2014 NFL Draft: Risky 1st-Round Candidates

Greg Gabriel@@greggabeFeatured ColumnistMay 1, 2014

ORLANDO, FL - JANUARY 01:  Jadeveon Clowney #7 of the South Carolina Gamecocks walks off the field at the end of the first half of their game against the Wisconsin Badgers at the Capital One Bowl on January 1, 2014 in Orlando, Florida.  (Photo by Scott Halleran/Getty Images)
Scott Halleran/Getty Images

Every year, players drafted high in the NFL draft carry a certain degree of risk. The risk could be that the player is drafted higher than anticipated. There might be character or medical concerns. The player's production might not match his physical ability. No matter what the concern is, whoever drafts the player must feel comfortable with him as a member of the team. Many will watch to see if the player's first few years in the league live up to where he was drafted. That being said, here are some players who could get drafted high but carry the most risk in the first round.


Taylor Lewan, Michigan

Taylor Lewan is one of the better offensive tackles in this draft. Last year, when I was doing consulting work for an NFL club, I saw Lewan and Central Michigan's Eric Fisher one day apart on school visits. I was studying Lewan just in case he decided to enter the 2013 draft. It was my feeling then that Lewan was a better player in the 2012 season than Fisher, who was the first pick in last year's draft.

In March of this year, Lewan was charged with one count of aggravated assault and two counts of assault or assault and battery stemming from a December 1st incident following the Michigan-Ohio State game. He is expected to be arraigned in the case in early May.

Earlier in the season, Lewan was reprimanded by Michigan head coach Brady Hoke for dirty play in the Michigan State game. Teams need to know if this is a pattern and something they'll need to worry about once he gets to the NFL.


C.J. Mosley, Alabama

Bleacher Report's Matt Miller has Mosley rated as the best inside linebacker in the draft. He was a four-year starter at Alabama and was one of the team's best defenders. He is physical, fast, athletic and instinctive.

TUSCALOOSA, AL - NOVEMBER 10:  Linebacker C.J. Mosley #32 of the Alabama Crimson Tide celebrates during the game against the Texas A&M Aggies at Bryant-Denny Stadium on November 10, 2012 in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.  (Photo by Mike Zarrilli/Getty Images)
Mike Zarrilli/Getty Images

The problem with Mosley is durability. He had elbow, shoulder and hip injuries while at Alabama and has missed both practice and game time because of the injuries. Linebacker is obviously a physical position, so Mosley could slide some come draft day.


Ra'Shede Hageman, Minnesota

Hageman can be a frustrating guy to watch on tape. There are plays in which he is quick off the ball, easily sheds blocks and gets to the ball to make the play. There are also a number of plays in which he does absolutely nothing.

NFL scouts are always looking for consistency, and that is what Hageman doesn't have. Scouts want to know what they are buying, and they can't be sure with Hageman. When he cuts it loose and plays hard, he can be awfully difficult to block and shows dominating ability.

Ann Heisenfelt/Associated Press

The club that drafts Hageman could be getting a potential Pro Bowl-caliber defensive lineman or a guy who busts and is out of the league in three years.


Cyrus Kouandjio, Alabama

Kouandjio is a third-year junior who entered the draft as an underclassman. He was a reserve his true freshman year but got significant playing time. The last two years, he was a starter at left tackle.

In the eighth game of the 2011 season, Kouandjio suffered a torn ACL and MCL in his left knee. He had surgery and missed the rest of the season.

Michael Conroy/Associated Press

It was reported by NFL.com during the combine that Kouandjio had failed some teams' medical exams. In 30 years in the NFL, it has been my experience that clubs never report the results of physicals to the media, especially at the combine. 

According to CBSSports.com's Jason La Canfora, Dr. James Andrews sent a letter to all 32 NFL clubs to clear up "misinformation" about the status of Kouandjio's knees. That said, from my experience putting together draft boards in the NFL, I know that each NFL club will view a player's injury differently. While one club may have a problem with a player's condition, another will say that player is good to go.  

Looking at tape, there is a noticeable difference in the movement skills of Kouandjio from his freshman year in 2011 to the 2013 season. His lateral agility and change of direction aren't nearly as quick or fluid. A year ago, I felt he could play left tackle in the NFL, but I no longer think that is possible. He is now better suited to playing on the right side.

Kouandjio has legitimate first-round talent, but when a player has knee problems, the question is not if he can playit's how long he can play. On draft day, if we see Kouandjio start to drop, we will know that it's because of the concern surrounding his knee.


Darqueze Dennard, Michigan State

Dennard was a three-year starter at Michigan State, and he has developed into one of the top corners in this draft. One of the best parts of Dennard's game is how physical he is, but that physical play has taken a toll on his body.

Oct 12, 2013; East Lansing, MI, USA; Michigan State Spartans trainers check on cornerback Darqueze Dennard (31) during the second half in a game at Spartan Stadium. MSU won 42-28. Mandatory Credit: Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

He missed five games with a knee injury as a freshman in 2010. He missed three games in 2011 with an ankle injury. Following the 2012 season, he had surgery to repair a double hernia. Still, he came back to start 14 games in 2013.

The concern with Dennard is whether he will be prone to missing time at the next level after the amount of abuse his body has already taken.


Stephon Tuitt, Notre Dame

In the 2012 season, Stephon Tuitt looked like he was going to be a surefire high first-round pick. He showed dominating ability while playing as a 3-4 defensive end. In the opening game of the 2012 season, he returned a fumble 77 yards for a touchdownnot something we see very often from a 300-pound lineman.

After the 2012 season, Tuitt underwent surgery for a hernia. His playing weight in 2012 was about 312 pounds. After surgery, he ballooned to over 330 pounds. That wasn't a concern, but it was concerning that he kept the excess weight on, even after going through summer conditioning.

Tuitt started the 2013 season at over 330 pounds and was not nearly the player he was in 2012. Scouts have questioned his desire and determination. There was no excuse for his weight being that high. If a player works hard and eats right while doing rehab, he doesn't gain excess weight.

After the 2013 season, Tuitt decided to enter the draft as an underclassman. He trained vigorously for the combine, and his weight dropped to 302 pounds. At the combine, it was discovered that he had a broken foot and was unable to work out at both the combine and the Notre Dame pro day. He had surgery on the foot in March.

Scouts are asking themselves if they can trust Tuitt. How long will the foot injury keep him out? He didn't work hard rehabbing last year, so will he work hard this year? All of this will have an effect on where Tuitt gets drafted. He might fall into the middle of the second round.


Jadeveon Clowney, South Carolina

There is no denying Clowney's talent. He is one of the most gifted defensive players we have seen in the last seven or eight years. Talent is not the problem; desire is.

Clowney was a dominant player in 2012. In 2013, he looked ordinary. He is a player who should consistently get 12-14 sacks a season, but he had only three sacks last season. He did not play with reckless abandon and didn't come close to dominating his opponents.

COLUMBIA, SC - SEPTEMBER 14:  Jadeveon Clowney #7 of the South Carolina Gamecocks during their game at Williams-Brice Stadium on September 14, 2013 in Columbia, South Carolina.  (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

Clowney will be one of the first two players drafted next week. I have no doubt that he will play at a high level as a rookie. The question is if the high-level play will continue for years to come. He already showed us in 2013 that he is capable of "taking off" a season. The team that drafts Clowney has to hope he doesn't decide to do it again.  


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