7 NFL Players Who Could Shed the 'Bust' Label in 2022

Ian Wharton@NFLFilmStudyFeatured Columnist IVMay 19, 2022

7 NFL Players Who Could Shed the 'Bust' Label in 2022

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    Bill Kostroun/Associated Press

    The NFL draft is a thrilling event filled with optimism for teams, players and fans alike. Some future stars were an obvious Round 1 pick, whereas others emerged after being selected on Day 2 or Day 3. However, as years go by, some players earn the unfortunate "bust" label after failing to meet expectations.

    Prospects selected in the first two rounds are expected to be difference-making starters within their first few seasons in the league. However, sometimes the transition doesn't go as planned.

    Players typically earn the bust label after failing to establish themselves as a valuable starter by the end of Year 2. This could be due to injuries, being a poor scheme fit, taking longer to develop than expected, or not possessing a proper skill set.

    After seeing all of the major transactions, coaching changes, and the 2022 NFL draft play out, we've identified seven players who could shed the dreaded bust label this season. Each of these players was a first or second-round pick since 2018 and has yet to earn a second, multi-year contract.

    Whether their inclusion is due to providing flashes of improvement, getting healthy, or benefitting from an improved environment, these seven players are in the best situation of their careers in 2022 and could completely flip their career narrative.

Terrell Edmunds, S, Pittsburgh Steelers

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    Nick Wass/Associated Press

    As the 28th overall selection in the 2018 NFL draft, Terrell Edmunds was supposed to be the needed injection of athleticism and versatility that Pittsburgh had lacked in the back end of their secondary. Edmunds had produced 196 total tackles, 8.5 tackles for loss, six interceptions, and 14 pass breakups in three years at Virginia Tech. His combine was headlined by an excellent 4.47 40-yard dash time.

    Despite the impressive straight-line speed, Edmunds has failed to show the ability to react quickly in coverage for the Steelers. His struggles anticipating routes and recognizing passing concepts pigeonholed him to being a box safety throughout his rookie contract. As impressive as his 2019 season total of 105 total tackles was, he failed to register an interception and had just three pass breakups.

    Since Pittsburgh acquired a true single-high safety in Minkah Fitzpatrick midway through the 2019 season, Edmunds has been put in a better, more refined role.

    He picked off four throws and broke up 14 passes in the last two years. However, the Steelers still declined his fifth-year option in the spring of 2021 and re-signed him to a modest one-year, $2.5 million deal this offseason.

    Some of Edmunds' issues won't be resolved by the Steelers' moves this offseason, but he's in the best position to continue building on the momentum he's gained over the past two years.

    Pittsburgh added Myles Jack to their linebacker unit and former Miami Dolphins head coach Brian Flores as a linebacker coach. Jack will be an upgrade over Joe Schobert in coverage assignments considering Schobert's lack of mobility, which means Edmunds should be free to roam underneath instead of providing help in zone coverage.=

    Flores' role may not be working with Edmunds directly, but linebackers certainly affect how safeties operate. Flores has gotten the most out of a similar player to Edmunds in Eric Rowe, so it wouldn't be surprising to see the Steelers adjust their scheme to feature Edmonds in more advantageous positions.

    The Pro Bowl might be too ambitious for Edmunds' future, but he can prove he's a long-term starter in 2022. Look for more ball production and impact plays as the indicator that he's fully shed the bust label.

Isaiah Oliver, CB, Atlanta Falcons

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    Reed Hoffmann/Associated Press

    A position change can make all the difference in the world when a player's skill set and mindset fits better elsewhere. That was the case for Atlanta Falcons 2018 second-round pick Isaiah Oliver. After spending time as a boundary cornerback in his first three seasons, the Falcons were left wanting more playmaking from the 6-foot, 210-pounder.

    Oliver had produced just one interception and 24 pass breakups in 46 games until 2021. New Falcons defensive coordinator Dean Pees decided to try him in the slot in 2021. The results in just four games were encouraging enough for the Falcons to re-sign Oliver to a one-year deal despite missing 13 games following a season-ending knee injury.

    Atlanta clearly liked that Oliver produced 11 tackles and three pass breakups in his four games. Oliver has always been tenacious against the run, totaling 132 tackles between 2019-20. The combination of aggressive run support, length, and surprising quickness for his size makes him a great slot prospect.

    He'll return to that role after the Falcons added free-agent corner Casey Hayward this offseason. With Hayward and A.J. Terrell, the biggest thing that can hold Oliver back is his health. Otherwise, he's in an excellent position to increase his value in 2022.

Austin Jackson, OL, Miami Dolphins

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    Mark LoMoglio/Associated Press

    The Miami Dolphins' 2020 draft haul will go down as either disastrous or excellent in the coming 12 months. Their three first-round picks resulted in quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, offensive lineman Austin Jackson, and cornerback Noah Igbinoghene. So far, Jackson only became playable after moving from tackle to left guard, and Igbinoghene has barely seen the field.

    The Dolphins worked hard to overhaul their offense this offseason. Head coach Mike McDaniel brought in left tackle Terron Armstead and left guard Connor Williams to lock down Tagovailoa's front side. That leaves Jackson, Robert Hunt, and Liam Eichenberg to fill out the right side of the line.

    Jackson is especially intriguing because of his athleticism and the importance of raw talent in McDaniel's zone-running scheme. He played right tackle early in his career at USC and in high school, so the transition may not be as difficult for him as other left tackle converts. 

    The 23-year-old has graded well below average through his first two years. Per PFF, his rookie season featured five penalties and four sacks allowed in 848 snaps. His 2021 season was even worse with 12 penalties, but he allowed just two sacks in 1,096 snaps.

    The narrative can change if McDaniel and his staff can help save Jackson's career like the 49ers did with Laken Tomlinson. When Tomlinson arrived in San Francisco, McDaniel and Kyle Shanahan helped overhaul the former first-round bust's technique, and he turned into a reliable contributor. He just cashed in with the New York Jets in free agency with a three-year, $40 million deal.

    All Jackson needs to be is solid like Tomlinson, and he too will earn a massive payday soon. If not, his legacy as a first-round bust will be all but locked in.

Daniel Jones, QB, New York Giants

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    Evaluating young quarterbacks on bad teams can be extremely hard. While Daniel Jones has had his fair share of concerning moments that go beyond tough circumstances, the New York Giants have also failed him over the last three years. The Giants' decision to hire Brian Daboll could save Jones' career.

    Former head coach Joe Judge and general manager Dave Gettleman were absolute disasters for the organization. They struggled to add talent to the roster and couldn't put together a sensible scheme for Jones. A slew of constant injuries to the offensive line and receiving corps around Jones further hindered his development.

    Some of the issues were on Jones directly. He was never an overly accurate or safe passer while at Duke and probably should not have been drafted No. 6 overall in the 2019 class. Gettleman banked on the occasional big play and solid deep passing prowess of Jones and overlooked skittishness in the pocket and the penchant for turnovers.

    Expect Jones to have much more going in his favor under Daboll. The Giants finally made it a point to protect Jones this offseason after they ranked 28th in pass block win rate. Seventh overall pick Evan Neal and free-agent pickup Mark Glowinski are immediate upgrades on the right side of the line.

    Daboll was the architect of Buffalo's devastating offense with Josh Allen. While Jones isn't as talented or athletic as Allen, he can get outside of the pocket and deliver off-platform throws. This may be the season he doesn't have too much put on his plate.

    New York has a solid receiving corps that is five deep as long as they can stay healthy. This team can't afford another underwhelming season from Kenny Golladay or injuries to Darius Slayton, Kadarius Toney, and Sterling Shepard. Second-round rookie Wan'Dale Robinson could also be a fun gadget player. And if Saquon Barkley can stay on the field, that should only help Jones.

    The signal-caller had his fifth-year option declined by the team, meaning this regime needs to see solid growth and results fast. There's pressure, but Jones has enough of a skill set to become average or slightly better. That may be enough to avoid the bust label and buy him more time.

Clelin Ferrell, DL, Las Vegas Raiders

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    Ethan Miller/Getty Images

    The 2019 draft class has had its fair share of hits and misses, but no player has caught more criticism than Clelin Ferrell. The fourth overall pick was selected by Mike Mayock, who was obsessed with taking experienced players from the biggest collegiate programs. In theory, that's not a bad preference, but he overlooked better pass rushers like Josh Allen, Ed Oliver, Rashan Gary, Brian Burns and Jeffery Simmons to take Ferrell.

    Ferrell has never been a high-level producer despite being handed a significant role in his first two seasons. He's accumulated just 79 tackles and eight sacks in 42 games and 26 starts. It's clear a star-level breakout is unlikely, but he can still shed the bust label.

    A new coaching staff can go a long way. New head coach Josh McDaniels has made it a point to say that Ferrell has a "clean slate." It'll also help if new defensive coordinator Patrick Graham uses Ferrell as more than a base defensive end like Gus Bradley did.

    Ferrell is less of a bendy, athletic edge and more of a run-defending undersized tackle or 3-4 end. He's strong at the point of attack and quite good at winning with leverage. His playstyle won't produce more than a handful of sacks a year, but he can be an early-down run stopper with some pass-rush upside in a platoon. 

    There are plenty of edge defenders who have made a lot of money and enjoyed long careers with that same description. Watch for Ferrell to gain some footing in that direction in the final year of his rookie deal.

Jeff Gladney, CB, Arizona Cardinals

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    Duane Burleson/Associated Press

    Seeing a first-round pick released after just one season is extraordinarily rare. Even bad players get a shot to return as a sophomore and prove their rookie year was a fluke. But for the Minnesota Vikings, domestic abuse allegations brought against Jeff Gladney by a former girlfriend led to them deciding to cut ties.

    Gladney missed the 2021 season but was found not guilty of felony assault this past March. Arizona, desperately needing youth and talent in its secondary, signed him to a two-year, $6.5 million deal after the decision. Cardinals director of player personnel Dru Grigson told the Big Red Rage radio show (h/t Alex Sutton of CardsWire) that the team was "getting a starter in our building without having to waste any draft capital."

    Gladney is an aggressive corner in the run game, but his 5'10" frame made him limited in coverage. He registered 81 tackles (seven for loss) in 2020 but only three pass breakups in 16 games. He'll have to show more playmaking chops to solidify his starting role. 

    Nonetheless, he's a better fit in Arizona's zone-based scheme, which got the most out of a group that few expected to be as good as they were in 2021. Expect Gladney to see a similar boost in production.

Parris Campbell, WR, Indianapolis Colts

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    AJ Mast/Associated Press

    It's gutting to see any young player deal with repeated major injuries. This is especially the case when the talent is so exciting that everyone can see the Pro Bowl potential. There's not a more fitting player from recent draft classes than Indianapolis Colts receiver Parris Campbell. 

    Campbell was taken 59th overall out of Ohio State after recording 1,063 receiving yards and 12 touchdowns as a senior. He verified his explosiveness by posting a 4.31 40-yard dash at 205 pounds. But to this point, he has just 360 career receiving yards and two touchdowns.

    His list of injuries casts doubt as to whether he's still the same athlete. 

    He missed nine games as a rookie with an abdominal injury, a fractured hand and a broken foot. In 2020, he suffered a concussion during the offseason, then an MCL and PCL injury in Week 2 that ended his season. This past season, he missed a game for an abdominal injury and broke his foot again in Week 6 on a 51-yard touchdown catch.

    The Colts are still holding out hope Campbell can be the speedy difference-maker in a receiving corps that needs a young star next to Michael Pittman Jr. General manager Chris Ballard said they won't count on Campbell, but the flashes make him still worth still hanging onto.

    If Campbell can stay healthy, new quarterback Matt Ryan can get the most out of the wide receiver of any Colts quarterback he's played with. Campbell could be the Comeback Player of the Year if he is still that versatile and explosive talent we saw just a few years ago.

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