The Curious Case of Benjamin Ijalana

After this, I’m done, I promise. 

I’ve covered Ben Ijalana several times over the last few days, and after finding out he was cut, my fears of Ijalana’s injury leading to a shortened NFL career were realized. 

I thought that that would be the end of the Ijalana coverage, but some attitudes toward him have been bothering me over the last twenty-four hours, and I wanted to get one more thing down on the record before burying this topic.

Once again, we broach the labeling of draft picks. 

After two ACL injuries in two years, and subsequently not seeing the field, Ben Ijalana was waived, leading members of the media, fans, and bloggers alike to question whether or not Ijalana was a bust. 

Dan Dakich and Mike Chappell were on the radio the other day cracking jokes about Ijalana, wondering what the Polians were doing when they drafted him. 

Did everyone seemingly forget that picking Ijalana was widely praised last year? Did everyone forget the potential he was touted as having? Did they decide just to pass over the fact that Ijalana has been on an NFL football player for a grand total of less than two months?

Unfortunately, the word bust gets thrown out there far too often when it comes to evaluating draft picks. The problem with the word “bust” is that it is a completely relative term. Everybody has a different definition for it, and that is where confusion comes. 

A bust can be anything from a player who disappointed relative to his draft spot, to a player who never saw the field. It could be a seventh round pick, or it could be a number one overall. It all depends on how you define it. 

Myself, I generally put “poor” draft picks into three generic categories:

  1. Disappointment: This would be a players who was expected to perform at a certain level, usually due to his draft position, but didn’t live up to the calling. The player still provided some contribution, but wasn’t the player the team expected to get. In Colts terms, this would be a Donald Brown. He’s contributed, but he hasn’t lived up to his first round draft pick status. 
  2. Bust: This would be a player that provided little to no contribution on the team for any extended period of time. The draft position does play a part in it, a first round pick who flames out is a “bigger” bust than a seventh round pick who gets cut. Both are wasted picks, both are busts, but of different degrees. An example would be Jerry Hughes, at this point in his career. 
  3. Fluke/Bad Luck: This would be a player who doesn’t provide any contribution to the team, but not because of a lack of talent. Rather, there are extenuating or unique circumstances that cause him to fail. For example: Brandon Burlsworth tragically died in 1999 just days after being drafted by the Colts. He therefore never produced for the Colts. 

You can fault both the player and organization for Disappointments and Busts, but Flukes are just a part of football, something that cannot be controlled, nor pinned onto certain individuals as being to blame. 

I would put Ijalana into the Fluke/Bad Luck category, and it’s not even close.

Ijalana had two season ending injuries in a row, and had little to no chance to show his worth on the field. Is Ijalana worth keeping around? Probably not. He has a week left knee, and may have no more time left on his NFL career. But is he a bust? I would say no. 

Some people have different definitions of bust. That’s fine. You don’t have to do it the same way I do. 

But, remember, if you dub Ijalana a bust, you are saying that a “bust” is a pick that doesn’t provide production, no matter the circumstances. That means that if Andrew Luck got hit in training camp and was paralyzed from the waist down, he would be a bust. If Vick Ballard finds out he has an irreparable heart problem, he’s a bust. And Brandon Burlsworth, who died eleven days after being drafted, would be considered a bust. 

Personally, I believe that’s not fair judgment. It’s not fair to the player, and it’s not fair to the organization, because the word “bust” implies blame on the player and the ones who picked him, neither of which who deserve it in those circumstances. 

But, if you want to define bust in that way, just be aware that it takes on a different meaning. 

Kyle J. Rodriguez

About Kyle J. Rodriguez

A film and numbers guru, Kyle writes about the NFL and the Indianapolis Colts for Bleacher Report, Draft Mecca and The Football Educator, and is a co-founder and associate editor of Colts Authority. Kyle also is a high school sports reporter for the MLive Media Group in Michigan, covering high school sports across the state.