The first round of the 2015 NFL Draft kicked off with back-to-back quarterback picks. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers selected Florida State star Jameis Winston with the top selection and expected him to be an instant hit. The Tennessee Titans followed suit by taking Marcus Mariota out of Oregon. Five years and one rookie contract later, both quarterbacks will be playing elsewhere in 2020.
With five years of data, it’s time to evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of the 2015 NFL draft class. While some teams were fortunate to land stars like Byron Jones, Marcus Peters and Amari Cooper, many NFL teams did not get great returns on their first-round investment.
Out of the top-10 picks, only Brandon Scherff is still under contract with his original team (Washington applied the franchise tag). In fact, when the 2020 NFL season begins, only Scherff, DeVante Parker, Arik Armstead, Bud Dupree, D.J. Humphires and Shaq Thompson will suit up for the teams that drafted them. Let’s take a look at the lengthy list of first-round busts from the 2015 draft class.
Jameis Winston, QB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers (1st overall)
Turnovers, turnovers, turnovers. That’s been the theme of Winston’s career ever since he entered the league as the first overall pick. As a rookie, Winston threw 15 interceptions and fumbled sick times. That would actually qualify as his best season in terms of total turnovers.
In 2016, the talented but inconsistent quarterback threw 18 picks, fumbled 10 times and watched his QBR dip to 59.7. Things have only gotten worse in recent years, culminating in an embarrassing 30-30 season—and that’s not a feat he should be proud of. Despite leading the NFL in passing yards and touchdowns, Winston watched the Buccaneers upgrade with Tom Brady. Meanwhile, he’s still searching for a job.
Marcus Mariota, QB, Tennessee Titans (2nd overall)
Unlike Winston, Mariota never had much of an issue holding on to the football. Rather, his body broke down and he constantly had to play hurt in Tennessee. Mariota’s first two seasons showed plenty of promise. He threw 19 touchdowns in 12 starts as a rookie before enjoying a breakout year in 2016. The 2014 Heisman Trophy winner displayed dazzling dual-threat capabilities by throwing for 3,426 yards and 26 touchdowns while adding another 349 rushing yards and two TDs on the ground.
It all went downhill from there. Mariota never managed to stay healthy and appeared tentative when he was on the field. Though he did start two games in the 2017 postseason, he never took the next step in his development. Last season, he got benched in favor of Ryan Tannehill. Of course, the former Miami Dolphin went on to earn the NFL’s Comeback Player of the Year award while leading the Titans to the AFC Championship. Ironically, the Titans broke the bank to keep Tannehill around. Mariota signed with the Raiders and will look to resurrect his career.
Kevin White, WR, Chicago Bears (7th overall)
It’s difficult to blame a player’s ineffectiveness on injuries, but there’s no other way to explain Kevin White’s disappointing tenure in Chicago. A freak athlete who hoped to shed the one-year wonder tag, White ended up being the second receiver taken. And while the Raiders didn’t get the best ball out of Amari Cooper, he’s more than made up for it in Dallas.
On the other hand, White missed his entire rookie year due to a stress fracture in his shin. He returned in 2016 and played just four games before fracturing his fibula. A fractured left shoulder blade ended his 2017 season after just four catches in nine games. In total, White managed just 25 receptions for 285 yards in 14 games played.
Cameron Erving, C, Cleveland Browns (19th overall)
Offensive linemen are viewed as “safe” first-round picks. And considering some of their all-time draft whiffs, the Cleveland Browns appeared smart for taking Cameron Erving with the 19th overall pick. A versatile and durable performer at Florida State, he dominated collegiate competition at both tackle and center.
Erving never managed to hone his technique in Cleveland and he started just four games as a rookie. He played both tackle and center in his second season, but the Browns shipped him to the Chiefs in exchange for a fifth-round pick. Erving has managed to resurrect his career in Kansas City, yet he still stands out as one of the major flops in the Browns’ embarrassing draft history.
Shane Ray, DE, Denver Broncos (23rd overall)
Expected to form a dynamic duo with Von Miller, Shane Ray never translated his college success to the NFL. As a hybrid defensive end/outside linebacker, his top skill was getting after the quarterback. After all, he was named a unanimous All-American in his final season at Missouri after racking up 14.5 sacks and 22.5 tackles for loss.
Like many other first-round busts from the 2015 NFL draft, injuries played a major factor in Ray’s disappointing career. His wrist was so problematic that it required four surgeries. Ray did record eight sacks in eight starts in 2016, but he managed just two over the next two seasons and never earned a second contract with the Broncos.
Stephone Anthony, LB, New Orleans Saints (31st overall)
The penultimate pick of the first round, Stephone Anthony actually made an instant impact as a rookie. The former Clemson standout started all 16 games and led the Saints with 112 tackles. But as quickly as Anthony started, the quicker he finished.
He started just three games in 2016 and was relegated to special teams duties. New Orleans traded Anthony to Miami for a fifth-round pick at the beginning of the 2017 season. After two seasons with the Dolphins, Anthony actually re-signed with the Saints. Still, his lone productive season doesn’t make up for the fact that he was a total NFL draft bust.