The Biggest Boom-or-Bust Players in the 2020 NFL Draft
Potential is both a glorious and dangerous word. As Hall of Fame coach Bill Parcells famously said, "Potential means you haven't done anything yet."
The intersection of potential and production is a sliding scale based on the individual. Some prospects display outstanding upside yet never produce to expected levels. Others aren't considered elite athletes yet performed at a high level year after year. The label of being a boom-or-bust prospect often exists on the extreme ends of this spectrum.
NFL scouting circles must discern how those things translate to the next level. Evaluators concentrate on traits and an individual's makeup to see if a player's potential is ready to explode at the next level or his skill set falls somewhat short.
The Minnesota Vikings' Danielle Hunter managed 4.5 career sacks at LSU. He's now counted among the league's best sack artists. Colt McCoy was one of the best quarterbacks in college football history. He's not a starting-caliber player in the NFL.
Translatable traits or lack thereof are a significant portion of each evaluation, but injury and personal histories play a part as well. Not everyone is ready to play professional football from a physical or mental standpoint, even if they have the on-field skills to do so.
Any of these factors are reasons why certain prospects are far riskier compared to others, thus earning the label of being boom-or-bust options.
QB Jordan Love, Utah State
The 2020 NFL draft class features three possible top-10 quarterbacks in LSU's Joe Burrow, Alabama's Tua Tagovailoa and Oregon's Justin Herbert. A fourth could enter the mix depending on how franchises view Jordan Love's long-term potential.
Every organization is looking for the next great quarterback with a certain example in mind.
It used to be Andrew Luck, who teams once regarded as a perfect quarterback prospect. Now, Patrick Mahomes is the quarterback everyone wants to emulate, even if that's an impossible standard.
Love often receives comparisons to Mahomes because of his natural throwing ability, athleticism and being forced to elevate a subpar program throughout his collegiate career.
"Yeah, I've heard that," Love said of the comparison, per Yahoo Sports' Terez Paylor. "Different teams ask me who I'd compare my game to, and I'd say that too, as well, just as far as arm strength and playmaking ability. I mean, I'm not saying I'm Patrick Mahomes at the end of the day."
The Utah State product's potential is exciting.
Love is an easy thrower who generates velocity without an extra windup or stride. His out-breaking passes are thrown on a line and in a hurry. Yet he also displays both touch and pace. Love effectively uses multiple different arm angles and is outstanding when throwing on the move. The early entrant even finished top-10 among quarterbacks in every athletic testing event he participated at the NFL Scouting Combine.
The physical tools are obvious. But the Mahomes comps are only setting Love up for failure.
The incoming quarterback didn't perform nearly as well at a smaller program. After posting a 32-to-6 touchdown-to-interception ratio during the 2018 campaign, Love regressed with a 20-to-17 ratio during his final year on campus. The 6'4", 224-pound prospect struggled against top competition, made poor decisions, forced too many throws into coverage and got lazy with his mechanics at times.
Love is a perfect example of a prospect who requires thorough coaching to realize his full potential.
RB Cam Akers, Florida State
Prospect evaluations don't start and stop with individual achievements at the collegiate level. Some teams take into consideration a player's potential dating back to his high school days, especially if the individual didn't perform to expectations after being a sought-after recruit.
Running back Cam Akers earned a 5-star designation before he chose to play for the Florida State Seminoles. The running back performed well during his three seasons in Tallahassee with 2,877 rushing yards, including a pair of 1,000-yard campaigns, and 34 total touchdowns.
But he never quite looked like the difference-maker the Seminoles expected upon his signing. Then again, it's not entirely Akers' fault.
The Florida State program has been in flux since Jimbo Fisher resigned to take the Texas A&M job. The once-elite powerhouse hasn't recruited or performed to expected levels over the last two seasons, and that's readily apparent in the trenches, where the Seminoles failed to put together an outstanding front five. Akers' performance suffered as a result, and some bad habits developed.
As a runner, the 5'10", 217-pound back shows quick, choppy feet, fluid hips, top-end speed (4.47-second 40-yard dash), some creativity working in space and strong legs to run through would-be tacklers. Akers is also a capable target out of the backfield with 69 career receptions.
At the same time, the early entrant can be indecisive behind the line, far too prone to bounce his runs wide and a subpar pass-blocker. A lack of vision and ball-security issues could be major deterrents for teams looking to add Akers to their stable.
Akers' potential falls somewhere between becoming a capable lead back at the next level or just another option in some team's backfield rotation.
WR Chase Claypool, Notre Dame
A year ago, a physically impressive Notre Dame wide receiver with one year of above-average production blew away scouts and talent evaluators with an elite workout at the NFL Scouting Combine.
The Baltimore Ravens subsequently drafted Miles Boykin with the 93rd overall pick in the 2019 draft.
Fast forward to this year's combine.
A physically impressive Notre Dame wide receiver with one year of above-average production blew away scouts and talent evaluators with an elite workout at the combine.
Chase Claypool is a little different than Boykin, though.
Yes, both tested among the 98th to 99th percentiles of NFL wide receivers with phenomenal athletic numbers. But their usage will be quite different. Boykin is a more of a traditional vertical threat because of his combination of size (6'4" and 220 pounds) and straight-line speed (4.42-second 40-yard dash). Claypool is more of a big-bodied wide receiver best used in the red zone or third downs.
The incoming wide receiver can also be a vertical threat, much like his former teammate, because he possesses similar physical traits (6'4" and 238 pounds with a 4.42-second 40-yard dash). However, Claypool isn't nearly as good at stacking defensive backs. His best asset is going up for 50-50 balls and making difficult receptions look routine.
Furthermore, the latest Notre Dame entrant produced more during his final season on campus with 1,037 yards and 13 touchdown receptions versus 872 receiving yards and eight TD catches. So, Claypool's draft stock should be higher than Boykin's at the same point in the process.
Claypool can't be viewed as a precise route-runner or a target who creates separation, because that's not his game. How he's utilized will determine if he's worth a high-round draft pick or doesn't live up to expectations.
OT Austin Jackson, USC
The top of the 2020 offensive tackle draft class is stacked. As many as seven offensive tackles could hear their names called during the first round.
USC's Austin Jackson tends to find himself rated somewhere between the fifth or seventh option alongside Iowa's Tristan Wirfs, Alabama' Jedrick Wills Jr., Georgia's Andrew Thomas, Louisville's Mekhi Becton, Houston's Josh Jones and Boise State's Ezra Cleveland.
Jackson's standing has more to do with inconsistencies found within his game rather than poor upside.
At his best, the 6'5", 322-pound left tackle is a silky smooth pass protector with outstanding movement skills and a quality pass set. At his worst, Jackson's technique breakdowns allow too many pressures, while he can struggle at the point of attack in the run game.
"There is a ton of physical upside there and he's just 20, so he will continue to grow and get stronger," a West Coast area scout told NFL.com's Chase Goodbread. "But he might be better suited to play guard."
The early entrant struggled against the better pass-rushers he faced last season, particularly those with power-based games.
Some of this may be due, in part, to Jackson's inability to complete a full offseason regimen prior to his junior campaign after he donated bone marrow to his sister, who suffered from a genetic disorder known as Diamond-Blackfan anemia. The decision required a leave of absence from the program from which he returned to the team just prior to the start of the 2019 campaign. Even then, the Phoenix native wasn't allowed to do full workouts until a few weeks into the season, which hurt his progress.
While Jackson's actions are amazing and speak well of the person, the idea of being behind during a time of global uncertainty won't necessarily help his draft status. Whatever franchise select Jackson must do so knowing he's a long-term project and not a short-term solution.
OT Saahdiq Charles, LSU
At least seven offensive tackles are expected to be drafted before LSU left tackle Saahdiq Charles. A few more might come off the board before his name is called. It has nothing to do with natural talent, though.
Charles flashed stellar play throughout the 2019 campaign. He's as physically gifted as anyone in the class. Yet, his overall inconsistency and off-field concerns will almost certainly drive him down draft boards.
The 6'4", 321-pound blocker's skill set is impressive. At times, he's been a shutdown blindside protector. Other times, he's a mess from a technical perspective with inconsistent hands, footwork and base.
While Charles is a tenacious blocker, he's not the most powerful lineman at the point of attack. As such, he apparently tried to put on weight for the NFL Scouting Combine.
LSU listed Charles at 295 pounds. At some point, the early entrant added nearly 30 pounds. He didn't do a full workout at the combine, so scouts won't determine whether it was good or bad weight.
Then, a franchise must reconcile Charles' previous history, including a six-game suspension to start the 2019 campaign.
"He's a follower, not a leader," an LSU source told Yahoo Sports' Eric Edholm. "He gravitated toward trouble when he didn’t have money, so what's going to happen when he does have [an NFL paycheck]?
"He makes it tough to trust him. He's not reliable. In three years, he had a major discipline issue each year."
Charles remains a work in progress. He's played offensive line for less than four years, and maturity questions also come into play. The right situation could help him develop into a stud blindside protector. Otherwise, a franchise might be wasting a draft pick.
OG Netane Muti, Fresno State
A player's durability, or lack thereof, matters a lot.
Interested teams will look long and hard at Netane Muti's medical profile before making any decision regarding the guard prospect.
Muti is an ideal interior blocker. He's big (6'3" and 315 pounds), compactly built, extremely strong—the Hawaii native posted a combine-leading 44 reps in the bench press this year—and downright nasty in the trenches. Simply put: Muti is a people-mover. His devastation leaves of a wake of people strewn about haphazardly.
Unfortunately, the powerful Polynesian played only one full season at Fresno State because of injuries. As a redshirt sophomore in 2018, Muti suffered a ruptured Achilles tendon. A Lisfranc injury cut his 2019 campaign short.
Despite playing in only five games over the last two seasons, Muti still declared for the NFL draft with a year of eligibility remaining.
"A lot of things went into it," Muti told KHON2's Christian Shimabuku of his decision. "Like if I had stayed, what if I get hurt again? Things like that. This is also my dream—to go play in the NFL. I just thought that this is my best chance right now, so I just took it."
Anthony Munoz famously went from an injury risk in the 1980 draft to becoming arguably the best offensive lineman in professional football history. As great as Munoz's personal story is, organizations can't bank on that being the most likely outcome for Muti or any other prospect with a lengthy injury history because it isn't.
The best ability is availability, no matter how talented a player is.
EDGE K'Lavon Chaisson, LSU
K'Lavon Chaisson doesn't lack confidence, nor should he.
"It's obvious," Chaisson told reporters at the NFL Scouting Combine when asked what separates him from the rest of his draft class. "I'm going to be honest—I'm actually the most valuable player in this draft, when it comes to it. We all know that."
All players should be this confident. They should believe in themselves to the nth degree. They won't be successful in the NFL without a little swagger and a lot of natural ability. A statement like Chaisson's can be made with a twinkle in the eye or a little smirk, but there's always a kernel of truth in it.
The requisite traits for the LSU edge defender to become a premier NFL pass-rusher are present. Yet, he's never quite put it all together for a complete season. Chaisson never managed more than 6.5 sacks in a single season, with only nine during his time with the Tigers.
To be fair, the 6'3", 254-pounder is more than an typical edge-rusher, which increases his overall value. Chaisson is comfortable working in space and even handling some coverage responsibilities. He's a tremendous all-around athlete who can be used in a variety of manners to fit today's sub-package world.
He's a pass-rusher first and foremost, though. Chaisson displays awesome first-step quickness, solid hand usage, tremendous flexibility and body lean to turn the edge, enough core strength to flatten toward the quarterback against much bigger offensive tackles and a nonstop attitude.
But a disconnect exists since all that didn't translate to top-shelf production. He struggled against some of the better tackles he faced, particularly Georgia's Andrew Thomas. A 2018 torn ACL certainly didn't help with the sophomore's development.
Also, how the slender Chaisson handles blockers in the run game could be an issue at the onset of his professional career.
LB Willie Gay Jr., Mississippi State
Willie Gay Jr. is exactly what everyone team wants in a modern linebacker, except for extensive film to back up his talent level.
Gay didn't play in the first eight games of last season because of a violation of team rules, according to the team. But 247Sports' Jordan James reported the suspension was due to academic fraud involving a tutor.
On the surface, the junior's misstep looks more like an NCAA issue than an indictment of his character, though some scouts will almost certainly question why he allegedly needed to cheat instead of doing the work.
Additionally, Gay missed numerous quality reps when he could have cemented his status as a top prospect. According to Pro Football Focus' Mike Renner, he played only 455 snaps during the 2018 campaign and followed that up by playing in only five games during his final season on campus.
From an on-field perspective, Gay is a dynamic defensive presence because of his sideline-to-sideline speed and coverage abilities.
The Mississippi native posted a 4.46-second 40-yard dash at the NFL Scouting Combine. If fact, the 243-pounder finished top-five among linebackers in the 40, bench press (21), vertical jump (39.5 inches) and broad jump (11'4"). He's an explosive athlete who can run with most tight ends and wide receivers or blow up ball-carriers.
Gay received the highest coverage grade among linebackers against Power Five competition since 2017, per PFF.
"I call him the Eraser," former Bulldogs teammate Erroll Thompson said upon Gay's return from suspension last season, per The Dispatch's Ben Portnoy. "If someone isn't fitting right up front, he's so fast and so twitchy and just a freak of nature; he just erases the mistakes."
However, a franchise must be comfortable with Gay as a person and his ability to absorb information before considering his ample on-field assets.
CB Bryce Hall, Virginia
Players coming off a major injury and small-school products will be hurt the most by the NFL's decision to not move the draft from April 23-25 because of each organization's inability to bring in individuals for visits or see them at their pro days.
Virginia's Bryce Hall played in six games before suffering a season-ending leg injury against the Miami Hurricanes that required surgery for a broken fibula, torn deltoid ligaments and a dislocated ankle. Clearly, the severity of the injury was quite worrisome, especially for one of better incoming cornerbacks.
But team doctors can't follow up and check on recovering prospects—which could make organizations reticent to select those individuals when other options are available.
"I think at the end of the day, the film speaks the most," Hall said, per the Daily Progress' Bennett Conlin. "Right now, I'm allowing that to just kind of speak for itself."
Hall earned first-team All-ACC and second-team All-American honors after his junior campaign. The 6'1", 202-pound corner defended an impressive 24 passes, snagged a pair of interceptions and forced two fumbles during the 2018 campaign. He uses his size, length and physicality to control receivers, though he lacks short-area quickness.
Hall entered the 2019 season as one of the top cornerbacks, but his injury created more questions than answers as the draft nears. His draft range will be all over the board depending on how franchises feel about his readiness for the 2020 campaign.
"The first time I really got a prognosis was a week before I went to the combine," Hall told the Roanoke Times' Doug Doughty. "The doctors and my [personal trainer] said I should be 100 percent by training camp."
Eventually, a team will take a chance, but it'll do so with the hope Hall's current timetable is correct.
S Kyle Dugger, Lenoir-Rhyne
Kyle Dugger crushed the predraft process coming out of Lenoir-Rhyne—which placed him among the class' top safety prospects, though he hasn't entirely leaped over his contemporaries.
The 6'1", 217-pound defensive back excelled at the Senior Bowl. His size, coupled with outstanding movement skills, showed a safety capable of handling tight ends one-on-one, playing in the box or defending the deep third if needed.
The combine ignited even more interest in the product from the Division II school in North Carolina.
Dugger posted a 4.49-second 40-yard dash, a 42-inch vertical jump and an 11'2" broad jump. The late bloomer—along with fellow small-school product Jeremy Chinn—tested among the 99th percentile of NFL safeties in SPARQ (speed, power, agility, reaction and quickness), according to Three Sigma Athlete's Zach Whitman.
However, Dugger isn't considered a finished product. Minnesota's Antoine Winfield Jr. and Alabama's Xavier McKinney are better safety prospects. At least one NFL general manager prefers Chinn over Dugger, per Bleacher Report's Matt Miller.
The 2019 Cliff Harris Award winner, which is awarded to the top non-FBS or FCS defensive player, didn't face a level of competition to really test his skills. Dugger can be a little slow in coverage recognition, because he often relies on his speed to react quickly and drive on the play. How he matches up against much faster and quicker targets will be interesting even after the positives signs presented at Mobile.
Some scouts actually view him as a better return man than defensive back. Dugger averaged 19.6 yards per kick return during his collegiate career.
"I think of him more like a Josh Cribbs-type returner," an anonymous scout told NFL.com's Chase Goodbread. "He'll develop into a box safety or an outside linebacker, but as a returner, I think he's special, because he's strong enough to break the first tackle, stick his foot in the ground and get upfield."
Whether it's as an athlete, safety or returner, Dugger presents massive potential.