The 2017 NFL Draft will be here in just a few short months and all of the “experts” have shared their 1st, 2nd, and 3rd mock drafts. Each year, some players are drafted too high while others are drafted too low. Many factors go into these predicaments that leave teams like the Cleveland Browns and Jacksonville Jaguars scratching their heads at the end of every season.
Drafting a player based on team need almost never seems to pan out unless you trade up to get him. Many teams that struggle in today’s NFL often reach for a guy who is nothing more than second or third round talent. The teams that are most successful, however, draft players by skill and not position need. The Patriots even showed us this past year that surrounding your team with hard workers who do their job well can lead you to the ultimate goal.
We are now three seasons removed from the 2014 NFL draft and we have seen both success and failure come from it. Guys like Derek Carr and Odell Beckham Jr. have become the faces of their franchise, while Marcus Smith and Justin Gilbert can barely hang on to a roster spot. In hindsight, almost every team would rethink their 2014 draft selections and select a different player if it was possible. Unfortunately for them, they can only look at the board and wonder what could have been.
We will be looking at the first 15 players selected in the 2014 NFL Draft and if they turned out to be an asset to their team, or a bust.
15 Boom: Ryan Shazier
The Pittsburgh Steelers selected inside linebacker Ryan Shazier with the 15th overall pick. As a team captain, Shazier led the Ohio State Buckeyes in tackles in his final two seasons with the team. It has taken him a few years to figure out his role with the Steel Curtain defense, but he is now considered one of the leaders in the defensive huddle. Shazier lacked the big play capabilities during his first two seasons with the team, but shined during the 2016 season, forcing 3 fumbles and intercepting 3 passes.
Although there may have been players left on the board worth taking instead of Shazier, he has done enough in his first three years to avoid being called a bust by anyone following the NFL.
14 Bust: Kyle Fuller
With a struggling defense over recent years, the Chicago Bears selected cornerback Kyle Fuller to shorten up their secondary. Fuller has a bloodline of football in the family with both of his older brother playing for Virginia Tech before eventually making it to the NFL. Coming into the draft, Fuller could play both inside and outside corner, giving the Bears options when placing him on the football field. During his first two seasons, Fuller accumulated 6 total interceptions and 3 forced fumbles, convincing the city of Chicago that they found their playmaker at cornerback.
However, Fuller suffered a knee injury keeping him out for the entire 2016 season, leaving people wondering what could have been. Now it is up to him to bounce back from injury and prove he is still worth the first round selection three years later.
13 Boom: Aaron Donald
With one of the final 1st round picks in St. Louis Rams history, the team selected defensive tackle Aaron Donald out of the University of Pittsburgh. During his years at Pittsburgh, Donald built an impressive resume for every potential team in the draft. As team captain, Donald won unanimous All-American honors as well as leading the NCAA in tackles for losses.
Since joining the Rams organization, Aaron Donald has been one of the team’s few bright spots. Relocating to Los Angeles, firing their head coach, and drafting a quarterback number one overall in 2016 are just samples of what has been a drama filled organization in recent memory. The one bright spot has been the dominance of Aaron Donald.
Donald has started every game with the Rams in his career and has totaled 28 sacks as a defensive tackle. If the Rams are going to turn Los Angeles into a football town again, they’ll need to build around the stable that is Aaron Donald.
12 Boom: Odell Beckham Jr.
Without a doubt, the best player to come from this draft class has been Odell Beckham. The Giants selected him 12th overall out of LSU to give Eli Manning help at the receiver position. Beckham has exceeded all expectations from everyone around the league, giving us a phenomenal catch on Sunday night against Dallas in his rookie year to be talked about for years to come. His shenanigans on the field have made teams question whether he is worth the pick, but his numbers speak for themselves.
In just three seasons with New York, Beckham has accumulated over 4,000 yards and 35 receiving touchdowns. It would take most average receivers an entire career to reach those statistics. Odell Beckham has proven that you can find top talent in the middle of the 1st round.
11 Boom: Taylor Lewan
Since entering the league, Marcus Mariota has had pressure nearly every time he drops back to pass, leading to numerous injuries. To avoid this from happening, the team selected offensive tackle Taylor Lewan. Even though Lewan was ranked the 2nd highest run blocking lineman in the league according to Pro Football Focus, a bonehead play early last season gave the Titans a victory.
Against the Raiders in September, Mariota was driving the team down the field late to potentially tie the game. Mariota completed a pass to Tajae Sharpe at the Oakland 3 yard line putting them in great position to tie the game. Lewan launched himself head first into a crowd of players costing the Titans 15 yards. This led to them not converting and losing the game. Offensive lineman should never be the reason a team loses a football game and Lewan sure heard it from people around the league once the game ended.
Besides a few mishaps on the field, Lewan has proven to be a top lineman because of his ability to create holes for running backs.
10 Bust: Eric Ebron
After finding their franchise quarterback in Matthew Stafford a few years earlier, the Detroit Lions drafted Eric Ebron as an attempt to give Stafford a reliable tight end. Due to injuries, Ebron was not often discussed as a top ten pick but the Lions still gave him an opportunity to prove his doubters wrong. Ebron has failed to appear in every game during his three years in the league. His highest receiving total came came this past year with 711 receiving yards and just one receiving touchdowns.
This past season, Ebron found himself in the middle of the pack of NFL tight ends based on numbers alone with guys like Zach Ertz and Dennis Pitta. Tight ends selected at the top of a draft should be regarded as the best at their position, but instead he’s been average at best.
9 Boom: Anthony Barr
Anthony Barr grew up as a member of a football family with both his father and uncle playing in the NFL. As his collegiate career began, he found himself on the offensive side of the ball playing receiver and fullback. After he realized offense wasn’t for him, he switched to linebacker and made the best choice for his career. Barr has been a major factor in rebuilding the Vikings into a top ten defense.
Barr has started in every game he has played in the league despite missing a few games due to injury. He has totaled 146 tackles and 9.5 sacks in just three seasons at outside linebacker. At the time of the 2014 draft, he drew comparisons to Bronco’s linebacker Demarcus Ware. Although he does not quite have Ware’s sack numbers, Barr has shown he can be the leader of a defense in just three short years.
8 Bust: Justin Gilbert
It's safe to say that Justin Gilbert is the biggest bust of this year’s draft class. Gilbert appeared in just two seasons with the Browns before being traded to the Steelers for a conditional sixth round pick. Although Gilbert proved to have a nice college resume, teams quickly targeted him in the NFL without any return from the Oklahoma State standout. He finished his stint with the Browns deflecting nine passes and intercepting only one.
However, this isn’t the first time the Cleveland Browns have screwed up a top draft pick. In recent years, the Browns have seen guys like Brandon Weeden and Trent Richardson come and go, so is it even Gilbert's fault he didn't work out with such a poorly run organization? Hopefully, we can see if Gilbert can find the right system that suits his strengths in the near future.
7 Boom: Mike Evans
On his way to becoming the best receiver in Buccaneer history, Mike Evans has proven to be the electrifying playmaker Tampa Bay has been begging for. While playing at Texas A&M with teammate Johnny Manziel, Evans caught an astonishing 151 passes for 2,499 and 17 touchdowns in just two seasons. Upon entering the NFL, Evans joined forces with Jameis Winston as one of the best young quarterback receiver duos in the league. Evans has gained 3,578 yards and 27 touchdowns in his three seasons with the team.
With his 6’5 frame, Evans has the ability to go up and make the goal line fade look much easier than it actually is. It will be interesting to see where his career takes him with such staggering numbers to start his career.
6 Boom: Jake Matthews
Coming from the Matthews family tree of football players, Jake Matthews has proven to be a top tackle for the Falcons since entering the league. 2017 MVP Matt Ryan has needed protection help in recent years due to the poor offensive line play. Jake Matthews has answered his prayers and become a reliable force on the line. During his time at Texas A&M, Matthews started every game from his sophomore to senior year and even made the switch from right to left tackle his senior year.
Although it took time to the NFL speed, Matthews has started 47 of a possible 48 games with Atlanta. With his help, the Falcons finished the 2016 campaign with the number one total offense in the league and played in this year’s Super Bowl. The Falcons offense will continue to frighten defenses as long as Matthews continues to show his strength on the offensive line.
5 Boom: Khalil Mack
Khalil Mack won the AP Defensive Player of the Year award for 2016 and was the first Raider to do so since Lester Hayes in 1980. Coming out of high school, Buffalo was the only FBS school to offer Mack a football scholarship. Buffalo made every college football program regret that decision following Mack's stellar collegiate career. He led the team in tackles his final two seasons with the team and was a three-time first-team All-MAC recipient.
As a Raider, he has exceeded all expectations as a top five pick in the draft. Mack has started every game in his career for the Raiders totaling 30 career sacks, 170 tackles, and 8 forced fumbles. Between Derek Carr on offense and Mack on defense, the Raiders are quickly turning the Black Hole into one of the league’s top teams once again.
4 Bust: Sammy Watkins
Considering what Buffalo had to trade to acquire receiver Sammy Watkins, many people including myself would say it wasn’t worth it. The Bills surrendered their 1st round picks in 2014 and 2015, along with a 4th round pick in 2015 to select Watkins at number four. There is no denying how great of a college star he was with the Clemson Tigers owning 23 Clemson receiving records. Watkins' biggest problem since entering the league has been staying healthy.
Contrary to Evans and Beckham, Watkins has struggled to be a reliable target for his team on a consistent basis. Watkins appeared in only eight games during the 2016 season, catching 28 passes for 430 yards and 2 touchdowns. The Bills have struggled heavily in the passing game without Watkins' big play capabilities. If he can stay healthy for an entire year, there is no telling what he could accomplish.
3 Bust: Blake Bortles
Blake Bortles has shown promise to be the next franchise quarterback for the Jacksonville Jaguars, but there are a few ailments to his game that have prevented him from taking that next step. Turnovers have been greatly associated with Bortles since entering the league, throwing 51 interceptions and fumbling 29 times in just three seasons with the team. Some of the blame must go to his offensive line because of the 140 sacks given up during this time. With the constant fear of being hit, it is hard to fault Bortles for all of the turnovers he has been credited with.
Bortles has shown his upside, however, throwing for 35 touchdowns in just his second NFL season. If he is able to cut down on the turnovers, the Jaguars can be the one of the league’s highest scoring offenses for years to come.
2 Bust: Greg Robinson
Contrary from the Titans' Taylor Lewan, Greg Robinson has been ranked one of the worst run blocking lineman in the league. After a rough childhood, Robinson started at left tackle for the Clemson Tigers from for the 2012 and 2013 seasons. Unfortunately, his ability to protect the quarterback’s blindside did not transfer to the NFL. Robinson surrendered 14 penalties and 8 sacks during the 2016 campaign and hardly left the Rams quarterbacks any time to throw.
The Los Angeles Rams should strongly consider moving on from Robinson because of their new young quarterback at the helm. Jared Goff was drafted number one overall by the Rams in 2016, but struggled mightily because of the lack of time in the pocket. If the offense is ever to get going, they need lineman who can consistently deliver on every play.
1 Bust: Jadeveon Clowney
There has always been large amounts of pressure associated with the number one pick in the draft. Many strive in this role while others have crumbled under pressure. It is too soon tell what will hold for Clowney, but he is not off to a promising start. Injuries have limited him to limited production in only 31 games. Clooney has been given the gift of J.J. Watt as a line mate, but has barely seen any time with him considering the two's injury history.
We have seen glimpses of what Clowney can be when healthy. The question everyone should be asking is how dominant can he be when Watt and him are healthy at the same time. Clooney does not deserve to be labeled a bust just yet, but he needs to make serious strides next season to get that idea out of people’s minds.