Despite weeks and months of NFL draft preparation, there will be players drafted who turn out to be busts.
The draft is an inexact science, and the bust whammy does not favor any particular position.
In five or so years from now, these players are the most likely candidates to make the 2017 draft’s All-Bust Team.
Deshaun Watson, Clemson
It’s hard for a quarterback-needy team not to like Deshaun Watson. He brought Clemson its first national championship since 1981 with a last-second touchdown pass against Alabama, throwing for 420 yards and three touchdowns in that game. It was the second straight year that Watson and the Tigers reached the national-title game. Watson threw seven touchdown passes and one interception in those two games.
Watson has the clutch gene and he can command a huddle. The intangibles are there. But at some point a quarterback needs tangibles. Watson isn’t always comfortable when his initial read isn’t there. He went from 35 touchdown passes in 2015 to 41 last season, but his interceptions increased from 13 to 17, and according to Pro Football Focus 14 of those interceptions were thrown from a clean pocket.
Watson is athletic, rushing for 1,105 yards in 2015. He placed in the top five at the combine among quarterbacks in the 40-yard dash, vertical leap, broad jump and 3-cone drill. But quarterbacks can win Super Bowls without being athletic.
It would take an innovative offense for Watson to succeed in the NFL. If he can’t use his legs and he’s expected to strictly work as a pocket passer, he has a long way to go.
Dalvin Cook, Florida State
Dalvin Cook has “boom or bust” written all over him.
Cook has led the ACC in rushing yards in each of the last two seasons and his 4,464 career rushing yards are second in ACC history. He rattled off 10 runs of 50 or more yards in college and ran for 19 touchdowns in each of the last two seasons.
The problems surrounding Cook, however, come from all different directions. While he’s a threat to score every time he touches the ball, there’s also a fumble risk every time he touches the ball. He put the ball on the ground 13 times at Florida State. The 5’10”, 210-pounder isn’t the best blocker, which could put a cap on the number of snaps he plays. There’s also a history of hamstring injuries and he’s had three shoulder surgeries since high school. Cook also comes with some character red flags.
Cook might have to carry the football everywhere he goes in training camp if his fumble problems continue, but even if his ball security improves, Cook will have to be a more productive between-the-tackles runner in the NFL. His instinct is to bounce the ball outside, but those 50-yard plays won’t come as easily in the NFL. He’ll need consistent four- and five-yard chunks to make a living as a pro.
Zay Jones, East Carolina
Zay Jones holds NCAA records for receptions in a career (399) and a single season (158 in 2016). If he’s not drafted in the first round, he won’t wait long for the phone call on Day 2.
Those astronomical college numbers might be inflated, however. Jones played in a non-Power Five conference for a 3-9 team with a minus-13 point differential, so the Pirates had to put the ball in the air a lot. Jones doesn’t have breakaway speed or the ability to generate a ton of yards after the catch. He’ll have to adjust to an offense that isn’t tailored to him.
Jones averaged just 10.7 yards per reception in four years, and with all those catches it seems he should have had a few more than eight touchdowns in 2016. His ceiling in the NFL could be an ultra-productive possession receiver, but teams should look for something a little more dynamic out of a 6’2″ guy who goes in the first round or early in the second.
Jordan Leggett, Clemson
O.J. Howard and David Njoku both will be gone in the first round and their new quarterbacks will be like kids on Christmas morning.
Not every tight end is such a slam dunk.
Like Deshaun Watson, Jordan Leggett rose to the occasion in Clemson’s 35-31 win over Alabama in the national championship game, catching a career-high seven passes for 95 yards.
That doesn’t guarantee that Leggett won’t leave the NFL with the “bust” label forever attached. He’s already entering the NFL with dubious label, nicknamed “Lazy Leggett” at Clemson. Blocking isn’t his favorite part of the game and he’s had to improve his work ethic in college.
“He’s a receiver but he’s soft,” one scout told Bob McGinn of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel. “Does he really love it? We don’t know. He’s not a fighter. Has no interest in the run game.”
Leggett’s receptions increased in each of his four years at Clemson, topping out at 46 last season with seven touchdowns and a career-high 16 yards per reception. The 6’5″, 258-pounder is projected as a third- or fourth-round pick. The later he’s drafted, the more likely it is that he’ll be asked to play special teams. He hasn’t done that since his freshman year, and to avoid it at the next level he’ll have to make an immediate impact on offense.
Cam Robinson, Alabama
Cam Robinson started every game at left tackle in his three years at Alabama, but he’s far from a plug-and-play, blind-side pass protector.
The 6’6″, 322-pounder struggles with balance and has committed 23 penalties over the last two seasons. He’s also run into trouble off the field. He was arrested for marijuana and gun possession last May.
“He hasn’t got better since his freshman year,” one scout told Bob McGinn of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel. “He’s a right tackle to me. I don’t trust him to protect (his team’s quarterback).”
Robinson has been compared to Ereck Flowers. That’s a little troublesome. At least Robinson isn’t likely to be drafted ninth overall like Flowers. He could fall into the second round.
Malik McDowell, Michigan State
Malik McDowell’s inconsistency suggests a player who either will dominate in the NFL or flame out.
The 6’6″, 295-pounder had 4.5 sacks and 13 tackles for loss in 2015, but those numbers slipped to seven tackles for loss and 1.5 sacks last season. It didn’t help that McDowell missed the last three games of 2016 with an ankle injury. Even in 2015, however, one of McDowell’s sacks came against Western Michigan and another came against Rutgers, which was 1-7 in the Big Ten.
On the flip side, McDowell did stand out in the 2015 national semifinal against Alabama.
“He has a chance to be a dominant player in our league. I mean dominant. It hasn’t turned on for him all the way yet but if it does, he could be like Mario Williams. He’s just a little lazy and I worry about whether he is going to be a self-starter,” one NFC North scout told NFL.com.
Kendell Beckwith, LSU
Kendell Beckwith’s draft stock took a hit when he tore his ACL on Nov. 19. He seems on target to be ready for training camp.
The silver lining of Beckwith’s injury is that he won’t be burdened with the high expectations that come with being drafted in the first round. That said, if a team takes a flier on him in the middle rounds, there’s no guarantee he’ll provide a return on that investment.
Injury or no injury, Beckwith isn’t fast enough to be much more than a thumper in the middle of a defense who won’t see the field on third down. Even in that role, his tackling will need some work.
Beckwith had one interception in four years at LSU, a 29-yard pick-six in 2014. He won’t be much of a coverage factor in the NFL. He’ll probably need to become a special teams ace to keep a job in the NFL.
Tyus Bowser, Houston
Tyus Bowser registered 8.5 sacks and 12 tackles for loss, both career highs, in his senior season. He vaulted himself into the Day 1 and early-Day 2 conversation with his Senior Bowl showing and his combine performance. He was the top linebacker in the vertical leap and the 3-cone drill.
Teams thinking about drafting Bowser need to be certain that he’s not a workout warrior. He relies too much on that athleticism. At the next level, he’ll need to learn pass-rush moves to get to the quarterback, and that will take time. Three of his sacks last season came against Tulane and 1.5 against FCS Lamar.
Bowser might have had more sacks last season, but he got into a fight with a teammate and missed five games with a fractured orbital bone. That incident has to concern some teams.
A team that needs pass-rushing help could overdraft Bowser. If he somehow falls to Day 3, he could get the time he needs to develop. If a GM decides to write his name on the card in the first round, he’s putting his job on the line.
Kevin King, Washington
It was only a matter of time before Kevin King’s height and combine numbers drove up his draft stock.
King, one of four 6’3″ cornerbacks invited to the combine according to Pro Football Reference, led the position group in the 3-cone drill and both shuttles and was second in the vertical leap.
Some mock drafts have King going to the Seahawks at No. 26. If he does go there, the problem could be that he’s not physical enough for the Legion of Boom.
Wherever King goes, his lack of upper-body strength could be disappointing to a team that’s mesmerized by his height. He had just six interceptions in four years at Washington, although his 13 passes defended last season were more than his three previous years combined.
Versatility might be King’s strongest selling point. He’s also played safety. But if he doesn’t improve his tackling he won’t get many snaps at any position in the NFL.
Jabrill Peppers, Michigan
It’s easy to pile the criticism on Jabrill Peppers these days. Every team interested in him has been sent scrambling for information in the wake of his positive test for a dilute sample that was revealed this week.
Regardless of the circumstances surrounding that combine drug test, Peppers will enter the NFL in Stage One of the league’s drug program. At Stage Two, he could be subject to a four-game suspension. No matter what Peppers can do on the field, he’ll eventually be labeled a bust if he has trouble staying on the field.
It’s difficult to gauge just what Peppers can do on the field in the NFL. From a defensive standpoint, no one seems to know what to do with him. He was moved around so much in college, playing cornerback, safety and linebacker. His 5’11”, 213-pound frame doesn’t make the decision any easier. He’s too light to be a linebacker unless a team can get creative with its defensive packages. He’s too bulky to play cornerback. Only two cornerbacks invited to the combine weigh more than him, and both are 6’3″. Even among safeties at the combine he was the heaviest shorter than six feet.
Physically, safety looks like the best position fit for Peppers in the NFL, but his one interception in three years at Michigan is troubling and he never forced a fumble.
Peppers did lead the Big Ten with 310 punt return yards in 2016. That, along with his versatility on defense, will get him drafted sometime on Day 1 or Day 2. Even if Peppers is an asset on special teams, he’ll have to make some kind of mark on defense to be worth his draft position.