So, you’ve just completed the NFL Draft. Congratulations! Your team has gone and grabbed a player that will help turn their franchise around. It could be a stud quarterback who will break all of Peyton Manning’s passing records or a running back that’s going to rush for 2,000 yards a season—the point is, that your guy is going to become the guy and lead your team back to the promised land.
And that’s exactly what the San Diego Chargers thought when they drafted Ryan Leaf in 1998. Or the Oakland Raiders thought when they grabbed JaMarcus Russell in 2007. Vernon Gholston, Troy Williamson, Charles Rogers—the history of the draft is littered with high-profiled, highly picked players who were supposed to turn a franchise around and then, well, didn’t.
Other draft picks can disappoint even if they end up not bombing out as badly as some of those previous examples. Sam Bradford is still an NFL starting quarterback, so he can’t have been that terrible of a pick at number one in 2010, but would the Rams still pick him today over draftmates like Ndamukong Suh or Gerald McCoy? David Carr started 75 games for the Houston Texans, but would they pick him again over Julius Peppers Probably not.
We know from history that somewhere between a third and half of early round picks aren’t going to satisfy their team in the long run. With that in mind, let’s go out on a limb and make some bold predictions as to which members of the 2016 NFL Draft class will seem somewhat underwhelming in five years time. Maybe none of them will end up on the historic bust list with Leaf or Russell, but some of these guys just aren’t going to turn out. Here’s a far-too-early guess at who that might be.
15 Joe Thuney, OG, North Carolina State (Drafted by New England at No. 78)
Bill Belichick gets a pass for sometimes awkward drafting decisions because of his track record; four Super Bowl wins and a couple more appearances will do that for you. He’s not perfect in the draft, though—Ras-I Dowling, anyone?—and Joe Thuney might be a significant miss. With short arms, small hands, and clunky feet, Thuney’s going to have to add significant strength to succeed at keeping Tom Brady’s butt off the ground. Thuney’s also switching positions in the NFL, moving from tackle to guard, which is always at least a bit of a risk.
14 James Bradberry, CB, Samford (Drafted by Carolina at No. 62)
WE understand that the Panthers needed to add depth at cornerback after letting Josh Norman walk in free agency, but James Bradberry’s not the kind of guy who’s going to step in and contribute right off the bat. Bradberry is raw as raw can be and needs significant developmental time to be ready in an NFL context. His footwork is sloppy, he has poor coverage instincts, and has trouble dealing with speedy receivers—the sort he’ll face in the NFL. Jumping from FCS to the NFL is a big jump as well. Bradberry has promise, standing at 6’1” and 211 pounds, but it’s all potential and no game-ready elements yet. The Panthers need him on the field now, and that might be asking too much.
13 Isaac Seumalo, OL, Oregon State (Drafted by Philadelphia at No. 79)
The Isaac Seumalo pick is awkward mostly because the Eagles don’t actually need another interior lineman—they picked up Stefen Wisniewski and Brandon Brooks this offseason, leaving Seumalo with a significant uphill climb to even earn a starting spot. Seumalo also has an injury history, having missed the entire 2014 season with a broken foot that required multiple surgeries to correct. He also missed time in each of the previous two seasons with knee and hip injuries. He’s undersized for an NFL guard at only 303 pounds and doesn’t have the frame to add much more mass. I’m just not certain how he fits in Philadelphia, not with the expectations that come from a third-round selection.
12 Yannick Ngakoue, EDGE, Maryland (Drafted by Jacksonville at No. 69)
Jacksonville’s been getting tons of praise for their draft and most of it is deserved—but we would exclude Yannick Ngakoue from that list. Ngakoue is a bit of a one-trick pony; fantastic as a speed-rusher, without the technique or moves to get away from blockers if they catch up with his initial burst. He also adds essentially nothing in run defense at the moment, as only 1.5 of his tackles for a loss came on running plays. With the return of Dante Fowler, last year’s first pick, there will be less opportunities for him as well. He needs to become a more well-rounded player if he wants to succeed in the NFL.
11 Xavien Howard, CB, Baylor (Drafted by Miami at No. 38)
Xavien Howard will lead the league in at least one category—penalties drawn. In the last two seasons, he had 14 pass interference calls and five holding calls against him, and that’s playing under more liberal college rules, as opposed to the NFL’s policy of throwing a flag if you look at a receiver the wrong way. He also allowed seven touchdowns in 2014. He generates turnovers and that’s a good thing, but I think he’s going to create more negative plays than positive ones. He’ll be on the highlight reel for spectacular interceptions, but if he doesn’t learn to play with the NFL’s rules, he’ll find himself out of the league very quickly.
10 Emmanuel Ogbah, EDGE, Oklahoma State (Drafted by Cleveland at No. 32)
The first pick of the second round, Emmanuel Ogbah is a combine wonder, putting up top numbers in the 40-yard dash, vertical jump, and broad jump. However, that’s yet to translate onto the field in any significant manner—an anonymous scout noted that “he's stiff and upright, so he has no counters as a rusher and then he doesn't even play hard all the time.” That’s not the world’s most glowing endorsement, there. He’s understandably still learning the nuances of the position, but the Browns will probably regret taking him over someone like Myles Jack, a better fit for their 3-4 defense anyway.
9 Brandon Williams, CB, Texas A&M (Drafted by Arizona at No. 92)
Every other single player on this list definitely deserved to be drafted. I just feel they were drafted too high for their skillset. Not Brandon Williams, however. Williams is extraordinarily raw, with only one year of experience at the cornerback position. He’s all physical traits and speed, but no real cornerback skills yet—he faired very poorly against SEC competition and barely knows the basics of the position so far. Unpolished, undisciplined, unreliable—Williams is a long-term project, someone you stick on the practice squad for a year or two and see what he can do. He’s not someone you grab in the third round.
8 Joshua Garnett, OG, Stanford (Drafted by San Francisco at No. 28)
Our first first-round pick, but not our last. Joshua Garnett’s not a terrible player. He’s got some athletic limitations, struggles in pass protection, and isn’t as quick as you’d want a first-round lineman to be, but he’s got some potential in Chip Kelly’s system. No, the issue here is that the 49ers traded up to get him, passing better players at positions of greater need. This is a team without a quarterback, without loads of talent at the skill positions and who has never really replaced Patrick Willis, yet they traded up for a guard. They would have been better off sitting back at their original pick, taking an inside linebacker like Reggie Ragland and picking up a guard with their now-missing fourth round pick. Garnett is going to have to outperform multiple picks for this trade to be worth it and that’s a lot to ask for any guard, much less one I had ranked towards the end of the second round.
7 Jaylon Smith, OLB, Notre Dame (Drafted by Dallas at No. 34)
This one is really more tragic than anything else. Jaylon Smith could have been the first overall pick in the draft had he not shredded his knee in the Fiesta Bowl. Smith will absolutely not play in 2016 and we’re talking about extensive nerve damage that may never fully be repaired. Smith may never play a down in the NFL and even if he does, he may never be the same player who was compared to a hybrid between Patrick Willis and Von Miller. A “drop-foot” problem—essentially, an inability to lift the front part of the foot—is not something you want to see on a scouting report. Smith may be a higher-drafted version of Marcus Lattimore, an uber-talented college star whose devastating injury ended his NFL career before it began.
6 Sean Davis, S, Maryland (Drafted by Pittsburgh at No. 58)
Hopefully, Pittsburgh will keep Sean Davis at safety—he was a cornerback last year and dreadfully miscast as one. He can’t really cover people in one-on-one coverage, so a move back to safety is really his only hope of contributing at an NFL level. Even then though, a second-round pick is high for Davis. He’s missed 40 tackles over the last three years and always goes for the big hit rather than the sure tackle; that’s not something that always works against big tight ends in the NFL. It also tends to draw a number of flags, which is never good. Davis is another one of those raw prospects with an upside, but we're always skeptical about people who rise up the draft board late in the process, rather than due to what they did on the football field.
5 Kevin Byard, S, Middle Tennessee State (Drafted by Tennessee at No. 64)
NFL.com had Kevin Byard as a potential sixth or seventh-round pick, so seeing him come off the board atop round three was something of a surprise. He’s not really physical enough to play strong safety at the NFL-level; he’s a bit of an ankle-tackler and the opposite of Davis. Somewhere, there’s a happy medium between lowering the boom on a guy and shying away from contact. Byard simply needs to become a better tackler on the NFL level, and while he has the effort and work ethic to make that attempt, that’s a pretty fundamental part of his game to be lacking.
4 Keanu Neal, S, Florida (Drafted by Atlanta at No. 17)
Woah. If I’m a Falcons fan, I’m hoping Keanu Neal doesn’t knock himself out of the league in short order. Neal has missed seven starts over the past two seasons with an aggressive style, launching himself into opponents, blasting around at one speed over the field. It leads to missed tackles and poor angles, as well, since Neal has one speed and one playstyle. We’d also be concerned that general manager Thomas Dimitroff, after stating that Neal had been their primary target, called Neal “Keanu Reeves” by mistake at the press conference when introducing him.
3 Roberto Aguayo, K, Florida State (Drafted by Tampa Bay at No. 54)
Never draft a kicker in the NFL draft, 15 of the top 20 kickers in the league last year were undrafted. Never draft a kicker in the second round; the five kickers drafted from the top 20 were all taken on day three of the draft. Never trade up to draft a kicker, the Buccaneers traded a third- and fourth-round pick to move into position to get their specialists of choice. Never draft a kicker who is essentially the same player as your preexisting kicker; both Connor Bath and Roberto Aguayo are automatic from within 40 yards, but struggle beyond that. Never draft a kicker when you’re 6-10 and have unaddressed needs at defensive tackle and along the offensive line—you know, the guys who are protecting first overall pick Jameis Winston from last year. Never, ever draft a kicker.
2 Carson Wentz, QB, North Dakota State (Drafted by Philadelphia at No. 2)
And now we get to the big guns. Carson Wentz and Jared Goff were the top two quarterbacks available in this year’s draft, so it makes a certain amount of sense that they’d go with the first two overall picks, but all drafts are not made the same. Wentz and Goff are not as good of prospects as, say, Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota were last year. Even if you ignore Wentz’ lower level of competition—a significant warning factor—he’s still developing in a way that makes you concerned at the #2 slot. Football Outsiders’ advanced statistics indicate that he’s a better-than-even shot to bust out of the league, a stat which Eagles fans desperately hope is wrong.
1 Jared Goff, QB, California (Drafted by Los Angeles at No. 1)
We believe Jared Goff has a better chance to succeed than Carson Wentz does, but the Los Angeles Rams better hope that’s right, because he will have no supporting cast. The Rams gave up all three picks in the two days of the draft this year and two-thirds of their picks in the first two days of the draft next year to get Goff. That means Goff will have to work with the less-than-stellar supporting cast already in place with the Rams; at least Carson Wentz gets to work with Jordan Matthews and Zach Ertz. The Rams do not have quality receivers, a strong tight end, or a solid offensive line. Goff will have to work miracles with no supporting cast and that often can lead to a player failing to develop.