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Lynne Sladky/Associated Press
The NFL draft isn’t so much an inexact science as it is a gamble. Teams spend countless hours researching potential prospects, hoping to figure out if they’ll be successful at the pro level. However, there is simply no way to tell with 100 percent certainty how a player will handle himself as a professional or perform on an NFL field.
Even the most promising prospects can peter out, and a strong pro start guarantees nothing. Remember, Blake Bortles passed for 4,428 yards and 35 touchdowns in his second season. The best we can hope to do before the draft is make educated guesses as to which players could be busts.
That’s exactly what we’re going to do here. We’re going to look at 10 likely Day 1 and Day 2 prospects with high bust potential. We’ll examine both why they are promising players and why they could fall short of expectations. Keep in mind, we’re not saying these players should be avoided or that they will fail, only that the risk-reward level is significant.
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Florida Atlantic’s Devin Singletary has the look of a future NFL starting running back. He has the size (5’9″, 200 lbs) and the stats (1,918 yards in 2017, 1,348 in 2018) to be considered early in the draft. But the concern for a back like Singletary, of course, is level of competition.
Sometimes, running back skills translate well from a small school to the NFL, as they did for former Kansas City Chiefs back Kareem Hunt, who played college ball at Toledo. Sometimes, the transition is tougher, like for former Towson back Terrance West. Singletary’s ability to adjust to the next level will determine his bust status.
It’s worth noting that while he did rush for more than 3,200 yards over the last two years, he struggled against quality opponents. Three of his worst games came against Oklahoma (69 yards), Air Force (57 yards) and Wisconsin (68 yards), and he averaged 4.0 yards per carry or fewer against all three. He also struggled mightily against Marshall in October, tallying just 39 yards on 16 attempts.
It’s worth wondering if Singletary is fast enough and quick enough to thrive against pro-level competition.
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Sue Ogrocki/Associated Press
Some players carry bust potential because of skill set or competition level. Others carry it because of injury history, which is the case for Oklahoma running back Rodney Anderson.
Anderson excelled in 2017, rushing for 1,161 yards and 6.2 yards per carry. He also caught 17 passes for 281 more yards and scored 18 total touchdowns. However, his 2018 season was cut short by a knee injury after just two starts.
This wasn’t the first injury of Anderson’s college career. A neck injury cost him the entire 2016 season, and he missed most of 2015 to a broken leg.
If Anderson can rebound and stay healthy, he has the tools to be a fine NFL back. However, there is a significant injury history to consider, and he’s at risk of being a bust because of it.
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Like Anderson, Mississippi wideout D.K. Metcalf has the potential to not pan out at the next level because of injury. His 2018 season was cut short after just seven games by a severe neck injury that reportedly required surgery. Obviously, medical checks at the combine will be critical.
Metcalf is also a raw prospect who played just 21 games in three seasons at Ole Miss. As we’ve seen in recent years, even the most gifted raw receivers, such as John Ross and Corey Coleman, can struggle to adapt to the NFL.
However, Metcalf is supremely gifted. He compares to Josh Gordon in terms of physical potential, and some team is going to gamble on him sooner than later come April.
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Wilfredo Lee/Associated Press
Oklahoma quarterback and reigning Heisman Trophy winner Kyler Murray is trending as a first-round pick now that he’s declared for the draft, and he should be, based on his skill set and his production.
It’s not Murray’s ability or even necessarily his height (5’10”) that makes him a bust candidate. It’s the fact he has options. Murray has already been drafted in the first round of the 2018 MLB draft by the Oakland Athletics. In today’s game and at his position, playing both sports isn’t really an option.
“Life won’t allow him to,” former two-sport star Deion Sanders recently said on SportsCenter. “This game won’t allow him to at his position. If I was in his shoes, I’m picking up the baseball bat, and I’m not looking back.”
So what happens if Murray decides after a few months or a year or two that he’d rather give baseball a try rather than enduring the physicality of the NFL? The team that drafted him is left with a busted pick and without a quarterback.
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Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press
While we’re on the subject of talented but raw receiver prospects, we should mention Ohio State’s Parris Campbell. The 6’1″, 208-pound pass-catcher is blazing fast and will make a defense pay if he can find open space.
However, Campbell isn’t especially physical, is very limited as a route-runner and doesn’t have the surest of hands. If you were to compare him to, say, the New Orleans Saints’ current crop of receivers, Campbell is more Ted Ginn than Michael Thomas. And while that doesn’t make him a poor prospect, it does mean teams will need to be patient with him.
If Campbell can work on his pass-catching and develop a more diverse route tree, he can become a quality NFL player. If he doesn’t, however, he may be nothing more than a fourth or fifth receiver and a burner with a limited role.
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John Raoux/Associated Press
At 6’5″ and 328 pounds, Florida offensive tackle Jawaan Taylor has the size to play on an NFL offensive line. However, he may be better suited at guard than at tackle, which could lead to him being labeled as a bust early in his career.
That’s what happened to former first-round pick Cameron Erving, who’s now a starting left guard with the Kansas City Chiefs. Like Erving, Taylor has plenty of mass, length and power, but they also both lack the nimble feet of a natural tackle. Taylor doesn’t have the sharpest technique either, and that often leads to him getting beat by defenders who are not simply trying to power through him.
If a team is patient with Taylor and allows him to settle into a natural position, he should go on to be a productive pro. Teams expecting him to be an immediate answer at tackle, though, may be left wanting.
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There’s a lot to like about Alabama defensive lineman Isaiah Buggs, not the least of which is the fact he’s a Crimson Tide defender. His collegiate pedigree is going to earn him early draft attention, and some team is going to pull the trigger sooner than later.
The problem with Buggs is that he isn’t a standout in any one particular area. He’s big enough to play defensive tackle (6’5″, 286 lbs), though he isn’t a mammoth. Alabama often played him at end, but he doesn’t quite have the speed or the range to thrive at that position at the pro level, which may limit him to playing inside in a 4-3 front.
If Buggs is thrust into the wrong role, he’s likely to bust. But that could happen even if he is put into an ideal role too. A lot will depend on his competitive fire. On film, he seems to dominate one play and then completely disappear for several more, which suggests an uneven effort level. Draftniks know that an inconsistent motor has derailed more than one promising pro career.
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Paul Sancya/Associated Press
Michigan pass-rusher Chase Winovich checks a lot of boxes. He played for a big-time program and one of the best collegiate defenses in 2018. He had some stunning production too, tallying 13.5 sacks and 34.5 tackles for a loss over the last two seasons.
However, his physical ability doesn’t wow on tape, and there’s a chance he’s already hit his ceiling. Much like fellow former Wolverine defensive end Taco Charlton, Winovich may be serviceable as a pro but never dominate the competition. Unlike Charlton, Winovich doesn’t possess elite size (6’3″, 255 lbs) or athleticism, so his technique will have to be perfect for him to be effective.
In addition, he is coming off an ankle injury that will keep him out of the Senior Bowl. If it prevents him from participating at the combine or at Michigan’s pro day, it could leave teams without a clear picture of his physical upside.
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Jay LaPrete/Associated Press
Ohio State has become known as a defensive back factory recently, which is why some team is likely to take an early chance on cornerback Kendall Sheffield.
While Sheffield does have good speed and ball skills, tallying six passes defended and two interceptions in 2018, he’s also extremely light for the position. He’s listed at 6’0″ and 193 pounds, but don’t be shocked if he weighs in lower at the NFL Scouting Combine. Sheffield is extremely ineffective in press-man coverage, and if he gets a hand on a receiver, it’s often to his disadvantage.
Unlike 2018 first-round pick and fellow Buckeye Denzel Ward, Sheffield isn’t a physical tackler either.
If Sheffield can add bulk to his frame and learn to play a more physical brand of ball, he could be a star—he really is that fast. But if he doesn’t, he may be no more than a situational dime defender and special teamer.
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Jim Lytle/Associated Press
SEC defensive backs with Mark McLaurin’s combination of size (6’2″, 215 lbs) and speed are going to garner early draft consideration. However, the Mississippi State safety has a lot of work to do fundamentally if he is going to be a solid contributor at the pro level.
Despite his imposing figure, McLaurin is more of a chase-tackler than a big hitter. He also has a penchant for taking poor angles and missing tackles.
While he does have good ball skills, snagging eight interceptions over the last three seasons, McLaurin simply may not be physical enough to thrive as a safety at the pro level. He could be effective in big nickel packages as a pass defender, but teams looking to McLaurin to fill a void at safety could be sorely disappointed.