Sink or Swim: Young NFL Players in Danger of Flaming Out in 2018
The NFL hires a few hundred new employees every year, but rookie contracts essentially serve as probationary periods for entry-level players.
While many will excel and eventually earn lucrative new deals, many more will flame out before they ever have a chance to become established NFL veterans.
Here, we'll look at several young players who have underachieved and are now in danger of having their once highly anticipated careers go up in flames.
Most players drafted in 2014 have already crashed or boomed, while it's too early to draw definitive conclusions about those who entered the league in 2017. As such, we'll primarily focus on first-round picks from 2015 or 2016 who are behind the eight ball entering their third or fourth NFL season.
Baltimore Ravens WR Breshad Perriman
The Baltimore Ravens drafted Breshad Perriman 26th overall in 2015 to resuscitate their receiving corps. Instead, the Central Florida product has caught only 43 of the 101 passes thrown his way in what's been an inconsistent, injury-plagued career.
Perriman is still only 24, so there's time for him to turn his career around. However, it isn't a good sign that he was less of a factor in Baltimore's offense in 2017 (when healthy) than he was as a sophomore in 2016, when he caught 33 passes for 499 yards and three touchdowns.
It's an even worse sign that the Ravens felt the need to sign three free-agent wide receivers this offseason in Michael Crabtree, John Brown and Willie Snead. ESPN.com's Jamison Hensley reported that Perriman has continued to struggle with drops this offseason, too.
It's fair to wonder if the guy will even make Baltimore's 53-man roster, especially since he's owed a $649,485 bonus on the third day of training camp, according to Hensley.
Chicago Bears WR Kevin White
The Chicago Bears spent a bunch of money this offseason on new pass-catchers such as Allen Robinson, Taylor Gabriel, Trey Burton and Bennie Fowler.
Thus, the writing is on the wall for Kevin White.
Like Perriman, the 2015 No. 7 overall pick also lost his rookie season due to injury, while another injury (to the same leg) cost him the majority of his sophomore campaign. There was a lot of positive buzz about White heading into the 2017 season, but he suffered with a shoulder injury in the first game of the regular season and missed the rest of the year.
The former West Virginia star has missed 43 of the 48 games the Bears have played since they drafted him in 2015.
Chicago predictably did not exercise White's 2019 option, which reinforces the idea that his fourth season will make or break his career. And while quarterback Mitchell Trubisky has reportedly been impressed with White this offseason, according to Dan Wiederer of the Chicago Tribune, you still shouldn't want to buy the soon-to-be 26-year-old's stock this summer.
Miami Dolphins WR DeVante Parker
The track record of first-round wide receivers from the 2015 draft largely isn't great so far. But DeVante Parker can change that with a breakout 2018 campaign with the Miami Dolphins, who selected him 14th overall that year.
Unlike Perriman and White, Parker has largely stayed on the field over the past few seasons. He just hasn't been consistently productive.
Parker caught only 52 percent of the passes thrown his way as a rookie, but he looked like he was turning a corner when that jumped to 64 percent in his sophomore season. However, the 25-year-old's production dropped almost across the board in 2017.
With quarterback Ryan Tannehill back and top 2017 receiver Jarvis Landry gone, Parker should have plenty of opportunities to take off in 2018. But if that doesn't happen, the team could change its mind about the fifth-year option it exercised for 2019.
Cleveland Browns WR Corey Coleman
The Cleveland Browns might not be willing to wait much longer for 2016 first-round pick Corey Coleman.
And when the Browns give up on you, it won't take long for the rest of the league to do the same.
Coleman was the first receiver selected in the 2016 draft, but the Baylor product has been sidelined for two long stretches due to two separate hand fractures. He's missed 13 of a possible 32 games as a result of those injuries, which would be cause for concern even if Coleman hadn't bombed when active.
The No. 15 overall pick has caught only 56 of the 131 passes thrown his way while scoring five touchdowns in 19 games. That 42.7 percent catch rate is unacceptable when you're averaging a meager 12.8 yards per reception, which might explain why the Browns paid big for Jarvis Landry before using a fourth-round pick on talented former Florida wideout Antonio Callaway earlier this offseason.
New Browns general manager John Dorsey can afford to dump Coleman without taking heat for drafting a bust, which is why Cleveland.com's Mary Kay Cabot has already suggested the Browns would consider trading him "if someone makes the Browns a decent offer." Scott Petrak of the Chronicle-Telegram reported last week that "doubts remain" regarding the 23-year-old's work ethic.
New offensive coordinator Todd Haley is right. This looks like a make-or-break year for Coleman.
Minnesota Vikings WR Laquon Treadwell
As you've likely realized by now, the last few drafts have not produced many successful first-round wideouts.
Two seasons into his NFL career, Laquon Treadwell of the Minnesota Vikings has particularly struggled.
The 2016 No. 23 overall pick had trouble getting on to the field while catching only one pass in nine games as a rookie. He followed that up with a paltry 200 receiving yards despite playing a full season as a sophomore.
Treadwell has played 580 offensive snaps in his career, but he has yet to score a touchdown and has caught only 55.3 percent of the passes thrown his way.
The 23-year-old will get a chance to earn the No. 3 receiver spot in 2018, and he could benefit from the presence of new quarterback Kirk Cousins. But if he can't win that job, stay healthy and finally produce in 2018, Minnesota may decline his fifth-year option and make him battle for a roster spot next summer.
Cincinnati Bengals OT Cedric Ogbuehi
When the Cincinnati Bengals let Pro Bowl left tackle Andrew Whitworth walk as a free agent in 2017, they seemingly had a replacement waiting in the wings. The Bengals had spent the 21st overall pick in the 2015 draft on Cedric Ogbuehi, whose size, speed and athleticism made him look like a linchpin NFL left tackle in the making.
But after a redshirt rookie season, Ogbuehi struggled mightily at right tackle in 2016 before performing just as poorly in place of the departed Whitworth last season.
According to Pro Football Focus, the 26-year-old Texas A&M product has ranked in the bottom 10 among qualified offensive tackles in terms of pass-blocking efficiency in each of the last two seasons. He was responsible for 17 sacks, seven hits and 54 hurries during that span.
Not only did the Bengals decline to pick up Ogbuehi's fifth-year option for 2019, but they also traded for a new left tackle in Cordy Glenn. That leaves Ogbuehi fighting for a chance to start at right tackle or guard, where he excelled in college.
Wherever he lands, it's possible he'll benefit from the presence of new offensive line coach Frank Pollack. It's also possible he's a bust, and we may receive confirmation of that in 2018.
New York Giants OT Ereck Flowers
The New York Giants find themselves in a similar predicament with 2015 first-round pick Ereck Flowers, who entered the league with the kind of power, technique and playing style teams want to see in a long-term blindside protector. But the No. 9 overall pick bombed in three seasons at left tackle, causing the Giants to pay for free agent Nate Solder this offseason.
Flowers and Donovan Smith of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers were the most penalized players in 2016. According to Austin Gayle of Pro Football Focus, he has also surrendered 134 total pressures in his three NFL seasons. (An average offensive tackle gives up about 30 per year.)
Like Ogbuehi, he'll have to excel at a different position to earn a long-term contract somewhere when his rookie deal expires next offseason, as the Giants didn't pick up his fifth-year option. Right now, he has almost no value. ESPN.com's Jordan Raanan reported in May that the team wasn't able to fetch a middle-round draft pick in trade conversations.
But Flowers at least appears to have an edge on the competition at right tackle. Matt Lombardo of NJ Advance Media wrote this week that the 24-year-old "is impressing teammates and coaches" at the position this offseason. And there's reason for optimism when you consider that his PFF grades have improved in each of his first few campaigns.
There's a chance Flowers turns it around in 2018. But if he doesn't, he could be out of the league.
San Francisco 49ers DE Arik Armstead
Because recent top-10 picks DeForest Buckner and Solomon Thomas attract the majority of the buzz on the San Francisco 49ers defensive line, it might be easy to overlook how 2015 first-round pick Arik Armstead has fallen well short of expectations.
It was somewhat of a surprise that the team exercised the fifth-year option in Armstead's rookie contract earlier this offseason, but another bad year could cause the Niners to rethink that decision.
Armstead's biggest issue has been his inability to stay on the field. A November shoulder injury ended his 2016 season, and a hand injury resulted in the same fate last October. Altogether, he's missed 18 games over the last two years.
Even when he's active, Armstead hasn't been a game-changer. He's a decent run defender, but he's lacked consistency in general. And he has only 50 tackles and six sacks in 30 career games.
If he doesn't perform like a first-rounder in his age-25 season, Armstead risks becoming nothing more than a peripheral journeyman.
Denver Broncos OLB Shane Ray
An injury could factor into preventing Denver Broncos edge-defender Shane Ray from cashing in on a big second contract. Because while his teammates are preparing for training camp, the 2015 first-round pick is recovering from his fourth wrist surgery in the last year.
That injury derailed Ray's 2017 season, and it looks like it could impact his ability to perform in a contract year. That could make Ray's eight-sack 2016 season ancient history by the time his rookie deal expires.
And it's clear the Broncos aren't willing to wait for Ray. They used a second-round pick on pass-rusher DeMarcus Walker last year, they used a top-five pick on defensive end Bradley Chubb this year and they declined to pick up Ray's fifth-year option in May.
If he can't get back onto the field and make some plays this fall, his career could be in jeopardy before he turns 26 next spring.
Houston Texans CB Kevin Johnson
The Houston Texans took quite a risk when they picked up cornerback Kevin Johnson's fifth-year option this offseason, mainly because the injury-prone No. 16 overall pick in 2015 has missed 14 games in the last two seasons, and fifth-year options are guaranteed for injury only.
Maybe the Texans are still clinging to what they saw from Johnson when he flashed with an interception, nine passes defensed and 52 tackles as an occasional starter during his rookie season. But foot and knee injuries have limited him ever since, and it's not as though he's been a shutdown cover man when active.
The Texans are deep at defensive back with Johnathan Joseph and Kareem Jackson returning and Aaron Colvin, Johnson Bademosi and Tyrann Mathieu joining the fray. They won't wait much longer for Johnson, and neither will the rest of the league.