NFL Youngsters Who Appear to Be Shedding the Bust Label in 2020

Chris Roling@@Chris_RolingFeatured ColumnistDecember 1, 2020

NFL Youngsters Who Appear to Be Shedding the Bust Label in 2020

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    Phelan M. Ebenhack/Associated Press

    Not every NFL player can shed the bust label. 

    For some, the weight of expectations that comes with a major draft slot is just too heavy. There are only 16 games per season and immense competition for every rep, and franchises have many options to consider on the road to improvement. There are even fans and fantasy managers to appease. 

    But this season, despite all of its unique challenges amid the COVID-19 pandemic, a few players have successfully quieted any whispers about a bust label. They are former top-64 picks from 2016 at the latest who never met the expectations of their draft slot prior to this year.

    The following players—aged 28 or younger—have the production and upside to suggest not only is the bust label gone but that the future also is bright after a false start.      

Garett Bolles, OT, Denver Broncos

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    David Zalubowski/Associated Press

    Garett Bolles has gone from a penalty-riddled possible bust to an offensive tackle the Denver Broncos couldn't help but sign to a big extension worth $68 million. 

    Bolles, the 20th pick in 2017, was immediately thrown to the wolves to start all 16 games as a rookie, drumming up 15 penalties with a 72.9 grade from Pro Football Focus. The 28-year-old posted double-digit penalties in each of his first three seasons, including 17 in 2019. 

    It's no wonder the Broncos declined Bolles' fifth-year option for 2021 despite their need to protect potential franchise quarterback Drew Lock.

    But Bolles appears to have turned a corner. 

    He has started 11 games in 2020, earning just seven flags and not allowing a single sack, good for an 89.4 grade from PFF. The Broncos are betting the new Bolles is not an anomaly.        

Corey Davis, WR, Tennessee Titans

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    Nick Wass/Associated Press

    Corey Davis, 25, hasn't been unproductive for the Tennessee Titans, but he hasn't lived up to a top-five draft slot in 2017.

    His best season before this year came in 2018, when he posted 891 yards and four scores in 16 starts. While that sounds good, but he only caught 65 of his 112 targets (a miserable 58 percent catch rate). 

    After having his fifth-year option for 2021 declined, Davis has come to life. Through just nine games, he's caught 42 passes and is on pace for over 1,000 receiving yards. He's caught 58 of his targets, good for a career-high catch percentage of 72.4. 

    He's posting career highs in yards per game (68.8), yards per catch (14.7) and at PFF (grade of 85.9). 

    It appears Davis is shedding the bust label and demonstrating he does indeed have top-five potential.       

Hayden Hurst, TE, Atlanta Falcons

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    John Bazemore/Associated Press

    Little confirms a bust label more than a team trading a valuable first-round rookie contract that has the option for a cheap fifth year. 

    That's what the Baltimore Ravens did with Hayden Hurst, though, packaging a fourth-round pick with the tight end and sending him to the Atlanta Falcons in exchange for second and fifth-round picks in 2020. 

    Hurst, the 25th pick in 2018, never caught more than 30 passes in a season over two years in Baltimore. Through just 11 games in Atlanta this season, he's seen an uptick in volume and caught 41 passes for 459 yards and three touchdowns, all career-high marks. 

    While the 27-year-old doesn't have a career-high catch rate, 64.1 percent isn't anything to turn your nose up at, especially when he's hit career-best marks elsewhere and helped the Falcons pick up 27 first downs. 

    Turned loose in a scheme that better fits his skill set, Hurst appears to be just getting started.      

Myles Jack, LB, Jacksonville Jaguars

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    Phelan M. Ebenhack/Associated Press

    The Jacksonville Jaguars rolled the dice on Myles Jack at No. 36 in the 2016 draft, landing a linebacker prospect who was once touted as a potential top-10 pick before knee issues. 

    But over his first four seasons, Jack even had a hard time meeting second-round expectations, never posting a PFF grade above his 71.7 mark in 2017 and bottoming out at 45.9 in 2019. 

    Besides coverage woes, missed tackles have been an issue, as Jack missed a notable 15.4 percent last season. 

    Yet 2020 has been good to Jack. The 25-year-old has picked off a pass and forced a fumble while missing just 3.9 percent of his tackles en route to a career-high 82.8 PFF grade. And after allowing five touchdowns in coverage over his prior two seasons, he's yet to allow one this year. 

    From the looks of it, Jack is starting to flirt with being a defensive centerpiece worthy of an early first-round pick.                  

Kolton Miller, OT, Las Vegas Raiders

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    Winslow Townson/Associated Press

    The Las Vegas Raiders envisioned a long-term starter on the edge in front of Derek Carr when making Kolton Miller the 15th pick in 2018. 

    But Miller flopped hard as a rookie over 16 games, coughing up 16 sacks and eight penalties on the way to a 49.6 grade at PFF. It's no wonder the Raiders made Trent Brown one of the NFL's highest-paid offensive tackles in early 2019. 

    After a sophomore season in which he permitted seven more sacks, though, Miller, 25, has allowed just one over nine starts in 2020 while battling an injury as Brown has missed time after air got into his bloodstream via an IV. 

    It took some time for the athletic prospect in a weak offensive tackle draft class to mature at the pro level, but now that he's found his groove, it seems likely he won't regress.        

Isaiah Wynn, OT, New England Patriots

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    David J. Phillip/Associated Press

    Things didn't look good for Isaiah Wynn in New England. 

    The Patriots selected Wynn the 23rd pick in the 2018 draft, and the 24-year-old missed his rookie campaign after tearing his ACL that preseason. He only played eight games as a sophomore after dealing with a turf toe at the start of that year. 

    Over those eight games in 2019, Wynn mustered a 69.9 grade at PFF, coughing up two sacks and three penalties over just 502 snaps. 

    Wynn hasn't been without injury issues in 2020 either. But before battling a knee injury, he played 90 percent of the team's offensive snaps as an ironclad starter over 10 games and only had two penalties and allowed three sacks, good for an 82.6 PFF grade. 

    It's clear Wynn is on the developmental upswing despite his sporadic attendance sheet, proving everyone can put away their whispers about his possible bust status assuming he can eventually stay healthy.