Richner: Draft Busts

Last Updated: 1/18/2015 8:58 PM ET
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Before, during and immediately following the NFL Draft, every first round pick is given praise and every team is lauded by the media for selecting the next X-time Pro Bowler. NFL Teams will repeat the message that their new star player will have a long and established for their new team. The fact is that most first rounders are a coin flip with a 50/50 chance of being a competitive starter in the first three years. The average career length of an NFL player is roughly 3.2 years.

Blaine Gabbert was supposed to be the cornerstone to the Jacksonville Jaguars. Danny Watkins was a long term solution to the Philadelphia Eagles offensive line woes. Jonathan Baldwin was supposed to help alleviate some pressure from Dwayne Bowe and create a formidable one-two punch for the Chiefs. Gabe Carimi was quickly shipped off by the Bears to Tampa Bay last season.

These are perfect examples of players who received great praise on draft night yet after three quick years (or less) are no longer with their original teams.

There will be some major hits and a few hidden gems will be found in the later rounds as well as in the undrafted free agent list.

There are also going to be a number of misses by teams, which will most likely result in several general managers and head coaches looking for new employment next season.

Below are four players that have appeared on a number of mock drafts as possible first or early second-round draft picks, but that I believe have the highest likelihood of becoming draft busts. These players were selected based on a statistical evaluation of their college stats, measurables and comparisons with other elite players in their position group.

Zach Mettenberger (QB, LSU): Although he possesses prototypical size and arm strength for an NFL quarterback, in 2012 Mettenberger was an NFL draft prospect who had all the tools but not the production. He completed only 58 percent of his passes for 2,609 yards, 12 TD and seven INT.

This past year, Mettenberger's level of play showed progress while under the tutelage of offensive coordinator Cam Cameron. He completed 64.9 percent of his passes for 3,082 yards, 22 TD and eight interceptions. In taking a deeper look into Mettenberger's numbers from this year, it is apparent that he was able to take advantage against weak pass defenses to start the season. The second half of the season saw his numbers take a dip when he played against tougher competition. Mettenberger performance against Furman University were omitted from the stats below. As a member of the FCS division, his production was against lower level competition and shouldn't be compared when facing top tier FBS defenses.

First 6 games: 157 attempts, 107 completions, 1,738 yards, 15 TD, 2 INT

Defenses Averaged Passing Yards Allowed: 233.9, Average Pass Defense Ranking: 64

Last 5 games: 115 attempts, 69 completions, 1,016 yards, 4 TD, 4 INT

Defenses Averaged Passing Yards Allowed: 211.1, Average Pass Defense Ranking: 44

During the first half of the season, Mettenberger had a TD/INT ratio of 3.75 while the second half of the season he saw his ratio take a significant drop to 1.0. In addition to his drop in production, Mettenberger suffered a torn ACL injury in December.
Mettenberger was not a mobile quarterback; he is average at avoiding pass rushers in the pocket and is not a scrambler. He was sacked 25 times last season and had -313 rushing yards, zero rushing touchdowns, and only seven rushing first downs for his career.

From a statistical and scouting standpoint, he compares to both Byron Leftwich and Landry Jones. While Leftwich has had a long career as a backup, he is not a top tier starter.

Blake Bortles (QB, UCF): The scouting report on Bortles make him out to be a Greek god. At 6'5” and 233 pounds he has the frame and build to go along with the athletic ability to be an NFL quarterback. The one major issue I have with him is the only thing he is consistent at is being inconsistent.

He is a mobile quarterback who can escape pressure with his legs and get outside the pocket. In 194 career rushing attempts he gained 561 yards, an average of 2.9 YPC average, 15 rushing touchdowns, and 64 rushing first downs. He, along with Manziel, had a success rate of either a first down or touchdown on 41 percent of his rushing attempts.

Bortles has just two years of experience as a starter, playing one season in Conference USA and last season in the America Athletic Conference. He has only played against four ranked opponents these past two seasons. 50 percent of his career interceptions (9) have come in these four games.

The inconsistency in Bortles' play is evident in his production decline from first and second down to third down, specifically his completion percentage. On first down he completed 70.6 percent of his passes, 75 percent on second down, and 54.3 percent on third down. This reflects a drop of almost 20 percent from second to third down. In fact, most of the elite quarterbacks who have been drafted in the last couple of years, (Luck, RGIII, and Wilson) did not see this significant of a drop in their completion percentage on third down. Russell Wilson, in his lone season at Wisconsin, completed 71.7 percent on first down, 71.8 percent on second down, and 75.3 percent on third down. The great quarterbacks don't have a significant drop in production and none of them were anywhere close to having a 50 percent completion rate on third down.

Bortles' numbers compare favorably to a couple of other former first round draft picks, Blaine Gabbert and Jake Locker. In Gabbert's final season at Missouri he completed 71 percent on first down, 68 percent on second down, and a dismal 44 percent on third down. In Locker's final season at Washington, he completed 55 percent on first down, 62 percent on second down, and 51 percent on third down.

The inconsistent nature of Bortles' play on third down and his careless decisions against tougher competition would make me worry about drafting him. While he has the frame and stature that most traditionalist are looking for, I believe he lacks the fundamental consistency needed to be a top level quarterback in the NFL. A team would be better off waiting until the last couple of rounds before considering Bortles. He needs several seasons of learning the position, working on his mechanics, and improving his decision making on the field. He is a long term project and someone who will need a lot of work before he is ready to be a franchise quarterback in the NFL.

For a look at some other quarterbacks that should be avoided in the first round, check out our QB rankings.

Dee Ford (DE, Auburn): The magical run Auburn had last season was led by a dynamic offense and a defense that was geared to bend but not break. The defense finished the season ranked #87 in the country in overall defense. Dee Ford, at 6'2” and 252 pounds, is smaller than the ideal defensive ends, yet his tape shows glimpses of a player who has the speed to get around the corner and attack opposing quarterbacks.

His lack of size makes him a liability against the run. We saw that offensive tackles routinely had their way with him in the run game once they were able to get their hands on him. As a pure pass rusher, Ford's career numbers are slightly above average. In 52 career games he had 76.5 tackles, 27.5 TFL, 20.5 sacks, 1 INT, 2 PB, and 3 FF.

In three seasons as a starter, Ford amassed 54 career impact plays, an average of 1.04 impact plays per game. His average impact plays per game ranks him #23 amongst draft eligible defensive ends.

As a pass rush specialist, Ford has value but he is not suited to be a three down lineman. Whether he plays in a 3-4 or 4-3, his role will be limited to strictly rushing the quarterback. He has a below average impact play rating and teams would be wise to let him drop a handful of rounds before selecting him.

Ha Ha Clinton-Dix (FS, Alabama): Since Nick Saban took over at Alabama it almost seems like a forgone conclusion that a defensive secondary player will be drafted in the first couple of rounds. The next player to be added to this list is Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, the fast twitch saftey who has been one of the leaders for the Crimson Tide the past few seasons.

We have seen this before, an Alabama defensive back as a secondary prospect. Each one comes out equally blessed with elite athletic ability, the speed to run sideline to sideline with the best, and they have a tough physical mental makeup.

At 6'1” and 208 pounds, Seahawks safety Earl Thomas is lighter than the ideal safety yet has shown that the model can be broken if you're the right type of player. Clinton-Dix is not that type of player. He is an aggressive player who will bite on double moves and play action fakes. He looks to make the big hits versus sound tackling techniques.

In 30 career games, Clinton-Dix had 76.5 tackles, 4 TFL, 10 PD, 1 FF, and 6 INT. He had 35 career impact plays, an average of 1.17 impact plays per game. His average impact rating ranks him #19 amongst all draft eligible safeties.

As history has shown, Alabama defensive secondary players come into the league with tremendous fanfare, but typically fail to live up to these expectations. A team would be wise to investigate Clinton-Dix, as he is likely to follow the same path as his former teammates.

Alabama head coach, Nick Saban, runs a very aggressive defense hat is predicated on long athletic safeties that can cover ground. While Alabama has had a number of first round draft picks, none have gone on to be elite players in the NFL. Below is a list of every Alabama University defensive secondary player who played for Nick Saban and who has also been drafted.

Dee Milliner, CB, 1 round
Dre Kirkpatrick, CB, 1 round
Mark Barron, CB, 1 round
De'Quan Menzie, CB, 5 round
Kareem Jackson, CB, 1 round
Javier Arenas, CB, 2 round
Marquis Johnson, CB, 7 round
Rashad Johnson, S, 3 round

Four first round picks and one second selection, yet none are close to Pro Bowl caliber. Milliner was benched partway through his rookie campaign. Kirkpatrick has toiled in mediocrity for the Bengals. He enters his third season and the Bengals are expecting him to become the shutdown corner they expected when they selected him in the first round.

There is a great deal of risk in every draft selection, and with first round picks the number of misses seems to resonate longer than the picks that hit the mark. Fans might not remember who their team selected last year in the third or fourth round, but fans of every club around the NFL can recite of list of failed picks over the years. From Ryan Leaf, Time Couch, Kyle Boller, to Courtney Brown all former players who had potential and promise during the lead up to the NFL Draft but had little production and success in the NFL
There will be some major hits and a few hidden gems will be found in the later rounds as well as in the undrafted free agent list.

There are also going to be a number of misses by teams, which will most likely result in several general managers and head coaches looking for new employment next season.