Can these five draft 'busts' revive their careers in 2016?
Over two weeks removed from the 2016 NFL draft, this year’s class will have surely have it’s share of superstars, complimentary role players, and busts who never live up to the expectations of the professional game.
How do we really determine what makes a player a “bust” or not? The answer to that question is up for debate, although top-10 overall selections that fail to stabilize their respective position for the team would certainly qualify.
With coaches and roster personnel changing every year, players who were once considered a bust often get the chance to revive their careers. With this in mind, let’s take a look at five players who will have a chance to prove they were worth a top-10 pick this upcoming season:
1. Robert Griffin III, QB, Cleveland Browns
The Washington Redskins selected Robert Griffin III with the second-overall pick in the 2012 NFL draft. Desperate for a franchise quarterback, Washington traded four high picks (No. 6 and No. 39 overall in 2012, No. 22 overall in 2013, and No. 2 overall in 2014) in order to land the former Baylor star.
RG III had one of the most impressive rookie campaigns in 2012, where he accounted for 3,200 passing yards, 815 rushing yards, and 27 total touchdowns. His +40.0 cumulative overall grade was eighth-best among NFL QBs in the league that year, just behind Ben Roethlisberger and just ahead of Eli Manning.
Unfortunately, Griffin severely damaged his knee late in the 2012 regular season and again in the NFC Wildcard game against Seattle. Surgery was required for both his LCL and ACL, and Griffin was never the same again.
RG III was PFF’s 24th-highest-graded QB in 2013, and 32nd in 2014. Kirk Cousins was named the starter for the 2015 season—a year in which RG III played zero snaps.
Now a few years removed from major surgery—and with a fresh start in a new organization—Griffin should open the 2016 season as the Cleveland Browns’ starting quarterback. The team opted not to draft a quarterback high (they took Cody Kessler in the third round), suggesting that they may believe Griffin can bounce back.
The addition of Hue Jackson as the head coach should also give Browns’ fans reason for optimism in 2016. Under Jackson, Bengals QB Andy Dalton finished as PFF’s eighth-highest-graded quarterback in 2015. Cincinnati’s offense utilized the play-action passing attack at a high rate (ninth-most in the NFL per dropback, at 22.9 percent), something RG III ran more than any other quarterback during his impressive 2012 rookie season in Washington (39.9 percent of dropbacks).
2. Eric Ebron, TE, Detroit Lions
Eric Ebron was selected with the 10th-overall pick in the 2014 NFL draft, with the hope that he would compliment star wide receiver Calvin Johnson in the passing game. Ebron has posted a respectable, though not top-10 worthy, 75 receptions, 806 yards, and six receiving TDs for Detroit in his first two years in the league.
Ebron was considered a “raw” prospect coming out of North Carolina, but one that was worth the risk given his freakish athletic ability. The potential has not translated on the field, as he has posted heavily negative PFF grades on a team that collectively had one of the lowest-graded TE units in the league.
With Calvin Johnson’s sudden retirement, Ebron will be counted on to take his game to another level, particularly in the red-zone. Should Ebron continue to struggle, the Detroit Lions will have a very hard time scoring in 2016.
Without Johnson in the mix, offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter may have to get more creative with the game plans week to week in 2016. One way the Lions’ may look to create mismatches off of Ebron is in the slot. In 2015, Ebron ranked sixth in the league in routes run from the slot at the tight end position (60.6 percent), and third in touchdowns from the slot (three).
3. Dion Jordan, DE, Miami Dolphins
The Miami Dolphins traded up to select defensive end Dion Jordan with the third overall pick in 2013 NFL draft. As badly as his first two seasons went (earning negative pass-rush and run-defense grades), multiple failed drug tests led to a year-long suspension in 2015.
Although his play was inconsistent, Jordan did show the ability to be a difference-maker while on the field, especially in pass coverage from a hybrid defensive end/linebacker position. His versatility is something that is an asset to any defensive unit, and one that the Dolphins could greatly benefit from.
With Olivier Vernon moving on via free agency and star defensive end Cameron Wake recovering from a torn Achilles, Jordan should have an opportunity to earn a role on the Dolphins’ defensive unit if and when he is reinstated in 2016.
With glaring holes at the linebacker position and the Dolphins’ aggressiveness to sign defensive lineman in free agency, it’s fair to wonder if new defensive coordinator Vance Joseph envisions Jordan as a player who could play more snaps at OLB, where his skill-set (rushing off the edge, playing coverage) is more suited for his attacking-style defense than an early-down end, where he struggles mightily against the run.
Jordan has yet to be officially reinstated by the NFL, but as long as that result comes, he should have the opportunity to earn a role on a defense that lacks youth and athleticism. His versatility is something that is an asset to any defensive unit, and one that the Dolphins could greatly benefit from.
4. Barkevious Mingo, LB, Cleveland Browns
The Cleveland Browns selected Barkevious Mingo with the sixth overall pick in the 2013 NFL draft. The former LSU standout has had an up and down first three years in the league, with season grades of -4.4 (2013), 14.0 (2014) and -3.1 (2015) on PFF’s cumulative scale. Although his sophomore season was encouraging from a production standpoint, it’s never a good sign to see a young player regress the following season—something Mingo did in 2015.
For his career, Mingo has played in less than half (49.1 percent) of the possible snaps, but 2016 should be a chance for him to change that trend. Veteran linebacker Karlos Dansby, who accounted for 1,052 snaps (98 percent) in 2015 was cut, and that should free up plenty of playing time for young players like Mingo on the roster.
Mingo’s career pass-rushing grades are significantly better than his run defense grades. However, as top-six overall pick, he needs to be more productive in all facets of the game, and not simply just a situational pass-rusher for the Browns.
In 2015, Mingo was the 20th ranked 3-4 OLB in number of coverage snaps (67), despite only playing 263 snaps for the whole season. In essence, he was a situational coverage linebacker, and his negative run-defense grade suggests why. Mingo has reportedly gained 20-pounds of muscle this offseason, thanks to a nearly 6,000 calorie-a-day diet. The Browns’ need Mingo to be more of an every down player—one that can pressure the quarterback and shred blocks to disrupt the opposing team’s running game. The success of Cleveland’s defensive unit will likely depend on Mingo’s development in 2016 in a division that is stacked with elite offensive talent.
5. Jonathan Cooper, G, New England Patriots
The Arizona Cardinals selected Jonathan Cooper with the seventh-overall pick in the 2013 NFL draft. Cooper missed the entire 2013 season when he broke his left fibula in the preseason of that year.
The Cardinals had high hopes for Cooper the following season, but were disappointed when he struggled from the get-go, posting a negative overall grade. Things only got worse for Cooper in 2015, particularly in pass-blocking, where he earned the 58th-highest grade among NFL guards.
In March, Cooper was traded to the New England Patriots (along with a second-round pick) in a deal that sent defensive end Chandler Jones to Arizona. The pass-happy Patriots had one of the worst offensive lines in the league last year, as only one (Josh Kline) of the twelve offensive lineman that appeared in a game had a productive season in the trenches.
The Patriots’ offensive line was exposed for the majority of the 2015 season, most notably by Von Miller and the Denver Broncos in the AFC Championship game last January. The return of Dante Scarnecchia, who was the team’s offensive line coach from 1991–2013 and has 32 years experience in the NFL, gives the organization reason to believe the unit will likely improve in 2016.
In New England, Cooper should have a chance to earn a roster spot and potentially start, depending on how well he does in the months leading up to the season opener. Over the years, the Patriots have shown the ability to revive careers time and time again, and it shouldn’t come as a surprise if they do it again with Cooper in 2016.