The NFL regular season is nearing to a bittersweet close, and while some teams are still jockeying for playoff berths and positioning, many others are ready to end the year and get busy fixing all the problems this season has wrought. NFL teams are in a constant state of evaluation, trying to figure out what went wrong and where to go from here, and soon we will see coaches, general managers, and players head out the door off to another opportunity; or failing that, retirement.
As is always the case with the League, where parity is still paramount and surges are unpredictable, some teams have over-performed and others have fallen well short of expectations. Some of that has had to do with off the field issues, as suspensions and subsequent uncertainty loomed over teams. Some other clubs that have failed are simply those still in a process of rebuilding; it’s hard to say the Jacksonville Jaguars exactly had a disappointing season because they were expected to be bad, and in fact are far less dysfunctional than the Jets or Saints.
So most teams have problems, and like the Jags, it’s somewhat refreshing or at least comforting if you’ve lost simply because you aren’t good enough yet. That’s because the alternative is worse: you have the talent but you simply failed to live up to expectations. You’ve underperformed.
With that in mind, we reflect on another memorable, surprising, and entertaining season, taking a look at those players who entered the year with high expectations (we’re not talking about fantasy, but that will likely apply too) who are simply busts. Here we are identifying those players who showed up in name only, whose off-the-field digressions, poor play on the field, and penchant for bad luck saw them have a year to forget.
These are the biggest busts of the 2014 NFL Season.
20 Dwayne Bowe
It’s one thing to be the best wide receiver on a team that prefers to run the ball and play strong defense. It’s another thing to actually be neither the first nor second top target in the passing game, and then it’s a whole other thing to be among a wide receiving corps that hasn’t scored a touchdown whatsoever. Bowe, who often in the past seemed disinterested though still would break out every now and then for a two-score game, has been completely nonexistent, and that’s especially staggering because the Chiefs have done well this year. He has not scored a touchdown this year and he has scored at least three every season in his career. His Chiefs are also a long-shot to make the playoffs.
19 E.J. Manuel
If you watched the Bills this year, you saw how dominate the Bills defense was at times and how talented rookie Sammy Watkins is, so then you have to wonder why second-year quarterback E.J. Manuel regressed so much. That’s because Kyle Orton did nothing for the Bills. Don’t let his garbage time stats fool you, Orton repeatedly checked down and repeatedly overthrew receivers. Orton is content playing the same game every down and scoring a touchdown in the last two minutes when his team is already trailing by two scores. That is all to say that Manuel lost the job to this guy, looked bad doing it, and at no point during the year did he get the job back. A competent quarterback could have led Buffalo to the playoffs: the Bills don’t have one.
18 Jordan Cameron/Jordan Reed/Kyle Rudolph
Pick one because they are all sort of similar players. This hasn’t been a great year for the tight end outside of a handful (and even Julius Thomas and Jimmy Graham have been inconsistent). These three big men (Reed is the smallest at 6-2) were supposed to push towards the top tier of TEs, employed as blockers, safety nets, and physical receivers who could stretch the field. Well, they could barely find the field and they struggled when they did play. They’ve had some flashes of brilliance, but this year was forgettable for them: it’s pretty much Rob Gronkowski, and then the rest.
17 Jared Allen
After six impressive seasons with the Minnesota Vikings, Allen took to division rival Chicago, but has found himself enlisted in one of the worst defenses in the league. With Minnesota, he never had fewer than 11 sacks in a season, averaging 14 a year. This year with the Bears he has 5.5. The pass rusher is part of a Bears team that is second to last in passing yards allowed per game and is plagued by on and off-the-field dysfunction. Allen has had virtually no impact amd the Bears are near the bottom of the league in yards and points allowed, just like last year.
16 Jay Cutler/Marc Trestman
While we’re talking about the Bears, I'm not sure who is to blame for their offensive problems, but it’s one of these guys and they sure don’t seem to get along. It’s incredibly easy to knock Cutler, especially since he doesn’t have the same fiery face as Aaron Rodgers or Tom Brady. He hasn’t played well, but neither has the team around him, especially his offensive line and his defense. He has underperformed, but Trestman has fielded a bad team, doesn’t seem to be able to utilize a lot of skill players, and nothing has changed since last season. One or both of these guys are sure to be gone.
15 Jadeveon Clowney
J.J. Watt is the most disruptive, game-changing force on defense, and he’s scored more touchdowns than anyone on defense should, making him a pretty good offensive threat too. His partner in crime was supposed to be Jadeveon Clowney, making the Texans D a major threat and helping them rival the Colts in the AFC South. Well, the Texans are still in contention, but Clowney, the number one overall draft pick, couldn’t make it to the field. He has started only two games, totaling a paltry seven tackles on the year. This year, the outside linebacker has encountered a concussion, a sports hernia, and a setback in his surgically repaired right knee that recently required microfracture surgery. Next year is a new season, he hopes.
14 Colin Kaepernick
Something has happened to Kaepernick, because he can’t hit any of his receivers on a consistent basis – good thing he can still run. His stats aren’t demonstrably different than last year, but he looks worse, he plays terribly in the second half of games, and his 49ers are now losing. His accuracy has gone down, and while he and the 49ers tend to play well in the first half, they make no adjustments and lay eggs in the second. He may not have the best weapons, but Michael Crabtree, Frank Gore, and Vernon Davis helped lead the 49ers to the conference championship in the past, and that was before they got one of the toughest guys in the league in Anquan Boldin at wide out. Jim Harbaugh probably hasn’t helped things while job hunting when still the head coach, but Kaepernick’s struggles have been evident each week.
13 Kenny Vaccaro
There are a lot of players on Rob Ryan’s Saints defense that haven’t played well all year – the team ranks near the bottom of the league again. But this young safety was supposed to help improve a team that wanted to be aggressive on defense and put up lots of points on offense. Vaccaro was recently put at the slot position in nickel packages and played special teams after coach Sean Peyton took him out of the starting lineup. He recently got back into the starting line-up, but has a lot of work to do to improve his game.
12 Jarius Bird
Speaking of disappointing performances on the Saints' defense, we have another safety who was supposed to vastly improve the defense. Jarius Byrd, a highly sought after free agent from Buffalo and one who earned more money than any other free agent this year, played four games before tearing his meniscus and heading to the injured reserve. So we can't really blame him for getting hurt, but we can say that Saints fans hoped for way better. When he did play, he was a part of a team that was regularly giving up big plays and started 1-3.
11 Percy Harvin
Being the best receiving threat on the reigning Super Bowl champs seems like a pretty good spot to hold. Harvin returns kicks, catches balls, and runs from the backfield – or at least, he is capable of doing these things rather exceptionally. Well, not only did he barely figure into the Seattle offense in the first half of the year, he is apparently such a locker room cancer that he was shipped off to where offensive players go to disappear: the New York Jets. Aside from one huge game against Kansas City, Harvin doesn’t factor; in three games this year he touched the ball only three times. The Seahawks still look like Super Bowl favorites, and for Harvin, it doesn’t help your cause if your quarterbacks are Michael Vick or Geno Smith. Or if you have two bye weeks.
10 Montee Ball
There is always a slight hesitation when calling an injured player a bust, but as Cris Carter wisely said this year about RGIII, the difference between a good player and a great one is availability. Ball was taking over the lead running back duties on the most explosive and high-powered offense in the league with the departure of Knowshon Moreno. However, he got injured in Week five, but he wasn’t particularly great when he was healthy. What’s more, with the impressive performances by Ronnie Hillman and later C.J. Anderson, it’s really hard to imagine Ball holding on to the job if he were healthy. Even if part of the success of Denver’s running game comes down to teams protecting against the pass, Anderson and Hillman have played well enough to earn their spots, and Ball simply couldn’t take advantage of a great opportunity.
9 Cordarrelle Patterson
Everybody seems to think Cordarrelle Patterson should be way better than he is, and for some reason he’s just not even coming close to this standard. A talented receiver and running back, Patterson has been entirely inconsistent this year, after being expected to be a big part of the Minnesota Vikings offense. In his rookie season, he appeared in all 16 games, scoring four TDs through the air and another three on the ground. Well, he does have one big run for a score this year (67 yards), but did nothing more on the ground and hardly anything through the air. It can’t all be blamed on poor quarterback play and the loss of Adrian Peterson, though it can’t help.
8 Greg Hardy/Aldon Smith
Both of these men were pivotal parts of defenses, and both these defenses were more important than their team’s respective offenses. The off field indiscretions by these men, in part, saw their teams have losing seasons. For Hardy, Ron Rivera built the Panthers defense around him, and while Carolina got off to a 2-0 start, they quickly fell back to Earth and their defense has struggled all year. Similar can be said for a 49ers team that doesn’t have a strong enough offense to bail out a weaker D. Smith missed nine games for substance abuse, and in his five games back, he has two sacks, 13 tackles, and seen the Niners eliminated from the playoffs.
7 Josh McCown
He has Vincent Jackson. He has Mike Evans. He has a coach who believes in him. He also has 13 interceptions in just 10 games. After an impressive showing with the Chicago Bears last year in relief of Jay Cutler, former Bears' head coach Lovie Smith brought him to Tampa Bay to lead his offense. Tampa Bay became a sexy pick to make the playoffs, as they had a solid defense on paper and two towering wideouts. Well, McCown has been ineffective and injured all year, and the Bucs are in a pole position to pick first in next year's draft.
6 Vernon Davis
The most egregious disappearance of any tight end, and Davis only missed a handful of games to injury. He may not have been 100%, but after a Week one game where he caught two TDS, Davis has disappeared and become a complete non factor, succumbing to back problems as well as some mysterious condition that causes him to drop passes. Those Week one scores would be the only time he found the end zone, which will tie the lowest amount in his nine-year career. He is also set to tally the second fewest catches since playing 10 games in his rookie year, along with the fewest yards, fewest yards after catch, and worst catch average. And somehow he went 4 -44, with two TDs in Week one.
5 Keenan Allen
At the end of last season, he was a beacon of light for the Chargers, a worthy complement to Philip Rivers and a sign that the 2014 Chargers would field an explosive offense. So after an impressive rookie campaign, Allen unfortunately more or less disappeared. Allen has played one fewer game this year than last, but he has four TDs to last year’s eight, and three hundred fewer receiving yards – and that is taking into consideration he only caught three balls through the first three weeks last year. Take away an aberration of a 120-yard, two-TD performances against Baltimore, and Allen has busted, yielding to Malcolm Floyd and the ageless Antonio Gates as the top threats on the Chargers.
4 Andre Ellington
On one of the best teams in the league, a Cardinals club that uses a punishing defense and a strong ground game to grind out wins, Ellington was the lead workhorse. His season came to an end on November 30 due to a hernia, but was dealing with a foot and hip injury throughout the year. You wonder if he should have taken some games off instead of playing hurt. He concludes 2014 with 660 rushing yards, a 3.3 average, a long of 22 yards, and three TDs. He would add another 395 yards through the air and two TDs, although an 81-yard touchdown was a complete fluke if you remember Logan Thomas wildly throwing into triple coverage (that’s his only completion in nine attempts). Since he’s been gone, the running game has gotten somewhat better. Kerwynn Williams is running for five yards a carry, and he and Stepfan Taylor earned 136 against St Louis and 119 against Kansas City (we’ll ignore Seattle because apparently no one can do anything against them anymore).
3 Zac Stacy
Remember this guy? The second-year running back came in as the feature in the backfield with the St. Louis Rams, having finished just shy of 1,000 yards through 14 games his rookie season (he also had seven rushing touchdowns, another through the air, and 141 receiving yards). Well, Jeff Fischer does not mess around. The coach whose team beat Denver, Seattle, and earned back-to-back shut outs, and also went through three quarterbacks this year and put Stacy in a timeshare before completely vanishing him all together. Stacy’s fall was so precipitous that he went from 25 touches in Week five and six combined, to only 16 across the next 10 weeks, starting no games and sitting out three altogether.
2 Robert Griffin III
RGIII has been plagued by injuries and been the subject of passive aggression and subversive comments by two coaches in his three years. At the same time, the third year quarterback from Baylor is also a fairly vocal spokesman, pushing products and standing in the spotlight while not always taking the blame for on the field failures. After being shut down late last year, and getting the offseason to recover again, it was thought he and Washington would at least be respectable and competitive. Instead, they are on their way to 4-12 and have not one below average quarterback, but three. The funny thing is that all the quarterbacks and the coach may just be back together next year.
1 Adrian Peterson
The biggest bust this year barely got a chance to play, and it was all his doing. Peterson pleaded no contest to a misdemeanor charge of reckless assault after being caught physically disciplining his son. He played one game (a Vikings victory) and proceeded to become part of a dramatic and startling situation that surely distracted the Vikings and propelled a dark time in the NFL’s history. All the chaos aside, the Vikings have shown some promise with improving rookie Teddy Bridgewater. They are 6-9, with one score losses against the Bills, Bears, Packers, Dolphins, and Lions. It’s hard to figure Peterson wouldn’t flip at least two games across the season, but his actions have tarnished himself, and let down his fans, his team, and the league.
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