Being selected high can sometimes be a curse, as some NFL rookies are about to find out after landing in terrible situations following the 2017 NFL Draft.
Take Mitch Trubisky, for example. He’s being thrust into an impossible situation after having the Chicago Bears unbelievably pull off an unnecessary trade to take him No. 2 overall. The price they paid to land him (details here) was ridiculously short-sighted, and now he’s going to face unreasonable expectations the rest of his career.
On that note, we’ll go ahead and start with Trubisky as we explore the ten NFL rookies who ended up landing on the wrong teams. Not all of these guys were selected at the top of the draft. But all of them landed in situations that aren’t conducive to success.
1. Mitch Trubisky, quarterback, Chicago Bears
When was the last time the Chicago Bears had a legitimate franchise passer?
Never mind. It hasn’t happened.
To put this into some perspective, here’s a crazy stat for you: Jay Cutler is the all-time franchise leader in passing yards and touchdowns.
The Windy City has been unkind to passers historically, and now it welcomes a kid who has just 13 starts under his belt and who, despite the organization’s insistence won’t be thrust into the starting job, will end up starting games before he’s ready.
In addition to the historical data which suggests Trubisky won’t succeed in Chicago, he’s about to play for a defensive-minded head coach in John Fox who doesn’t have any history of developing a young passer. Jake Delhomme is the closest thing to it (unless you believe in Tim Tebow and count the 2011 season), so you see where we’re coming from.
We never want to see anyone fail. But watching Trubisky this past year and then seeing him shoved to the head of the line as the “top” quarterback of the 2017 draft class, this scribe cannot help but think we’re looking at Blaine Gabbert 2.0.
2. John Ross, wide receiver, Cincinnati Bengals
There are two main reasons why Ross landing in Cincinnati rubs us the wrong way.
First off, Ross has a history of being banged up. He was reportedly being seen as a guy who might end up falling into Round 2 because of his medicals, yet Cincinnati took a flying leap with the Washington product at No. 9 overall. It’s worth pointing out that we boldly predicted Ross would be taken high in the draft, but not to the Bengals, who play in the brutal AFC North.
So, you take a small receiver (Ross is 5-foot-11, 188 pounds) who has a history of getting injured and throw him into one of the most physical divisions in the league. It could be a recipe for disaster.
On top of that, Ross will be playing second fiddle to the best receiver in the NFL today, A.J. Green. And he’ll be trying to make hay with Andy Dalton as his quarterback. Dalton has a decent arm, but by no means is he a gunslinger. He’s better throwing short and mid-range passes, and it’s hard to imagine he’ll be hitting Ross deep on a consistent basis.
We’re skeptical that Ross (who says he’d beat Usain Bolt in a footrace) will have the kind of impact for the Bengals that the franchise envisioned when it took him so high in the draft.
3. Evan Engram, tight end, New York Giants
At first glance, this move looked like it might be great for Engram and Big Blue. But after some contemplation, and after seeing who else Jerry Reese drafted, it’s clear the Giants bungled this pick, and their 2017 NFL Draft overall.
First off, the Giants continue to fail Eli Manning when it comes to protection up front. New York’s offensive line was graded as the No. 20-ranked unit at the end of the year by the folks at Pro Football Focus, and the old eyeball test tells us the same thing — Manning faces a ton of pressure on a regular basis. Yet Reese took just one offensive lineman (at the bottom of the draft), and he could have nabbed the top offensive lineman at either guard or tackle with the No. 23 overall pick.
With that out of the way, let’s focus on why Engram landed with the wrong team. In addition to the fact that he’s not going to be much help whatsoever in the running game, Engram is essentially a glorified receiver — not a tight end. At 6-foot-3 and 234 pounds, he’s a receiver posing as a tight end.
New York has been searching for a long-term answer at tight end ever since the days of Jeremy Shockey. Engram isn’t that guy, and what’s worse is he’ll have a hard time finding targets playing with the likes of Odell Beckham Jr., Sterling Shepard and veteran Brandon Marshall.
4. Marcus Maye, safety, New York Jets
In a vacuum, Maye landing with the Jets seems like a great fit. He’s a hard-hitting safety who has excellent character, is a leader and was productive player all four years at Florida.
But Maye didn’t get drafted to the Jets in a vacuum. Gang Green, before taking Maye in Round 2, selected Jamal Adams with the No. 6 overall pick of the draft. As we discussed in a bit of detail here, they drafted two strong safeties with their first two picks.
General manager Mike Maccagnan, in explaining his decision, said Maye was just too good to pass up, adding “We’re going to try to make every position as competitive as possible,” per Rich Cimini of ESPN.
Maye likely won’t start, not unless the Jets plan on moving Adams to free safety. But that wouldn’t be making the best use of his talents. He’s a strong safety in the mold of Eric Berry — a guy who is incredible at or near the line of scrimmage and who can also cover the back end. But he’s not a ball hawk.
This is the same exact description we can give to Maye. He’s one of the best safeties of the 2017 NFL Draft class, but he isn’t going to be in a position to play on a regular basis unless Adams gets hurt. It’s really too bad, because he would have a chance to start if he’d landed in another situation.
5. DeShone Kizer, quarterback, Cleveland Browns
Kizer might very well break the curse. Then again, he might just turn into one more name on the back of that darn jersey every Cleveland quarterback ends up gracing.
The Browns haven’t had a quarterback last more than four seasons as the starter since Tim Couch in the early 2000s. They haven’t had a quarterback even look like he might be the long-term answer since the days of Bernie Kosar, way back in the late 1980s and into the early 1990s.
Cleveland is where quarterabacks go do die.
At least we can say this for Kizer: He won’t face the same kind of pressure he would have if the Browns had taken him in the first round. But let’s face it, by his own account and the account of his college coach, Brian Kelly, the former Notre Dame quarterback isn’t ready for the NFL game.
Hopefully Hue Jackson can take his time (heck, we hope he has the time to take his time) with Kizer, who has the physical tools to be a successful NFL passer. But if we’re being honest, we just plain feel bad for any quarterback the Browns draft any more.
Making things worse is the Browns aren’t blessed to have a veteran they can lean on while Kizer develops. And if last year is any indication of what we can expect, Kizer will end up being thrust into action anyway during the 2017 season, because Cody Kessler is bound to get hurt.
6. Obi Melifonwu, safety, Oakland Raiders
When Oakland took Melifonwu late in Round 2 (No. 56 overall), there were two schools of thought running through our minds at the same exact time.
First, based on talent, landing Melifonwu at that point in the draft was a steal if we’re basing our thought on his status as a top-of-the-line physical freak. What this UConn product did at the combine was nothing short of awe inspiring. At 6-foot-4, 224 pounds, he ran a 4.4-second 40 and jumped out of the building, showing off world-class athleticism.
The second thought we had was, “where are the Raiders going to play him?”
And there lies the conundrum — the reason why we see Melifonwu landing in Oakland — a team that has generally struggled to draft defensive backs in recent years — as a stroke of bad luck. Let’s not forget, Oakland drafted Karl Joseph last year with the No. 14 overall pick. Joseph and Melifonwu play the same position, so we’re a bit confused why the Raiders didn’t just use their pick to take another cornerback or look to address other areas of need.
Melifonwu will used as a free safety for Oakland and will play behind Reggie Nelson until he’s ready to step into the starting lineup. But this is a guy who, despite his raw speed, is better suited to play on the strong side, which Joseph occupies, thanks to his physicality and ability to cover tight ends.
We’re not convinced this will be a marriage made in heaven.
7. JuJu Smith-Schuster, wide receiver, Pittsburgh Steelers
Of all the teams Smith-Schuster could have been drafted by, he just had to land in Pittsburgh — a team that is already loaded at the receiver position.
Heading into training camp, the USC product will almost certainly be No. 5 (at best) on the team’s depth chart behind Antonio Brown, Darrius Heyward-Bey, Eli Rodgers, Sammie Coates and newly reinstated Martavis Bryant.
Now, competition is the bedrock of success. But this just isn’t fair to a kid who could potentially start immediately for another team that actually needed receivers.
During his three-year career at USC, Smith-Schuster caught 213 passes for 3,092 yards and 25 touchdowns — 10 each his last two seasons with the Trojans. He’s a player we highlighted as one who deserved more respect than he was getting heading into the draft. Now he’ll be fighting for snaps during practice during his first campaign as a pro.
8. ArDarius Stewart, wide receiver, New York Jets
Is it really that surprising that we’re featuring two players drafted by the Jets on this list?
Mike Maccagnan hasn’t done anything to inspire confidence (aside from drafting a few defensive studs) since taking over as the general manager in New York.
Never has this been more seen than his inability to draft quarterbacks who can do anything positive. He drafted Bryce Petty (a guy who might not make the roster this summer) in 2015 and traded up in the second round for Christian Hackenberg (a guy who legitimately struggled to play catch) last year. Neither player has the makings of an NFL pro. And he abandoned the position altogether during the 2017 NFL Draft, perhaps too scared to make a move.
All this is to say that, despite Stewart being a very talented young man, he’s not going to get many chances to succeed in the Big Apple.
While the Jets had a need at receiver, Stewart will almost certainly go the way of all receivers drafted by Gang Green in recent memory. Which is to say, in a few years, nobody will be saying much of anything about him unless he ends up playing for another team that does have a quarterback.