2017 NFL Draft: This Year's Riskiest Prospects
I'll be the first to admit my NFL career was nothing to brag about. However, I can also tell you I've been around plenty of special NFL players in my lifetime.
I've been around this game my whole life. The first quarterback I was ever around was Phil Simms. The first linebackers I ever met were Lawrence Taylor and Harry Carson. I was on the field a lot in training camps as a young kid and saw these guys do incredible things.
Then I went to college at the University of Texas, where basically the whole front seven played in the NFL. Derrick Johnson is still the middle linebacker for the Kansas City Chiefs, and we had guys like Shaun Rogers, Casey Hampton and Cory Redding. I was around a lot of first-round talent every day for four years straight.
Then I went to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers the years after they won the Super Bowl and got to be around guys like Warren Sapp, Derrick Brooks and Simeon Rice on an everyday basis once again.
My point is that I feel like I've got a pretty good gauge of what an NFL player looks like—and what a special player looks like. When it comes to this year's draft, I see some players that, while touted as future elite NFL players, carry too much risk in my eyes.
Whether due to off-field issues, bad game tape or questionable ability, these guys carry too many questions for me to consider them safe prospects. We're not talking about mid-round players here. We're talking about first- or second-round prospects who are supposed to be sure things—and they're far from it.
DeShone Kizer, QB, Notre Dame
Notre Dame's DeShone Kizer scares me because of what I've seen on film and how he is being pushed.
The guy has the frame of a future NFL quarterback, sure. When he has to, he can reach back and pull out that 100 mph fastball, and he can make athletic plays with his legs. The problem is that I don't see a guy who is going to make an easy transition to the pro game.
Kizer isn't a natural thrower of the football—it's a lot of work for him at times. When you watch film, he'll hit a 20-yard comeback that makes you think, "Wow, that's an NFL throw," but then he'll come back and miss an open receiver by eight yards or underthrow a ball the receiver might have taken another 50 yards had it hit him in stride.
This, along with some bad decision-making, for my money, makes him one of the riskier guys in the draft.
We're not talking about some small-school prospect here; this was the quarterback for Notre Dame. There was plenty of future NFL talent around him, and he still couldn't complete 60 percent of his passes last year. I also find it scary that Kizer wasn't able to hold down the starting job. That worries me.
The bias of what an NFL quarterback should look like has Kizer rated higher than he should be. Some people are in love with Kizer's size and the idea of what he could become. As a possible first-round pick, though, I just can't see it.
Joe Mixon, RB, Oklahoma
This might seem a little too obvious, given his 2014 arrest for assault, but you have to consider Oklahoma running back Joe Mixon a major risk.
The conversation has to start with what he did off the field. A lot of people believe he's a first- or second-round talent, but are they willing to use one of the first 64 picks on him? Are they prepared to draft him and then a few hours later have the local news consistently replay the video of his punching that woman in the face? I guarantee it's going to happen.
In addition, I'm just not sold that Mixon is one of the best backs in this draft. As a player, he's talented. He has good size, he has good feet and he can catch the ball out of the backfield, but even without the off-field stuff, he isn't a definitive first-round pick.
Mixon ran a 4.5-second 40 at his pro day. That's pretty good, but you have to add at least a tenth of a second at a pro day, and he doesn't play that fast anyway. On film, he doesn't have first-round speed.
What also concerns me is the collection of teams he played against. He's a tough evaluation because he played in the Big 12. I hate to say it because I played in the conference, but the Big 12 stinks right now. Every play, there's five guys in the box, and everyone plays in the spread. Mixon didn't always have to play that physical smashmouth style.
The reality is that Mixon lacks experience from a true NFL schematics standpoint. I hear people place him as one of the 30 best players in this draft, and I can't agree.
Jabrill Peppers, LB/S, Michigan
Jabrill Peppers is the most overrated player in this draft. Sure, he was fun to watch at times at Michigan, but the Charles Woodson comparisons are ridiculous. The guy had one career interception and one career forced fumble. You can't compare him with perhaps the greatest player in the history of college football.
I'm not saying Peppers doesn't deserve to be on an NFL defense, but when I hear people say he's a top-10 pick, I'm in disbelief. Peppers' film doesn't even warrant a first-round pick.
The best thing Peppers does is return kicks and punts—and you don't waste a first-round pick on a guy who returns kicks and punts. As a defender, he plays small and he plays slow. While he did run a 4.46-second 40 at the combine, he doesn't play to that speed. He isn't a physical specimen at 5'11" and 213 pounds either.
Peppers is too small to consistently come down and play as a box linebacker at the NFL level. He doesn't have the range to be an elite safety at the pro level either. When compared to prospects like Ohio State's Malik Hooker, LSU's Jamal Adams or even Washington's Budda Baker, Peppers doesn't physically belong on the same planet.
What people seem to be missing is that Peppers is being hyped as a hybrid player—but the best hybrid players had a standout defined role in college. There's not a position he plays where he's great at it.
I watched Peppers as a high school kid in New Jersey and in college, and I have a great deal of respect for what he has been able to accomplish. Unfortunately, I don't see elite physical traits, and I don't see an elite prospect.
Corey Davis, WR, Western Michigan
I like Corey Davis. He was obviously a productive player at Western Michigan—he had 1,500 receiving yards last season alone—and he's going to be a fine NFL receiver. I just don't see him as a true No. 1 target.
There's a lot to like with Davis. He played in an advanced passing offense, and he's run every route under the sun. From that standpoint, he's going to be ready to walk onto an NFL team and contribute to some degree. But he's not a first-round talent, and I see people putting him in the top 20 of the draft.
The first thing that stands out is the fact that freakish receivers don't spend four years in college. If Davis was going to be a special NFL talent, why didn't he come out earlier? I didn't always see elite speed on film, and a lot of his production came from creative system catches.
Davis can be a very good receiver in the NFL, specifically as a tall slot receiver. However, I can't see him as that big, physical freak who consistently wins one-on-one matchups with Pro Bowl corners on the outside. In my eyes, that isn't his game.
If I'm spending a first-round pick on a wideout, I want a guy who can be my No. 1. Teams like the Tennessee Titans or Buffalo Bills would be better off with a Mike Williams, John Ross, JuJu Smith-Schuster or Curtis Samuel. Davis should be a side dish, not the entree.
As I said before, Davis can be a fine player. As a first-round pick, though, he's risky.
Jordan Willis, DE, Kansas State
Kansas State's Jordan Willis was one of this year's combine freaks, but that can create a risky situation—just ask the guys who drafted Vernon Gholston. There are things to like about the reigning Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year, but ultimately, his combine performance is going to get him overdrafted.
You need to have a plan for this guy if you're going to draft him early. The combine numbers might say it, but the film doesn't say he's explosive enough to be a consistent edge-rusher in the NFL. He doesn't have a great first step, and he doesn't have the ability to bend around the corner.
This doesn't mean Willis won't be a solid NFL defender, but he's an incredible risk if you're drafting him to be your dedicated pass-rusher. As a 3-4 outside linebacker, he could be a bit risky too. He won't be able to do the things downfield, as far as feet and hips are concerned, to successfully play in pass coverage.
Willis needs to gain 15 pounds, play at 270 and be a Jared Odrick-type defensive end. At that size, you could use him as an edge-setting end on early downs and then move him inside on third down, where he could be a handful for guards in pass protection. Right now, his 4.53 speed is doing nothing for him because Willis isn't a guy you're going to ask to go downfield and run with a Rob Gronkowski in coverage.
If a team has a specific plan for Willis, he can be a quality player. However, it's a risky proposition to expect him to come in and dominate as a pass-rusher based on his combine numbers.
Malik McDowell, DT, Michigan State
Michigan State's Malik McDowell is one of the ultimate boom-or-bust prospects in this draft. He has the size at 6'6" and 295 pounds to be an effective tackle-end hybrid or even a quality edge-rusher. He has the athleticism and length to be a player in the mold of Ezekiel Ansah, but there are a lot of questions about his game. His film concerns me.
When I watch film of McDowell, I don't see a consistent effort. He also spends entirely too much time on the ground. Something I learned during my time as an assistant in New England is that when you're on the ground, you're an injury risk to your teammates. In addition, you run the risk of taking teammates out of the play.
If you're on the ground in the C gap and you prevent the middle linebacker from entering the C gap and making the tackle, not only have you screwed up your assignment, you've screwed up the middle linebacker's assignment as well. This is a habit that is worrisome with McDowell.
I'm not sure where McDowell's natural position is either. He plays too tall to be an effective tackle, and I'm not sure he's explosive enough to be a dominant end. He also lacks top-end strength, especially in his lower body. If you take 100 great NFL players, 97 of them are going to have incredible sets of legs and ass—and that physical base isn't present in McDowell.
Again, there is upside with McDowell. Can he be a good pro? Sure. Is he there yet? No way. His build, his technique and his inability to win one-on-one matchups make him a massive risk.
Tim Williams, LB, Alabama
Alabama's Tim Williams is another guy with off-field concerns, but what really scares me is Williams the player. For starters, I'm always worried when a player can't hold down a starting job. Yes, Williams was a rotational player for a very good defensive program, but he was still a rotational player.
It's easy to look good rushing the passer on third down when you haven't played the previous 30 snaps and you're fresh as hell. Can Williams be an every-down defender at the next level? I don't see it.
Williams' build also scares me. He doesn't have that freakish, jacked build I'm used to seeing in dominating edge-rushers. I saw Lawrence Taylor in his prime. I played on the same team as Simeon Rice, and I played against Julius Peppers. Those guys were freaks. Guys like Von Miller and Vic Beasley are freaks. Williams isn't.
Williams came into the combine weighing 244 pounds, but I don't think that was his playing weight. I'd be interested to see what he weighed in the middle of the season because I see a guy that looks maybe 230 on tape. My fear is that this guy is Barkevious Mingo 2.0.
Given Williams' lack of size, he isn't explosive enough to consistently win around the edge. Myles Garrett weighed roughly 30 pounds more than Williams at the combine and ran a faster 40 (4.64 seconds) than Williams (4.68 seconds).
I'm not sure Williams is anything more than a 4-3 weak-side or 3-4 middle linebacker.