Potential in the NFL: How Soon Do We Label "Busts"?

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Potential in the NFL: How Soon Do We Label
(Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

Every year in the NFL, potential stars come and go. If they don’t succeed, they’re called a bust.

Watching Kyle Orton’s newfound success and Cedric Benson’s rise out of mediocrity got me thinking, how soon is too soon to label someone a “bust”?

Matt Forte’s struggle this year makes me wonder if maybe, just maybe, a fantastic rookie season is enough to shed the “bust” label—or does it simply delay it? Is Forte the next Rashaan Salaam, or maybe Anthony Thomas? How soon before he gets shipped off a la Benson or Orton?

Is being drafted by the Bears a gateway to success with other teams? Think about it. Granted, the Bears have had some record “busts” over the years, but what exactly constitutes being a “bust?”

So many questions, and they all begin with scouting. At the collegiate level, the most misleading term used to evaluate talent is potential (pay attention, Maurice Clarett).

Every year, analysts evaluate the new draft class, certain that they’ve pegged every player to a T, studying game film and statistical prowess. But one thing you hear about every year is that player’s potential. Sure, he may not perform now, but he has potential.

Most of the time, the teams at the top of the draft are in miserable situations anyway, and these so-called “experts” forget to factor in both the status of the organization and their ability to develop talent.

JaMarcus Russell, starting quarterback and top draft pick for the Oakland Raiders, continues to put up numbers that make Cade McNown look like Dan Marino, but they stick with him because he’s got raw athletic ability, a strong arm...and potential. The Raiders remain in futility, waiting for Russell to validate their high draft pick and lead them to the promised land.

The jury is out, Oakland—cut Russell and trade Darren McFadden while he still has the “potential” tag on him. The last thing Oakland needs is the second coming of Ryan Leaf.

Coaches’ jobs have been lost waiting for their “potential” to develop (how many coaches have come and gone in Oakland?). But I’ve got a simple plan to fix all of it: For those teams who fail at developing talent, simply let another do it for you.

For example, the Bears can’t make their own quarterback, so they let the Broncos look after theirs for a while and took him off their hands. These teams don’t need their draft picks anyway—they won’t develop, trust me.

Maybe it’s time for some of these teams to give Tim Couch a call. After all, he’s had to have reached his potential by now. 

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