It’s hard to judge an NFL player on just their rookie season. Take for example RGIII He looked like Washington’s quarterback of the future until he lost his mobility and fizzled out of the spotlight. If you think that example is an outlier, look again at wide receiver Justin Blackmon. He led all rookies in receiving in his first year in the league, but due to several off-the-field issues, fizzled out just like RGIII. In fact, he hasn’t taken a regular season snap since 2013!
While these players ended up without jobs, a lot of stellar rookies go through what is known as the sophomore slump. Opponents have limited tape on these players in their rookie season, but are fully prepared to defend them come their second year. Today, we will look at some of these sophomore slumps from the 2016 draft class. Some are having a down year after showing so much promise last year, while some are simply still struggling after a disappointing rookie year. As for the stars, some showed promise in their rookie season and built off of it, while others are having a breakout year after struggling as rookies. Some of them may already look like busts, but some definitely look like stars.
16. Bust: Robert Nkemdiche
The five-star recruit out of Ole Miss was selected late in the first-round of the 2016 NFL draft by the Arizona Cardinals, despite a marijuana incident in college. He was touted as a dominant pass-rusher, using his strength to bowl over blockers, but struggled mightily in the run game. Arizona’s defensive coordinator, Jim Bettcher, thought they could develop Nkemdiche into a solid player in their already stout defense.
Unfortunately, in his rookie season, the former First-Team All-SEC defensive end only recorded one tackle. In his sophomore season, Nkemdiche has been hampered by a calf strain, but has slowly been working his way back into the rotation. Coaches and Cardinals fans are hoping that his progression is successful, but for now, he doesn’t look very promising as a former first round pick.
15. Star: Hunter Henry
Henry broke onto the scene in his rookie year in San Diego as a compliment to the veteran tight end, Antonio Gates, who is coming to the tail end of his hall of fame career. The Chargers took the former Arkansas Razorback in the early second-round of the 2016 draft, and threw him into the offense right away. At 6’5″, Henry is dominant force in the red zone, leaping over shorter defensive backs, and hauling in touchdowns. Last year, he finished with 36 receptions, 478 yards, and 8 TDs.
In 2017, Henry is having a decent season, but nothing to gawk at. He has all but usurped the future hall of famer Antonio Gates as the Chargers red zone target, but with a healthy receiver in Keenan Allen, Rivers has not been feeding him the ball as much. Needless to say, Henry is a legitimate threat, and should be seen as a future star.
14. Bust: Will Fuller
Okay, I’m sure I will get some backlash from Texans fans on this one, but Will Fuller, for a first round pick, is a bust. The downfield threat out of the University of Notre Dame, who ran a 4.32-sec 40-yard dash, is a one-dimensional player. His hands are like bricks, dropping many key passes, probably because they are extremely under-sized. In his rookie year, Fuller had 47 reception for 635 yards and two touchdowns.
After missing the first few games of his sophomore year with a broken collar bone, Fuller put up huge numbers with the sensational rookie, Deshaun Watson, at quarterback. Before Watson was ruled out for the rest of the season with a torn ACL, Fuller had 17 receptions for 326 yards and 7 TDs. Pretty much, Watson would avoid the pass rush, and hit Fuller with the deep ball on a dime. Now, some may say he’s broken out. But, if he doesn’t improve his short game, route running, and hands, Fuller will go down as a bust.
13. Star: Jared Goff
The Rams looked like a joke in 2016. They took Goff first overall last year, after selling the farm to move up to no.1, in hopes they could develop him into a franchise quarterback. But the recently relocated Rams were not happy with Goff’s progression through the preseason, and didn’t start him until their tenth game of the year. He struggled with accuracy, and Los Angeles finished with a 4-12 record, with the former Cal QB throwing for five touchdowns and seven interceptions.
Rams fans were all but finished with Goff. NFL experts wrote him off, and so did the media. But, with new head coach Sean McVay, Goff has flourished in the new system, developing his game and looking like a top draft pick. The Rams are currently sitting atop the NFL West and Goff is the main reason. Hopefully, he continues his success and emerges a star.
12. Bust: Paxton Lynch
The post-Manning era in Denver has been a difficult one. In 2016, they drafted the former Memphis Tiger with the 26th overall pick. Elway was hoping to groom Paxton Lynch to become the face of the franchise, but didn’t want to rush the process. Behind Trevor Siemian, Lynch played sparingly in 2016, throwing for nearly 500 yards, but only achieving a passer rating of 79.2 and completion percentage sub-60%.
In 2017, Lynch suffered a shoulder injury in the preseason, putting Siemian back as the starter. After a promising 3-1 start, the Broncos have gone in a tailspin and look like they’re going to finish last in the AFC West. Lynch has had trouble staying healthy and fending off Siemian, but from what we’ve seen in his rookie campaign and a bit of his sophomore year, he looks like a bust.
11. Star: Myles Jack
Jack was widely considered worthy of a top-10 pick in the 2016 draft. He was outstanding in coverage, showed flashes of brilliance as a pass-rusher, but was slightly undersized at 6’1″, 245 pounds. Unfortunately for Jack, he tore his meniscus in 2015, and was ruled out for the 2015 season, leaving scouts to wonder if he would be healthy enough to play in the NFL. Many teams believed his knee issues would hamper his versatility, and he fell into the Jaguars’ lap in the early second round of the draft.
After starting off slow in his rookie year, Jack has emerged as a leader of the “Sack-sonville” defense. The former UCLA Bruin has a long way before he is considered a star, but from the trajectory he is on, there is no doubt that he will be a staple on the Jaguars defense for years to come.
10. Bust: Germain Ifedi
Germain Ifedi was the leader of a solid offensive line during his time at Texas A&M. At 6’6″, 324 lbs., his size and strength were unmatched, but he had issues changing directions, and had gotten by in college on his physical talent alone. The Seahawks thought they could develop Ifedi into a franchise tackle and selected him with the 31st overall pick of the 2016 draft.
Seattle chose to play Ifedi at guard his rookie year, in order for him to learn the offense. Just taking a look at the film, you can tell Ifedi wasn’t ready to be part of an NFL o-line and needed to develop his game. Seattle moved him to right tackle in 2017, but he hasn’t played much better. The Seahawks offensive line is ranked one of the worst in the NFL, and if it wasn’t for the elusiveness of Russell Wilson, they would surely be well out of playoff contention. Ifedi will go down as a bust for sure.
9. Star: Dak Prescott
Out of thin air, the legend that is Dak Prescott arrived in the NFL. Actually, the former Mississippi State QB was taken in the fourth round by the Dallas Cowboys in 2016. After Tony Romo went down with a severe back injury in the preseason, Dak took over, and looked like a season veteran. He led the Cowboys to the playoffs, but in typical Dallas fashion, they were outmatched by the Green Bay Packers, capping an otherwise impressive season.
Now into 2017, Jerry Jones and company have put all their chips on Dak. He knows the offense front and back, and looks like one of the quarterbacks of the future in the league. That being said, with the suspension of Cowboys running back, Ezekiel Elliott (spoiler, he’s on our list too), Dallas’ offense has looked stagnant, and Dak is the one to blame. Now, he’s definitely not a bust, as he’s shown glimpses of greatness. In fact, at this point in time, he’s surely a star, but hopefully he can get over his sophomore slump, and continue his success with the Cowboys.
8. Bust: Joshua Garnett
The 2015 All-American guard dominated the Pac-12 in college. The 320-pounder out of Stanford was known for his pulling ability, crushing unwilling defenders on the edge. There was still some questions about his pass protection coming out of school, but the 49ers thought they could develop him, and took Garnett with the 29th overall pick in the draft.
In his rookie season, Garnett struggled to transition to the bigger and faster d-lines in the NFL. Pro Football Focus ranked him 70th out of 72 qualifying guards. San Francisco was hopeful that he would progress in his sophomore campaign, but before the 2017 season began, Garnett was placed on injured reserve after getting knee surgery. For now, he looks like a huge bust, and it seems unlikely he will be in GM John Lynch’s plans for the future.
7. Star: Jalen Ramsey
Ramsey has emerged has one of the elite, shutdown corners in the NFL. The former Florida State cornerback was selected 5th overall in the 2016 draft by the Jacksonville Jaguars. At 6’2″, he has the size to match up with superstar receivers, but also possesses the quickness and closing speed to keep up with the speedsters. Along with recently acquired cornerback, A.J. Bouye, the Jacksonville secondary is ranked one of the best in the league.
In 2017, Jacksonville is looking to make a run into the postseason for the first time since the 2007 season. Pro Football Focus has Ramsey ranked as the fifth-best cornerback in the NFL, with a grade of 91.2 out of 100. If he stays healthy, and keeps improving, Ramsey will go down as one of the best defensive backs of his generation.
6. Bust: Laquon Treadwell
Treadwell is all but an after thought. The former Ole Miss receiver was selected by the Minnesota Vikings in the first round of last year’s draft, but never made an impact on the field. In 2016, he only had one catch for 15 yards. The issue is that Treadwell lacks the ability to get separation, and relied on his larger frame in college, but cannot match up versus elite corners in the NFL.
Coming into 2017, some experts had already labeled Treadwell a bust, while some thought he just never had the opportunity to shine behind fellow receivers, Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen. However, he’s been an afterthought in the Vikings’ offense, even with Case Keenum under center shocking the world. He just doesn’t possess enough speed to get open, and will surely go down as a bust if his play doesn’t pick up in year 3.
5. Star: Joey Bosa
Joey Bosa was worth every bit a third overall pick last year. His dominant pass rush was evident at Ohio State, and the Chargers were hoping those skills would translate to the next level. After holding out until one week before the 2016 season, experts thought that the lack of quality reps in practice would affect Bosa’s ability to make an impact on Sundays. Boy, were they wrong.
Bosa has emerged as a force on the end of L.A.’s defensive line, and is among the league’s leading sack leaders. He was the second-youngest player to reach a career total of 20 sacks, and has shown no signs of slowing down. The proof is in the tape, and it looks like no tackle is a match for the former Buckeye.
4. Bust: Christian Hackenberg
How the hell are we supposed to judge a bust if they have never taken a snap during a regular season game? Well, I think Hackenberg would be an exception to that statement. The former Penn State Nittany Lion QB was taken in the second-round of last year’s draft by the New York Jets. Word around the locker room is that Hackenberg is so bad, that the Jets don’t even trust him to take a single snap on the field. I mean, he even hit reporters, twice, in minicamp, showing off his wild inaccuracy.
The Jets were set-up to tank this year and get a QB in next year’s highly-touted draft class. But with Josh McCown playing above expectations, New York is still in the hunt for a Wild Card spot in a weak AFC. There are thousands of scenarios that could play out for the rest of the Jets 2017 season, but we can say for certain that none of them involve the bust that is Christian Hackenberg.
3. Star: Ezekiel Elliott
Whichever side of the aisle you are on about the NFL’s recent suspension of Ezekiel Elliott, there is no doubt that he is one of the best running backs in the game today. Since Elliott has started serving his suspension, the Cowboys offense has looked stagnant and Dak Presocott has struggled while being asked to now be the focal point of the offense. The 2016 fourth overall pick is not only fun to watch, but a physical specimen, and clearly the workhorse of the Dallas offense.
Coming off an incredible rookie year though, some people thought Elliott would dive into a slump, especially with his impending suspension looming behind. That wasn’t the case, and Elliott had continued to dominate when he eligible to play. In eight games, he put up 783 yards and 7 TDs. But, now that he’s sidelined until at least Week 16, Dallas is in full desperation mode.
2. Bust: Roberto Aguayo
On to our top bust of the 2016 draft class, Roberto Aguayo. Tampa Bay, with a move that surprised nearly everyone, took the former Florida State kicker with their second round pick. At the time, Aguayo was ranked as the top kicker in his class, but to reach and spend a second rounder on him seemed pretty absurd.
In his rookie season, Aguayo disappointed Buccaneers fans, completing a league low in field goal percentage. He was eventually cut in the 2017 preseason, losing the kicking competition to Nick Folk (which didn’t work out too well for Tampa Bay either). After spending a short few weeks in training camp with the Bears, Aguayo was released again, and currently resides on the Panthers practice squad. The pressure seemed to be so much for the kicker, that he just busted.
1. Star: Carson Wentz
Finally, our last entry, the top star of the 2016 draft class, Carson Wentz. Going into the draft, Wentz made headlines with his great combine, physical attributes, and arm strength. But, coming out of a small school like North Dakota State, many experts thought that he hadn’t played enough competition to be considered as a top pick. The Eagles took a gamble, and moved up to grab Wentz, a deal that fans will be praising for years to come.
During his rookie year, Wentz showed flashes of brilliance, but also had his moments of doubt. He finished 2016 with 16 TDs and 14 INTs, leading the Eagles to a 7-9 record. Onto his sophomore campaign, Wentz has broken out as a leading MVP candidate. Philadelphia is atop the NFC, and poised to make a deep run into January. The small school QB turned out to be a truly incredible quarterback, and the top star of the 2016 class.
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