CLEVELAND (AP) — The Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton is filled with the busts of the game's greatest players, their images preserved in bronze.
Up the road in Cleveland, there are other busts.
Cincinnati's had a few of the latter kind, too. So have Detroit, Buffalo, Oakland, Kansas City and other NFL cities. They're just about everywhere.
You know these busts, those can't-possibly-miss players tagged as saviors on draft day who wind up flopping on the field.
JaMarcus Russell, the No. 1 overall pick in 2007, was supposed to pull the Oakland Raiders out of their black hole. Ryan Leaf, who some thought should have been taken ahead of Peyton Manning in the 1998 draft, was selected with the No. 2 pick, flamed out in San Diego and was recently arrested twice in four days on accusations of burglary to steal prescription painkillers.
Akili Smith. Charles Rogers. Courtney Brown. Joey Harrington. Brian Bosworth. Peter Warrick. Mike Williams. Brady Quinn. Tony Mandarich.
The list of busts goes on, and this year a few more names could be added to the roll-call of notable flounders.
On Thursday night, teams will begin selecting players they've watched for hours on film. Scouts and front-office members have spent months pouring over statistics, assessing 40-yard-dash times and vertical leaps, reviewing interviews and Wonderlic tests and doing background checks on these potential future employees.
The goal is to get it right and pick a quality player of high character who can help you win.
Get it wrong, and the consequences can be catastrophic for an organization.
"Everybody wants the 10-year Pro Bowler, which is fine, but I'll take the two-year Pro Bowler rather than a bust," said Browns general manager Tom Heckert, who has 13 picks at his disposal this year. "You don't want a bust, you can't have a bust. That's what you are trying to avoid."
The Browns, perhaps more than any other team, have perfected the art of the wrong choice.
Cleveland has had seven picks in the Top 10 of the draft since its 1999 rebirth. The Browns picked first in 1999 (Tim Couch) and 2000 (Brown), they had the No. 3 selection in 2001 (Gerard Warren), 2005 (Braylon Edwards), and 2007 (Joe Thomas), the No. 6 in 2004 (Kellen Winslow) and the No. 7 (Joe Haden) in 2010.
After taking Thomas, the Browns traded their '08 first-round pick to move back into the first round and select Quinn, the Notre Dame star who left all his Irish luck in college. Tabbed as the future, he played in 14 games, was traded in 2010 to Denver and is now with Kansas City.
This year, a team that has made the playoffs just once in 13 years and posted 10 seasons with at least 10 losses in that span, will pick at No. 4 and No. 22 in the first round.
Besides Thomas, who has made five straight Pro Bowls, Cleveland's poor track record on top picks is perhaps the biggest reason the Browns are 68-140 in their orange-helmeted incarnation.
It's somewhat unfair to label Couch a bust since he had no talent around him, and he remains the only QB to get Cleveland to the playoffs, though he missed the game in Pittsburgh with a broken leg. Brown, too, was the victim of misfortune as injuries sabotaged and shortened the pass rusher's career.
But the Browns' selection of Warren, a journeyman, over Richard Seymour — Cleveland coach Butch Davis insisted on Warren — and ahead of LaDainian Tomlinson altered Cleveland's course for years.
Heckert is determined not to repeat the mistakes of previous regimes, but in the draft, there are no guarantees.
"Everybody knows it's a crap shoot sometimes," he said.
The Bengals have bungled their share of picks.
A recurring theme during Cincinnati's 22-year gap between playoff wins has been the team's inability to pick the right quarterback — that is, until selecting Andy Dalton last year. The Bengals have drafted talented QBs before, but the team's failure was in managing them or forcing them into systems that didn't fit their talents.
In 1992, the Bengals took David Klingler with the sixth overall pick and tried to turn a run-and-shoot QB who broke NCAA records at Houston into a pocket passer behind a bad offensive line with a below-average receiving corps. Disaster.
They tried the same thing with Smith, the third overall pick in 1999 out of Oregon, where he was taught to make a quick read and then run if nobody was open. After sitting most of his rookie season, Smith was given Cincinnati's starting job in 2000 with two rookie receivers — Warrick and Ron Dugans. Another bad idea. Head coach Bruce Coslet quit three games into the season.
After only 10 games, the franchise gave up on Smith as a starter.
"I didn't know what was going on," Smith said. "They made me the third pick of the draft. They gave me a lot of money. And they weren't going to give me a shot the following year. I couldn't understand it, but I dealt with it."
More than a few drafts have rendered the Bills busted and disgusted.
They can blame their 12-year playoff drought — the league's current longest — in part to overreaching
in the draft. Their first-round failures are numerous and notable.
In 2002, they took Williams, an immense offensive tackle from Texas fourth overall. He lasted only three seasons before being cut. Two years later, they traded back into the first round to select quarterback J.P. Losman, who had an up-and-down five-year stint and failed to become the team's franchise player. Then, in 2009, Buffalo picked Penn State defensive end Aaron Maybin 11th overall. He didn't register a sack or break into the starting lineup in two seasons before being unceremoniously cut during training camp last summer.
General manager Buddy Nix said the only way to guard against picking a bust is preparation.
With the clock ticking, nerves fray and panic can ensue.
"We've made this mistake before and I'm talking about me," Nix said, "is not being prepared if the guy you want at that spot all of a sudden is gone, and you've got five minutes to make the next pick. You better have your plan of where you're going if he's not there. I've had it happen more than once, and the mistakes we made was not being prepared to go to the next guy."
Heckert can't afford any errors. He needs to find playmakers for an offense that scored just 218 points last season.
He can't overreach. He can't be fooled. He's can't blow it.
Not this year, not with the Browns still a mess and Cleveland fans demanding a quick turnaround.
It's win — or bust.
"There's a lot of pressure from media, fans, people in your building, scouts and it's my job to say, 'Wait a minute. It's not the right thing to do,'" he said. "That is the hardest thing to convey to the fans. It's not like we don't want those guys, we want them just as bad as they do, but we don't want to make a mistake doing it. There is way more mistakes made than great players picked.
"We just try to do the right thing."
AP Sports Writers Joe Kay in Cincinnati and John Wawrow in Buffalo contributed to this report.
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