NFL Draft Prospects Destined to Become Career Backups
Just because you are a hot pro prospect and were a superstar in college doesn't mean you will be anything more than a backup in the NFL.
Fantasy football owners are already wondering which college prospects will turn into pro starters. But not every big name that people know from college will become an NFL starter. Many talented players are one-dimensional or are lacking certain skills or traits, and that is what separates starters from backups.
So here are five NFL draft prospects destined to become career backups.
Denard Robinson, Michigan Wolverines (WR)
Denard Robinson is arguably the most intriguing prospect in the draft, and one of the reasons is because no one knows what position he will eventually play. He was a quarterback in college and is showing himself as a converted receiver now, but he could be a part-time running back thanks to his many talents or maybe even a kick returner.
Robinson has mad skills.
The guy can turn a harmless sweep or a broken play into a 70-yard touchdown faster than a bartender can mix a whiskey sour. He can flat-out fly, has great vision and can break tackles (and ankles) with his open-field moves. Robinson can score from any point on the field whenever he touches the football.
But does Robinson have the sure hands to make it as an NFL receiver? Others have tried going from college quarterback to NFL receiver and the results were mixed. For every solid pass-catcher like Antwaan Randle-El, there have been busts like Matt Jones.
If the Robinson experiment at receiver fails miserably, then he could make it as a part-time run-option quarterback, but he does not throw well enough to be a starter. And if he ends up as a special-teamer who finds the field for a few carries out of the backfield, that does not make him a starter, either.
Robinson appears to be a jack-of-all-trades. But can he be a master of one? If not, then he will never be a starter in the NFL. He could surely be a valuable role player, but not a starter.
Le’Veon Bell, Michigan State Spartans (RB)
Le'Veon Bell is a punishing runner between the tackles. Just ask Big Ten linebackers and safeties who were bulldozed by him the past couple of years. Bell bullied his way to 1,793 rushing yards last season, including three games where he rumbled for over 200 yards.
There is no doubt that Bell is durable (382 rushing attempts in 2012) and has a nose for the end zone (25 TDs between 2011 and 2012). He projects to be a running back who at best will split carries and touches with another tailback with a different skill set, though, because he cannot do it all like Houston’s Arian Foster or Baltimore’s Ray Rice.
Bell caught 32 passes last season, not too shabby except for the fact that he only averaged 5.2 yards per catch, which was only slightly higher than his yards per carry.
He has as much chance of being used on 3rd-and-long situations in the NFL as Fandango has of being in the main event of WrestleMania next year.
Bell does not possess breakaway speed, either. He did not have one run over 40 yards in 564 carries between his last two college seasons. Bell has some underrated agility for a big man, but his inability to be a home run threat hurts him since the NFL seems to be shunning grinding runners for big-play runners.
It is hard to peg Bell as an every-down workhorse in today’s NFL. Unless he ups his receiving skills and starts taking sprinting tips from Usain Bolt, Bell has a better chance of being a part-time player than a franchise running back.
Tyler Bray, Tennessee Volunteers (QB)
Tyler Bray is the walking billboard of what a project is. He has one of the biggest arms, if not the biggest, of any quarterback available in this draft. If quarterbacking was all about who could throw the ball 70 yards and with the velocity of Justin Verlander, Bray would be the first QB taken this year.
But you need a lot more to make it as a quarterback, and that is Bray’s problem.
He has not shown much in other areas. Take for example his ability to rise to the occasion in big games against the toughest opponents and staunchest defenses.
Bray threw four touchdown passes but was intercepted seven times in three crucial contests against SEC powerhouses Alabama, Georgia and Florida in 2012. He barely completed 50 percent of his passes in those contests as well.
Bray’s consistency has also been questionable. In November, he followed up a 400-yard game against Missouri with a 103-yard fiasco versus Vanderbilt. Add to the problem list Bray’s penchant for making poor decisions with his passes and his total lack of running ability and he has many things going against him.
Bray has an NFL arm and an NFL body. But he is going to need the right coaching staff to mold him into something more than a backup, which is why he has been rated behind other top-notch talents like West Virginia’s Geno Smith and Florida State’s EJ Manuel in this year’s draft.
Cobi Hamilton, Arkansas Razorbacks (WR)
Cobi Hamilton took a gargantuan leap between his junior and senior seasons at Arkansas, going from a 542-yard receiver to a 1,335-yard receiver in one year’s time. The main reason it seemed that his stats skyrocketed was he learned how to use his size and speed against inferior defensive backs more often.
You cannot teach size and speed, and Hamilton has both, so he is good there. His problems stem from the mental side, not the physical side.
Hamilton’s route running was inconsistent in college, as were his hands. Hamilton had some god-awful drops during his collegiate career, even during his super senior season. So the coaching staff on whichever NFL team drafts him will have to work hard on improving his focus and attention to detail.
Hamilton could go as high as the second round and as late as the fourth round depending on how things shake out. To me he has the look of a No. 3 receiver who could play 20 to 30 snaps per game depending on what type of offensive system he is in. He will not be a starter unless he greatly improves on his weaknesses, though.
Michael Williams, Alabama Crimson Tide (TE)
One of the unsung and overlooked heroes of Alabama’s national championship squad, Michael Williams has some physical qualities and skills that make him look very attractive. This monster is a ferocious run blocker who can pancake defenders coming off the edge so well he should get a job at IHOP.
But in today’s pass-happy NFL, Williams is not enough of a receiver to be a full-time starter.
He is not overly gifted in the hands or speed departments. The most receptions he ever had in one season at Alabama was 24, and he only averaged 7.6 yards per catch last season.
Williams seems destined to be a No. 2 or No. 3 tight end in the NFL thanks to his above-average blocking and average-at-best pass-catching ability. He could catch three to five short touchdowns passes per year, but he will never be thought of as the next Shannon Sharpe by fantasy football owners.