If the NFL draft was full of sure things, teams would never screw up picks in the opening round. The reality, though, it that no draft prospect—no matter how safe he appears to be—is actually a sure thing.
Those players taken at the top of Round 1 are typically safe picks, at least, though there are obvious exceptions—guys like Dion Jordan and Justin Gilbert are usually anomalies of the early first round. Once you get to the middle of the opening round, however, you tend to find more prospects who come across as risks.
We're going to examine some of the draft's riskiest potential first-rounders here. We'll be focusing primarily on players who are expected to be drafted in the bottom half of Round 1. We'll also run down the current draft order and mock picks based on factors like player potential, prospect stock, team needs and team fits.
2017 NFL Mock Draft
|Pick||NFL Team||Proj. Selection|
|1||Cleveland Browns||Myles Garrett, DE, Texas A&M|
|2||San Francisco 49ers||Solomon Thomas, DE, Stanford|
|3||Chicago Bears||Jamal Adams, S, LSU|
|4||Jacksonville Jaguars||Leonard Fournette, RB, LSU|
|5||Tennessee Titans (from LAR)||Mike Williams, WR, Clemson|
|6||New York Jets||Malik Hooker, S, Ohio State|
|7||Los Angeles Chargers||Derek Barnett, DE, Tennessee|
|8||Carolina Panthers||Marshon Lattimore, CB, Ohio State|
|9||Cincinnati Bengals||Haason Reddick, LB, Temple|
|10||Buffalo Bills||Jonathan Allen, DL, Alabama|
|11||New Orleans Saints||Gareon Conley, CB, Ohio State|
|12||Cleveland Browns (from PHI)||Mitchell Trubisky, QB, North Carolina|
|13||Arizona Cardinals||Deshaun Watson, QB, Clemson|
|14||Philadelphia Eagles (from MIN)||Corey Davis, WR, Western Michigan|
|15||Indianapolis Colts||Reuben Foster, LB, Alabama|
|16||Baltimore Ravens||O.J. Howard, TE, Alabama|
|17||Washington Redskins||Chris Wormley, DL, Michigan|
|18||Tennessee Titans||Charles Harris, DE, Missouri|
|19||Tampa Bay Buccaneers||Christian McCaffrey, RB, Stanford|
|20||Denver Broncos||Forrest Lamp, OL, Western Kentucky|
|21||Detroit Lions||Takkarist McKinley, LB, UCLA|
|22||Miami Dolphins||Tre'Davious White, CB, LSU|
|23||New York Giants||David Njoku, TE, Miami|
|24||Oakland Raiders||Obi Melifonwu, S, Connecticut|
|25||Houston Texans||Patrick Mahomes, QB, Texas Tech|
|26||Seattle Seahawks||Garett Bolles, OT, Utah|
|27||Kansas City Chiefs||John Ross, WR, Washington|
|28||Dallas Cowboys||Taco Charlton, DE, Michigan|
|29||Green Bay Packers||Quincy Wilson, CB, Florida|
|30||Pittsburgh Steelers||Jabrill Peppers, S, Michigan|
|31||Atlanta Falcons||Jordan Willis, DE, Kansas State|
|32||New Orleans Saints (from NE)||Adoree' Jackson, CB, USC|
Patrick Mahomes, QB, Texas Tech
To be fair, every quarterback in this year's draft class appears to carry at least a decent amount of risk. Because of the system he ran in college, though, Texas Tech's Patrick Mahomes comes across as a major first-round risk.
Mahomes has enough size for the quarterback position at 6'2" and 225 pounds. He also has a rocket arm. What should worry teams is the fact that he comes from the infamous Air Raid offense.
The list of Air Raid quarterbacks who have struggled to make a proper transition to the NFL includes Jared Goff (still in progress, obviously), Brandon Weeden, Geno Smith, Johnny Manziel and Tim Couch.
The problem is that quarterbacks in the Air Raid offense aren't asked to command the offense, call plays or identify defensive alignments. Jason McIntyre of The Big Lead recently explained why this produces issues in the NFL:
The problems with the Air Raid are that defenses in the NFL are too smart. When they make Air Raid QBs go through the progressions, problems happen. Take away that first read, and panic sets in. ...
When you haven't had to make progressions from middle school through college, breaking old habits is hard. Coupled with the fact that defenses are much faster in the pros, and it's a recipe for disaster.
From a physical standpoint, Mahomes looks like a future NFL starter. The risk comes in the fact that his transition to the pro game may come slowly, if it comes at all. If a team drafts him expecting a Day 1 starter, it could be sorely disappointed.
John Ross, WR, Washington
Former Washington receiver John Ross is the fastest man to ever officially run the 40-yard dash at the scouting combine. He accomplished the task in a blazing 4.22 seconds earlier this offseason. There is now little doubt about his ability to make the home run play at the pro level.
Ross' game tape is strong too. It shows a shifty player who doesn't necessarily need to win with pure speed. He can shake defenders after the catch and make people miss in the open field.
The issue is that Ross has an extensive injury history. His stock hinges heavily on how teams view him medically, as Rob Rang of CBSSports.com recently explained:
Ross comes with plenty of medical concerns -- including surgeries to both knees -- prior to the recent procedure to repair a torn labrum in his shoulder. If teams believe he can remain healthy over a full NFL season, the DeSean Jackson clone could wind up as the first receiver off the board this year. A poor medical grade, however, could send the speedster tumbling out of the first round.
I don't think Ross will actually fall out of the first round, but I do think his injury history is a risk. Ross can be an NFL playmaker, but he can't do it from the bench. Ross' speed doesn't change this fact.
"That's going to be a theme for him going forward," NFL Media's Mike Mayock said. "There's no doubting the speed or the talent. It didn't help him ... because we all knew he was fast."
Jabrill Peppers, LB/S, Michigan
As an athlete and a pure football player, Michigan's Jabrill Peppers is one of the most enticing prospects in this draft. He consistently made plays at a variety of positions for the Wolverines, and there's no questioning his love for the game.
The risk with Peppers comes in the fact that he didn't have one true standout position in college. He played cornerback, safety and linebacker. He also returned kicks and played on offense.
Given his frame (5'11", 213 lbs), Peppers appears best built to be a defensive back. Bleacher Report's Doug Farrar believes he could be a hybrid defender in the mold of Arizona Cardinals' Tyrann Mathieu:
"Peppers' optimal NFL future is as a slot defender and strong safety in the short term with a more expansive coverage role over time," Farrar explained. "A team can peg him as a hybrid linebacker if it wants based on his 2016 tape, but it'd be selling him short. He's less a thumper and more a Honey Badger."
The problem with this plan for Peppers is that he never showed a real nose for the football in college. Peppers finished his career with just one interception and one forced fumble. This means teams may be getting a decent cover guy but one who ultimately won't make a ton of game-changing plays.
Is this the type of player teams really want to take in the first round? In a different draft, maybe. In this draft—which is absolutely loaded with defensive talent—Peppers is a risky first-round proposition.