Every year as the NFL draft approaches, talking heads and sportswriters start labeling prospects with terms like "sure thing" and "can't miss." The players that receive these plaudits rarely live up to them, but that doesn't seem to stop the words from getting tossed around.
The 2022 draft season has been no different, which leads me to conduct this annual exercise of pointing out players who are destined to fail to live up to expectations.
We traditionally call those players "busts."
Here are four players who will likely be selected early in the 2022 NFL Draft — and I'm officially putting them on "bust watch."
Drake London, WR, USC
London is a big receiver with really good hands, and analysts can't stop talking about how his basketball instincts help him on the football field. Physically, there's no question that the kid is an elite athletic specimen. My concerns, however, are his style of play. He doesn't get a ton of separation, and as a result, makes a lot of contested catches. The problem is, the defenders he's beating will by and large never cash NFL checks. Additionally, his runs after the catch are highlighted by violent run-ins where he's breaking the tackles of smaller defensive backs and poor college tacklers.
I simply don't see London dominating jump balls and breaking all of those tackles after the run at the NFL level. Some have him as a top receiver in the draft. I don't believe he's worth a first-round pick.
Travon Walker, DE, Georgia
The buzzword with Walker is "potential." That word scares me when we're talking about a possible top-five pick. Walker has some much potential because he is a physical freak who can be moved around all over the front seven on defense and make plays. The problem with that is that he is being evaluated and projected as an edge rusher. The team that drafts him is doing so because they need an edge rusher and will likely silo him into that role. When you put on Walker's tape, most of his impact plays happen between the tackles when he's lined up in a three-point stance. Walker is a very good football player. I'm just not sure he's the elite edge rusher everyone wants him to be.
Ahmad "Sauce" Gardner, CB, Cincinnati
Gardner probably gets more love from scouts and analysts than any prospect in the draft when it comes to being considered a "can't miss" type of player. We know he can play cornerback well. We know he has rare physical traits for the position. What we don't have is a wealth of evidence that he can be elite when matched against other elite players and challenged frequently. Gardner played a total of four games against Power 5 teams (including Notre Dame) during his three-year college career. Only one of those teams featured a true NFL-caliber wide receiver, and that was Alabama in the College Football playoff this past season. And even then, Jameson Williams went down with an injury early, and John Metchie III did not play, as he was already injured. Bottom line: Sauce Gardner looks great on film. A lot of players are going to look great when they are never really challenged.
Trevor Penning, OT, Northern Iowa
Penning blew people away at the Scouting Combine with his workouts. That combined with his size has skyrocketed his stock, and has some people projecting him to be selected in the top 15 as the third or fourth offensive tackle off of the board. This is a classic case of people falling in love with workouts instead of watching a player's on-field performance. A top-four offensive tackle in the draft should stand out on film in FCS games. Penning didn't. He wasn't bad, he just wasn't elite. He often got pushed around and beat off the ball by guys who will never cash checks for playing professional football. And he also plays a little stiff for the position. Now someone is going to give him millions of dollars and trust him to block the likes of T.J. Watt, Myles Garrett, and Maxx Crosby, among others? This doesn't end well.
— Written by J.P. Scott, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. His work has appeared on SI.com, FoxSports.com, Yahoo! SBNation and Bleacher Report. He is a three-time FWAA writing contest award winner. Follow him on Twitter @TheJPScott.