Every year, NFL franchises spent hundreds of hours traveling across the country, watching tape and gathering as much information on draft-eligible prospects as possible. The truth is, no matter how confident in a player’s ability a team may be, there’s no such thing as a sure thing when it comes to the NFL Draft. Every year we hear about the “can’t miss” prospects—Jamarcus Russell, Charles Rogers, Aaron Curry and Trent Richardson come to mind, but there’s also players that are late selections and rise to stardom. Teams are looking to maximize the value of their selections and often gamble on prospects perceived to have more potential or “upside” which is usually based on size, athleticism, or a specific trait that’s difficult to find. With the 2016 NFL Draft just days away, I decided to highlight several of the biggest “Boom or Bust” prospects that will likely hear their names called on Thursday or Friday night.
QB Carson Wentz, North Dakota State
Carson Wentz has had a meteoric rise to the top of draft boards, with the hype machine gaining buzz throughout the last few weeks of the season. Wentz looks the part, standing 6’5” and weighing 237 pounds. He’s got a strong arm and good mobility, so he checks all the boxes from a physical standpoint. However, Wentz has just 1 ½ years of starting experience in the FCS so there’s definitely questions regarding how he’ll adjust to the speed of the National Football League.
He was inconsistent with his anticipation and didn’t show the ability to regularly throw his receivers open, often relying on his arm strength to force late passes. That split-second in the NFL is often the difference between a completed pass and an interception. Wentz does have promising traits, but it’s hard to be confident taking an FCS quarterback with 566 pass attempts as a starter with a top-two pick.
LB/EDGE Leonard Floyd, Georgia
Leonard Floyd is one of the more polarizing prospects in the 2016 NFL Draft. Standing 6’6” and weighing 245 pounds with 33 ½” arms, Floyd has the length that teams covet in an edge defender. He’s a great athlete, posting a 4.6-second 40-yard dash, a 39.5” vertical leap and a 10’7” broad jump at the NFL Scouting Combine and finished his three years at Georgia with 184 tackles, 28.5 tackles for loss, 17 sacks and three forced fumbles. This combination of size, athletic ability and production has resulted in Floyd being projected to go as high as pick No. 5 overall. However, Floyd is a one dimensional pass rusher that is only capable of winning with speed. He lacks the strength—particularly in the lower body—to move an opposing lineman backwards and gets bullied in the run game if they’re able to latch onto him.
In 2015 Floyd played more of an off-the-ball role than in his two previous seasons, which is where he’ll likely have to find a home at the next level. He’s got a really lean frame and looks more like a wide receiver than a defensive end. Floyd is the epitome of a boom-or-bust prospect, as he possesses many of the traits that coaches feel they can mold into a quality player, but nobody really knows what his ideal position is at the next level. Floyd is reminiscent of recent first-round busts Barkevious Mingo and Dion Jordan, but in order to be a difference maker at the next level, he’ll need to land with a team that’s willing to be patient and creative with him as he bulks up and refines his technique.
LB/S Su’a Cravens, Southern California
Another tweener without a defined position, USC’s Su’a Cravens was incredibly productive as a hybrid defender, racking up 207 tackles, 34.5 tackles for loss, 10.5 sacks, 18 pass breakups, nine interceptions and two forced fumbles in three years. The NFL is seeing more and more oversized safeties move down to play weakside linebacker as teams are passing more and using more three or four wide receiver sets. Cravens is 6’1” and 226 pounds, but doesn’t have the athleticism you’d like from an undersized linebacker prospect, running a 4.65 40-yard dash while posting a 27” vertical leap, the lowest among all linebackers at the Combine.
As a Trojan, Cravens was a disruptive force as an in-the-box player that frequently lined up close to the line of scrimmage as a blitzer, but it’s hard to imagine him excelling in a similar role at the NFL level. According to ProFootballFocus he only lined up as a true safety on eight of his 341 coverage snaps and doesn’t have the range to play in deep coverage. However, Cravens does a good job covering underneath routes and can run with tight ends and running backs, so he may be able to thrive in a niche role as an extra linebacker/slot defender where he could use his run-and-chase ability against the run (45 stops) or blitz the quarterback (11 sacks, 30 pressures last two seasons).
Su’a Cravens success in the NFL will ultimately depend on the team that selects him. A coaching staff will need to have a specific role in mind for him and that will be the difference in winding up as a Taylor Mays or a Troy Polamalu career trajectory.
DL Robert Nkemdiche, Ole Miss
Robert Nkemdiche is another polarizing draft prospect, as the former No. 1 recruit never lived up to the lofty expectations set for him coming out of high school, finishing his three-year career with just 97 tackles, 19 tackles for loss and seven sacks. Teams are worried about him off the field as well, as Nkemdiche was arrested for marijuana after a bizarre incident in which he fell out of a hotel window after smoking synthetic marijuana.
Nkemdiche is so frustrating to watch because he has all the talent in the world, but he marches to the beat of his own drum. He’s explosive off the snap and will destroy opposing linemen with a devastating bull-rush, but when he’s in the backfield he struggles to covert that pressure into production. He takes too many plays off and looks lethargic at times, but then you watch his game against Alabama and you see the dominant force that couldn’t be contained.
He’s awful as a run defender, showing no awareness for combo, trap or wham blocks and gets physically driven backwards regularly. He’s best defending runs that are away from him, where he can use his athleticism to knife through offensive linemen and chase the ball-carrier down from the backside.
Nonetheless, it only takes one team to decide that Nkemdiche is worth the risk, but while he’s widely viewed by the public as a dominant player that’s just lazy with off-field problems, he has a ton of work to do to develop into the player that many think he already is.
OT Le’Raven Clark, Texas Tech
Le’Raven Clark is this year’s NFL Combine weigh-in winner, measuring in at 6’5” and 315 pounds with ridiculously long arms (36 1/8”) and massive hands (11 7/8”) that will have offensive line coaches drooling. While Clark possesses these elite measurables, Clark has atrocious tape as a pass protector and allowed 25 pressures despite playing in Texas Tech’s wide open, quick striking passing attack that didn’t ask him to sustain blocks for very long. He’s clumsy, displaying awful footwork in his kick-slide and doesn’t have the movement skills to redirect to counter moves. He lunges at defenders, plays too high and is inconsistent with his punch, failing to use his arm length as an advantage.
Regardless of this, there’s buzz that Clark will be taken among the top 75 picks, as big, long tackles always find a way to get overdrafted. However, if he finds a quality offensive line coach on a team that doesn’t expect him to contribute right away and is willing to break him down and re-coach his fundamentals, he has a chance to develop. Based on measurables alone, Clark has a profile similar to top-tier linemen of the likes of Tyron Smith, Orlando Franklin, Russell Okung and D.J. Fluker, among others, so you can see why teams are intrigued with him.
EDGE Emmanuel Ogbah, Oklahoma State
Emmanuel Ogbah has been one of the most productive defensive linemen in the nation over the last two years, notching 113 tackles, 34.5 tackles for loss, 24 sacks, nine pass breakups and four forced fumbles. He has prototypical size and athletic measurables of a base end, standing 6’3” and 273 pounds and posted a 4.63 40-yard dash, 4.5 shuttle, 7.26 three-cone, 35.5” vertical leap and a 10’1” broad jump. In 2015 he generated 78 quarterback pressures and led the nation in sacks with 13.
However, he’s a one-dimensional pass rusher that relied on his sheer strength to overwhelm under-matched offensive linemen in the Big-12. According to RealSportsNetwork, just two sacks and 21 of Ogbah’s pressures came against top-50 ranked teams, with one of the sacks and seven pressures coming against Baylor’s right tackle Pat Colbert, who was one of the worst in the nation.
Ogbah doesn’t have the flexibility to turn the corner and will often take himself out of the play by getting too far behind the pocket. Despite his massive frame, his 35 ½” arms and 10” hands he struggles to disengage from blockers and can get knocked off his spot due to playing too high.
Right now he leaves a lot to be desired but Emmanuel Ogbah does flash enough raw ability to become a potential 7-8 sack per year player, but he needs to play with more consistency and improve the technical aspects of his game to do so.
QB Cardale Jones, Ohio State
One of the most physically gifted quarterbacks in the 2016 NFL Draft, Cardale Jones has great size, a huge arm and mobility. He’s raw and inexperienced so he’ll need to find the right fit in order to reach his full potential.
DB Sean Davis, Maryland
Sean Davis is a ridiculously athletic and versatile defensive back that recorded 306 tackles, 14 pass breakups, five interceptions and seven forced fumbles in his three years as a starter for the Terrapins. He played in a variety of roles from boundary corner, in the box and as a safety—where his likely fit in the NFL will be. He’s got prototypical size (6’0” 200 lbs) and blew up the combine with a 4.46 40, 6.64 three-cone, 3.97 shuttle, 37.5” vert and a 10’6” broad jump. He struggled mightily when playing outside, allowing 50 catches on 81 targets for 721 yards and seven scores—the most in the country. While he recorded over 300 career tackles, he missed 40 as well, so while Davis has a ton of upside, he’s extremely inconsistent.
WR Will Fuller, Notre Dame
Wide receivers with 4.3 speed will always be valued by the NFL and Will Fuller is one of the best vertical threats in the draft, hauling in 138 passes for 2,352 yards and 29 touchdowns over the last two seasons. He’s explosive with a second gear to separate on vertical routes, but he doesn’t have much experience working over the middle of the field in traffic—43% of his routes were vertical (go’s, curls/comebacks). Fuller has unreliable hands, dropping 21 passes over the last two years and tends to catch the ball in his chest rather than away from his body. Fuller’s speed is attracting and he’s proven to be a deep threat, but his inconsistent hands and limited route tree make him a boom or bust prospect.
LB Darron Lee, Ohio State
Darron Lee is widely viewed as the “new-age” coverage linebacker and has been generating some serious buzz after his impressive combine testing. However, as fantastic of an athlete he is, that doesn’t necessarily make him fantastic in coverage. In 2015, Lee allowed 32 receptions on 44 targets for 318 yards, with opposing quarterbacks posting a 90.9 passer rating when throwing at him. He doesn’t have great awareness in zone coverage, and didn’t offer much in the run game, as he played roughly 60% of his snaps in the slot. It’s tough to project Lee’s impact when he transitions to a traditional linebacker role, where he’s undersized and struggles to tackle in space, whiffing on 12 last year-the fourth most among linebackers with seven coming in pass coverage. Lee’s athleticism will get him drafted early but he’ll need to do a better job anticipating developing routes in addition to learning how to make plays in with less space to work with.