With the 2016 NFL Draft fast approaching, what better time of the year to talk about draft busts? Inevitably, every football season produces the downfall of some young players that were at one time predicted to be productive assets to a given team. It is an established part of the game today, and further confirms how difficult it is to play football professionally, backing up the cut-throat nature of the league.
Of course, young players fail in the NFL for different reasons. It could be a poor scheme fit, lack of adjustments made for the pro game, or issues with substance abuse. While the NFL is technically just one step up from the division one college ranks, it is a world that is wholly different in both on-field and off-field expectations. Not every personality in the college game is cut out for a professional career in the sport, and sometimes that is for the better. Regardless, it usually spells a short career for the player in question, leaving many fans wondering, "what if?"
The players listed here do not exactly indicate a revelation in the analytical process. Most of them are fairly obvious in their lack of production, especially since they were at one time big-name prospects that seemed destined for a Pro Bowl-caliber career in the NFL. Still, that doesn't make their struggles any less noteworthy. Some of them were selected while the team was passing up prospects that ended up performing at a Hall Of Fame level. Talk about buyer's remorse. I'm sure if these teams could have had their picks back today, that none of these selections would have remained the same.
Ranked below are the top 20 young NFL players that already look like busts.
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20 Johnny Manziel
To be fair, most people would probably have Manziel higher on a list like this, but in reality, he is probably the most obvious draft bust in the past five years. Most people who watched him play at Texas A&M were able to conclude that he didn't have the raw skills necessary to be able to complete NFL throws, and sufficiently read defenses. His numbers in Cleveland speak to this; in 14 games he had 1,675 yards passing, his completion percentage never totaled above 57, and he fumbled seven times. Add on to that his affinity for booze and sketchy nightlife, and Manziel never had a shot in the pros.
19 Zach Mettenberger
Going into his third season out of LSU, there were some that initially believed that if Mettenberger could develop his football IQ at the QB position, his strong arm could carry him through to a successful career. It didn't really work out that way. In two seasons where he played in seven games each, Mettenberger threw for 12 TDs, along with 14 INTs. His completion percentage has hovered around an acceptable 60, but he has also fumbled six times. With Marcus Mariota now taking over at QB, Mettenberger's trajectory seems to be that of a career backup at this point.
18 Melvin Gordon
The Chargers decided to roll the dice in the 2015 draft by taking a running back in the first round with Gordon, and it didn't pay off. In his rookie year, Gordon averaged a dismal 3.5 YPC, with just 641 yards total, and fumbled five times in 14 games played. Some may write it off to playing in an offense that emphasizes passing, or that he was just adjusting to the NFL game, but the eye-test says otherwise. He exhibited poor vision, and just didn't look comfortable against professional defenses. Ultimately, since he has played just one season, the jury is still out on this one, but there's really no reason to expect much improvement in the upcoming campaign.
17 Paul Richardson
Richardson was Seattle's second round pick out of Colorado in the 2014 draft. He began his rookie year with ample playing time, appearing in 15 games, but caught just 29 passes for 271 yards, with one TD. Even with a quality head coach in Pete Carroll, and a smart QB with a strong arm in Russell Wilson, Richardson never could quite find his place in the Seahawks' receiving corps. He went down with an ACL injury in the 2014 playoffs, and has not since recovered into any kind of a role, appearing in just one game last season, catching a single pass. This is another one that is kind of undecided, but all signs point to an unproductive career, due to a combination of injury and scheme fit.
16 Darqueze Dennard
Dennard was selected to beef up the Bengals' secondary in the first round of the 2014 draft. However, in two seasons he's started just a single game (despite appearing in 24), racking up just one INT and defending four passes. While the pick wasn't considered a risky one, given that Dennard is a Michigan St. product, his draft spot has not translated into what the team was hoping for, and it's fair to wonder how much time he has left in the league. Taking up space as a slot corner should extend his career, but his lack of exhibited play-making ability still makes it a relevant question, especially for a first round selection.
15 Justin Gilbert
Adding to the laundry list of bad Cleveland draft picks (with one already mentioned on this list, more to come later), Gilbert was selected at eighth overall in the 2014 draft to be a shutdown corner for the team, and has been anything but. In two seasons he's started just three games, and amassed just a single INT. While a productive Gilbert would have actually paired nicely alongside Joe Haden and Tashaun Gipson in the Browns' secondary at the time, the experiment proved to be disastrous, and Cleveland's defense was poor as per usual.
It seems that Gilbert's days as a would-be starting corner in the NFL are limited, but he still could have some years left as a depth option. Still, this is a bust all the way.
14 Nick Fairley
While Fairley's career has seen its share of ups to go along with the downs, for a 13th overall selection it has largely been underwhelming. Selected by the Lions in the 2011 draft to sure up the interior of their defensive line, Fairley started just 30 games in four seasons in Detroit, with just 13.5 sacks, and no more than 35 tackles in a season to show for it. He spent last season with the Rams, not starting a game, where he got 0.5 of a sack, and had 29 tackles. That production just isn't there, and while a new start next season with the Saints may rejuvenate his career in a starting role, the book on Fairley up to this point has been third round production on a first round selection. That isn't likely to change.
13 E.J. Manuel
Originally selected in the first round of the 2013 draft to be Buffalo's franchise QB, Manuel has been no better than mediocre as an NFL starter. In three seasons, he's averaged no more than 6.7 yards per pass. His 19 TD passes to 15 INT's isn't absolutely awful, but that's because he's never established the ability to throw the ball down the field at all. He just never offered the kinds of things that a first round QB should, and as a result, his future with any team is very much in question. Ultimately, it's fair to chalk this selection up as a bust, as there aren't many, if any, teams out there willing to give Manuel a chance with their starting QB role.
12 Geno Smith
Smith could actually find himself as the Jets' starting QB once again, depending on what happens with Ryan Fitzpatrick, but the 39th overall selection out of West Virginia, likely isn't going to find much more success. His rookie season will truly go down as one of the worst for any QB to start all 16 games. Smith had a 55.8 completion percentage to go along with a horrible 12 TDs to 21 INTs thrown. In two seasons as the Jets starter (he only appeared in one game last season), he's fumbled the ball 16 times. Smith just isn't a starting NFL QB by any measure.
Some may say he was hindered by Rex Ryan (at the time), and a run-first offense, but the on-field performance was just too bad to ignore.
11 Dee Milliner
Another Jets' draft selection, Milliner has hardly been the shutdown corner they expected him to be. Since starting 12 games in his rookie season (2013), he started just two in the 2014 campaign, and none last season. He hasn't recorded an INT in two seasons, and generally just hasn't established himself as a legitimate part of New York's secondary. While any hope of re-capturing a starting role is diminished at this point, he could add on a few years to his career on special teams, though that wouldn't help his value at his draft position.
10 Cordarrelle Patterson
Patterson was once considered a valued prospect out of Tennessee, but his pro career just hasn't panned out. Starting just 14 games in three seasons, he's be increasingly unproductive on an annual basis. He's never totaled more than 469 yards receiving in a season, or more than 4 TDs, all of which came during his rookie season in 2013, and he hasn't come close since.
He has been able to contribute to the rushing game and on special teams, but that just seems like Minnesota trying to get the most value they can out of him, considering he was a first round selection. As it stands, Patterson has been a confirmed disappointment up to this point in his career.
9 Trent Richardson
Cue number three on the Browns' list of busted draft selections. Richardson is a reason teams don't select a running back in the first round anymore. The Alabama product was a top-10 pick, and had only one acceptable (and even that's pushing it) season, which came during his rookie campaign in 2012. Even then, he averaged just 3.6 YPC, and has gotten progressively worse since that time. He then went to the Colts, where he posted seasons with 2.9 YPC, and 3.3 YPC respectively in 2013 and 2014. Those were his last two in the league, and he is currently a free agent, with little to no hope of resurfacing as a productive NFL player.
8 Justin Blackmon
Blackmon's story is as sad, as his career stats were underwhelming. A top-10 selection out of Oklahoma St., Blackmon was drafted to give the Jaguars a legitimate number one receiver, and for his rookie season, it looked like that had a chance of happening, as he racked up nearly 900 yards and five TD receptions. During the offseason, his issues with substance abuse began to surface, and he was initially suspended four games, before another violation which ended his season after just five games played.
Since then, subsequent violations have effectively ended his NFL career, and he hasn't played a game since that 2013 season. More noteworthy than Johnny Manziel's collapse, because Blackmon actually had star-caliber talent, his story leaves many fans wondering "what if?"
7 Jimmie Ward
Selected to solidify the back end of San Francisco's secondary, Ward has started just eight games in two years, and totaled a single INT. With eight passes defended, he hasn't been a completely useless player, but his draft position warrants criticism, as his production is more akin to that of a third or fourth round talent. There's still time for Ward to prove himself during next year's campaign, but the clock is ticking, and it could swing the other way, which would mean a perennial special teams role could be on the horizon as well.
Although with the 49ers lacking talent in general on their roster, Ward will likely be looking at a prove it-type situation.
6 Brandon Weeden
The fourth and final poor Cleveland Browns selection on this list, Weeden was a 28-year-old QB prospect out of Oklahoma St., which was a legitimate question mark from the beginning. He threw 17 INTs to 14 TDs in his rookie season during 2012, and never recovered from it. He spent one more year in Cleveland, starting just five games, and posting a dismal completion percentage of 52. He also fumbled 12 times in his two seasons with the team and the experiment was a disaster mainly from the start.
He most spent parts two seasons in Dallas as the backup for the oft-injured Tony Romo, totaling largely similar results. He's now in Houston, where he'll presumably sit behind Brock Osweiler. It's safe to say the ship has sailed on Weeden's pro career, and is a personification of the Browns' poor draft analysis over the years.
5 Marcus Smith
Smith was taken in the first round by the Eagles in 2014, and has barely even seen the field in his two seasons thus far. Some may blame it on a scheme fit, as Smith played in a 4-3 defense at Louisville, which was contrary to Bill Davis' 3-4 defense in Philadelphia, but Smith's sack totals are at just 1.5 in those two years, and there seems to be a clear lack of ability to pick up the game at the professional level.
While it is unlikely that Smith's career is over, due to the arrival of new defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz (who has successfully ran a 4-3 defense in the past), and the Philly's lack of depth at the position, he'll certainly be on close watch to see if he has any potential at all worth salvaging, especially for a first round selection.
4 Andre Williams
It wouldn't be a stretch to call Williams the worst running back in the league. In two seasons with the Giants, he's posted 3.3 YPC and 2.9 YPC respectively, and while scoring eight TDs, he's started just seven games. Initially projected to be the bell cow running back in New York coming out of Boston College, Williams at best has been an enigma, and at worst been a disappointment on every level. True, he's only fumbled the ball once, but lacks the vision to play at the pro level consistently, much in the same way as Trent Richardson did. He currently has a spot on the Giants' roster, due to a lack of better depth options, but it's safe to say he won't ever amount to the level of success he was expected to.
3 Jadeveon Clowney
It's truly frightening to think about the damage that J.J. Watt, combined with a potential-fulfilling Clowney could have done on Houston's defensive line, but injuries have plagued Clowney to the point where it's worth wondering if he will ever fully recover. He was the first overall selection by the Texans in the 2014 draft, and played in just four games his rookie season, without totaling a single sack. In 2015, he played in 13 games, but only amassed 4.5 sacks, and 40 tackles; a stat line that is more than underwhelming for a first overall pick from South Carolina.
Ultimately, Clowney is going to get a chance to turn his career trajectory around, but as it stands, he could be one of the most notable draft busts in history if he doesn't get on the right track within a few years.
2 Blaine Gabbert
Another mistake for the Jaguars, this time coming in the 2011 draft, Gabbert was a franchise QB hopeful out of Missouri, who has now been relegated to a backup role with the 49ers. In his rookie season in Jacksonville, Gabbert posted an absurdly low 50.8 percent completion percentage. He threw 12 TDs to 11 INTs, and couldn't read an NFL defense from the start.
Numerous other dismal seasons followed, before he joined the 49ers in 2014, where he currently resides. Some other QBs may have posted slightly worse numbers, but Gabbert serves as a recent testament to the risk involved with taking a QB, and the difficulty involved in projecting their potential, in any NFL draft.
1 Dion Jordan
Jordan is easily the biggest draft bust in the last three years. A third overall selection of the Dolphins in 2013, he was considered a surefire hit as an NFL linebacker, with sizable Pro Bowl potential in his future. As it stands today, he has accumulated just three sacks in two seasons, before missing all of last season due to violating the league's substance abuse policy. He has just 46 tackles in those two seasons, at a position that is conducive to that statistic. It's unlikely that Jordan has much of a productive future in the league, and just about any other first round selection would have panned out better for Miami that year. It goes to show that nothing is guaranteed in the NFL draft, with a bust the caliber of Jordan's always lurking on the horizon.
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