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NFL Draft: Anatomy of a bust

With the 2016 NFL draft in the books, draft analysts are feverishly grading each team on how they've done - not least here at RealSport - an


With the 2016 NFL draft in the books, draft analysts are feverishly grading each team on how they’ve done – not least here at RealSport – and each team is hoping that the rookie class they’ve got doesn’t contain the ignominious label of bust. Some players are going to work out, some are not. What, though, makes a draft bust? Why is it that for every Peyton Manning there is a Ryan Leaf. Why is it that after Cam Newton the 2011 class of quarterbacks can almost all be looked upon unfavourably? (For the record, after Newton the next three quarterbacks taken were Jake Locker, Blaine Gabbert and Christian Ponder) What makes a draft ‘bust’, and most importantly, what are the reasons for it? Not living up to expectations for whatever reason allows some people to define players as busts, but in reality, one should use the term to refer to players who so spectacularly failed to make an impact on their team, or indeed caused further damage to their organisation as opposed to a player who was perhaps taken too high due to positional need or put into a bad position when they weren’t 100% ready to shoulder the responsibility of having the hopes of a team on their shoulders. Robert Griffin III’s move to the Browns lands him firmly in the bust category – Washington gave a king’s ransom to the Rams to move up and take him second overall in 2012 which set the team back significantly. They did find their quarterback in that draft, but the oft injured Griffin was not that man. Griffin earns his bust status by virtue of the price paid for him against the single season he led them to the playoffs – his rookie year – something which can be attributed to organisational failings which have resulted in an entirely new front office being in place. RGIII was seen very much as the owner’s favourite, and Mike Shanahan, Head Coach at the time, had a fractious relationship with his young quarterback which eventually cost him his job. Griffin has now moved on to the Browns and it remains to be seen if his career can recover from the turbulent ups and downs of his time in Washington, and his career blighting knee injuries which would alone likely call into question the wisdom of the team’s choice. Possibly the greatest draft bust of all time is another quarterback; Ryan Leaf, taken like Griffin at second overall after Indianapolis selected a quarterback, but by the Chargers. Leaf did not excel like Peyton Manning did in the pre draft process, and conspired with his agent to ensure he did not go to the Colts. Leaf again came with a cost as San Diego had to move up to number two overall in the 1998 draft, and ended up with a quarterback who lasted three seasons with the team before leaving and bouncing around the league and eventually ended up in a Montana prison for felony drug charges. Leaf’s attitude was the problem. He saw himself as untouchable and in the professional game that simply isn’t true. Having all the potential and talent in the world didn’t help Leaf, and at one point he had to be restrained by the late Junior Seau after ranting at a journalist to ‘knock it off’ after another poor performance. Leaf is an example of the fact that whilst talent is important, a good attitude and work ethic as well as self discipline are required to succeed in this league. That’s why Peyton Manning lasted to the end of 2015 and Leaf was out of the league within 5 years. Injuries, attitude – what happens when a team drafts a prospect who simply isn’t ready? That’s how you get Blaine Gabbert. Taken in the first round of the 2011 draft, the Jaguars thought they had a perfect physical specimen in Gabbert. Strong and big, he fit all the measurables for the prototype modern quarterback. Except for the fact that he couldn’t play quarterback to anywhere near the standard needed in the NFL. Now with the 49ers, Gabbert is beginning to develop, but too late to avoid being a bust. He will be forever seen as the figurehead of some nightmare years for the Jags and it’s mostly because he just isn’t very good at his job even now. Within three years, the Jaguars selected Blake Bortles, started Chad Henne until he was injured, and quietly moved on from the Gabbert years. Going further back to the 1989 draft, we find Tony Mandarich. Picked second overall, Mandarich is the only player from the top five in 1989 not to be in the Hall of Fame. After going to Green Bay it became very apparent that Mandarich’s attitude and issues with drugs and alcohol were going to cause problems. Mandarich was cut by the Packers due to a non football injury after three years. For a player touted as the best offensive line prospect of all time that qualifies Mandarich as a bust of the highest proportion. Not only were there off field issues, his play was poor and his attitude was not that expected of a professional football player. Mandarich publicly admitted after his career, which ended in a three year stint with the Colts, to steroid use. Looking at each of these examples, there is no common thread as to why any particular player busts or succeeds. Some, such as Gabbert, have work ethic but not the talent. Others, such as Leaf, have the talent but not the work ethic. Whether or not a player succeeds in the NFL relies so heavily on so many different things that it is, all told, impossible to say with any certainty if a player will be successful or not. There are some sure fire picks, but there again, those picks can go wrong. Look to Jadeveon Clowney to see this. Others are risky picks by organisations that have to take a risk or two. Johnny Manziel to the Browns could have been great. It turns out it was not. Really this all underlines that the draft process, for all the analysis put into it beforehand, is an inexact science. That is not to say that the analysis is bad, but that there are so mny variables that teams still need a strong organisation and development program to get the best out of their picks, lest they end up with a Manziel rather than a Manning.

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Pete Hallifax

I'm a fan of all sports, but cover NFL here. Nobody was more shocked than I was that the Patriots won Super Bowl 51.

NFL Draft: Anatomy of a bust

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