NFL Draft 2014: Boom-or-Bust Prospects Worth Round 1 Gamble

Andrew GouldFeatured ColumnistApril 3, 2014

COLUMBIA, MO - OCTOBER 19:  Defensive lineman Kony Ealy #47 of the Missouri Tigers reacts after a sack of quarterback Tyler Murphy #3 of the Florida Gator sduring the game at Faurot Field/Memorial Stadium on October 19, 2013 in Columbia, Missouri.  (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
Jamie Squire/Getty Images

If you want an NFL draftee who's a lock to become a solid contributor, you've come to the wrong place.

Playing it safe has an unfair reputation. A life without risk can lead to unfulfilled dreams and boredom, but a life without practicality can lead to bankruptcy and chaos.

It's all about picking your spots. A team picking in the top 10 must have plenty of problems to have garnered that selection, so it's better off making sure it lands a sturdy starter. But a stacked squad waiting until the end of the opening round has more leeway to swing for the fences in hopes of landing a future star.

Nobody can guarantee these guys emerge as Pro Bowl talents or even above-average starters. The upside, however, is high enough to justify a premium investment late in Round 1. 


Kony Ealy, DE, Missouri

Dynamic pass-rushers are in high demand these days, so don't be surprised to see the unpolished Kony Ealy get selected during the opening round.

To close out his junior season, Ealy notched six sacks through his final five games with the Missouri Tigers. Those glimpses of brilliance have some scouts salivating over a man's Nolan Nawrocki described as a "big, athletic, ascending, pass-rush talent with the size, burst and flexibility to pressurize the edge as a right defensive end."

He also added that Ealy "is not a finished product, particularly as a run defender." His technique needs work, and he often fails to make the most of his strength in the trenches. A spike in competition could give him trouble during his rookie season.

But if he puts the whole package together, look out. NFL teams love defensive ends with linebacker-like explosiveness who wreak havoc in the pocket. The 6'4", 273-pound Ealy fits that mold.

Possible Landing Spots: Ealy could go as high as No. 16 if the defensively challenged Dallas Cowboys are feeling bold. The Cincinnati Bengals and the New Orleans Saints are in good spots to take a flier, as are last year's Super Bowl squads.


Marqise Lee, WR, USC's Pete Prisco wonders why Marqise Lee's draft stock continues to plummet as draft day approaches: "Why is he dropping down so many boards? It makes no sense." 

Months ago, Lee was viewed as the draft's No. 3 wide receiver, not far behind Texas A&M's Mike Evans. While Evans has separated himself as the consensus No. 2 behind Clemson's Sammy Watkins, Lee has fallen into an indistinguishable group of receivers clamoring for a first-round spot.

It might simply be a matter of high supply hurting his value. B/R's Matt Miller doesn't see anything special about the Southern Cal product to distance him from the other talented rookies.

An unproductive, injury-plagued junior year certainly hurt Lee's cause. A year after catching 118 passes for 1,721 yards and 14 touchdowns, his numbers collapsed to 57 receptions, 791 yards and four scores.

Despite suffering a knee injury that dampened his final collegiate season, a healthy Lee still has the size and explosiveness to thrive at the pro level.

An anonymous NFL scout told the Los Angeles Times' Gary Klein that he still deserves a look. "He's a first-rounder. Teams are really going to like the person when they talk to him. He's had enough tape over the last couple of years where you can see the talent. He's an impressive player. He's got some savvy to him."

Brandin Cooks, Odell Beckham Jr. and Kelvin Benjamin are other viable options, but Lee has the biggest upside among a group with no sure thing.

Possible Landing Spots: The Kansas City Chiefs, the Carolina Panthers and the San Francisco 49ers could all use a wideout, and the Philadelphia Eagles could join that list after releasing DeSean Jackson


Ra'Shede Hageman, DT, Minnesota

He's certainly talented enough to warrant a first-round selection, but can Ra'shede Hageman deliver on a regular basis?

That's the dilemma tormenting NFL executives evaluating the raw defensive tackle. Nawrocki called him an "aimless pass rusher in need of a plan" with a "glaring bust factor." He could flame out before earning a starting gig, but the other scenario is too enticing to ignore.

Sports on Earth's Russ Lande gives an assessment that defines boom or bust. If he plays up to his ceiling, which is far from a foregone conclusion, Hageman should be great.

At his best, Hageman's combination of height, long arms, playing strength and quickness reminds me of longtime NFL star defensive linemen Richard Seymour, which is what excites NFL teams so much. He could be a star as a defensive tackle in a 4-3 scheme or as a defensive end in a 3-4 defense.

Unfortunately, Hageman often does not play with the technique, passion or intensity necessary to be a disruptive force and disappears for long stretches of each game. While some of his struggles can be attributed to lack of experience playing the position, he has not displayed the instincts and awareness top defenders usually have. 

There's no doubt Hageman is a risky choice, but he'd be well served going to a winning organization where he could slowly blossom into an NFL game-changer.

Possible Landing Spot: The Saints, who pick at No. 27, bolstered a strong secondary by adding Jairus Byrd. But they allowed 4.6 yards per carry last season, and the likes of Aaron Donald, Timmy Jernigan and Louis Nix III figure to be long gone before the Saints are on the clock. If they pass, the New England Patriots should give him a look at No. 29.