2011 NFL Draft: 10 Players Who Could Flame out of the League Within 3 Years

Dmitriy IoselevichSenior Analyst IIIApril 1, 2011

2011 NFL Draft: 10 Players Who Could Flame out of the League Within 3 Years

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    The word "potential" gets thrown around a lot this time of year as hundreds of elite college football players jockey for position in the upcoming 2011 NFL draft.

    Sometimes players live up to that potential. For instance, Clay Matthews was considered a tweener coming out of college and in one short season has transformed himself into one of the best players in the entire league.

    But for every Clay Matthews in the world there's also a JaMarcus Russell. So many over-hyped college football players crash and burn once they get into the NFL, overmatched by guys who are stronger, faster and smarter.

    Who will it be this time?

    Here's a look at 10 high-profile players who may not make it to their second pro contract.

Cam Newton, QB, Auburn

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    For all of his talent, Newton is nothing more than a project at quarterback.

    He still needs to learn how to stay in the pocket, how to hit open receivers and how to make good decisions. He got by on sheer speed and power at Auburn, but he won't be able to do that at the next level. The physical tools are definitely there, but will he ever put everything together?

    Newton also has a questionable character and will likely be haunted by a continued NCAA investigation into whether or not he was paid to go to Auburn. He also allegedly stole a computer back in 2008 and was accused of academic cheating at the University of Florida, so he's far from a golden boy.

    A physical specimen like Newton only comes along every once in a generation so teams will continue taking chances on him even if he flames out on his first try. But there isn't a single player in this draft with a bigger gap between his floor and ceiling.

Cameron Heyward, DE, Ohio State

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    Heyward didn't really have an awe-inspiring senior season, but his physical tools make him one of the best defensive line prospects in this draft.

    The biggest question with Heyward is how will he recover from Tommy John surgery on his left elbow? He already had an ankle injury in 2009 and the injuries seem to be piling up. Defensive linemen with poor mobility don't last very long in the NFL, and Heyward could be headed in that direction.

Jake Locker, QB, Washington

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    Locker would've been a top-10 pick had he declared a year ago. But after a seriously lackluster senior season Locker has been plummeting down draft boards.

    In 2009 he completed 58.4 percent of his passes and threw for 2,800 yards with 21 touchdowns and 11 interceptions. In 2010 he completed only 55.4 percent of his passes for 2,265 yards with 17 touchdowns and nine interceptions. That's the wrong direction for a player who was supposedly one of the best quarterbacks in the nation.

    Locker also has a bit of a knack for getting hurt, though most of that can be attributed to playing in an option-heavy offense. He missed most of the 2008 season because of a season-ending broken thumb, and missed time in 2007 because of a neck injury.

    Locker is still a probable first-round pick (he is as fast as Cam Newton after all), but he showed serious flaws in his game as a senior. Teams expecting him to be their franchise quarterback may be in for a big disappointment.

Da'Quan Bowers, DE, Clemson

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    Bowers just had surgery to repair a torn meniscus in his knee, so he hasn't been able to work out for teams yet. That in itself is worrisome, but the red flags don't stop there.

    He's reportedly already failed two physicals and missed games because of knee problems earlier in his career. There's also the question of whether he's actually as good as everyone seems to think he is.

    In his first two seasons for Clemson he combined for 83 tackles and four sacks. Last season he recorded 67 tackles and 16 sacks! Where was that production earlier in his career? Was it a fluke or can he keep it up?

    On paper and on film Bowers looks like a beast. He has "Julius Peppers" written all over him and could be the next great pass rusher, but he has to be able to stay on the field first.

Ryan Mallett, QB, Arkansas

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    Mallett may be the most NFL-ready quarterback in this draft, but his game is still full of flaws.

    His pocket mobility is a serious issue because he lacks the speed or the agility to avoid good pass rushers. There isn't a single quarterback in this draft with better arm strength, but none of it will matter if Mallett can't stay on his feet long enough to deliver the pass.

    There have also been questions about his character and his openness to coaching. There have been reports that he didn't take very kindly to criticism, which was part of the reason why he transferred from Michigan to Arkansas.

    He's still a top-40 pick thanks to his talent, but he's far from a complete product.

Robert Quinn, DE, North Carolina

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    Quinn has never missed a game in his collegiate career (at least when he was eligible), but the pass-rushing specialist does still have a small tumor in his brain.

    It hasn't given him any trouble in what's been an outstanding career, yet the possibility still remains that it could grow or, god forbid, spread to other parts of his body.

    If Quinn stays healthy then there's little doubt that he'll be an impact player in the NFL. Here's hoping he makes it.

Marvin Austin, DT, North Carolina

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    We go from one Tar Heel to another.

    Austin has all the tools to be a dominant NFL player: size (6'2", 309 pounds), speed and strength. But he doesn't seem to want to take advantage of those tools and plays halfhearted sometimes. Scouts question his work ethic and his head coach at North Carolina even benched him for two games for just this reason.

    The NFL game is much more complicated than anything Austin would have seen in college, so if he wants to stay in the league then he'll have to hit the books and the film room like he's studying for finals.

Jimmy Smith, CB, Colorado

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    Smith should be in the discussion with Peterson and Amukamara as one of the best cornerbacks in the draft. He's a phenomenal athlete, but unfortunately character concerns may push him out of the first round entirely.

    He tested positive for drugs while at Colorado and was also arrested twice. To make matters worse, he only admitted to one of those arrests during team interviews.

    Smith has drawn comparisons to All-Pro cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha, but a more apt comparison may be Adam "Pacman" Jones. Guys who are more concerned about partying than playing don't do very well in the NFL.

Kyle Rudolph, TE, Notre Dame

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    Rudolph is a beast of a tight end with a rare combination of size and speed that has elicited comparisons to New England Patriots star Rob Gronkowski. He's still the best tight end in this draft and won't last past the first round, but he's nowhere near the sure thing that Gronkowski was.

    For all of his talent Rudolph has a brutal injury history. He missed the final two games of the 2009 season with a shoulder injury and was bothered by a hamstring injury throughout the 2010 season.

    Rudolph needs to add some muscle to his 6'6'" frame if he wants to withstand the punishment of NFL tacklers. Otherwise, his career could be over before it gets started.

Nick Fairley, DT, Auburn

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    There's a definite possibility that Fairley is the best defensive player in this draft. He's an elite pass rusher who can overpower offensive linemen to get after the quarterback or chase down a ball carrier. But there's a reason he's drawn comparisons to Redskins headache Albert Haynesworth, and it's not for his on-field performance.

    Fairley is said to have a poor work ethic and has a reputation for taking plays off. The raw physical ability is definitely there, but guys who don't put in the time to make themselves better generally don't last long in the NFL (see JaMarcus Russell). This is also a guy who didn't even academically qualify for college and had to spend the beginning of his career at a junior college.

    Fairley is still a guaranteed first-round pick and probably a top-10 pick, but he could make a team regret taking him if he doesn't get his act together, and soon.