The NFL draft is a delicate balancing act, as front-office folks and coaching staffs try to build a draft board that takes into account team needs, overall talent and the amount of risks posed by each and every prospect.
And every year, there are a handful of players that offer tantalizing amounts of upside but sobering degrees of risk. Generally, those players are the most intriguing to watch leading up to the NFL draft.
So which players fit that description this year? And more importantly, which three prospects are so talented teams should simply ignore the risk?
I'm glad you asked.
Jarvis Jones, OLB, Georgia
It's starting to look like Mr. Jones isn't that much of a risk after all, after Dan Pompei of the National Football Post reported the following on Sunday:
In a medical report that was sent to NFL teams, leading orthopedist Craig Brigham refutes that Jones ever had a significant spinal cord contusion. When he was at Southern Cal, the pass rusher was diagnosed with one, and Southern Cal did not allow him to play in 2010. Jones transferred to Georgia and played two seasons with no problems. Brigham concluded that Jones either had a very mild incident of spinal cord concussion or merely a stinger that has long since resolved. Even if another similar injury occurred, Brigham concluded it would not be a career ending issue. After recently examining Jones, Brigham concluded, “Jarvis is cleared to play without restriction.”
All of this business about teams taking Jones off their draft boards should be put to rest at this point. It appears he is safe from a medical standpoint, and the dude can flat out play, accumulating 14.5 sacks and 24.5 tackles for loss last season at Georgia.
There isn't a bigger playmaker on the defensive side in the draft, and Jones shouldn't drop out of the top 10 picks in the draft. Frankly, I'd be shocked if he dropped below No. 6 to the Cleveland Browns.
Yeah, he's that good.
Star Lotulelei, DT, Utah
Obviously, if Lotulelei's heart condition turns out to be career-threatening or even career-ending, he won't appear on this list. But until we know that is the case for certain, Lotulelei remains one of the biggest talents on the board and a player that shouldn't drop far.
For starters, he can likely play either as a nose tackle in a 3-4 scheme or either tackle position. He's a beast in the run game, and he gets excellent penetration against the pass. He's a top-five talent, and for tams like the Kansas City Chiefs, Oakland Raiders or Philadelphia Eagles, he would make a lot of sense.
Again, his heart condition needs to be monitored. But if it turns out to be a very minor concern like Jones' spinal stenosis, Lotulelei is as close to a can't-miss talent as this draft has.
Ezekiel Ansah, DE, BYU
I try not to fall too in love with prospects at the NFL Scouting Combine, but it was really hard not to become totally smitten with Ansah's potential this year.
Ansah is 6'6" and weights 275 pounds. He ran a 4.63 40-yard dash, bench pressed 225 pounds 21 times and had a 34.5-inch vertical leap. Oh, and he apparently didn't even train for the combine and had never run the 40-yard dash in his life.
But Ansah has only played football since 2010 and was used as a defensive tackle, 3-4 end and 3-4 outside linebacker at BYU. It remains to be seen how he'll adjust to playing solely as a 3-4 linebacker in the NFL or how quickly he'll pick up the techniques and reads needed at the position.
So, yeah, he's a risk. But it's very rare to find players with his size and athleticism, and he's proved to be a pretty quick study in the past. I'd be shocked if he slips out of the top 10 picks.