The NFL Draft is always a scary time for the front office of NFL teams. General managers and scouts spend countless hours traveling across the United States to see what college prospects might fit with their franchise. There’s a lot of pressure to get it right, as landing a prospect that becomes a perennial Pro Bowler or All-Pro could turn the franchise around, and you get an added value if you can get that player later in the first round or beyond.
Unfortunately, if you miss on a prospect, that can set your franchise back for a few years, especially if that player was one of the first few off of the board when you desperately needed the talent to turn it around. The first round is what scouts most pay attention to, as these are the guys that are expected to play right away. We’ve seen some players get drafted in the first round and turn out to not be a good fit, but have improved while on a different team.
Then, there are the players that were such bad draft picks that either no team has wanted them (save for a roster emergency) or are waiting for their contracts to expire so they don’t have to take the cap hit or use a roster spot. Twenty of these players have been drafted in the first round over the past few years that really disappointed their franchises, and haven’t found their footing in the league no matter where they’ve gone.
20 Laquon Treadwell - Minnesota Vikings (23rd Overall, 2016)
There were many that considered Laquon Treadwell to be the most physically talented receiver entering the 2016 NFL Draft. The Ole Miss product was a raw talent, and the Vikings were willing to take the chance with the 23rd overall selection. His rookie year left a lot to be desired, as he finished with just one reception for 15 yards, hardly seeing the field.
The second season didn’t see a large improvement even with more playing time, finishing with 200 yards on 20 catches. With Kirk Cousins in the mix for 2018, there were hopes that Treadwell could improve, but being behind Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs hasn’t helped. Treadwell once again failed to make any real impact this year. Now, the talk is that the Vikings are going to swallow a couple of million dollars and part ways with Treadwell.
19 Darron Lee - New York Jets (20th Overall, 2016)
A linebacker out of Ohio State, Darron Lee figured to be a big part of the Jets defense when he was drafted 20th overall in 2016. At first, it looked like Lee was going to start at middle linebacker for the Jets, but was eventually dropped down to backup duty while being the lowest rated rookie in the first round in terms of efficiency.
Lee regained his spot as starter in his second season, but continued to lack production with his efficiency once again being rated among the lowest for any linebacker. He didn’t improve much in 2018 save for a few impressive moments, but ended up being suspended for four games. Add in the fact that he’s gotten into altercations with teammates, and the Jets are likely counting down the days until Lee’s contract comes to an end.
18 Jonathan Cooper - Arizona Cardinals (7th Overall, 2014)
If your team is hurting from an absurdly high rate of injuries to the offensive line, that’s when you call Jonathan Cooper. Several teams have done so the last few seasons, with the Washington Redskins being the latest to sign the guard. However, an injury put his 2018 season to an end after just a couple of games.
Prior to joining the Redskins, Cooper was the seventh overall pick out of North Carolina by the Arizona Cardinals. He spent three seasons with the team, but was traded to the Patriots before the 2016 season. In 2016 alone, Cooper was on three different rosters, including the Dallas Cowboys heading into 2017.
17 Kelvin Benjamin - Carolina Panthers (28th Overall, 2014)
At this point, Kelvin Benjamin has been one of the biggest sources of internet jokes during the 2018 season. The receiver was drafted 28th overall in 2014 by the Carolina Panthers, and started off strong with 1,008 yards in his rookie season. He missed the 2015 season due to an injury, but came back strong in the 2016 season.
Early into the 2017 season, a dispute between Benjamin and Cam Newton (combined with Benjamin’s lack of production) saw him dealt to the Bills. In 2018, he was released after failing to meet expectations. It didn’t seem anyone was going to sign him right away, but the Chiefs were willing to take him on after Sammy Watkins was injured. Don’t expect him to stay in Kansas City for long, though.
16 Sammy Watkins - Buffalo Bills (4th Overall, 2014)
The Buffalo Bills made a bold move back at the 2014 draft when they traded up in the first round to ensure they'd nab Sammy Watkins. Much like the Falcons traded up for Julio Jones back in 2011, the Bills felt Watkins would be that game breaker on offense for 10 years. Well, all they got from Watkins was flashes of excellence, mixed with a whole lot of injuries and inconsistent play. After three seasons in Buffalo, the Bills dealt Watkins to the Rams prior to the 2017 season, receiving a second rounder and E.J. Gaines. Watkins has never caught 70 passes in a season, and only broke the 1,000 yard mark once, back in Buffalo in 2015.
15 Eli Apple - New York Giants (10th Overall, 2016)
The New York Giants have failed to make the playoffs since their Super Bowl XLVI win and a big reason for that is because they haven't drafted all that well since then. While they've nabbed some goldmines in the first round like Odell Beckham and Saquon Barkley, there were plenty of misses. After just two plus seasons in the Big Apple, the Giants sent former first rounder Eli Apple to New Orleans this year. Since the move to New Orleans, Apple seems to have improved in a winning environment. Nevertheless, the Giants were fed up of waiting for a turnaround.
14 Dante Fowler - Jacksonville Jaguars (3rd Overall, 2015)
With the Jacksonville Jaguars having such a great young core on defense, it was assumed Donte Fowler would be a huge piece of that core, alongside Jalen Ramsey, Myles Jack and Telvin Smith. However, the Jags felt Fowler was expendable and with an impending free agency period looming for Fowler, the Jags felt comfortable sending him to the Rams for a 3rd and 5th round pick. Fowler's numbers in Jacksonville totaled 14 sacks, three forced fumbles and 62 combined tackles in 39 games played. Ultimately, he just fell short of the Jags' expectations of a third overall pick.
13 Brandin Cooks - New Orleans Saints (20th Overall, 2014)
Is this a case of teams 'giving up' on Brandin Cooks, or has Cooks just not found the ideal situation where a team wants to build their offense around him? Cooks has had the luxury of playing for great quarterbacks throughout his short career, but he's already on his third team. Granted, he's been moved for first round picks, but it's not usual for a player that's been pretty productive to be moved around so much.
As for the team that drafted him, the Saints, they felt their offense would be better suited being built around a running game and Michael Thomas on the outside, thus they shipped Cooks to New England prior to the 2017 season. Cooks recorded his fourth straight 1,000 yard season with the Rams this year, making his career trajectory all the more bizarre.
12 Marcus Smith II - Philadelphia Eagles (26th Overall, 2014)
The Eagles have found quite a bit of success in drafting in recent years, but one of their misses came in the form of Marcus Smith, the 26th overall selection out of Louisville. Playing in just eight games in his first season, the defensive end didn’t even register a tackle. Things didn’t get much better as he combined for just four sacks and 18 tackles in his next two years with the Eagles.
Following 2016, Smith joined the Seahawks where he continued to be quiet in terms of production. He found himself on the free agency list for much of 2018 before being picked up by the Redskins, who were hurting from a multitude of injury problems. However, he’s played in just one game.
11 Luke Joeckel - Jacksonville Jaguars (2nd Overall, 2013)
Drafting an offensive lineman with the second overall selection means that you better be certain that he’s a sure thing. The Jaguars thought they had a sure thing in 2013 with Texas A&M tackle Luke Joeckel being the second pick. He had some injury struggles in his first season, but became a full-time starter in his second and third years.
Unfortunately, he had his struggles even when healthy, and even switched to guard at one point. Following another injury in 2016, Joeckel was released. He signed with the Seahawks to play left guard for 11 games in 2017, but hasn’t been with a team since then.
10 Justin Gilbert - Cleveland Browns (8th Overall, 2014)
Coming out of Oklahoma State in the 2014 NFL Draft, there were many that considered Justin Gilbert to be that year’s best cornerback. The Browns made him the first one off the board with the eighth selection, but it turned out to be Kyle Fuller (14th pick) that would have been a better fit as Gilbert played just two seasons in Cleveland.
In those two years, Gilbert combined for just 23 games, earning a lone interception and 33 tackles. In 2016, the former first rounder was dumped to the Steelers for a sixth rounder, but played in just 12 games for Pittsburgh. The team released him after the season and he was then suspended for the entire 2017 season. Nobody has touched the cornerback ever since.
9 Calvin Pryor - New York Jets (18th Overall, 2014)
After Justin Gilbert, there was a string of nine consecutive players drafted that all reached the Pro Bowl. The streak ended at the 18th spot when the Jets selected Calvin Pryor, the safety from Louisville. Not only has Pryor not made a Pro Bowl, but he’s only played in two games since 2016.
Pryor played three seasons in New York with a pair of interceptions and 0.5 sacks, and was released on waivers before the 2017 season after getting into a fight with Ricardo Louis. The Jaguars signed him that season where he played for two games before getting injured and eventually released. At the end of 2018, Pryor was still waiting for a team.
8 Blake Bortles - Jacksonville Jaguars (3rd Overall, 2014)
While the Jacksonville Jaguars haven't officially given up on Blake Bortles yet, the writing is on the wall. The Jags benched Bortles for most of the final month of the 2018 season, despite having just handed him a multi-year extension a year ago. There have been reports that Jacksonville will be in the market for a QB but Bortles's extension will make things tricky. The Jags will likely have to package Bortles with a draft pick in order for a team to take on his contract. In any event, the Jags have drafted two QB busts since 2011, first by taking Blaine Gabbert, then Bortles just three years later.
7 Kevin White - Chicago Bears (7th Overall, 2015)
One of the players that’s still on the team that drafted him, don’t expect Kevin White to be in Chicago for very long. The former West Virginia receiver was the seventh player selected in 2015, but injuries and inconsistencies have piled up frequently. White missed his entire rookie season, and in 2016 played just four games with 187 yards.
Since then, White has a combined 76 yards in his past two seasons, having more trips to the injured reserve than receptions it seems. The Bears are already starting to phase out any future plans with White as he’s expected to hit free agency. The line of teams for his services probably won’t be very long.
6 Ereck Flowers - New York Giants (9th Overall, 2015)
Giants fans tend to be among the most vocal, not only when players are drafted but when they’re on the field. One player that they weren’t particularly fond of was offensive tackle Ereck Flowers out of Miami, who was drafted ninth overall in 2015. When Giants fans describe his play, you often hear the word “turnstyle.”
Flowers was supposed to be the left tackle for years, but was shifted to the other side when he struggled mightily. In 2018, the team tried to cut ties by trading him, but couldn’t find any takers. Instead, he was released and eventually signed by Jacksonville, but only to fill in for their injured tackle Josh Wells.
5 Breshad Perriman - Baltimore Ravens (26th Overall, 2015)
It was thought that the 2015 NFL Draft class was deep at receiver, with six being taken in the first round. Among them was UCF wideout Breshad Perriman, the 26th pick to the Baltimore Ravens. Like Kevin White, Perriman missed his entire rookie season, and really hasn’t lived up to expectations since then.
After 499 yards in his rookie season, Perriman had just 77 yards in 11 games in 2017. The team straight up released Perriman prior to the 2018 season where he’s been on a couple of teams since then. A short stint with the Redskins eventually got Perriman to the Browns, where he’s put up pretty much the same production that he did in Baltimore.
4 Phillip Dorsett - Indianapolis Colts (29th Overall, 2015)
Another one of those receivers that was taken in the first round of the 2015 NFL Draft was Phillip Dorsett out of Miami. The Colts left people scratching their heads with the selection at the 29th spot, and the pundits that were skeptical were quickly proven right. In 26 games with the Colts, Dorsett had just 753 yards and was essentially dead weight with Andrew Luck’s injury.
Dorsett was traded to the Patriots to acquire Jacoby Brissett to take Luck’s place, and Dorsett has been in New England ever since. Deep down the depth chart, Dorsett’s production in New England has been worse than it was in Indianapolis. Now Dorsett seems likely to be heading to free agency unless Bill Belichick feels he can replace Josh Gordon.
3 Stephone Anthony - New Orleans Saints (31st Overall, 2015)
With the second to last pick of the 2015 first round, the Saints tried to bolster their defense by selecting Clemson linebacker Stephone Anthony. He had made the All-Rookie team after a decent start, but then moved positions in 2016 where he didn’t have as much success. Anthony suffered an injury that season, and the Saints saw the writing on the wall.
Early on in the 2017 season, the Saints traded Anthony to the Dolphins for just a fifth round selection, where he’s been a backup option only. Anthony didn’t have his fifth-year option picked up and he's been a minimal contributor.
2 Corey Coleman - Cleveland Browns (15th Overall, 2016)
It’s only been a couple of years, but we can say that the 2016 NFL Draft class for wide receivers hasn’t been very strong. Corey Coleman out of Baylor was the first receiver taken, as the Browns made him the 15th selection. Coleman spent just two years in Cleveland, though, continuing a string of failed first round prospects.
Coleman was known for his drops for the most part, hauling in just 718 yards in 19 games with five touchdowns. The Browns traded Coleman to Buffalo in 2018 for a seventh round pick (in 2020) but was promptly released. Coleman was then signed and cut by the Patriots in September 2018 before landing with the Giants where he’s had to fight for snaps.
1 Paxton Lynch - Denver Broncos (26th Overall, 2016)
It’s starting to become clear that John Elway isn’t the quarterback whisperer that many gave him credit for after Peyton Manning’s success. The other quarterbacks that he’s signed or drafted have been extremely underwhelming, with former Memphis quarterback Paxton Lynch being a shining example.
Lynch was the 26th overall selection in 2016, but he couldn’t break into the starting lineup consistently. In two years, Lynch started just four games (winning one) with 792 yards, four touchdowns and four interceptions. The Broncos released Lynch prior to the 2018 season, and has been getting workouts with teams that need an emergency quarterback, but he hasn’t signed anywhere.