10 former top NFL picks running out of chances
The NFL preseason begins in earnest this week with 30 teams set to get the first look at their 2018 rosters in game action. It’s a time for established stars to skate and hotshot rookies to shine.
But August could also be the final opportunity for once notable draft picks to make a final case that their original team should consider reinvesting rather than divesting. Here are 10 players with a lot to gain — or lose — this month and beyond.
Giants CB Eli Apple: No other way to stay it — he was a bad Apple in 2017, deemed a “cancer” by teammate Landon Collins and ultimately suspended by the club. Despite speculation about an offseason divorce, Apple was ultimately granted a fresh start by New York’s new brain trust. Now it’s up to him to prove he can hold down the starting post opposite No. 1 corner Janoris Jenkins.
49ers DL Arik Armstead: Drafted 17th overall in 2015, he was supposed to be the initial cornerstone for a line that added first rounders DeForest Buckner and Solomon Thomas in the next two drafts. But injuries and philosophical shifts have kept Armstead, who has six sacks in 30 games, from finding a groove. The Niners picked up his option for 2019 but must weigh his future and that of 2014 first-round DB Jimmie Ward among other needs.
Patriots DL Malcom Brown: Maybe he’s not the second coming of Vince Wilfork, but the 6-2, 320-pounder has been a reliable presence. Nevertheless, New England declined Brown’s fifth-year option, though its $7.2 million price tag is half of what it might cost to franchise him in 2019. Interestingly, the Patriots have two more 2015 first rounders on the roster, WR Phillip Dorsett and DL Danny Shelton, after trades with the Colts and Browns, respectively.
Bengals CB Darqueze Dennard: A Round 1 draft pick in 2014, he’s only earned 10 starts, owns just three interceptions and has fallen behind fellow first rounders Dre Kirkpatrick and William Jackson. Nickelbacks are important, and Dennard may finally be blossoming into a good one. But he will need a strong season to stick around — especially since extensions for DL Geno Atkins and Carlos Dunlap seem a higher priority — and earn anything close next year to the $8.5 million he’s set to take home in 2018, the end of his rookie pact.
Jaguars DE Dante Fowler: The high point of his career was being drafted third overall in 2015. Since then, Fowler has started once — he missed his rookie year with a knee injury — collected a modest 12 sacks in 32 appearances and fallen into a rotational role on a talented front. He’s already landed on the PUP list this summer and been suspended for Week 1. Hardly ideal for a player already unlikely to stick in Jacksonville — Fowler’s fifth-year option was declined — but one who needs to perform at a high level to fetch a nice second contract or maybe even force the Jags to consider a tag or trade.
Cowboys DE Randy Gregory: Dallas brass believed the risk was worth the reward in 2015 when the gifted but troubled pass rusher tumbled to the bottom of the second round. Thus far, Gregory has proved little more than a cautionary draft tale, with more suspensions to his name than sacks (one in 14 games). Now reinstated, Gregory —assuming he can keep his demons at bay — could become an X-factor with DE Demarcus Lawrence likely to draw double teams.
Bills DE Shaq Lawson: Since being taken with the 19th pick of the 2016 draft, he’s played out of position, fought injuries and battled his weight. He needs to show more in Year 2 under Sean McDermott, whose scheme should suit Lawson better than Rex Ryan’s did two years ago and enable him to register more sacks than last year’s meager team-leading total of four.
Broncos OLB Shane Ray: NFL teams value few traits more than the ability to pressure the passer. Ray has that skill, notching eight sacks in 2016. But wrist issues (and a surgery) have limited the 2015 first rounder over the past year. Also, lining up opposite Von Miller, Ray should probably have made a bigger impact than he has (13 career sacks). He ought to have plenty of prime opportunities in 2018, playing with Miller and rookie Bradley Chubb on passing downs, to make Denver pay — literally — for declining his option.
Bears WR Kevin White: It’s been a rocky road for the seventh pick of the 2015 draft. White has landed on injured reserve every season, including his entire rookie year, and missed 43 of a possible 48 NFL games. Maybe it will be a boon having a clean slate under new coach Matt Nagy, however White is fighting for reps alongside Allen Robinson and Taylor Gabriel — both handpicked in free agency — and second-round pick Anthony Miller. Seems like long odds for a guy with 21 career catches and limited experience in a pro-style offense.
Buccaneers QB Jameis Winston : Tampa Bay picked up his option for 2019, but that was before Winston was slapped with a three-game suspension for his latest serious lapse in judgment. With 59 turnovers in three seasons, his decision making on the field also leaves something to be desired. GM Jason Licht rolled the dice by drafting Winston No. 1 overall in 2015, and it would be yet another gamble to potentially give up on a potential franchise quarterback given their scarcity. But can the Bucs trust Winston enough to give him a nine-figure contract? Or could he find himself in a situation similar to Robert Griffin III’s in Washington, where he fails to regain his job and finds himself a healthy scratch all year before being discarded? It’s the biggest dilemma for a regime also trying to discern if DE Noah Spence and CB Vernon Hargreaves will pan out.