Is the NFL Draft really not here yet? How have analysts been projecting and forecasting this thing for well over five months, and we’re still a week away? I’ll be honest; I stopped checking draft rankings right after bowl season. (Don’t tell Matt.) Imagine my surprise when, upon reading the latest mock drafts this week to get caught up, rankings had drastically shifted based on … how fast players run through pylons in bike shorts? I don’t understand the Combine at all.
The reason draft analysts can change their minds willy-nilly is because scouting and player projection is not a science. There’s a randomness to sourcing future NFL stars. The best quarterback and wide receiver in the league were both sixth-round picks. The Cowboys’ all-time leading passer was undrafted. These weekly rankings don’t matter, because at any moment, Myles Garrett could get chronic diarrhea that ends his pro career, and then analysts would just shrug their shoulders and move onto the next class.
Despite this, there’s a pressure on first-round picks to perform or risk being labeled as “busts.” That pressure decreases each round, to the point where a good seventh-round pick is like finding $100 in an old pair of jeans: it’s a pleasant surprise that feels like a windfall. But if a first-round pick performs poorly, it’s like the Mystery of Al Capone’s Vaults: you dreamed of treasure and all you got was Geraldo Rivera holding an empty bottle.
So when I was asked to set some odds for draft prospects that could be busts, I said “Hell no!” To myself. Under my breath, while I accepted the assignment because I’ll do just about anything to avoid conflict. But if any players are reading this, know that I’m not against you. I just think that the randomness that is the NFL may work in your favor less than, let’s say … Taco Charlton. Bad things can’t happen to someone with a name like that.
So here are some potential “busts” for the upcoming draft, as well as some potential benchmarks for them to pass in the first season. Chime in on whether they’ll go OVER or UNDER my rookie-season projections in the comments. Show more support for these players than I am.
Potential Busts in 2017 NFL Draft
Marshon Lattimore, CB; Ohio State
There’s been some oddly bad luck with the third-overall pick in the last five years. At first, teams were just taking busts like Dion Jordan, Trent Richardson and Blake Bortles (yes, we’re calling it already). But then, when they finally seemed to hit on pass rushing talents like Dante Fowler and Joey Bosa, early troubles would hit the start of their career: Fowler suffered a torn ACL in camp, while Bosa had the far less extreme hindrance of a contract holdout (but it did still keep him off the field for four games).
In mocks that don’t have the Bears taking a QB at three (which they won’t), it’s a lot of Lattimore and Jonathan Allen, and there’s reason to think both could get hit by the bad-luck bug (more on Allen below). Though Lattimore has shutdown corner potential, he also has a long history of hamstring injuries. Fans tend to grow tired of a player that can’t stay on the field: just ask those Chicago fans for their thoughts on Kevin White.
Over/Under Passes Defended in 2017: 8.5
Jonathan Allen, DL; Alabama
Allen had surgery in both shoulders, and the arthritis he’s been left with sounds like a red flag. Shoulders seem like an important part of being a defensive lineman. What’s truly unsettling about Allen, though, is how glowingly he talks about Nick Saban. Four years at Alabama has clearly turned him over to the dark side, and we’ve seen what the dark side can do to even the greatest talent.
Over/Under Total Sacks in 2017: 2.5
Solomon Thomas, DL; Stanford
Isn’t it odd that a guy nobody was talking about in December is suddenly top five material? What has changed? Did he bribe the right people? Was money exchanged through incredibly tiny hands? As Stephen White has noted, this guy has small hands and that might be part of the reason he has trouble tackling. So that’s funny. Sure he isn’t getting the Jared Goff treatment, but it could be a problem at the next level.
Over/Under Total Tackles in 2017: 19.5
Mitch Trubisky, QB; North Carolina
Know the one thing I find more suspicious than late risers? Guys who have been at the top of boards forever. Trubisky has been at or around the first quarterback off the board for a while now, and I can’t remember why it seemed like such a no brainer. Was it so he could follow in the footsteps of Tar Heels quarterback legends like T.J. Yates and … there isn’t a second option.
Trubisky was only a starter for a year, which is worrisome. Plus, drafting QBs has proven to be a Herculean task for a few franchises at the top of this draft (Browns, Jets, Bills). Just landing in one of those places could curse the kid forever.
Over/Under QB Rating in 2017: 75.5
John Ross, WR; Washington
The biggest beneficiary of the Combine was the Huskies’ speedster, who broke the 40-yard-dash record, but didn’t win anything cool because his shoes were wrong. He’s projected in the middle of the first round, because apparently the prototypical slot receiver can do other stuff besides run fast. Still, it’s hard not to think of Darrius Heyward-Bey when you hear about speed-centric first-round receivers. Plus, the Huskies have never really had a great receiver in the NFL, so I’m going to punish him for his school’s past misdeeds.
Over/Under receptions in 2017: 34
Ryan Ramczyk, OT; Wisconsin
By all accounts, this is a dookie offensive line class. And if there’s one thing we all learned on the first day of economics (before skipping class because it was way too early in the morning), it’s that scarcity increases value. If there are no great blockers, and only a few good ‘uns, those good ‘uns are gonna get snatched up fast. Then, when you have expectations that said good player will play like a great one, that’s where problems are created.
Over/Under games started in 2017: 6.5
Deshaun Watson, QB; Clemson
It’s easy to call out quarterbacks as potential busts because they’re under more pressure than anyone else on the field. One of the biggest things Watson is touted for is his ability handle pressure and win big games. But winning in college doesn’t mean you’ll transition well to the league. Here are some of the quarterbacks to win an FBS national title in the past decade: AJ McCarron, Greg McElroy, Tim Tebow, Matt Flynn, Chris Leak. There’s also a Cam Newton and Jameis Winston in there, but overall, don’t think drafting one “proven winner” is going to change all the losers you have on your team. And yes, I was speaking directly to the Jets there.
Over/Under QB Rating in 2017: 79.5
Dalvin Cook, RB; Florida State
I thought the NFL was all done with drafting running backs in the first round? I figured, if you needed one, you just honked your horn outside a Home Depot. But after Ezekiel Elliott was awesome (and robbed of Rookie of the Year), it looks like backs are back on the menu with Leonard Fournette, Christian McCaffrey and Cook all projected to go early. I won’t be surprised if any of them see their reps cut into by some rando seventh rounder, but that seems most likely to happen to Cook. The other two have at least one claim to fame (power back and receiving option), while Cook is just whatever.
Over/Under rushing yards in 2017: 600.5
O.J. Howard, TE; Alabama
It’s understandable that every team wants to find “the next Gronk,” but let’s not forget what the original Gronk has done a lot lately: get hurt. Big trees fall hard, and the abuse a tight end can take over the middle is outstanding, especially if your quarterback doesn’t have the accuracy of a five-time champion who will one day have his own separate Hall of Fame just so he doesn’t have to share it with Goodell.
Over/Under receptions in 2017: 38.5