Every year, players who are picked highly in the draft fail to live up to the expectations. These “busts,” as they’re often called, set back their team’s ability to build a contender.
Perhaps the most infamous busts of all time are quarterbacks. JaMarcus Russell and Ryan Leaf were picked in the top 2 picks of the draft (Russell No. 1 overall in 2007, Leaf No. 2 overall in 1998) because of great physical promise, but each flamed out of the league very quickly.
Then there’s Trent Richardson, the Alabama running back who was selected No. 3 overall by the Browns in 2012 and never had a 1,000-yard rushing season. He was traded midway through his second year in the league, and after only three years in the league, he has been unable to secure a roster spot for the regular season in either 2015 or 2016.
Offensive players aren’t the only ones who can bust. In 1987, one of the most famous busts of all time was taken first overall in the supplemental draft. Brian “The Boz” Bosworth was taken by the Seattle Seahawks and proceeded to play three incomplete seasons and was forced to retire due to a severe shoulder injury.
In 2013, Dion Jordan sat atop almost every analyst and scout’s draft board, the tall and lean outside linebacker had displayed rare athleticism in his time as an Oregon Duck, often being asked to cover slot receivers in man coverage or drop into zone coverage. He was selected No. 3 overall by the Dolphins and only started a game in Miami. He registered just 3 sacks in Miami while facing multiple suspensions for violating the league’s drug policy.
For the Dallas Cowboys to avoid selecting a bust in this draft, these are some players they need to avoid.
Malik McDowell, DL, Michigan State
McDowell is a supremely talented player, who exhibits the size, speed, quickness and explosion of an elite prospect. But the inconsistent effort and poor reputation for locker room character make the bust risk extremely high for the former Spartan. If the Cowboys could get the light to come on consistently, McDowell could be one of the best players in the draft, but if they can’t, he will cause problems off the field, and be inconsistent at best on it.
Derek Barnett, DE, Tennessee
Barnett is the most productive pass rusher in Southeastern Conference (SEC) history. He is consistently in opposing backfields and makes big plays in big moments. That resume alone will cause some teams to put him very high on their boards. But Barnett has a limitation that will be almost impossible to overcome at the NFL level, he’s just not athletic enough to be consistently productive against NFL blockers.
Barnett has one primary pass rush move, where he wins the edge after anticipating the snap count, using his high level of bend and change of direction to turn the corner and finish at the quarterback. But after testing in only the 25th percentile of NFL edge defenders (4-3 defensive ends and 3-4 outside linebackers) athletically, Barnett would likely struggle with the Cowboys.
Jabrill Peppers, S, Michigan
Peppers was an All-American, a Heisman finalist and a do-everything player for the Michigan Wolverines. He is a dynamic kick returner, explosive as a running back, and played multiple positions on the Michigan defense, but one must wonder where his best position in the NFL will be.
He doesn’t show the quality coverage skills needed to play cornerback or safety in the NFL. He doesn’t force turnovers and isn’t a big enough body to consistently play as a true linebacker. His supreme athleticism carried him at the college level, but is there a real place for him on the Cowboys defense?
Teez Tabor, CB, Florida
The story on Tabor is similar to the one for Barnett, he was highly productive (8 interceptions in three years) as a Gator, but his athletic testing points to a player who will struggle in the NFL. After running a very disappointing 4.62-second 40-yard dash at the combine, Tabor not only failed to improve at his pro day but actually got significantly worse, running 4.72-second 40-yard dash.
Very few cornerbacks have run even a 4.62-second 40-yard dash at the combine and gone on to have NFL success, but no cornerback has succeeded in the league after posting any time in the 4.7s. There are positions where straight line speed is less important, but in a world where some receivers run in the 4.3s or better, Tabor will likely have to lean on a massive cushion in coverage, and he will struggle to recover if his technique isn’t perfect.
Obi Melifonwu, S, Connecticut
Melifonwu put on a similar show at the combine to his former college teammate, and current Cowboys safety, Byron Jones. The difference is that Jones had legitimate first-round quality game tape, playing with physicality and instinct, while Melifonwu is a player who hesitates to follow what he sees and isn’t as physical as his 6-foot-4 224-pound frame suggest he should be. His workout is going to cause some team to pick him very high, likely in the first round, but unless he starts playing like he tests, he will have a hard time living up to it.