Every time draft season rolls around, there are a handful of prospects that are “unbustable.” They are so talented that it seems impossible that they could fail. Their floor is a “solid starter” because even if they fail to develop in the mental aspect of the game, their physical attributes will be enough to carry them.
Ultimately, “floors and ceilings” tend to be meaningless, despite how much they’re hammered into our minds in April. When it comes down to it, technique and football IQ are two traits that any NFLer can develop. They can make someone’s career even if they have less than stellar athleticism. At the same time, they can destroy the career of even the most impressive athlete.
Yet regardless, every single draft class there are players labeled as guarantees. Here are the NFL’s top 15 worst players that everyone felt were guaranteed to become stars.
15. Tavon Austin, WR – Rams
Tavon Austin is a small guy at just 5’8” and 175 pounds, but he’s fast and agile. The belief was that he could be one of the deadliest slot receivers in the game. In the NFL, offensive players aren’t given much room to work with. But with Austin’s insane acceleration, he doesn’t need much room to work with. He can take any amount of open space and open things up very quickly.
Unfortunately, he has been largely disappointing since coming into the NFL. In three years, he has failed to record even just 500 receiving yards in a season. That is a wildly disappointing stat for someone who was expected to be able to rack up yards left and right.
Then, out of nowhere, the Rams gave Austin of the most confusing contracts of the offseason. They made him the NFL’s 12th highest paid receiver when they inked him to a four year deal worth $42 million. It appears they are paying him for what they hope he can be, rather than what he is.
14. Nick Fairley, DT – Saints
Once upon a time, Nick Fairley was considered an elite prospect at defensive tackle. Someone who was far and away the most talented player in the draft, someone who would come in and be an instant star.
That narrative cooled down as the 2011 draft approached, but many still thought of him as one of the draft’s top prospects. It came as a surprise to many when the Lions managed to scoop him up with the 13th overall pick. It was considered an amazing steal and a player that would give the Lions the most feared defensive front in the NFL, alongside Ndamukong Suh.
In reality, what he got was a borderline starter out of Fairley. He left the Lions when his rookie contract expired. He signed with the Rams for the following season on a one-year deal and was used as a rotational player. After letting him walk following the 2015 season, he is now in New Orleans, backing up rookie Sheldon Rankins, on a one-year deal yet again.
This isn’t the career path that good players go down.
13. Justin Blackmon, WR – Jaguars
There was a time when people considered Justin Blackmon to be Dez Bryant with his head on his shoulders. Of course, that narrative didn’t last long and teams became readily aware of his character issues leading up to the draft. Even still, it wasn’t enough to cause him to drop out of the top 5.
The Jaguars picked him up and he had a solid rookie year in 2012. He started 14 games, had 64 receptions on 132 targets for 865 yards and 5 touchdowns. That may not seem overly impressive due to the insane, outlier performances that we’ve had over the past couple years, but those are very nice numbers. It looked like Blackmon was well on his way to being the NFL’s next elite receiver.
The hype quickly died as Blackmon was arrested numerous times on drug-related charges. After missing the entire 2014 season due to suspension, he never managed to make it back into the NFL. All-in-all, he only managed to play 20 games in his entire career.
12. Michael Crabtree, WR – Raiders
Michael Crabtree was one of the elite receiving prospects to come out in recent years. He was physically dominating and had refined technique. Coming out of college, he was quick, powerful, didn’t drop balls, and seemed to do all the small things right. He was expected to be someone like Dez Bryant or DeAndre Hopkins.
To be far, he was never a terrible player. He was a solid player over the Jim Harbaugh era in San Francisco. He’s only recorded one 1,000-yard season, but had numerous where he only came 100-200 yards shy. He produced like a good number two.
For a guy that was expected to be one of the NFL’s elite wide receivers, this is a disappointing result. He had everything going for him coming out of college, but he failed to step up.
11. Cordarrelle Patterson, WR – Vikings
Cordarelle Patterson was a naturally talented player coming out of college. He had the physical abilities but needed some time to refine his techniques and drop some of his bad habits.
In a career path that appears completely backwards, he started off looking good in his first year and showing strength, then suddenly dropped off a cliff in his second year. He got benched and has been completely forgotten about ever since.
To put in perspective just how little the Vikings have used him, he was available for all 16 games last year, but managed just two catches for 10 yards. This guy was a first round pick just three years ago. Many thought he was going to be a star heading into the draft and even after his rookie season, but it hasn’t happened.
10. Jake Locker, QB – Titans
Jake Locker was considered a player loaded with talent and natural ability. His biggest issue was that he was made of glass. In hindsight, it can be easy to say that he was never worth such a high pick, but injuries are impossible to predict.
Even still, coming out of Washington, Locker was expected to be a special player. His best season came in his second year where he started just 11 games, threw just ever 2,100 yards, and had 10 touchdowns with 11 interceptions. It wasn’t exactly the most promising showing. Overall, even when he was healthy and on the field, he never looked all that good.
But injuries will be Jake Lockers’ legacy. He was a top 10 selection who started less than two seasons worth of games.
9. Morris Claiborne, CB – Cowboys
Following the 2011 season, Dallas had an absolutely disastrous secondary. They went in the off season hell bent on fixing it. Their first move was to bring in Brandon Carr. Their second move was to trade up to the 6th overall pick to select Morris Claiborne, someone who was viewed as one of the elite players in this class.
Many people saw the Carr signing as overpaying for a mediocre player. At the same time, the Claiborne trade was viewed very highly. It isn’t often that teams have the chance to draft a prospect like that.
As most know, Claiborne is not what he was supposed to be, though he’s shown some improvement in 2016 and might’ve turned a corner. In fairness, part of his struggles have been due to injury, but before this year he has been struggling mightily even when healthy.
8. Blaine Gabbert, QB – 49ers
2011 is an interesting draft class to look back on. Aside from the quarterback position, it was absolutely stacked with talent.
Of the top quarterbacks, only Cam Newton panned out. But leading up to the draft, there was a heated debate as to who was the true top quarterback, as Blaine Gabbert was thought to be the best prospect by many.
In reality, he became the prototype of failed quarterbacks. So far for his career, his yards per attempt is a paltry 6.0. He doesn’t take risks, consistently going with the check down. He has the physical tools to succeed, but so far has lacked the mental abilities of the league’s top quarterbacks.
Some feel he was set up for failure on a poor Jaguars team. But even when a good player has terrible surrounding talent, you can usually tell they’re if they’re a good player. Gabbert was just a bad player with a bad supporting cast.
7. Trent Richardson, RB – Free Agent
Leading up to the draft, Trent Richardson was being crowned as the next Adrian Peterson. He had absolutely everything you could want in a running back. He was going to be a star in Cleveland and a cornerstone the team could build around moving forward.
Despite what many viewed as a highly promising rookie season, the coaching staff saw something entirely different. They saw a guy who had a lot of natural talent, but wasn’t able to learn. When you’re going up against some of the best athletes in the world each week, relying on your physical attributes simply isn’t enough to get the job done.
It seems like his issues should be fairly simple to correct, but in three years, three different coaching staffs failed to do so. Now, no one is willing to give him a shot. That’s quite a long fall for someone who was thought to be the future of a franchise at one point.
6. Greg Robinson, OT – Rams
Greg Robinson has all the physical traits you could want in an offensive lineman. At first glance, that can seem like the only thing that really matters for lineman.
However, Robinson’s career has been severely hindered due to his poor technique and lack of discipline. He simply makes too many mistakes. He one of the NFL’s most penalized players and has bad habits that gives defenders the chance to finesse their way past him, rather than being forced to match with him physically.
At this stage, it is impossible to say whether this is the fault of Robinson just not being a coachable player or the coaching staff utterly failing to develop him. In all likelihood, it’s a combination of the two. Whatever the case, this is not the player that everyone was promised following the 2014 draft.
5. Aaron Curry, LB – Seahawks
Most people today have completely forgotten who Aaron Curry is, aside from Seahawks’ fans of course. Typically, linebackers don’t get drafted in the top 5 due to the position not being considered one of the premium ones in the NFL. However, Curry was considered such a can’t-miss talent that he had to go in the top 5.
He was the safest player in the draft. His insane physically attributes gave him a very high floor and basically made it impossible for him to be a bust. At least, that’s what everyone said about him.
Curry’s issue was that he couldn’t read an offense to save his life. It doesn’t matter how physically talented you are if you can’t put yourself in positions to make plays. His issues were so uncorrectable that the Seahawks gave up on the former 4th overall pick after just two and a half years. He was out of the league entirely by 2013, at age 27.
4. Jadeveon Clowney, DE – Texans
The 2014 draft was one of the most stacked draft classes in recent memory. It was filled with premium talent across the board. Coming in as the clear number one was Jadeveon Clowney – a generational talent at pass rusher. He was said to be the best defensive end prospect since Julius Peppers in 2002.
At this stage, Clowney isn’t a bust, as he still has some time to grow. However, he has struggled largely as a result of injuries and has just 5.5 sacks over his first 20 games. That is nowhere close to any expectations he had coming into the league. It’s hard to even describe how much of a disappointment he has been so far. If he fails to turn things around this year, it’s hard to see him ever stepping up.
Whitney Mercilus has stepped up over the past couple years and been the player Clowney was supposed to be.
3. Sam Bradford, QB – Vikings
Sam Bradfrord is the strangest quarterback to come into the league. He is smart and can make all the throws. It seems like that should be plenty to work with. Yet, he has struggled to even establish himself as average NFL starter. Part of it is certainly due to numerous injuries and the fact that he is constantly playing in a brand new offense every year. But still, any good quarterback should have established himself by now.
He still has a chance to turn it around, and looks like he might be doing that in Minnesota this year, but everyone has been saying that every single year. Coaches and General Managers seem to be obsessed with his potential. It seems like he will keep getting chances as a starter until he decides to hang it up.
2. Mark Sanchez, QB – Cowboys
Mark Sanchez came into the league on fire after the Jets made him the fifth overall pick in 2009. He instantly led the team to back-to-back playoff appearances and looked impressive. The Jets appeared to finally pose a threat to the Patriots in the AFC East.
Having a short memory is an underrated trait in quarterbacks, one that Sanchez does not have. He lets all of his mistakes stay in his head and they clearly affect him as he moves throughout games. It’s disappointing as he has so many talents and abilities that are required of a franchise quarterback, but it’s the small things that have sunk his career.
He went from someone who looked to be the future of the NFL to not being able to earn a spot on the Broncos roster; a team who was seriously lacking at the quarterback position.
1. Robert Griffin III, QB – Browns
Robert Griffin III was talented enough to go first overall in any draft class that didn’t feature Andrew Luck. It cost the Redskins a pretty penny to move up, but ultimately getting a franchise quarterback was worth it.
His rookie season was absolutely phenomenal and it’s one that will be remembered for a very longtime. He took home the Offensive Rookie of the Year trophy in a class that was filled with talent. He even led the Redskins to the playoffs despite many feeling the team lacked the overall talent to be a threat.
Unfortunately, injuries quickly killed Griffin’s ability to be threat on the ground. He went from being one of the fastest quarterbacks in the game to failing to beat linebackers to the edge. Furthermore, he failed to develop properly as a passer. He became very one dimensional and was unable to beat defenses now that they could key in on him.
Ultimately, it was one of the harshest declines in recent memory.
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