The NFL season is almost over and at this point, 30 teams are wondering what went wrong for them. The season had some surprises, as the Miami Dolphins ended a nine-year playoff drought, the Raiders emerged as an offensive juggernaut, while the Falcons have seemingly introduced the world to the Greatest Show On Turf 2.0.
We've also gotten a year to disect and examine the 2016 NFL rookies. Rookies were a big story in the NFL this season. While Ezekiel Elliott was an unconventional pick, as running backs rarely go fourth overall anymore, he proved to be the most electric rookie RB since Adrian Peterson. Dak Prescott was a close second, as he led the Cowboys to a 13-3 record, taking over for an injured Tony Romo.
However, there were also plenty of disappointments, as there always are following a draft. Just one year in though, it's still very early to tell who will actually go down as a bust and who will go down as a steal from last year's draft. In some cases, it's pretty unfair to rank these players already, but we're only going by what we've seen so far, not by what we project to see in the future.
This list could look very different by next year, but after a season of work, here are eight rookies who look like busts and seven who look like steals.
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16 Bust: Robert Nkemdiche
Robert Nkemdiche isn't on this list for the high ankle sprain that kept him out of action early in the year. No, he's here because after returning, he quickly found himself in coach Bruce Arians' doghouse. With the strong defense Arizona had in 2015, it was expected that a player with the character concerns of Nkemdiche could be surrounded by elite talent and that he would shine.
The knock on him going into last year's draft was that he was immature and didn't have the motor teams covet. That's how he slipped to 31st overall, where the Cards took a flyer on him. It turns out, maturity issues continued to linger for Nkemdiche and and he soon found himself warming the bench even after returning to full health.
15 Steal: Laremy Tunsil
Laremy Tunsil's career is forever going to be linked to that bong photo that went viral minutes before the start of last year's draft. Tunsil was initially projected as a first overall pick in the draft, but after the picture surfaced, Tunsil kept slipping. He slipped all the way down to Miami at 13th overall. The Dolphins were more than happy to take a chance on arguably the most talented player of last year's class and so far, the gamble looks to have paid off.
While Miami's O-line was a mess at times this year due to injuries, Tunsil had to play multiple positions, shifting from guard to tackle. He hasn't been spectacular, but if Miami's O-line stays healthy next year, Tunsil should be able to thrive at tackle.
14 Bust: Germain Ifedi
It was clear after last season that the Seattle Seahawks would have to address their offensive line and they tried to do that by drafting Germain Ifedi with the last pick of the first round. It's clear that the O-line remains a problem in Seattle, as the 'Hawks were ranked 25th in rushing yards and allowed 42 sacks. Considering Russell Wilson's mobility, that's a high number.
Ifedi received a PFF grade of 37.6 and surrendered 38 QB pressures, the fourth most in the NFL. Ifedi is going to need to improve on those numbers, or the Seahawks offense will continue to struggle generating points. Either way, it's clear the Seahawks didn't solve their O-line last year and they'll likely have to address it again this draft.
13 Steal: James Bradberry
The Carolina Panthers suffered a major setback this season after going 15-1 in 2015 and reaching Super Bowl 50. Part of their collapse was that they let Josh Norman go to free agency and had multiple rookies starting in the secondary this season. James Bradberry was a bright spot for them though, and provides some hope for the future. Bradberry was a late second round pick and so far, he's looking to be quite the find for Carolina.
Bradberry was pushed into the starting role after the Panthers allowed a 300-yard receiving game from Julio Jones in October and once Bradberry got the opportunity, he didn't look back. If the Panthers can find a veteran in free agency to pair at CB with Bradberry, they could quickly rebuild their secondary.
12 Bust: Darron Lee
The New York Jets have typically been exceptional at finding defensive talents in the draft, but so far Darron Lee looks like a miss. He was the lowest rated linebacker this season among the 2016 rookies. He scored a PFF rating of 38.8 The most glaring stat against him was a 132.9 rating for opposing quarterbacks when thrown at in coverage.
The only positive stat regarding Lee was that he only took two penalties this season, but needless to say, the Jets are a little disappointed with the 20th overall pick. The former Buckeye still has plenty of time to turn things around, as he's surrounded by a solid front seven in New York. The 2016 season was a disaster all around for the Jets, so maybe Lee will improve along with his team next year.
11 Steal: Hunter Henry
It's hard to replace a legend, but it seems the Los Angeles Chargers (that sounds weird) have found the heir apparent to Antonio Gates. Henry was the first tight end off the board in last year's draft, but he didn't get selected until the second round, at 35th overall. So far, he's made other teams look silly, as he emerged as a reliable target for Philip Rivers.
As the team's second tight end, Henry caught 36 passes, with 478 yards and eight touchdowns, the second most by a rookie TE in the last decade. Antonio Gates has said he's going to return for the 2017 season, but this could be the year we see Henry taking more targets from Gates. Whatever time Gates has left though, the Chargers seem set at TE for the future.
10 Bust: Josh Doctson
Here's one of those unfair entries, as it's largely based on the fact that Josh Doctson couldn't stay healthy in 2016. Doctson was the 22nd overall pick, but was quickly on the injured list due to an Achilles injury and sat out most of the preseason. Doctson returned in time for Week 1, but reaggrvated his injury in the Week 3 warmups. He was eventually placed on IR in October, ending his season.
There's not really a body of work to judge Doctson with yet, but it's never a good sign when a player sits out his entire rookie season with injury problems. In the games he did play, Doctson managed two receptions for 66 yards and no touchdowns. We'll see if a healthy Docton could help Washington rebound in 2017.
9 Steal: Sterling Shepard
While Doctson couldn't help Washington this year, their division rivals got help from a rookie wideout by the name of Sterling Shepard. Standing at only 5'10, Shepard was overlooked in the draft due to his size, but he found the ideal situation, lining up across Odell Beckham Jr. Shepard was able to haul in 65 receptions for 683 yards and eight touchdowns, giving Eli Manning another reliable target in the passing game.
The Giants have seemingly had a revolving door at WR the last five seasons, but that position appears to now be set. With OBJ lining across from him, Shepard should continue to be targeted by Manning and should produce steadily.
Despite the offense taking a step back in 2016, Shepard provides a lot of hope for the Giants' future.
8 Bust: Laquon Treadwell
Treadwell went just one pick after Josh Doctson and so far it seems netiher the Vikings or the Redskins found a gem at WR. Treadwell was meant to come in to give Teddy Bridgewater a weapon opposite Stefon Diggs. Treadwell proved to be a huge disappointment for Minnesota, as despite the Vikings being thin at receiver, Treadwell couldn't find a way to get on the field.
His season totals amounted to just one reception for 15 yards. Offensive coordinator Norv Turner left the team mid-season, so we'll have to see if new OC Pat Shurmur could find the answers regarding Treadwell's game. Either way, the Vikings will likely be looking for another receiver at some point this offseason. If Treadwell bounces back in 2017, this offense would get a major boost.
7 Steal: Jordan Howard
All the attention was on Ezekiel Elliott as far as rookie running backs this offseason and rightfully so. However, someone that wasn't talked about nearly enough was Jordan Howard. Being that the Bears had a miserable 3-13 season, not many were paying attention to the wonderful things Jordan Howard was doing in Chicago, but it appears the Bears found their replacement for Matt Forte, who they lost in free agency last year.
Howard was a fifth round pick, selected 150th overall and quickly climbed up the Bears depth chart, earning the starting job by Week 4. Despite not starting the first three weeks, Howard finished second in the NFL in rushing yards at 1,313 yards behind only Elliott.
The Bears have to build around Howard going into next season.
6 Bust: Sheldon Rankins
Here's another entry that mostly revolves around injuries. Sheldon Rankins missed a large portion of the season after breaking his fibula in training camp. When he did make it back into the lineup, Rankins struggled heavily and received a grade of 42.5 on Pro Football Focus. His struggles can likely be attributed to coming off a broken leg in the middle of the season so perhaps we'll have to wait another year before we really say where Rankins stands as a pro player.
All we know is that the Saints defense was bad again this past season and Rankins struggled when he returned in November. He ended the season with 13 tackles, three sacks and a forced fumble. Perhaps the Saints simply need more pieces on defense to pair with Rankins.
5 Steal: Tyreek Hill
The Chiefs offense took a step forward this year and it's because they found themselves a versatile weapon in Tyreek Hill. While Travis Kelce was the focal point of their offense, the Chiefs had an amazing dimension in Tyreek Hill, who did it all, from taking handoffs, catching passes and even returning kicks. Drafted 165th overall last year, Hill was definitely one of the biggest surprises in the NFL.
Hill raked in 1,836 all purpose yards and scored 12 touchdowns, scoring six in the air, three on the ground and three on returns. He was named to this year's Pro Bowl as a return specialist, but he should see his role grow with the Chiefs next year. The Chiefs have the reputation of having a vanilla offense, but Hill definitely gives them an explosive factor.
4 Bust: Roberto Aguayo
While usually not much is expected out of rookie kickers, the expectations are usually higher when a kicker is taken in the second round. Here, we have our only non-first rounder on the bust side in Roberto Aguayo. Truthfully, it was a trying year for kickers all around, as we saw many missed extra points, but Aguayo's misses may have cost the Buccaneers a playoff spot.
Aguayo converted on just 71% of his kicks this season and his season long was only 43 yards. To be fair, Aguayo got better as the season went along, but you need consistency from your kickers and the Bucs will be counting on Aguayo to clean up on his mistakes next year. With the team hoping for a playoff return next season, they can't find themselves losing close games due to missed field goals.
3 Steal: Dak Prescott
This one was a no-brainer. The Dallas Cowboys are looking like the big winners of the 2016 draft. Not only did they hit a home run with picking Ezekiel Elliott fourth overall, but they seemed to have hit another home run after taking Dak Prescott in the fourth round. Prescott was taken as insurance for Tony Romo and boy did the Cowboys need it. Romo went down with a back injury in preseason. Prescott filled in so well that the Cowboys kept him in the starting role even after Romo recovered.
Prescott finished his rookie season with 3,667 yards, completing 67.7% of his passes, throwing 23 touchdowns to just four interceptions. He also added six rushing touchdowns. It's clear that Prescott was head and shoulders above the other QBs taken in this draft. Whether it was due to the ideal situation or Prescott himself, we don't know for sure. However, it's safe to say Prescott was worthy of a first round pick.
1 Bust: Jared Goff
When a QB is taken first overall, expectations are sky high. Those expectations are even higher when the team drafting you mortgages their future to draft you. The Rams sent six total draft picks to the Titans for the first overall pick, including their 2017 pick which happens to be fifth overall.
Jared Goff was selected and despite a quarterback depth chart featuring Case Keenum and Sean Mannion, Goff didn't get the starting job until November, when the Rams were well out of playoff contention and Jeff Fisher was just fighting to keep his job. Goff finished his rookie season with seven starts, completing 54.6% of his passes for 1,089 yards, five touchdowns and seven interceptions.
Perhaps with the arrival of Sean McVay as head coach, the Rams' QB will be re-energized, but things don't look promising for Goff right now.
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