DeAndre Baker and Early-Round 2019 NFL Draft Picks Who Have Struggled Thus Far
First-year players who have a hard time impressing right out of the gate often take some heat from NFL fans, largely because they have such high expectations heaped upon them on arrival.
In recent years, sometimes these initial assessments have missed the mark, such as when Los Angeles Rams quarterback Jared Goff heard whispers of the bust label. Sometimes, it is only applicable for a short period of time (see: John Ross). Other times, it is flat-out true (Josh Doctson, Laquon Treadwell).
Based on early returns in 2019, there are a few names flirting with the "b" word already. This doesn't mean they will never recover and fail to meet the draft hype—far from it—but it doesn't look good right now.
The following rookies are going to start hearing grumbles if things don't take a turn for the better as the season progresses.
DeAndre Baker, CB, New York Giants
The New York Giants haven't shied away from deploying first-round corner DeAndre Baker right away.
However, the results have been disastrous.
Through two games, Baker has allowed 11 catches on 13 targets while grading out at 24.4, per Pro Football Focus. He's allowed 232 yards and one touchdown with an average depth of target of 14.8 yards, and 85 yards have come after the catch.
Not that it takes advanced metrics to see how the wheels have already fallen off. A comment from The Athletic's Dan Duggan summed up his performance: "The 'Find DeAndre Baker's man' offense working for another opponent."
Baker is learning as he goes, but he has played a big role in the Giants' 0-2 start. After Dallas ripped him on the way to 400-plus passing yards and four scores via Dak Prescott, Buffalo's Josh Allen did much of the same while throwing for 253 yards and a score in New York.
All hope is not lost for a sheer talent like Baker, but he's having a brutal transition to both the pros and the Giants scheme.
Drew Sample, TE, Cincinnati Bengals
It was exciting to see an offensive-minded coach like Zac Taylor take over the Cincinnati Bengals given some of their talent, ranging from A.J. Green and Tyler Eifert to even former-bust John Ross.
Ross has flourished under the new staff and scheme and leads the NFL in receiving through two weeks.
It was almost equally as exciting to see the staff invest a borderline top-50 pick (52nd, to be exact) in tight end Drew Sample. The 6'5" target didn't contribute much as a receiver in college at Washington, but the staff saw something, right?
Maybe not. Through two games, Sample has hardly played any snaps (22 total with the base offense) and caught just two passes for 25 yards (and those came in garbage time of a Week 2, 41-17 blowout loss). But the chance for usage has been there considering C.J. Uzomah has only been targeted five times and Tyler Eifert is being deployed in a rotational role.
Sample's high draft slot is exceedingly expensive for a prospect who can only block. Maybe he'll morph into a bigger contributor later like Mark Andrews in Baltimore, but right now, he's falling flat for a top-52 selection.
Jachai Polite, EDGE, Seattle Seahawks
Jachai Polite was the 68th pick in the draft by the New York Jets and is now a member of the Seattle Seahawks practice squad.
That could conclude the explanation right there, really.
Semi-joking aside, the Jets waived Polite as they trimmed the roster to 53 players, and a Day 2 pick hardly ever gets cut that early. Investment cost alone is usually all the justification a franchise needs for keeping a draft selection, but teams retain even the riskiest players taken in the top 100 on the belief pro coaching and training can eventually eke out some production.
Not with Polite. Maybe he was doomed to fail from the start considering fired general manager Mike Maccagnan made the pick, but it seems the Florida product didn't help matters. According to Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk, the Jets fined Polite more than $100,000 during his brief stay there for a variety of infractions.
Polite went unclaimed on waivers and now has a chance to make it all work in Seattle free of the pressure that comes with being a third-rounder. But he's a poster boy for a list like this given the obstacles he's faced so far.
Garrett Bradbury, OL, Minnesota Vikings
Going into the 2019 NFL draft, Garrett Bradbury out of North Carolina State seemed like one of the safer bets in the class. That at least partially explained why the Minnesota Vikings were comfortable taking him off the board 18th overall.
Fast-forward a few months, though, and Bradbury has been anything but safe, following a concerning budding trend with rookie centers after the likes of Billy Price have had issues of their own.
Through two games, Bradbury has a grade of 36.5, per Pro Football Focus. PFF's Mark Chichester broke down his debut game and wrote the following (h/t Kyle Ratke of Vikings Wire): "Granted, he played only 14 pass-blocking snaps as the Vikings looked to establish the run, but if you include plays that were nullified by penalty, Bradbury allowed two hurries and suffered three additional 'losses,' ending the game with a 0.0 pass-blocking grade."
Now, keep in mind going up against Grady Jarrett and Kenny Clark in back-to-back weeks isn't an easy task, so that has to factor into the evaluation. Minnesota has also poured on 370 rushing yards and four scores on the ground already. Then again, Kirk Cousins has completed 52.4 percent of his passes with two touchdowns and interceptions.
In today's NFL, a center can't only excel as a run-blocker. Given Bradbury's performance relative to the initial expectations, this hasn't been a hot start.
N'Keal Harry, WR, New England Patriots
For those who paid close attention during the preseason, this one featuring the New England Patriots wasn't hard to see coming.
N'Keal Harry is on injured reserve with an ankle injury and might end up returning. But the problems for the 32nd overall pick started well before Josh Gordon got reinstated and Antonio Brown came to town.
He was underperforming to the point the hottest wideout in New England was the undrafted Jakobi Meyers, who was reportedly routinely outplaying the first-round pick, according to NFL Network's Michael Giardi.
It got to the point in late July that Harry was working with the second-team offense behind names like Maurice Harris and Phillip Dorsett. The former has since been cut, and the latter has seven catches.
The 6'4" Harry undoubtedly has upside, but he doesn't have much wiggle room, provided he even gets healthy. There aren't many balls to go around with Brown and Gordon joining Julian Edelman in the wideout room now, leaving Harry's fate something of a question mark.