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What D.J. Fluker’s Career Can Tell Us About Player Evaluation and “Bust” Terminology

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NFL: Preseason-San Diego Chargers at Arizona Cardinals Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

Let’s talk about busts...

I think it’s safe to say that many of you are familiar with the Emil Mazey/Richard Cunningham Patterson Jr./Douglas Adams idiom of “if it looks like a duck, swims like a duck, and quacks like a duck, it probably is a duck”. In that sense, the notion of player evaluation, insofar as anything “long term” can be conceived of, is pretty unforgiving when we’re talking about busts.

Furthermore, Chargers fans (particularly long time sufferers of the team) could be considered well-versed in this subject. Whether it be the stressful hit or miss character of AJ Smith’s tenure, Bobby Beathard’s shockingly bad mismanagement of draft picks, or Harland Svare’s disastrous 1974 draft (and more which you can see here).

Ergo: If it looks like a bust (Larry English), swims like a bust (Bo Matthews) and quacks like a bust (Ryan Leaf), it’s a bust.

So, given that the Chargers revoked offensive lineman DJ Fluker’s 5th-year rookie option this morning, becoming only the second player in the history of the NFL to have that happen, does it make DJ Fluker a bust?

The short answer is yes, and the long answer also is yes, but it should be noted that Fluker is a bust in ways that aren’t characteristic of what typically constitutes a bust. Additionally, I think that DJ Fluker’s career speaks to the psyche of Chargers fans everywhere in one particular way.

My opinion is this: Because Chargers fans have experienced traumatic, often unbelievable busts when it comes to promising young talent we’ve been sold on by the organization, the perception of the fanbase on player evaluation is skewered so far in the direction of hopefulness and forgiving obvious shortcomings that we lose sight of what’s actually going on.

Now I do want to be clear that it’s absolutely fair to have hopes that players will turn things around. As someone still feasting on leftover crow thanks to Melvin Gordon, I know this especially well.

That being said, it’s 2017 and we have 4 seasons worth of DJ Fluker’s play committed to tape. It’s time to come to the realization that DJ Fluker was a bust. So, why isn’t Fluker normally considered a bust? Well...

The 2013 Draft Class (particularly the 1st round) was abysmal

Don’t take my word for it. Please consult the following articles:

Fluker has been among the healthiest OLineman on the roster...

The saying that availability is your best ability is especially important when we consider the almost oft-injured by default Chargers roster. DJ Fluker has only missed 6 games his entire career. That’s a damn miracle. Especially since... (transition to why Fluker should be considered a bust)

...But he hasn’t really been healthy for a very long time

Look. DJ Fluker could (and very well should) be considered one of the toughest players in the NFL. The man was bitten in the eye by a bug mid-game against the Titans last season and finished the game. But the problem is that he can’t seem to stop accumulating injuries. I mean, his Rotoworld news page (up until today’s news) is pretty much a litany of injury updates.

The most troubling aspect of this is that the seeming majority of injuries Fluker has accumulated are cranial. I’m talking about his concussion history, of course. It’s part of the reason that I sincerely hope DJ has set himself and his family up well, financially, so that if he chooses to walk away from the game of football (which, given said injury history, he arguably should), he can. It’s unfortunately clear the team hasn’t always had his health in mind, that’s for sure.

Now back to the (actual) critique:

Sometimes, playing with all heart means you’re not playing smart...

And, 4 years into his professional career, he still can’t recognize/pick up stunts

The point I’d like to make here is that there are enough knocks on DJ Fluker’s game that the picture of evaluating Fluker should become clearer. It’s not to say he can’t play because he definitely can block dudes. Esteemed OL analyst Duke Manyweather would probably disagree with my assessment of Fluker as a bust, that’s for sure.

But, basically, the crux of my argument is this: A dude doesn’t have to be Buster Davis to be considered a bust. DJ Fluker, though a wonderfully philanthropic person and charismatic on-field presence, is a bust. Does that mean it’s the end of the world? No, but I will say this...

The biggest concern should lie with John Spanos and Tom Telesco’s offensive line scouting/management

It wouldn’t be a Lee Bedrouni article without a shot across the bow at a perceived front office liability.

If I were to lay blame for DJ Fluker’s Chargers career being a bust at anyone’s feet, it would be John Spanos and Tom Telesco’s. Spanos, Telesco and their scouting team looked at DJ Fluker and saw a player who could be a cornerstone right or left tackle. Then a cornerstone right tackle. Then as a guard.

Then cut him a year after activating his 5th-year option. Hmm.

Then you think about 3rd round pick Chris Watt being cut this season. Then the other albatross contracts on the team (like Orlando Franklin’s or the 2nd contracts given to King Dunlap and Joe Barksdale) and, frankly, it’s worrisome.

Final statement: DJ Fluker is a bust but it’s not entirely his fault

Do you agree? Is DJ Fluker a bust? Should we adjust our terminology of player assessment to account for - how much - of a bust a disappointing player has been? Is DJ Fluker’s failure to live up to his 11th overall pick status largely the fault of him being jerked across the offensive line by the Chargers organization? Did they misidentify Fluker as a 1st round talent because of the prestigious institution he came from?

Let’s talk about it in the comment section.