Pick No 8: Jake Locker – Tennessee Titans
A surprising early 1st round pick for some as he was graded going into the draft as a late 1st to early 2nd. In his first season he filled in occasionally for Matt Hasselbeck and came in relief at the end of games in order to slowly bleed him into the starting role. Locker was named the starter for the Titans in 2012 after beating out the veteran Hasselbeck in pre-season. He finished his first season with 2,176 yards passing, ten touchdowns, and eleven interceptions. He also rushed impressively for 291 yards and one TD despite suffering a tear to his shoulder. After starting the 2013 season 2-1 he suffered a hip injury against the Jets in Week 4. His return from the injury was less impressive, before he ended the season on IR with a foot injury. 2014 started fairly well but he was later benched in favour of Zack Mettenberger before again landing on IR.
Locker retired from the NFL in 2015 citing a lack of drive to play the game anymore. An initially promising career in a team where he wasn’t really surrounded by much offensive talent, injuries seemed to mentally take their toll on Locker who rather than stay and fight for his job decided that his health was more important. The Titans really never saw a return on their top ten pick, and whilst he played well in spots he never looked like a first round talent and if he were to continue his career he would have made an ample back up.
Verdict – Bust
Pick No 10: Blaine Gabbert – Jacksonville Jaguars
According to Jaguars legend Maurice Jones-Drew, Gabbert was a victim of an unsuitable offensive scheme for his strengths, and constant changes in offensive staff. Gabbert looked wholly uncomfortable throughout his time with the Jaguars with a QBR of 66.8 and a completion percentage of 53.2%. When playing with Missouri in college he was not considered a particularly accurate quarterback, which is usually a recipe for disaster in the pro-game. He earned the Jaguars starting job after David Garrard was released in pre-season and starter Luke McCowan performed poorly in the first two games. Only aged 22, Gabbert was the youngest quarterback in history to start 13 games in the NFL. He was sacked 40 times and fumbled 14 times, had the lowest passing yards per throw and second lowest QBR in his rookie season. His poor play continued into 2012 and he landed on IR after tearing his labarum. An injury ridden 2013 season led to Chad Henne taking the Quarterbacking reigns. He was traded to the 49ers for a 6th round pick in 2014. A big fall from grace from a player who never really showed the raw talent to be a successful starter for Jacksonville despite the mitigating circumstances around him.
He is still very young (26) and now has time on his side to resurrect his career at the 49ers. He gained a new contract in 2015 and he has now replaced the benched Colin Kaepernick as starter. His career could now improve in an improved situation but it is unlikely that he will ever live up to the top-ten billing.
Verdict – Bust
Pick No 12: Christian Ponder – Minnesota Vikings
Ponder was widely predicted to be a 2nd/3rd round pick in the 2011 draft, but after a run on quarterbacks early on with three taken in the top ten, the Vikings pulled the trigger and surprised everyone by taking him over Andy Dalton. Ponder completed the trifecta of 2011 QB draft busts beside Locker and Gabbert. The Vikings had signed veteran Donovan McNabb in the offseason and after the drafting of Ponder had envisioned him to eventually take over. Like Locker and Gabbert, Ponder was pushed into the starting role too early after the incumbent failed to impress. Ponder looked like he had the potential to succeed but his play was inconsistent from game to game ranging from a decent NFL QB to all out disastrous. He finished his rookie season with a 2-8 record. The start of the 2012 season saw Ponder drawing rave reviews from his coach Leslie Frazier and analysts alike. The next few games brought the inconsistency back. However he rallied the Vikings to take them to the playoffs. At this point in his career he looked more like an NFL QB who, with some minor corrections to his game could be a decent mid-level starter. 2013 saw the return of the bad side of Ponder who was booed throughout the Vikings 0-3 start. When he got injured in Week 3 he was replaced by Matt Cassel and later by Josh Freeman who was – in short – a disaster. There is a saying in the NFL if you have two starting QBs you don’t really have any. In the Vikings case they had three. Ponder replaced Freeman when he got injured but he would go out injured once again that season due to a concussion, Ponder ended the season 2-6-1 as the starter.
In 2014 the Vikings drafted Teddy Bridgewater, which meant that Ponder remained as 2nd/3rd string for the year. Unsurprisingly the Vikings chose not to pick up the option on Ponder and he became a free agent signing with the Raiders. He was later released after the decided to go with Matt McGloin as backup. In my view Ponder is probably the best of the three busts that year, I would be very surprised if he was not signed in the off-season to compete for a backup job. His story is one of a fall from grace for a 1st round pick only 4 years ago.
Verdict – Bust
Pick No 21: Phil Taylor – Cleveland Browns
Projected to be the next Vince Wilfork, at 6ft 3” and 335lbs, Cleveland would be forgiven for thinking they had a major part of their run defence sewn up for the next 10 years. Taylor had all the physical attributes the height, strength and girth to be a successful Nose Tackle in the NFL. He most certainly fit the famous Bill Parcells saying that there is only a limited amount of people alive that have the physique to play certain positions in the NFL. Taylor was also considered a safe first round pick by most scouts. So why is he on the list?
Well, his first season went well, where he ended his with 59 tackles and 4 sacks – an excellent return for a nose tackle, especially a rookie one. From there it went downhill for Taylor. Unable to stay on the field in the majority of 2 of the following 3 seasons with the Browns he became an expensive part time player. His pass rushing took a hit and he only recorded 3 sacks in his following 3 seasons, effectively becoming a 2 down lineman. He was shifted out to Defensive–End in 2014 in the 3-4 but ranked 49/51 in the NFL. In 2015 the Browns drafted Danny Shelton and with a $5.4million option to resign Taylor for 2015, he was cut. Despite playing poorly (more than likely due to his knee injuries) Taylor is still a viable run-stuffing specialist, but quite surprisingly he has failed to latch onto a team anywhere so far. If Taylor had been signed to a team I might have put him in the “Jury Still Out” category but as of right now he is out of the league and nowhere near living up to the no.21 overall pick. The Thomas Dimitroff mortgaging of the 2011 to draft Julio Jones looks like a massive steal now, as all the picks that the Browns made in the trade with the Falcons are now either out of the league or are very close to it, the others being Brandon Weeden and Owen Marecic.
Verdict – Bust
Pick No 23: Danny Watkins – Philadelphia Eagles
Watkins was a first round pick by both the NFL and CFL coming out of Baylor. He was the oldest player (26) to be drafted in the first round since 1980, an indicator of how confident the Eagles were in him, foregoing younger options for a shorter-term investment. Strangely at the time, the Eagles picked up Kyle DeVan in free agency to start ahead of Watkins at Right-Guard. After being inactive for the first few weeks of the season, Watkins managed to usurp DeVan, more due to DeVan’s poor play than Watkins impressing in practice.
Watkins was released only 2 years into his 4-year; $8 million deal, starting 18 games. The Eagles cited poor play for the reason for his release. Watkins never looked like the dominant Guard he was at Baylor. Detractors said his heart wasn’t in it, and it indeed looked that way – Watkins was seen 2 days after an Eagles loss to the Bengals working with a Philadelphia Fire Brigade. An admirable thing to do, but not what the Eagles wanted to see their top draft pick doing.
After being released, Watkins signed with the Dolphins. He was a rarely used back up for the year before being cut. He quietly walked away from the league in 2014, never officially retiring. Unsurprisingly he is now following his first love of a career in the fire brigade. Those that played with him said that he had it all to be an All-Pro Guard – except he just wasn’t all that interested in football to apply his natural talent.
Verdict – Bust
Pick No 26: Jonathan Baldwin – Kansas City Chiefs
The no.26 pick competed with Danny Watkins on who would “flame out” of the league the fastest. A Wide Receiver that impressed in college and was (as many 1st round draft busts are) was considered a consensus 1st rounder by NFL scouts. He was drafted to play side-by-side with Dwayne Bowe, another toy for recently signed Quarterback, Matt Cassel to play with. His first season started out disastrously, injuring his wrist in a locker room fight with experienced veteran Thomas Jones – not exactly the impact a rookie would like to make with his new teammates. After returning from injury, Baldwin caught 1 touchdown for 254 yards.
In 2012, he totalled 20 receptions for 325 yards. A sparse return considering he started 7 games and played in 15. By the end of 2012 the Chiefs had seen enough and jettisoned in a player for player trade for fellow receiver bust AJ Jenkins (more on him another day). It says it all that a team that was devoid of playmakers on offence, decided that he was surplus to requirements says more than I ever could.
Once traded to the 49ers in 2013 he caught 3 passes for 28 yards in 7 games. The 49ers promptly cut Baldwin at then end of 2014. He later signed for the Lions but failed a physical.
Another player who ticked all the physical attribute checkboxes but failed to make any impact at the pro-level. At 6’3”, 230lbs and 4.55 40-yard dash time he had rare size for an NFL receiver. Often scouts and coaches get sucked in by the look of a player, especially in the case of wide receivers. Coaches think they can coach-up raw talents such as Baldwin, but sometimes guys who have lived off their physical ability for their whole career, don’t work hard at their craft and rely on their ability once they get to the pro-level.
Verdict – Bust
Pick No 29: Gabe Carimi – Chicago Bears
Outland Trophy Winner, All-American, Big-Ten Offensive Lineman and 1st Round Pick for the Chicago Bears. Quite the resume for a player that could play both Guard and Tackle. What more could the Bears want? Carimi appeared to be a bargain at the 29th pick. The Bears had had a disastrous season in 2010, the offensive line being the main problem – failing to protect Jay Cutler amounting in 56 sacks allowed. Draft-nick Mike Mayock described Carimi as a potential starter at Left-Tackle or an All-Pro at Right Tackle for any team that was to select him.
Carimi immediately started for the Bears but badly injured his patella tendon in his second start – ending his rookie season. In the proceeding 2 seasons he played in only 16 games at either Right-Tackle or Guard. In this time he was benched for Jonathan Scott (who is now out of the league). According to ESPN Chicago Lovie Smith’s coaching staff could not decide whether or not Carimi was best at Guard or Tackle. It was hard to discern whether or not it was the knee injury that affected his play or the potentially painful fact for Bears fans – Carimi might not actually be any good. At the start of minicamp in 2013, the Bears cut ties with Carimi and traded him to the Buccaneers for a 6th round pick. At the start of the 2014 season Lovie Smith was hired as head coach of the Bucs and made it his first order of business to cut Carimi. He didn’t stay unemployed for too long as he was picked up the Falcons a week later. If Carimi was going to catch on with a team, this was his last chance to do so. The Falcons Offensive Line had been notoriously bad over the last few seasons, which presented him with the best opportunity to play.
Carimi managed to stick around for the whole season playing 500+ snaps at a variety of positions including Tight End. The Falcons let him run out his 1-year contract to become a free agent, a position he has managed to hold down for over a year and counting.
Pick No 32: Derek Sherrod – Green Bay Packers
All the high school and college accolades count for nothing when you get to the NFL. This holds especially true when the round a player is picked in equates to the number of career starts he has. In Sherrod’s case that number was 1.
Like many of his fellow busts, Sherrod’s story is one of a big injury and failure to recover from it. A broken leg suffered against the Chiefs in 2011 effectively ended a career that didn’t start out too promisingly in Green Bay. After playing poorly as Left Guard, he was moved to back-up Left Tackle behind Chad Clifton. A healthy scratch early in his Packer life, he was thrust into action at Right Tackle where in December the fateful injury happened. The break was so bad the Packers didn’t expect him to take part in the 2012 season. That was confirmed in October when the team confirmed that Sherrod had suffered a setback. It took until October 2013 before Sherrod was back on the active roster. He looked understandably shaky on his return and unsurprisingly the Packers decided to not exercise their 5th year option before waiving him midway through the 2014 season. The Chiefs signed him to their off season roster at the start of 2015 before cutting him in September. Despite only being 26 years old, the devastating leg break really took it toll on Sherrod. Some might think what might have been, but even before his injury (despite it being a small sample size) Sherrod had not looked all that promising.