Predicting which NFL draft prospects will thrive and which will bust is arguably the most difficult and important distinction that talent evaluators can possibly make. That is why top general managers and scouts are compensated handsomely, and it's also why some teams can't seem to find their way out of the basement.
Every team is victimized by a draft bust at some point, but limiting mistakes is absolutely necessary. Picking a bust high in the first round is particularly devastating, and it can set franchises back for years, so it's fair to say that organizations must do their homework and feel 100 percent confident when they select a player.
Even so, there will inevitably be some busts in the 2014 NFL draft. Here is a closer look at three of the most likely candidates.
The 2014 draft seems to be fairly rich with quarterback prospects, especially when compared with 2013. The Buffalo Bills made EJ Manuel the only first-round quarterback taken last year, but four or five signal-callers could easily fly off the board in the first 32 picks this year. Some of them may be great at the next level, however, it's highly unlikely that all of them will be. Among the quarterbacks who are projected to be first-round picks, Fresno State's Derek Carr is definitely the riskiest proposition.
Carr shouldn't pay for his brother's shortcomings, but it's worth noting that David Carr didn't exactly work out as the No. 1 overall pick by the Houston Texans a dozen years ago. Derek comes from the same school, and he put up gaudy numbers like his brother, but the level of competition was lacking. Also, Carr was a late riser, as nobody considered him a potential first-rounder until this season. ESPN's Trey Wingo brings up an interesting scenario since the Texans are likely looking to take a quarterback with the No. 1 pick.
Going with Carr would be a huge mistake on the Texans' part, though. Teddy Bridgewater and Johnny Manziel both look like better prospects, and they have strong bodies of work to fall back on. Carr threw for 5,000 yards and 50 touchdowns in Fresno State's high-volume passing offense, however, it's a crapshoot in terms of whether or not his skills will translate. He played quite poorly in the Bulldogs' Las Vegas Bowl loss to USC, and that offered a glimpse of what we'll likely see out of Carr in the NFL.
Offensive tackle is another deep position in the 2014 draft, and most figure that Michigan's Taylor Lewan is a surefire, first-round pick. Lewan was a key player for the Wolverines over the course of his four-year collegiate career, and he was viewed as a leader as well. It's very difficult to evaluate offensive tackles accurately since transitioning to a pro-style offense requires different techniques and assignments, so it's tough to get a read on Lewan.
The intangibles seem to be there, but he did struggle at times against high levels of competition at Michigan. He had his hands full with South Carolina's Jadeveon Clowney in the 2013 Outback Bowl, and that is the type of pass-rusher he will encounter more often than not in the NFL. There are also some off-field concerns with Lewan, as he was questioned regarding an assault case, but he denied any involvement, according to Angelique S. Chengelis of The Detroit News.
"I didn't hit anybody or do anything like that, so my focus has been here (preparing for the bowl)," Lewan said. "I'm sure the truth will come out, and it will all work out."
It's impossible to say whether or not Lewan is being truthful, but the fact that he was in that type of situation is certainly disconcerting. The main concerns with Lewan relate to his on-field play, but this type of stuff doesn't help his case. Lewan struggles with footwork and loses his temper at times on the field. All of that will lead to a rough go at the NFL level.
When he was on his game, Notre Dame nose tackle Louis Nix was one of the most dominant defensive players in college football. He is capable of taking up multiple blockers, as well as blowing up running plays before they ever get started. At the same time, there is reason to be concerned. Nix is a mountain of a man at 357 lbs., so conditioning is a major issue. Also, he missed five games in 2013 due to a knee injury, according to Matt Fortuna of ESPN.com.
Entering the draft coming off an injury is never ideal, especially for a big man like Nix. He was a beast in 2012 with two sacks and 7.5 tackles for loss, but it's unlikely that Nix will play a pass-rushing role at the next level. Also, he seemed to regress in every area this past season, as he failed to record a sack and made just two stops behind the line of scrimmage. Perhaps, it's no coincidence that his production dropped off after linebacker Manti Te'o went pro.
At his size, there is no question that Nix is incapable of being an every-down player in the NFL. That, in and of itself, makes him risky. Nix should at least become a solid rotational guy like Terrence Cody of the Baltimore Ravens, but that isn't good enough for a first-round pick. Some team will gamble on him, but they'll ultimately regret it since his ceiling isn't particularly high.
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