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The term “bust” is one of the most negative labels that can be slapped on an NFL player. Usually given to early-round draft picks, it means not only did a player fail to meet expectations, but he massively underperformed in his career.
We’re talking about guys who quickly flamed out of the NFL, like JaMarcus Russell, Johnny Manziel and Trent Richardson.
While it generally takes a couple of years to accurately identify such players as busts, the warning signs are often there immediately. For example, Richardson—who actually had a strong statistical rookie season—was good in space but regularly failed to find and hit open running lanes. The 2012 third overall pick finished his NFL career at 3.3 yards per carry.
With this in mind, we’re going to take a way-too-early look at some 2018 rookies who are showing warning signs of being draft busts. We’ll examine what those warning signs are and what they could mean.
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The Tampa Bay Buccaneers used the 38th overall pick in this year’s draft on former USC running back Ronald Jones II. While Jones hasn’t been a disappointment on the field over the first two weeks, that isn’t the issue.
The issue is Jones cannot get onto the field, even in a situational role. At the running back position, that’s a big problem because there is usually a minimal amount of adjustment from college to the NFL. While learning routes and pass protection can be a process, running the ball is typically a skill that translates.
Jones averaged just 0.8 yards per carry in the preseason.
“I know from Ronald’s standpoint, it’s not at all from lack of effort, or from him not knowing what he’s doing,” head coach Dirk Koetter said of Jones during the preseason, per Rick Stroud of the Tampa Bay Times.
The reality is Koetter probably isn’t being honest. If the Buccaneers were happy with Jones’ effort and rookie development, he’d at least be active on game days. He hasn’t been, and that doesn’t bode well for a high second-round pick expected to be a workhorse.
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The New Orleans Saints traded next year’s first-round pick to move up 13 spots in the draft and grab Texas-San Antonio product Marcus Davenport. Obviously, this heightened expectations a bit because when you give up two first-round picks for a player, you expect him to be one of two things—a future franchise quarterback or an immediate game-changer.
Unless Davenport has secretly been working on his seven-step drops, Saints fans could be disappointed.
Davenport has gotten onto the field, unlike Ronald Jones, but he hasn’t exactly been forcing opposing offenses to adjust. He has failed to consistently generate pressure in pass-rush situations, and he’s logged a mere four tackles and one batted pass in two games.
A relatively raw prospect, Davenport relied more on his size and speed (264 lbs, 4.58 40) than field vision or technique. He’s going to face a learning curve. He may eventually develop into a dangerous and consistent pass-rusher, but it’s likely to take time.
For a guy who was supposed to be a missing piece on a potential Super Bowl team right now, that’s going to lead to some slapping of the bust label.
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To be perfectly fair, we’ve seen highly drafted wide receivers struggle early in their careers in recent years—this doesn’t mean they aren’t busts, of course—but some have bucked that trend. Former LSU wideouts Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry are two of them.
Don’t expect former LSU receiver DJ Chark Jr. (61st overall) to join Beckham and Landry as immediately successful former Tigers, however. Even though the Jaguars lost receiver Marqise Lee for the season, Chark has struggled to assimilate himself into the offense.
Chark had just three receptions in the preseason, didn’t see a single target in the season opener and had just one catch that resulted in a lost fumble against the New England Patriots in Week 2.
“My teammates were like don’t worry about it, but for me in my head I’m thinking like man, I made a mistake,” Chark said of the fumble, via the team’s official website.
Making mistakes when you finally get an opportunity will cost you trust with your quarterback and your offense. It’s looking like it will, at the very least, be difficult for Chark to have a notable impact early in his career.
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Buffalo Bills rookie quarterback Josh Allen got his first NFL start in Week 2, and he’s only played roughly five quarters of pro football. However, we’ve seen nothing to suggest the seventh overall pick is going to have a fast or easy adjustment to the pro game.
Allen has looked like exactly the same quarterback he was at Wyoming during both the preseason and the first two weeks of 2018. He has a cannon of an arm and top-end athleticism, but his accuracy, footwork, field vision and pocket presence are all subpar.
Against the Los Angeles Chargers, Allen looked like an oversized pee-wee quarterback playing high school ball—if you gave the kid a potato cannon to launch the football. He was easily flustered and wildly inaccurate, but when he heaved one deep, it would draw some oohs and aahs.
Through two weeks, Allen has completed just 50 percent of his passes, owns a 1-to-2 touchdown-to-interception ratio and has a passer rating of just 61.0.
More troubling is that Allen is surrounded by a bad team, a terrible offensive line and no experienced mentor quarterback. This—along with the fact he’s been rushed into the starting role far too early—could destroy his confidence, a la DeShone Kizer.
Buffalo is setting Allen up for failure, and that could quickly lead him down the path to bust-ville.
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Instead of taking an offensive lineman or a playmaker for their rebuilding defense, the Seattle Seahawks used the 27th overall pick in the draft on former San Diego State running back Rashaad Penny.
The allure of Penny was his explosive running style, which earned him 2,248 yards on the ground in 2017. However, Penny was never a power runner who would consistently shrug off tackles, and that is proving to be a problem.
Penny was a disaster in the season opener, rushing seven times for just eight yards, though he did grab four passes for 35 yards. He got 10 carries Monday night but gained just 30 yards and did not catch a pass.
It doesn’t help, of course, that Seattle has one of the worst offensive lines in the NFL, but through two weeks, it appears Penny doesn’t have the short-area quickness to create his own space or the strength to fight through the line at the pro level.
First-round running backs are supposed to be difference-makers, but Seattle’s offense looks as one-dimensional as it did a year ago.