Honorable Mention Selection Criteria

Troy Williamson Exemption (Combine Pick)


troy williamson dropping another pass

Synopsis: After trading All-Pro wide receiver Randy Moss to the Raiders prior to the 2005 Draft, the Vikings needed to find a new deep-ball threat. In response, they used Oakland’s 1st round pick (7th overall) in that draft to select South Carolina wide receiver Troy Williamson. The former Gamecock was raw as a receiver, but he was fast. Of note, Williamson ran the 40 in a blistering time of 4.32 seconds at the combine. When players like him are drafted, teams often respond with comments like, “You can’t teach speed.” The Vikings didn’t need to teach Williamson how to run fast, but they needed to teach him how to catch the ball. Unfortunately, they couldn’t. On behalf of all players who were drafted because of combine results instead of on-field accomplishments, Williamson has earned an eponymous exemption.


When determining potential Top 10 Busts, I developed the following criteria as a way to eliminate less deserving candidates.

  1. The player was selected with one of the first 10 overall picks (aka The Brady Quinn Exemption)
  2. The player needed to be a bona fide superstar coming out of college (aka The Troy Williamson Exemption)
  3. The player’s on-field performance was not just bad, but rather really bad (aka The Tony Mandarich Exemption).
  4. The player’s unproductive career cannot be the result of an injury (aka The Steve Emtman Exemption).
  5. The player was given a fair shot to compete on the field (aka The Rich Campbell Exemption)

In this post, I establish the second criterion by detailing the selection of Troy Williamson by the Minnesota Vikings with the 7th pick in the 2005 Draft. While the first 10 overall picks generally are accomplished superstars, some players are able to move up as the result of some feat of speed or strength at the combine. Williamson was an example of such a player because his on-field accomplishments certainly weren’t indicative of a top 10 draft pick. In response, I have limited the pool of potential Top 10 NFL Draft Busts to winners/finalists of year-end awards (e.g. Heisman, Butkus, Maxwell, etc.) or players ranked as NCAA leaders for certain offensive/defensive categories.

Clearly, not all college players receiving some form of year-end recognition are sure to be successful at the next level. For instance, Heisman winners who failed in the NFL could fill a list of Top 10 Busts just on their own (e.g., Gino Torretta, Eric Crouch, Jason White, Troy Smith, etc.). Arguably, that award is often given to the most accomplished player on the best team instead of the best player on any team, so the recognition is based more on the team’s success than the player’s individual abilities. As a case in point, many Heisman winners have been later round picks because teams have had questions about their ability to play in the NFL. Hopefully, the first two criteria narrow the field of potential all-time busts to players who were not only high picks, but also deserving of being high picks.

Similar to Williamson, Darrius Heyward-Bey (#7 in the 2009 draft) was a high draft choice without the same credentials as other top picks. Neither player was ranked in the top 10 in any offensive NCAA category or named as a finalist for any year-end award. Instead, they both had great times in the 40-yard dash at the combine. In particular, Williamson ran a 4.32 while Heyward-Bey ran a 4.30. As a point of reference, the fastest time since the implementation of electronic timing in 2000 was Chris Johnson’s time of 4.24 seconds in 2008. Obviously, both Williamson and Heyward-Bey were fast. Speed helps, but not if you can’t catch the ball.

As a junior at South Carolina, Williamson had 43 receptions for 835 yards and seven touchdowns. In order to finish in the top 10 in any of those categories, he would have needed approximately 100% more receptions, 40% more yards, or 70% more touchdowns. In case you’re wondering, he would have needed approximately 150% more receptions, 70% more yards, or 160% more touchdowns to be the outright leader in any category. Regardless, he thought he had accomplished enough to leave school early and enter the draft. After Williamson’s performance at the combine, most “experts” considered him a mid-1st round pick so his belief was substantiated.

Almost two months before the 2005 Draft, the Vikings decided to part ways with Randy Moss. While it’s true that Moss’s numbers dipped after sitting out a few games with an injury, the team more likely traded him because of a series of embarrassing situations (e.g. mock-mooning as part of a TD celebration, “Straight Cash, Homey” video clip, etc.). In a trade with the Raiders, the Vikings received two 2005 draft picks (a 1st rounder and a 7th rounder) and LB Napoleon Harris in return for Moss. Without their former All-Pro receiver, the Vikings presumably felt pressure to find a replacement who could spread defenses so they used the Raiders’ 1st round pick to select Williamson. Unfortunately, Troy Williamson was no Randy Moss.

After playing in 49 games from 2005-2009, Williamson caught 87 passes for 1,131 yards, scored four TDs and had a Weighted Average Value of eight. Throughout his career, Williamson became better known for the passes he dropped than the ones he caught.

Troy Williamson
For Williamson, drops often occurred with no defender in sight

This picture doesn’t do justice to the dropped pass when compared to the actual video clip given that Williamson was at least 10 yards from the nearest defender. While no sound is needed to get the point, the commentary is worthwhile too. In particular, the announcer mentioned, “When you’re a wide receiver in pro football, I think your job description is you’ve got to be able to catch. And, he hasn’t been able to catch.”

Williamson had a bust-worthy career, but any expectations of him were based on wishful thinking and not on prior achievement. Since his lack of production shouldn’t have come as a big surprise, he became the inspiration for what I call the Troy Williamson Exemption. In essence, an all-time bust shouldn’t have any noticeable deficiencies before the pick is made. Regardless, Williamson still was a bust and deserving of a Top 10 Bust Honorable Mention.

For those of you wondering about Heyward-Bey, he also qualifies for the Troy Williamson Exemption. As a junior at Maryland, Heyward-Bey had 42 receptions for 609 yards and five touchdowns. In order to finish in the top 10 in any of these categories, he would have had to double his production (e.g. 56 more receptions, 591 yards, and six touchdowns). Furthermore, he would have needed almost 4x as many receptions, 3x as many yards and 4x as many touchdowns to be the outright leader in any category. Needless to say, there were a lot of more accomplished receivers than Heyward-Bey in college that year. Regardless, he declared for the 2009 NFL Draft.

Interestingly, Williamson and Heyward-Bey were very similar. First, they both left college early despite significantly trailing the statistical leaders during their final seasons. Second, they both were lightning quick and ran the 40-yard dash at the combine in around 4.3 seconds. Third, they both were taken with 7th overall picks based on their speed. Fourth, they both were disappointments in the NFL.

NFL: Pittsburgh Steelers at Oakland Raiders
Similar to Williamson, Heyward-Bey has caught fewer than 50% of the passes targeted to him. At least Heyward-Bey heard actual footsteps before dropping this pass

While Heyward-Bey’s career is not what the Raiders might have hoped by taking him with such a high pick, he has accumulated over 2,400 yards from scrimmage along with 14 touchdowns. With a career twice as productive as Williamson’s, Heyward-Bey has put up numbers enabling him to avoid all-time bust status. In essence, he also earned the Tony Mandarich Exemption for players whose careers just weren’t bad enough to be declared a Top 10 Bust. Heyward-Bey is still in the league so he has a chance to completely shed the “bust” label. In contrast, Williamson’s career is long over so he will be stuck with the label forever.

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