guys are late bloomers or see the doubt, and they become some of the biggest overachievers in their entire sport. This list compiles 8 players who exceeded their expectations and 7 who never reached them at all.
15 Overachiever: Tom Brady
We hardly even have to remind you of this one, but we will anyway. The GOAT, Tom Brady, wasn’t drafted until the sixth round in the 2000 NFL Draft! Now age 40, the man has accomplished everything that a single player can in his career. Many consider him the greatest quarterback of all time, and with good reason.
Brady has five Super Bowls,four4 Super Bowl MVP’s and 12 Pro Bowl selections. The list of awards goes on and on, but we don’t need to name them all off. Just know that Brady might be the GOAT. And he was drafted in the sixth round, which is just ridiculous. He could be perhaps the biggest draft day steal of all time. Think the Patriots made a good pick there or what??
14 Bust: Sammy Watkins
In a draft that featured both Odell Beckham Jr. and Mike Evans, Sammy Watkins was actually the first wide receiver taken. In his three seasons, he has shown just how good and effective he can be when he’s actually on the field. However, injuries have repeatedly held him back from making the impact that those other two wideouts have made.
In 2015 he missed games due to hip and foot injuries. In 2016 he missed eight more games due to a second foot surgery. While he clearly has the talent to be a top NFL wide receiver, he has not been able to consistently produce as one. And while he may eventually due so, thus far he has still underachieved for being a top-5 overall draft pick.
13 Overachiever: Antonio Brown
Though he is now a premier wide receiver in the NFL, things were certainly not a guarantee for Brown. The wideout is just 5’10’ and weighs under 190 pounds. Throw in the fact that he was a sixth round pick in 2010 after attending Central Michigan, far from a football powerhouse. All of these things made Brown a long shot to become one of the best players in the entire game.
Brown now has five seasons of over 1,000 yards and four with over 100 catches. He is a five-time Pro Bowler and now three time first- team all- pro. At just 29 years old, Brown still figures to have some very productive years ahead of him. All of these things make Brown one for the most overachieving players the league has ever seen.
12 Bust: Blake Bortles
Quarterback Blake Bortles was drafted third overall in 2014 to help revive a struggling Jaguar franchise. However, after three seasons, the confidence among Jaguar fans is definitely waning. Bortles had a respectable year in 2015, despite the Jaguars struggles as a team overall. But in 2016 Bortles took a turn for the worst.
Although playing injured may have had a certain negative effect, it was not the only contributing factor. Simply put, Bortles regressed in 2016 and Jaguar management recognized it. Jacksonville drafted running back Leonard Fournette in an attempt to shift the offense to being run- centered. Bortles needs a solid 2017 to avoid the bust label as a broken 3rd overall quarterback. If he doesn’t, Jacksonville’s progress will again be pushed back due to the lack of a quality signal caller.
11 Overachiever: Russell Wilson
Russell Wilson was a good player in college. He played at N.C. State for 3 years and the University of Wisconsin for one. Despite his effectiveness in collegiate ball, he was still an undersized quarterback. At just 5’11”, Wilson fell to Seattle in the third round of the 2012 NFL Draft.
But even being taken in the third came with its challenges. The Seahawks had just spent money on QB Matt Flynn, and Wilson was pretty quick to take that job his rookie season. Now Wilson has a Super Bowl ring and nearly had a second in 2014. He has three times been a Pro Bowler and should continue to be one of the best in the league at just 28 years old.
10 Bust: Michael Floyd
Michael Floyd was taken with the 13th overall pick back in 2012. Not only that, but the explosive wide receiver was drafted into a near perfect situation. The Arizona Cardinals already had Larry Fitzgerald, one of the best to ever do it and a perfect mentor for Floyd.
However, things never quite came together for Floyd in Arizona. The Notre Dame wideout received for over 1,000 yards just once in his five seasons there, partially due to a constant battle with injuries. More recently, Floyd has had some trouble with the law, but has landed in Minnesota for a second chance in just his age 27 season. Floyd is still young enough to carve out a nice career, however up to this point he has been a major disappointment for a first round pick.
9 Overachiever: David Johnson
At this point in his career, David Johnson is a household NFL name. The Cardinal running back is among the best in the league at rushing and catching out of the backfield. Just two years in, Johnson already had a 20 touchdown season and over 2,000 yards from scrimmage in his sophomore season.
However, Johnson was not always this highly touted. Coming out of high school he was not heavily recruited and attended Northern Iowa University. Even entering the NFL he was a third round pick and his measurables were nothing too special. At age 25, Johnson is just entering his prime. Barring injury, he will continue to be one of the few NFL workhorses in 2017. He is even aiming for a 1,000 yard rushing and 1,000 yard receiving season after coming close in 2016.
8 Bust: Laquon Treadwell
Laquon Treadwell is far too young to call a bust, but you can’t deny he has underachieved so far. As a first round pick, players are expected to contribute immediately. Treadwell was drafted in the first round in 2016, but failed to make even a slight impact during his rookie year.
The former All-American caught one pass for the entire season in 2016. While his situation was not ideal after being drafted by the defensive- driven Vikings, it is still surprising just how little he accomplished. We should expect him to be more involved at the very least in 2017, but as of now, he has underachieved early in his career. If he does not improve on the field this season, people will won’t hesitate to start throwing out the bust tag.
7 Overachiever: Devonta Freeman
A common theme on this list of overachievers, Freeman is also small of stature, standing at just 5’8”. Coming out of Florida State, he was drafted in the fourth round by the Falcons and has yet to play for another team. Despite his small size, Freeman has been extremely effective and durable since being drafted in 2014.
He is a two-time Pro Bowler and led the league in rushing touchdowns in 2015. After being labeled a fluke, he repeated his 2015 and was the only running back to post 1,000 yards rushing in both 2015 and 2016. Freeman will be looking to make another appearance in the Super Bowl with quarterback Matt Ryan after recently signing the most lucrative running back contract in the league.
6 Bust: Blaine Gabbert
Quarterback Blaine Gabbert was the first failed attempt at drafting a quarterback for the Jacksonville Jaguars. The Jags took Gabbert 10th overall in 2011 and held him for just three seasons. The Missouri product has been pretty terrible thus far in his career and shown no signs of turning it around any time soon.
The numbers Gabbert have posted are hardly worth mentioning. He started 15 games as a rookie, but hasn’t started more than 10 in a season since. His completion percentage is historically low and he has a near 50/50 career touchdown to interception ratio thus far. At age 27, a chance at turning into a formidable pro seems unlikely, and Gabbert will more than likely be a career backup in the NFL.
5 Overachiever: Julian Edelman
Patriots possession receiver Julian Edelman is another small player to make the list. He is also another player who was drafted extremely late, the seventh und in this case. Just 5’10”, Edelman has been forced to master the Wes Welker role for New England. He has reached 1,000 yards twice with the Pats and 90 catches on three occasions.
After rarely being used early in his career, he has become the second option for Tom Brady behind Rob Gronkowksi over the past few years. The sure- handed wideout has helped the Patriots to two more Super Bowls in the process. In an era where offenses rule the day through the air, Edelman is the perfect weapon and should continue to be for at least a couple more years.
4 Bust: Tavon Austin
First of all, a disclaimer for Tavon Austin. He is just 5’8”, so had things gone differently, he could have been on the other side of this list. Unfortunately, things haven’t gone all that well. Austin was taken in 2013 as the eighth overall pick out of West Virginia. A human sparkplug, Austin is versatile as a runner and a receiver when used properly. And while he has been effective in his role, his role has not been big enough.
With the Rams under Jeff Fischer, it was never going to be. Austin has totaled less than 2,000 rushing and receiving yards in his four NFL seasons. With a new head coach in town, maybe things will turn around for the speedster. But up to now, Austin has a long way to go to prove that he is not a disappointment and worth his eighth overall pick.
3 Overachiever: Darren Sproles
First of all, Darren Sproles is only 5’6”, making him one of the smallest players the NFL has ever seen. The running back played four years at Kansas State before being drafted in the fourth round in 2005. Despite his small stature, Sproles productivity and longevity in the NFL has been astonishing.
Sproles is a three-time Pro Bowler and hardly misses a game due to injury. He has become the prime example of a third- down back in the NFL, catching over 40 passes in each of the past eight seasons, including three where he caught at least 70 balls. For such a small guy in such a tough sport, it’s hard to believe just how effective he has been over the years.
2 Bust: Kevin White
In 2015 the Chicago Bears decided to go big in the first round. At No. 7 overall they took wide receiver Kevin White from West Virginia. A raw, but ultra- athletic and talent wideout whom they hoped would replace Brandon Marshall and team up with Alshon Jeffrey.
After two NFL seasons, neither of these things happened. His rookie season ended before it got started with a broken tibia. And his sophomore season barely got started before he broke his fibula in the same leg. When Kevin White was drafted, his pre- draft measurable were similar to Julio Jones. However, after two major leg surgeries and a broken confidence, it’s fair to wonder if he will ever get that back. If he doesn’t do it this year, White may be the newest bust who never overcame the injury bug.
1 Overachiever: Danny Woodhead
Talk about the ultimate overachiever. Running Back Danny Woodhead was a nobody. The dude played for Chadron State (who???). At only 5’8” and barely 200 pounds, Woodhead went undrafted in 2008 and barely played his first two seasons after signing with the New York Jets and eventually being released by them in 2010.
Eventually, Woodhead became a serious contributor. As a member of the New England Patriots he totaled over 700 total yards twice as a scat- back and did even better when he left for the Chargers. Woodhead had over 1,000 yards in both 2013 and 2015. He is now expected to be the lead pass- catching back in Baltimore. As an undrafted running back from a school from nowhere, the dude has done pretty well for himself.