Every year, a handful of players taken in the first round turn out to be busts. It’s a disappointing trend in the NFL, but it’s the harsh reality teams and players have to face. There are a number of guys taken in recent drafts who are on the verge of becoming draft busts. Whether it’s due to injury, poor play or both, these players are trending in the wrong direction.
There’s still time for each of them to turn around their careers, but it’ll take a lot for them to avoid the daunting “bust” label in the near future.
Laquon Treadwell, WR, Vikings
When the Vikings took Treadwell 23rd overall last year, he was expected to solidify the wide receiver position alongside Stefon Diggs. He did anything but that, catching just one pass for 15 yards in nine games.
In fact, he was so bad in 2016 that the Vikings gave him a paltry 80 snaps on offense – a little more than one game’s worth, for reference. He struggled to grasp Minnesota’s offense, and he was unable to separate from defenders due to poor route running and a lack of top-end speed. Those were two concerns many people had for him coming out of Ole Miss, and up to this point, they’ve been true.
It’s obviously still incredibly early in his career and a player’s legacy can’t be defined by one season, but all signs are pointing towards Treadwell becoming a marginal No. 2 receiver, at best.
Ereck Flowers, OT, Giants
All indications pointed to the Giants moving Flowers from his post as the team’s left tackle this season, but the front office opted to pass on potential replacements in free agency and the draft. As a result, he’ll likely remain on the left side where he’s struggled for the past two seasons. He’s consistently rated as one of the worst left tackles in the NFL, allowing 47 hurries and eight hits in 2016 – both among the most in the league.
If Flowers experiences another sack-filled season in which he can’t keep defenders off Eli Manning, the Giants are going to have a big decision to make. It won’t be whether to cut him, but a position change could be on the horizon. His leash should be relatively short this season in the event that he continues to struggle.
Kyle Fuller, CB, Bears
Fuller is squarely on the roster bubble this season and is in danger of not even making the team. That’s quite the downturn from being the 14th overall pick in 2014, but he’s struggled since coming into the NFL.
The young cornerback missed all of 2016 due to injury after starting every game in 2015. He wasn’t great two years ago, but at least he was on the field making an impact with two interceptions and nine passes defensed. The Bears have taken the steps to potentially replace him, signing both Prince Amukamara and Marcus Cooper.
If healthy, Fuller should have a good chance at making the 53-man roster. Of course, he’ll need to play much better than he did as a rookie in order for that to happen, but he still has room to grow if granted the chance.
Marcus Smith, DE, Eagles
The Eagles surprised a lot of people in 2014 by taking Smith 26th overall. He wasn’t a big-time prospect, or a guy with double-digit sack potential, but even with relatively low expectations, he’s failed to meet them.
In three seasons, Smith has four total sacks, 18 tackles and the same number of starts in the NFL as both you and I: zero. He’s had very little impact for the Eagles, who have already declined his fifth-year option. Smith has to make a big jump in 2017 in order to make up for the past three years, which will be difficult with Derek Barnett now in the mix.
Smith is on pace to become one of the bigger draft busts in recent history, contributing very little on the defensive side of the ball.
Tavon Austin, WR, Rams
Austin’s bank account is feeling full despite the fact that the eighth overall pick in 2013 has yet to put up 1,000 yards receiving in a single season. In fact, he has just 1,642 yards in four years to go along with 968 yards rushing, scoring 20 offensive touchdowns.
There’s no doubt he’s a versatile weapon who can have an impact in the passing game, on the ground and on special teams, but he simply hasn’t lived up to the hype as a top-10 pick. Part of that has to do with the Rams’ misuse of him, but if Sean McVay can’t get the most out of him this season, no one can.
The Rams clearly haven’t given up on their No. 1 receiver just yet after signing him to a four-year, $42 million extension last offseason – a colossal mistake, in all honesty – but another poor season in 2017 could change the team’s mind about him. He’ll count nearly $15 million against the cap this season.
Luke Joeckel, OL, Jaguars/Seahawks
Joeckel was a complete mess at both tackle and guard for the Jaguars the past four years, missing a total of 25 games in that span. He struggled in pass protection, wasn’t a dominant run blocker and failed to stay healthy in two of his first four seasons. All this after going second overall in 2013.
The Seahawks are giving him a chance to revive his career with a one-year, $8 million contract, but there’s no guarantee he’ll improve at this point. Joeckel will get the opportunity to reclaim his place as an NFL left tackle in Seattle, but he needs to improve dramatically to get to that point.
Perhaps Russell Wilson’s escapability and elusiveness will mask Joeckel’s inefficiencies and lower his number of sacks allowed.
11 recent NFL Draft picks on the verge of becoming busts
Fox Sports | May 31