The NFL is not the NBA or NHL, where you can simply throw money around at star players to win world championships. Look at recent champions like the New England Patriots, Baltimore Ravens, Denver Broncos, Philadelphia Eagles and Seattle Seahawks - you need to hit the jackpot time and time again in the draft to win in today's NFL.
That's really what an NFL team's success (or lack thereof) comes down to. The Cleveland Browns, Oakland Raiders, Miami Dolphins and New York Jets wouldn't be such lousy teams if they didn't waste the bulk of their first and second-round draft picks.
It's not all about draft positioning, but rather how you use those choices. Some of Seattle's core players were drafted after the first two rounds, including Russell Wilson and Tyler Lockett. Fans don't need reminders of when Tom Brady was taken, either.
Here, we're taking a look at some recent draft picks and determining their respective statuses: Are they looking like big-time busts? Are some of them late-round gems? Or are some of them on the fence and facing make-or-break years in 2019?
On this list, we decided to keep it strictly within the years of 2015 to '17. Obviously, it's too early to tell which 2018 draft prospects will be stars. As for players drafted back in 2014 or earlier, we know have a firm idea if they're stars, busts or simply somewhere in between.
Now, a look at 21 recent draft picks, with seven appearing to be busts, seven purely steals and seven of them on the fence.
21 Bust: Solomon Thomas
The San Francisco 49ers drafted defensive end Solomon Thomas with the No. 3 pick in 2017, even though there were some much-needed and promising offensive talents right there for the taking.
Thomas is finishing up his second NFL season, and the 49ers continue to wait for Thomas to break out. He had just three sacks in his rookie season and failed to produce much of an impact. Through his first 12 games of 2018, Thomas only had one sack.
There's time for Thomas to eventually gain superstar status, but so far, he's under-performed and hasn't justified the 49ers' decision to go third overall. They passed on rising stars like Leonard Fournette, Deshaun Watson and Jamal Adams.
20 Pure Steal: Jordan Howard
This was a long and painful rebuilding process for the Chicago Bears, but the strong drafting of GM Ryan Pace is the reason why this group is about to win the NFC North division.
This includes the draft choice of running back Jordan Howard, who somehow fell to Chicago in the fifth round (150th overall), in 2016. All Howard did in each of his first two years was reach the 1,000-yard rushing mark. He totaled 15 touchdowns over those two years, and was elected to the Pro Bowl in his rookie season.
Howard has been the centerpiece of Chicago's high-powered offense, and he's a key reason why they're about to end an eight-year playoff drought. It's absolutely stunning that 149 players were taken before this major talent.
19 On The Fence: O.J. Howard
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers haven't made the playoffs since 2007, and that can be attributed to their terrible drafting. But when it comes to tight end O.J. Howard - the 19th overall pick from 2017 - it's tough to tell if the front office got this one right or not.
In what was a dismal 2017 season for the Bucs, Howard had a mere 26 catches for 432 yards and six touchdowns. He also fumbled three times, however, and struggled to get on the same page with Jameis Winston.
Howard has endured a much better second season, surpassing all of his totals from 2017 already. Now, Howard has to show in 2019 that the second-year version of himself will show up from here on out. Otherwise, they may have another bust on their hands.
18 Bust: Ereck Flowers
The New York Giants sought better pass protection for quarterback Eli Manning, so they drafted 6-foot-6 offensive tackle Ereck Flowers with the ninth overall selection in 2015.
Flowers, however, was never able to grow into that reliable offensive lineman that the Giants had envisioned. Geoff Schwartz - who once played on the same o-line as Flowers - went as far as to saying he quit on the Giants.
Flowers kept on struggling early in the 2018 season, so the Giants benched him before eventually releasing the once highly-touted prospect. New York released Flowers early in the 2018 season, and the Jacksonville Jaguars later signed him in order to fix their o-line as well.
17 Pure Steal: Kevin Byard
The Tennessee Titans have built up one of the best youthful defenses in the NFL, and it all starts with safety Kevin Byard. One of the top players from the 2016 Draft class thus far, Byard had to wait until the third round - 64th overall - to be drafted by the Titans.
The 25-year-old has is part of a Tennessee team that has reached winning seasons in consecutive years, and they're in the playoff hunt again this season. Byard was named to the Pro Bowl after a monster year in 2017, finishing with 16 passes defended and eight interceptions.
Byard has enjoyed another stout season in 2018 and has been a mainstay for rookie head coach Mike Vrabel, who's built a powerful defense around his start young safety. What a pickup this was for GM Jon Robinson.
16 On The Fence: DeForest Buckner
Following one of the worst seasons in franchise history, the San Francisco 49ers began a massive rebuilding process by taking defensive tackle DeForst Buckner with the No.7 selection in the 2016 Draft.
Buckner had a solid 2016 season and was named to the PFWA All-Rookie Team, when he finished with six sacks and two fumble recoveries on the season. However, Buckner had just three sacks in his sophomore year.
Buckner has endured a much better 2018 season and registered nine sacks through his first 12 games. But we can't get too excited about Buckner just yet. He had two porous first seasons then had a productive third year. Let's see another good showing in 2019 before determining his status as a bust or worthy first-round selection.
15 Bust: Eli Apple
Looking to fix one of the worst defenses in the NFL over the last five years, the New York Giants took Ohio State cornerback Eli Apple with the 10th selection, passing on future stars in Keanu Neal, Michael Thomas, Deion Jones, Kevin Byard, Yannick Ngakoue and Jordan Howard.
Though the Giants defense turned a corner in 2016 - leading them to a surprise playoff berth - Apple didn't play much of a role in the team's turnaround. He endured frustrating rookie and sophomore seasons, and was never able to turn into the shutdown cornerback New York had hoped for.
The Giants finally gave up on Apple and dealt him to the New Orleans Saints at the 2018 deadline, earning fourth and seventh-round selections in return. Let's just say the Giants really missed out on this draft selection, with so many future star defensive players available after Apple was taken.
14 Pure Steal: Tyler Lockett
The Seattle Seahawks needed some new playmakers after a not-so-good offense cost them a chance against the New England Patriots in Super Bowl 49. Yes, they should have ran the ball, but imagine if a guy like Tyler Lockett was playing in that game?
The Seahawks drafted Lockett in the third round (69th overall), in the 2015 draft. The Kansas State product has emerged as one of the most explosive players in the game today, with over 500 receiving yards in each of his first four seasons.
Those are good numbers for a No. 2 or 3 wideout, but Lockett gets most of it done as a special teams return man. Few players are harder to chase down in the return game, and Lockett is an absolute game-changing weapon for Russell Wilson. What a great find for GM John Schneider here.
13 On The Fence: Amari Cooper
The Oakland Raiders drafted wide receiver Amari Cooper with the No. 4 pick in 2015, and he looked like a true superstar through each of his first two seasons. Cooper formed an excellent connection with quarterback Derek Carr, registering surpassing the 70-catch and 1,000-yard marks in each of his first two NFL seasons.
But Cooper had a very down season in 2017, finishing with just 48 catches for 680 yards and seven touchdowns. After a slow start with the Raiders in 2018, he was dealt to the Dallas Cowboys for a 2019-first round pick.
Cooper has gotten off to a strong start in Dallas, but can he sustain it in 2019 and beyond? Will he and Dak Prescott really be this dominant of a quarterback-receiver duo? We must see it for a full season before determining whether or not Cooper was a bust.
12 Bust: Mike Williams
The Los Angeles Chargers already had pass-catching talents in Antonio Gates, Keenan Allen, Travis Benjamin and Hunter Henry. But they decided a fifth reliable option was needed for Philip Rivers, so the Chargers took Clemson wide receiver Mike Williams with the seventh pick in 2017, despite the need to fix other weaknesses.
With so many playmakers already on the Chargers, Williams has struggled to earn targets from Rivers. In 10 games last season, Williams had just 11 receptions for 95 yards and zero touchdowns.
Williams has been a touchdown machine for the Chargers in 2018, but he hasn't caught many passes and isn't producing enough to justify being the No. 7 pick from a loaded 2017 class. There's time to turn this around, but right now, Williams looks like the ultimate draft bust.
11 Pure Steal: Yannick Ngakoue
The Jacksonville Jaguars have built up one of the NFL's most dominant front sevens in all of football, and it gives them a Super Bowl window that should be open for many years. That's assuming they find the proper replacement for quarterback Blake Bortles.
This defensive machine starts with defensive end Yannick Ngakoue, whom the Jaguars got with the 69th pick in 2016. Ngakoue took a risk by opting not to play out his senior year at Maryland, but it's all worked out nicely.
He's one of the game's elite young pass rushers now, and was key in helping Jacksonville reach the AFC Championship game last season. Ngakoue is nearing 30 career sacks, even though it's only his third NFL season.
The Jaguars truly got something special in this young man.
10 On The Fence: DeVante Parker
Looking to supply Ryan Tannehill with another big-time playmaker, the Miami Dolphins drafted wide receiver DeVante Parker with the 14th pick in 2015. He's been very inconsistent throughout his NFL career, and it's impossible to tell what kind of player Parker will turn out to be.
On one hand, Parker had a lackluster rookie year with 26 catches for 494 yards and three touchdowns. A year later, he caught 56 passes for 744 yards and four touchdowns. 2017 was an eh-okay year for Parker, who only had Matt Moore and Jay Cutler throwing the ball to him (a torn ACL forced Tannehill to miss the entire season).
Parker has missed five games this season, and Tannehill has missed about half the season with a shoulder injury. Because his starting quarterback hasn't been healthy, it's difficult to tell if Parker really is a bust, or if he just hasn't had the right guy throwing the ball to him.
2019 shall give us a better thought on whether or not Parker was worth a first-round selection.
9 Bust: Dante Fowler Jr.
The 2015 NFL Draft class looks like one of the best in recent memory, but the third overall pick is not one of the stars to emerge from that year. Dante Fowler Jr. was drafted with the third selection by the Jacksonville Jaguars, but the franchise is certainly regretting it three years later.
Fowler tore his ACL before the 2015 season began and had to miss his entire rookie year. He had just four sacks in 2016, then showed promise the following season with eight sacks.
But Fowler couldn't put it together again for the Jaguars through the first half of the 2018 season, and they dealt him to the Los Angeles Rams for third and fifth-round picks in 2019.
He's a bust in Jacksonville land, and if Fowler doesn't get it going with the Rams, they'll regret dealing two draft choices for his services.
8 Pure Steal: David Johnson
The Arizona Cardinals drafted Northern Iowa running back David Johnson with the 86th selection in 2015. Despite three productive seasons in college, Johnson's draft value just wasn't that high. Six running backs were taken before Johnson finally heard his name called by Arizona.
The loss of 31 other teams has been Arizona's gain. Johnson helped the Cardinals reach the NFC Championship Game in his rookie year. In his sophomore season, Johnson had 1,239 rushing yards, 80 receptions, 879 receiving yards and 20 total touchdowns.
Johnson missed all but one game in 2017 because of a wrist injury, but he's bounced back nicely in 2018 and is once again among the elite running backs. What a steal the Cardinals got in him.
7 On The Fence: Corey Davis
Looking to supply Marcus Mariota and the rush-heavy Tennessee offense, the Titans drafted Western Michigan wide receiver Corey Davis with the No. 5 pick in the 2017 draft. He was a three-time First-team All-MAC selection, and looked destined to be the top wideout of his draft.
Davis had a very unproductive rookie year, hauling in a mere 34 passes for 375 yards without registering a touchdown. Mariota struggled in this third year, and the Titans only got by with their Derrick Henry-led rushing offense.
Davis has been better in his second year, with 52 receptions for 744 yards and four touchdowns through his first 12 games of the season. But it's too early to tell just how good he'll really be.
Head coach Mike Vrabel deserves credit for helping Mariota take his passing game to the next level, but we need to wait until 2019 to determine whether or not Davis was worthy of being drafted with the with selection.
6 Bust: Corey Coleman
The Cleveland Browns could have drafted a franchise quarterback with the No. 2 selection in 2016. Instead, the front office made a huge mistake and decided to trade that selection to the Philadelphia Eagles, who drafted Carson Wentz.
Cleveland did secure a bundle of picks after trading the No. 2 selection, but the front office once again botched them. They used the 15th pick on Baylor wide receiver Corey Coleman, even though there wasn't a suitable quarterback in place to get the ball to him.
Coleman had two unproductive seasons in Cleveland, and the team traded him to the Buffalo Bills before the 2018 campaign started. The Bills released Coleman, and he later signed with the New York Giants.
5 Pure Steal: Alvin Kamara
Through his first 11 years with the New Orleans Saints, quarterback Drew Brees never really had a star running back. Head coach Sean Payton preferred an RB-by-committee approach, using three to four different guys in the backfield.
It worked for a while, but the Saints had to stop the approach when they drafted Tennessee running back Alvin Kamara with the 67th pick in 2017. Kamara became such a dominant force in the backfield that the Saints decided to build the offense around his talents, along with Brees.
Kamara won the 2017 Offensive Rookie of the Year award after registering 728 rushing yards, eight rushing touchdowns and 81 receptions for 826 yards and five touchdowns. He's had an even better year in 2018, and the Saints have a world class star to build around for years to come.
The Saints offense has been a near-unstoppable machine through Kamara's first two seasons in the NFL. The other 31 teams surely regret passing up on such a superstar.
4 On The Fence: Marcus Peters
Drafted 18th overall by the Kansas City Chiefs in 2015 ,Marcus Peters burst onto the scene and had an incredible rookie year. He was named to the Pro Bowl, won the Defensive Rookie of the Year award and led the NFL with eight interceptions - leading the Chiefs to the playoffs.
Peters tuned in another strong season in 2016, earning another Pro Bowl nod and helping Kansas City win its first division title in six years. But Peters had a down year in 2017 and got himself in trouble for some dirty hits and unsportsmanlike conduct penalties.
Kansas City traded Peters to the Los Angeles Rams in the 2018 offseason, earning two draft picks in return. Through the first 12 games of 2018, Peters had a porous 50.1 grade from Pro Football Focus.
Two Pro Bowl seasons followed by down years in 2017 and '18. 2019 will determine if Peters winds up being a star in this league, or if he'll wind up a draft bust after all. He's on the fence going into his fifth year.
3 Bust: Kevin White
The Chicago Bears had traded Pro Bowl wide receiver Brandon Marshall to the New York Jets early in the 2015 offseason, so they sought a new pass-catcher to help out quarterback Jay Cutler.
Chicago drafted West Virginia wideout Kevin White with the seventh pick in 2015. Unfortunately, a shin fracture forced White to miss his entire rookie season. Another leg injury forced him to miss most of 2016 as well.
White barely played in his third season as well, due to a shoulder problem. White has struggled to form chemistry with quarterback Mitch Trubisky in 2018, and there's a good chance the Bears let him go after this season.
If White stayed healthy, perhaps he would have been quite a star. But right now, he looks to go down as one of the biggest wide receiver busts in recent memory.
2 Pure Steal: Dak Prescott
The Dallas Cowboys would have been doomed right now if they didn't land Dak Prescott in the 2016 draft. Tony Romo suffered a back injury in preseason that year, and just when the Cowboys looked finished, Prescott came off the bench and had one of the most dominant rookie years ever.
Drafted in the fourth round by the Cowboys (135th overall), the Mississippi State product tossed 3,667 yards, 23 touchdowns and six rushing majors in his rookie season. Prescott led the Cowboys to the top record in the NFC (13-3), and won the Offensive Rookie of the Year award.
After a down year in 2017, Prescott has rebounded and has the Cowboys back in the driver's seat to win the NFC East division title. He, Amari Cooper and Ezekiel Elliott provide a bright-looking future in Dallas.
1 On The Fence: Jameis Winston
I've written in recent weeks on here that Jameis Winston looks to be a draft bust, but his last few performances mean the Tampa Bay Buccaneers will have a tough decision to make in the offseason.
Winston was drafted first overall by the Buccaneers in 2015, and he looked very good in his rookie and sophomore seasons. But Winston had a lackluster 2017 season. In 2018? He's simply been on and off.
He missed the first three games of 2018 due to suspension. Winston and Ryan Fitzpatrick have rotated the starting duties, but the former will likely hold onto the job for the remainder of the year.
The Buccaneers will likely keep Winston for 2019 now, in what will be a make-or-break season. He's been hot some days and off on the others. The Bucs may just decide to look see what version of Winston decides to shopw up in 2019 before deciding if they want to keep him round or move on.