With every draft that comes and goes, we’re reminded both of the stars that emerge out of it, as well as the over-hyped duds that never establish themselves. For every sack-machine or touchdown king, there is a Dan Wilkinson or Curtis Enis. The trick is, who are these guys, and how can NFL general managers stay away from them? While it’s much too late for the NFL decision-makers to catch the signs now, it’s up to The Red Zone Report to show the world which 2009 NFL Draft picks are most likely to fit the billing of the most hated label: NFL bust.
1. Mark Sanchez, QB, New York Jets (5th overall pick)
There’s two sides to the Sanchez debate (as there always is), which makes it extremely difficult to predict his future. On one side, he has absolutely everything (including the swagger) you look for in a franchise quarterback. However, his lack of experience, and the fact that it’s very possible he’ll be the day-one starter, lead you to believe it could be very rough for him in the early going. He’s either going to progress slowly like Joe Flacco did last season, or he’ll be terrible and burn out like Todd Marinovich.
2. Darrius Heyward-Bey, WR, Oakland Raiders (7th overall pick)
We all knew leading into the draft that Al Davis might do this, but we never actually believed it. With a stud offensive tackle, defensive tackle, and a better pure receiver prospect (Michael Crabtree) left on the board, the world was dumbfounded to see Heyward-Bey selected at this spot. While it’s hard to ignore his rare speed and natural athleticism, it’s clear he is far from being a polished receiver. Without a true answer at quarterback, and no consistent talent around him, we’ll probably be seeing a lot of drops and poor route running in Heyward-Bey’s career.
3. Brian Cushing, OLB, Houston Texans (15th overall pick)
Cushing was an outstanding college linebacker. He possesses great size, speed, and instincts for the position. However, he’s coming into a 4-3 scheme, one that will force him into a lot of coverage, which could exploit his merely average pass defense skills. Cushing is exactly everything scouts have hyped him up to be. He’s fast, athletic, and plays with a demeanor that not many players have. But if you simply take a look at Green Bay’s A.J. Hawk, you’ll see what happens when an athletic linebacker who lacks coverage skills plays in a 4-3. His future isn’t written in stone, but there is definitely room for improvement if Cushing is going to become an impact player in the NFL.
4. Josh Freeman, QB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers (17th overall pick)
There was a lot of hype surrounding Freeman before the draft, and very little of it was for sound reason. Freeman has tremendous size and a cannon for an arm, but the odds are he’ll end up being more like JaMarcus Russell, rather than matching up with recent Ben Roethlisberger comparisons. Too may quarterbacks have been drafted high over the years due to their size and arm, while not necessarily carrying the attributes needed to be a successful pro. Unfortunately, Freeman is destined to join the likes of Ryan Leaf and Tim Couch.
5. Robert Ayers, DE/OLB, Denver Broncos (18th overall pick)
Ayers’ future probably hangs on what position he ultimately plays at the next level. Denver is a great spot for him to potentially shine, as there aren’t many stud defensive players sporting the blue and orange. However, Ayers projects best as a defensive end, while Denver probably intends on using him as an outside linebacker. Due to his lack of elite speed or explosiveness, Ayers will have a difficult adapting to coverage and the speed of the game in the NFL if he’s asked to switch positions. If he sticks at and end, though, we could be talking about him in high regard in the next three years.
6.Clay Matthews, OLB, Green Bay Packers (26th overall pick)
While I actually love Matthews as a prospect (as well as this pick), I still can see the very real possibility of Matthews not panning out in the NFL. While he has the pedigree and athleticism on his side, he has only one year of experience, and is a living example of the definition of hype. Matthews is more athletic than his father (who played 18 years), but there are many question marks about his game.
7. Brian Robiskie, WR, Cleveland Browns (36th overall pick)
Robiskie is a solid pass-catcher with above-average athleticism, so on paper, he appears to have the tools to succeed at the next level. However, considering Braylon Edwards is halfway out the door, Robiskie will be asked to both replace a star receiver, while also becoming one. Robiskie is a good athlete with a good head on his shoulders, but being smart and athletic doesn’t make for a guaranteed career as a number one option.
8. Connor Barwin, OLB/DE, Houston Texans (46th overall pick)
Much like Clay Matthews, Barwin is an athletic freak with outstanding pass rushing skills, although his experience and raw ability are huge question marks. The other area of concern is how Houston plans on using Barwin. If they keep him on the outside as a linebacker, I actually feel he’ll flourish as a rush specialist, while being able to grow in pass coverage. If he’s placed on the line, though, his inexperience will be obvious, and he may be overpowered too often to have as big of an impact as he could coming from the outside.
9. Richard Quinn, TE, Denver Broncos (64th overall pick)
Considering the Broncos had plenty more obvious needs at this pick, Quinn may end up being a bust by default. However, until Tony Scheffler is traded or released, Quinn will have to resort to solely blocking, or at best, chip in as a second tight end. Quinn wasn’t drafted for his receiving prowess or athleticism, so it’s quite a reach to take him this early just to be a blocker. There were plenty more talented tight ends available.
10. Shonn Greene, RB, New York Jets (65th overall pick)
Greene was a fine college back, but doesn’t have the vision Thomas Jones has, nor the speed or quickness that Leon Washington possesses. Ultimately, whether Rex Ryan likes it or not, Greene doesn’t have the athletic prowess or intangibles to be a better back than either of the ones he currently has. Greene may be a serviceable back in the league, but it’s doubtful he’ll ever develop into a 1,000-yard rusher.
If fans and NFL scouts are being honest with themselves, it’s probably a fair toss-up for all ten of these guys (possibly excluding Heyward-Bey). For the most part, they all have at least above-average athleticism, and know the game of football. The main issue with most of them is the transition to a new position, the NFL itself, or the make-up of their supporting cast. We always hope for the best for all the draft picks, but inevitably, we’ll be talking about a few of them years down the road, and not in a positive way.