Draft Busts (04/12/16)

Last Updated: 5/1/2016 1:00 PM ET
Potential busts in the 2016 NFL Draft

During and immediately following the NFL Draft, almost every first round pick is given praise and teams are 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 career 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. According to the NFL Communication website, the average career length is about 3.5 years.

In recent years we have called out a few possible draft busts before the draft. Players such as Dion Jordan (Miami Dolphins), Eric Ebron (Detroit Lions), Cordarelle Patterson (Minnesota Vikings), Bjorn Werner (Indianapolis Colts), and Blake Bortles (Jacksonville Jaguars) were all high risk players going into their respective draft classes. Each of these players have failed to live up to the expectation of being a dominant, quality starter at each of their positions and have thus far been disappointment. All of these players were written about being high risk type of players whose college career suggested there would be a higher probability associated with these players as being potential draft busts.

I have already discussed at length that no quarterback in this draft class is worth a first round selection. Whether it be Jared Goff or Carson Wentz, both players are developmental prospects who need a significant amount of time before they are ready to become starters in the NFL. The most pro-ready quarterback in this draft is Connor Cook, who has steadily risen up a few teams' draft boards the past couple of weeks.

Before the adoption of the spread offense in college, offensive lineman were one of the safest and more trusted position groups in the draft. Interior offensive lineman were viewed as a position group where you could find a guaranteed starter for the next six to eight years if you took a guard or center in the first round. In recent years teams the success rate for offensive lineman selected in the first round hasn't been as high. Players such as Eric Fisher (Kansas City Chiefs), Luke Joeckel (Jacksonville Jaguars) and D.J. Humphries are just a few examples of players who have yet to live up to expectations for their respective clubs.

Below are three 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. The players selected have a high risk value associated with their level of player in comparison to their possible draft position.

Jihad Ward (DE, Illinois):

Sometimes a player just needs to show up at the Senior Bowl or the NFL Combine, put in a one-day performance and then his draft stock will rise. This year that player was Jihad Ward.

With just three sacks in 2015, Jihad Ward wasn't on my radar going down to the Senior Bowl as a must-watch prospect. He had an impressive first day of practice, notching a couple of wins in individual drills and impressing a number of scouts.

He can play either inside at the defensive tackle in sub-packages or play a traditional 4-3 defensive end spot. In addition to his versatility and measurables, Ward possess the long arms scouts like to see from a prototypical pass rushing defensive end.

Playing in just 25 career games, Ward produced 74.5 tackles, 12 TFL, 4.5 sacks, three pass breakups, and three forced fumbles. He amassed a total of 28.5 impact plays, an average of 1.1 impact plays per game, ranking him 25th among draft-eligible defensive ends.

As a pass rusher, Ward doesn't attack his opponent with any semblance of a game plan. He tries to overpower his man with little to no success. He doesn't exhibit proper technique and keeps his pad level too high, allowing blockers to get underneath and drive him backwards. Ward had a pass rush index rating of just 3.6 percent, tied for 22nd among draft-eligible defensive ends.

At 6'5” and 297 pounds, Ward has the long arms and the measurables most teams want out of a traditional 4-3 strong-side defensive end. Ward is by no means an accomplished pass rusher. He is a major project player who will need a couple of years of development before he can become a rotational player in the NFL.

There is talk of Ward being a possible second round selection, but he is too much of a project player to be taken that high in the draft. With such a high-risk player, it would be wise for NFL teams to hold off and take Ward in the sixth or seventh round.

Braxton Miller (WR, Ohio State):

There is no denying the fact that Miller is a skilled athlete who wowed audiences as a quarterback. He is dangerous with the ball in his hands and can make an ankle breaking move to slip past defenders in a blink of an eye. He also can make defenders miss in space and pick up significant yards after the catch.

One of the issues with Miller is that he can't catch the ball down the field. He only had 28 receptions last season, but 12 of those came five yards or more down the field. Most of his intended targets were screens or short area throws equivalent to a long handoff. He isn't refined in his route running and he has a hard time getting out his breaks on intermediate to deep routes.

With the current collective bargaining agreement in the NFL, coaching staffs don't have the time or the ability to work with inexperienced players to improve their craft. This is a win-now league and spending time with a project player, such as Miller, takes time and resources away from game planning and working with players who actually will see the field on a regular basis.

Miller only played in 13 games as a wide receiver in college, collecting 42 receptions, 260 yards, one receiving touchdown and an average of 6.2 yards per catch. Five percent of his receptions resulted in 25 or more yards, second lowest amongst draft-eligible wide receivers.

Ohio State had a full plate of playmaking stars on offense, led by running back, Ezekiel Elliott, and fellow wideout, Michael Thomas. Last season Thomas accounted for 35.5 percent market share of the Ohio State wide receiver production. Miller's wide receiver market share was 14.1 percent, 51st among wide receivers in this draft class.

While Miller compares himself to an “Odell Beckham-type of player”, the plain facts suggest that players with his lack of experience at the wide receiver position rarely have much success in the NFL. Two names consistently show up in the draft metrics for finding a comparison to Miller. First is former first round selection in 2005, Matt Jones, who was drafted by the Jacksonville Jaguars. Jones was a former college quarterback who tried to convert to playing wide receiver in the NFL. He failed to have any sustained success and was out of the league in a few years due to his off-field behavior.

The second comparison is current Tennessee Titans, Dexter McCluster, a multi-purpose type tailback/wide receiver coming out of college. McCluster is a versatile weapon and a quality special teams player for the Titans.

It will probably take Miller a couple of seasons before he is ready to be a consistent starter in the NFL. Whichever team selects him will have to plan on a long learning curve. It would be wise for teams to consider using a late round pick or sign him as a priority free agent instead of using a second or third round selection on him.

Deion Jones (OLB, LSU):

Few schools in college football have the history and tradition of placing quality, talented defensive football players in the NFL as LSU. Since 2005, there have been 13 LSU defensive players selected in the first or second round. This year could be the first time since 2010 that no LSU defensive player is selected in the first or second round. One name that has recently shot up a few draft boards in recent weeks is Deion Jones, the speedy outside linebacker.

He put up an impressive performance at the NFL Combine, posting a sub-4.6 forty-yard dash time. Jones is a smaller linebacker at 6'1” and a slim 222 pounds; he is built more like a safety than a traditional linebacker.
Jones is a liability in pass coverage; he has a hard time staying next to his man in coverage and is rarely able to get his hands on the ball. He had only three pass breakups last season despite being targeted over 50 times in coverage.

Playing in 51 career games, Jones recorded 122.5 tackles, 21 TFL, five sacks, four pass breakups, two interceptions, and one forced fumble. He recorded 39 impact plays, an average of 0.8 impact plays per game, second lowest average among draft-eligible outside linebackers.

Jones has the making of a quality special teamer, but he lacks the playmaking skills needed to be a starter in the NFL. He is someone who will need some time to improve his overall skill level and learn the position. With all things considered, teams would be smart to take a flier on Jones in the fifth or later rounds of the draft.