Even with as much vetting that goes into every NFL Draft prospect (though there will be less vetting this year than usual), not every guy is going to be a slam dunk.
Figuring out who is going to be a disappointment is a pretty unscientific process, one that counts mostly on the eye test and, in some cases, combine results that don’t really reflect what a player is capable of in game situations.
As teams gladly will make clear, they’re not too pleased about the circumstances surrounding the 2020 NFL Draft. It will go on as scheduled later this month, but will be done virtually amid the COVID-19 pandemic. That also will impact how teams are going to approach their pre-draft scouting.
With all that in mind, here are a few players we can see going in the early rounds that have “bust” potential.
Tua Tagovailoa, QB, Alabama — So, some of this is out of Tagovailoa’s control. He sustained a hip injury back in November that ended his final season with the Crimson Tide, though he’s optimistic now that he’ll be good to go for the 2020 season.
It’s not that long ago that the “Tank for Tua” was a label being slapped on the Cincinnati Bengals and Miami Dolphins, but his draft stock since the injury has been all over the place. Some experts have suggested that he could be a top five pick, others could see him slipping to late in the first round. No one knows.
But to us, that indicates teams might see something off-putting about him. Maybe it’s the injury history beyond just the hip (two ankle injuries, a concussion and a broken nose), or the fact that he can be a little too quick to get out of the pocket, something that can be be detrimental in the pro game unless they’re exceptional at improvising and functioning on the run.
There are just tiny red flags for Tagovailoa, but enough to give us pause about the amount of NFL success, at least in the shorter term, that he’ll have.
Cole Kmet, TE, Notre Dame — This isn’t a draft loaded with high-end tight end talent, so it’s not the biggest endorsement in the world that he’s regarded as one of the best prospects at the position this year.
That said, the biggest concern with Kmet is that he isn’t an overly skilled blocker. While his abilities as a receiver are tantalizing, and each year he got increasingly more involved in the Fighting Irish’s passing game, if he isn’t able to get separation in the NFL like he did in college, he could be in a pinch.
For a guy that is 6-foot-6, 262 pounds, he moves well. But tight end can be a fickle position to draft, and his shortcomings as a blocker could become an issue. That said, a team that is going to exhaust a late-first or second-round pick on him probably envisions him as a pass-catcher more than anything, so they’ll be crossing their fingers that his pass-catching skills translates well to the pro level. That’s not a guarantee, and it will severely limit his effectiveness if receiving becomes an issue.
Jordan Love, QB, Utah State — Consider us skeptical of a guy that regressed in his draft year while playing at a Mountain West school.
While there’s plenty of upside in Love, he seems like he’s going to be a project. He’s an aggressive passer who at times did a really nice job for the Aggies shoehorning balls into very tight windows. But oftentimes that came back to hurt him, and that’ll happen more so in the NFL.
For one, even though he throws a tight spiral, he has a slow delivery that’s going to get him sacked a bunch unless he learns how to accelerate. Furthermore, his decision-making has been suspect for pretty much the entirety of his college career, which resulted in a whopping 17 interceptions in 2019, three of which went for pick-sixes.
These aren’t overnight fixes, and if he becomes a starter somewhere he will get absolutely swarmed by opposing defenses, which only will result in more poor decisions. It’s a different conversation if he’s picked by a team that sees him as a backup for a few years, but teams that choose him in hopes he’ll compete for a starting job as a rookie could be in a little trouble.
AJ Epenesa, EDGE, Iowa — As we’ve seen more and more star edge players break into the NFL, the common denominator for most of them is that while they’re huge, they move exceptionally well.
Epenesa’s biggest problem has been his speed. He can be slow to shed blockers, he can be slow to change directions, he can be slow to read where the ball carrier is going. All of those things could become problematic at the pro level.
Make no mistake, his size is tremendous and he did a fine job setting the edge for the Hawkeyes. But those speed concerns that he could get away with in college could end up creating issues for him at the next level.
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