Every spring, hope and high expectations permeate the NFL. The annual draft serves as a reminder of this optimism for teams across the league. However, some of these picks will inevitably struggle in their first contracts and be labeled as busts.
For first-round picks, having their fifth-year option declined often solidifies this status. The following list includes two players who had their fifth-year option declined, as well as other first-round picks and a second-rounder who have yet to prove themselves as valuable starters after at least two seasons.
Fortunately, players have the potential to shed the bust label. Progression is not always a linear process; sometimes, a change in circumstances, coaching, or opportunity can allow athletes to reset, refocus, and showcase their true value and prove why everyone believed in their odds on the NFL draft.
In the 2023 season, the following players have the opportunity to shed the bust label:
Offensive Tackle Mekhi Becton, New York Jets
Throughout his NFL career, injuries have plagued Bechton, a significant factor hindering his progress. Availability is crucial; a player who cannot stay on the field will struggle to make an impact. Becton has missed nearly all but one game over the last two seasons due to knee injuries, significantly diminishing his draft value.
Despite a strong rookie campaign in 2020, the Jets declined his fifth-year option. However, there is still hope for Becton to prove his worth and become a valuable asset for the Jets’ long-term plans if he can maintain his health in 2023.
Offensive Tackle Andre Dillard, Tennessee Titans
The Philadelphia Eagles drafted Dillard with high hopes of finding a cornerstone left tackle. However, he struggled to secure a starting role due to injuries, and Jordan Mailata came in and won the job. After joining the Titans in free agency, Dillard now has an opportunity to prove himself and live up to his original draft stock.
With the team rebuilding its offensive line, Dillard could become a valuable starter given the right circumstances and coaching.
Quarterback Trey Lance, San Francisco 49ers
There is no bigger quarterback mystery than Lance. While some may consider him a bust, others argue he has faced bad luck and circumstances. Injuries and limited playing time have hindered his ability to showcase his skills. With the emergence of Brock Purdy and the addition of Sam Darnold, Lance’s future in San Francisco is uncertain.
However, if given the opportunity, Lance has the potential to prove his worth and demonstrate his abilities in a quarterback-friendly system surrounded by talented players. He just needs the reps and someone to believe in him, including himself.
Wide Receiver Terrace Marshall Jr., Carolina Panthers
The talented LSU wideout was overshadowed by his college teammates, Ja’Marr Chase and Justin Jefferson, who went on to become first-round picks and NFL superstars. Despite showing flashes of potential, Marshall has yet to break out in the Panthers’ passing attack. However, with the departure of key wide receivers like D.J. Moore, Marshall now has a chance to step up and fill a more significant role in the offense.
With new coach Frank Reich putting a new plan in place, Marshall could emerge as a primary threat, especially in the red zone.