NFL scouting departments fight to find hidden gems in the late rounds and undrafted free agency. But striking out on top picks often determines whether a team succeeds or fails. Teams cannot avoid risky players entirely.
Obviously, every player comes with some degree of risk. Going from college to pro is a projection game for scouts and general managers. No player is going to be asked to mirror the role he played in college and the leap in competition is incredibly steep. As informative as the athletic, psychological and medical testing performed at the Combine can be, there is no exact, scientific predictor which players will work even harder after depositing their first NFL paycheck. This top 10 list of the biggest boom-or-bust prospects in the 2019 NFL Draft zeroes in on a handful of prominent prospects, but the rundown could be all-encompassing.
In each case, the prospect could blossom into the coveted All-Pro who makes an immediate impact and turns your favorite team into a Super Bowl contender. Or, in many cases, the same players could be colossal busts, the kind of failure that results in a reset at the position in just a few years - quite possibly a new general manager, too. Players are listed in their projected order of selection.
Kyler Murray, QB, Oklahoma, first round: There is no greater boom-or-bust prospect in the 2019 draft. His talent is undeniable and at no time in NFL history has the league been more accommodating to a dual-threat quarterback. Yet, I've always been leery of quarterbacks who were only successful for one year at the major college level, were protected by a phenomenal offensive line, threw to future NFL star wide receivers and were aided by an innovative play-caller. Murray checks every one of those boxes. Greedy Williams, CB, LSU, first round: Williams is an exceptional athletic talent worthy of being selected in the top 10 - so was Justin Gilbert (Oklahoma State, Cleveland Browns). The problem? Williams didn't show NFL production and very little in terms of technical progress in his two starting seasons at LSU. His lack of competitiveness in run support last season is troubling. Talent is there, but it would not shock me to see Williams fall out of the first round entirely.
Clelin Ferrell, DE, Clemson, first round: Full disclosure, I'm higher on Ferrell than most. His size, physicality and use of hands all translate well to the next level. But edge rushers get drafted in the top 10 or earn Pro Bowl nods based on their ability to affect the quarterback and Ferrell simply does not possess the quick-twitch explosiveness to consistently threaten NFL offensive tackles with his speed. I have a hard time imagining a player with his size, competitiveness and production falling too far on draft day. Some wonder if he's a bit of a "parasite player," who fed off attention opponents gave Clemson's stud defensive tackles. D.K. Metcalf, WR, Mississippi, first round: The team that hits on Metcalf could have the second coming of Calvin Johnson, who some forget was also very much a boom-bust prospect when he left Georgia Tech's triple option offense. Of course, Johnson became one of the most dominant forces in NFL history. For all of Metcalf's exceptional abilities, his lack of the most important one - durability - is frightening.
Byron Murphy, CB, Washington, first round: Murphy, too, struggled with durability over his short college career, a fact made more disconcerting given his physical playing style. Scouts are aware that recent former Washington cornerbacks have largely struggled to play with the same effectiveness in the NFL after leaving DB guru Jimmy Lake and the Huskies. And as any redshirt sophomore, Murphy has to convince scouts that he has the maturity to handle the responsibilities of the NFL - a concern only enflamed with his post-Combine decision to switch agents. Andre Dillard, OT, Washington State, first round: Dillard is an easy first-round talent from an athletic perspective. He possesses the best feet of any offensive lineman in this draft, which translates beautifully to a pass blocking offense, like the one he played in with the Cougars. Few NFL teams rely on passing the ball as much as Mike Leach; I was stunned Dillard labored significantly during a relatively easy positional workout at his Pro Day. He looked out of shape, raising questions about how seriously he is taking this process.
Deionte Thompson, FS, Alabama, first-second round: Despite his exciting range and ball skills, no player has dropped further on my board than Thompson since the end of the college football regular season and that includes recently injured prospects Jeffery Simmons (Mississippi State) and Kendall Sheffield (Ohio State). Thompson struggled on the field during the playoffs, especially the national championship game loss to Clemson. Thompson raised some eyebrows at the Combine by opting not to run or jump at the Combine due to a right wrist injury and two Pro Days later, he still has not run the 40-yard dash for scouts, leaving some questioning his competitiveness and true athleticism. Thompson comes with character red-flags following an April 25, 2017 charge of felony aggravated assault in which he and three former high school teammates allegedly beat a man severely. Hakeem Butler, WR, Iowa State, second round: I am as intrigued by Butler's exceptional height-weight-speed combination (6-5 3/8, 227, 4.48) as anyone and he does have some phenomenal one-handed catches to ascend to highlight reel royalty. Unfortunately, there are a fair number of two-handed drops that show up on the real tape, a significant counterbalance in the overall evaluation.
Miles Sanders, RB, Penn State, second-third round: There is no denying that in this below-average running back crop, Sanders' prototypical 5-11, 211-pound frame, lateral agility and proven 4.4 speed stands out. Just as catching the ball is the single-most important component to playing wide receiver, hanging on to the ball is most important at running back. Given that he was only Penn State's one season after backing up Saquon Barkley, the fact that Sanders fumbled the ball 10 times over his career (losing seven) is alarming. Jachai Polite, DE/OLB, Florida, second-third round: Disappointing 40-yard dash times at the Combine (4.84) and his subsequent Pro Day (4.88-4.95) have generated a ton of negative publicity for Polite since the end of the season, when he notably led the country with seven forced fumbles. I believe 40-yard dash times for defensive linemen mean very little, especially for a player with Polite's exceptional initial burst off the line. I am concerned that Polite's slow times could mean that the poor conditioning which plagued his early career at Florida may be a lasting worry, raising plenty of questions about how hard he will work once those NFL game checks starting coming in.
--By Rob Rang, Field Level Media