2016 NFL Draft: Ranking the Biggest Boom-or-Bust Prospects
Just like Clark Kent and Bruce Wayne hitting the big screen together, there are always a handful of NFL prospects in each draft class who possess the potential for both lofty success and crushing disappointment.
From raw but rare athletic talents to inconsistent performances that have shown flashes of greatness, this year's group of NFL draft hopefuls has its own list of players who could go off the charts in either direction at the pro level.
Whether it's a small-school gunslinger who could be the first quarterback off the board or a versatile playmaker at linebacker trying to overcome a severe knee injury, each member of this group carries a bucketload of both doubt and promise into this year's draft.
Cardale Jones, QB, Ohio State
There's no denying Cardale Jones' rare blend of size, athleticism and arm strength, but the 6'5", 253-pounder is as raw as they come in terms of quarterback prospects in this year's draft. His physical tools could get him drafted on Day 2, but he'll have to end up in the right system with time to develop in order to reach his potential.
Andrew Billings, DT, Baylor
Andrew Billings flashes dominant power and explosiveness on film, but he's incredibly inconsistent when it comes to finding the ball and maximizing that athleticism. His strong pro-day performance will likely cement his first-round status, but his lack of polish could get exposed at the next level.
Christian Hackenberg, QB, Penn State
One of the most polarizing prospects in the entire draft class, NFL teams might not be sure which version of Christian Hackenberg is the real one. After a promising freshman campaign in Happy Valley, Hackenberg struggled under new head coach James Franklin, but he has the physical makeup of an NFL passer.
Eli Apple, CB, Ohio State
With the increase in big, athletic receivers in the NFL, defensive coaches love corners with size and athleticism who can match up well. Eli Apple fits the bill at 6'1", 199 pounds, but the redshirt sophomore is still fairly raw as far as the finer points of playing the position are concerned. He could easily crack the first round, but he may struggle if thrown to the fire early.
Leonard Floyd, OLB, Georgia
A bit of a tweener prospect, Leonard Floyd added some bulk prior to the combine, where he measured in at 6'6", 244 pounds—13 pounds heavier than his listed weight at Georgia. He's explosive and versatile, but will he retain that explosiveness with the added weight once he puts the pads on this fall? He could go in the first round, but he may struggle to find a position that fits at the next level.
10. Le'Raven Clark, OT, Texas Tech
At first glance, Texas Tech's Le'Raven Clark certainly looks the part of the long, athletic NFL offensive tackle. At 6'5", 316 pounds, with 36 ⅛-inch arms, it's easy to see why Clark has plenty of interest and could end up being a Day 2 pick in April.
But a closer look at his game tape reveals a player with plenty of rough edges to smooth out.
Bleacher Report's Eric Galko wrote earlier this month about Clark's frustrating film evaluation:
For all the excitement that Clark’s flashes and body type offer, the four-year starter’s lack of technical development should be highly worrisome. Clark has played left tackle for the Red Raiders every game for the last three seasons, yet he still consistently makes hand-positioning mistakes and doesn’t have a refined kick slide.
NFL draft history is littered with left tackle prospects who could wow scouts with their raw talent and rare physical tools but could never develop the technique to succeed at the pro level. Clark looks like this year's candidate to be drafted too high due to those qualities, and he'll have to end up with a patient coaching staff that can correct his fundamentals if he's to reach his potential.
9. Will Fuller, WR, Notre Dame
It's certainly true that pure speed can't be taught, but it takes more than a blazing 40 time to become a successful NFL receiver.
Notre Dame's Will Fuller can certainly light up a stopwatch—which he did at the combine with a 4.32-second 40-yard dash, which was by far the fastest of any receiver in attendance—but his lack of consistency catching the ball could render that speed obsolete at the next level.
There have been myriad receivers over the years who can fly by defensive backs only to frustrate their teams with constant drops once they get there. Fuller's speed will likely entice a team to take him before the end of Round 2, but he could be a huge bust if he can't improve at his position's primary job: catching the football.
8. Kevin Dodd, DE, Clemson
Teammate Shaq Lawson was a household name in NFL draft circles heading into the 2015 college football season, but Clemson's Kevin Dodd made a strong case for himself as a potential first-round pick with his performance.
But while Dodd finished the season strong—five straight games with a sack—his lack of experience and the fact that Lawson drew more attention from opponents are reasons for pause.
Dodd only has one year as a full-time starter, but he saved his best performances for the biggest stages with impressive showings in both College Football Playoff games. Is he a late bloomer who will continue his upward trend at the next level, or will he struggle against a much-improved level of competition and higher expectations?
7. Braxton Miller, WR, Ohio State
Once a dangerous dual-threat quarterback, Ohio State's Braxton Miller switched positions for the 2015 season and continued his playmaking ways as a receiver for the Buckeyes.
But the NFL has seen plenty of raw, explosive receivers who can make dazzling plays at the college level, yet they sputter in the pros when they can't rely on a polished skill set. Recent first-round picks on players like Tavon Austin and Cordarrelle Patterson prove that making highlight-reel plays in college doesn't always translate to success on Sundays.
For his part, Miller looked much more polished and refined than expected at this year's Senior Bowl practices, running precise routes and showing soft, consistent hands. If he's able to continue that development, he could become a special player in the NFL, but teams will need to temper their expectations if he's taken early. He's not likely to make pro defenders look silly quite as often as he did in the Big Ten.
6. Corey Coleman, WR, Baylor
Mississippi's Laquon Treadwell is still widely regarded as the favorite to be the first receiver taken in this year's draft, but Baylor's Corey Coleman has crept into that conversation throughout the predraft process.
Arguably the most explosive and productive pass-catcher in this year's class, Coleman put up ridiculous numbers for the Bears in 2015. He ran at will through Big 12 secondaries to the tune of 74 receptions, 1,363 yards and 20 touchdowns. But at just 5'11", 194 pounds, Coleman might find much more difficulty beating bigger, more physical NFL corners with such success.
He's more physical than his size might suggest, but opponents didn't challenge Coleman in college nearly as much as opposing pros will in the NFL. The expectations will be high when he comes off the board in the first round, and he could be the next Antonio Brown, or the latest in a long line of undersized receivers who couldn't replicate their playmaking ways at the next level.
5. Derrick Henry, RB, Alabama
Heisman Trophy winners have a checkered history when it comes to succeeding in the NFL or flaming out, and Alabama's Derrick Henry has the potential to go either way, as well.
The first player in SEC history to rush for over 2,000 yards in a single season, Henry is a physical freak who ran all over opposing defenses in 2015. At 6'3", 247 pounds, Henry showed off his rare athleticism for his size with a 4.54-second 40-yard dash and 37-inch vertical jump at the combine.
But there are plenty of questions surrounding Henry as he prepares to transition to the NFL. He had a ridiculous workload for the Crimson Tide last year—nearly 400 touches—and it's easy to wonder whether his success will translate without a dominant offensive line leading the way. Henry is a special athlete who will be one of the first backs off the board, but can he live up to the hype?
4. Noah Spence, DE, Eastern Kentucky
This year's draft class is short on pure pass-rushers who can wreak havoc off the edge, but Eastern Kentucky's Noah Spence is the most talented of the bunch.
But after being a highly touted recruit and showing plenty of promise as a freshman at Ohio State, multiple failed drug tests resulted in Spence being declared permanently ineligible by the Big Ten. After being forced to sit out the 2014 season and watch his former teammates win a national title, Spence transferred to EKU and dominated in 2015.
As Bruce Feldman of Fox Sports pointed out, Spence has gone to great lengths to prove he's clean and won't be a distraction for an NFL team. But decision-makers will have to weigh his knack for getting after the quarterback and making plays in the backfield against the potential that his off-field issues could return at some point.
3. Jaylon Smith, LB, Notre Dame
A top prospect's worst nightmare is suffering a serious injury just before heading to the NFL. Notre Dame's Jaylon Smith is experiencing it firsthand after a knee injury he sustained in the Irish's Fiesta Bowl loss to Ohio State.
Widely considered one of the top overall players in the draft, regardless of position, Smith decided to leave school early for the draft anyway. But the severity of his injury could end up costing him his entire rookie season, according to NFL Network's Ian Rapoport.
Smith is a top-five talent at 100 percent, but there's simply no way to know if he'll ever be able to return to the player he was before the injury. A team could still spend a first-round pick on him and bank on a full recovery and his rare talent, but it could backfire if the injury lingers and keeps him from becoming the player he could have been.
2. Carson Wentz, QB, North Dakota State
After leading the Bison to yet another national title, North Dakota State's Carson Wentz could end up being the first quarterback taken in this year's draft, as high as the No. 2 pick to the Cleveland Browns.
But while there's plenty to like about him—ideal size, arm strength and intangibles—there are plenty of question marks, as well. Can he handle the jump from FCS competition to the NFL? Will his lack of experience prove him to be just a one-year wonder?
Wentz looked like the genuine article at this year's Senior Bowl practices, from his physical performance between the lines to the way he led the team through drills and asserted himself as a leader. He passes the eye test, but the expectations will be enormous if he comes off the board early. If a team forces him to start immediately and doesn't give him time to develop, it could stunt his growth and turn him into a bust.
1. Robert Nkemdiche, DL, Mississippi
Once considered a potential top-five pick in this year's draft, Mississippi's Robert Nkemdiche has seen his stock take a tumble throughout the predraft process, thanks in large part to off-field issues.
There's no denying his rare talent, but Nkemdiche even has his on-field concerns, as he relies on his raw talent far too often as opposed to polished technique and awareness. Still, he's a versatile, explosive defender who looked dominant at times, and he will likely cause at least one team to take a chance on him fairly early in the draft.
He's one of the most naturally talented players in the entire draft, but he also carries arguably the biggest bust potential of any prospect in this year's class.
Observations obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.
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