Nothing in the NFL disappoints so much as athletic talent wasted.
Each year, draft picks and free-agent signings fail to pan out—not necessarily because of a mistake on the team's part, but because the player failed to maximize his own potential and the coaching staff was not able to break through to him.
If every player gave 100 percent and every coaching staff were comprised of a dozen Vince Lombardis, there would be almost no busts in the NFL and there would be few poor personnel moves. In that hypothetical world, JaMarcus Russell is an All-Pro and Ryan Leaf would be assaulting record books at a record pace.
Instead, the NFL we know is beset by constant wasted talent and unmet potential. This year, few players exemplify that like Dez Bryant and Greg Little.
Dez Bryant's Wearing a "Ten-Dollar Helmet on a Five-Cent Head"
Bryant, a first-round pick of the Dallas Cowboys in 2010, has made his own transition to the NFL as difficult as humanly possible. While there may be plenty of external issues contributing to his lack of discipline, his habitual poor decision-making has kept him from matching his true potential.
The Cowboys have, literally, supplied Bryant with a babysitter to make sure he doesn't end up in the wrong place at the wrong time.
It isn't just on the field that Bryant messes up. On Monday Night Football, Bryant failed to notice the overload blitz and didn't run the corresponding hot route. This led to a Tony Romo interception that was not, in any way, Romo's fault.
Replacing the blitzer is Receiver 101—something Bryant has been tasked with learning since his first days at Oklahoma State, if not earlier.
The phrase "ten dollar hat on a five cent head" refers to someone who is vastly overmatched for the position he or she holds. It's the executive whose had a silver spoon in his mouth since birth, but can't put two and two together to save his life. It's the middle-manager who is clearly incompetent, but also happens to be the boss' son.
Bryant has been handed a starting wide receiver position because of his freak athleticism and his draft status. He's shown flashes of his potential, but just as many moments when it's easy to question why he's even on the field.
Listen, this isn't jumping the gun and it isn't just a matter of time. This is a guy who has failed to live up to his elite potential every step along the way. When one combines that with a complete lack of responsibility off the field, the future doesn't look rosy.
Greg Little Is a Big Problem for the Browns
Little, a product of North Carolina, has had his poor decision-making follow him around since college. Check out this profile from Matt Waldman (then with the New York Times):
Let’s get this out of the way now: Greg Little is a risky pick because he has demonstrated a high level of immaturity, which will probably drop his draft stock. Little won’t be given a lot of slack, and if he doesn’t mature quickly, his opportunities to play in the N.F.L. could go south quicker than he can impress an observer with his tremendous skills.
Those issues caused Little to drop to 59th overall in the 2011 NFL Draft, even though his natural talent should have pushed him much higher.
Fast-forward to his second NFL season and Little is on pace for 20 drops after 15 last year. Dropping the football is not a talent issue, it is a correctable issue. Like shooting free throws or hitting the curve, people find ways to correct the mental and physical issues that lead to dropped passes.
How is Brandon Weeden supposed to develop as a quarterback when even his good throws are incompletions? Add Little's five drops to Weeden's completions total and his lowly completion percentage jumps from 53 to 56 percent. A huge jump? No, but that type of thing weighs on a passer's psyche.
Meanwhile, the Browns have had to ask Little to stop preening on the field. Inconceivably, Little does not seem to understand that his team is horrible and he's a big part of its problems.
Little's off-the-field issues from Chapel Hill seem to be in his rear-view mirror, but one has to ask if he's ever going to be ready or able to put forth the mental effort necessary to fix his issues.
Bryant is the Bigger Talent, but Little Likely Has the Brighter Future
If we head back to that fictional world from the intro—a world where every NFL player lives up to his potential—Bryant and Little is as much of a competition as Usain Bolt taking on Jerry Jones in a 100-yard dash.
As great of a natural athlete as Little is (and let's not underplay his physical gifts), Bryant is a singular talent. In the hypothetical scenario above, Bryant would sit in the elite NFL group of receivers with Calvin Johnson, Andre Johnson, Julio Jones and A.J. Green.
The problem with Bryant isn't just that his issues are so deep-seated (they are) or that he's required to be treated like a toddler just to stay on the right side of the NFL's personal conduct policy (he has).
No, the biggest problem with Bryant—the reason it's difficult to see a light at the end of the tunnel—is that there's no end in sight to the enabling that has gone on in his life since the first time he leapt into the air and grabbed a football.
Giving Bryant a chaperone doesn't fix anything. If a person can't make correct decisions in their life without being watched, they're never going to learn just because someone is assigned to watch them.
Quite the opposite, in fact. Bryant is going to continue to test his boundaries just like he's always done.
Why? Because the Cowboys aren't doing anything to stop it. Like a grandpa with a pocket full of hard candies, Jones is going to continue to enable Bryant, but hold Jason Garrett (or whoever is coaching in the near-to-late future) accountable.
Last year, Little was actually a bright spot on an otherwise impotent Browns offense. In 2012 and beyond, that won't necessarily be true and the Browns are already putting him on notice. Maybe Little never lives up to his potential, but he's already quieted the critics off the field. Why couldn't he do it on the field as well?
Pat Shurmur may not be the guy to get the most out of Little, but Shurmur may not be around that long as well. With the Browns clearly as the bottom-feeder in the AFC North and searching for their first win, he's on the hot seat under a new owner.
If anyone is going to write off Little, let's wait to do so until we see him in a healthy situation.
Neither of these guys have given a whole lot of reason to trust they will ever live up to their lofty expectations, but if pressed to pick one, Greg Little has more long-term upside.
Michael Schottey is the NFL national lead writer for Bleacher Report and an award-winning member of the Pro Football Writers of America. Find more of his stuff alongside other great writers at "The Go Route."