sportsthink will be issuing its first annual Most Valuable Players in the Draft this coming week. We will throw in a few honorable mentions or also rans with the list, just to give some insight into why certain players didn’t make the cut. For now, here’s a handful of players who present the biggest risk in this year’s draft.
First round busts are not just bad, they destroy a franchise. You cannot just return to Radio City Music Hall a year after spending a high draft choice on an under-performing player and figure you’ll make up for last year. You need starters year over year to make up for big mistakes.
How do we know? We have a few pieces of evidence. First, a team is only likely to find an all-pro caliber player in the first thirteen picks, as a historical matter. (Thanks, Draftmetrics.) There are 7-9 teams drafting outside the top thirteen picks this year. A team can miss the playoffs, year after year, and never get a chance to draft a transcendent football talent. So you have to make those high picks count.
Can gems like Tom Brady be found on Day 3 of the draft? Sure. But relying on the later rounds to add talent is NFL franchise suicide, as a rule. In fact, the NFL has an actual example of a team that has essentially wasted its first round picks over the last half decade, and it’s not pretty. It’s the Oakland Raiders.
Oakland’s haul from the first rounds of the last six NFL Drafts looks like this today: four players drafted, one still with the team. They gave up their 2011 and 2012 first rounders in trades. Prior to that, they obsessed over combine numbers (Heyward-Bey), athletic feats (Jamarcus Russell), and championship credentials (McClain), to the exclusion of all other considerations. They were burning through draft picks while the rest of the League sat back and laughed.
Oakland still pays the monetary penalty for such mistakes, as high first round picks used to cost millions more in signing bonuses. Just as importantly, the team has been unable to replenish an aging talent base. So they routinely finish under .500, and they will again this year.
So teams need to avoid the siren call of players who present appealing numbers or physical attributes, but who will just not pan out. Here are the five players with the biggest bust potential in the early rounds of the 2013 Draft.
Jarvis Jones — This one is a softball. Forget about his combine numbers or 40 time: Jones doesn’t even work hard on the field. He played on a defense that featured all-conference performers at virtually every single position. While the secondary locked down the opponent’s receivers and the rest of the defensive front fought like mad to collapse the pocket, Jones frequently sat just outside the action, disengaged from a lineman, waiting for a chance to track down a flustered quarterback like a wounded gazelle. Rarely are NFL offenses so overmatched that they would fall victim to the techniques Jones practiced at Georgia. Occasionally Jones showed quick-twitch pass rush moves or the ability to shed a blocker when the play came to his side. But pity the coach charged with honing the skills Jones flashed in rare moments into an every-down player. He’s being talked about in the first round, and I wouldn’t touch him in the second.
Terron Armstead — Given the habits he showed on tape against FCS competition, I was surprised he even performed as well as he did at the Senior Bowl — and that wasn’t even very good. A lot of development stands between Armstead and a starting NFL tackle gig. Why spend a second-rounder on a player that may never develop at all, and may be wrapping up his rookie contract even when the light does come on?
Justin Pugh — I heard a former scout say he’d “bang the table” for Pugh. Decisions like that couldn’t have helped him stay employed as a scout. I don’t know where Pugh fits, but it’s not as the fourth or fifth best tackle in this draft, like some pundits claim. He drops the anchor effectively enough as a pass blocker, but lacks the athleticism to keep up with upper-echelon college edge-rushers. His pad level as a run blocker leaves a lot to be desired, too. Taking him before Day 3 seems like a mistake.
Tyler Wilson — His throws under ten yards look better than anyone in this draft. You know what NFL coaches call plays that feature a throw under ten yards as a first option? “Screens.” Wilson struggles desperately to complete passes outside the hashes and down the field. Number 1 quarterback in the Draft? Maybe first quarterback taken on Day 3.
Sharrif Floyd — Discussing him as the highest defensive player chosen in the Draft is basically projecting him to be JJ Watt. He’s not JJ Watt, and almost assuredly never will be. He’s a very agile big man that can establish the line of scrimmage, gets off the ball quickly (so do a lot of NFL players), and can rush the passer just well enough to stay on the field on third down. Saw him compared to Corey Liuget, and that’s probably accurate: a reliable 3-4 defensive end with just a bit of wiggle. There’s 15 to 30 players more valuable than Floyd in this draft class.