Technically speaking, there isn't a player at the NFL draft that doesn't pose some level of risk. While there are always those players that seem to be safe selections that are destined for greatness—your Andrew Lucks of the world—most players offer no guarantees.
But the most intriguing players of any draft are those that possess huge talent but also come with red flags or serious question marks about certain elements of their game. If there is one thing NFL fans love arguing about, it's polarizing prospects at the draft.
So with that in mind, I've identified four of this year's most interesting boom-or-bust candidates. All four could be stars. All four could be major disappointments. Each is likely to go in the first round.
Let's get mocking.
1. Kansas City Chiefs: Geno Smith, QB, West Virginia
Not a lot of folks will like this pick, but I have a feeling by the time the Combine wraps up and Smith meets with teams, he'll shoot to the top of the draft board. He's the safest quarterback available and the Chiefs really need to upgrade the position.
2. Jacksonville Jaguars: Star Lotulelei, DT, Utah
Gus Bradley has a major project on his hands trying to build a winner in Jacksonville, but he'll be able to select the top defensive player on the board with the No. 2 pick. In Lotulelei, he'll get a classic run-stuffer that will immediately improve the Jaguars' defense.
3. Oakland Raiders: Damontre Moore, Texas A&M, DE
The Raiders really, really need to upgrade the pass rush, and they'll have several available options to do just that. For now, I have Moore atop my board at defensive end, but the Raiders could just as easily select Jarvis Jones, Barkevious Mingo or Bjoern Werner here.
4. Philadelphia Eagles: Luke Joeckel, OT, Texas A&M
In my opinion, there are two ideal picks for the Eagles in this spot—Joeckel to improve a really poor offensive line, or Geno Smith to bring in a young quarterback built to run Chip Kelly's system. Either selection is a major win for the team, and the Eagles will be more than happy to land one of the top offensive tackle prospects we've seen in the past decade.
5. Detroit Lions: Dee Milliner, CB, Alabama
This is a pretty obvious pick for the Lions. The team could also look at defensive end with Cliff Avril likely headed elsewhere, but there is no bigger weakness on this team than the secondary. Milliner is a solid value and fills a big need.
6. Cleveland Browns: Jarvis Jones, OLB, Georgia
With the Browns shifting to a 3-4, drafting Jones—the best edge rushing linebacker in this class—makes a ton of sense. The Browns could use an impact pass-rusher, and Jones is certainly that.
But he also carries major risks. Jones has spinal stenosis, and though he has been cleared by doctors to play football, that injury is something teams will seriously investigate before the draft. He also had a series of injuries that cost him two games this season, so that is a concern as well.
Still, Jones could end up being the best player in this draft, period, and the most dynamic defensive presence available. I wouldn't expect him to drop past the Browns, risks and all.
7. Arizona Cardinals: Tyler Wilson, QB, Arkansas
Kevin Kolb is not the answer. I'm sure Bruce Arians knows that. Drafting Wilson here might be a reach, but the Cardinals must address the quarterback position before they can begin building a playoff team. Arians will want a young quarterback he can build around, and Wilson is the second-best option on the board.
8. Buffalo Bills: Matt Barkley, QB, USC
I know, I know, this draft is full of second-round talents at quarterback, yet I have three being selected in the top eight. I know, I know, most people think Barkley has dropped out of the first round and is potentially the fifth quarterback on the board at this point, and I have him being selected with the eighth pick.
The first rule of the NFL draft is that quarterbacks always go higher than you might expect. The second rule is that we don't make Fight Club references unless it is absolutely necessary. Barkley may have taken a hit this season on the draft board, but I promise you one team will fall in love with him and reach to select him.
This year, I'm betting on the Bills being that team. Barkley has a ton of experience, played in a pro-style offense at USC and is NFL ready. He may have been overrated coming into this season, but I think he's being too far undervalued after it. He's a major risk this high, but one I promise you an organization in need of a quarterback will take.
9. New York Jets: Barkevious Mingo, DE/OLB LSU
Barkevious Mingo is not lacking ability. He's an athletic freak who has all the tools needed to be a dominant edge rusher at the NFL level, and he looks like the perfect fit for Rex Ryan's 3-4 defense.
But he's also a player who has been inconsistent in the past and doesn't always get the most from his talents. You could attribute part of that to the fact that LSU probably didn't use him in a position that suited his strengths, but a player with his ability should consistently dominate at the college level.
Still, if he works at his game and is used properly, he has crazy upside. The Jets are taking a risk here, yes, but could be landing the most dynamic defensive player in this class.
10. Tennessee Titans: Bjoern Werner, Florida State, DE
There is no way the Titans will pass up Werner here, a player that could easily be the second player off the board. This is an excellent value for a team that really needs to upgrade its pass rush.
11. San Diego Chargers: Eric Fisher, OT, Central Michigan
This is the perfect scenario for the Chargers, a team that desperately needs a solid left tackle. If the Cardinals pass on Fisher with the seventh pick and the Chargers ultimately select him, don't be surprised if Philip Rivers buys everyone in San Diego a drink to celebrate.
12. Miami Dolphins: Chance Warmack, OG, Alabama
I think Joe Philbin's previous tenure as the offensive coordinator of the Green Bay Packers makes signing Greg Jennings to upgrade the wide receiver position a very strong possibility. With one major need filled, the Dolphins can select Warmack, arguably the best guard prospect to hit the league in years.
13. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Johnthan Banks, CB, Mississippi State
Is this a reach? Probably? Do the Bucs need to upgrade the corner position? Absolutely.
14. Carolina Panthers: Johnathan Hankins, Ohio State, DT
The Panthers picked a good year to need major upgrades at the defensive tackle position. I'm sure the tackle rankings will shift between now and the draft, but for now Hankins is the top guy available on my board at this point in the draft.
15. New Orleans Saints: Dion Jordan, DE/OLB, Oregon
Jordan could end up being the steal of the draft. A freakish athlete, Jordan could end up becoming the most dominant 3-4 outside linebacker in the NFL. This is a great pick for a defense that really needs to add some playmakers.
16. St. Louis Rams: Kenny Vaccaro, S, Texas
While the Rams could look to upgrade the tackle or wide receiver position here, I think doing either would be a reach. Instead, the Rams will nab the top safety on the board, Kenny Vaccaro.
17. Pittsburgh Steelers: Matt Elam, S, Florida
Meanwhile, the Steelers will shake their fists in the general direction of the Rams. With Troy Polamalu and Ryan Clark getting up there in age, the team will look to get younger at the position. Elam is a nice start.
18. Dallas Cowboys: Jonathan Cooper, G, North Carolina
The Cowboys are covered at the skill positions. It's time this team upgraded in the trenches, starting with talented guard prospect Jonathan Cooper.
19. New York Giants: Alex Okafor, DE, Texas
Osi Umenyiora is as good as gone, and the Giants had a surprisingly tame pass rush in 2012, once a strength of the team. Look for the Giants to upgrade at defensive end with a strong crop of players to choose from. For now, I have Okafor atop my board at this point and landing in New York.
20. Chicago Bears: Manti Te'o, Notre Dame, LB
Before the BCS National Championship Game, Manti Te'o was probably a top 10 pick. Since then, he's seen his stock drop significantly.
Frankly, Te'o looked overmatched against Alabama, and the drop in stock began. Still, the Bears are going to be looking for an eventual replacement for Brian Urlacher, and in Te'o they may find that guy.
I still think he can be a solid player in the NFL, but I wonder if he's a first-round talent. It's hard to know exactly how to evaluate Te'o at this point, but I think it's pretty clear he's a much riskier pick than we might have thought in December.
21. Cincinnati Bengals: Alec Ogletree, LB, Georgia
The Bengals have a talented defense, but upgrading the linebacker position is a need. Ogletree is a fantastic athlete and a really exciting prospect with a ton of potential, and it's hard to see the Bengals passing up on him here.
22. St. Louis Rams (via Redskins): Cordarrelle Patterson, WR, Tennessee
The Rams are going to be very excited that the top wide receiver on the board drops to them at No. 22. I highly expect the Rams to select a wide receiver in the first round if they can't land a player in free agency, and Patterson could end up being a major steal here.
23. Minnesota Vikings: Johnathan Jenkins, DT, Georgia
The Vikings had a ton of success running the ball with Adrian Peterson this season. Now, they'll look to improve the run defense by bringing in Johnathan Jenkins.
24. Indianapolis Colts: Jesse Williams, DT, Alabama
This is the case of the perfect player falling to a team. Williams is the right blend of value and need for the Colts, who really need to improve against the run on defense. Williams is a big body that will clog up the middle for years to come.
25. Seattle Seahawks: D.J. Fluker, OT, Alabama
Don't be surprised if the Seahawks end up in the Super Bowl next season. This is a talented football team. Still, the tackle position could use an upgrade, and Fluker would be a nice selection for the squad.
26. Green Bay Packers: Barrett Jones, OG, Alabama
Jones is worth this selection on versatility alone. He can literally play every position on the offensive line, and the Packers will find a place for him in the starting lineup next season.
27. Houston Texans: Keenan Allen, WR, California
The Texans need a dynamic receiver to pair with Andre Johnson. Allen fits that mold and will make the Texans' passing attack much more dangerous next season.
28. Denver Broncos: Sheldon Richardson, DT, Missouri
Richardson will fit into Denver's defense skill quite well, and his versatility as a 4-3 tackle or 3-4 end will make him a very nice value at this spot in the draft.
29. New England Patriots: Xavier Rhodes, CB, Florida State
I think Wes Welker will ultimately remain with the Patriots, so the team will have no need to look for a wide receiver here. That leaves the corner position as the most obvious need, and Rhodes is a solid player and great value here for the Pats.
30. Atlanta Falcons: Tyler Eifert, TE, Notre Dame
Even if Tony Gonzalez doesn't retire this offseason—I'm betting he will—the Falcons will be looking for his replacement at the draft. Eifert is an excellent candidate.
31. San Francisco 49ers: Eric Reid, S, LSU
The 49ers can be beaten vertically down the field, and the team's safeties were really exposed in this year's postseason. Eric Reid is a nice fit for the team and arguably fills the only pressing need the team has.
32. Baltimore Ravens: Kevin Minter, MLB, LSU
The Ravens are going to look to replace Ray Lewis in this draft. Some may see this as a reach, while others will think the Ravens are getting an underrated playmaker with this selection. Either way, Minter makes a lot of sense for the Ravens.
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