(This post was heavily inspired by NFL Films’ “Hit, Miss, or Meh” video covering the 2009 NFL Draft. I altered it slightly to suit my fancy.)
I began watching the NFL in 2011, after Super Bowl XLV sowed the seeds of football fanaticism within my soul. Even so, my experiences in 2011 were limited to only a few games later on in the season, and nothing substantial during the preceding offseason. It wasn’t until 2012 that I began following the sport even when it was off—the scouting combine, free agency, the draft, and whatever else. For this reason, I wanted to take the opportunity to elaborate on the players of the first round in the first NFL Draft I’ve ever seen unfold live as a young and starving enthusiast.
The criteria is fairly simple: The players fall under one of three categories pertaining to their success within the NFL. A “hit” would imply that they were very successful, becoming one of the better players in the league at their position. A “fair” translates to a modest career that could have some general productivity on a semi-regular basis. And “bust” showcases a player’s lack of impact on the game particularly for their position within the draft. Some personal opinion is thrown in there, as well as some tough choices, of which I’ll describe under each player.
The original rendition employed by the NFL, “Hit, Miss, or Meh,” I think has too much of a negative connotation when it comes to “Meh,” as if having a good, but not great career in the NFL is only indicative of a “Meh” aloofness, which seems unfair. I thought “Fair” was a better word for it. In any case, let’s move on to the gargantuan list.
#1 – Andrew Luck [QB]
Drafted by: Indianapolis Colts
The number-one pick in the 2012 NFL Draft was described as a can’t-miss prospect. They were correct.
Andrew Luck’s play has been only slightly under the level set by his predecessor, the great Peyton Manning. Constantly throwing for 30+ touchdowns and 4,000+ yards per season, Luck has been the “it” factor for the Colts for a long while, though it hasn’t always been so kind.
An injury to his throwing shoulder started to put doubt in his future as a prominent quarterback in the NFL. He would miss the entirety of the 2017 season to rehab it, only to come back guns blazing in 2018, rebounding to his prior level of skill. Luck has been the main component to the Colts’ success since drafting him, serving as the engine to the team’s winning record in three of his five seasons when he started a majority of the available games. Add four Pro Bowl nods to the mix and we’re looking at a sure-fire hit.
#2 – Robert Griffin III [QB]
Drafted by: Washington Redskins
What started out as a prolific career in waiting quickly disintegrated into wasted potential. After a great rookie season, where Griffin won Offensive Rookie of the Year, he plummeted to mediocrity after an injury sustained in the playoffs limited him to the pocket, where his limit as a pure passer came to light.
Some controversy remains as to whether then head coach Mike Shanahan pushed him back onto the field too early or if Griffin tried to push himself onto the field too early, but the result was that RG3 was never the same. After going 9-6 as a starter in 2012, he was 3-10 in 2013, succumbing to injury near the end to cap a severely disappointing sophomore season. After continued poor play in 2014, he was benched for back-up Kirk Cousins, who made the Redskins respectable in his place.
Now, Robert Griffin III is a back-up to Lamar Jackson in Baltimore. After an unsuccessful stint in Cleveland, RG3’s 2012 season seems to linger in a parallel universe. Unsigned for the entirety of the 2017 season, if not for Baltimore, RG3 may not even be in the league. For a #2 overall pick, that’s definitive bust status.
#3 – Trent Richardson [HB]
Drafted by: Cleveland Browns
The story of Trent Richardson is almost as infamous as the story of Robert Griffin III. The only difference is one key trade made the season following his draft class.
Richardson had a decent rookie year, one that showed promise for a good career as a workhorse back. The only knock was his low 3.6 YPC average, which would be bad for any running back. In 2013, he was traded to the Indianapolis Colts for a first-round pick in a shocking move by the Browns’ brass. It turned out to be a great move, as Richardson’s play only worsened as time moved forward.
His 2013 season posted a putrid 3.0 YPC average along with only 563 rushing yards through 16 games. By 2015, Richardson was released by Indianapolis and tried to stick with the Oakland Raiders and Baltimore Ravens in the following years, only to be released prior to the regular season. With only three seasons in the NFL with just over 2,000 career rushing yards, 19 total touchdowns, and a 3.3 career YPC average, Richardson is likely the biggest bust of the entire draft class. Of course it would be the Browns.
#4 – Matt Kalil [OT]
Drafted by: Minnesota Vikings
Matt Kalil, brother of former longtime Carolina Panthers center Ryan Kalil, was set to be the premiere left tackle of his draft class, which is what the Minnesota Vikings intended to use him as. After a solid rookie season, in which he made the Pro Bowl, his durability made him a reliable starter for the next three seasons.
His “downfall,” of sorts, came in 2016, when an injury limited him to two games for the entire season, forcing the Vikings to make a decision as to whether or not to sign him to a long-term deal coming off a season-ending injury. They decided to let him go, where he signed with his brother’s team in Carolina. His 2017 season saw him start every game at left tackle with good results. Unfortunately, his 2018 season was lost once again to a knee injury that required surgery. A month after the 2018 season ended, he was released by the Panthers.
Now with his third team in eight years, Kalil will have a chance to show his first-round talent with the Houston Texans. While I could regard his career thus far as a hit, injuries have been the reason for me to hold off on it, as durability is a part of dependability. At full health, Kalil is a very good player, but after missing 30 games in the last three seasons, his injuries may deter him from his full potential. Only time will tell.
#5 – Justin Blackmon [WR]
Drafted by: Jacksonville Jaguars
This pick is interesting for reasons outside of football skill. Justin Blackmon had all the talent, but his off-the-field persona raised red flags for NFL teams heading into the 2012 Draft. Randy Moss also had red flags in this regard, and he turned out to be among the NFL’s best at the wide receiver position. Justin Blackmon is an example of the opposite end.
His rookie season was a good one, catching 64 balls for nearly 900 yards and five touchdowns. During the season, however, he was arrested for DUI, which would set the table for what’s to come. In 2013, he was suspended for the first four games for violating the NFL’s substance abuse policy. When he returned, he caught 29 balls for 415 yards in four games (which is awesome). If the first four-game suspension wasn’t enough, Blackmon was then suspended indefinitely for the same reason: substance abuse. It would be the last time Blackmon would ever see the field.
His career only spanned twenty games, as he was never reinstated into the league following his 2013 suspension. Some reports of progress were being made during the 2014 season, but alas, it never came to fruition, and the Jaguars wasted a top-five pick on a player that would only play a season and a quarter for them. He played well in those games, too, which can only be the biggest insult to injury for Jacksonville.
#6 – Morris Claiborne [CB]
Drafted by: Dallas Cowboys
Some may argue on the grade for Mr. Claiborne here, seeing as he’s made a bit of a name for himself the past two years with the New York Jets. However, based on his draft position and the issue of durability early on, I don’t think there’s quite enough to put him up to fair status. Perhaps in a few years if he shows more production I’ll give it to him.
Predicted by many to be 2012’s primary lock-down corner, Morris Claiborne had a decent rookie season where he started 15 games and had eight pass deflections. From that point, his career floundered, and he wouldn’t start more than eleven games in a given season for the Cowboys the next four years. He was given the opportunity to test free agency and found his footing in New York, where he started back-to-back 15-game seasons and showed his prowess as a solid starting corner.
As of now, Claiborne is a free agent, which is a bit of a surprise given his play in the last two years. Even so, his early struggles as a Cowboy add up enough for me to consider him a bust above all else. Even at his best, not many are going to mistake him for the likes of Aqib Talib. A solid player, but nothing more so far.
#7 – Mark Barron [S]
Drafted by: Tampa Bay Buccaneers
If we’re speaking on his career in Tampa Bay, he’s a bust. If we’re speaking on the rest of his career, he’s been a productive player.
Mark Barron was drafted by the Buccaneers to be a big, athletic safety that could do just about everything. In his rookie year, he proved pretty versatile in that role, fitting new head coach Greg Schiano’s rough and tough attitude. As the ship fell the next year, so did Barron’s play. By 2014, when Lovie Smith came to town, his defensive scheme proved a bad fit for Barron, and he was eventually traded to the St. Louis Rams.
There, Barron played a little bit of both safety and linebacker, which proved to be a good move on the coaching staff’s part. Barron thrived with St. Louis (and eventually Los Angeles), proving to be a key piece in a defense that would skyrocket to notoriety upon the arrival of Sean McVay as head coach in 2017. While injuries started to stack up in his last two years, his play garned him a two-year, $12 million contract with the Pittsburgh Steelers in the 2019 offseason.
Somewhat similarly to Claiborne, Barron’s grade was somewhat tough, as while he’s been productive, it’s not to the level expected of his draft position. In the end, his relative lack of injuries and his level of play on the Rams elevated him to a fair grade.
#8 – Ryan Tannehill [QB]
Drafted by: Miami Dolphins
Off the heels of a season where Matt Moore proved to be a high-caliber back-up quarterback and Chad Henne proved to be a bust (but not in my heart), the Dolphins were in the market for a quarterback. They took one with the eighth pick in the first round—the third quarterback selected by that point—in Ryan Tannehill. The good news? He was better than both Matt Moore and Chad Henne combined. The bad news? He was nowhere near Dan Marino’s level.
Tannehill’s rookie season could’ve been better stat-wise, but his 7-9 starting record was enough to give some hope to Miami fans. He would improve his stats tremendously, but the win-loss record only slightly; as a starter for Miami, he could never notch more than eight wins in a single season. He came close in the 2016 season, but a season-ending injury derailed his attempt at his first winning record as a starter. It was only a sign of things to come.
Since 2016, Tannehill has missed 24 games due to injury, which is not what you want out of a franchise quarterback. During the 2019 offseason, he was traded to the Tennessee Titans to serve as the back-up to Marcus Mariota, which is odd considering he could start for a large number of teams right now. Nevertheless, Tannehill has currently taken a step back from his starting ways and has found himself in a very rough patch. His early skill as a passer and overall statistical efficiency has prompted me to give him a fair grade, but he just wasn’t the franchise quarterback Miami hoped he would be, partially due to injury.
#9 – Luke Kuechly [LB]
Drafted by: Carolina Panthers
This first round has been depressing so far. Let’s change that with another huge hit.
The most overwhelming hit of the draft so far, Luke Kuechly is so good that it actually pains me to see that he hasn’t been a perennial Pro Bowler his entire career. His rookie year, he goes out and leads the NFL in tackles, and yet he’s snubbed for the Pro Bowl. Darius Leonard knows what that’s like.
In seven seasons, Kuechly has been named to six-straight Pro Bowls and five first-team all-pro selections. If he retired tomorrow, he’d be a first-ballot hall of famer. If teams were gifted with hindsight, he’d be taken in the top five as opposed to ninth, and his production has been a constant force for the Panthers’ defense. There’s really nothing else to say. He’s already a legend. Bonafide hit.
#10 – Stephon Gilmore [CB]
Drafted by: Buffalo Bills
This rating is pretty tough, given that Stephon Gilmore is coming off a season where he was named first-team all-pro at his position. If the rest of his career is any indication (one Pro Bowl season with Buffalo, a shaky first year with the New England Patriots), he’s had a serviceable journey at best.
Injuries have been a bit of a recurring issue for Gilmore’s career, especially in Buffalo. Aside from last season, he’s always been one to show flashes of greatness, but never capitalize on them consistently. When Buffalo drafted him at tenth overall, they were expecting a lockdown corner to eventually unfold. It ended up being the Patriots who got the best of him, much to Buffalo’s (and the rest of the NFL’s) extreme dismay.
That first-team all-pro nod is hard to ignore, but I think right now Gilmore’s best at a fair grade. Like with Claiborne, should he continue to make strides at his position, I’ll likely come back and bump up his grade. For now, he’s among the best in the league, though his admittance to the category was very recent.
#11 – Dontari Poe [DT]
Drafted by: Kansas City Chiefs
Fun fact: I wasn’t sure Dontari Poe was still in the league while this post was in its planning stages. He started all sixteen games for the Carolina Panthers last year and I didn’t hear a peep about him. Interesting, considering he was once a stalwart to the Kansas City Chiefs’ defense.
In his first three years, Poe was elected to Two Pro Bowls for his play along the Chiefs’ defensive line. As a nose tackle (whose primary job is to clog the run and stuff the pocket), he collected 10.5 sacks over a two-year span, along with nearly a hundred total tackles. He looked to be a great pick for Kansas City, until he wasn’t. After a few more years of good, but not great play, he was released by the Chiefs and picked up by the Atlanta Falcons. After similar results, he was shipped off after a single year and then signed with division rival Carolina Panthers, where, as I stated in the previous paragraph, I forgot he even existed.
In his first year with Carolina, Poe started sixteen games and recorded seventeen total tackles and three quarterback hits, both of which were career lows. It’s likely safe to say that his best days are behind him. Even so, his best days were really quite commendable, as not every player can make back-to-back Pro Bowls and help a defense shore up its pass-rushing attack. It’s this, along with his durability (he started all sixteen games the past three seasons), that earns him a fair grade.
#12 – Fletcher Cox [DT]
Drafted by: Philadelphia Eagles
His career was a slow one initially, but once it got rolling, it never stopped.
Fletcher Cox is considered one of the best defensive tackles in the league, and has been for some time now. He’s on a current streak of four-straight Pro Bowl nods and just last season got his first first-team all-pro selection. With 44.5 career sacks (as a defensive tackle), Cox isn’t even 29-years-old, so the future promises even more carnage on his part.
One of the easier choices for the hit grade and, aside from Kuechly, the best defensive selection thus far, Cox has made a good fit in Philadelphia. In his seven seasons as a pro, he’s only missed two games due to injury, and has started 103 out of a possible 112 games. When opposing teams come to town, they’ll know they’ll have to plan around him as a disruptive force in every facet of the offense. After all, in 2018, Fletcher Cox recorded 34 quarterback hits.
#13 – Michael Floyd [WR]
Drafted by: Arizona Cardinals
I could bump this up to a fair grade, but I think there are some conditions that benefited to his early-career success.
Between 2013 and 2015, the Arizona Cardinals were a good team and notable offensive powerhouse. It is no coincidence that Floyd had his best seasons during this span. With all the weapons opposing defenses had to face, Floyd benefited from being in a good position to make plays, seeing as defenses had to plan for a variety of other options. Once this went away and the Cardinals began to fall apart, Floyd’s productivity diminished spectacularly. Between 2016 and 2018, Floyd’s statline read 57 catches for 666 yards and 6 touchdowns for four different teams.
Floyd likely won’t get any other chances, and with only three productive seasons under his belt, where he was in a great position to succeed, his grade can’t be anything more than a bust. Good players can find ways to thrive in any situation. The moment Floyd got out of a great offensive scheme in Arizona, he was essentially a special-teams player. I can’t find myself giving him enough credit to bump it up to a fair grade, despite three-straight seasons of at least 841 receiving yards.
#14 – Michael Brockers [DT]
Drafted by: St. Louis Rams
Fun fact: So far, Michael Brockers is the only player to receive a fair grade that is still with the team that drafted him.
Brockers has never made a Pro Bowl and is often overshadowed by his teammates, most notably Aaron Donald. Even so, he has started 105 total games and has only missed five games due to injury. He’s productive, he’s efficient, and he’s an unsung hero on the St. Louis turned Los Angeles Rams’ defensive line. He’s just not that good.
Looking just at his statstics, he’s accounted for twenty sacks in seven years as a defensive tackle—decent. He has forty tackles for loss in the same span—decent. Forty-three recorded quarterback hits and 281 total tackles—decent. Nothing about Brockers’s game pops out on the stat sheet, and yet he’s started so many games for the Rams and their defensive line is heralded as a strong unit. There may be more to this than meets the eye.
For this, I’m giving him a fair grade. Zero Pro Bowls doesn’t discredit him too much when he’s consistently starting games and the Rams’ defensive line continues to disrupt opposing offenses. Overall, he’s likely among the most solid picks of the first round without being a bonafide hit. Whereas Luke Kuechly was a concrete hit, Brockers can be viewed as the most concrete fair. A good contributor, but not quite up to the level of his elite teammates.
#15 – Bruce Irvin [LB]
Drafted by: Seattle Seahawks
This was a harder fair to reward, as Irvin seems to be somewhat on the decline. His career has been spent within that notable gray area where players are between greatness and being shuffled among the dozens of names on a given team. He was drafted specifically to chase the opposing quarterback, and with 43.5 total sacks, he’s done an adequate job.
His rookie season showed promise in that regard, as he accumulated eight sacks for a defense that was beginning to form into something legendary. However, Irvin wouldn’t be able to match his rookie sack total for another five years… with the Oakland Raiders. After only four years with his original team, Irvin signed with the Raiders and (debatably) improved, forcing a lot more sacks and forced fumbles than he did as a Seahawk.
Unfortunately, the success wouldn’t last, as Irvin was released from the Raiders in the middle of the 2018 season, only to be picked up and serve as a situational pass-rusher in Atlanta for the latter half of the season. Now with the Carolina Panthers, Irvin is with his fourth team in as many years, which doesn’t tend to be a good sign for productive players. Whether Irvin can live up to his pass-rushing reputation remains to be seen. For now, he’s been a decent edition to a team’s defense, but barely more otherwise.
#16 – Quinton Coples [DE]
Drafted by: New York Jets
I often forget that Quinton Coples was a first-round selection. I recognize the name and I recall some articles online painting him as an adequate defensive player, but his fall from grace was so quick that it feels like he was there and gone in a flash.
The strangest part about it all is that he started out as a pretty good player. With 16.5 sacks in his first three seasons, he managed to make somewhat of a name for himself as a player, albeit not quite to the pedigree of a first-round talent. And with 52 quarterback hits in that same span, I would’ve been floored had you told me he’d only last one more year in the NFL. Alas, that is has the cookie crumbled.
Coples barely contributed whatsoever during the first half of the 2015 season. Zero sacks, eight total tackles, and one fumble recovery were all he could muster before he was released during the season. He was picked up by the Miami Dolphins soon afterwards and was recorded as participating in six games… but he gained absolutely nothing of it. After that, Miami released him, then the Rams signed him to a decent-sized two-year deal. It wouldn’t work out, as he was released prior to the 2016 regular season, and he would never enter the league again. Poof. Gone. Easy pick for bust status, as he barely lasted four years in the NFL and did very little to cement himself as a fourth-round pick, much less a first-round one.
#17 – Dre Kirkpatrick [CB]
Drafted by: Cincinnati Bengals
Much like with Bruce Irvin, Dre Kirkpatrick’s fair rating is indicative of only the bare minimum necessary to avoid the bust label. Kirkpatrick has been solid as a corner for the Cincinnati Bengals for a little while now, but this last year saw him struggle somewhat. Surprisingly for a first-round pick, he wouldn’t start a majority of the games he played until his fourth year, so it’s hard to say whether his impact on the team is enough to consider him a good pick with so little time in the Cincinnati sun.
The most provocative statistic he has going for him is passes deflected, of which he has 49 in the last four seasons—a good amount to have, but it also implies he’s thrown to a lot. In that same span, he only has four interceptions, three of those coming in one season. So in two of the last four seasons as a starter, he’s snagged zero interceptions. Hard to count him as a difference maker without at least a few of those.
On the plus side, he’s started a great number of games. He’s remained consistent in his ability and doesn’t miss too many games. His tackle total is adequate for a starting corner and has a couple defensive touchdowns to his name, as well. Frankly, it’s hard to give an accurate assessment of a player when you don’t really hear much about them, and Dre Kirkpatrick might be the most unspoken of first-round pick in this draft thus far.
Quinton Coples, despite his lack of impact in the NFL, has his downfall as a talking point. Players like Andrew Luck and Luke Kuechly garner many accolades for their play. Bruce Irvin and Michael Floyd stayed relevant through multiple team changes. Kirkpatrick? He’s just there. Kind of like Michael Brockers, but lesser.
#18 – Melvin Ingram [LB]
Drafted by: San Diego Chargers
This is almost a hit grade. Just give me one more great season or two more good seasons. The slow start hurt somewhat.
To be honest, Melvin Ingram is a name I always confuse for Cornelius Ingram. I’m not sure why, exactly, but I blame Madden 12. For Ingram’s first few years in the league, I never realized he even existed, as he was hardly a focal point for the Chargers’ defense until his third year, which was cut short due to injury. It wasn’t until 2015, his fourth year, that he made a name for himself and the sacks started to pile up.
Ingram has 36 sacks in the last four seasons, which is pretty good. He also has 80 quarterback hits, 10 forced fumbles, and 15 pass deflections in that same span, all of which are really good. If he had been playing like he has in the past four years in his first three years, this would be an absolute hit. For now, the benign debut almost provided a bust scare.
The biggest change to come thus far was moving Ingram from linebacker to defensive end, where he made the Pro Bowl in back-to-back seasons from 2017 to 2018. Perhaps keeping him there will prove profitable, as I’m sure the Chargers’ brass plans to do. Until the impact continues to shine, I’m sticking with the fair grade. It is close, though, to changing in his favor.
#19 – Shea McClellin [LB/DE?]
Drafted by: Chicago Bears
Here’s the first sign of trouble: The NFL Commissioner, Roger Goodell, announces the pick as a defensive end, but the TV monitor showed him as an outside linebacker. Which is it?!
The Chicago Bears weren’t really sure, either, as they used him in both capacities all throughout his career there. And, well, neither worked out too well. In only five years in the NFL, McClellin never notched more than four sacks in one season, nor did he start more than eleven games in any season. Not because he was injured, but because he wasn’t all that good.
The saving grace for his career is that in his fifth and last season as a pro, he signed with the New England Patriots, a team that, in 2016, would go on to defeat the Atlanta Falcons in Super Bowl LI. Technically speaking, he went out on top, contributing to a defense and special teams core that would help the Patriots make a 25-point comeback to hand the Falcons their most humiliating loss in franchise history. He was a nice role player there, but in retrospect, he was a pretty huge bust.
#20 – Kendall Wright [WR]
Drafted by: Tennessee Titans
It was really not good to be a first-round wide receiver in 2012’s NFL Draft. Kendall Wright is yet another victim of the bust grade, and his career started similarly to the others drafted before him.
Wright peaked in 2013, his second year, where he caught 94 balls for 1,079 yards and two touchdowns. He was the go-to option for… uh, who was quarterbacking for Tennessee in 2013? Hasselbeck? Locker? Whitehurst? Well, I just looked it up and one of those names are correct. The other? FitzMagic himself, who stunk it up wildly. Anyway, aside from a dangerously low touchdown total, Wright seemed poised for a breakout year in 2014. What happened instead was an underwhelming follow-up that only got worse as his career continued.
After five years in Tennessee, Wright was signed by the Chicago Bears, where he ended up being the primary weapon for a rookie in Mitch Trubisky. His stat line? 59 catches for 614 yards and one touchdown. He was the top receiver. He signed with the Minnesota Vikings in 2018, but was released prior to the regular season. He would only join an NFL club again when the Arizona Cardinals played hot potato with him near the end of the season, releasing him and signing him continuously until he stayed released, posting zero numbers for the 2018 season.
With a six-year stint in the league and a slim chance for him to be a contributor going forward, he came nowhere close to his second season at any point following it, and slowly fell out of favor with the NFL and into obscurity. Unbecoming for a former first-round pick.
#21 – Chandler Jones [DE]
Drafted by: New England Patriots
We’re 21 selections in and this is only the fourth hit of the first round? Goodness, and it’s the third defensive hit in a row. Andrew Luck stands alone as the sole offensive hit thus far. Also, fun fact: Chandler Jones is the only hit thus far to not be with the team that drafted him.
Coming off his first Pro Bowl year in 2015, New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick famously traded him to the Arizona Cardinals for a second-round pick and Johnathan Cooper (who did not work out). The change in scenery did nothing to stop him, as he earned another Pro Bowl nod and his first first-team all-pro selection in 2017. Over the course of his career, Chandler Jones has proven himself a sack advocate, with 77 sacks in seven years and posting double-digit sack seasons in five of those seven years.
I’m genuinely surprised he hasn’t been to more Pro Bowls. One could argue he should’ve been a part of the 2013 Pro Bowl and the 2018 Pro Bowl, where he posted 11.5 and 13 sacks, respectively. He was one of very few bright spots on the Cardinals’ defense last year, and his contributions are on the statistical level that few in this very draft class can match up to. Another easy selection for the hit grade, and it doesn’t seem like he’ll stop anytime soon.
#22 – Brandon Weeden [QB]
Drafted by: Cleveland Browns
Once again, the Cleveland Browns made a bad selection in the first round of an NFL Draft. Once again, it was on a quarterback. I swear, if Baker Mayfield doesn’t work out, I don’t think Cleveland natives will be able to stomach their football program any longer.
The oldest first-round pick in NFL history, Brandon Weeden took the field at the crisp age of 28, a month removed from his 29th birthday. He performed about as well as one would expect from an inexperienced rookie. From there, his career as a starter was doomed to fail. A five-game losing streak in 2013 was all it took for the Browns to pull the plug on Weeden, and he was released the following season.
To his credit, Weeden lasted longer in the league than some of the other busts in this draft. He was good enough (apparently) to have people clamoring for his business as their back-up quarterback, serving as the primary back-up to quarterbacks including Tony Romo, Deshaun Watson, and Brian Hoyer. He’s out of the league now, but only recently was that the case, serving as a back-up to some team through the 2018 season. As a first-round pick, he’s absolutely a bust. If he were, say, a late-round pick, he would’ve had an admirable career.
#23 – Riley Reiff [OT]
Drafted by: Detroit Lions
Similar to that of Michael Brockers, Riley Reiff gets credit for being a solid and remarkably unremarkable addition to any team.
I recall the 2016 Minnesota Vikings’ offensive line regarded as a turnstyle dressed in purple, and it was the main issue going into the 2017 offseason for the team. They signed Riley Reiff away from the Detroit Lions, who obviously felt they could replace him despite only missing one game due to injury. In 2017, the Vikings’ offensive line was stellar, which led to one of the best seasons the Vikings have ever been a part of. Reiff turned out to be a good signing.
Despite this, he has zero Pro Bowls to his name and I constantly forget what position on the offensive line he even plays at. Perhaps it’s better that he doesn’t have so much recognition, such that he doesn’t have to face mounting pressure at every turn. All he’s done is what he’s told and he’s performed admirably in nearly every season. He had a bit of a down year last year due to injury, but if he continues to play at the same level—or perhaps better—I may feel more inclined to make him a hit.
#24 – David DeCastro [OG]
Drafted by: Pittsburgh Steelers
Andrew Luck is sole offensive hit no more! David DeCastro joins the fray with the most unsexy position in all of football: offensive guard.
DeCastro did little in his rookie season, where he saw action in only four games. The rest of the way, he grew from a good player to a great player, and is now among the best guards in the entire NFL. Four-straight Pro Bowl appearances and two first-team all-pro nods have earned him a reputation of quality among the league.
I’ve often been one to say that Le’Veon Bell’s success came directly from the play of the offensive line, something the Pittsburgh Steelers have been spoiled with for the last five years or so. David DeCastro was instrumental in not just the chemistry of the line he’s a part of, but the springboard for Bell’s rise to stardom. Missing four games in the last six seasons also speaks well to his toughness and durability. As much of a hit as guards come.
#25 – Dont’a Hightower [LB]
Drafted by: New England Patriots
The New England Patriots got two picks in the first round in 2012, and both ended up being pretty good. Ironic that the better one was traded away and the lesser got a profitable contract extension from the team.
Dont’a Hightower is one of the better defensive players the Patriots have on their team at this time. Historically, though, he has been serviceable generally, peaking only at various points. He had a Pro Bowl season in 2016, then was injured partway through the 2017 season. 2018 was a return to form, of sorts, a return to his form prior to 2016. Serviceable, good, decent, whatever else.
But that may be selling him short. When Hightower’s on the field, the Patriots defense is better. The only issue is that Hightower hasn’t always been reliable enough to be on that field. In his seven seasons in the league, he’s missed 25 games due to injury, which is an average of nearly four a year. While that doesn’t sound like too much, that’s four games per season that the team is worse off on the defensive side. If not for this injury bug, Hightower would likely have a higher pedigree of quality to him. He may even garner a hit rating.
#26 – Whitney Mercilus [LB]
Drafted by: Houston Texans
I gotta be fair and partial in these analyses. I honestly really like Whitney Mercilus. I don’t know what it is, but he seems like a cool guy. I want him to succeed. Also, he came out of Illinois, my home state, so that might have something to do with it. Unfortunately, he hasn’t really lived up to his first-round hype. He’s been solid, but he could be declining.
The only reason I say this is because, according to pro football reference, he only started nine games out of a possible sixteen in 2018, and most of his stats declined. He’s still with the Texans, which makes him the second player with a fair grade still with the team that drafted him, but it might be the beginning of the end. It’s unfortunate, though, because he was once on the rise as a star player.
The Texans have had a good defense for some time now. They’re littered with good players, including J.J. Watt, Jadeveon Clowney, Johnathan Joseph, and Benardrick McKinney. Whitney Mecilus is just another piece in a spiraling defensive attack for opposing offenses. Because of this, his contributions have a chance of getting lost in it all, and he’s done some damage. He has 42.5 sacks to his name, including a 12-sack season in 2015. He’s been a reliable, but not always tremendous force to the Texans.
When it comes to the Texans, they have a decent track record with defensive picks, particularly in the first round. Whitney Mercilus is yet another edition to that record, though the writing might be on the wall at this point. He’s a good player, and has been a good player barring injury. That’s enough for a fair grade.
#27 – Kevin Zeitler [OG]
Drafted by: Cincinnati Bengals
Okay, so hear me out. Kevin Zeitler is a pretty solid player. Not great, not spectacular, but pretty good. I also constantly forget what position he plays and what team he plays for, because no one ever talks about offensive guards unless they’re awesome or pitiful.
Now, he’s with the New York Giants, as a part of the package deal with the Cleveland Browns for Olivier Vernon. And now I know he exists, in part because I follow Joe Thomas on Twitter and he stans anything and everything Browns-related. Kevin Zeitler, like a few other fair-graded picks on this list, are a remarkable kind of unremarkable. That’s the same description I used for Riley Reiff, another fair-graded offensive guard. It’s like poetry. It rhymes.
He managed to start every game as a rookie, a rarity for a player at any position, but the next two years, he had a bit of an injury bug, causing him to miss eight games. Since then, Zeitler has been an ironman, starting every game possible for the Cincinnati Bengals and Cleveland Browns. He should serve as an upgrade for the Giants’ offensive line, which was awful last year. How much of an upgrade remains to be seen, though if history is any indication, he’ll start every game. Like the Energizer Bunny, he just keeps going and going and going and going…
#28 – Nick Perry [LB]
Drafted by: Green Bay Packers
Nick Perry peaked in 2016 with 11 sacks. It took him five years to climb the mountain, and the aftermath was a residual decline back to being an average player. Whether injuries, inconsistency, or a bad fit for the Packers’ defensive scheme, Perry never really panned out, aside from that one good season.
Injuries are definitely part of the decline, and slow rise, of Perry as a sack master. He has not had one season where he’s started all sixteen games, not even twelve games. Perry wasn’t a prominent part of the defense until that very 2016 season; everything prior, he never started more than six games. In the last two seasons, he’s posted 8.5 sacks, including 1.5 sacks over a nine-game span in 2018.
Now, Green Bay is in his rear-view window. Perhaps he can get something going with a change of scenery, though it’s a long shot. His rise to stardom came and went as quickly as it occurred, after years of general mediocrity and a lack of opportunity. For now, he’s a bust, trying to find a team that will give him a chance. Wherever it may take him, I hope he continues to sport the big, black club hand.
#29 – Harrison Smith [S]
Drafted by: Minnesota Vikings
The first pick for the Minnesota Vikings in the 2012 NFL Draft didn’t turn out as the team had hoped. Their second pick ended up being a good one and more.
He had a solid rookie season before an injury cut short his sophomore season. This would be the worst injury he’s ever sustained, as he’s only missed five games since then, and started all sixteen games the last two seasons. He’s made four-straight Pro Bowls and made first-team all-pro in 2017. When all else fails on the Vikings defense, he’s the hammer that irons out the kinks.
Smith is a player that comes every once in a generation. He can rush the passer, cover man-to-man, and tackle like anyone on the field. His consistency is a marvel considering the responsibilities he endures, and… uh… additional superlatives.
He has the hardware and the consistency on the field. He’s as good of a hit as they can come, especially at the safety position.
#30 – A.J. Jenkins [WR]
Drafted by: San Francisco 49ers
Wow. I mean, wow. I think anyone would be able to understand that A.J. Jenkins was a bust in the NFL.
Here is his career NFL statline:
17 catches. 223 receiving yards. 0 touchdowns. The kicker? He never played for the 49ers outside of the preseason. Wow.
I don’t even need to elaborate more than that. A.J. Jenkins isn’t just one of the biggest busts of this draft, but in NFL Draft history in general. 17 catches for 223 receiving yards over the course of a career is more for the undrafted free agent, not a first-round pick! Just a really unfortunate series of events.
#31 – Doug Martin [HB]
Drafted by: Tampa Bay Buccaneers
I almost want to call him a bust, but his two good seasons are better than one good season. And one of those good seasons was a great season. Doug Martin flashes at the most random times, then disappears into a mediocre mess of missed opportunities.
Though I’ll admit, he was alright for the Oakland Raiders last year. In Tampa Bay, he had two modes: be the best or be the worst. In his first six seasons, only twice did he average a season over 3.7 YPC. Only twice did he manage more than 500 yards in a single season. He either runs for 1,400 yards for nearly 5.0 YPC or 490 yards for 3.5 YPC. He’s odd.
Things are looking up in Oakland, at least from what he showed in 2018. He broke the 500-yard barrier he set for himself and the 3.7 YPC range. He wound up somewhere in the middle: 723 rushing yards and a 4.2 YPC average. For me, it’s enough that he had two really good seasons, as it shows that there was a reason he was drafted in the first round. At the same time… he’s been pretty bad otherwise. I may change the rating later. I don’t know.
#32 – David Wilson [HB]
Drafted by: New York Giants
To round off the first round, the reigning champion New York Giants selected David Wilson, whose career ended up cut short due to injury. Not just any kind of injury, but a life-threatening injury. It limited him to just two seasons and one preseason.
I remember quite clearly, watching a primetime game in 2012 and seeing David Wilson flash signs of brilliance in his rookie season. While he didn’t get many opportunities, he posted a 5.0 YPC average on 71 carries. And four touchdowns! Four touchdowns on 71 carries is super nice. His sophomore season, however, did not go very well, and he seemed to be spiraling down a path to mediocrity. As fate would have it, he would never get the chance to see it through.
David Wilson suffered a neck injury that could cause paralysis if aggravated further. With that, he retired after only two seasons in the NFL. By all accounts, that qualifies as a bust grade, no matter how great those two seasons were. If he were any better, it’d only be more tragic than it already is. I hope David Wilson lives a fulfilling life outside of football. For the purpose of this list, though, we was an unfortunate bust.
Hits – 6
Fairs – 14
Busts – 12
What do you think of my ratings? Is there any grade you don’t agree with?
Thank you for your time. Have a great day.