NFL Players Who Could Shed the 'Bust' Label in 2019
The 2019 NFL season could serve as a banner redemption arc for several so-called busts.
Those busts earned the label for a variety of reasons. Some face-planted as rookies. Others have simply failed to meet the expectations set by their place within a team's depth chart or the draft capital invested in them.
But changing factors always offer a chance to shed the label. New locales, motivation, coaches, simple progression or an improved environment can help turn the tide.
Heading into 2019, these players could end up shedding the most-feared label in sports.
Darron Lee, LB, Kansas City Chiefs
Darron Lee will get a new shot at freeing himself of bust status in 2019 with the Kansas City Chiefs.
Lee floated in a purgatory of sorts this offseason while the New York Jets underwent some changes, his biggest development being the declining of his fifth-year option. That was at least understandable, as Lee hasn't lived up to his billing as the 20th pick in 2016, securing just four sacks and 238 total tackles over 40 games.
Lee simply didn't change the unit the way the Jets had hoped, which would explain why they paid big for C.J. Mosley and tried to nab Anthony Barr. It also explains why Lee is now a member of the Chiefs after New York's asking price dropped to a sixth-round pick.
But Lee has a few things working in his favor. While he's struggled, it would be remiss to ignore his three interceptions last year and his age: 24. He'll join a defense that is shifting schemes and adding elite players like pass-rusher Frank Clark and safety Tyrann Mathieu—arguably better than what he had to work with in New York.
Lee gets a change of scenery for his big prove-it year, and it could be enough, alongside a budding developmental curve, to help him shake free of the label.
Derek Barnett, DE, Philadelphia Eagles
The Philadelphia Eagles are presumably expecting big things from Derek Barnett in 2019. Three of the edge-rushers on their depth chart are aged 31 or older, and Michael Bennett is now in Foxboro (along with his 9.5 sacks and 33 quarterback hits).
But Barnett has busted so far after the Eagles made him the 14th pick in 2017. As a rookie, he got in 15 games and had five sacks, but he only appeared in six games and landed just 2.5 sacks in 2018.
If Barnett can get right, starting across from Brandon Graham and alongside interior linemen Malik Jackson and Fletcher Cox could mean plenty of chances.
But over the past two years, Barnett wasn't able to shake free of simply being another depth piece, which isn't what a front office wants to hear from a top-15 pick. Year 3 is now-or-never time.
Leonard Floyd, LB, Chicago Bears
It was somewhat of a surprise that the Chicago Bears picked up Leonard Floyd's fifth-year option, and that says quite a bit about how things have gone for 2016's ninth overall pick.
Floyd hasn't nearly lived up to that billing, tallying just 15.5 sacks over 38 games. He missed four games as a rookie and six more as a sophomore, but his full 16-game season in 2018 produced just four sacks—fewer than both of his earlier campaigns. It was odd considering the benefit of playing opposite Khalil Mack and the seven-sack precedent he had set as a rookie in 12 games.
Granted, sacks aren't the only metric that matters, but it is something onlookers will gravitate toward with a top-10 pick. Floyd isn't a bad run defender, so it'll be interesting to see if he can elevate his pass rush while offensive lines are occupied with Mack, Eddie Goldman and Akiem Hicks.
Interestingly, the Bears declined corner Kyle Fuller's option, and he responded in a big way before securing an extension. Floyd had his option picked up, but if he can improve in certain areas, he might earn the same reward.
Haason Reddick, LB, Arizona Cardinals
Given all the hype surrounding the Arizona Cardinals, for better or worse, it is easy to forget that the team's 2017 first-rounder (No. 13), has failed to meet expectations.
Haason Reddick was a controversial pick after he walked on at Temple and showed mostly raw upside as opposed to surefire production.
Reddick only had 32 total tackles as a rookie over 16 games and spent training camp trying to learn inside linebacker before injuries elsewhere shifted him outside.
But as Pro Football Focus' Ben Cooper noted, Reddick started clawing his way out of the bust label last year:
"Reddick is on the right path to living up to his first-round billing. He allowed just 8.6 yards per reception in 2018 (18th), a facet linebackers tend to struggle in. And as a pass rusher, his 18 quarterback pressures tied for eighth among linebackers."
Still, Reddick has a long way to go and has been mentioned in trade speculation. But if he's nailing down some of the tougher parts of the job while playing next to Terrell Suggs and Jordan Hicks, he could finally reach his immense upside and shed the bust label.
John Ross, WR, Cincinnati Bengals
Most non-Cincinnati Bengals fans would probably flunk the portion of the test asking them if it was true or false that John Ross scored seven times last season.
Ross was one of the NFL's better red-zone threats in Cincinnati a year ago, leading the team in receiving touchdowns alongside Tyler Boyd. The problem? He only caught 21 passes in 13 games—on 58 targets.
Not the sort of production a team wants to see from 2017's ninth overall pick. Scoring is nice, but Ross was billed as a highly productive, explosive threat all over the field. Instead, over two seasons, he's been hurt, dropped passes and failed to be on the same page as quarterback Andy Dalton.
And yet, scoring within the 20-yard line isn't a bad place to start. The Bengals have a new offensive-minded coach in Zac Taylor, which lends hope that they can unlock Ross' potential. A.J. Green, Tyler Boyd and Tyler Eifert all enter the offseason healthy and the offensive line should be improved too, which should keep the offense humming.
If Ross can make it through a summer healthy, the outside spot across from Green is still his. Plus, his struggles so far mean teams will be more interested in stopping other players, which should lead to open looks for the speedster in his third year.
Josh Rosen, QB, Miami Dolphins
Josh Rosen, by some metrics, can already be considered a bust. The fact that the Arizona Cardinals were willing to throw him away for just second- and fifth-round picks one year after moving up to make him a top-10 selection only reinforces the notion.
Rosen will be an interesting case study for years. On paper, he struggled mightily as a rookie over 14 games, completing 55.2 percent of his passes for 2,278 yards and 11 touchdowns against 14 interceptions.
What usually goes unsaid is how poor Rosen's supporting cast was and how the coaching staff managed to botch what it had. The now-fired head coach and offensive coordinator rarely utilized running back David Johnson through the air and put Rosen behind a horrible offensive line.
Rosen has a large mountain to climb if he's to rip away the bust label, but it isn't impossible. Kenyan Drake is a promising running back, Mike Gesicki is a huge (6'6"), developing target at tight end and the Kenny Stills-DeVante Parker tandem isn't as bad as advertised if they get a quarterback who can throw with some accuracy.
And Rosen can. Perhaps the biggest hurdle he has to jump is digesting yet another playbook and dealing with yet another offensive coordinator. But a stable environment and a natural pro progression curve, paired with his top-10 talent, mean Rosen could have a quicker-than-expected turnaround.