No player wants to be labeled a bust. Very few words in the sports lexicon are considered worse.
But the designation is a relative term based on an individual's situation. To define it more simply, a bust is someone who performs well below expectations.
A year ago, the New England Patriots signed what looked to be one of the shrewdest free-agent deals when they landed former league MVP Cam Newton on the cheap. Newton struggled, and the Patriots faltered. Newton is returning this fall, and he could very well find himself in similar circumstances.
For the purposes of this article, potential busts will be identified based on the possibility of them hindering their respective teams this fall instead of looking at them as long-term failures, as is the traditional designation.
Ryan Leaf, JaMarcus Russell, Johnny Manziel and Tony Mandarich are poster boys for all-time busts. In this case, a far more narrow view is taken to determine which individuals could hold their teams back in 2021 through poor play, reduced production or lack of consistency.
Players aren't the only possible targets. Coaches can be included, too.
Whatever the case, these are the personnel who are filled with potential but poised to put forth a disappointing season in 2021.
Arizona Cardinals: WR A.J. Green
A single quote sums up exactly where A.J. Green's career currently stands.
"This is not an A.J. Green situation where the play clearly declined," an AFC executive told ESPN's Jeremy Fowler when discussing a 32-year-old Julio Jones. "He's still that dude."
Green went to seven consecutive Pro Bowls. His explosiveness greatly diminished due to multiple injuries, though, and the game's most fluid X-receiver is now nothing more than a complementary piece to the puzzle.
Last season, the 10-year veteran managed only 523 yards in 16 games. He finished dead last among qualifying wide receivers in the percentage of targets deemed "open," according to Michigan Football Analytics' Tej Seth.
Green isn't Larry Fitzgerald, who has aged like a fine wine. At best, the free-agent addition is the Cardinals' fourth wide receiver behind DeAndre Hopkins, Christian Kirk and second-round rookie Rondale Moore.
Atlanta Falcons: HC Arthur Smith
Sometimes, the situation in which an individual is placed overrides actual ability.
In the Atlanta Falcons' case, Arthur Smith looks to be an excellent hire after he worked wonders with the Tennessee Titans offense, particularly quarterback Ryan Tannehill.
Smith could do the same with Matt Ryan if only the Falcons had the same caliber of roster—which they don't.
Eventually, Smith and his new staff could put together an excellent program capable of competing in the NFC South. But the rebuild will take time.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are the NFL's best team. The Carolina Panthers should be improved in Year 2 under Matt Rhule. The New Orleans Saints will regress without Drew Brees but should remain competitive.
Atlanta, meanwhile, traded away its best player, Julio Jones. Smith didn't bring Derrick Henry with him. The offensive interior is in flux. Defensively, the Falcons were one of the league's worst last season. A promising start seems unlikely.