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The Anatomy of a Draft Bust

NFL Draft Day is one of the most hallowed days in all of sports, and has a unique place as one of the few sports drafts that gets intense attention for more than a month. We've got mock drafts, draft scouts, draft breakdowns, college scouting reports, and more; and this is all from your average every day fan. When you get to the actual networks you'll see multiple day live draft coverage, dissection of Wonderlic scores, combine numbers, and individual play break downs from every single sports network.

The question is that with all that information how exactly to multiple teams every year end up with the dreaded bust pick? We are going to take a look at exactly what constitutes a bust pick, and how they can be identified before they happen.

Now then, everyone has a definition of a bust, so we need to all be working from the same page here. My definition of a draft bust is as follows.

Bust: A player who does not live up to the expectations he was drafted for in the first three years of play.

These expectations can be as wide and varied as the players themselves, from expecting a player to be a starter on the offensive line, to simply expecting them to be a quality back up, expectations matter when it comes to defining a player as a bust, just as they do when it comes to classifying them as a value pick. It's these expectations that come from evaluations that usually determine a teams pick, so it's important to remember that just because a player sticks around on the team doesn't mean they aren't a bust, nor does a player not seeing the field immediately classify them as a bust either.

Here are some key indications of a bust in the making.

Measurables that don't translate to the field.

Every single year we see a player shoot up the draft boards based solely and completely on his combine scores. Whether that be an extremely fast 40 time, a mammoth bench press, a high jump that would make a kangaroo blush, or any other stat: they still don't always convert over to on the field performance. Most teams take a look at the film and see how the player actually looked on film, as there is often a sizable difference between game speed, and measurable speed as well as effective strength compared to measurable strength. It's incredibly important to rely on the game film to see how much of those gaudy talents are actually going to translate on the field because chances are, if his college coaches were unable to make any progress with the guy over three or four years, the chances of you making progress in three or four more are about the same.

Drafting a player because "he's the best at the position", and not because he matches your need.

The open secret in the NFL is that much like MMA or boxing, styles make the fights. Sure, individual talents are fantastic, but football is very much a team sport and each player has to fit the scheme they are going to be playing. For instance, there are a lot of fantastic players that are drafted every year because they are fantastic players, and not because they fit the scheme they are drafted for. Those are usually the same players that get labeled with a big fat bust label after a few years in the league.

A perfect example of this kind of player is Brian Urlacher, or as a more recent similar example, Aaron Curry. Both are fantastic linebackers, and both either had or are going to have long and fantastic careers in the NFL. The other thing they both have in common is that neither of them could get to the quarterback if their life depended on it.  They are great in coverage, they make big plays, they have a nose for the ball, and they are going to get 100+ tackles a year, but if you're looking for someone that can help with a pass rush you're out of luck. Much too often you see teams that have a need at a position, but instead of addressing the specific need they simply draft the most gifted player thinking he should be able to fill that need, when it isn't always the case.

Drafting a player much too early just because he fills a need, or you fell in love with him.

As I noted before, classifying draft picks is often a game of expectations and there is no quicker way to inflate expectations with the general public than being drafted 15-20 positions before you were projected. This usually happens at least two or three times a year, and isn't always the worst thing in the world. Chris Johnson would be an example of a gamble that paid off, but far too often falling in love with a player on your draft board simply ends in a broken heart for both parties. Take Darrius Heyward Bey in last years draft, projected as a mid to late first rounder by the time the draft came around he had worked his way up from the late second round with a very good combine performance. Now then, why is he so important?

The Raiders had a "need" at WR because the Emperor, I mean Al Davis, wanted someone for his new QB to throw the ball too. Okay, you might be asking what the problem is, he needed a WR, and he got one. The problem is he picked him before three other wide receivers that were ranked over him on many draft boards: Michael Crabtree, Jeremy Maclin, and even Percy Harvin. With such a huge jump up the boards and skipping over so much more highly rated talent, DHB's expectations were immediately skyrocketed to the point where if any of the other three are even slightly better than him he is going to be flagged as a bust.

Drafting a player at a non-need position just because of a large amount of value.

While this isn't terrible drafting advice, especially if your team does not have a lot of glaring needs, it can cause major issues with expectations. Usually when a position isn't a need it's because you already have a quality starter or three, and anyone you draft is going to be riding the pine. As I will go into a bit later, this isn't specifically a bad thing since a good portion of players aren't immediately ready for the NFL field. However, if your team does have multiple needs and you make a different pick or trade, just for value, every failure at the positions of need will be placed squarely on that draft pick's shoulders.

For instance, in the Bears case we have multiple needs at offensive line, as well as at safety, and possibly along the defensive line as well. If the Bears organisation decides to draft a young WR who was slated as a late first rounder with our third round pick this year, even though it's an insane amount of pick value, that player will invariably be declared a bust unless he manages to not only see the field in his first two years, but also is a legitimate number one as well. Since that's unlikely to happen, you're looking at a sure fire recipe for a bust.

Drafting a player whose experience and NFL readiness doesn't fit the need.

This is one that hits positions like quarterback, middle linebacker, and secondary more than others, but it's applicable across the board. Some players are ready to hit the ground running as soon as they get off the bus from college, while others definitely need some time to season on a NFL team before they are ready for prime time and it's extremely important tor recognize this. There have been some very good QBs such as David Carr that were thrown to the wolves and absolutely decimated before they even had a chance, and of course Carr was labeled a bust after spending the majority of his early career being scrapped off the turf.

All the aforementioned positions have one thing in common, and that's the need to not only adjust to the speed of the NFL game, but the increased complexity and different schemes used compared to college. One thing that is universal to all NFL players is an acceptable amount of confidence, and if you put a player in these positions before they have had a chance to build up a bit of confidence you could destroy what they already have and literally never be able to get it together enough to bounce back. The opposite is also true where if you have an extremely gifted player with a massive football IQ. It can hold him back sitting him on the bench more than a few games and in some cases the only adjustment they need is to the game speed. It's a delicate balance, but one that must be maintained if you want to avoid your first round picks being labeled as busts.


So now then, none of the "rules" I've mentioned guarantee a bust, nor does following all of them guarantee a star player, but rest assured the more of these rules that are broken in conjunction the higher the likelihood of leaving the draft worse than when you entered.

So now I'll open it up to you, what are some of the glaring draft bust indicators I may have missed, or on the flip side, some of the indicators of a quality pick?