If you’re selected in the first round of the NFL Draft, you’re expected to be a star. It doesn’t matter if you’re a starting quarterback or an interior lineman. That first round selection means that fans everywhere now see you as one of the best in the world. In many ways, that label does apply to every first round pick. Nobody gets picked in the first round unless some very smart people think that they’ve got the potential to be a truly great player. Even the historic busts were once seen as some of the greatest prospects the college system has ever had to offer.
That doesn’t change the fact that there are busts in every first round. Right now, every first round pick might be looking like the next great thing, but you can can rest assured that many of those players are going to end up being labeled as tremendous disappointments who never lived up to that fabled first round potential. Another group of players, however, are going to go on to step on the field and make it theirs. They’re going to be just as great as everyone hopes they will be. These are the eight first round picks that will break out this season and the seven who will be first year busts.
15 Break Out - Jamal Adams
If we had to guess, the Jets went into the 2017 Draft looking for an offensive asset that they didn’t have to reach too far to get. When quarterbacks and running backs went fast in the first few picks, the Jets were left with the good old “best player available” pick. In this instance, that turned out to be LSU safety, Jamal Adams. Adams was one of the top defensive prospects in of the draft and one of the best overall defensive selections in terms of value vs. output. He could have easily been drafted higher if one of the teams in the top five had need of him, and he will certainly be at home on a Jets defense that is good, but is in need of the kind of game changer that Adams figures to be.
14 Bust - Leonard Fournette
This has very little to do with Leonard Fournette and a whole lot to do with the Jacksonville Jaguars. Jacksonville does need a running back. Jacksonville also needs a quarterback, some defensive stars, and maybe an upgrade or two on the offensive line. A guy like Fournette is only picked if the team that picks him feels that he can turn a solid offensive unit into a spectacular one. Jacksonville isn’t on the verge of anything more special than an 8-8 season. As such, Fournette is going to spend a lot of time looking for lanes while he watches the score slip further and further out of the Jaguars’ reach. Fournette is a running back of the future, but you have to wonder what the next few years will bring the young star as the Jaguars fill many roster holes.
13 Break Out - Jonathan Allen
How did Jonathan Allen fall so far in the draft? That’s a fantastic question. Allen’s medical issues combined with the fact that the teams that picked Washington simply decided to look elsewhere means that the Redskins scored a top-10 talent that they desperately needed. A guy like Allen may not help Washington win the Super Bowl this season, but he immediately improves an aspect of Washington’s game which has kept them from realizing their full potential.
The only question here is whether or not Allen is going to draw so much attention that it ends up being his teammates that get the sacks and stats. Of course, drawing attention still makes Allen a success and we doubt that teams are going to be able to gameplan enough to really stop Allen all that often.
12 Bust - Patrick Mahomes
Patrick Mahomes is the first quarterback on the bust list, but he won’t be the last. The one thing that you can say about Mahomes is that Kansas City didn’t have to reach too far to get him, and they desperately needed a quarterback of the future. Still, Mahomes is not the kind of guy that an NFL team can put under center right away and hope and that he is going to lead them to victory. He’s a real work in progress who is going to have to hope that Kansas City is able to ride Alex Smith’s services out for at least a couple more years while he learns the ropes. Given the fact that Kansas City used a top-10 pick to get a quarterback, it’s doubtful they’ll be that patient.
11 Break Out - Haason Reddick
What’s been keeping the Cardinals from greatness? Well, you certainly can’t overlook the team’s quarterback troubles. When Carson Palmer is on the field and playing well, Arizona looks like they can beat anybody. When that’s not the case, they look ill-prepared to put up a fight. Palmer’s immediate replacement wasn’t in this draft and the Cardinals certainly weren’t in a position to gamble on a quarterback. Instead, they decided to address their considerable defensive needs by taking linebacker Haason Reddick. Those that have compared Reddick to Khalil Mack may be drawing comparisons a bit too soon, but that flattery speaks to the kind of potential Reddick regularly exhibited in college. He’s an all-around talent that is either going to immediately solve Arizona’s defensive problems or put them on the right track.
10 Bust - John Ross
A guy like John Ross doesn’t get drafted into the top-10 unless he’s got something special to offer. So far as pure talent goes, Ross can indeed be the kind of receiver that moves jerseys just as easily as he moves the chains. The funny thing is that the Bengals already have that receiver. His name is A.J. Green. Did the Bengals really need another star receiver? There’s an argument to be made for taking Ross because he was the best player available at the time, but you also have to understand that Ross has had health problems for years now that have kept him off the field far too often for comfort. Ross’s ability to stay on the field is a big question mark as is his ability to really distinguish himself as a number two receiver.
9 Break Out - Marshon Lattimore
It’s hard to call a number eleven overall pick the steal of the draft, but in many ways, that’s what the Saints got when they picked Marshon Lattimore. If cornerback wasn’t the Saint’s number one need, it was most certainly their 1A need. In the past, New Orleans has struggled to ensure that teams can’t keep up with their explosive offense. You can argue whether or not Lattimore is one of the best corners we’ve seen in recent years or even if he’s the best corner in this draft. Neither of those matter. What matters is that New Orleans got the absolute best player they could at the position they picked at. Of course, the odds are good that Lattimore really is that good. He’s going to be the centerpiece of the New Orleans defense this season and for many seasons to come.
8 Bust - Deshaun Watson
Deshaun Watson is the second quarterback on the bust portion of this list and possibly the most controversial. As a member of the Clemson roster, Watson captured the imagination of millions with his heroics and absurd statlines. He dominated nearly every game he played in and looked good doing it. Still, we’ve seen college quarterbacks like Watson before and they rarely replicate their success in the NFL. The Texans needed a quarterback in the worst way, but they also needed to realize that the quarterback they needed wasn’t in this draft class. Watson is going to join a Texans team that is missing key players on defense and on the offensive line. Watson would have to have a season like the one Cam Newton had his rookie year to make a difference, and Watson just doesn’t have Newton’s full playmaking abilities.
7 Break Out - Corey Davis
Yes, Davis comes with injury concerns. Yes, the Titans could have gotten a better value pick with their selection. Yes, it’s possible that Davis’s injuries could prevent him from reaching his full potential for some time. However, it’s much more likely that Davis’s ankle injury is a mere setback. It’s much more likely that Davis will prove to be exactly the wide receiver the team needed most and the kind of asset that the rest of the league will come to fear. Davis is a special player who proved that his game breaking abilities are much closer to a certainty than they are an anomaly. He’s been compared to Terrell Owens which, so far as skills go, isn’t really that far off. He’s going to do special things this year.
6 Bust - Evan Engram
Evan Engram is the prototypical modern tight end. He’s big, he’s quick, and his skills are closer to that of a top receiver. Engram’s receiving skills made him a top-three position prospect going into the draft, and Engram deserved to be considered one of the best players at his position. However, there are things that Engram are, and there are things that he is not. Engram is not a great blocker, and he’s not a defensive powerhouse. This matters because the Giants’ poor run game and defensive woes are going to hinder them more than a pass-catching tight end will help them. Engram is going to get the looks, but he’s going to have a hard time doing much with them when New York is constantly behind in the score and resort to going deep to OBJ.
5 Break Out - O.J. Howard
O.J. Howard was the most talked about tight end of the 2017 draft class with good reason. The kid has everything you could ever hope to see from a tight end. He’s big, he’s fast, he’s smart, and he is going to thrive in a Tampa Bay offense that is about to become the most explosive in the league. No, Tampa Bay didn’t need another offensive weapon, but there was no defensive player they could have picked at their position that was going to reverse their fortunes on that side of the ball. Instead, they decided to pick a player who is going to ensure that opposing defenses have almost no chance of stopping them. Expect Howard to get the bulk of the looks as teams try to cover the Bucs’ downfield threats.
4 Bust - Mike Williams
In many ways, the Chargers employed the same logic that Tampa Bay did when they picked O.J. Howard. The Bolts knew that they couldn’t fix all their defensive problems in one draft, so they decided to take the best offensive player they could get their hands on. The difference between Los Angeles and Tampa Bay is that Tampa Bay is close to making a deep playoff run. The Chargers, on the other hand, hasn’t shown they’ve got what it takes on either side of the ball to do the same. There’s a future in which Mike Williams’ talents allow him to become the type of dynamic receiver L.A. hopes he will be. However, the Chargers don’t have the resources they need to ensure that 2017 is Williams’s breakout year.
3 Break Out - Taco Charlton
Taco Charlton wasn’t one of the most talked about players entering the draft. There’s a good reason for that. Charlton only recently broke onto the scene and did so following a couple of years of good, but not great, defensive play. Here’s the thing about Charlton, though. He’s athletically gifted, he’s shown that he has the ability to learn, and he turned in incredible performance after incredible performance on a defense that wasn’t that great. He’s not the best defensive player that Dallas could have picked if they could have picked anyone, but he is the perfect player for the position they did pick in. Charlton was overlooked in this draft because people weren’t sure if he was the real deal. This year, expect Charlton to show everyone that’s exactly what he is.
2 Bust - Mitchell Trubisky
People have been scrutinizing the Bears choice to draft Mitchell Trubisky so much since that they made it that you’re probably starting to wonder what it is about this kid that everyone hates. The truth is that there’s nothing about this kid to hate. He’s a little unproven - he’s only got one real college season under his belt - but the next person to deny that Trubisky has all the intangibles that you could ever want from your quarterback will be the first. Trubisky deserves to be a starting quarterback, but he’s not the Bears’ starting quarterback. He’s not the one they need in any case. Who is Trubisky going to throw to? Who is going to protect him? Chicago needs a quarterback for the future, butt Trubisky is going to struggle in the present.
1 Break Out - Myles Garrett
It’s tempting to temper your enthusiasm for Myles Garrett. After all, how many sure thing prospects have let us all down in the past? The thing you have to realize about Garrett, though, is that he hasn’t been a prospect for a long time. He’s been an NFL star playing college football. If you could design a disruptive defensive end from the ground up, he’d look a lot like the long, lean, fast, and mean Myles Garrett. From Myles’ position, the struggles of the Browns are irrelevant. Teams are going to have to double up on Garrett in order to have a chance of stopping him, and there are few teams in the league that have the skill needed on their o-lines to double up Garrett while keeping the rest of the defense in check. This guy is going to be a monster from the start.