There’s a lot of pressure on first round draft picks. They’re drafted with the hope that they can be difference makers for their franchise at some point in their careers. While that is the case sometimes, more often than not it doesn’t quite work out as planned. After all, the draft isn’t an exact science. Even the best can miss on a top end pick. The word bust is thrown around a lot in the NFL these days. It’s used to describe a high draft pick who doesn’t live up to expectations. The league is now more demanding than ever, especially on young players. Naturally, their window for success will become smaller as the teams need to win grows. This is making it even harder for young players to develop as some teams just can’t afford the wait and are forced to move on.
There are a number of players in the NFL right now that are struggling to make an impact. A good deal of them are former first round picks. While teams want these guys to succeed, it’s hard to put too much confidence in someone who just isn’t performing on the field. Be it a lack of skill, effort or plain bad luck, a ton of former first round picks are on the verge of being branded busts. 2015 might be a crucial season in all of these athletes’ careers as it might determine whether they’re still in the league next year. Of course, some starters might get backup roles and some backups might find jobs elsewhere, but that essentially means that they won’t be starters for the majority of their remaining career. You expect these guys to come out of college, start and then dominate. In most cases, as soon as you see a former first rounder looking for a new jersey or sitting on the bench, you know he’s a bust.
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20 Quinton Coples
Jets linebacker Quinton Coples might be prepped up for a breakout year in 2015. The outside linebacker rarely played to his strengths in the last couple seasons. Originally a pure pass rusher, Coples has been forced to defend the pass most of his pro career due to his place in former head coach Rex Ryan’s defense. Now under Todd Bowles, Coples will look to finally make an impact rushing the passer. But with only 16.5 sacks in his three years, you’ve got to wonder if he’s going to have some rust to shake off.
19 Luke Joeckel
A top five draft choice is expected to contribute and play well as soon as they touch the field. It’s no different for Jaguars offensive tackle Luke Joeckel. The former second overall choice has struggled since entering the league. He’s had problems in both pass and run blocking and really hasn’t showed the ability to transition to the pro level with success. While it is fairly early on in his career, Joeckel might not be getting that many chances after this year. Especially now that the Jaguars have a franchise quarterback in Blake Bortles that they need to protect.
18 Barkevious Mingo
Though he had a promising start to his career, Barkevious Mingo hit the sophomore slump hard in 2014. With only two sacks all year, the Browns pass rusher needs to come out swinging in 2015. The only problem is that he’s expected to miss time after going through arthroscopic surgery earlier this month. Injuries have been the bane of Mingo’s career so far. Though not short on talent, Mingo’s durability has caused him to miss time and in turn effected his production on the field. It’ll keep getting worse for the former LSU star if he can’t stay healthy. Teams don’t tend to have much patience with guys who can’t stay on the field, no matter how talented they are.
17 Morris Claiborne
After having traded up in the draft to take him, the Dallas Cowboys expected Morris Claiborne to develop into the next great shutdown corner in the league. However, things haven’t gone their way in that regard. Claiborne was highly coveted coming out of college but has done little to impress in the NFL. Injuries along with inconsistencies on the field have left a sour taste in Cowboys fans mouths. After injuring his Patellar tendon last year, the Cowboys seem to be cautious when it comes to getting him back onto the field. But with Orlando Scandrick out for the year, Claiborne has a chance to make an impression playing alongside Brandon Carr, Tyler Patmon and rookie Byron Jones.
16 Bjoern Werner
Pass rusher is a crucial position in the NFL today given the success of the passing game. Teams are dropping back 30 times a game looking to make a big play in the air. It’s up to the opposing teams defensive ends to get pressure and bring them down. That’s the kind of player the Colts thought they were getting when they selected Bjorn Werner in the first round of the 2013 draft. But Werner has been invisible, racking up 6.5 sacks. This year he’ll switch sides and work as a backup now that the Colts have veteran Trent Cole on their side. With any luck, Werner can learn from the veteran and show the team he can still make an impact.
15 Dion Jordan
Some people are already writing off Dolphins pass rusher Dion Jordan as a huge bust. The third overall selection in the 2013 draft has not only done virtually nothing on the field but is now going to miss the entire 2015 season due to a suspension. As it stands, Jordan has as many suspensions as he does sacks. A pathetic amount given he was regarded as such a talented prospect only a few years ago. There’s no guarantee that he’s still got a job once he’s reinstated. He hasn’t been a fixture on the Dolphins roster since they drafted him and it wouldn’t be surprising to see him looking for a new team sometime next offseason.
14 Matt Elam
2015 was supposed to be Matt Elam’s breakout year. The Ravens safety has been relatively quiet since entering the league in 2013. Elam’s main flaw is his inconsistency when tackling. Rather than go in for a tackle, Elam tries to deliver big blows all too often. Last year he had a missed tackle rate of 30% according to PFF. In training camp, Elam and fellow safety Will Hill were said to be competing for the starting job on the strong side. While competition is healthy you don’t want your top choice competing with a journeyman for snaps. Any notion of 2015 being his make or break year were put on hold when Elam was placed on IR earlier this month.
13 Justin Gilbert
The Cleveland Browns entered the 2014 draft with a couple of first round selections, but both Johnny Manziel and Justin Gilbert had terrible rookie campaigns. While Manziel is looking like he’s correcting some of his freshman errors, Gilbert continues to struggle. Playing next to Joe Hayden is bound to get you a few more passes thrown your side of the field and while that does put some added pressure on a young defensive back, Gilbert has failed to show he has what it takes to start in the NFL. In only his second season, this already looks like a make or break year for a player that was so highly thought of coming out of college a year ago.
12 Eric Ebron
In an offense that consists of Calvin Johnson and Golden Tate, it’s understandable that Eric Ebron might get overlooked by fans and some analysts, but that doesn’t explain why he’s been getting overlooked by his quarterback. Ebron was one of the most versatile pass catchers coming out of last year’s draft. He drew comparisons to Vernon Davis due to his speed and size but failed to use it to his advantage in 2014. Now in his second year, things should look better for the former tenth overall pick but another season like last years and he might just lose his job to Brandon Pettigrew, another former first round selection.
11 Marcus Smith
Marcus Smith’s NFL career has not gotten off to a fantastic start. The Eagles linebacker is in his second year and is already having the bust label thrown in his face. While it seems harsh and a tad premature, it’s not entirely unjustified. After all Smith only played in 77 snaps last year. For a guy that was taken in the first round, he doesn’t seem to be anywhere near ready in terms of being a starter. Not even his head coach Chip Kelly is willing to give him much of an endorsement. Smith is yet to record a tackle or any sort of defensive stat whatsoever. It’s hard to imagine that carrying over to next year, but if it does, it’s safe to say that he’ll be out of Philadelphia.
10 Shea McClellin
Nothing shows a team’s desperate as much as a position change does. Shea McClellin was drafted in the first round by the Chicago Bears to be a premier pass rusher but that hasn’t worked out. In a division where you have to face both Aaron Rodgers and Matthew Stafford twice a season, you need guys who can disrupt them in the pocket. McClellin has not proved to be one of those guys. Now adapting to life as an inside linebacker, McClellin is getting one more shot at being a dominant force on the Bears roster. If this doesn’t work out, he might just be done.
9 E.J. Manuel
No position is as scrutinized as the quarterback in the NFL. Especially young ones. Young quarterbacks have the burden of carrying a failing franchise in the hopes of one day leading it to success. As a result, teams are giving their young signal callers less time to show that they’ve got the skills to lead in the NFL. This seems to happening to Buffalo Bills QB E.J. Manuel. Only in his third year, Manuel doesn’t seem to have many more chances with the Bills. Especially with a new regime in play. Tyrod Taylor looks like the breakaway candidate to start unless Manuel does something to win over his coaches in the next couple weeks.
8 Eric Fisher
There’s a lot of pressure that comes with being the number one overall selection. Expectations are high for these guys. They’re evaluated as being the best in that year's draft class. So naturally they’re expected to make an impact early on. That’s what the Chiefs thought they were getting with Eric Fisher, but, just like Luke Joeckel, Fisher has struggled in his first two NFL seasons. Initially fitted in on the right side, Fisher was forced to take up the blind side after the departure of Brandon Albert. He hasn’t performed up to par and was seen running with the second string earlier this offseason. It might be a sign of what’s to come if he can’t get his act together soon.
7 Doug Martin
This is shaping up to be a make or break year for Buccaneers running back Doug Martin. After a fantastic rookie year, injuries have held the young runner back. The last couple of seasons were very disappointing. It looked like his career might’ve already been over but he’s been turning heads this offseason. Faster than ever, Martin is expected to have himself a huge year. He was always talented but could never seem to showcase that talent for too long before exiting the game. His future in the NFL will be highly dependent on his health in 2015.
6 Dee Milliner
Dee Milliner has been a huge disappointment for the New York Jets faithful so far. The former top ten pick was supposed to develop into a top tier defensive back but, as it stands, it's looking like he’ll only make the team this year based on his special teams performance. The former college star has struggled with both durability and pass protection over the years and doesn’t exactly inspire confidence when on the field. With both Antonio Cromartie and Darrelle Revis back with the team, Milliner’s opportunities to start have seemingly walked out the door. At least for this year.
5 Trent Richardson
Trent Richardson might be on his way out in Oakland. It’s just another disappointing pit stop in the former top five pick's career. T-Rich was stellar in his rookie year with the Browns but went to pieces after being traded by the Colts. He never once looked like he could be a lead back while there, which is terrible for Indy seeing as they gave up a first round pick to get him. Now with the Raiders, Richardson might not even make the team as his continued lack of awareness and ability to find the hole cause him more and more problems during games.
4 Cordarrelle Patterson
Cordarrelle Patterson is one of those truly electrifying and raw athletes that you always enjoy watching because of their potential to make a big play at any given moment.However, Patterson hasn’t made too many big plays over the years. Currently buried on the Vikings depth chart, Patterson is very clearly struggling on the field. The man can’t run routes and his coaches know it. As fast and big as he is, it’ll be hard for him to make plays if he can’t remember what routes to run during the game. Things could change this season but it’s highly doubtful seeing how quiet he’s been during the preseason.
3 Justin Blackmon
Justin Blackmon’s career very well might be over as your reading this article. He hasn’t played in the league for over two-and-a-half years due to suspension. That’s close to three seasons without any game time action or even reps in practice. A very talented receiver, Blackmon’s talents have been overshadowed by his numerous NFL suspensions. Jaguars GM David Caldwell himself admitted earlier this month that he thought Blackmon’s NFL career might already be over. He’s made no apparent effort to get reinstated by the NFL and seemingly looks like he’s content letting his pro career slip away.
2 Datone Jones
Datone Jones isn’t the most recognizable name on the Packers roster. It’s not hard to understand why once you see that the first round pick has amassed just five sacks in his two year career. That’s an absolutely awful number for someone who was drafted with the hopes of being a consistent pass rusher. Clay Mathews and Julius Peppers handle the pass rushing duties in Green Bay so there’s no need to panic, but Jones’ lack of production isn’t a good sign. His career is very much in danger as it is.
1 Robert Griffin III
Another guy who had a good rookie year but hasn’t done much since is Washington Redskins QB Robert Griffin III. Griffin has struggled over the last couple of years due to both injuries and inconsistency due to scheme change. He even lost his starting job last season and most agree that this year is going to be crucial for his future both in Washington and in the NFL. It’s hard to look at what he did in 2012 and see him struggle so badly now. You’ve got to wonder whether it’s due to an improper grasp on head coach Jay Gruden’s system or perhaps an attitude problem with Griffin himself. We’ll find out soon enough.
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