Every National Football League franchise and front office whiffs on draft picks now and again, leading to feelings of regret from general managers and coaching staffs responsible for those decisions. Yes, even the New England Patriots, the most stable franchise and one true dynasty of the NFL of the 2000s has been guilty of draft calls that backfired. Not all draft misses and miscues are created equal, of course. There is a difference between a team regretting using the 32nd overall pick on somebody who didn’t work out for that club and a franchise spending the top pick of a draft class on an athlete who is remembered as a bust.
At the opposite end of the draft spectrum are the picks that have been downright steals for teams. More often than not, players selected outside of the first rounds of drafts who become starters, stars and All-Pros are deemed as steals more so than somebody acquired via one of the first 32 picks of a class. After all, first-round draft picks are supposed to be good, or at least that is the plan for teams in possession of those valuable selections. For different reasons, using the top pick of a draft class can be no different than a franchise flipping a coin regarding the selection of a talent. Sometimes, the risk isn’t worth the reward.
24 NFL Draft pick regret: Jameis Winston
It is hardly a secret that some within the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are regretting that the team used the first overall pick of the 2015 NFL Draft on quarterback Jameis Winston. Winston’s play has been filled with up-and-down moments over the years, and his latest off-the-field incident earned him a three-game league suspension. There are more than a few rumors that the Bucs would love to move on from Winston following the 2018 campaign depending on all that occurs during the season. Marcus Mariota has not been without flaws during his tenure with the Tennessee Titans, but he would have been a safer pick than Winston.
23 NFL Draft steal: David Johnson
The Arizona Cardinals were able to acquire one of the steals of the 2015 NFL Draft when running back David Johnson fell to the franchise in the third round. Johnson had to earn touches as part of a crowded backfield during his rookie season, but he proved his worth and then enjoyed a breakout campaign in 2016. He ended that year with 1,239 rushing yards, 20 total touchdowns and 879 receiving yards. Unfortunately for both he and the club, he suffered a wrist injury in September 2017 that prematurely ended that season for him. He should be healthy and ready to go for September 2018.
22 NFL Draft pick regret: Blake Bortles
Of course there are still fans of the Jacksonville Jaguars hoping that Blake Bortles can fully adapt to life in the NFL and make it so the team does not regret using the third overall pick on him back in 2014. Be honest with yourselves, though, Jacksonville supporters. Can you look anybody in the eye and truthfully proclaim you wouldn’t rather have a fully healthy Teddy Bridgewater, Derek Carr or Jimmy Garoppolo under center than Bortles following what you’ve seen over the past four campaigns? Worst of all, Jacksonville could have traded down, acquired several additional assets and then selected one of those other signal-callers.
21 NFL Draft steal: Devonta Freeman
Even the Atlanta Falcons probably did not realize what the club had when it selected running back Devonta Freeman in the fourth round of the 2014 NFL Draft. After a solid but not spectacular rookie season, Freeman enjoyed a breakout year in 2015. He rushed for over 1,000 yards and 11 touchdowns, and he accumulated career highs in receptions (73) and receiving yards (578). In August 2017, Freeman stopped being quite a steal for the Falcons, as the team awarded him with a deserved contract extension that guaranteed him over $22 million. He will be looking to bounce back from a quieter 2017 and show he can still be an impact player in the Atlanta offense.
20 NFL Draft pick regret: Johnny Manziel
One cannot put together a piece about teams regretting recent draft picks without mentioning Johnny Manziel, the famous former Heisman winner who the Cleveland Browns selected in the first round of the 2014 NFL Draft. Unless you have not been paying attention to pro football over the past five years, you likely know all about the rise and fall of the phenom once known around the country as Johnny Football. Manziel is out of the NFL, most likely for good, and the Browns missed out on signal-callers such as Teddy Bridgewater, Derek Carr and Jimmy Garoppolo. Cleveland fans are now hoping Baker Mayfield is the answer at the position.
19 NFL Draft steal: Davante Adams
Several of the wide receivers selected in the 2014 NFL Draft did not work out for the clubs that made those selections. The Green Bay Packers should have no regrets about using a second-round pick on Davante Adams that year. Adams has become a starter worth no fewer than 115 targets per season over the past two years, and he was named to his first Pro Bowl in 2017 even though he spent the majority of that campaign without Aaron Rodgers serving as his quarterback. He and the Packers agreed to a four-year extension in late December that should keep him with Green Bay through at least the 2019 campaign.
18 NFL Draft pick regret: Paxton Lynch
Maybe the Denver Broncos should just give up on taking quarterbacks in the first rounds of NFL Drafts for the foreseeable future. Denver selected Paxton Lynch with the 26th pick of the 2016 NFL Draft, but the Broncos cut him ahead of the 2018 campaign after it was made clear he was not going to be the long-term answer at the position or even a serviceable backup. A QB mentioned later in this piece, one that has been nothing shy of a steal for the Dallas Cowboys, would have been the better choice. At least Lynch isn’t the worst QB from this draft class. More on that man after the next NFL Draft steal spotlighted in this piece.
17 NFL Draft steal: Sterling Shepard
Pessimists may say that the New York Giants using a second-round pick on wide receiver Sterling Shepard could still go in either direction for that club. That’s fair, but so much went wrong for the offense of the 2017 Giants that most numbers from that year need to be thrown out with the figurative bath water. Shepard found the end zone eight times as a rookie in 2016, and he and quarterback Eli Manning built solid chemistry as the youngster became more of a trusted ally. With Odell Beckham Jr. back in the lineup and signed to an extension, Shepard could be in for another big year in 2018, as long as those around him stay healthy, that is.
16 NFL Draft pick regret: Mitchell Trubisky
Sometimes, quarterbacks are able to flip the switch and silence critics in the blink of an eye, and that could be the case for Chicago Bears starter Mitchell Trubisky. Remember, though, the the Bears moved up to get Trubisky with the second pick of the 2017 NFL Draft. As of the typing of this sentence, both Patrick Mahomes and Deshaun Watson look better than Trubisky. QBs perform differently in different systems, of course, and circumstances affect how well or how poorly individuals play on Sundays. The Bears may not be regretting the Trubisky pick yet, but fans could begin to reject him if he doesn’t look like the real deal this fall.
15 NFL Draft steal: Kareem Hunt
The Kansas City Chiefs grabbed yet another steal when the team selected running back Kareem Hunt in the third round of the 2017 NFL Draft. Hunt accumulated 246 yards and three touchdowns in his first game, a showdown with the New England Patriots, and that performance was a launching-pad for the rest of his rookie year. He scored 11 total touchdowns and produced 1,782 offensive yards, and he led the league in rushing yards (1,327). The 2017 PFWA Rookie of the Year could have an increased role as a receiver in 2018, which may make him even more difficult to handle for opposing defenses. Good luck stopping him.
14 NFL Draft pick regret: Christian Hackenberg
Critics can say whatever they want about the previously mentioned Paxton Lynch. As least Lynch was able to take the field during regular season games for the Denver Broncos, which is more than we can say about Christian Hackenberg. The Penn State product taken in the second round of the 2016 NFL Draft by the New York Jets was a disaster from the very beginning. His struggles with accuracy during practices resulted in the Jets not trusting him to throw passes when games counted, and the team shipped him out of town in May 2018. He’s one of the worst draft picks ever made by the Jets.
13 NFL Draft steal: Joe Schobert
It’s commonplace to mock the Cleveland Browns in these types of pieces, and rightfully so considering the team’s woeful draft history over the past 20 years. With that said, the Browns can feel pretty good about finding linebacker Joe Schobert with a fourth-round pick in 2016. Schobert earned a handful of starts his rookie season, and he then developed into a full-time starter during the 2017 campaign, one in which Cleveland lost 16 straight games en route to finishing the year without a victory. At least Schobert was a bright spot for that awful team. Jake Burns of 247Sports listed Shobert as a breakout candidate for the upcoming campaign.
12 NFL Draft pick regret: Danny Shelton
Enough being nice to the Cleveland Browns. Cleveland used the 12th pick of the 2015 NFL Draft on defensive tackle Danny Shelton, an individual who delighted fans with some highlight-reel plays but one who also routinely disappeared from games as if he was not even on the field in the first place. In January 2018, Shelton voiced some hot takes about the 0-16 “Perfect Season Parade” organized by fans, which was just about the only time he actually made headlines his final year with the team. Cleveland traded him to the New England Patriots, a franchise that declined his fifth-year option ahead of the last season of his current contract.
11 NFL Draft steal: Landon Collins
Not every member of the secondary picked by the New York Giants over the past several years has worked out swimmingly for Big Blue, but the club has to feel fortunate that safety Landon Collins fell to the team early in the second round of the 2015 NFL Draft. Collins is a two-time Pro Bowler who probably should have won Defensive Player of the Year honors in 2016. He is also an outspoken locker-room leader not afraid to call others out when they disappoint the club. The Giants named the 24-year-old one of the team’s captains for the 2018 season, a campaign he and others within the organization hope will include some postseason football.
10 NFL Draft pick regret: Vernon Hargreaves
Per Rick Stroud of the Tampa Bay Times, Tampa Bay Buccaneers cornerback Vernon Hargreaves spoke openly about the troubles he has had since entering the league via the 11th pick of the 2016 NFL Draft this past spring. That’s admirable, but the Bucs need him to be more than just honest about his play. Tallying one interception every two seasons also isn’t going to cut it from the high draft pick. Safety Keanu Neal was on the board and available when the Bucs drafted Hargreaves. At this point, Tampa Bay probably would have been better off trading down. The team could look to more on if Hargreaves continues to be a regrettable draft pick through 2018.
9 NFL Draft steal: Jordan Howard
Running back Jordan Howard dropped all the way to the fifth round and pick No. 150 before he was selected by the Chicago Bears in 2016. It took a couple of games for Howard to find his feet and comfort zone in the Chicago backfield, and he then rushed for 100 yards versus the Detroit Lions in October of that season. He gained momentum from there, rushing for 5.2 yards per carry and 1,313 total yards his debut year. He ended the 2017 season with nine rushing scores and 1,122 yards. The one-time Pro Bowler was picked to be a “first-round” fantasy football performer by Phil Thompson of the Chicago Tribune ahead of the 2018 campaign.
8 NFL Draft pick regret: Corey Coleman
Even if he finds a home with a different franchise in 2018 or beyond, wide receiver Corey Coleman will be an all-time NFL Draft bust for the Cleveland Browns. The Browns took the speedy Coleman with the 15th pick in 2016, but he could not develop into a full-time pro starter capable of running tight routes or catching the ball. Cleveland traded Coleman to the Buffalo Bills in August 2018, but the 24-year-old was cut by the Bills before the regular season started. The Browns could have waited until the second round and grabbed Sterling Shepard or Michael Thomas, among others, instead of wasting a pick on Coleman.
7 NFL Draft steal: Tyreek Hill
The Cleveland Browns essentially burning a pick on Corey Coleman has to sting that much more knowing that Tyreek Hill fell to the Kansas City Chiefs in the fifth round of that same draft. Hill, a two-time Pro Bowler, is a true home-run hitter who can take the ball to the house from practically anywhere on the field. He is one of the most exciting players in the NFL and part of what may be the best one-two punch in the league, along with a different draft steal mentioned later in this piece. We’ll see how he likes playing alongside quarterback Patrick Mahomes, who should look for Hill on deep balls early and often.
6 NFL Draft pick regret: Eli Apple
It is worth noting that New York Giants cornerback Eli Apple has time to turn things around and start anew following his horrible 2017 season, during which his commitment to the team was questioned because of some lackluster performances, he was called a “cancer” by teammate Landon Collins and he earned a team suspension. Even if Apple merely returns to his rookie form, the Giants could be left regretting this pick and wishing that the team instead filled one of several different holes that remain on both sides of the football. It was believed that the Giants wanted to trade Apple after the 2017 season, but he remains with the club as of the final weeks of this summer.
5 NFL Draft steal: Dak Prescott
One cannot put a price on a franchise quarterback. Because of that, Dak Prescott could be the best NFL Draft steal in recent memory, especially if he improves with the Dallas Cowboys during the final two years of the 2010s. Prescott dropped to the fourth round of the 2016 NFL Draft and the belief, at the time he was selected, was that he would be a project who would sit for at least a couple of years, if he would see the field at all. He was called into action as a rookie after Tony Romo went down and the rest is history. Moving forward, Prescott has to show he’s more than just a good value pick and that he can be a championship-caliber signal-caller.
4 NFL Draft pick regret: Malik McDowell
The 2017 NFL Draft class is not yet two years old, but defensive tackle Malik McDowell could already be its worst overall selection. McDowell was taken by the Seattle Seahawks with the 35th pick, and he was involved in an ATV accident during the summer of what should have been his rookie campaign. McDowell never played in 2017 and he was waived with a non-football injury before the start of the upcoming season. Just about anybody would have been a better choice than a player who was a complete non-factor for a Seahawks team that is in the middle of a rebuild.
3 NFL Draft steal: Alvin Kamara
The New Orleans Saints located one of the better steals in recent memory when the team drafted running back Alvin Kamara in the third round of last year’s draft. Kamara was an ideal weapon to pair with quarterback Drew Brees, becoming a force in the backfield and the team’s passing attack his debut season. He ended 2017 with 728 yards on 120 carries, and 826 yards on 81 receptions. He won AP Offensive Rookie of the Year honors, deservedly so, and he will be expected to offer the New Orleans offense even more with Mark Ingram suspended for the first four games of the 2018 season. Realistically, what else could Kamara give to the offense?
2 NFL Draft pick regret: Justin Gilbert
Cornerback Justin Gilbert will go down as one of the biggest mistakes ever made by the new era of the Cleveland Browns that began when the team returned to the NFL in 1999. The Browns could have taken Khalil Mack, Odell Beckham Jr. or an available quarterback with the fourth overall pick of the 2014 NFL Draft, but the team instead traded down and then acquired Gilbert, a player who underwhelmed with his play and work ethic before the Browns traded him to the Pittsburgh Steelers in September 2016. Gilbert earned a one-year suspension for violating the league's substance abuse policy after the Steelers cut him in 2017. His career is over.
1 NFL Draft steal: Telvin Smith
Defense wins championships. It’s a mantra that is repeated literally every football season, and it is one the Jacksonville Jaguars will hope is accurate after using selections such as this fifth-round pick to build a formidable unit. Linebacker Telvin Smith went to the Jaguars long after many tuned-out of the 2014 NFL Draft, and Smith has become a cornerstone starter who was named to the 2017 Pro Bowl squad. In July 2018, David Levin of the Black and Teal blog wrote that Smith is the “heart and soul” of a Jacksonville defense that could terrorize opposing offenses throughout 2018. The Jaguars will be looking to do more than return to the conference championship game this time around.