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Sports Illustrated
Sports Illustrated
Gilberto Manzano

The Five Most Likely First-Round Draft Busts in the NFC

Quarterback Bryce Young might be one of the rare No. 1 picks that didn’t land with a team that’s surrounded by uncertainty.

The Panthers are returning their entire offensive line from a year ago and have a handful of promising players on defense. The organization also added stability with the hiring of Frank Reich and his star-studded coaching staff.

Young’s arrival could be the final piece to get the Panthers back into the postseason for the first time since 2017. But Carolina was never your typical No. 1 team in the draft—they traded their No. 9 pick to the Bears for the right to select Young.

Had the Bears remained in the No. 1 spot, they would have certainly fit the description of a team picking first in the draft, mainly because of their struggles in the trenches. Not every first-round pick has the benefit of landing on a team with very few holes on the roster.

Team surroundings play a big role in whether a draft pick becomes a star or a bust. Young landed in an ideal situation, but other first-round picks might not have that luxury.

Here’s a look at five rookies from the NFC who might be considered draft busts in a few years.

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1. Paris Johnson Jr., OT, Cardinals, No. 6

The Cardinals are considering starting Johnson at guard this season, as they’re content with the play of left tackle D.J. Humphries and right tackle Kelvin Beachum. It’s often a benefit to have an offensive lineman who can play outside and inside, but it’s strange the Cardinals traded back into the top 10 just to have Johnson play guard. Not allowing Johnson to get acclimated as a tackle might backfire when it’s time for him to make the switch—which might not occur at left tackle because Humphries, 29, is a standout player. There’s always the option of trading Humphries for a draft pick or having Johnson replace Beachum at right tackle, but either way, the Cardinals are overthinking this. It might end up becoming their latest blunder as an organization if Johnson struggles to find his footing in the NFL. 

2. Jahmyr Gibbs, RB, Lions, No. 12

Expectations are high for Gibbs to develop into a dynamic three-down back, especially after the Lions surprisingly drafted him in the first round (and traded D’Andre Swift to the Eagles). But Gibbs, who stands 5'9" and weighs 199 pounds, doesn’t have the size to be a dominant workhorse such as Bijan Robinson; he will need to share carries with David Montgomery in the backfield. Gibbs will also have added pressure to contribute out of the backfield immediately after wide receiver Jameson Williams was suspended six games for violating the league’s gambling policy. Gibbs could turn out to be the next Austin Ekeler, but the Chargers didn’t put this kind of mental weight on their undrafted running back right off the bat.

3. Lukas Van Ness, DL, Packers, No. 13

Van Ness measures in at 6’5”, 272 pounds.

This one has the highest odds of being highlighted on the Freezing Cold Takes Twitter account in a few years, because Van Ness is a powerful defensive lineman who can play in a variety of schemes and fronts. He does, however, rely heavily on his strength, and he needs to add more pass-rushing moves to get by the league’s best tackles. Van Ness is a raw prospect who played only two seasons at Iowa, and he now might get buried on the Packers’ depth chart playing behind Preston Smith and Rashan Gary. Perhaps Green Bay will find snaps for Van Ness as an interior pass rusher, as he has the size and strength to flourish in that role. Nonetheless, the team will need to find the right developmental plan for their intriguing first-round pick.

4. Emmanuel Forbes, CB, Commanders, No. 16

Forbes was chosen ahead of other cornerbacks such as Christian Gonzalez, Deonte Banks and Joey Porter Jr., which placed plenty of pressure on the Mississippi State product to deliver in Washington. Forbes displayed exceptional instincts and ball skills during three collegiate seasons, with 35 passes defended and 14 interceptions. But those traits might not translate at the next level, considering Forbes lacks strength and size (6'1", 166 pounds). Playing freely might not be an option for Forbes if he’s covering physical wideouts such as CeeDee Lamb and A.J. Brown during NFC East matchups.

5. Bryan Bresee, DL, Saints, No. 29

The Saints are banking on Bresee staying healthy in the NFL after he missed many games due to injury the past two seasons at Clemson. Outside of injury, Bresee needs to improve as a pass rusher, and he struggled with breaking through blocks in college. He didn’t fill the stat sheet at Clemson, but he did flash at times due to his rare athleticism for his massive frame (6'5½", 298 pounds). Bresee, the nation’s top recruit out of high school, has the traits to develop into a complete interior defensive lineman, but his medical history makes this a big if. 

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