Ask any fan of a long-suffering NFL team and they’ll tell you that, more often than not, draft picks don’t work out. Several studies have been done on the probability of top picks making a lasting impact in the league and the results show that even the best-looking players coming out of college have around a 50-50 shot at a long career.
While it’s unpleasant to label a young player a “bust,” it’s tough to deny in some cases, especially with the significant investment that teams make in the case of first-round selections. We went back through the last five NFL Drafts and found guys who were taken in the first round and haven’t exactly paid off for the teams that selected them.
Vernon Hargreaves III
Drafted: No. 11 overall by Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2016
The 2016 draft brought us now-household names like Ezekiel Elliott, Michael Thomas and Jared Goff but there were also a few guys who haven’t exactly panned out. Perhaps the highest pick of that class to disappoint thus far was cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III. In five seasons, he’s played in just 52 games, including 35 for Tampa Bay before his time there was over. The team that spent a precious No. 11 selection on him cut Hargreaves in 2019 for a perceived “lack of effort” on the field.
He’s now getting another chance with the Texans, but it’s safe to label Hargreaves a full-blown bust for the Bucs.
Drafted: No. 12 overall by New Orleans Saints in 2016
Right after Tampa Bay took Vernon Hargreaves in 2016, their NFC South rivals in New Orleans took a chance that also didn’t pay off. Sheldon Rankins was regarded as the top defensive tackle coming into that year’s NFL Draft, but his career in the league has been full of frustration. In five years, he’s started in only 32 games, picked up 17.5 sacks and has been placed on the injured reserve in three different seasons, including 2020.
Drafted: No. 15 overall by Cleveland Browns in 2016
The Browns have built one of the league’s most talented offensive rosters, but their 2016 first-round pick unfortunately isn’t part of it. Corey Coleman was the first wide receiver drafted from that class, which included playmakers like Will Fuller, Sterling Shepard and potential future Hall of Famer Michael Thomas.
The Browns would only get two seasons of mediocre work out of Coleman before he was traded to Buffalo, who cut him a couple weeks later. Since then, Coleman has been signed and cut by the Patriots and Giants and hasn’t caught a pass in an NFL game since 2018.
Drafted: No. 22 overall by Washington Football Team in 2016
Another wide receiver who was taken high but has yet to pan out from that talented 2016 class was Josh Doctson. Washington grabbed him at No. 22 and he missed nearly his entire rookie season with an injury. He came back and gave them two decent years in 2017 and 2018, but never produced like a first-round receiver should, averaging just 2.5 catches and 33.3 yards per game for his career with Washington. He was cut by the team in August 2019 and has only played in a single NFL game since then.
Drafted: No. 26 overall by Denver Broncos in 2016
Months after winning the Super Bowl with Peyton Manning under center, the Broncos drafted Paxton Lynch to be the future of the franchise. He was the third and final quarterback taken in the first round that year and has had the least impact by far. Lynch would start in just four games over the course of two seasons before being cut by Denver. He’s currently a free agent who has thrown for less than 800 yards since being taken as a first-round pick all the way back in 2016.
To be fair to Lynch, however, the Broncos have gone through quarterback prospects like tissues in the years since Manning retired, putting plenty of blame on the franchise itself.
Drafted: No. 28 overall by San Francisco 49ers in 2016
Offensive linemen are generally seen as pretty safe bets in terms of first-round selections but, as you’ll see in this list, plenty of them have flamed out. One such player was Joshua Garnett, who was taken by the 49ers late in the first round in 2016. He started in 11 games as a rookie before a knee injury took him out for the entire 2017 season, stalling any momentum he had built up. The team eventually cut him in 2018, after he’d played in 22 total games for the franchise. In 2020, he announced his retirement from the game at the age of 26.
Drafted: No. 29 overall by Arizona Cardinals in 2016
Injuries have been a constant struggle for Robert Nkemdiche since Arizona took him with its first-round pick in 2016. In five seasons, the defensive tackle has started in just six games, all of which came during the 2018 season. The Cardinals cut him after that season and he was signed by the Dolphins, who cut him in 2019 after he’d only played in two games with them. In total, he’s earned 4.5 sacks in his NFL career to this point.
Drafted: No. 2 overall by Chicago Bears in 2017
After being picked second overall by the Bears, it didn’t take long for Mitchell Trubisky’s career to take off. In his second year as the team’s starter, he made the Pro Bowl and helped lead them to a 12-4 season and a playoff berth. Since then, he’s thrown for less than 200 yards per game and has a passer rating of 83.0 in the last two seasons, making room for the Bears to take away his starting role in favor of Nick Foles.
The fact that he was selected ahead of Patrick Mahomes and Deshaun Watson makes his legacy as a bust even more likely.
Drafted: No. 3 overall by San Francisco 49ers in 2017
Another recent 49ers draft bust came in 2017, when they held prime real estate in the pecking order of picks. They used the No. 3 overall selection on Stanford’s Solomon Thomas, who was the second defensive end taken that year behind top overall pick Myles Garrett. The franchise didn’t get much for its investment, as Thomas would rack up just six sacks in his four seasons with them. He was relegated to a backup role in his second season and has started in only five games since 2019.
A torn ACL suffered this year was just the latest disappointment in his journey.
Drafted: No. 9 overall by Cincinnati Bengals in 2017
Bengals fans will wince when they think about some of the franchise’s worst draft busts — Ki-Jana Carter comes to mind — and John Ross is likely up there. The team drafted him in the top 10 in 2017, while a guy named Patrick Mahomes was still on the board. The young wide receiver has spent time on the injured reserve in three of his four seasons of NFL service and has caught just 10 total touchdowns in 27 games.
The fact that their division rivals in Pittsburgh would get Pro-Bowl receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster at No. 62 overall that year just adds salt to the wound.
Drafted: No. 15 overall by Indianapolis Colts in 2017
Safety Malik Hooker is one of the guys on this list who has shown the most potential at football’s elite level, but he could still be saddled with the “bust” label. Injuries have diminished his career so far, as he’s started in just 36 games in four years. The Colts decided to decline his fifth-year option this offseason, making him a free agent following the 2020 season, where a torn Achilles tendon has kept him benched since September. When you consider that he was taken far ahead of All-Pro safety Budda Baker, it makes his career seem even more disappointing.
Drafted: No. 22 overall by Miami Dolphins in 2017
A great linebacker is always one of the most sought-after results from a draft and the Dolphins thought they had one with Charles Harris. The Missouri star was taken late in the first round by Miami in 2017 and hasn’t had anything near the kind of career a pick that high should yield. Harris has mostly spent his time as a backup, where he’s been decent, and is consistently on the field for less than 40% of his team’s defensive snaps every year.
The Dolphins traded him to the Falcons this offseason for a seventh-round pick in 2021, which means he was officially written off as a bust by that franchise.
Drafted: No. 31 overall by San Francisco 49ers in 2017
Yes, that’s right — the 49ers had not one, but two legitimate busts in the first round of the 2017 NFL Draft. Linebacker Reuben Foster represents arguably the bigger bust of the pair, since he wound up being cut by the team after just two seasons. Foster’s dismissal came following multiple arrests and domestic violence charges and a two-game suspension in 2018. He was eventually signed by Washington that year but has yet to play in a single game for them as injuries have kept him off the field.
Drafted: No. 3 overall by New York Jets in 2018
We’ll give the Browns credit for skipping on Sam Darnold in 2018 and grabbing Baker Mayfield with the No. 1 overall pick. The Jets have certainly paid the price for using their pick that year on Darnold, who has yet to elevate the team in any way since his arrival. The young quarterback has been New York’s starter for most of three seasons now and the Jets have a mark of 11-22 in his games under center. His touchdown-interception ratio in that time is nearly 1:1 and he’s got a career passer rating of 77.6.
It all looks even worse when you remember that Josh Allen and Lamar Jackson were still waiting to be drafted when he was taken.
Drafted: No. 10 overall by Arizona Cardinals in 2018
Sam Darnold will almost certainly go down as a bust, but he still won’t be considered the biggest one from the 2018 crop of quarterbacks. That distinction will go to Josh Rosen, whose career has been a wild ride since the Cardinals took him at No. 10 and hoped he would be the future of the franchise. The team’s front office reversed its decision in a hurry, trading Rosen to the Dolphins after one 3-13 season and taking his successor, Kyler Murray, No. 1 overall in 2019. Rosen played in just six games for Miami before being cut prior to the 2020 season.
Just two years after being a top-10 pick, it’s now unclear if he’ll ever throw a football in an NFL game again.
Drafted: No. 14 overall by New Orleans Saints in 2018
It may be a little hasty to dub Marcus Davenport a bust already but he’s certainly on the borderline. He was the second defensive end taken in the 2018 draft, with the Saints spending a top-15 selection on him. Since then, he’s spent a lot of time injured, making just 13 starts in three seasons and never being on the field for more than 50% of the team’s defensive snaps in any season. The 10.5 sacks he earned in his first two years were impressive, but a foot injury ended his season early in 2019 and an elbow injury has forced him to miss a chunk of 2020.
Drafted: No. 21 overall by Cincinnati Bengals in 2018
The best ways to judge an offensive lineman are often how many snaps they take each season and how few times their quarterback gets sacked. In the case of center Billy Price, he’d get a low grade in both metrics since being drafted in the first round in 2018. Price’s share of the team’s offensive snaps has diminished every year and he’s never topped 56% in that category for a single season. On top of that, the poor play of Cincinnati’s offensive line led to star quarterback Joe Burrow taking the most sacks in the AFC before suffering a season-ending injury in 2020.
Drafted: No. 23 overall by New England Patriots in 2018
Part of the secret to New England’s sustained success for two decades has been constantly fielding a sturdy offensive line. Isaiah Wynn was expected to bolster that unit for another generation when the team drafted him at No. 23 in 2018. Almost immediately, Wynn’s durability became an issue, as he missed his entire rookie season with a torn Achilles tendon. It was just the start of his injury troubles, as he’s spent time on the injured reserve in all three seasons of his career so far.
Drafted: No. 27 overall by Seattle Seahawks in 2018
Taking a running back in the first round is viewed as one of the biggest gambles a team can make in the NFL Draft and the Seahawks haven’t gotten much return for their bet on Rashaad Penny. The former San Diego State rusher was the second back taken during the 2018 draft and has had less impact than the four that were taken after him that year, including Pro Bowler Nick Chubb. Penny has averaged 32.9 rushing yards per game and has scored just six total touchdowns in two years so far. A torn ACL that has forced him to miss the 2020 season may saddle him with the “bust” label once and for all.
Drafted: No. 29 overall by Jacksonville Jaguars in 2018
The late picks of the first round in 2018 were full of busts, with the notable exceptions being Calvin Ridley and Lamar Jackson. When the Jaguars were on the clock at No. 29 that year, they still desperately needed a franchise quarterback, but decided to pass on Jackson and take defensive tackle Taven Bryan. Unlike others on this list, Bryan has managed to stay healthy but he hasn’t made much impact at all on the field, earning just 3.5 sacks and 68 total tackles in 43 games so far.
The Associated Press called his first three seasons of NFL service “beyond disappointing.”
Drafted: No. 30 overall by Minnesota Vikings in 2018
Injuries have been a major part of the story for Mike Hughes so far in his NFL career. He was one of only two cornerbacks taken in the first round in 2018 and the Vikings haven’t gotten much for the pick. He’s missed time for health reasons in all three seasons he’s played and has started in just seven games to this point. Hughes has been on the field for less than 25% of Minnesota’s defensive snaps in two of his three seasons of service.
Drafted: No. 4 overall by Las Vegas Raiders in 2019
While all first-round draft picks are massive investments, selections in the top five are immensely more valuable and often come only after a truly awful season for a franchise. In 2019, the Raiders used the No. 4 overall pick to take defensive end Clelin Ferrell out of Clemson. Almost two full seasons into his career, it’s not that Ferrell has been an awful player, but he hasn’t produced like a top-five pick.
In 24 games where he’s been a constant starter, Ferrell has amassed 4.5 sacks and 57 total tackles, which are far below the numbers earned by fellow edge rusher Maxx Crosby, who was taken in the fourth round by the Raiders in the same draft.
Drafted: No. 11 overall by Cincinnati Bengals in 2019
Like fellow offensive lineman Billy Price, Jonah Williams is quickly headed toward “bust” territory just two seasons after being selected. The big left tackle was taken at No. 11 by Cincinnati in 2019 and has been a constant presence on the injury report. He missed his entire rookie season with a shoulder injury and has missed a couple games this season with a neck injury, meaning he’s played in less than 10 games in two years. When he has been active this season, he hasn’t shown the team’s fans much, given the fact that quarterback Joe Burrow spent most of 2020 on his back before an injury ended his rookie year prematurely.
Drafted: No. 12 overall by Green Bay Packers in 2019
It’s been less than two full seasons since the Packers took defensive lineman Rashan Gary with their top pick in 2019, but the choice is already looking like a miscalculation. He simply hasn’t been made an essential part of the team’s defensive schemes to this point, which is odd for someone who was taken so high. Gary has started in just two games and has yet to be used in more than 50% of the team’s defensive snaps in either season. Less than 40 combined tackles and just 4.5 sacks in 26 career games makes him look like a bust.
Drafted: No. 15 overall by Washington Football Team in 2019
Perhaps it’s just been an issue of mishandling on the part of the Washington Football Team, but Dwayne Haskins is quickly heading down the Josh Rosen path in the early years of his NFL career. When the immensely talented quarterback came out of Ohio State with remarkable stats, few would’ve guessed he’d turn into a bust, but that’s what it looks like at this point. After getting just 11 chances to start since being the third QB taken in 2019, it appears the franchise has given up on him. He was benched for banged-up veteran Alex Smith after four starts in 2020 that saw the team go 1-3.
Drafted: No. 22 overall by Philadelphia Eagles in 2019
The Eagles have had one of the worst offensive lines in football the last couple years and Andre Dillard was drafted in the first round in 2019 to help shore up that unit. It hasn’t worked, but part of the reason may be that Dillard has spent much of his early career injured or simply on the bench. In 2019, he played in all 16 games but was only part of 29% of the team’s offensive snaps and a torn bicep has forced him to miss the entire 2020 season.
Further making him look like a bust is the fact that he’s reportedly not well-liked around the organization, stemming from several fights he’s been involved in at practices.
Drafted: No. 30 overall by New York Giants in 2019
It’s been less than two years since the Giants drafted Deandre Baker in the first round of the 2019 draft and he’s already been removed from the team’s roster. The highly touted cornerback played in all 16 games as a rookie, but had no interceptions. The franchise cut him before the 2020 season not because of his lackluster on-field showing but because he was arrested on armed robbery charges.
The charges were eventually dropped but the team decided to cut its losses, which was an even tougher decision given the fact that they traded fourth- and fifth-round picks away to move up and draft him.
Drafted: No. 32 overall by New England Patriots in 2019
The final pick of the first round in 2019 went to the Patriots and their decision to grab N’Keal Harry hasn’t exactly paid off. The wide receiver started his NFL career on the injured reserve and hasn’t been much of a factor on the team’s offense since getting healthy. During the 2020 season, Harry has been held to two or fewer catches in four of the nine games he’s played and he’s scored just three touchdowns in 16 total games. As a result of that poor output, USA Today’s Patriots writers have already hit him with the “bust” label.
Drafted: No. 18 overall by Miami Dolphins in 2020
It’s pretty rash to call someone a bust mere months after they were drafted, but some players look iffy from the outset. In the 2020 draft, the Dolphins used their top pick to take USC offensive tackle Austin Jackson at No. 18. and it’s been a mixed bag so far. A foot injury landed the young blocker on the injured reserve for a chunk of his rookie year, but we give him credit for coming back and being a starter again after resting. The number of quarterback pressures he’s allowed have given him below-average grades so far from Pro Football Focus and other analytics sources.
Drafted: No. 29 overall by Tennessee Titans in 2020
It’s tough to overcome a bad first impression and that’s exactly what Isaiah Wilson gave the Titans this offseason after being selected in the first round. The big offensive lineman has only appeared in a single game and taken just three snaps more than halfway through his rookie season, but that’s not the stuff that made him look bad from the jump. Before the season started, Wilson was arrested on a DUI charge and also got caught at a college party that was illegal due to public health restrictions related to COVID-19.
Time will tell if this pick eventually pays off, but his career has gotten off to a bad start.