Not all National Football League busts are busts forever. Case Keenum and Nick Foles are two recent examples of this. While Foles had one Pro Bowl season during his early days with the Philadelphia Eagles, nobody expected him to be anything other than a backup at the start of the 2017 campaign. Keenum, meanwhile, was largely a forgotten figure at this time a year ago. Both men proved to be pivotal figures for their clubs last season, and Foles went on to become one of the more surprising Super Bowl Most Valuable Players in the history of the sport. They serve as reminders that all shouldn’t judge NFL players prematurely.
Fans and observers alike cannot help themselves, though, and that’s why one could forecast at least ten different players who probably will not be able to overcome the bust status that is attached to their resumes as of the first week of the 2018 regular season. With that said, there are a handful of athletes who have the physical attributes and potential to silence critics and show that they aren’t busts and that they merely needed a little time to develop as pros. Those who do not manage to prove to their current employers they aren’t busts may find themselves looking for work come next spring when free agency opens.
20 Overcame Bust Status: Nelson Agholor
In July 2017, David Hennessey of the Eagles Wire/USA Today listed wide receiver Nelson Agholor as one of the biggest draft busts since 2000. "I hate hitting him with the bust label after only two seasons in the league, but he is one of the Eagles’ worst draft picks in the past 17 years,” Hennessey wrote. Agholor, a 2015 first-round selection, then enjoyed somewhat of a breakout campaign in 2017 when he caught 62 passes and found the end zone eight times.
The Eagles rewarded him for that season when the team exercised the fifth-year option on his contract.
Agholor is still playing for a long-term deal, but his future looks bright as of September 2018.
19 Might Overcome It: Corey Davis
When the Tennessee Titans selected wide receiver Corey Davis with the fifth selection of the 2017 NFL Draft, the team hoped that he would become a main target for quarterback Marcus Mariota. A lingering hamstring injury limited what he was able to do during games, however, and he finished the regular season with only 34 receptions. To his credit, Davis did show up in the postseason, and he caught a pair of touchdown passes in the team’s loss against the New England Patriots.
That one game coupled with how he has looked during the summer months has led some to believe this will be the year he overcomes any bust status hovering over him.
18 Won’t Overcome Bust Status: Kevin White
It is admittedly difficult to trust in Chicago Bears wide receiver Kevin White in the early stages of the 2018 season. White, taken with the seventh pick of the 2015 NFL Draft, has only played in a handful of contests since entering the league because of injury problems, and there were rumors in late August that the Bears were considering cutting him rather than seeing if he could become a contributor on offense in 2018.
White made the final roster, but he may find himself playing for his job on a weekly basis alongside quarterback Mitchell Trubisky (more on him later). The 26-year-old sure looks like a bust who doesn’t have a future with the Bears.
17 Won’t Overcome Bust Status: Cedric Ogbuehi
Cedric Ogbuehi has been one of the more disappointing offensive linemen in the league since the Cincinnati Bengals drafted him with a first-round pick in 2015.
Ogbuehi has been a revolving door of a blocker in pass protection during his career, and some even questioned his commitment to the cause during the 2017 campaign.
While the Bengals have given him a chance to salvage his tenure with the club, and maybe his pro career, heading into the 2018 campaign, few, if any, have high expectations for him. As John Sheeran of Cincy Jungle pointed out in August, Ogbuehi did little to silence doubters during the preseason.
16 Overcame Bust Status: Cameron Erving
Whether or not you believe offensive lineman Cameron Erving has done enough to overcome a bust status depends on what you think of his play since joining the Kansas City Chiefs. The former first-round selection of the Cleveland Browns did not look like a pro tackle while with the Cleveland Browns in 2015 and 2016, and moving him to center did not help him or the Browns.
In August 2017, the Browns traded him to KC, a move lauded by many Cleveland fans since the franchise actually got something for him. Erving became a valuable swingman with his new franchise, though, and he earned a contract extension ahead of the 2018 season.
15 Might Overcome It: Dante Fowler
In May 2018, it was learned that the Jacksonville Jaguars had declined the fifth-year option for defensive end and 2015 first-round pick Dante Fowler. Fowler missed what should have been his debut year in the NFL because of a torn ACL, and he did well to accumulate eight sacks during the 2017 season while playing for one of the best defenses in the AFC.
That one year, alone, was not enough for the Jags to trust him beyond the upcoming season, but don’t think Fowler cannot shrug the bust status while eyeing a contract. The 24-year-old is still improving on the field.
14 Won’t Overcome Bust Status: Corey Coleman
Wide receiver Corey Coleman was such a massive disappointment with the Cleveland Browns, he will go down as one of the organization’s worst draft picks since the franchise returned to the NFL in 1999. The first-round pick of the 2016 Draft had plenty of athleticism, but he struggled with the fundamentals; most notably catching the ball and running routes.
The Browns reportedly wanted to trade him before the 2017 season, and the team finally found a partner for that transaction in August 2018.
Once the Buffalo Bills got ahold of Coleman, the team wasn’t impressed, and cut him before the start of the season. He's getting the ultimate chance at redemption in New England now, but we don't think even the G.O.A.T can save him now.
13 Won’t Overcome Bust Status: Ereck Flowers
Ereck Flowers was one of the more promising offensive tackles entering the NFL when the New York Giants selected him with the ninth overall pick in 2015. Flowers had a few decent outings his rookie season, but he only got worse and worse in 2016 and 2017, so much so that New York fans took to Tweeting “#NotMyLeftTackle” each time he blew a block and hung Eli Manning out to dry during games.
New Giants head coach Pat Shurmur moved Flowers to the right side of the offensive line during the summer of 2018, but the 24-year-old hasn’t done enough to make anybody believe he will overcome the bust status.
12 Overcame Bust Status: Eric Ebron
It will be a long time before fans of the Detroit Lions forget that the team used the tenth pick of the 2014 NFL Draft on tight end Eric Ebron when wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. was available and on the board. Ebron managed to catch five touchdown passes his second season in the league, but he rarely played like a target worth such a high value over the first two campaigns of his career.
As Kyle Meinke of MLive.com pointed out in February 2018, though, Ebron produced some historic numbers with the Lions, but the team nevertheless let him enter free agency earlier this year. He's now with the Colts and should have some continued success with Andrew Luck throwing him the ball.
11 Might Overcome Bust Status: Mitchell Trubisky
Plenty of beat reporters, observers and fans have hot takes about Chicago Bears quarterback Mitchell Trubisky, and one or even a handful of solid outings won’t be enough to make those individuals believe he isn’t a bust. The Bears moved up to the second overall pick of the 2017 NFL Draft to take Trubisky, but he did not play as advertised.
One bad year does not eliminate the physical attributes and football IQ possessed by Trubisky, who deserves more time to evolve into a pro signal-caller.
Recently, E.Jay Zarett of the Sporting News compared the Chicago QB to Eli Manning. Manning has two Super Bowl MVP awards in his personal trophy case.
10 Won’t Overcome Bust Status: Paxton Lynch
Just when you thought that Tim Tebow would be the worst quarterback taken by the Denver Broncos this decade, the club went and acquired Paxton Lynch with a first-round pick of the 2016 NFL Draft. Lynch, who was probably drafted well before he should have gone off the board, wasn’t ready to perform under the bright lights of the NFL, and he was one of multiple QBs who couldn’t get the job done for the Broncos in 2016 and 2017.
This summer, Lynch was made to compete for the backup gig. He lost, as the Broncos cut him before the start of the season. His career is in jeopardy.
9 Won’t Overcome Bust Status: Breshad Perriman
Ideally, the Baltimore Ravens would like to surround veteran quarterback Joe Flacco and/or rookie Lamar Jackson with talented weapons in the passing attack. Breshad Perriman literally did not make the cut. Drafted via a first-round selection in 2015, Perriman missed his entire rookie year because of a knee injury. Once he got on the field, Perriman left much to be desired.
The speedy wideout who had some decent moments in 2016 fell out of favor in the passing attack during 2017, so much so that some may have forgotten he was still with the Ravens. Baltimore kept him around this past summer before releasing him and giving up on the experiment.
8 Overcame Bust Status: Jadeveon Clowney
In December 2017, T.A. Mock of House of Houston wrote about how Jadeveon Clowney went from being known as a bust to becoming a star and one of the cornerstones of the Houston defense. Clowney entered the NFL as the first overall pick of the 2014 NFL Draft and one of the most highly-rated defensive prospects of the 2000s, but injury woes threatened to sink his career before it really got going.
He eventually got healthy and found his comfort zone in the defense, and he has only gotten better with additional playing time.
He notched 9.5 sacks during the 2017 campaign, and he could be a Defensive Player of the Year candidate if he continues improving his statistics.
7 Might Overcome Bust Status: John Ross
The Cincinnati Bengals will be hoping, if not expecting, that wide receiver John Ross was merely a victim of circumstance and misfortune during his rookie season. The ninth overall pick of the 2017 NFL Draft did little to help quarterback Andy Dalton during his debut year, as injuries kept him sidelined for the majority of the campaign. Ross saw only a pair of targets in 2017, and he did not catch either one of them. While durability remains a worry regarding the 23-year-old, he is a candidate to overcome his bust status because of Cincinnati’s offense and his physical skills that, hopefully, did not disappear overnight.
6 Won’t Overcome Bust Status: Justin Gilbert
The next two individuals who definitely will not overcome bust status are two regrettable draft selections made by none other than the Cleveland Browns. In 2014, the Browns traded down, rather than selecting Khalil Mack or Odell Beckham Jr., and the franchise then moved back up to take cornerback Justin Gilbert.
Gilbert showed little talent and even less effort, at times, with the Browns until the team traded him to division rivals the Pittsburgh Steelers in September 2016.
The Steelers didn’t keep Gilbert past that campaign, and the former first-round selection is out of the league after being handed a one-year suspension by the NFL in 2017.
5 Won’t Overcome Bust Status: Johnny Manziel
The surprising and sad rise and fall of former college phenom Johnny Manziel has been well documented since he flopped with the Cleveland Browns. Taken with the 22nd pick of the 2014 NFL Draft, the former Johnny Football admittedly did not work hard enough to improve as a pro, and he was also affected by addiction issues and other personal setbacks. Manziel, who has publicly stated that he is sober these days, is working to continue his career in the CFL. Even if Manziel finds success up north, it is difficult to even imagine an NFL team would give him more than a workout in the future.
4 Overcame Bust Status: Jared Goff
Plenty of people who cover and watch the NFL had some egg on their faces after naming Los Angeles Rams quarterback Jared Goff a bust following his rookie season. The first overall pick of the 2016 NFL Draft looked thoroughly unprepared to play in the league during his debut year, so much so that more than a few individuals believed the Rams should have given up on him ahead of the summer of 2017.
Then came Sean McVay as the team’s new head coach, and everything turned around.
Goff matched 28 touchdown passes with only seven interceptions last year, and he’s a big reason why some view the Rams as championship contenders for the 2018 season.
3 Might Overcome Bust Status: Eli Apple
New York Giants head coach Pat Shurmur has awarded those on the roster with fresh starts following the team’s awful 2017 season. Perhaps nobody needs that opportunity more than cornerback Eli Apple. Apple, taken in the first round of the 2016 NFL Draft, played horribly throughout the 2017 campaign, and he also earned himself a team suspension and the distinction of being referred to as a “cancer” by safety and current team captain Landon Collins.
Apple has the size and physical attributes to evolve into a starting corner for a playoff team. There is still time for him to erase the bust status so many placed on him even before this past offseason.
2 Won’t Overcome Bust Status: Christian Hackenberg
Quarterback Christian Hackenberg may be the worst draft pick made by the New York Jets in recent memory. The second-round selection of the 2016 NFL Draft struggled with accurately throwing the ball so much in practice that Gang Green literally did not trust him to play under center for the club during regular season contests.
In May 2018, the Jets shipped Hackenberg to the Oakland Raiders, an organization that didn't even want to see him perform in training camp before parting ways with him.
As of early September, Hackenberg is on the practice squad of the Cincinnati Bengals. Don’t expect to see him on the field in 2018.
1 Won’t Overcome Bust Status: Malik McDowell
Much like the previously mentioned Christian Hackenberg, defensive tackle Malik McDowell turned into a bust for the team that took him without actually ever playing. McDowell, a second-round pick of the Seattle Seahawks from the 2017 NFL Draft, was involved in an ATV accident before what was supposed to be his first training camp, and he didn’t feature for the team for a down of regular season football.
Before the end of July 2018, the Seahawks elected to release him with a non-football-injury designation. As of the posting of this piece, McDowell is available to all teams, but his status in the league is certainly in question.