Every year, 32 NFL franchises roll the dice on top college prospects in the NFL draft. These players are poked, prodded, observed, analyzed and measured in the hope that teams know exactly what they are getting when they draft them.
And you want to know something? Those teams are wrong. In fact, they are wrong quite a little bit. The NFL draft is an inexact science, and is practiced by many. What started off as very much a niche field just over a decade ago has become something of a phenomenon. Having does this since the early '90s, I've seen it grow into something spectacular.
However, there's a huge downside to it all. With so many more opinions, both informed and otherwise, it is a challenge for the casual fan to sort it all out. Knowing who the best prospects are and getting a clear, unbiased picture is a challenge.
This year's draft is no different. Draft analysts want to pontificate about their favorite prospects. And if you believe them all, you would have to assume there are 80 players worthy of a first-round pick. But it is "buyer beware" for some of these top players.
The reasons vary, but if you want to peer closely enough into any player's game, you can find yourself suffering from paralysis by analysis. It's akin to staring up at the clouds. If you look hard enough, you will find something.
So with that, let's take a look at some highly touted prospects that might not be as safe as the masses would have you believe. Bear in mind that these are all exceptional football players. However, looking past the glowing positives, all of these prospects merit some concerns as well and could find themselves drafted too early come May.
These players end up on the wrong teams, and there's a real chance they could go from boom to bust in a hurry.
The hottest name among NFL draft prospects in recent weeks is Auburn offensive tackle Greg Robinson. Robinson is a 6'5", 320-pound mass of humanity who has proven himself to be a dominating run blocker at times.
And as only a redshirt sophomore, it appears as if his best football is ahead of him.
However, enthusiasm for Robinson is typically focused on those trademark plays where he gets downfield and crushes opposing defenders. On a closer inspection of his game, there are worries. One key worry is the system he plays in at Auburn.
As the college game continues to transition toward more exotic run-heavy offenses that employ so many read-option plays is, it makes honest evaluation of a lineman's complete skill set a challenge. It also pertains to pass-protection. There is a limited sample of plays to draw from.
This is not to suggest that Robinson can't develop into an excellent pass-blocking left tackle. Or that he can't be the same dominating run blocker in a more traditional offense. However, either of those conclusions would be easier to make, if there was a better sample size to draw from.
I took a quick look at Auburn OT Greg Robinson today. He's phenomenal. Main concern is lack of snaps in pass-pro makes it tough to evaluate.— NFL Philosophy (@NFLosophy) February 10, 2014
Some of Robinson's problems with balance and leverage are almost certainly related to bad habits he's picked up blocking in a system where at times he is asked to block no one at all. How he can correct some of these things will be fundamental to him becoming an elite left tackle in the NFL.
It's hard to reconcile the idea that a tackle who isn't asked to pass protect on a regular basis, and blocks no one on many run plays can just casually be plugged in at a top-five pick.
You had to know that Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel was going to show up on this list. Manziel might have the broadest range of opinions of any prospect in this draft. That alone gives cause for concern.
When Manziel is at his best, he displays a very complete skill set. Lively arm with nice velocity, crazy athleticism and a better cerebral game then may show itself at first glance.
Nonetheless,, when Manziel is wrong, he is so wrong. There are plays where Manziel goes completely off the reservation, trusting too much in his arm and his group of wide receivers. Manziel's security blanket was wide receiver Mike Evans, and there were plenty of plays where it was Evans saving Manziel's bacon on a questionable throw.
The question for any NFL team has to be. "which guy am I getting?" Manziel isn't the kind of prospect whom you can simply build a system around. It's going to take growth in him as well. Whether or not you are getting a more nimble Drew Brees or not will depend in large part on Manziel. He could end up more like Mike Vick without the arm strength.
Watched a whole lot of Johnny Manziel today. Can't say I saw anything that changed my opinion. Someone will take him early, wouldn't be me.— Ryan Lownes (@ryanlownes) February 4, 2014
With a crowded quarterback class, Manziel has to be looked at very closely before pulling the trigger on him over one of the other top signal-callers. This entire class will be one to look back on in a few seasons, and the teams that take another quarterback over Manziel might be breathing a sigh of relief.
There is a term that gets tossed around called "box-score scouting" and for any draft analyst who wants respected, it is a practice to avoid. UCLA linebacker Anthony Barr's mystique has been created on some level by that very practice.
That's not to say Barr isn't an exciting athlete. He most certainly is. However, what he is not is a polished football player. While he shows flashes, the whole of his game is very comparable to that of Steelers linebacker Jarvis Jones. Instead of winning off the snap with proper technique, Barr amasses most of his best plays on something less orthodox.
Any team that drafts him needs to understand that in order for him to be successful, it's likely to be outside of a set defense. Teams are going to marvel at his stats and ability to disrupt a game and ignore the fact that many of his best plays will never happen at the next level.
Watched Khalil Mack and Anthony Barr last night, and Barr isn't in Mack's galaxy as a football player. That includes projectability.— Sigmund Bloom (@SigmundBloom) February 7, 2014
If Barr is put in a defense that allows him to freelance and accepts the fact that he's going to miss as many plays as he makes, then by all means he is worth drafting, but the idea that he is a Top-15 pick is risky for sure.
There is nothing more dangerous than taking a very small sample size and attempt to turn it into more than it is. That is true of Pittsburgh defensive tackle Aaron Donald.
Donald was almost universally a second-round pick prior to the Senior Bowl. However, a week of practices and one exhibition game later and suddenly all that second-round game film now screams Top-15 pick.
Perhaps Donald is that good, and was simply underrated prior to the Senior Bowl. Or maybe the problems with his game are legit and his draft stock has become somewhat inflated.
There's no doubt when Donald wins off the snap, can extend his arms and can get leverage on his man, he's nearly impossible to block. However, he plays with a lack of functional strength at times, and with shorter-than-ideal arms can get swallowed up by offensive linemen. Some teams are going to look at Donald and not be sure what to do with him.
Aaron Donald looks like a DT version of Bjoern Werner.— Nick (@NFLDraftPage) February 10, 2014
Donald makes this list, not because he cannot play, but more because expectations for him look to be inflated. And if he is drafted too early, is going to have a hard time living up to those expectations.
In watching Michigan State cornerback Darqueze Dennard, there are some things to like about his game. Unfortunately, there is not exactly anything to love about it. The NFL is a league that relies heavily on its cornerbacks. They are often asked to come up and defend the run on one play. Play press man on the next and blitz the cornerback after that.
Dennard is a very good all-around player, but he really doesn't excel in any area. His hand usage shows him to be more than a little grabby. In the NFL, refs are going to be pelting him with flags if he cannot improve his technique.
The reason Dennard gets so physical with wide receivers could be that he lacks the long speed to run with them. It will be interesting to see how he times at the NFL Scouting Combine. Compared to some of the other top cornerbacks in this class, Dennard looks a little slow.
You can keep Darqueze Dennard, I'll take my chances with Jason Verrett: http://t.co/vTd26R5wUz— NDT Scouting, KMC (@NFLDraftTracker) February 7, 2014
But this isn't about Dennard being a bad football player. Still, he does look to be more than a little overrated at this point in the process. Being good at a little bit of everything while not being great at anything can make for a risky pick.