While I have high hopes for every prospect, the chance that some may fail while others succeed well beyond their scouting report's ceiling adds drama to the draft. But to me the question is always, "Who could be the hidden gem?" rather than "Which of these guys will go down in flames?" I've been familiarizing myself with the big names at the top of the draft for weeks and wish them a successful career.
I suppose that's why I'm so intrigued by draft busts. These are guys who I believed in. A lot of people believed in them. General managers put their jobs on the line to select them. Fans invested in the idea that these players are the future of the franchise. These guys have proven something somewhere along the way to get to where they are. And then a few years down the road, hope has succumbed to disappointment, excitement has morphed to anxiety, and welcoming fanbases have turned angry. How does it all go wrong?
The Injury BugSome of these busts are not to blame. It's that pesky injury bug who won't leave them alone. Ki-Jana Carter immediately comes to mind. The number one overall pick blew out his knee in the preseason of his rookie year, and it was lights out for his career; he never fully recovered. The injury bug busts are by far the most pitiable.
The Workout WarriorSome guys were never really thought of as a great prospect--until the combine, that is. Then they put on a show and flew up the draft boards to a bloated ranking. Once at the professional level, the balloon is burst and they show that they may be physical freaks, but they can't keep up with the football talent around them. Mike Mamula is Exhibit A. He trained for the combine and came away with unbelievable numbers. The Eagles traded up to snatch him, passing on both Warren Sapp and Derrick Brooks in the process. He finished his career with 31.5 sacks. It wasn't awful, but he became the poster child for the Workout Warrior.
The OverreachThe scouts agree: this player is a late first-rounder, early second-rounder. But what's this? He gets his name called at #7? What is going on here? Poor Kiper and Mayock are left scrambling to explain this pick, but the fact of the matter is, [insert your team here] just fell in love with this kid and couldn't risk losing him by waiting until next round. Now the expectations are sky high, as is the eventual fall. Darrius Heyward-Bey comes to mind here. Heyward-Bey was a speedy receiver, and that was enough for Al Davis. It wasn't, unfortunately, enough for his career. Was he decent as a first-round pick? Maybe. He is still kicking around the league, after all. But the expectations set with his draft position turned him into a bust. Christian Ponder has fallen into this category, and E.J. Manuel is dangerously close to the edge.
The Character IssuesSome guys just can't stay on the field, but it has little to do with injuries. In these cases, talent trumped red flags during the draft, but the issues ended up weighing far more in the end. Lawrence Phillips and Johnny Manziel both fit the bill here. Phillips had far more character concerns coming out of college than Manziel, and he managed to live up to about all of them. His sad story ended in prison, where he passed away last year. Johnny Manziel just managed to party his way of the league. Always the hopeful one, I really do hope that he gets his life together, even if his future doesn't hold the NFL.
The Gilded BoyAnd sometimes, the Can't-Miss Prospects just miss horribly. I don't have an explanation for this, but the laundry list is long: Andre Ware, Tony Mandarich, Todd Marinovich, Rick Mirer, Heath Shuler, Tim Couch, Akili Smith, Cade McNown (what was wrong with that 1999 QB class?), Vince Young, Matt Leinart, Jamarcus Russell, Trent Richardson, etc. I wish I knew why. So does every scout, talent evaluator, GM, and coach out there. Sometimes people just get it wrong. Remember the genuine debate over Peyton Manning vs. Ryan Leaf? Bill Polian made the right decision, but many (my high school self included) thought he got it wrong. But imagine the course of NFL history if he had selected Leaf instead and Peyton ended up in San Diego.
As a disclaimer, I had no intention of making a comprehensive list of NFL Draft Busts. There are plenty out there who receive no mention here. I just wanted to touch on a few draft bust types and highlight some cards along the way.
Sometimes I feel like I should start a draft bust PC. Or maybe a Frankenset. Maybe that's just the morbidity in me, keeping mementos as kind of a requiem for the career of a player busted out of the league. But it's too sad a collection to think about. I appreciate having the piece of draft history in my collection, but I'll pass on having an entire collection of it.
What do you think? Who was the biggest draft bust of all-time? Sound off in the comments. Thanks for reading!