The annual National Football League Draft is the most important team-building process in the league. While contenders often find team-changing players in free agency and via trades, the NFL Draft is where clubs locate cornerstones for rosters capable of winning a Super Bowl. Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, Eli Manning, Russell Wilson, Ben Roethlisberger and so many others who were drafted by their first clubs guided those franchise to titles. It is almost easy to forget that individuals such as Eli Manning, Drew Brees and others were once deemed to be NFL Draft busts incapable of winning on the biggest football stage. It wasn’t all that long ago when some analysts and fans believed Jadeveon Clowney would be remembered as a bust and as a wasted draft pick.
The old football adage teaches that one cannot honestly evaluate a draft class until three or even four years after the fact because it often takes players multiple seasons before they find their feet in the NFL. That’s a nice thought, but the reality of the situation is that observers and also customers who spend thousands upon thousands of dollars on tickets, merchandise and other items want to see instant results on the field. They, thus, are surprised when some players once referred to as NFL Draft busts revive their careers and enjoy success in the league. Unfortunately, there is also a long history of these busts flaming-out and floundering on football Sundays. Those individuals are either quickly forgotten, or remembered for being failures who probably shouldn’t have been drafted in the first place.
16 Justin Blackmon: Won’t
We go all the way back to the 2012 NFL Draft to find the first instance of a recent bust who, unfortunately, won’t revive his career. Justin Blackmon once appeared to have the skills and the physical tools to be one of the best wide receivers in the league, but his inabilities to routinely pass NFL drug tests and also stay out of trouble have kept him away from the league for roughly five years.
At this point, Blackmon is an NFL player in name only, as the Jacksonville Jaguars still retain his rights, but he is unable to perform until he is reinstated. We don’t foresee that day arriving, meaning Blackmon will be remembered as a generational draft bust and, sadly, a waste of a ton of talent.
15 DeVante Parker: Will
Some may say that it’s a little unfair, if not premature, to refer to Miami Dolphins wide receiver DeVante Parker as a bust. Parker, a former first-round pick, proved to be a serviceable target, but he has never reached the high expectations had for him when he first entered the league.
There have even been rumors that the Dolphins could look to deal Parker if the club is not interested in offering him a second contact. That may be the best move for both parties. There’s still something left for Parker to salvage if he finds the right team with the right coaching staff and a proven quarterback, and the Dolphins could reclaim at least some value in a transaction that occurs before the fall’s trade deadline.
14 Paxton Lynch: Won’t
At the opposite end of the football spectrum from Mitchell Trubisky is Paxton Lynch, the QB selected by the Denver Broncos in the first round of the 2016 NFL Draft. There was a time during his rookie season when it was believed Lynch was a project for the future who possessed potential and merely needed some seasoning. That belief no longer exists among many who follow the league, and it may not exist among those who work for the Broncos.
Concerns about his ability to remain healthy and also learn an NFL playbook hover over his status, and it’s possible the Broncos could consider trading him for draft picks down the road. As best, he will be a backup for the Broncos later this fall.
13 Blake Bortles: Will
The Jacksonville Jaguars may still not be all-in on quarterback Blake Bortles, but we are banking on him turning the good portions of his 2017 season into a full-on career revival that will see him establish himself as a legitimate starter for the Jags. Bortles may never be Tom Brady or Peyton Manning. That’s OK. Those running the club have seen improvements in his game, and he is still developing. Remember that Eli Manning wasn’t a sure thing right out of the gates. In fact, some home fans booed him off the field during the 2007 regular season.
He is now the greatest QB in the history of that club. Bortles is only 25 years old, meaning he theoretically hasn’t yet hit his prime. He also has plenty of fuel from doubters to motivate him.
12 Greg Robinson: Won’t
Ahead of the 2014 NFL Draft, offensive tackle Greg Robinson was seen as one of the safest picks of the class. The then-St. Louis Rams seemingly agreed, as the club spent the second overall pick on him that year. Robinson not only wasn’t worth such a pricey investment. He quickly showed he was a bust, as he repeatedly struggled during games and also reportedly earned scorn for being overweight before the team ultimately moved him to a different position on the line.
After the Rams gave up on him, the Detroit Lions offered him a shot last year, but the team cut him after he suffered a season-ending injury. Robinson is a free agent as of the posting of this piece. He is one of the worst draft picks made by the Rams in recent memory.
11 Josh Gordon: Will
Much like with the previously mentioned Justin Blackmon, Cleveland Browns wide receiver Josh Gordon has failed to make the most of his undeniable talent and physical prowess because of personal issues and a failure to abide by certain NFL rules.
Gordon, per his own admission, dealt with demons and addiction, but he seems to have notched victories over those foes and is working to get back to form with the Browns ahead of the 2018 season. While Gordon may never be what so many thought he’d be during his incredible 2013 campaign, he gave glimpses last year that he is ready to revive his career and, at the very least, enjoy success and find end zones during games. Cleveland fans are still holding onto hope that Gordon will be worth the wait.
10 Sammy Watkins: Won’t
Unlike the first couple of wide receivers mentioned in this piece, Sammy Watkins has not been his own worst enemy throughout his career. The product once taken by the Buffalo Bills with a first round draft pick has, however, dealt with multiple injury issues and setbacks since entering the NFL in 2014.
The Bills shipped Watkins to the Los Angeles Rams in the summer of 2017, and it appears he left little mark with that franchise. Los Angeles allowed Watkins to exit the team via free agency, and he is now trying to revive his career as a member of the Kansas City Chiefs. Kansas City fans will be hoping Watkins can stay healthy and productive for 16 consecutive games, but we just can’t see him achieving that goal.
9 Danny Shelton: Will
It is often easy to mock the Cleveland Browns for the draft picks made by the franchise since 1999 because, well, the team’s history is downright shambolic. Such critics and detractors shouldn’t give up on defensive lineman Danny Shelton just because the Browns did, however, as Shelton had more than a handful of positive moments on the field during his three-season tenure with the Orange and Brown.
The former first-round pick was traded to the New England Patriots in March 2018, and odds are that he is going to enjoy escaping a franchise that went 0-16 for one that is the model for all NFL teams. We expect Shelton to revive his career, so long as he remains healthy, and show his old employer that it and not he, is the real bust.
8 Christian Hackenberg: Won’t
If a guy actually never plays a down of meaningful football, can be be considered an NFL Draft bust? He can if a team uses a second-round pick on him, as the New York Jets did when Gang Green selected Christian Hackenberg back in 2016. In fairness to the former Penn State signal-caller, practically everybody knew, at the time, that the Jets overdrafted him, but that doesn’t take away from the fact that he has shown little, if any, improvement since entering the league.
As of the middle of April, it has been reported by multiple individuals that it is unlikely the Jets are going to keep Hackenberg through the start of the upcoming season. Barring a miraculous career resurrection, Jets fans will remember Hackenberg as one of the worst picks ever made by the franchise. Ouch.
7 Mike Williams: Will
There is some concern regarding Los Angeles Chargers wide receiver Mike Williams, as injury problems prevented him from making much of an impact during his rookie year. Rather than focus on his paltry 11 receptions during his debut season, remember that there are multiple reasons why the Chargers grabbed him with the seventh overall selection of the 2017 NFL Draft.
By all accounts, the Chargers expect him to revive his career and put in the needed work to improve in all aspects so long as he can avoid the physical setbacks that sunk him last season. Look for him to become the deep threat quarterback Philip Rivers has needed and, if we’re being honest, dreamed of having in the lineup and on the field during games.
6 Ereck Flowers: Won’t
The next two are a pair of New York Giants players who are seemingly headed in different directions. By now, even casual football fans are aware of the struggles had by left tackle Ereck Flowers, the offensive lineman taken by Big Blue with the ninth pick of the 2015 NFL Draft. Flowers showed some promise early into his career, but such good moments were quickly erased from memories with awful play.
Numerous experts and former linemen have claimed that they see little, if any, way Flowers finds his form at left tackle or at any other position, and it has been rumored that the Giants could look to move on from him if some team would take his contract in 2018. New York has made some truly terrible draft picks this decade, and Flowers has to be the worst of the bunch.
5 Eli Apple: Will
The possibility still exists that cornerback Eli Apple could join Ereck Flowers on the list of NFL Draft busts taken by the New York Giants during the 2010s. While Apple enjoyed a solid first year in the pros, he was a disaster both on and off the field throughout 2017. When he wasn’t getting burned on plays, he was being accused of showing little effort, at times. He even earned himself a team suspension late in the season.
The good news as it pertains to Apple’s future is that it has been suggested he is in good shape and, more importantly, good spirits as of the start of OTAs. The Giants desperately need him to revive his career and show why the team took him in the first place if Big Blue is to return to the postseason in January 2019.
4 Justin Gilbert: Won’t
Unlike Eli Apple, former Cleveland Browns cornerback Justin Gilbert has zero chance of reviving his career as far as we know. In fact, Gilbert isn’t even in the NFL as of the typing of this sentence. Following a stellar preseason for the Browns back in 2014, Gilbert quickly showed to have little promise in the Cleveland secondary, and it was suggested by beat reporters that he wasn’t all that fond of playing football. The Browns eventually became so tired of him that they shipped him to division rivals the Pittsburgh Steelers. That did Gilbert no good, and he was released by the Steelers in February 2017.
Gilbert is currently not eligible to play because of a suspension caused by him allegedly violating the league's substance abuse policy. He’s probably the worst draft pick in the history of the so-called “new Browns.”
3 Mitchell Trubisky: Will
You can call him Mitch or Mitchell. Just don’t call the Chicago Bears quarterback an NFL Draft bust as of the spring of 2018. What should be remembered is that Mitchell Trubisky technically wasn’t supposed to start for the Bears during the fall, but that plan changed after Mike Glennon played poorly during the first month of the campaign.
As to be expected, Trubisky struggled as a first-year pro, but he also did enough to earn more than just a look heading into his first full season as the team’s starting signal-caller. Trubisky and the Bears are going to grow together later this fall, and those who work within the organization have high hopes for his future. He could be a break-out star of 2018.
2 Johnny Manziel: Won’t
The quarterback once affectionally known as Johnny Football is now merely trying to find some entity that will allow him to play football professionally. Johnny Manziel, the former first-round draft pick who has been labeled as a bust after he flopped with the Cleveland Browns, claimed he has worked hard to embrace sobriety and also battle other personal issues en route to making a return.
Manziel has the physical tools needed to get the job done in the NFL, but he is probably going to have to journey up north to Canada to show he can make it at any significant level. That, above anything else, is why we don’t envision Manziel reviving his career this season. Hey may, in time, but that time likely won’t come until 2019 at the earliest.
1 Teddy Bridgewater: Will
It’s entirely possible this is nothing but wishful thinking. Teddy Bridgewater played like a future champion quarterback only a few years ago, but the serious and career-threatening knee injury that he suffered in August 2016 sadly turned him into a bust for the Minnesota Vikings. After all, the most important ability for any team is availability.
The Vikings weren’t convinced Bridgewater would ever again become the player of old, and he has since moved on to the New York Jets. Bridgewater likely won’t be the Gang Green starter in the opening week of the campaign, but it’s not a stretch to assume he’ll see some playing time during the fall. We still think Bridgewater has the goods to light it up and revive his career this season.