Calm Down. JaMarcus Russell was a Bust; Anthony Gonzalez Just Hasn’t Panned Out.

I’m so sick of hearing about Colts WR Gonzalez and this “bust” label. You cannot be a bust if you’re the 32nd pick in the draft and signed to a 5-year/$10.3 million contract. The first pick in that draft, JaMarcus Russell, is the definition of bust. He is the Pamela Anderson of busts and everyone else is just Dakota Fanning. (Think about that for a minute; you’ll get there.) Russell lasted three years and was paid $36 million. That’s $2 million per touchdown pass for his career.

A bust equates to the position you were drafted, the amount of money you made and the corresponding lack of production. Your number gets retired in the bad way, the same way that the Raiders wouldn’t let Terrelle Pryor wear the #2 that Russell wore so people wouldn’t compare Pryor to the trainwreck that was Russell’s career. You don’t hear the name Ryan Leaf mentioned without “the draft bust who was selected after 4-time MVP Peyton Manning.” Russell actually gets off a little easier in terms of his anti-legacy because there wasn’t a stud who the Raiders passed on to draft him. Of the top 13 picks in the 2007 draft, only five are still with the team that drafted them. That list does include the Vikings’ Adrian Peterson.

In that same draft, Gonzalez was picked 32nd (the last pick of the first round). He was drafted just ahead of Alan Branch, Paul Posluszny and Arron Sears. He was drafted to be the third WR, behind Reggie Wayne and Marvin Harrison. In that same 32nd position, Mathias Kiwanuka was drafted in 2006 and Phillip Merling in 2008. No one could have predicted the injuries that have helped to derail him the past few years. He slept in a hyperbaric chamber for crying out loud.

Gonzalez is like Jeremy Miller (Ben Seaver of “Growing Pains” fame). They both have basically come and gone. Neither is a bust. You didn’t have Kirk Cameron-type aspirations for him.

NFL Prediction time. You might not care, but I want to have this in writing when everything shakes out in 5 months.

The Falcons’ Matt Ryan takes the step from great QB to elite QB, much like the Packers’ Aaron Rodgers did last year. Ryan takes home the MVP (with the help of Offensive Rookie of the Year Julio Jones) and leads the Falcons to a Super Bowl XLVI title (narrowly defeating the Patriots).

AFC East – I don’t think Mark Sanchez and the Patriots D are as good as everyone else does. But, I think the Pats will be motivated in the playoffs by last year’s early exit. I like Brandon Marshall to catch a bunch of passes in Miami and Ryan Fitzpatrick in Buffalo is the division’s fantasy sleeper. Jets (10-6), Patriots (10-6), Dolphins (7-9), Bills (5-11)

AFC North – I think Pittsburgh is still the cream of the crop and Baltimore won’t get the jump in production from Joe Flacco to compensate for the D’s decline. The Bengals and Browns are both in the Andrew Luck sweepstakes. Steelers (11-5), Ravens (9-7), Browns (6-10), Bengals (4-12)

AFC West – The Chargers finally put a complete season together with all that talent. The rest of the division just beats up on each other to keep mediocre records. Matt Cassel takes a step back in KC, but you’ll pick up new receiver Steve Breaston on your fantasy team about week 4. Chargers (11-5), Chiefs (8-8), Broncos (7-9), Raiders (7-9)

AFC South – Everyone thinks the Texans with Wade Phillips running the D will overtake the Colts. I’m not buying it. I don’t think Arian Foster has a 2011 that looks anything like 2010. Maurice Jones-Drew and Chris Johnson won’t have years up to their respective standards either. Peyton throws 30 TDs. Colts (11-5), Texans (9-7), Titans (6-10), Jaguars (6-10)

NFC EastI don’t think Michael Vick will put together a 16-game season that is anything close to worthy of $100 million. Even I can’t name an Eagles linebacker, which should make RBs across the NFC excited. The Eagles will still win the division, but largely helped by Tony Romo, Eli Manning and the fierce Beck/Grossman combo throwing the ball to the other team repeatedly. Eagles (11-5), Giants (9-7), Cowboys (8-8), Redskins (6-10)

NFC North – The Packers are the class of this division and will win it running away. Matthew Stafford with a healthy season will transition from promising QB to really good QB. I’m not convinced that Jay Cutler won’t lose his job in Chicago by week 12. The Vikings have somehow gone from 60 to zero in two years. I blame Brett Favre and Barack Obama. Packers (12-4), Lions (9-7), Vikings (6-10), Bears (6-10)

NFC West – I like Kevin Kolb to Larry Fitzgerald for my fantasy teams, but not to score enough TDs to win the division. Sam Bradford in St. Louis could make a similar leap to what Stafford will do in Detroit. It will be enough for the Rams to win the division, but not enough Ws to have him in elite QB discussions just yet. Seattle (Tavaris Jackson) and San Francisco (Alex Smith) should apologize to their fans for their QB situations. Rams (10-6), Cardinals (8-8), Seattle (6-10), 49ers (5-11)

NFC South – Top to bottom, the deepest division in football. Falcons have offensive weapons at every position and a D that can take the ball away. Drew Brees will continue to power the Saints offense even though the weapons around him and the D haven’t been improved enough. Tampa Bay is a .500 team if Josh Freeman throws more than eight interceptions this year. Even with Cam Newton learning on the fly, the Panthers will be greatly improved from last year (5 wins would be a 500% improvement). Falcons (13-3), Saints (10-6), Bucs (8-8), Panthers (5-11)