Ranking the Top 10 Boom-or-Bust Prospects in the 2014 NFL Draft
Like all professional sports, in the National Football League there are always going to be players who come into this league and fail to realize their full potential.
When you look back on some of the most historic "busts" in league history, names like Ryan Leaf, JaMarcus Russell, Vernon Gholston and Charles Rogers come to mind.
For all the freakish amount of talent these guys have been blessed with, sometimes things just don't work out.
With the 2014 NFL draft inching closer with each passing day, you can bet that NFL scouts and front office personnel are analyzing every piece of film and data they can get their hands on.
Their goal? Trying to decipher which players will be able to come in and change the course of a franchise.
Looking at this year's class of collegiate standouts, it's time to project some of the biggest boom-or-bust prospects using a copious amount of film study to understand each player's strengths and weaknesses.
10. OT Taylor Lewan, Michigan
Projected to be a left tackle at the next level, Michigan's Taylor Lewan has the chance to be a cornerstone piece for an NFL franchise.
Strictly talking in terms of his skill set, Lewan is impressive.
Breaking down the strengths he's displayed on film, NFLDraftScout.com's (h/t CBSSports.com) Dane Brugler, Rob Rang and Derek Stephens wrote:
With good height and length, he looks the part and has the frame to play on the left side at the next level, adding nearly 50 pounds since his senior year in high school.
Possesses quick feet. A former defensive lineman, Lewan is known as a self-starter with a mean streak and nasty attitude on the field, but also emerged as more of a leader the past two seasons. Keeps his head on a swivel and has the competitive drive to win one-on-one battles.
What puts Lewan on this list is the off the field concerns that have surfaced during the last couple of months.
Kyle Feldscher of the Ann Arbor News reported that Lewan "will be charged with three misdemeanors for an assault in Ann Arbor on Dec. 1, and is scheduled to be arraigned next month, according to court records."
Though Lewan defended himself at a press conference (h/t Kyle Feldscher of the Ann Arbor News), charges like that can be a cause for concern for prospective NFL franchises.
Still, Max Henson of Panthers.com wrote, "Lewan is considered a virtual lock to be selected in the first round."
His play on the field has earned him the right to be called a blue-chip prospect.
Making sure he keeps his head on straight and stays away from run-ins with the law will be the best way for Lewan to avoid being labeled a "bust."
9. QB Logan Thomas, Virginia Tech
At 6'6", 248 pounds, Virginia Tech's Logan Thomas has the chance to be a revelation at the quarterback position.
He's a sprawling, mobile young man who can rip the football downfield with just a flick of his wrist.
For all of his compelling physical traits, the ex-Hokie enters the draft as an ultra-raw prospect.
Bleacher Report's Ryan Lownes wrote about Thomas in a detailed scouting report. Talking about some of the weaknesses his saw on film, Lownes said:
Blessed with all of the physical tools a quarterback coach could ask for, Logan Thomas was pegged by many analysts as a future top pick after a breakout 2011 season for the Hokies. Unfortunately, he proved to be erratic and was unable to develop enough to reach high expectations.
At times, it's easy to notice on film that he has major issues with his mechanics. When they crumble, Thomas makes erratic throws and poor decisions that more often than not result in a turnover.
He may not be selected in the first round of the draft, but that doesn't mean Thomas isn't boom-or-bust prospect.
Towering size, quality arm strength and impressive speed makes him a player that teams could easily fall in love with leading up to draft weekend.
Though he will be a "developmental" pick at first, unless he's able to fix his mechanical issues, Thomas will eventually wash out of the league.
The boom factor comes down to if everything melds together; the potential this guy has is off-the-charts.
8. DT Timmy Jernigan, Florida State
On paper, Florida State defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan was a one-man wrecking crew during his tenure in Tallahassee, Fla.
That level of dominance has made him a popular first-round projection.
ESPN's Mel Kiper Jr. (Insider subscription required) is a believer in Jernigan's talents, ranking him as the second-best defensive tackle in the draft.
Going into extensive detail about why he believes Jernigan can be successful in the NFL, Kiper said (Insider subscription required):
He could be the most versatile interior lineman in the draft but seems best as a 3-technique. I love his great sense for how to disrupt the run game in particular. He could be quicker off the snap, but he makes up for it with leverage, violent hands and quick feet to both drive blockers backward and free himself to penetrate.
Issues with stamina have been the biggest sticking point around Jernigan's game. Trying to ease the minds of NFL teams, he told Adam L. Jahns of the Chicago Sun-Times:
I definitely don’t feel like it’s an issue. I played on a team where I only played four full games the entire season, and I just did what I could with the opportunity, man. There wasn’t times where I had to play the whole game, only four games the entire season
Crushing those concerns is going to be big for Jernigan. If this young man can work hard and stay on the football field, he's going to be a terror in the trenches for a long, long time.
7. DT Ra'Shede Hageman, Minnesota
Franchises who are looking for an impact defensive tackle will surely take a peak at Minnesota's Ra'Shede Hageman this May.
As mentioned by Nate Sandell of 1500ESPN.com, Hageman was one of the standout players during the 2014 Senior Bowl.
The 310-pound monster out of Minnesota is a natural athlete who uses his hands well and can shed blocks quickly on film.
Labeling him a boom-or-bust prospect is indicative of just how good this guy can be at the next level if all the positives around his game come together.
Talking about why he believes Hageman is a risky pick, ESPN's Todd McShay (Insider subscription required) said:
But there are some boom-or-bust qualities to his game: His pads get too high too often, and even though he was highly disruptive as a pass-rusher in college, he wasn't a finisher. Given that he's also dealt with some anger issues, he'd fit best in a locker room with good veteran leadership, but teams have to ask whether he's worth the risk to use a top-25 pick on him.
Reminiscent at times of a young John Henderson because of his ridiculous length and power, Hageman has the chance to transform himself into a dominant defensive presence at the next level.
6. OT Cyrus Kouandjio, Alabama
When it comes to Alabama offensive tackle Cyrus Kouandjio, the art of maintaining his health is going to determine whether he shines in the NFL or struggles to make any lasting impact.
It was NFL Network and NFL.com's Ian Rapoport who tweeted at the NFL combine that certain teams failed the former Crimson Tide big man during his physical because of concerns over his knee.
Defending Kouandjio's health, Alabama Crimson Tide team physician Dr. Lyle Cain told Rapoport (h/t Chase Goodbread of NFL.com), "the reality is, he played 27 games after the injury, never missed a practice, and never had the knee treated. These kinds of cartilage injuries are common in sports."
NFL teams will have to do their due diligence before rolling the dice on the big man out of Tuscaloosa.
If his knees can't hold up for an extended period of time, that obviously is going to really hurt his draft stock.
The good news is if Kouandjio can keep his health in check, potential suitors would be getting a heck of a football player.
Talking about how he resembles Dallas Cowboys offensive tackle Tyron Smith, Rob Rang of NFLDraftScout.com (h/t CBSSports.com) wrote:
Kouandjio's lean, muscular frame and superb athleticism will remind scouts of the former USC Trojan and now-Cowboys starting left tackle, and he has at least as impressive a skill-set as his former linemate D.J. Fluker, who the Chargers took 11th overall in 2013.
5. WR Kelvin Benjamin, Florida State
Florida State's Kelvin Benjamin is walking mismatch for opposing defenders.
Fresh off winning the 2014 BCS National Championship, the 6'5", 240-pound wide receiver has decided to make the leap from school to the NFL.
A big kid like that, with the wingspan of a pterodactyl, is a weapon NFL teams would love to have at their disposal.
Going off the scouting notes Rob Rang of NFLDraftScout.com (h/t CBSSports.com) put together, you get a feel for what makes Benjamin such an enticing player.
Experienced playing outside and in the slot and shows courage in crossing the middle. Tough to bring down in the open field, using his long arms to effectively stiff-arm defenders and showing suddenness to accelerate once the ball is in his hands. Attentive downfield blocker who works to seal off defenders as well as peel back to take out opponents in pursuit.
For all the attractive qualities and measurables he has, Benjamin is an unpolished wide receiver at this point in the process—especially when it comes to his route-running ability.
Despite having enough size to consistently get the better of cornerbacks, being a sufficient route-runner is a crucial component for any successful wide receiver in the NFL.
If Benjamin can shore up the weaknesses in his game, he's got a shot to be a big time playmaker in this league.
4. QB Derek Carr, Fresno State
Fresno State signal-caller Derek Carr is a guy who can blow you away at times on film.
He's a good athlete—Carr ran a 4.69-second 40-yard dash at the NFL combine—with a strong arm and a compact throwing motion.
Drawing a resemblance to Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler by B/R's Matt Miller in his pro comparison video, if he can put everything together, Carr could end up becoming a solid starter in this league.
The problem for Carr comes down to his ability to deal with pressure.
Look, I know it's tough to nitpick prospects because we truly don't know exactly what they were asked to do each and every snap by their coaches.
But when you put on the tape, Carr has the tendency to struggle without the benefit of a clean pocket.
Those issues on film have led ESPN's Todd McShay to question Carr's ability.
On Twitter, McShay said, "most surprising part of '14 draft process so far is all the Derek Carr love. Good arm but not accurate downfield and/or under pressure."
If he can't figure out a way to improve his game under pressure, it's going to be hard for Carr to ever develop into anything more than a career backup.
But it's those grandiose shades of great arm strength and mobility that will continue to captivate teams all the way up to the draft.
3. DE/OLB Anthony Barr, UCLA
Conversing with reporters at the NFL Annual Meeting, St. Louis Rams head coach Jeff Fisher told Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, "I’ve learned over the years that you never have enough pass-rushers."
Players who can come off the edge and shake things up in the backfield are always going to be a priority for teams looking to compete in today's NFL.
That's a major reason UCLA's Anthony Barr has been projected to be a first-round pick.
Comparing the 6'5", 255-pound pass-rusher to Denver Broncos defensive end DeMarcus Ware, NFLDraftScout.com (h/t CBSSports.com) said:
Freakish combination of size and athleticism. Possesses long arms, extraordinary burst off the ball and explosive closing ability -- a terrifying combination that gives him an immediate advantage over pass-blockers. Developing swim move to complement his speed, and possesses the strength and use of leverage to effectively bull-rush.
The ultimate concern encompassing Barr's game centers on his inexperience at the position.
Originally recruited out of high school as a running back, Barr is still trying to perfect his craft as a pass-rusher.
NFL Media draft analyst Mike Mayock (h/t Mike Huguenin of NFL.com) doesn't believe Barr is worthy of being a top-10 pick.
Pointing out some of his weaknesses in run defense and controlling the line of scrimmage, Mayock said, "he's not real strong at the point of attack."
The question for Barr is going to be, can he take all of that raw athleticism and channel it into something extraordinary?
2. QB Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M
Decked out in fresh Nike gear, Texas A&M's Johnny Manziel dazzled at his pro day.
In a workout designed by quarterback guru George Whitfield Jr., Manziel slung the pigskin around, wowing NFL head coaches and general managers who were in attendance.
Among those who left impressed was Houston Texans GM Rick Smith. Expressing his thoughts on Manziel's big day to Lindsay H. Jones of USA Today, Smith said, "the leadership that he showed, the accuracy that he showed, all those things—it was a good day for him."
This chaotic journey the legend of Johnny Football has taken from College Station up until now has been must-see TV.
Like any polarizing quarterback prospect, when the hype finally settles down and Manziel gets drafted, the dynamic 21-year-old is going to have to prove he can carry the weight of a franchise on his shoulders.
Manziel already has come under fire at times from a plethora scouts.
In a conversation on Ross Tucker's podcast, NFL Films Producer Greg Cosell said that Manziel's arm strength was concerning.
Though he ripped the football during his pro day, if you're a believer that watching film tells the bulk of the story, Cosell's comments do carry significant weight with them.
Arguably the most endearing and exciting player in this year's draft, Manziel will have to prove to teams that his "controlled" style of reckless play isn't going to hamper his long-term viability in this league.
With a layer of swagger encrusted in his game, the former Heisman Trophy winner comes to the NFL looking to build on the tremendous legacy and brand he created over his time in Texas.
1. DE Jadeveon Clowney, South Carolina
If you've been following the draft at all, you know about South Carolina edge-rusher Jadeveon Clowney.
Watch him on tape, watch him at the NFL combine and immediately you'll realize that this young man is special.
Describing just how good he can be, MMQB.com's Greg A. Bedard mentioned:
Meld together the best parts of the NFL’s most impactful edge players over the last 20 years—the natural power of Michael Strahan, the length of Julius Peppers and the speed of Jason Taylor—and you have the promise of Jadeveon Clowney
When you enter the league with hype like that, you automatically become the biggest boom-or-bust prospect in your draft class.
Fair or not, that's just how it works.
There's no point to even waste time talking about potential "flaws" in his skill set. Clowney is too strong, too fast and too explosive not to be a major factor in this league if he wants to be.
The biggest cloud dangling over his head is going to be trying to figure out just how much he loves this game.
NFL Media draft analyst Mike Mayock (h/t Mike Hugenin of NFL.com) was one scout who questioned Clowney's potential based on concerns over his work ethic.
Talking about those issues, Mayock said, "there are some other defensive players who could go ahead of him."
It's important to remember that Mayock isn't an actual NFL general manager. Despite being one of the most respected voices in the industry, it's hard to figure out exactly how teams feel about Clowney.
The point is, for a football player who possesses an exuberant amount of potential, Clowney is going to arrive on draft day and leave as the biggest boom-or-bust prospect of 2014.