clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

6 NFL sophomores trying to avoid the bust label

New, comments

Some players need more time to develop than others, and a few first-round picks in last year's draft class could be primed for that second-year leap.

If you buy something from an SB Nation link, Vox Media may earn a commission. See our ethics statement.

NFL: Kansas City Chiefs at San Diego Chargers Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

With the 2016 NFL Draft behind us and organized team activities starting, fans are naturally excited to see their new first-round picks in action. There will be a big rush to judge these players based on how they perform in their rookie year, but not every pick is an instant hit or bust after one season.

It's been just one year, but the 2015 draft is already looking like a winner, at least in the first round. The top two picks (Jameis Winston, Marcus Mariota) showed immense promise, while Todd Gurley, Marcus Peters and Amari Cooper became immediate stars. But forget about the success stories. What about the players who didn't quite live up to their hype?

Of course, a bad rookie year doesn't always portend doom. Some players are just late bloomers and may need a year or two to adjust to the NFL level before they start fulfilling their potential. Blake Bortles had a miserable first season in 2014, only to come back the next year to throw for 4,428 yards and 35 touchdowns, looking much more like the franchise quarterback the Jacksonville Jaguars thought they were getting at No. 3 overall. Demaryius Thomas' first two seasons were plagued by injury and inconsistency, and it wasn't until his third season with the Denver Broncos in 2012 that he truly emerged as an elite wide receiver.

So let's take a look at some 2015 first-round picks who struggled last season, but have a good chance of bouncing back this year and solidifying their spot in the NFL. (Note: this list doesn't include players like Dante Fowler, Kevin White or Breshad Perriman who had their seasons wiped out by injuries.)

Danny Shelton, DT, Cleveland Browns

Why he was disappointing: Shelton is a mountain of a man, weighing in at 339 pounds at the 2015 NFL Combine. His big selling point was that he's a massive defensive tackle who can also rush the passer, recording nine sacks in his final year at the University of Washington. Unfortunately, Shelton didn't give the Browns much production out of the nose tackle spot, with zero sacks and just 36 tackles on 506 snaps.

Reasons for optimism: The Browns' new coaching staff put Shelton on a weight-reduction plan and he says he lost 15 pounds. Playing lighter could help Shelton stay on the field more often, and perhaps unlock the pass-rushing ability that was absent in his rookie year.

Melvin Gordon, RB, San Diego Chargers

Why he was disappointing: Gordon's rookie year was a nightmare from beginning to end. He was the second running back drafted after Todd Gurley, but Gordon never came close to matching Gurley's production. He finished the season with just 641 rushing yards and 3.5 yards per attempt, failing to score a single touchdown. Gordon failed to establish himself as an every-down runner, losing passing-down snaps to Danny Woodhead. To compound matters, he went on injured reserved after Week 15 and he had microfracture surgery in January.

Reasons for optimism: Microfracture surgery is one of the hardest injuries for a pro athlete to recover from. Just the potential of microfracture surgery years down the line sent Myles Jack's draft stock plummeting this spring. That said, Gordon is practicing without limitations in minicamps and is expected to participate in training camp. If he's able to recover from the surgery without setbacks, Gordon has nowhere to go but up behind an improved Chargers' offensive line.

Gordon himself admits he has room to improve, telling the Chargers' website that his first year was a nightmare. "It was terrible. I was terrible."

"You can’t dwell on last year," he added. "It’s a new season and you have to get past it. But there are things I didn’t know as a rookie that I know now. There are things that you can only learn from playing the game. I understand the game better now. I wish I knew last year what guys who have been in the league for four or five years know. I have a better understanding now, and that will grow."

Cameron Erving, C, Cleveland Browns

Why he was disappointing: Erving played center in his senior year at Florida State, but with Alex Mack entrenched at the position, the Browns tried him out at guard in his rookie season. The transition didn't go smoothly -- Erving was a huge liability at both guard positions, grading out 80th out of all guards on Pro Football Focus.

Reasons for optimism: With Mack now with the Atlanta Falcons, Erving is moving back to his more natural center position. He's not guaranteed a starting job yet, as new head coach Hue Jackson hinted to the Cleveland Plain Dealer:

"I think, obviously, Cam has some ability and some characteristics that we love and we're going to continue to coach him and get him better. ... I think it's way too early to worry about those things but I think all of our players understand, to be a part of this organization, this football team, you've got to compete and you've got to become the best that you can become at your position."

Erving has an uphill battle with a new coaching regime that didn't draft him, but the Browns didn't add much competition at the center position this offseason, so he could get the first crack at replacing Mack in training camp. His rookie year could become a minor footnote before all is said and done.

Nelson Agholor, WR, Philadelphia Eagles

Why he was disappointing: Hopes were high for Agholor, having landed in Chip Kelly's high-octane offense and without a lot of competition for targets behind Jordan Matthews. However, the Eagles completely unraveled and the offense never found an identity, leaving Agholor twisting in the wind. A midseason ankle injury didn't help matters, but Agholor's rookie year was utterly forgettable, with just 23 catches, 283 yards and a touchdown on 44 targets.

Reasons for optimism: Despite the disappointing statline, Agholor played heavy snaps as a starter, and new head coach Doug Pederson confirmed that he'll continue to hold a starting job next to Matthews:

If nothing else, Agholor will have every opportunity to succeed. He still has big-time upside and could realize it this season, whether it's Carson Wentz or Sam Bradford throwing him the ball.

D.J. Humphries, OL, Arizona Cardinals

Why he was disappointing: This might be cheating a little, since it's hard to be disappointing if you never even play. However, Humphries entered the league so raw that the Cardinals decided to give him a straight-up redshirt year. Not even injuries to the offensive line would sway head coach Bruce Arians, who made Humphries inactive for the entire season.

Reasons for optimism: Well, a year of pure development can only do good for a young player. And with Bobby Massie leaving in free agency, Humphries has the inside track for the starting right tackle job. Arians said in January that he believes Humphries is ready to start, while tacitly admitting that he played some mind games with the rookie. "The last half of the season, I'd have had no problems playing him," he said. "I wouldn't tell him that, but I had a ton of confidence in him."

The jury is still out on him since we've never seen him play in the NFL, but the Cardinals' patience should be commended here. Humphries is a big name to watch during Arizona's training camp.

Phillip Dorsett, WR, Indianapolis Colts

Why he was disappointing: The Colts surprised some by taking Dorsett in the first round, but his rookie year won't be remembered fondly. He did miss some time with a midseason ankle injury, but Dorsett was nearly a non-factor in 2015, recording just 18 catches for 225 yards and one touchdown. He saw just 39 targets even with veteran Andre Johnson disintegrating and T.Y. Hilton playing through nagging injuries.

Reasons for optimism: Johnson was cut, which is a start. The Colts also didn't add any obvious competition in free agency or the draft, leaving Dorsett as the main slot receiver behind Hilton and Donte Moncrief. Finally, franchise quarterback Andrew Luck will be fully healthy again, giving the offense some much-needed stability under center. Indianapolis' entire wideout group should see a boost with Luck back, Dorsett included.