Honorable Mention Top 10 NFL Draft Busts

Jason Smith: Honorable Mention (NFL)

Synopsis: Influenced by impressive combine results, the St. Louis Rams took Baylor OT Jason Smith with the #2 overall pick in the 2009 NFL Draft. Despite high expectations, Smith ended his four-year career as the least productive offensive lineman ever taken with a top 5 overall pick. While he seemingly deserves to be labeled a Top 10 Bust, his lack of production can be attributed to a history of serious head injuries. In particular, he suffered two season-ending concussions during his first three years in the league. Smith recovered from the first one, but never started again after the second. It’s uncertain how good he might have been without the injuries, but it’s unfair to label him as an all-time bust because of them.


JASON SMITH: HONORABLE MENTION – INJURY EXEMPTION

Before determining any of my Top 10 Busts, I evaluated at least seven years of statistics from each NFL draft class. Granted, most busts don’t survive that long. However, I believe they deserve three to four years to prove themselves and another three to four years to disprove any chance for a comeback. Additionally, the draft class needs to mature for that long to be able to declare busts on an absolute and relative basis.

The unsuccessful career of #3 Bust JaMarcus Russell provides some rationale for this guideline. To start, the 2007 #1 overall pick failed to produce for three seasons with the Oakland Raiders. Then, after a three-year absence, he attempted a comeback in 2013 as a 27-year-old. I never gave Russell much of a chance to make a team back then. However, I wouldn’t have been completely shocked either. After all, the Cleveland Browns had selected 28-year-old rookie QB Brandon Weeden with the 22nd overall pick one year earlier.

Given the Browns’ incompetence since returning to the league in 1999, they don’t offer the best support. Instead, I’ll offer the example of Honorable Mention Tony Mandarich. After three unspectacular seasons to start his career, the 1989 #2 overall pick got cut by the Green Bay Packers. Due to assorted personal problems (i.e. drug and alcohol addictions), Mandarich’s career seemed to be over. However, after a four-year absence, he made a successful comeback with the Indianapolis Colts. His production after the hiatus didn’t prevent him from being called a bust. Then again, it certainly helped keep him from being named a Top 10 Bust.

2009 DRAFT – NEW VINTAGE

Since I revealed my initial ranking in late 2014, I have updated the pool of potential busts to include players taken in the 2009 Draft. Of note, I didn’t change the countdown of Top 10 Busts. However, Jason Smith earned an Honorable Mention by meeting four of the five previously established criteria.

  1. The player needs to have been a top 10 overall draft pick (aka The Brady Quinn Exemption).
  2. The player needs to have been a bona fide superstar coming out of college (aka The Troy Williamson Exemption).
  3. The player’s on-field performance needs to have been really, really bad (aka The Tony Mandarich Exemption).
  4. The player’s unproductive career cannot have been the result of an injury (aka The Steve Emtman Exemption).
  5. The player needs to have received a fair chance to compete on the field (aka The Rich Campbell Exemption)
JASON SMITH – TOP 10 BUST SELECTION CRITERIA
1) A team took the player with a top 10 overall pick (a.k.a. The Brady Quinn Exemption).

In honor of 2007 #22 overall pick Brady Quinn, a bust only can become a Top 10 Bust if drafted with one of the first ten overall picks. Go figure, the Browns selected him with the pick. Don’t worry, Quinn failed with other teams as well.

Criterion met / exemption not granted. After his senior year at Baylor, the St. Louis Rams took Smith with the 2009 2nd overall pick.

2) The player had a completely unproductive career (a.k.a. The Tony Mandarich Exemption).

In honor of better-than-remembered Tony Mandarich, a potential Top 10 Bust needs to be less productive than at least 90% of all top 10 overall picks. Specifically, his career Weighted Average Value (WAV) cannot be higher than 13. As a point of reference, players generally earn Pro Bowl status by having a WAV of 13 or more in a season. In essence, Top 10 Busts have entire careers less productive than one Pro Bowl-worthy season.

Criterion met / exemption not granted. During his 4-year career, Smith amassed a total WAV of 10. For clarification, his production only exceeded two other offensive tackles taken with top 10 overall picks in the last 40 years.

3) The player came out of college as a bona fide star (a.k.a. The Troy Williamson Exemption).

In honor of Troy Williamson, a potential Top 10 Bust must have been a legitimate superstar coming out of college. In contrast, the 2005 #7 overall pick benefited more from a good combine than from outstanding on-the-field production.

Criterion met / exemption not granted. Originally, Smith had been targeted as the 4th or 5th best offensive lineman available in the 2009 Draft. However, he moved to the front of the pack with a strong performance at the combine. While Smith’s combine results certainly helped, it wasn’t as if he came out of nowhere. For instance, the Football Writers Association of America had named him First-Team All-America for the 2008 college season. As such, he certainly had proved himself as a bona fide superstar.

4) The player received a fair chance to prove his worth as a top pick (a.k.a. The Rich Campbell Exemption).

In honor of QB Rich Campbell, a potential Top 10 Bust must be given a reasonable chance to compete on the field. Specifically, the 1981 #6 overall pick never got the opportunity to start even one NFL game.

Criterion met / exemption not granted. Smith played in 45 games, including 26 starts, during his four-year career with the Rams and Jets. He started fewer games than any other first round pick from the 2009 Draft. However, that fact reflects on his lack of production instead of an unwarranted bias against him.

5) The player didn’t suffer career-threatening injuries (a.k.a. The Steve Emtman Exemption).

In honor of Steve Emtman, a potential Top 10 Bust gets an injury exemption. Often considered an all-time bust, the 1992 #1 overall pick gets a bye from me given the impact injuries had on cutting his career so short.

Criterion not met / exemption granted. Smith missed significant time after season-ending concussions during two of his first three years in the league. Specifically, he suffered one in Week 11 of the 2009 season and another in Week 7 of the 2011 season. After the second concussion, Smith never started another NFL game again.

DRAFT ASSESSMENT – OFFENSIVE LINEMEN

Before evaluating the 2009 Draft, I noted that offensive linemen generally offer the best risk-return profile for a high draft pick. From 1977-2008, teams took 47 offensive linemen with one of the first 10 overall draft picks. Out of this group, 10 (21%) became superstars with WAVs of 90 or more. On the other hand, only two (4%) became busts with WAVs of 17 or less.

With a career WAV of 10, Smith increased the number of busts by 50% (i.e. from two to three). Still, I maintain that teams shouldn’t shy away from using an early pick on top-rated offensive linemen. In particular, the updated ratio of superstars to busts (3:1) is still impressive.

Going into the 2009 Draft, the following players dominated most conversations. 

  • Georgia QB Matt Stafford: the most pro-ready quarterback.
  • USC QB Mark Sanchez: the most camera-friendly quarterback.
  • Texas Tech WR Michael Crabtree: a two-time recipient of the Biletnikoff Award as the nation’s best college receiver.
  • Ole Miss LT Michael Oher. Unlike the other players, Oher had gained notoriety beyond the football field. Specifically, he inspired Michael Lewis’s bestseller The Blind Side: Evolution of a Game. Lewis’ book highlights Oher’s journey as a homeless teenager evolving into an NFL prospect.
THE BLIND SIDE – MOVIE POSTER
Blind_side_poster
Despite the tagline, the movie took a lot of liberties in retelling the true story.

While not quite on the same level as Remember the Titans, The Blind Side works as a feel-good sports movie. Portraying the woman who took Oher off the streets (exaggerated, but mostly true) and taught him how to play football (not true), Sandra Bullock won an Oscar for the role. Truly outstanding in the movie, she somehow made the voters forget about her past efforts in movies like Demolition Man, Speed 2: Cruise Control, or All About Steve. Brava Sandy!

For me, the most surprising takeaway involved learning that left tackles could get paid more than skill positions like running backs and wide receivers. Initially, I thought the claim might be exaggerated in order to elevate the relevance of Oher’s position. In reality, it turned out to be accurate.

Interestingly, Herm Edwards repeated the claim on Mike & Mike early this week.

If you’re growing up and your son is a football player and he’s playing offense, [there are] two positions: quarterback or left tackle. If he can’t throw it, feed him a bunch of steak and let him play left tackle because eventually he’s gonna get paid. Okay. That’s how it works.

Edwards’ comment might be a little dated given that wide receivers make more than left tackles today. However, the reverse situation existed in 2009.

PROTECTING THE BLIND SIDE

Showing the importance of protecting quarterbacks’ blind sides, teams took left tackles with three of the first eight picks that year. Those three players were #2 pick Jason Smith, #6 pick Andre Smith, and #8 pick Eugene Monroe. Despite being a consensus All-American, Oher somehow survived until the 23rd pick. 

 

Relative to these four first-round picks, Andre Smith had the strongest résumé going into the combine. In addition to being a consensus 1st Team All-American, he won the Outland Trophy as the best interior lineman in college. For whatever reason, however, Smith left the combine early. As a result, draft analysts expected him to fall to the middle or end of the first round. By taking him with the 6th overall pick, the Bengals disagreed. Apparently, they saw enough with his on-field production as a four-year starter at Alabama to overlook the potential red flag.

With the second strongest résumé before the combine, Oher might have been better off if he decided to leave early too. As the following table shows, he performed poorly in comparison to the other top prospects.

2009 DRAFT PROFILES: JASON SMITH AND OTHER NOTABLE OFFENSIVE LINEMEN

Draft Pick

Player School Height Weight (lbs) Arm Length 40-yd Dash (secs) Bench Press (reps)

Vertical Leap

#2

Jason Smith Baylor 6’ 5” 309 33 3/4” 5.09 33 24”
#6 Andre Smith Alabama 6’ 4” 332 35 3/8” 5.28 N/A

N/A

#8

Eugene Monroe Virginia 6’ 5” 309 33 7/8” 5.23 23 28 1/2”
#23 Michael Oher Mississippi 6’ 5” 309 33 1/2” 5.32 21

30 1/2”

With respect to these players, Oher ran the slowest time in the 40 (5.32 seconds) and registered the fewest reps (21) in the bench press. Furthermore, he supposedly didn’t do too well during the interview portion of the annual beauty pageant. Specifically, he raised concerns about his meek demeanor. Scouts worried that he might lack the aggressive personality needed to battle in the trenches. Apparently, they valued a 15-minute interview more than hours of video tape. Despite initial reports that Oher might be the most talented player in the draft (overall, not just at his position), analysts pegged him as a mid-first round pick after the combine.

In contrast, Jason Smith had a very strong combine. Of note, he demonstrated speed with a sub 5.1 time in the 40 and strength with 33 reps in the bench press. Based on these results, Smith went from a likely top 15 pick to a likely top 5 pick. He must have nailed the interview portion as well because the St. Louis Rams took him with the second overall pick. In retrospect, the Rams would have been better off ignoring the combine because Smith had the least productive professional career of anyone highlighted in the previous table. Then again, his career suffered because of unforeseeable injuries

JASON SMITH AT THE 2009 COMBINE
jason smith
After displaying feats of speed and strength, Smith moved up on the draft board.

As previously mentioned, Jason Smith suffered his first of two season-ending concussions during Week 11 of his rookie year. According to an Associated Press article written eight days later, Smith described his injury by saying:

Linemen get concussions all the time, you go out and keep playing. You get hit helmet to helmet all the time and you get a little woozy. I don’t recall blanking out, I just remember being real woozy and ‘Uhhh, something’s wrong, uhhh, something’s really wrong.’

Even though Smith made theses comments only six years ago, they frighteningly expose the naivety players had about the seriousness of concussions. In particular, Smith seemingly overlooked other concussions he might have had. For that same article, he admitted that he likely already had a few during his short NFL career.

After sitting out for the remainder of his rookie season in 2009, Smith came back and started 15 games in 2010. Unfortunately, he suffered another season-ending concussion in Week 7 of the 2011 season. On the field for almost 80% of his team’s offensive plays in six starts that year, Smith allowed 11 QB pressures, two QB hits, and two sacks. Based on those numbers, Pro Football Focus rated him as the Rams’ second best offensive lineman. Regardless, St. Louis decided to trade him prior to the start of the 2012 season.

JUST NOT THE SAME

In what could be described as a “change-of-scenery” trade, the Rams exchanged their oft-injured player for OL Wayne Hunter of the Jets. A seven-year veteran at the time, Hunter had started all 16 games at right tackle during the 2011 season. After being demoted to back-up by Jets Coach Rex Ryan in the 2012 preseason, Hunter became expendable. Despite the change of scenery, neither player got significant playing time with his new team. Cut after the season, they never played in the NFL again. Whereas Hunter’s career ended naturally (i.e. from old age), Smith’s ended because of the head injuries.

After four years in the league, Jason Smith finished his career with a WAV of 10. In comparison, the other three tackles have WAVs ranging from two to three times higher than Smith’s career total. Through the end of the 2015 season, Eugene Monroe has a WAV of 33, Andre Smith has a WAV of 36, and Michael Oher has a WAV of 43. None of them has ever made the Pro Bowl, but they all have been solid contributors as starters in the league for seven years.

Relative to players taken with comparable picks, Monroe and Andre Smith should finish their careers near the top of the third quartile (i.e. slightly below average) while Oher should finish his career near the bottom of the first quartile (i.e. well above average). In contrast, Jason Smith finished his career in the bottom of the fourth quartile (i.e. one of the worst).

Despite the unflattering comparison, Jason Smith has a legitimate excuse. In particular, his career suffered due to the serious concussions he suffered. While able to avoid being named a Top 10 Bust because of them, he still earned an Honorable Mention despite them.

JASON SMITH: HONORABLE MENTION – INJURY EXEMPTION
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