The Trey Lance situation brought a deep pondering I’ve had for years to the surface. The concept of the draft bust. We use that term pretty liberally to describe pretty much any player that doesn’t live up to expectations. I don’t know if that’s entirely fair, because there are a lot of different ways a player can fail to meet those expectations. As stated many times, I firmly believe that most, if not all, players can succeed in the NFL if they go to the proper environment. But those are very hard parameters to meet, and for the most part, it doesn’t happen. I’m sure in another timeline Tom Brady got taken by the Jets or something and he never got the chance he did in New England. Maybe in another universe, Tony Mandarich became the greatest lineman of all time. So many factors go into a career and not all of them are the player’s fault. But the player absolutely plays a part in his own destiny.

I’ve split the idea of the draft bust as such. Now, not every player neatly fits a single category, most fit 2 or more, but primarily seem to fit one best, and Im sure with a bit of brainstorming you could probably narrow down a few more categories or subcategories. But over my many years, this is what I tend to notice. I’ll start with the ones that seem least like the player’s fault.

– You really can’t call most injuries the fault of the player. Maybe they got hurt due to poor conditioning or whatever but as far as I’m concerned, injuries should pretty much never be blamed on the player. Especially in a sport like football, unless your dumb ass is Gus Ferotte. Ironically, the poster boy for me whenever this category comes to mind is actually an NBA player: Greg Oden. First overall pick by the Portland Trail Blazers over Kevin Durant, Oden was actually pretty damn good at basketball. He was also made of glass. Oden gets more flack as a monumental draft bust than he honestly should. He could have been great if he could stay healthy. For an actual football example, Ki-Jana Carter is maybe the poster boy. Carter was a stud runningback drafted by the Bengals who tore his knee up in the preseason of his rookie year and just never was good again. Injuries to high draft picks are some of the most depressing things. You feel bad for everyone involved. The player has his dreams dashed. The fanbase is robbed of seeing the new guy. The team is robbed of a potential way out of the gutter, and nobody is to blame. It just sucks.

-This is a guy who clearly just was the wrong player for the wrong situation, or used poorly by bad coaches. Frequently the player doesn’t live up to expectations but is also being asked to play the wrong spot or just doesn’t fit. This is how I segue into Vernon Gholston, a defensive end for Ohio State who put up freakish combine numbers. He was drafted by Eric Mangini, who tried to make him play outside linebacker in a 3-4 scheme. He sucked. He was an absolute non-entity on the field. While Gholston certainly fell far below expectations and he could have probably done a better job adjusting (Mathias Kiwanuka of the Giants faced a similar switch, but he was at least functional as a linebacker), it’s hard not to look at Gholston and wonder why the Jets drafted him to play the position he wasn’t known for. Time after time, bad NFL coaches face the consequences of their hubris when they try to fit a square peg in a round scheme.

-This is a guy who has all the physical gifts in the world but just can’t handle the challenge of the NFL. In college if you are physically gifted enough you can potentially just out-athlete your competition, especially if you are in a smaller program. In the NFL, well, everyone is good. Everyone is in the top percentile of their positions. You gotta adjust. Some cannot. I’m not actually sure how well this fits, but for whatever reason when I think of players like this, I think of Aaron Curry. Also Vernon Gholston but I used him already. Curry was a can’t miss prospect at the time and yet all he did was miss. Funny story, he’s now the linebackers coach for the Steelers! Those who cant do, teach, etc etc.

Sometimes dudes just aren’t that good or never should have been drafted so highly in the first place. Trent Richardson? Just…couldn’t do it. Kevin White? So highly touted, never did jack shit. A lot of QBs fit this category but usually not quite through fault of their own, more just the expectations of the position and how the position tends to get overdrafted anyway. David Carr? Tim Couch? Akili Smith? Matt Leinart? Hell, Reggie Bush had a decent career by NFL standards but considering the hype he had coming out of school people still label him a bust. Tebow? Poor Teebs had the weight of the world on his shoulders but he just wasn’t cut out for the NFL game.

In my opinion, these are the true busts. The ones who seem to take my belief that anyone could succeed like a personal attack and sabotage everything. They aren’t just underachievers, they are dipshits when they fail. Ryan Leaf is our poster boy here. He wasn’t just bad. He was obnoxious, he was rude, he was a dipshit. Jamarcus Russell? Guy is a good fit for athletic dumbass but he did himself no favors by being incredibly lazy. Johnny Manziel? That guy needed discipline in his life more than anyone. Tony Mandarich was a roided headcase. Maybe the most low-key new guy in this category is offensive tackle Isaiah Wilson. Drafted late in the first out of Georgia by the Titans, Wilson played roughly 4 snaps…in his entire career. He spent multiple stints in Covid protocol, got arrested, a DUI, and then publicly feuded with the Titans, who shipped him to Miami for a 7th round pick. Wilson was cut 3 days later. He spent 2021 on the Giants practice squad. He hasn’t sniffed a football since.

Some people use the term bust to pretty much represent anyone who doesn’t meet expectations of where they were picked but I never found that fair. Expectations are often outrageous and NFL careers are surprisingly short and uneventful on average. I always felt that a bust is a special label, one that should be reserved for true tragedies. The Outliers. It isn’t enough to just underperform, to be a bust you have to shock people by not just underperforming but doing so spectacularly. To be a bust is to have completely wasted everyone’s time and money. To make everyone who got excited for you regret it. To make it so that a team could have rostered a mediocre player in your stead and gotten more from them. A true bust puts a nasty little taste in your mouth when you think about how your team blew it.

Who do you think is unfairly labeled a bust, or actually should be a better-known bust? Any other types of busts I didn’t really touch on? The player who’s busting personally shocked you the most?