I want to suggest a way to consider draft busts that is a little different than what you’ve seen. We can agree that draft busts come in many shades of gray and that’s what makes a lot of draft discussions interesting, but the additional dimensions of time and roster space are typically overlooked.
When I’m defining draft busts below I want to exclude all players who held a regular offensive or defensive role for more than two full years and played well. Obviously, Ray Lewis and Jon Ogden aren’t on the margin of this category, but players like Duane Starks, Dawan Landry, Chad Williams, Edgerton Hartwell, and Chester Taylor were also successful draft picks because the Ravens harvested lots of cap-friendly value from their rookie contracts.
I’m going to suggest 10 categories for draft busts and submit that virtually every payer that didn’t play a significant role for the drafting team can fit into one of them:
1. Cut in first training camp or off-field issues.
A good example from Ravens’ history is RB Chris Barnes, a 5th-round selection who couldn’t make the 2001 Ravens despite the injury to Jamal Lewis.
2. Chronically injured.
Sergio Kindle and Dan Cody are the poster children here. Kindle was released during his 3rd season after providing no return on investment. Cody played well in 14 career snaps, but that couldn’t make up for the wasted roster spot stemming from 3 years of injuries. I guess it’s obvious this sort of draft bust is more costly than cutting bait from a pick in that player’s first camp.
The player is often stashed on the practice squad or IR for 2 years then has difficulty playing well enough to get a meaningful role. This is most common for “size-and-shape” offensive linemen or wide receivers. Ramon Harewood and Justin Harper are good examples.
4. Hold on too long.
This is a broad category where a player survives an extra year on the roster for no apparent reason other than his drafted status (a sunk cost). The best example in recent years is Davon Drew.
5. Stuck behind veterans.
This player typically gets some fringe playing time, perhaps due to injury, but isn’t able to crack the starting lineup. The excuse of being behind veterans is especially poor, because all teams must consistently look to get younger to comply with the cap. Play well enough and those veterans will be “Turked” or you’ll be traded for value. Chris Chester and Haruki Nakamura are good examples here. Neither a bad player by any means, but the team could have hoped for more with either selection. Chester could also go in the next category.
6. Close, but not quite.
This player gets some playing time, but doesn’t play well enough to help this team. In some cases it might be a matter of positional depth. In others, the player isn’t quite good enough to be a regular. These players are often traded in the last year of their rookie deal, but sometimes they play it out but are allowed to walk. Examples in this group are Tavares Gooden, Derrick Martin, and Kyle Boller.
7. Drafted too high.
The player may have had some solid value, but the pick used was too high. I submit this is only an issue with 1stand 2nd round selections. Mark Clayton would be in this group. You can see why Kyle Boller is looking up at this category.
8. Core special teamer.
This is a mild failure in many cases. With some 6th or 7th round selections, that’s really what the selecting team wants…as a fallback. Excluding return specialists and the kicking crew, other draft selections need to contribute on either offense or defense to be considered successful. The best example on the Ravens in recent years is Prescott Burgess, who played well on special teams but contributed just 23 career defensive snaps in 5 seasons with the Ravens. David Reed and Marcus Smith are also in this group. I look at these players as ones where good special-teams coaching can provide some decent residual value for your missed selections at WR, RB, LB, and DB.
9. Blossoms after rookie deal is complete.
This is an extremely rare category, particularly if you mean a player that blossoms for the drafting team after the rookie deal is complete. Dwan Edwards is the lone Ravens example. Such a player is not providing draft value, but we don’t need to discuss that here. If including late bloomers anywhere, you can throw Aubrayo Franklin in this category also.
10. Blossoms in RFA season.
This is a difficult group for the team. They get some value, but are not optimally positioned to sign the player to a long-term deal a year early. Good examples in Ravens history are Tony Pashos, Ovie Mughelli, and Paul Kruger. With a good year in 2013, Terrence Cody could be in this group.