Written by Lee Wakefield (@wakefield90 on Twitter)
For some players, their first or two year in the NFL doesn’t quite go to plan. If that’s the case for these young guys, it isn’t all lost as there’s plenty of time to bounce back. Here are four guys who I feel can go from busts to ballers in their second or third year in the league.
Corey Davis, WR, Titans
Selected 5th overall in 2017
When the Titans selected Davis and made him the first receiver off the board in a hyped class, they’ll have expected much more than 34 catches in the regular season. Top 5 picks are expected to be game changers but Davis didn’t do this at all. The Titans made the postseason anyway but it was down to the fact that the AFC wasn’t very strong, as opposed to the Titans being great.
However, Davis and the Titans had their best moments in the playoffs. Tennessee beat Kansas City in the wild card round and then in the divisional round against the Patriots, Davis had a good game with 63 yards off of 5 catches (8 targets), with 2 touchdowns.
It’s this performance again at New England that make me think that Davis can bounce back from an underwhelming rookie year and be that WR1 that the Titans need him to be.
Next year, Davis will be a year stronger, a year wiser and he should be working in a much better offense now that the Titans have Ex-Rams OC Matt LaFleur calling the plays, so look for a big leap in production in year two for the former MAC Offensive Player of the Year.
Gareon Conley, CB, Raiders
Selected 24th overall in 2017
Gareon Conley only played in one game for the Raiders in his debut season due to a mixture of injury and legal troubles. The former Buckeye will be looking to put those behind him and show everyone what he’s capable of moving forward.
Ohio State produces skilled and well coached defensive backs which is evident by how many of them are a success in the league. Conley’s college teammate, Marshon Lattimore just won Defensive Rookie of the Year and Denzel Ward was taken 4th overall in the draft and these are just two recent examples.
During his junior season at OSU, Conley got his hand on the ball and broke up the pass 8 times which was his best return. Conley also got better in this area each year, which shows that he has good potential to carry on developing in the pros. One area he really needs to develop if he’s to become a top corner is creating turnovers; Conley only recorded 2 picks at his time in college. In the ultra-competitive AFC West, the Raiders are going to face some tough offenses with some top receivers. Time to step up for Conley….
Vernon Hargreaves, CB, Buccaneers
Selected 11th overall in 2016
Vernon Hargreaves is in a position, going into year 3, where he really needs to step up and start living up to his billing as an early first round pick.
Through two years, Hargreaves has only 1 interception and has allowed a passer rating of 104.4 and 108.6 in his first and second years respectively and opposing teams seem to target him because of his struggles.
This obviously make him a burden to the Bucs but is it all his fault? I’m not sure. So the Buccaneers had a tendency to play “small” corners, their starting outside corners last year were Hargreaves and Brent Grimes, who are both around 5’10” or 5’11”. In a division with Julio Jones, Michael Thomas and even Devin Funchess, you can clearly see why small outside corners would struggle.
However this past draft, Tampa did themselves and Hargreaves a favour. They went ahead and spent 2 picks on two corners and two corners who are taller than Vernon Hargreaves. Now I’m not saying Carlton Davis and M.J. Stewart are going to be fantastic out of the gate but they will allow the Bucs to try to negate the mismatches that rivals will be trying to create with their bigger wide receivers.
I see Hargreaves moving into the slot a little bit more in the coming season and playing against players more his size which I see as a much better role for him, hence why I’m backing him to make a leap in 2018.
Shaq Lawson, Edge, Bills
Selected 19th overall in 2016
Shaq Lawson came out of Clemson off the back of a 12.5 sack season where he also had 24.5 tackles for loss. Pretty good right? Buffalo were delighted to take him in the first round but Lawson only started 1 game out of the 10 he played in, recording 2 sacks. Underwhelming, right? This was the season that Rex Ryan publicly stated he needed and expected a lot from the players the Bills took in the first 3 rounds. That was Lawson, Reggie Ragland and Adolphus Washington. Of those 3, Ragland now plays in Kansas and Washington hasn’t cracked the line up to become a full time starter yet. Not a great draft class for Buffalo.
Moving into year 2 for Lawson and he did become a starter, starting 10 of 11 games. The problem was, he only recorded 4 sacks through the year. Not what you want when you take a pass rusher in the first round.
So why do I feel Lawson can go from being a bust to a baller? Well, the talent is there for all to see, his college stats back that up. Lawson consistently took down the QB throughout his time as a Clemson Tiger. The other factor is that Rick Dennison is out and Leslie Frazier is in at Defensive Co-ordinator in Western New York, which I feel is a sizable upgrade. Bills fans will be hoping to see a big upturn in production in 2018 from the guy they’ll be looking at as their number one edge rusher. It is also now or never and Lawson really is playing for his NFL life at this upcoming season. Time to make plays or find another team.