The Biggest Boom-or-Bust Players in the 2019 NFL Draft

Kristopher Knox@@kris_knoxFeatured ColumnistMarch 30, 2019

The Biggest Boom-or-Bust Players in the 2019 NFL Draft

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    Lynne Sladky/Associated Press

    Every single NFL prospect carries at least some amount of risk. However, some carry much more risk than others, while also bringing a tremendous amount of upside.

    We're talking, of course, about boom-or-bust prospects—the kind who will make your favorite team's general manager look like either a genius or someone who's about to get fired.

    Some of these players inevitably bust out. Johnny Manziel had all the talent needed to be a high-level NFL quarterback, but he didn't have the mindset. John Ross might be the fastest receiver in the league, but he hasn't developed into a dependable pass-catcher.

    Plenty of risk-reward prospects do work out, though. No one could be sure if Khalil Mack would make the jump from FBS competition to the NFL, and he's turned into one of the best sack artists in the league. Rob Gronkowski was considered a massive injury risk after missing his entire junior season following back surgery. He just wrapped up a likely Hall of Fame career.

    The wide variance in career results is what makes boom-or-bust prospects so much fun to analyze. Here, we'll take a look at the biggest from the 2019 draft. We'll be focusing specifically on first- and early second-round prospects.


Mississippi WR D.K. Metcalf

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    Michael Conroy/Associated Press

    If you're interested in watching a big, physical and fast wide receiver, Mississippi's D.K. Metcalf should be on your radar. He ran a blazing 4.33-second 40-yard dash at the scouting combine while weighing in at 6'3" and 228 pounds.

    Metcalf might be the next Julio Jones—but he also might be the next Stephen Hill. While his combination of size and speed is definitely impressive, red flags do exist.

    For one, Metcalf doesn't have a ton of proven production. A neck injury cut his 2018 season short after seven games, and he ended his career with just 67 receptions in three years. While Metcalf is good at running in a straight line, there are questions about his change-of-direction skills.

    "D.K. Metcalf was ridiculous in many drills at the combine, but his three cone time (7.38) was slower than Paxton Lynch, Joe Flacco, and David DeCastro," Kevin Duffy of the Boston Herald pointed out on Twitter.

    Is Metcalf a future star or a one-dimensional workout warrior?

Louisiana Tech EDGE Jaylon Ferguson

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    Eugene Tanner/Associated Press

    We already mentioned the risk that Khalil Mack carried into the draft as a small-school prospect. The same risk surrounds Louisiana Tech edge-rusher Jaylon Ferguson.

    Ferguson is going to intrigue teams because of his high level of production. He set a new NCAA all-time sack record with 45 career sacks. He also looks the part of a future NFL star at 6'5" and 271 pounds. He's trending as a Day 1 or Day 2 pick—NFL Media's Bucky Brooks has him going 21st overall in his latest mock draft.

    However, the question does remain of whether Ferguson can make the jump from FBS play to the NFL like Mack did. Based on his average pro-day numbers, Ferguson might struggle.

    According to NFL Media's Gil Brandt, Ferguson ran the 40 in 4.82 seconds and had a three-cone time of 8.08 seconds. Those aren't great numbers, even for a 271-pounder.

    Someone is going to take a chance on Ferguson, though, hoping he can be the next Mack.

Michigan EDGE Rashan Gary

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    Michael Conroy/Associated Press

    Unlike Ferguson, Michigan's Rashan Gary doesn't carry small-school concerns. He also doesn't carry many questions about his athletic ability, as he ran a 4.58-second 40 and a 7.27-second three-cone—all at 6'4" and 277 pounds.

    However, there are some significant questions about Gary's on-field production—mainly, that he didn't have much of it.

    In three seasons with the Wolverines, Gary had 134 total tackles. That's not a bad number for a defensive end. When it comes to making impact plays, though, Gary was lacking. He never had more than 6.0 sacks or 12.5 tackles for a loss in a single season, and he had just 10.5 sacks in his collegiate career.

    Gary would stand out when he did make big plays, but he would too often disappear.

    If Gary has as much athletic potential as he showed at the combine, why wasn't he more active in the backfield in college? Whether it's because of a lack of consistent effort or a lack of development, Gary's production is a concern.

    Gary has the upside of a future Pro Bowler, but there's no telling when and if he'll reach his potential.

Florida Edge Jachai Polite

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    John Raoux/Associated Press

    Florida's Jachai Polite is yet another edge-defender who comes with his fair share of question marks. He had solid production this past season—he amassed 11.0 sacks and 17.5 tackles for a loss—but he had just 2.0 sacks in each of the previous two.

    In addition, Polite had a lackluster combine performance that raises the question of just how good he can be at the pro level. He mostly won with speed off the edge in college, but then he posted a 4.84-second 40 in Indianapolis. His interview also did not go well.

    According to USA Today, "Polite might've had the worst NFL combine of all-time."

    There's a lot to unpack with Polite, but this doesn't mean he lacks future NFL-star potential. It also doesn't mean teams won't take a chance on him sooner than later.

    "Multiple team scouts maintain his talent is too good to overlook late in the first round," Bleacher Report draft analyst Matt Miller wrote of Polite.

Alabama RB Josh Jacobs

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    Wilfredo Lee/Associated Press

    It's looking more and more likely that Alabama running back Josh Jacobs is going to be the first running back off the board in April. He's a stout runner (5'10", 220 lbs) who moves well in space and who has enough quickness to hit the edge and turn upfield. He has certainly intrigued NFL decision-makers.

    "He's a big back, he's athletic, he can give you that first down, second down productivity," Philadelphia Eagles head coach Doug Pederson said of Jacobs, per Zack Rosenblatt of "He's exciting to watch and he's going to be a good player."

    On tape, Jacobs looks great. However, he's never been a full-time player. That's a fact that lends itself to risk. Not every running back can go from role player to star like Alvin Kamara has—though you'll likely hear Kamara as a comparison for Jacobs at least once on draft weekend.

    Jacobs carried the ball just 251 times over three seasons. That's 10 fewer carries than Saquon Barkley had as a rookie last season. There's absolutely no guarantee that Jacobs will be able to handle the workload that comes with being a workhorse back.

    There's also the risk that Jacobs is a merely average back who shined because of Alabama's pro-level offensive line. Look up Trent Richardson to see how that might work out.

Mississippi State DT Jeffery Simmons

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    Jim Lytle/Associated Press

    Mississippi State defensive tackle Jeffery Simmons has just about everything a team could want from an interior defensive lineman. He's big—listed at 6'4" and 300 pounds—quick for his size and physical. He's also been productive, amassing at least 60 tackles in each of his last two seasons.

    However, Simmons is also coming off a torn ACL that he suffered in February while training for the predraft process. The timing of the injury makes it doubtful that he'll be able to contribute much, if at all as a rookie.

    There's no telling what kind of player Simmons will be after a year away from football, or if he'll ever be the same player again. While ACL reconstruction seems like a routine procedure in today's NFL, not every player responds the same way.

    Knee issues derailed the pro career of former first-round defensive tackle Phil Taylor, and there's at least the risk that the same could happen to Simmons.

Oklahoma WR Marquise Brown

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    Alonzo Adams/Associated Press

    Oklahoma wideout Marquise Brown was a big play waiting to happen during his college days. He racked up 2,413 yards in two seasons with the Sooners while averaging 18.2 yards per catch. It's easy to see why NFL teams are interested.

    However, Brown is also a 5'9", 166-pound pass-catcher. With the kind of frame that few receivers have been able to navigate lengthy careers with. In addition, Brown recently underwent Lisfranc surgery on his foot—not a good development for a player whose biggest weapon is speed.

    The good news is that Brown has been cleared to begin running again, according to ESPN's Adam Schefter. The bad news is that it's unlikely he'll be able to add considerable bulk while maintaining the same quickness and change-of-direction ability he flashed at Oklahoma.

    It's also worth wondering how much it helped Brown's on-field production to play with two Heisman-winning quarterbacks.

    Brown might be the next DeSean Jackson or Tyreek Hill, though neither is quite as slight. He also might be the next Travis Benjamin, who is a fine receiver but also a former fourth-rounder and not a No. 1 option.

Oklahoma QB Kyler Murray

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    Lynne Sladky/Associated Press

    Quarterbacks are almost always risk-reward prospects due to the amount teams invest into the position. However, Oklahoma's Kyler Murray is a unique case. He could either be a future Hall of Famer or a complete letdown—and there probably isn't much room in between.

    Murray has an NFL skill set. He's accurate, has enough arm strength to make all the throws, and he possesses a special kind of speed for the position. However, he's also just 5'10", making him shorter than even "short" quarterbacks like Drew Brees, Baker Mayfield and Russell Wilson.

    Height alone won't make or break Murray at the NFL level. However, his success will depend on a team's willingness to embrace both his size and his unique skill set.

    The Baltimore Ravens did this with Lamar Jackson last year, allowing him to run a wide-open offense and to utilize both his arm and his legs. We have to wait and see if this approach leads to long-term success.

    If a team tries to force Murray into a traditional drop-back offense, it probably won't go well. That's no fault of his own, that's just not the kind of quarterback he is. Think of Mayfield under the shackles of Hue Jackson's offense early last season—he was good for a rookie, but he wasn't anything special.

    Murray can be special. He isn't a fit for every team or every system, though, and that makes him a sizable risk.