2014's biggest busts
3:36 | NFL
2014's biggest busts
Tuesday December 23rd, 2014

“You want to be playing meaningful games,” New Orleans coach Sean Payton said in his press conference Monday. “It drives you and there’s nothing like winning, that feeling of being successful and having a chance to get in the tournament and play for something. The finality of not accomplishing that … there’s disappointment.”

Not everyone on our list of 2014 underachievers will be home for the playoffs. Many will, and they’ll spend the offseason looking in the mirror trying to figure out what went wrong.

The All-Disappointment Team is a mix of high-priced flops, disappointing rookies and promising talents unable to hit their stride. In all cases, there is one common thread: They failed to get the job done in 2014.

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Quarterback: Jay Cutler, Bears
Second team: Geno Smith, Jets and EJ Manuel, Bills

Cutler posted impressive numbers in 2014 (he actually has a career-high in TD passes: 28), but the ramifications of his rather nonchalant descent into ineptitude could spark a franchise-wide rebuild. While Chicago’s defense deserves more of the blame for a 5-10 record, the $126.7 million contract extension handed Cutler last offseason hangs like an albatross over the team's future.

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Priority No. 1 this offseason will be figuring out what to do with Cutler, be it trading him at a substantial loss or finding another coach who believes in the embattled QB.

Financially, the respective investments in Smith and Manuel are far less cumbersome than with Cutler. Neither, though, has shown much potential under center, likely forcing their teams back to the drawing board. Manuel lasted just four games as starter this season before being benched for Kyle Orton; Smith has been in and out of the lineup, posting a 2-10 record as starter.

Running back: Toby Gerhart, Jaguars and Doug Martin, Buccaneers
Second team: Trent Richardson, Colts

“We’re staying the course,” Tampa Bay coach Lovie Smith said in October of Martin as a No. 1 back.

At the time, Martin, again slowed by the injury bug to start the year, had 94 total yards rushing in three games. Save for a 96-yard outburst vs. Carolina, the outlook never improved much. Martin has missed five games, has fewer than 400 yards on the season and is averaging a career-low 3.4 yards per carry. His future, at best, is murky.

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Gerhart is in a similar boat despite welcoming a multitude of fantasy players onto his bandwagon in the preseason. It took Gerhart until last Sunday to match his rushing-TD total from last season (two), which he accomplished on 36 carries while backing up Adrian Peterson.

The Colts have tried to make Richardson a true threat. He responded by ceding carries to Ahmad Bradshaw, then to Boom Herron after Bradshaw suffered a season-ending injury.

Wide receiver: Eric Decker, Jets and Cordarrelle Patterson, Vikings
Second team: Justin Hunter, Titans

Decker’s arrival on a five-year, $36.25 million deal was supposed to help elevate Geno Smith’s game. Instead, Decker (predictably) scuffled without Peyton Manning, averaging a mere 52.9 yards in 14 games thus far. He may be the Jets’ No. 1 option by default, but he has not taken over at any point this season.

Patterson and Hunter were drafted five slots apart in 2013 (Patterson at No. 29; Hunter No. 34). Both are still trying to find their way. Hunter has just 46 receptions on 109 targets over two seasons, while Patterson has been almost nonexistent in Minnesota’s offense in 2014, especially during the second half of the year.

Tight end: Vernon Davis, 49ers
Second team: Eric Ebron, Lions

Arguably the offensive weapon most hindered by San Francisco’s collapse, the 30-year-old Davis needs 29 receiving yards in Week 17 to avoid his worst season ever. Rather fittingly, a 60-yard TD last Sunday vs. San Diego was wiped out by a holding penalty.

Ebron lands here because of what he cost the Lions: the No. 10 overall pick, when players like Aaron Donald and Odell Beckham Jr. were on the board. His 23 catches for 210 yards and a TD do not even approach the level of impact Detroit had in mind back at the draft.

“Did you watch him block this weekend?” said Lions coach Jim Caldwell Monday, in defense of Ebron. “He was effective, tough, hard-nosed, did a lot of good things. He might not have caught passes and run down the field, but he’s progressing.”

Perhaps. For now, he’s provided little more than Brandon Pettigrew or Joseph Fauria.

Offensive tackle: Anthony Collins, Buccaneers and Matt Kalil, Vikings
Second team: Luke Joeckel, Jaguars

Collins, he of a $30 million contract signed last March, has been inactive for several weeks now, either because of an elbow injury or subpar play, depending on who you ask. Kalil might have hit the pine, too, if Minnesota had any real options behind him -- he has allowed 12 sacks this season, more than any other tackle.

Take your pick of Joeckel or the ChiefsEric Fisher, the No. 2 and No. 1 picks, respectively, in 2013. Neither has provided the impact up front that their teams were hoping; Joeckel may be the furthest away of the two because he missed so much time to injury last season.

Guards: Davin Joseph, Rams and Mike McGlynn, Chiefs
Second team: Willie Colon, Jets

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The bar was a realistic one for Joseph and McGlynn this season, given that both were signed on the cheap in the offseason (McGlynn after he had been released by Washington). Even so, the results have been tough to swallow. A hobbled McGlynn was even benched this month for Jeff Linkenbach.

Colon is fairly limited at this point of his career -- he spent time on the PUP list in camp -- so the Jets may thank him for the 1,000-plus snaps he’s played in 2014. They’ll be less enthused about his 16 penalties (14 accepted), meaning Colon may be looking for a new home next season.

Center: Evan Dietrich-Smith, Buccaneers
Second team: Dominic Raiola, Lions

Lovie Smith tabbed Dietrich-Smith as a key member up front moving forward into 2015, which may not be the worst thing for a Buccaneers team that was disjointed all season. But Green Bay rookie Corey Linsley has been a better player in 2014. So has ex-Buc Jeremy Zuttah, now with Baltimore.

Raiola gets the nod over a few replacement-level players (Scott Wells, J.D. Walton and Jonathan Goodwin) because the Lions brought him back in large part due to a standout 2013 performance. He’s been far worse in what should be his final Detroit go-round, a slide capped by his idiotic stomp of Ego Ferguson.



Defensive end: Lamarr Houston, Bears and LaMarr Woodley, Raiders
Second team: Cam Thomas, Steelers

Capitalize that “M,” don’t capitalize that “M” … Lamarr and LaMarr both tanked after being relatively high-profile pickups. Woodley actually was supposed to help replace Houston on the Raiders’ roster. He recorded three tackles and zero sacks in six games before landing on injured reserve.

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Houston finished out the season on IR, as well, the victim of his own post-sack celebration during a blowout loss. That sack, of New England’s Jimmy Garoppolo, was the only one Houston managed in 2014.

Thomas has seen time at DE and nose tackle, struggling equally at both spots. He recently lost his end gig to rookie Stephon Tuitt.

Defensive tackle: Tyson Jackson and Paul Soliai, Falcons; Star Lotulelei, Panthers
Second team: Da’Quan Bowers, Buccaneers

“They spent $25 million on defensive tackles. I haven’t seen any improvement tonight.”

Such was Jon Gruden’s assessment of the Atlanta D-line during a Monday Night Football loss to the Packers, a game in which James Starks and Eddie Lacy combined for 148 yards rushing and two TDs. And it actually was $25 million guaranteed for Jackson and Soliai, nearly $60 million total. That’s a hefty chunk of change for two guys that, while better of late as Atlanta pushes for the playoffs, have struggled to hold the point of attack.

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Lotulelei may have been done in by his own rookie-year success. Under any microscope, however, his failure to register a sack and a meager total of 18 tackles would leave him in the disappointment category.

As for Bowers, well, it’s hard to see a light at the end of the tunnel. A multi-year bust ahead of becoming a free agent, Bowers barely held his roster spot out of camp and has been a ghost for much of the season.

Linebacker: Akeem Ayers and Shaun Phillips, Titans; Donald Butler, Chargers
Second team: Arthur Brown, Ravens

Clarification on this one: Ayers’ (and to a far lesser extent Phillips’) inclusion relates specifically to his time with Tennessee. Since the frustrated Titans unloaded him to New England for a sixth-round pick, Ayers has found his footing yet again. Phillips has not had near the same impact since joining Indianapolis, but don’t be surprised if he makes a few plays in the postseason.

Butler warrants extra scrutiny because he played the worst football of his career immediately after signing a seven-year, $51 million extension. He’s on IR now as San Diego pushes for the postseason.

Brown was a favorite of many draft analysts in 2013. He’s played in all of three games this season, often simply left off the active roster in favor of other players. Any hope of a second-year improvement vanished when rookie C.J. Mosley claimed an important role early.

Cornerback: Bradley Fletcher, Eagles and Ike Taylor, Steelers
Second team: Justin Gilbert, Browns

Circumstances have not necessarily been kind to Fletcher, often forced into No. 1 cornerback duties in spite of his obvious shortcomings. The result has been nights like Dez Bryant’s torch job of him last Sunday.

Taylor has played in five games this season (he missed the majority of the year with a broken arm). He’s been responsible for four touchdown passes against the Steelers in that limited action. At 34 and with his contract expiring after this season, Taylor’s days in Pittsburgh ought to be numbered.

Rough debut season for Gilbert, the No. 8 overall pick last May. He was lapped on the depth chart by fourth-rounder Pierre Desir and UDFA Robert Nelson.

Safety: Matt Elam, Ravens and Kenny Vaccaro, Saints
Second team: Chris Conte, Bears and Ryan Clark, Redskins

While Elam’s stock has not taken an Arthur Brown-like hit, he did deservedly see his playing time decrease over 2014. The Ravens slid him to a slot cornerback spot after injuries hammered them in the secondary.

He was still better than Vaccaro. Expected to be half of a potentially dominant 1-2 punch with free-agent signee Jairus Byrd, Vaccaro was scapegoated by the coaching staff a couple weeks back and benched. (Byrd long ago landed on injured reserve.)

The second-teamers should be, well, second-teamers at best in real life. Conte has been exposed time and again in the Bears’ secondary; Clark not only has lost a couple steps, but also has compounded his issues with horrendous angles. Chicago and Washington will waste little time looking for safety help this offseason.

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