The Biggest Boom-or-Bust Players in the 2021 NFL Draft
Every NFL prospect has some level of potential to become a solid pro. Some possess more than others because of certain traits. At times, teams fall for those coveted qualities, but the player fails to translate his strengths into production.
In the first couple of rounds, teams must weigh the risk with the reward while evaluating high-profile players. If a general manager misses on a late-round pick, no one bats an eye. On the flip side, a first- or second-rounder who bottoms out early in his career carries the bust label—a blemish on the front office's draft record.
Oftentimes, we pick apart prospects. One may not have the prototypical measurements for a specific role. Coaches could question his position fit at the pro level. A player's injury history can become an issue with more wear and tear. Clubs will consider all of those concerns to avoid a draft-day bust.
Yet a prospect's trajectory or a standout year can overshadow red flags.
Let's take a look at eight of the biggest boom-or-bust players in the 2021 class. They all project as early-round selections with major pluses but significant questions about their abilities to succeed in the NFL. Each prospect has a high ceiling and a low floor.
CB Tyson Campbell, Georgia
On the field, Tyson Campbell looks like he fits the part of a boundary cornerback.
At 6'1", 193 pounds, Campbell has the size with the arm length (32") to routinely high-point and dislodge the ball from a receiver's possession. He's fluid while in his backpedal and doesn't have an issue shadowing twitchy wideouts, which shows his great feet without the need to grab and hold downfield.
As an added plus, Campbell can supplement a team's run defense as a reliable tackler in space. He recorded 89 tackles through three terms within the Bulldogs defense.
With his traits, Campbell should have more ball production. As a collegian, he recorded 10 pass breakups and just one interception. If the lanky cornerback isn't much of a threat to force turnovers or incompletions, opposing quarterbacks will test him in coverage, which may lead to a rocky career start.
Campbell can bulk up his frame, but the added mass won't help him track the football. He's susceptible to losing in contested situations for the 50-50 balls. The athletically gifted cornerback needs to get his hands on more passes to play up to early-round expectations, or else he could become a focal target in the opposing team's game plan.
IOL Landon Dickerson, Alabama
Landon Dickerson made quality starts at Florida State and Alabama. He's played significant snaps at right guard and center, which will allow him to shift positions if necessary.
In his final collegiate term, Dickerson, along with his teammate Alex Leatherwood, won the SEC Jacobs Blocking Trophy. He also claimed the Rimington Trophy as the nation's best center. Well-accomplished, the fifth-year senior exhibited leadership through his final two terms at Alabama.
NFL teams will likely see Dickerson as an anchor for the offensive line, as someone who can immediately make all of the pre-snap checks, hold his ground in a variety of run-blocking schemes and handle disruptive defensive tackles in pass protection.
Based solely on performance, Dickerson has the skill set and the resume of a surefire first-round pick. However, he'll probably remain on the board for Day 2 because of his extensive injury history.
Dickerson suffered significant ankle and knee injuries in four out of his five collegiate terms, including all three at Florida State and this past season at Alabama. Typically, a player who couldn't stay healthy as a collegian experiences the same issues in the pros.
Dickerson can earn a starting job in his rookie season, but his coaches will cross their fingers any time he lands on the injury report. The Alabama standout may struggle to play through a full campaign in a shortened career.
QB Trey Lance, North Dakota State
Trey Lance may rank third or fourth among this year's quarterback prospects, though he's a probable top-10 pick who has a high ceiling because of his dual-threat ability.
The North Dakota State product landed on the draft radar after a standout 2019 campaign, throwing for 2,786 yards and rushing for 1,100 more with 42 total touchdowns. In one season, he showed complete command of the offense and the wherewithal to cycle through his targets and challenge defenders on the ground.
Quarterback-needy clubs will salivate over Lance because he's working with a full toolshed. He has a solid arm, throws with accuracy (65 percent completion rate) and has the legs to extend plays, which gives his receivers a chance to make catches downfield.
Carson Wentz made the jump from FCS competition at North Dakota State to the pro level with two years as a backup and 23 starts under his belt. Lance doesn't have much playing experience. He appeared in two contests as a reserve, only started under center for a single full season and played one game this past campaign, so teams must show patience with his early development.
Defensive coordinators will attempt to disguise coverages and dial up clever blitz schemes to make Lance uncomfortable, which may lead to unnecessary scrambles outside the pocket.
Lance should use his mobility, but he must refrain from relying on that aspect of his game to reach his full potential. If not, the 6'3", 221-pounder will just become an athlete who plays the position.
WR Rondale Moore, Purdue
As a true freshman in 2018, Rondale Moore led the FBS in receptions (114) with 14 touchdowns (12 through the air and two on the ground). Before a hamstring injury derailed his sophomore term, he logged a 124- and 220-yard performance against Nevada and Vanderbilt, respectively.
In addition to his slot receiver duties and occasional carries, Moore can bring a spark to special teams on kick and punt returns. With the ball, he's dangerous in the open field. Teams must account for his whereabouts on any given play.
Moore will keep defenders in guess mode with his shiftiness and his ability to make cuts on a dime.
Critics could knock Moore for his small stature. He's going to face some challenges as a 5'7", 180-pound wide receiver, specifically against physical slot defenders who will attempt to reroute him or crowd his space.
Beyond the obvious, Moore has left some plays on the field because of drops. Secondly, he's not a big-play receiver, averaging just 10.8 yards per reception. When defensive backs meet him at the top of his route, the Purdue product isn't much of a threat to stretch the field or run away from tacklers.
Moore recorded a 42½-inch vertical jump, which suggests he's an explosive athlete, but that trait hasn't translated to huge gains. At his size, he may have to settle for short pitch-and-catches, which may render him into an afterthought in the passing attack.
Edge Jayson Oweh, Penn State
Jayson Oweh garnered buzz as a basketball player out of Blair Academy in New Jersey. He focused on football at Penn State in 2018, which became a redshirt campaign after two appearances. In his first game, against Kent State, he recorded two sacks.
In 2019, Oweh continued to progress as a defensive end, logging 21 tackles, five tackles for loss, five sacks and two forced fumbles. He checks multiple boxes next to desirable traits for a pass-rusher. The 6'5", 257-pounder has control of his frame and bends around the corner with balance. With speed and acceleration, the explosive defender jumps off the screen near the line of scrimmage.
Teams that have a first- or second-round grade on Oweh will lean heavily on what he could become as opposed to his collegiate production.
Despite all of Oweh's physical traits, he didn't record a sack this past season. While that statistic isn't the complete measuring stick for pass-rushers, the Penn State product will go into the NFL as a green prospect who has a lot to learn at his position.
Oweh will need time to work on his hand-fighting technique, develop counter pass-rushing moves when his initial push doesn't generate pressure and gain some traction in run support.
Right now, he has the physical tools to play the position. However, with subpar technical traits, he's a prime overdraft candidate who may not reach his ceiling.
LB Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, Notre Dame
New York Jets head coach Robert Saleh has a mantra, "all gas, no brake," which he talked about in his introductory press conference. Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah plays to that tune, driving through tackles and swarming to the ball on nearly every down.
As a junior during the 2019 term, Owusu-Koramoah made plays all over the field, logging 80 tackles, 13.5 tackles for loss, 5.5 sacks, four pass breakups and two forced fumbles. This past season, he earned ACC Defensive Player of the Year honors and won the Dick Butkus Award as the nation's top linebacker.
Like Isaiah Simmons, the 2019 Butkus Award winner, Owusu-Koramoah's versatility is his biggest strength. Defensive coordinators can line him as a weak-side linebacker, safety, slot defender or use him in blitz packages because of his speed and aggressive nature.
Compared to Simmons, Owusu-Koramoah has a smaller frame, nearly three inches shorter and 20 pounds lighter at 6'1", 215 pounds. The Notre Dame prospect will likely line up primarily at safety. He's not the most reliable tackler going downhill and doesn't have the body type to consistently hang around the box as a full-time linebacker.
Owusu-Koramoah needs to land with a club that's a good schematic fit, or else his position versatility could lead to major inconsistencies. He may struggle with role ambiguity on a team that's not sure how to use his coverage and pass-rushing strengths.
Edge Jaelan Phillips, Miami
Jaelan Phillips has come a long way from his time at UCLA to a standout prospect out of Miami. He stepped away from the game, transferred schools and reemerged for his best showing through the 2020 campaign.
Phillips has overcome adversity, with a history of concussions along with major on- and off-field injuries. Yet he put together a complete season minus his decision to sit out the Cheez-It Bowl against Oklahoma State.
This past season, Philips led the Hurricanes in sacks (eight) and tackles for loss (15.5). On film, you can see his relentless motor led to second-effort sacks and stops.
Because of Phillips' length and quickness, he could reach the backfield in a flash. Lining up across from him, offensive tackles cannot play on their heels in pass protection. They must go on the attack to minimize his impact.
On the other side of the coin, Phillips' concussion history could shorten his career if he continues to experience head trauma. The Miami product doesn't have the strongest foundation while in pursuit of the quarterback. Offensive linemen can drive him backward with average strength and leverage.
Phillips gave teams a glimpse of his upside in one full season, but he must add functional strength to match his 6'5", 266-pound stature for success as a pass-rusher at the pro level.
Edge Gregory Rousseau, Miami
In one season as a full-time starter, Gregory Rousseau had a dominant showing, recording 15.5 sacks and 19.5 tackles for loss. Going into the 2020 campaign, he had tremendous buzz as a potential top-10 pick.
At 6'7", 265 pounds, Rousseau has a lean frame with long arms, which allows him to wrap up ball-carriers and quarterbacks after he squeezes through gaps at the line of scrimmage. The Miami product also used his hands to disengage and rip through blocks.
With Rousseau's physical build and eye-popping sack numbers, he has a chance to become the first edge-rusher off the board despite his decision to opt out of the 2020 term. The Florida native's 2019 tape speaks volumes, but it also raises some concerns.
As an edge-rusher, Rousseau will battle tackles who can match his length and foot quickness at a comparable size. The Miami coaching staff did a good job of using him on stunts to beat slow-footed guards. NFL offensive coordinators will counter that play design right away.
Rousseau has to find more success against perimeter blockers at the next level. He should start with a quicker jump off the line of scrimmage and provide a stronger push at the point of attack.
If Rousseau relies on his athleticism in the NFL, he's not going to make much impact against starting tackles. They'll lock their hands between his shoulder pads and drive him out of pass and run plays.
Player measurements and pro-day workout results from Pro Football Focus.