The Biggest Risks in the 2013 NFL Draft Class
While there is no such thing as a "safe" draft pick in the NFL, there are always prospects in any given draft class who carry a "boom-or-bust" label.
Usually, these types of players ooze athleticism and natural ability, but it is difficult to predict how their ability will translate to the NFL. Whether a player is unmotivated, not technically sound, has health concerns or comes from a small school and played against weak competition, teams are taking on plenty of risk when using valuable draft picks on these players.
At the same time, if these players "boom" in the NFL, they can single-handedly help turn around franchises.
Here are the riskiest prospects in the 2013 NFL draft.
Mike Glennon, QB, NC State
Pro Comparison: Blaine Gabbert
Mike Glennon is the 2012 version of Blaine Gabbert—he has a naturally gifted arm that can make all of the throws, but when things start to break down around him, all of his talent goes out the window.
Of course, it comes as no surprise that his stock is suddenly "rising" because he looked good during the Senior Bowl practices with a yellow non-contact jersey on.
It is not that Glennon has a flaw in his game—every prospect has his flaws—it's that Glennon's poor pocket presence is something that is very hard to teach. The speed of the NFL game is only going to make it more difficult for Glennon to succeed.
Because this year's quarterback class is rather weak (especially compared to last year), Glennon will likely convince at least one team that he is worth the risk of a first-round selection. If Glennon does manage to have a successful NFL career, it could potentially change the way quarterbacks are scouted.
Ziggy Ansah, DE, BYU
Pro Comparison: Jason Pierre-Paul
Ansah may be the most puzzling player in this year's defensive line class. Blessed with tremendous athletic ability, Ansah is very much like Jason Pierre-Paul with his unearthly combination of brute strength and size.
Also like Pierre-Paul, Ansah is extremely raw in his technique, but he takes "raw" to a whole new level:
Was told this by someone at the Senior Bowl: Someone asked Ansah if he preferred a 2, 3, or 4 point stance. He didn't know what they were.— Josh Norris (@JoshNorris) January 26, 2013
However, while he is raw, he lined up at just about every position along the defensive line at BYU, but he figures to be a base 4-3 end in the NFL. His dominant performance in the Senior Bowl (1.5 sacks) showed off his brute strength, but he has no idea how to use his hands to stack and shed blocks, and experienced NFL linemen will take full advantage of that.
The recent success of "raw" players like Pierre-Paul and Muhammad Wilkerson will make Ansah a first-round pick, but whoever takes him will have plenty of work to do before he reaches his potential.
Barkevious Mingo, DE/OLB, LSU
Pro Comparison: Jason Babin
At 6'5", 240 pounds, Mingo has all of the makings of an elite pass-rusher at the next level.
A physical freak with unmatched explosiveness and athleticism, Mingo is a scout's dream to make the conversion to outside linebacker or even put on some weight without losing his speed.
He uses his speed and flexibility to "dip" around offensive tackles. When offensive linemen are actually able to get their hands on him, he has enough power to push them back or counter with his own hand use.
His insane quickness off the line also allows him to blow up running plays in the backfield before they even develop.
However, the problem with Mingo is that he seems to disappear for games at a time. In the middle of the 2012 season, he averaged just 0.2 sacks per game in August and September, and 0.25 in November.
Just when scouts were starting to write him off, he turned in a terrific performance in the bowl game against Clemson, showing the explosive burst that justified putting him in the Top 10 before the season started.
Ultimately, Mingo will be selected in the top half of the first round, and he will make plenty of "splash" plays in the NFL. But he carries plenty of risk because of his tendency to disappear for long stretches.
Jarvis Jones, OLB, Georgia.
Pro Comparison: Von Miller
Based on his talent, athletic ability and production in college, Jarvis Jones could be a Top Five pick in April. He is a blur off the snap, uses his hands extremely well and closes on quarterbacks as quickly as anyone in the country.
However, there is a rather significant medical issue that will always lull over Jones: In his days as a USC Trojan, he was diagnosed with a condition known as spinal stenosis, a narrowing of the spinal column.
USC doctors refused to clear him, as more hits could lead to long-term spinal damage. Eventually, Georgia doctors finally cleared him, leading to his transfer, but NFL teams are not going to jump on the idea of using a high draft pick on a player who is one awkward tackle away from paralysis.
We will learn a lot more about Jones' condition at the combine, where most of the deep medical evaluations are done, but the red flag surrounding Jones makes him one of the riskiest prospects in recent history from a medical standpoint. Don't be surprised if he takes a Da'Quan Bowers-like fall come April.
Dion Jordan, DE/OLB, Oregon
Pro Comparison: Mathias Kiwanuka
Jordan is one of the most intriguing defensive prospects in the draft. He is a bit light for an NFL linebacker (246 pounds), but he flashes off the edge and shows off athleticism that will make scouts drool.
Jordan was actually recruited to Oregon to play tight end; after all, he would be very difficult to cover at 6'7". But his conversion to the defensive side of the ball turned out rather well, as he earned 7.5 sacks as a junior. His production was not quite the same as a senior, but he was given more responsibilities in coverage, where he looked rather natural.
The issue with Jordan is that he lacks the power to be a multidimensional rusher at the next level. Too often he relies on his speed to run around tackles—very similar to recent bust Aaron Maybin. If an offensive lineman can get his hands on him, he can be controlled rather easily.
Jordan will likely succeed in a Mathias Kiwanuka-like role, standing up as a linebacker (with better coverage skills) who can also rush the passer when the situation calls for it.
However, any team looking for a big-time rusher who will be among the league leaders in sacks will be disappointed if it thinks Jordan can be such a player.
Tyler Wilson, QB, Arkansas
Pro Comparison: Ryan Tannehill
Tyler Wilson did not have a strong senior year and probably should have declared for the draft as a junior. But he clearly had the best arm at the Senior Bowl and is making a strong case to be the first quarterback off the board come April.
He eased plenty of concerns about his arm strength, at least in the eyes of Bills GM Buddy Nix:
Tyler got kind of beat up during the year. They didn't have great protection for him. (He) took a lot of licks. My thinking from watching him at the school was his arm wasn't that strong. But the two days I've watched him here, he's got a live arm. He's got plenty.
The fact that Wilson struggled because his protection at Arkansas was inferior may be valid, but it still does not excuse the fact that he struggled. Rarely do things go to script in the NFL, and if a player cannot find a way to get the job done under less-than-ideal conditions at the college level, it is not going to be any easier to do in the pros.
Perhaps Wilson's struggles were as much of a mental issue as anything else, and a move to a new organization and a fresh start would do him good. Still, any team has to be weary of essentially ignoring a year's worth of mediocre tape.
Manti Te'o, MLB, Notre Dame
Pro Comparison: David Harris
While he was always a bit overrated by the media as a prospect before his involvement in the weirdest scandal in the history of sports came to light, Te'o will face plenty of hurdles as he tries to make his untimely entrance into the NFL this spring.
From a pure scouting perspective, Te'o has the makings of a classic middle linebacker in a 4-3 system (although he could play in a 3-4 as well) as an instinctive run-stuffer who is adequate in coverage at best. Before the scandal came to light, Te'o likely would have been selected in the late first round.
As of now, it is difficult to pinpoint just how much his imaginary girlfriend will affect his draft stock. Some NFL teams may view Te'o as a liar, which is almost worse than a criminal in their eyes. Other teams may overlook it, as Te'o didn't actually harm anyone else in the whole charade.
What NFL teams would be most concerned about is the added attention he will bring to the team. Whoever drafts him will face media scrutiny from all directions, including non-sports outlets that cannot get enough of Te'o's imaginary dating life.
This could turn into a Tim Tebow situation, where teams will avoid him just because of the attention he brings—even if he is a genuinely fine person.
Some way or another, Te'o is going to find himself on an NFL roster, simply because he is too good of a player not to be drafted. Still, any team has to consider if all of the extra drama is worth having for a player who is not dominant and does not play a premier position.
Barrett Jones, OL, Alabama
Pro Comparison: Logan Mankins
A versatile (played all three positions at Alabama), tough, athletic member of what was by far the best offensive line in the country, Barrett Jones has all of the makings of an NFL starter.
However, as it turns out, Jones was almost too tough for his own good: He played on torn ligaments in his left foot during the BCS Championship Game, which is an injury that would sideline most human beings for several months.
Officially diagnosed as a Lisfranc injury, Jones has already had surgery which will cause him to miss all of the predraft events, including the combine and his pro day.
It is tough to bet against a player as tough as Jones, but it would have been best if he had the surgery as soon as he got the injury. NFL teams would feel a lot better about using a high draft pick on him if they were able to see him work out next to the other linemen.
Geno Smith, QB, West Virginia
Pro Comparison: Tony Romo
If you do a quick scan of most of the recent mock drafts on the web, most of them predict that Smith will wind up being the first pick in the draft to the Chiefs.
Based on the poor quarterback play in this year's Senior Bowl (that Smith wisely elected not to attend), Smith is the favorite to be the first quarterback taken in this year's draft, making him one of the biggest "risks" in the draft by default.
Geno has flashed the ability to be a star player in the NFL, showing great accuracy, arm strength, pocket awareness, anticipation and just enough mobility to get the job done—although he is certainly not a running quarterback.
The problem is, ever since his record-breaking performance against Baylor early in the season, he seemed to regress with every game—with the exception of the home finale against Kansas. He bottomed out with a dreadful bowl game against Syracuse.
Smith also has two potential first-round picks to throw to in Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey, a luxury most college quarterbacks do not have.
There is a good chance that Geno Smith will turn out to be the best quarterback in this weak class, but taking any player who is not a "can't-miss" prospect first overall is a risky move no matter how you spin it.