The thought process regarding National Football League Draft classes is that they cannot be fully and adequately evaluated until at least three or even four years after those players first enter the league. In fact, the Football Outsiders website routinely waits a full six years until going back and offering grades for NFL Drafts. Different players at different positions often develop at different rates. For example, many quarterbacks and offensive tackles are not ready to perform in starting lineups their rookie years. Meanwhile, a plethora of wide receivers and running backs embrace playing and starring for teams that selected them months after their names were called at that year’s draft.
Enough time has passed that we can look back and judge draft steals and draft busts from up to ten classes ago. Truth be told, it probably isn’t a stretch to say that anybody who has followed the league throughout the 2010s would be able to assess the best and worst picks from the 2014 NFL Draft. Things get a little tricky after that, though, as individuals drafted in 2015, 2016 and 2017 who are seen as busts as of September 2018 could find momentum and, at the very least, enjoy solid careers in the NFL. It was less than a year from the writing of this piece that Nick Foles and Case Keenum became household names pursuing Super Bowl glory.
20 2017 NFL Draft bust: DeShone Kizer
Last but not least is one final draft bust attached to the Cleveland Browns. After trading down and not selecting Deshaun Watson in the first round, the Browns used a second-round selection on Notre Dame product DeShone Kizer. It’s possible Kizer could have found more success with the Browns had the team that drafted him not rushed him into the starting lineup before he was ready. He was inaccurate with his passes, and it often seemed that the game was moving way too fast for him. The Browns didn’t view him as a project for the future following his rookie year, as the team traded him to the Green Bay Packers in March 2018.
19 2017 NFL Draft steal: Kareem Hunt
In reality, one could pick either Kareem Hunt or Alvin Kamara as the biggest steal of the 2018 NFL Draft. We went with Hunt largely because he was taken later in the process. Hunt was named the starting running back for the Kansas City Chiefs before Week 1 of the 2017 campaign, and he torched the New England Patriots for 246 total yards and three scores in his first game. The sky was the limit from there, and Hunt finished the season with 11 total touchdowns, 1,327 rushing yards and 455 receiving yards on 53 catches. He was named PFWA Rookie of the Year, and the 23-year-old is a fantasy-football favorite in early September.
18 2016 NFL Draft bust: Corey Coleman
The Cleveland Browns were at it again when the team reached on wide receiver Corey Coleman with the 15th overall pick of the 2016 NFL Draft. Not only were better receivers available. Coleman apparently unimpressed the Browns so much that the team looked to trade him in 2017, but the organization received no decent offers. After yet another underwhelming year, the Browns practically gave Coleman to the Buffalo Bills for free in August 2018. Buffalo kept him around for less than a month before the club released him among the club’s final roster cuts. He doesn’t have a team as of the first week of the 2018 season.
17 2016 NFL Draft steal: Dak Prescott
Few, if any, reacted with much passion when the Dallas Cowboys selected quarterback Dak Prescott with a fourth-round pick in 2016. Little did anybody know on that day that the team was ending one era and beginning a new one. Prescott progressed up the depth chart during his first summer with the Cowboys, and he was named the team’s starter after Tony Romo suffered an injury that was the beginning of the end of his career. Prescott has never looked back since being given the keys to the offense, even if he did experience a bit of a sophomore slump in 2017. His ceiling remains high in September 2018.
16 2015 NFL Draft bust: Kevin White
The Chicago Bears are still hoping that wide receiver Kevin White will be able to shake the “bust” distinction from his reputation. Taken with the seventh pick of the 2015 NFL Draft, White has played in only a handful of games over the past three years because of multiple injury setbacks. It was thought in August 2018 that the Bears could cut White ahead of Week 1 of the season, but Chicago instead elected to keep him on the roster to see if the club could get anything out of his athletic gifts. ChiCitySports listed White as somebody who could “rebound” in 2018 if he stays healthy.
15 2015 NFL Draft steal: Jay Ajayi
Jay Ajayi is one of several recent examples of why some general managers and front offices like to wait and look for running backs later in drafts. The Miami Dolphins selected Jay Ajayi with a fifth-round pick in 2015, and Ajayi showed that he was ready to become the focal point of the team’s backfield his second season. Ajayi finished that campaign with 1,272 rushing yards and eight rushing scores. The Dolphins then curiously traded Ajayi to the Philadelphia Eagles during the 2017 season, a decision that worked out rather well for the fifth-round selection who went on to earn a Super Bowl ring with his new franchise.
14 2014 NFL Draft bust: Justin Gilbert
Quarterback Johnny Manziel, the 22nd pick of the 2014 NFL Draft, has the bigger name, but cornerback Justin Gilbert was undeniably the bigger bust of the two and the biggest bust from this class. Both were taken by the Cleveland Browns (of course), but the Browns traded out of the pick that could have been Khalil Mack to eventually take Gilbert via the eighth selection. Gilbert didn’t belong on an NFL field by the end of his rookie season, and he was traded to the Pittsburgh Steelers in September 2016. That transaction did little to silence rumors he wasn’t all that interested in playing pro football. He was released in February 2017, and it is believed that his career is long over.
13 2014 NFL Draft steal: Telvin Smith
The Jacksonville Jaguars using the third overall pick of the 2014 NFL Draft on quarterback Blake Bortles is still scrutinized, but nobody can have a problem with the Jags taking linebacker Telvin Smith in the fifth round. Smith went on to become a full-time starter, and his reputation has only grown since his rookie campaign. Along with being named in the NFL Top 100 on two occasions, Smith earned a spot in the 2017 Pro Bowl team. The 27-year-old has become one of the cornerstones for what could be the best defense in the AFC and a unit capable of taking the Jaguars past the conference title game.
12 2013 NFL Draft bust: Dion Jordan
Defensive end Dion Jordan is widely seen as the biggest draft bust in the history of the Miami Dolphins. In March 2017, Hal Habib of the Palm Beach Post wrote the following about the third overall pick of the 2013 NFL Draft: “When you draft a guy third overall, is it too much to ask for him to have more career sacks than drug suspensions?” For the record, Jordan accumulated three sacks in two seasons with the Dolphins, the same amount of suspensions he earned. Unfortunately for Miami, one of those was a year-long ban that kept him off the field for all of 2015. Jordan never played for the Dolphins after that, but he did find a home with the Seattle Seahawks.
11 2013 NFL Draft steal: Latavius Murray
The 2013 NFL Draft is viewed as one of the worst classes in recent memory and maybe in the history of the league. Running back Latavius Murray gave the Oakland Raiders few regrets after he was taken in the sixth round. Murray’s career started slowly, as he missed what should have been his debut year after he was placed on injured reserve. Once he was healthy and able to perform, Murray gave the Raiders three good seasons, and he was named to the 2015 Pro Bowl. Ahead of the 2017 season, Murray signed with the Minnesota Vikings, and the 28-year-old will be part of a one-two punch in that team’s backfield this year.
10 2012 NFL Draft bust: Trent Richardson
The Cleveland Browns and NFL Draft busts go together like peanut butter and jelly. Readers probably aren’t shocked to learn this is only the first of several times the Browns are spotlighted in this piece. In 2012, the Browns used the second overall draft pick on Alabama running back Trent Richardson, and Richardson found the end zone a total of 12 times while also earning 950 rushing yards his rookie year. In September 2013, the Browns shockingly traded Richardson to the Indianapolis Colts, a sign that Cleveland realized the team had taken a bust. Richardson never again teased becoming a back worth a starting role for an NFL team. He last played in the league in 2014.
9 2012 NFL Draft steal: Russell Wilson
It is often said that NFL quarterback is the most important position in all of North American pro sports. That’s only one reason the Seattle Seahawks taking Russell Wilson in the third round of the 2012 NFL Draft has to be considered one of the biggest steals of the past decade. Wilson earned the Seattle starting job his rookie year, and he would be a two-time Super Bowl champion today had the Seahawks just handed the football to Marshawn Lynch at the one-yard line late in Super Bowl XLIX. The Seahawks are in a rebuild in September 2018, and the 29-year-old signal-caller should be a significant part of that process.
8 2011 NFL Draft bust: Jake Locker
Cam Newton, Von Miller, Marcel Dareus, A.J. Green, Patrick Peterson, Julio Jones, Aldon Smith, Tyron Smith and J.J. Watt were taken in the first 11 picks of the 2011 NFL Draft. With both Tyron Smith and Watt on the board, the Tennessee Titans grabbed quarterback Jake Locker. Locker was barely worth a draft pick at all, let alone a first-round selection, during his time with the Titans, and Tennessee drafted who the franchise hoped would replace him in 2014. In March of the following year, Locker announced that he was retiring because he no longer had the desire to play pro football. He’s one of the biggest busts of the past 10 NFL Drafts.
7 2011 NFL Draft steal: Jason Kelce
The Seattle Seahawks landed a tremendous steal when the club drafted Richard Sherman in the fifth round, but the Philadelphia Eagles did just as well, if not better, when the team acquired center Jason Kelce in the sixth round of the 2011 NFL Draft. Kelce became the first rookie to ever start at center for the Eagles, and that was only the beginning of what has become a special career, one that includes a comeback from a serious knee injury he suffered in 2012. Now thought to be the best run-blocker at the position as of September 2018, Kelce is a one-time Super Bowl champion and a hero among the Philadelphia faithful following one of the best celebration speeches you’ll ever hear.
6 2010 NFL Draft bust: Rolando McClain
Between picks No. 2 and No. 9 of the 2010 NFL Draft, seven Pro Bowlers were selected. Linebacker Rolando McClain, drafted by the Oakland Raiders with the eighth overall pick, was a complete bust for the team. McClain posted five sacks his second season in the NFL, but that was as good as things would get. Along with committing multiple mistakes during games, McClain fell out of favor with the coaching staff in 2012, and he was kicked out of a practice in November of that year. He responded by posting on Facebook that he wanted out. McClain got his wish the subsequent spring, but the rest of his career wasn’t much to write home about.
5 2010 NFL Draft steal: Antonio Brown
The Pittsburgh Steelers took a flier on speedster Antonio Brown in the sixth round of the 2010 NFL Draft, and Brown made impacts during games as a rookie kick returner. Starting in 2011, the Steelers gave him more of a role in the passing attack. Needless to say, Brown didn’t disappoint. One of the best wide receivers of the 2010s made the first of six Pro Bowl teams that season, and the four-time first-team All-Pro is not showing any signs of slowing down in 2018. At 30 years old, Brown has to be considered one of the team’s greatest ever draft steals, not to mention the best WR from this class.
4 2009 NFL Draft bust: Josh Freeman
Some may have named Mark Sanchez as the top bust from the 2009 NFL Draft, but don’t forget the former Sanchise had some postseason success before the New York Jets failed him. Josh Freeman did well to bounce around the NFL for years, but he was never worth the first-round pick spent by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for his services. In fact, the Bucs were ready to move on from Freeman by October 2013, when he lost his job to Mike Glennon. Freeman had a handful of bright moments with Tampa Bay, but this was, essentially, a wasted draft pick. Either Brian Hoyer or Chase Daniel would have been better.
3 2009 NFL Draft steal: Julian Edelman
Unless you are a fan of the New England Patriots, you are probably sick of reading and hearing about Bill Belichick finding gems and steals late in draft classes. Back in 2009, the Patriots spent a seventh-round selection on wide receiver Julian Edelman. Along with becoming a favorite target for future Hall of Fame quarterback Tom Brady, Edelman caught the game-winning touchdown in the final minutes of Super Bowl XLIX. The two-time champion also made one of the greatest catches in postseason history during Super Bowl LI. Once he returns from a four-game suspension, it’s expected Edelman will again be a key contributor for the New England offense in 2018.
2 2008 NFL Draft bust: Brian Brohm
The Green Bay Packers already had a quarterback on the roster named Aaron Rodgers when the team used a second-round pick on signal-caller Brian Brohm. Those of you scratching your heads struggling to remember this name probably aren’t surprised to learn Brohm was nothing more than a bust for the Packers. He never played a down of regular season football with Green Bay until he and the franchise parted ways in the fall of 2009. After a brief and forgettable stint with the Buffalo Bills, Brohm was out of the NFL for good following the 2010 campaign. He was last seen as an active player in the Canadian Football League.
1 2008 NFL Draft steal: Jamaal Charles
Some may remember running back Jamaal Charles as one of the finest fantasy football performers of his time when he was healthy and in his prime. Charles was also an absolute steal for the Kansas City Chiefs, the franchise that acquired him in the third round of the 2008 NFL Draft. In total, Charles was named to four Pro Bowl teams during his tenure with the Chiefs, and he was a two-time first-team All-Pro. Now 31 years old, Charles is looking for one last opportunity to remain in the league heading into the start of the 2018 campaign. He is a free agent as of Week 1.