NFL's Biggest Busts of the 2018 Season
The 2018 NFL season has been full of surprises. Think back to the preseason and ask yourself if you believed Patrick Mahomes would immediately become an elite quarterback, if you guessed Adrian Peterson would return to being a Pro Bowl-caliber back or if you saw undrafted rookie Phillip Lindsay as an Offensive Rookie of the Year candidate.
The answer to all of the above is probably no.
These are pleasant surprises, but not all of 2018's unexpected runs have been positive. We're here to examine some busts through 13 weeks. We're not necessarily saying these players are terrible, but they've all fallen short of high expectations—be it from the draft, free agency or injury return.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers DT Vita Vea
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers used the 12th pick in the 2018 draft on former Washington defensive tackle Vita Vea in an effort to upgrade their defensive line. But Vea has not been a difference-maker.
He's appeared in nine games and garnered just eight tackles and 2.0 sacks.
To be fair (we don't want to be all negative), Vea missed the preseason with a calf injury and had a strong game against the San Francisco 49ers (four tackles, 1.0 sack) in Week 12.
"I wasn't thinking. I was just playing," Vea said of his breakout contest, per Jenna Laine of ESPN.com.
However, when you consider the impact of rookies such as the Los Angeles Chargers' Derwin James and Dallas Cowboys' Leighton Vander Esch—guys drafted shortly after Vea—you can't help but slap Vea with the bust label for now.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers RB Ronald Jones
Though the Bucs drafted him 26 selections after Vea, running back Ronald Jones has arguably been an even bigger disappointment.
The former USC standout was the sixth pick in Round 2 (38th overall), and he was expected to take over for Doug Martin as the centerpiece of Tampa's rushing attack. Instead, the rookie has struggled to get on the field.
Jones has only appeared in five games. He's rushed 23 times for 44 yards, has six catches for 34 yards and has one total touchdown. Arguably his best game of the season came in Week 7 when he rushed six times for 13 yards but found end zone (yes, we're serious).
It's still early in his career, but Jones is looking like one of the biggest Day 2 busts.
Oakland Raiders WR Jordy Nelson
Former Buccaneers back Martin moved to the Oakland Raiders in the offseason. So did former Green Bay Packers wide receiver Jordy Nelson. While Martin has been serviceable since he took over for the injured Marshawn Lynch (groin/core muscle) as Oakland's starter on Oct. 28, Nelson has been wildly disappointing.
Nelson did have a 10-catch, 97-yard game against the rival Kansas City Chiefs in Week 13, and he had a 173-yard game earlier in the season. However, he has just 35 receptions for 450 yards and three touchdowns on the year.
This means that outside his two big games, Nelson has just 180 yards and two touchdowns. Consistent he is not. When you consider that Oakland essentially gave Nelson a two-year, $14.2 million deal to be merely average, you have to view him as a bust.
Green Bay Packers TE Jimmy Graham
Nelson used to be one of Aaron Rodgers' biggest go-to targets. The Green Bay Packers inked five-time Pro Bowler Jimmy Graham to a three-year, $30 million deal in the offseason hoping he could be the same.
Graham has been a solid tight end—44 receptions for 536 yards and two touchdowns—but he hasn't been a go-to target and a primary threat in the red zone. Considering Graham was once one of the league's most feared goal-line threats and his $10 million average salary is No. 1 at his position, that's disappointing.
He's been good, but he hasn't met the expectations of being a transformative piece of the Packers offense. At 32 years old, it's hard to see him changing that.
Cleveland Browns OL Austin Corbett
If we're going to laud Cleveland Browns general manager John Dorsey for scooping Baker Mayfield, Denzel Ward and Nick Chubb in the draft, then we also need to criticize him for missing on former Nevada offensive tackle Austin Corbett.
The rookie may yet develop into a quality NFL starter at tackle or guard, but he's barely played. He's appeared in just nine games and started one. The lack of significant action is a problem for the 33rd overall pick.
Initially, Cleveland mulled the idea of moving guard Joel Bitonio to left tackle and starting Corbett at guard. With Corbett not showing enough, the Browns kept Bitonio at guard and instead went first with undrafted rookie Desmond Harrison, then 2014 draft bust Greg Robinson at left tackle.
When you're the first pick in the second round and barely see the field, you've fallen short of expectations.
Baltimore Ravens TE Hayden Hurst
Rookie quarterback Lamar Jackson has helped provide a spark for the Baltimore Ravens over the past three weeks, as he's put Baltimore back in the playoff picture.
Baltimore's other first-round pick? He's struggled to even be in the picture.
Tight end Hayden Hurst, taken 25th overall, got a late start to the season because of a foot injury. However, he hasn't been able to do much since. He has appeared in eight of Baltimore's 12 games but has just seven receptions for 82 yards and a touchdown.
The former South Carolina standout was supposed to provide the Ravens with a steady pass-catcher at tight end, but he has disappointed. Considering he's already 25 years old, it's also fair to wonder how much growth Hurst will experience.
Arizona Cardinals RB David Johnson
Do you remember just how unstoppable Arizona Cardinals running back David Johnson was a couple of years ago?
In 2016, he amassed 2,118 yards from scrimmage with 20 total touchdowns. In 2017, though, he suffered a wrist injury that ended his season after just 11 carries. Naturally, fantasy owners and Cardinals fans alike had big expectations for his return.
Johnson had the same.
"My goal is still 1,000 rushing and 1,000 receiving [yards]," Johnson said during a May appearance with NFL Network's Good Morning Football.
While Johnson has been an above-average starter, he has fallen fall short of almost everyone's expectations. He has 761 yards rushing, 328 yards receiving and eight total touchdowns. He's also averaged a paltry 3.7 yards per carry.
Tennessee Titans CB Malcolm Butler
The New England Patriots benched cornerback Malcolm Butler this past Super Bowl, and the reason remains a mystery. Former Patriot and new Tennessee Titans head coach Mike Vrabel still believed in Butler, though.
Tennessee signed the corner to a five-year, $61.25 million contract during the offseason, which doesn't look so good in hindsight.
Butler has made a handful of highlight plays—he has two interceptions and a forced fumble—but he hasn't been the legitimate No. 1 cornerback the Titans paid him to be. He's ranked just 88th overall among cornerbacks, according to Pro Football Focus.
Perhaps the Patriots were onto something.
Cleveland Browns WR Jarvis Landry
We've already mentioned Cleveland's notable early draft miss. We might as well mention the other Dorsey move of the offseason that looks like an L.
The Browns sent fourth- and seventh-round draft picks to the Miami Dolphins in exchange for three-time Pro Bowler Jarvis Landry. They subsequently signed him to a massive five-year, $75.5 million contract. The expectation was that Landry would give the Browns an elite possession receiver to pair with Josh Gordon—at the time, the assumption was that Gordon would come back after his initial absence to focus on his well-being and play for the Browns.
Gordon did come back but was traded to the New England Patriots. This left Landry as the No. 1 receiver, and he has disappointed there.
Landry has good numbers—68 receptions for 733 yards and two touchdowns—but he's only had three 100-yard games and hasn't put up the kind of stats one would expect from a $15-million-a-year receiver.
Quarterback Sam Bradford might be the most obvious entry here—though plenty of folks have probably already forgotten the Cardinals brought him in to be their starting quarterback in 2018 while rookie first-round pick Josh Rosen learned the ropes.
The Cardinals gave him almost $11 million in guaranteed money to do so.
Arizona ended up replacing Bradford with Rosen after just three games. The veteran started all three, completed 62.5 percent of his passes and threw two touchdowns and four interceptions. He posted a passer rating of just 62.5.
For reference, Rosen holds a rating of 68.2. He's on a rookie deal that pays him just under $18 million for four years. Bradford has already been released.
All contract information via Spotrac.