It’s a hard life in the NFL. Some players become Hall of Famers, others provide production for many years, and some just aren’t cut out for the league. Every year, it seems that a new player fails to live up to his expectations in the eyes of the coaches and fans; those players are simply known as “busts”. From Ryan Leaf to Jamarcus Russell, there will always be players that don’t produce and every general manager's job is to make sure that they don’t select one of those players. But for every player labeled as a bust, there is the chance for redemption. Some players break out into the league right away while others take a little time to adjust to the speed and complexity that is the NFL. Whether it be a change of scenery, or they are finally given the chance to shine by their coaches, some players can turn their career around and finally make a name for themselves for the right reasons. Alex Smith, for example, was seen as a bust out in San Francisco but has really turned his career around in Kansas City. Here is a list of players that some may consider to be busts but will look to break out of that title this coming season.
15 Ryan Mathews, RB - Philadelphia Eagles
Calling Mathews a bust can be a little harsh, however he hasn’t posted the numbers that a first round pick should be posting. In six seasons, Mathews has topped 1,000 yards only twice and has yet to top 7 TDs in a season. After originally getting drafted by the Chargers, Mathews moved on to the Eagles this past season. As the clear cut backup behind Demarco Murray, Mathews saw success when the ball was in his hands. With only 106 attempts, Mathews posted a career best 5.1 yards per carry, and also had 6 TDs. This can all change this year with Murray being traded to the Tennessee Titans and Chip Kelly being fired. Mathews now takes over the role as the #1 RB and looks to rejuvenate his career as the starter under new head coach Doug Pederson. With more carries coming his way, Mathews should have no problem improving his numbers from last season going forward.
14 Cody Latimer, WR - Denver Broncos
Cody Latimer has contributed next to nothing during his tenure with the Broncos so far. As a 2nd round pick back in 2014, Latimer has only 8 catches, 82 yards, and 1 touchdown to his name thus far. In fairness he has played behind the likes of Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders, who are pretty good at the WR position, so it's not like he is being asked to produce #1 receiver numbers. However, that’s no excuse to lose snaps to other players such Jordan Norwood and Bennie Fowler. Producing lacklustre numbers like that won’t cut it if he wants to remain on the team going forward. The Broncos are going into year 1 post Peyton Manning; whether it's Mark Sanchez, Trevor Siemian, or 2016 1st round pick Paxton Lynch, Latimer will have to provide production to keep this top notch offense rolling even without #18 commanding the huddle.
13 DJ Hayden, CB - Oakland Raiders
The Raiders are viewed as a team to possibly win 10 games this year - it's been a while since anyone has said that. With their explosive offense and improving defense they will certainly will be a team to watch. One of those names to remember is DJ Hayden. Some remember Hayden as being the prospect that suffered a near fatal injury on the football field during his senior year at the University of Houston. Even after the injury he was the Raiders' 1st round pick back in 2013 but hasn’t really panned out since. He’s had 142 tackles but just 3 interceptions. With newly signed Sean Smith to pair with David Amerson, Hayden will be pushing for a contributing role. Raiders head coach Jack Del Rio was quoted earlier in the month saying “I’m excited about his development.” The jury is still out as to how much Hayden can help this young and exciting team.
12 Blaine Gabbert, QB - San Francisco 49ers
Gabbert or Kaepernick? That will be the storyline going into the 49ers' training camp later on in the summer. As of right now, it seems that new head coach Chip Kelly is favoring Gabbert in this race. Since being drafted by the Jacksonville Jaguars back in 2011, Gabbert’s career has been a disaster. So far he has a 33-31 TD/INT ratio, 55.8 completion percentage, and a 71.9 passer rating. It just didn’t work out with the Jags, but he could have new life with the 49ers. Playing sparingly last season, Gabbert completed 63.1% of his passes to go along with a 10-7 TD/INT ratio. If he does getting that starting gig, he has a bruising RB in Carlos Hyde to rely on as well as some interesting young WRs on the outside. If Gabbert can play anything like he was expected to coming out of college, the 49ers just may see some improvement in 2016.
11 Danny Shelton, DT - Cleveland Browns
It may be a little early to criticize a player that was just drafted this past year but Danny Shelton deserves it. During his rookie year he posted 36 tackles and 0 sacks. Not quite what you’re wanting to see out of a 1st round pick. There actually might be a pretty good reason as to why he had such a lacklustre rookie season: his weight. Shelton came into the drafted at about 340 pounds. However, according to the Browns, he finished the season at around 365 pounds which often made him play sluggish and slow. That won’t cut it in the NFL. Going into this season he has already slimmed down to roughly 335 pounds. With that weight loss he can regain the explosiveness that he had back in college. If Shelton is able to keep his weight down and continue to develop, look for him to be bear hugging opposing quarterbacks instead of Roger Goodell.
10 Lance Kendricks, TE - Los Angeles Rams
Since coming out of Wisconsin where he was a first team All-American, Kendricks hasn't posted impressive numbers as of yet. In 5 seasons he has 154 catches to go along with 15 TDs. Going into 2016 that can very well change. With Jared Cook departing in free agency, Kendricks takes over as the teams #1 TE. And with rookie QB Goff taking over at QB for the Rams this year, he will need to rely on Kendricks as his security blanket besides Gurley and Tavon Austin. Now the Rams did draft a pair of TEs this past draft; however, until they have time to develop in the league, look for Kendricks to have a much more advanced role on the team. What will also help Kendricks is that new Rams offensive coordinator, Rob Boras, was the former TE coach on the team so he has a great familiarity with Kendricks' game.
9 Darqueze Dennard, CB - Cincinnati Bengals
Dennard certainly hasn’t lived up to the “No Fly Zone” hype since coming out of Michigan St in 2014. So far in his career he just has a mere 37 tackles and 1 interception. He has dealt with a few injuries as well. Going into this season he has goals of being the teams #1 CB. Although with other players on the roster such as Adam “Pacman” Jones, Dre Kirkpatrick, and 2016 first round draft pick William Jackson III that will be hard to do. It will be crucial for Dennard to play this year as if he isn’t an afterthought on the team. Head coach Marvin Lewis said during Dennard's rookie year that he was “the best rookie CB that he’s ever seen.” Even if he can nail a starting spot in the slot, Denard has all the tools needed to contribute to the Bengals for years to come.
8 Sam Bradford, QB - Philadelphia Eagles
Since being the #1 pick in 2010, Bradford just hasn’t had the career that many thought he would have. After suffering two torn ACL’s for the St. Louis Rams, he was traded to the Eagles for Nick Foles and draft picks. During his 1st season with the Eagles, Bradford threw 19 TD’s and 14 INT’s. That’s about as average as it gets. However, going into this season he is dealing with something that he’s never dealt with in the past; competition. The Eagles mortgaged the future to trade up in this past draft to select Carson Wentz out of North Dakota State. Right now, the Eagles have no problem playing Bradford while Wentz sits on the sidelines and learns. That can be perfect for Bradford. 2016 will be an audition role for him. This will most likely be his last year with the team so he will be playing to impress other teams so that he can continue to be a starting QB. With that chip on his shoulder and the talent that he does have, Bradford certainly looks like he can have an impressive season in Philly.
7 Greg Robinson, OT - Los Angeles Rams
Another Ram on the list. Some may question as to why an OT makes the list. Since Greg Robinson came into the league as the #2 overall pick back in 2014, he hasn’t quite lived up to the bill. Coming out of Auburn, Robinson was seen as raw but his potential was infinite. His time on the Rams have given the coaches and fans headaches with his plethora of penalties and having defensive ends blow by him. This past season he has made strides in run blocking for Pro Bowler Todd Gurley, but its his pass blocking that has always been criticized and is what’s needed the most improvement going into his third season on the team. Going into sunny LA from St. Louis, Robinson will need to protect new franchise quarterback Jared Goff if the Rams want to take the next step forward and have a winning season for the first time in over a decade.
6 Austin Seferian-Jenkins, TE - Tampa Bay Buccaneers
In two NFL seasons, Seferian-Jenkins has a total of 42 catches and 6 TD’s. What makes him a name to watch in 2016 is how well he started off 2015 before being knocked out for the majority of the season. In seven games he was able to post 21 catches, equaling his total in 2014, as well as 4 touchdowns. It looks like he was able to develop some quick chemistry with franchise QB Jameis Winston. A young QB certainly likes to rely on his TE, and Seferian-Jenkins can be a top target to Winston for years to come. On Buccaneers offense, the main threat is WR Mike Evans and RB Doug Martin, they can’t carry the team alone. Going into 2016, Seferian-Jenkins has already gotten off to a rocky start being sent off the field once at OTA’s but come September, look for Seferian-Jenkins to build off that strong start that he had in 2015.
5 Robert Griffin III, QB - Cleveland Browns
Johnny Manziel out. RGIII in. The Browns just love to have heavily talked about/criticized QB’s on the roster. It was clear that Griffin needed a change of scenery from the Washington Redskins. Not only was Kirk Cousins playing well, he just never seemed to get along with head coach Jay Gruden. After Griffins rookie season in 2012, it seemed that he was destined to become a star in the league. Unfortunately, he just never saw that kind of success again. Injuries and poor play lead Griffin to only play in 22 games between 2013 and 2014. And this past season, Griffin was inactive for every game. Now going into Cleveland. He hasn’t been handed the starting job but it looks like he’s going to be the guy. Griffin has the talent, he has the new change of scenery, so the jury is out if he can bring back some of that 2012 spark. If any team in the league needs consistent play from their QB, its Cleveland.
4 Trae Waynes, CB - Minnesota Vikings
Another one-year player on this list. The sole reason that Waynes makes the list is the fact that he had a disappointing rookie season, but the CB selected after him (Marcus Peters) went to the Pro Bowl. Head coach Mike Zimmer is known for his defensive mind so it can be common for new comers to struggle adapting the system whereas Waynes was more used to running a simple “bump-n-run” type coverage at Michigan State. What helps Waynes going forward is the talent around him all over the defense. At CB the Vikes have Xavier Rhoades, Terrance Newman, Waynes, and newly drafted Mackenzie Alexander. Now that he has a year under his belt, the blazing fast Waynes can be counted on to make a major impact in that secondary. Of course Vikings fans weren’t happy to see Peters have such a stellar rookie season, but they shouldn’t give up hope on the young speedster just yet.
3 Jadeveon Clowney, DE/LB - Houston Texans
Just about everyone in the world has seen the brutal hit that made Clowney famous in college. Sadly, those types of hits just haven’t happened in the NFL yet. In two injury plagued seasons, Clowney has seen action in 17 games and has produced, 47 tackles, and a mere 4.5 sacks. Those numbers don’t cut it being the #1 pick in the draft. Clowney has always had something good going for him when he’s on the field. And that is, he plays on the opposite side of the best defensive player on the planet; JJ Watt. On just about every play, Watt draws double and sometimes triple teams. Opposing offenses game plan and prepare for the big bad Watt. That should leave plenty of opportunities for Clowney to make his way to the QB. Clowney just has too much talent and has the luxury of offenses focusing on Watt. If Clowney can stay healthy for a full season, look for him to make people remember why he was the top pick in the draft.
2 Coby Fleener, TE - New Orleans Saints
Being a TE on the Saints is the beautiful thing. Just ask Jimmy Graham and more recently Benjamin Watson. With Drew Brees at the helm, TE’s just always seem to flourish on the film. Graham was once considered to be one of the best TE’s in the league but just went through a really lack luster year with his new team, the Seattle Seahawks. In 4 seasons with the Indianapolis Colts, Fleener put up modest numbers with 183 catches and 17 TD’s. A lot more was expected out of him especially since he was franchise QB Andrew Luck’s college teammate/roommate. Fleener was also losing targets to fellow TE Dwayne Allen. Now that he’s on the Saints, look for Fleener to have a monster year. Watson was able to have a career year with the team after Graham’s departure, and now that Watson has also left the team, its Fleener’s turn to put up big numbers in the bayou this season.
1 Melvin Gordon, RB - San Diego Chargers
Coming in at #1 on the list, Melvin Gordon just experienced a disastrous rookie season in San Diego. Coming out of Wisconsin, Gordon put up video game like number week in and week out and looked like he was joining the perfect situation with the Chargers. Sadly, he just never got things going. He posted an awful 3.5 yards per carry, 641 yards, and ZERO TD’s. In the 2015, he was the second RB drafted in the first round behind eventual rookie of the year which was Gurley. When Gordon ran the ball he just never seemed to have confidence running into lanes and also had fumbling issues. Now that he’s got his rookie season behind him, there’s no where to go but up for the talented runner. The Chargers still have Philip Rivers at QB, and a young star at WR in Keenan Allen. They do need to make changes on the offensive line which was also a contributing factor to Gordon’s struggles. If Gordon can get over is wasted season, look for him to vastly improve his numbers for the Bolts for years to come. Whether that’s in San Diego, Los Angeles, or Las Vegas remains to be seen.
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