Every year, scouts, coaches and experts spend countless hours poring over countless hours of game film in an attempt to determine which college football players will translate to NFL stars. Despite this, there are still players picked near the top of the draft that turn into colossal busts—JaMarcus Russell, Ryan Leaf and Matt Leinart come to mind immediately.
The 2012 NFL draft has arguably the safest prospect in recent memory in Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck, but then again, only time will tell just how successful any college player will actually be in the National Football League. This year’s draft has a slew of potential first- or second-round players that should have red flags next to their name, whether it is because of a serious injury they have suffered recently, concerns that they were a one-year wonder, or the simple fact that they are undersized to play in the NFL level.
This doesn’t mean no team should take them. Cam Newton from last year’s draft was seen as an enormous risk, and the Carolina Panthers have had nothing but overwhelming success from the quarterback they made the No. 1 overall pick. It simply means teams should think twice before selecting these players.
Ryan Tannehill is widely seen as the third-best quarterback in the 2012 NFL draft—behind Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III—and he is almost a sure bet to go in the first round. With the Indianapolis Colts and Washington Redskins all but guaranteed to take Luck and Griffin one and two, respectively, Tannehill has been heavily linked to both the Cleveland Browns at four and the Miami Dolphins at eight.
There’s a lot to like about Tannehill. He’s blessed with good size (6’4”, 222 pounds), good speed, accuracy, a strong arm and unbelievable intelligence. There are also some concerns, namely the fact that Tannehill only played one full season of quarterback at the college level. He began his career at Texas A&M as a wide receiver after losing the battle for starting quarterback early on and then switched to quarterback midway through the 2010 season.
Football Outsiders has shown the top two indicators of a successful NFL quarterback are games started and career completion percentage at the collegiate level; Tannehill has just 20 starts under center to his name.
Tannehill also has small hands, which could lead to fumbling being a problem. Daunte Culpepper had small hands and he fumbled the ball 102 times in 105 games, leading the league in that stat twice.
Defensive ends have the greatest risk of bust when making the switch from college football to the pros, and Quinton Coples seems like the type of player that could continue that pattern.
He is probably the most physically gifted athlete of all the defensive linemen in this year’s draft and he has drawn comparisons to Julius Peppers, but Coples is also extremely inconsistent on the field. He isn’t a great run-stopper, and there are concerns about his immaturity and selfishness, as Coples refused to move from end to tackle for fear it would hurt his draft stock.
Coples has Randy Moss syndrome in that he plays when he feels like it, and he was said to have taken numerous snaps off his senior year of college. There’s a lot of potential, but there’s also a lot of risk for a guy generally seen to be a top 10 to 15 pick in the draft.
Before the Washington Redskins pulled off the high-profile trade with the St. Louis Rams to move up to No. 2 in the NFL draft order, many mock drafts had the Rams taking Justin Blackmon at second overall.
Blackmon had an outstanding collegiate career at Oklahoma State, earning All-America honors multiple times and topping it off by being named Big 12 Offensive Player of the Year, as well as hauling in 35 touchdowns in his final two seasons. However, despite his phenomenal success, teams should be wary of Blackmon as a top-five pick.
He makes outstanding catches across the middle and has excellent strength, but Blackmon lacks the pure speed to separate from defensive backs on deep balls. He’s also just 6’1”, which would make him the shortest receiver drafted in the top 10 overall since Ted Ginn, Jr. in 2007.
That may not make him a franchise receiver a team can build its offense around. Blackmon has drawn comparisons to Michael Crabtree, a receiver with similar skills who made highlight-reel catches in college and went in the top 10 picks in the draft but has failed to live up to his potential with the San Francisco 49ers.
Few players in the upcoming NFL draft have as much boom-or-bust potential as Michael Brockers, a redshirt sophomore defensive tackle out of LSU. Brockers began his collegiate career as a 250-pound defensive end and transformed into a 300-plus-pound tackle that can play in either a 4-3 or a 3-4.
He has unbelievable athletic skills but he’s also immensely raw and has just one season of purely dominant play. Brockers excelled in a scheme that also helped Glenn Dorsey and Tyson Jackson go in the top five overall picks, and neither of those two has lived up to the hype. Brockers isn’t a natural pass-rusher, as he registered just two sacks in 2011, although he’s made more in the mold of a Haloti Ngata type of player in the sense that he can just occupy space in the middle of the field.
Brockers has no off-the-field or injury issues at the college level, so if he doesn’t make it, it likely won’t be because of character issues or health concerns. It will simply be whether his success can translate to an NFL defense and whether a head coach can groom him into the kind of defensive tackle a team can build around.
Chris Polk was previously seen as a potential first-round candidate, although now it’s expected that he will go somewhere in Round 2 of the draft. Polk does a lot of things well, but nothing exceptional, and that could be his downfall in the NFL game.
He doesn’t possess top breakaway speed, and he also had two shoulder surgeries and a knee scope at the University of Washington. Staying healthy is obviously a major part of the game for a running back, and if Polk is unable to do so, it may turn him into the next Ronnie Brown—a solid enough running back who was best used in a two-back system and ultimately couldn’t stay healthy enough to be a franchise player.
Sacks get glory for a defensive end, and Whitney Mercilus’ 2011 season got him a lot of glory, as his 16 sacks led all of college football.
Prior to that, though, Mercilus had just two career sacks, obviously bringing into question whether he is a one-year wonder. Mercilus isn’t a successful run defender by any means and may be best used as a rookie the same way the San Francisco 49ers used Aldon Smith—as truly a pass-rushing extravagant.
Mercilus will almost assuredly be successful in the right scheme with the right defensive coordinator that knows how to maximize his abilities, but that may be the trick—getting drafted by the right team with the right scheme and coordinator.
Whenever a player is previously seen as an upper first-round talent and falls to the second round, those should be clear warning signs. Alshon Jeffery was frequently mocked in the top 10 overall in the 2012 NFL draft, and now teams can probably get him in the middle of the second round.
Jeffery has tremendous size and strength that can make him an absolute nightmare for defensive backs. He can outmuscle defenders and run over almost all corners. Jeffery lacks elite speed, though, he’s a poor route-runner, and he’s seen as extremely lazy at times. Jeffery has a low football IQ and there have been some concerns about his weight.
Brock Osweiler is commonly seen as the fifth- or sixth-best quarterback in the draft, a player that may go in the second or third round. There are some strong positives about Osweiler, in that he’s got a rocket of an arm and he can put the ball anywhere on the field.
He’s also 6’8” and that will tie him with Mark McGwire’s brother, Dan, as the tallest quarterback in NFL history. Dan McGwire was drafted in the first round of the 1991 draft, and he was a colossal bust. This isn’t good news for Osweiler, as quarterbacks taller than 6’6” are often seen as liabilities due to their extreme height.
Osweiler tends to throw off his back foot as well, and he didn’t start at Arizona State until the second half of the 2010 season, so experience could be an issue here. With a proper coach, Osweiler could blossom, but he may not get what he needs.
In terms of pure talent, Janoris Jenkins probably would have been viewed as a top-10 pick in the upcoming NFL draft, but he has more character issues than any other player coming out of college football.
Jenkins was a standout corner at the University of Florida before he was dismissed from the team for getting arrested three times, twice for drug-related incidents. Jenkins transferred to Division II Northern Alabama for the 2011 season.
However, he should still go in the first round of the draft. Jenkins has elite quickness, he’s a good cover guy, and he’s a ballhawk when the football is up for grabs. Jenkins has the talent to be a perennial Pro Bowler in the NFL, but he could also turn into the next Pacman Jones with his legal troubles.
Putting Robert Griffin III on a list of NFL players most likely to be busts—I must have some serious nerve. Or else I’m just trying to add to my comment total for this article.
Griffin is as hyped as any quarterback not named Andrew Luck since probably Michael Vick. The Washington Redskins traded three first-round picks to move up four spots in the draft and undoubtedly draft the Baylor playmaker, which places an absolutely extraordinary amount of pressure on RGIII.
He is a phenomenal athlete, a tremendous passer, a fabulous runner, and he’s extremely intelligent. He’s also essentially a one-year wonder at the college level. So was Cam Newton, and he still went first overall in the draft, and he had a remarkable season with the Carolina Panthers. This doesn’t mean Griffin will succeed and it also doesn’t mean he will fail, but the inevitable fact that Griffin has had just one terrific season at the quarterback level has to had some element of risk.
Griffin will probably make it in the NFL. He’s blessed with unbelievable intelligence to go with fanatical physical skills. However, two or three Pro Bowls won’t be enough for Redskins fans. Griffin better be the real deal after what the team traded up to get him.
It’s also worth noting that Griffin will be (rightfully or not) compared frequently to Luck, as Luck is all but guaranteed to go first overall. Luck is said to be a near-lock to succeed, and any success he has places extra pressure on Griffin to succeed. Griffin has the potential to revolutionize the NFL at the quarterback position, even in a way Vick couldn’t. However, if Griffin doesn’t develop into one of the five—or even three—best quarterbacks in the league, that’s a disappointment.