2017 NFL draft provides cautionary tale for top-5 picks

Dec 15, 2019; Oakland, CA, USA; Jacksonville Jaguars running back Leonard Fournette (27) stands on the field before the game against the Oakland Raiders at Oakland Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Darren Yamashita-USA TODAY Sports

The NFL draft is the league’s most popular offseason event for one obvious reason: it provides every fan base, especially for teams that are struggling, with hope for a brighter future. And that hope (or maybe expectations) are highest in the top-five picks. After all, they are the blue-chip prospects.

Unfortunately, and regardless of how many hours are poured into watching film and gathering background information, the reality is at least half of the first-round picks will become busts. The worst first rounds are the ones that have early first-round busts, kind of like what’s happening with 2017’s class.

The top of 2017’s first round has been so bad that four of the players selected in the top five picks had their team decline the fifth-year option in their rookie contract. Those players include Mitchell Trubsiky (Bears, No. 2 overall), Solomon Thomas (49ers, No. 3 overall), Leonard Fournette (Jaguars, No. 4 overall), and Corey Davis (Titans, No. 5 overall).


Trubisky is the most glaring name from the bunch. He was selected before Patrick Mahomes and Deshaun Watson yet is the only one of the three who may not have a starting job in 2020. Meanwhile, Mahomes has a Super Bowl victory and league MVP on his resume and Watson doesn’t seem far behind.

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Fournette is noteworthy, too. He hasn’t necessarily been a failure on the field. Instead, it’s been more about his off-field antics that will likely lead to an untimely separation.

Fournette had a productive 2019 season when he carried the ball 265 times for 1,152 yards and caught 76 passes for 522 yards. He managed just three touchdowns with those touches, but he was a quality player for an offense that ended up relying on a sixth-round rookie quarterback for most of the season.

But when Fournette suggests the Jaguars should sign Cam Newton to be their starting quarterback? Yeah, not a great look.

“It’s no disrespect to [Gardner Minshew],” Fournette said on ESPN’s First Take. “I’m just trying to get in the best position as a team as we can [to] win.”

Fournette has clashed with Jaguars coaches and fans for several seasons now. Remember, former coach Tom Coughlin once described Fournette’s in-game actions as  “disrespectful, selfish and their behavior was unbecoming that of a professional football player” when he sat alone on the bench during the 2018 season finale.

It’s no shock Fournette is entering a lame-duck season in Jacksonville.

As for the other two? Thomas has been as big of a bust as Trubisky. He started just three games in 2019 and finished the year with two sacks. He has just six sacks through three seasons in the league. Davis has managed just one fully healthy season and has been limited to 36 starts in 48 games. In what was expected to be a breakout 2019 season, Davis finished the year with just 601 yards and two touchdowns.

So when you’re reviewing the 2020 NFL Draft’s top-five picks — Joe Burrow (Bengals), Chase Young (Redskins), Jeff Okudah (Lions), Andrew Thomas (Giants), Tua Tagovailoa (Dolphins) — think back to the 2017 class and how much excitement surrounded those picks. Don’t assume this year’s group is a sure-thing. NFL draft picks never are.

What a buzzkill.

Bryan Perez

Bryan is the founder of Pro Football Draft. His work has been featured on The Draft Network, NBC Sports and USA Today. Former CFL scout.

Follow him on Twitter: @BryanPerezNFL