NFL's Biggest Busts of the 2017 Season

Sean Tomlinson@@SeanGTomlinsonNFL AnalystDecember 5, 2017

NFL's Biggest Busts of the 2017 Season

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    There are bad decisions roaming NFL fields every week, and some are much worse than merely bad. They are human money vacuums or wasted draft picks. They're busts, and they come in many forms.

    Mostly, when we talk about busts, it's in reference to draft mistakes and regrets from free agency. There are plenty of those scattered throughout the league, including Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver John Ross, who has been silent as a rookie after making a splash at the scouting combine. Or Miami Dolphins quarterback Jay Cutler, who belongs in a cozy broadcast booth, far removed from the possibility of physical harm.

    There's another category of bust too. The kind that should have sailed far away from that label by now but instead failed to live up to breakout buzz. Laquon Treadwell knows that feeling well after being the Minnesota Vikings' first-round pick in 2016.

    Finally, there's also perhaps the worst bust: the failed rookie head coach. Vance Joseph has that doomed title in 2017, and with a 3-9 record, he might not be with the Denver Broncos for much longer.

    So let's plunge into the darkness. Here are the worsts busts in the 2017 NFL season.                     

'Honorable' Mentions

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    Here are a few who didn't quite make the cut.

                  

    DeSean Jackson, Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver: The Buccaneers offense has spent a season doing laps around the drain while averaging only 20.2 points per game (22nd in the league). But DeSean Jackson has led the parade of disappointments while unable to form a quality connection with any of his quarterbacks. Tampa Bay gave the deep threat a three-year contract worth $33.5 million in March, and now he's on pace for under 850 receiving yards. If he stays healthy, that will be his lowest output during a season with 15-plus games played.

                    

    Chris Baker, Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive tackle: The Bucs also have the league's worst pass rush with only 17 sacks. They signed Chris Baker in March to complement Gerald McCoy on the inside and help generate a consistent interior push. Everyone is still waiting on his first sack of 2017 after Baker logged 9.5 over the past two years.

                        

    Zay Jones, Buffalo Bills wide receiver: Zay Jones has taken some baby steps toward turning around his rookie season recently by scoring a touchdown in two of his last four games. But the 37th overall pick in 2017 is still averaging only 11.6 yards per catch and 26.5 per game.          

Kenny Britt, WR, Cleveland Browns

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    We could probably list the entire Cleveland Browns offense and call it a day. The Browns are averaging 308.6 yards per game (24th) and have scored 20-plus points just twice in 2017.

    Watching them try to move the ball is never a pleasant experience. And seeing wide receiver Kenny Britt go through the motions has come with even less entertainment value.

    The Browns signed Britt as a free agent to be part of a solution. They have promising youthful pass-catchers around him, including fellow wideout Corey Coleman and rookie tight end David Njoku. They needed a steady and established set of veteran hands.

    Britt was that guy for the Los Angeles Rams in 2016, when he finished with a career-high 1,002 receiving yards. He's proved himself as a deep threat too and in 2015 averaged 18.9 yards per catch.

    This season, he's been a non-factor after signing a four-year contract that guarantees him $17 million.

    Britt has often struggled through injuries, and that's continued in 2017. But even when on the field and healthy, he's contributed little. He's recorded a mere 18 receptions and is averaging only 25.9 yards per game.

Jay Cutler, QB, Miami Dolphins

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    Jay Cutler was sliding into retirement just fine before the Miami Dolphins contacted him. He wasn't just being family man Jay Cutler or chilled-out/profane dog-walker Jay Cutler. No, he was blissfully nude Jay Cutler, which is the best Cutler one can be.

    But it seems he couldn't resist the sweet, sweet cash, and the Dolphins offered to pay him $10 million to be an emergency replacement for Ryan Tannehill, who tore his ACL early in training camp. Head coach Adam Gase and Cutler quickly found out that duplicating their 2015 success in Chicago wasn't going to happen.

    Cutler is aging at 34 years old, and his mobility in the pocket is declining rapidly. He crumbles under pressure, and his lack of deep accuracy has been especially troublesome. The 12th-year veteran is averaging only 6.1 yards per pass attempt, and he has logged just two interception-free games for a team that lost five straight (one without Cutler because of a concussion) prior to its win Sunday over Denver.

    The 2017 season can't end soon enough so Cutler can get back to where his heart and mind have seemed to be all along: the broadcast booth.

Mike Glennon, QB, Chicago Bears

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    The Mike Glennon contract shows how much quarterback desperation has led to wild spending on the free-agent market.

    Yes, the Chicago Bears can easily wiggle free from the three-year contract they gave Glennon, which is structured to function as three one-year deals. But if they move on after 2017, the Bears will have paid Glennon $18.5 million for one season. That's a fine way to torch money with no return whatsoever.

    Before signing with the Bears, the 27-year-old hadn't started since 2014. So it wasn't a startling development when he averaged only 6.0 yards per attempt over four starts and had a passer rating of 76.9.

    Glennon was always going to be a bridge to 2017 No. 2 overall pick Mitchell Trubisky. But the hefty price the Bears paid couldn't even buy them competent play in a temporary role.

John Ross, WR, Cincinnati Bengals

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    When a team invests a top-10 draft pick in a wide receiver, there's an expectation of immediate results. The receiver doesn't necessarily need to do anything spectacular in his first year. But he does need to contribute and be a reliable source of offensive production.

    Cincinnati Bengals rookie wideout John Ross hasn't been reliable or spectacular. He hasn't even been on the field most weeks.

    Ross, the Bengals' No. 9 overall pick in April, missed time because of a knee injury. But he's been a healthy scratch in three straight games. The 23-year-old still hasn't recorded his first NFL reception, and worse, he's been on the field for only 17 snaps, according to Pro Football Reference.

    He's a grass-burner who set a new 40-yard dash record at the combine with a time of 4.22 seconds. But he's also had some rookie hiccups, including when he let up too early on a deep sideline throw in a loss to the Tennessee Titans in Week 10. That earned him a public scolding from Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis.

    He has the speed and the raw athleticism to be a quality NFL receiver. But the Bengals wanted him to immediately inject life into their offense and be the complementary weapon they needed across from A.J. Green.

    Instead, Ross' rookie year has been wasted, and the Bengals have the league's 26th-ranked passing offense (200.7 yards per game).

Vance Joseph, Head Coach, Denver Broncos

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    Vance Joseph inherited one of the league's worst quarterback depth charts when he signed on to be the 16th head coach in Denver Broncos franchise history.

    He may not have known the extent of the awfulness at the time, but his offense has been handcuffed by one quarterback with 13 interceptions over eight starts (Trevor Siemian) and, even worse, another who can't stay healthy and is a first-round bust when on the field (Paxton Lynch).

    Oh, and there's a third quarterback who signed with Denver early in the season, and he then completed only 53 percent of his passing attempts and has no business being on an NFL roster (Brock Osweiler). So in fairness, much of the Broncos' plunge to the bottom of the AFC West and their 3-9 record has been out of Joseph's hands.

    There's one significant element he can control, though, and his failure in this area will at minimum lead to the possibility of being a one-and-done coach. The Broncos defense has taken a step back under the watch of a defensive-minded head coach who came to Denver after spending one season as the Dolphins defensive coordinator and 10 others as a defensive backs coach.

    The Broncos are allowing 26.2 points per game (31st), which is up significantly from the 18.6 (fourth) they allowed in 2016. As a result, their point differential has also taken a stiff uppercut, going from plus-36 in 2016 to minus-109 in 2017.

    It's tough for any coach to survive such a swift decline, even if it is his first year on the job.

Brandon Marshall, WR, New York Giants

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    If your football soul is always filled with rosy optimism, then you had hope after the New York Giants signed wide receiver Brandon Marshall.

    Sure, he'll be 33 years old this season, you thought, but Marshall had a horrible quarterback situation with the New York Jets in 2016 and isn't far removed from a 1,502-yard season in 2015 with 14 touchdowns. He's also never been a receiver who relies heavily on his speed to be effective, which means he could age a little more gracefully.

    That's still all true in theory. But Marshall's hands failed him quickly in 2017. He recorded two drops over five games before suffering a season-ending ankle injury, and caught just 54.4 percent of his 33 targets.

    As a result, even when healthy Marshall became a spare part on a team that entered the season wanting to feature him prominently. He hauled in a mere 18 catches for 154 yards, averaging just 8.6 yards per catch.

    The Giants have become a raging tire fire, and their decision to bench Eli Manning in Week 13 could signal the beginning of a rebuild. If that's the case, then the Marshall era in New York will likely be short. The team will have little need for a rapidly declining possession receiver who will be 34 years old in 2018.

Joe Mixon, RB, Cincinnati Bengals

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    When the Cincinnati Bengals used a top-50 pick to select Joe Mixon in 2017, the hope was he'd be productive and versatile, which would alleviate the widespread criticism the team received for selecting him after a 2014 surveillance video that showed him punching a woman was released prior to the draft.

    But Mixon still doesn't look like an all-purpose NFL running back who can carry the load every week.

    In college, he was a dynamic threat for the Oklahoma Sooners, and he recorded 2,921 yards from scrimmage along with 26 touchdowns over two seasons (25 games). He did that while being unnaturally agile and athletic for a back of his size (6'1", 228 lbs).

    As a rookie in the NFL, he's averaging only 3.3 yards per carry. That's not due to a lack of opportunities either. Mixon topped the 20-carry mark in Weeks 11 and 12—he left Monday's Week 13 game against the Pittsburgh Steelers with a concussion—and has had 176 total touches.

    Mixon may have planted the seed for a late-season turnaround with his 165 total yards against the Cleveland Browns in Week 12. However, it's hard to call his rookie year anything but a disappointment for the 5-7 Bengals.

Christian Hackenberg, QB, New York Jets

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    The New York Jets have had only embarrassment two years into the Christian Hackenberg experience.

    They bizarrely selected Hackenberg with the 51st overall pick in 2016, even though the quarterback completed only 53.5 percent of his throws during his final season at Penn State.

    Accuracy doesn't magically improve as the speed of the game increases. In a development that surprised no one aside from apparently his own team, Hackenberg completed just 36.2 percent of his passing attempts during the 2016 preseason. In 2017, he showed little improvement, ending the month of meaningless football with a per-attempt average of 5.0 yards and a 68.1 passer rating.

    A second-round pick in his second season wasn't able to beat 38-year-old journeyman Josh McCown for the starting job. The rebuilding Jets still have no answer in sight at the most important position, and they may have already won enough games in 2017 to remove themselves from Sam Darnold or Josh Rosen draft territory.

Laquon Treadwell, WR, Minnesota Vikings

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    Not every first-round wide receiver has to explode right away. Some—and especially those selected in the back half of the round—are brimming with talent and possibilities at the next level but need a little more time to develop.

    Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Laquon Treadwell's second season is coming to a close, and he hasn't flashed or shown a pulse to this point. 

    In 2016, the Vikings added Treadwell with the 23rd overall pick, hoping the 6'2", 215-pound receiver could become a physical force quickly after he muscled his way to 82 catches for 1,153 yards and 11 touchdowns during his final season at Ole Miss.

    Over 21 career NFL games, he's caught just 16 passes for 176 yards for a putrid average of 8.4 yards per game.

    The ultimate sign of Treadwell's spiral has been his lack of targets despite injuries at the position. Both Stefon Diggs and Michael Floyd have missed games in 2017, and Treadwell has been targeted just 26 times.

    Treadwell can't separate with any consistency at the next level because of his lack of straight-line speed. (He posted a 4.63-second 40-yard dash at his pro day.) He may always struggle to replicate his dominance in college at the NFL level.

Terrelle Pryor, WR, Washington Redskins

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    Terrelle Pryor Sr. was a fun story for a while because it's exceedingly hard to be even mediocre at one position in the NFL. He was a decent quarterback for a bit and then a blossoming receiver despite no professional or college experience at the position.

    Pryor seemed naturally gifted as a pass-catcher, and he could use his athleticism to glide downfield and then leap to win jump balls. He was raw during his first full season as a receiver in 2016, but he put in the work, which led to 77 catches for 1,007 yards and four touchdowns.

    He was a rare late-blooming gem as he hit the free-agent market. But fears that he'd be a one-hit wonder and fade fast once defenses adjusted kept Pryor's price low, and the Washington Redskins paid him only $6 million for one season.

    Now, even that feels like a steep and wasted investment. Pryor sputtered in his second season as a receiver and then flat-out face-planted, finishing with only 20 receptions for 240 yards.

    His season ended early because of ankle surgery, and the offers he'll receive during a second straight offseason as a free agent will be even lower. Basically, Pryor will be like the Charlie in the Box at the bottom of the bargain bin.