Possible NFL Draft busts

The 2024 NFL Draft will almost certainly begin with the Chicago Bears selecting USC quarterback Caleb Williams. The former Heisman winner will smile broadly as he takes the stage. Bears staffers and fans will be smiling too, because almost everyone believes Williams is a franchise player, a can’t-miss prospect.

Or is he? Most scouts and analysts absolutely love Williams. Then again, everyone called JaMarcus Russell a can’t-miss prospect, before the 2007 No. 1 overall pick did miss, becoming the NFL’s biggest draft bust.

Yet everyone is totally sold on Williams, right? Not exactly. He has some doubters, and so do many of the other first-round draft prospects. Here’s a look at those players, and the analysts who have questions about them.

Caleb Williams, QB, USC

Draft buzz: He’s universally considered a generational talent, a franchise quarterback who does everything well.

Draft bust alert: Merril Hoge, who spent more than 20 years as one of ESPN’s top NFL analysts, said earlier this year he’s watched tape on Williams and is not impressed.

“The one thing, I can tell you this from studying him last year and early parts of this year, there’s one thing that is clear to me: He is not special,” Hoge said (via SI.com). “He is not special. There is nothing special about him. There is nothing that I would be like, ‘Wow.'”

That comment immediately caught the attention of the NFL world, and Hoge later went on Chicago’s 670 The Score to clarify his statement.

“Just because he’s not special … doesn’t mean he doesn’t have a chance to be a very good player and a dynamic player, because he does have some elite things,” Hoge said. “From a pocket presence, he is not special. … He has a gift that everybody thinks is exciting, and that is special, and that is his unique mobility. That’s not going to win you a championship, and being exciting is not a skill set.”

Hoge then said something Bears fans don’t want to hear: “This expectation that he is Patrick Mahomes is going to be a daunting thing.”

Dallas Turner, LB, Alabama

Draft buzz: Turner is athletic and can get after the quarterback, everything you look for in an elite edge rusher. He’s widely expected to be the first defensive player off the board and a certain top-10 pick.

Draft bust alert: Like some other analysts, Mel Kiper Jr. is concerned about Turner’s problems defending the run, and he said the quiet part out loud recently on ESPN’s First Draft.

“Is there any little bust factor?” Kiper said. “He’s got to play the run a little bit better. He’s got to improve against the run. That’s the one area of concern. Sealing the edge, being able to handle your run responsibilities in the NFL is huge. Will Dallas Turner be able to pick up the pace in that area?”

Kiper said he “likes Turner … he’s supremely gifted, tested off the charts.” However, “You’re talking about the eighth pick to Atlanta, you can’t be a one-dimensional guy. Do we know for a fact he’s a 10-plus sacks a year guy? We don’t know that right now … there is a little concern when you watch Dallas Turner.”

Drake Maye, QB, North Carolina

Draft buzz: He has prototypical quarterback size (6-foot-4) a cannon arm, great leadership skills, and maturity. Many analysts expect him to be a top-five pick.

Draft bust alert: Former NFL quarterback Chris Simms, who now works as a college and NFL analyst for NBC Sports, isn’t high on Maye. He recently said on his Chris Simms Unbuttoned podcast that he ranks Maye No. 6 among quarterback prospects. For a player some think could go No. 3 overall, that math doesn’t compute.

“There’s things you watch, and you go, ‘Wow.’ If you watch the highlight package, you go, ‘Woah.’ You watch the highlight package and you go, wow, he looks the part, he’s got the prototypical size, and kinda has the look of a franchise quarterback,” Simms said. … “You watch the best games in his career, and yeah, you’ll see a few of those (great) throws, but for every one of those throws, there’s five of, like, what the hell is that throw?

“There’s no way evaluators, coaches are going to be able to get behind, like, right now, Drake Maye and go ‘Oh yeah, he’s ready to go, he should be the No. 2 or No. 3 pick in the draft.’ No way! There are too many things about his game that need to be polished, better, improved.”

It’s important to note that Simms never calls Maye a possible “bust.” For that matter, most of the analysts in this story avoiding using that derogatory term about the prospect they’re discussing. But when you’re dropping loaded phrases such as “needs work,” “not special,” “question marks,” and, as Simms alluded to Maye, “What the hell is that throw?” you’re describing a potential bust.

Amarius Mims, OT, Georgia

Draft buzz: The 6-foot-7, 340-pound giant has great size and skills, but he may be the ultimate boom-or-bust player in this year’s draft. The general consensus is the Steelers will pick him at No. 20.

Draft bust alert: Mims is inexperienced (only 682 snaps the past two seasons) and injury-prone; he even suffered a hamstring injury running the 40 at the scouting combine.

“It’s easy to see Mims having All-Pro upside if he manages to play up to his athletic upside,” SB Nation draft analyst Chris Pflum writes. “On the flip-side, it’s also easy to see Mims busting due to health or inconsistency. He may never reach his potential and could bust horribly. Mims’ athletic traits will almost certainly get him drafted in the first round. The team that takes him will need to be sure of their ability to help him reach his potential.”

J.J. McCarthy, QB, Michigan

Draft buzz: His draft stock has been climbing for months, helped by his work guiding Michigan to the national championship. He has a big arm, good mobility, and has been hailed for his leadership. He’s now seen as a potential top-five pick, and there have been rumors recently he could even go No. 2 overall.

Draft bust alert: Former New York Giants star Tiki Barber, now an NFL analyst with CBS and a radio host, said recently on his WFAN show that he’s heard the rumors the Giants might draft McCarthy with their No. 6 pick (NFL.com’s latest mock draft has the Giants trading up to No. 4 to take McCarthy).

“Not happening. I’m just saying. Not happening,” Barber said. “I don’t want him. Not happening.”

Barber thinks McCarthy’s draft value has been inflated in part because of former Wolverines coach Jim Harbaugh, now with the Los Angeles Chargers.

“J.J. McCarthy thing, I’m tired of hearing it. Stop with the J.J. McCarthy thing,” Barber said. “His film doesn’t say he’s a first-round quarterback. His film doesn’t say, ‘I need to get rid of all my assets and go draft this guy,’ because a lot of what he does doesn’t translate. The scheme that he ran at Michigan — and maybe this is an indictment on the scheme and not necessarily on him — but it didn’t highlight the things that you need to do, second-, third-level reads, multiple combo routes that you have to get correct. He didn’t do any of that stuff.

“The J.J. McCarthy thing, to me, is a smokescreen. He’s getting inflated because Jim Harbaugh won’t stop talking about him. Now all of a sudden, he’s a top-four quarterback? I don’t buy it.”

Roger Rosengarten, offensive tackle (Washington)

Draft buzz: The former Huskies star was once viewed as a third or fourth-round pick but has steadily climbed the draft boards, thanks to a strong Senior Bowl performance. In his latest mock draft, Kiper predicts the San Francisco 49ers will take Rosengarten with the No. 31 pick. He notes Rosengarten didn’t allow any sacks in 1,158 pass-blocking snaps with the Huskies.

Draft bust alert: WalterFootball.com’s Ryan Eroh acknowledges the first-round buzz surrounding Rosengarten but is not a believer.

“I do not see that kind of talent,” Eroh wrote in mid-April. “Rogengarten has some athleticism and quickness, but he has a serious lack of play strength and an anchor that is problematic. Rosengarthen could be a disappointment as a first-rounder, and he will need to go to a zone team in order to be successful.”

Kool-Aid McKinstry, cornerback (Alabama)

Draft buzz: He’s athletic, has good size, and is exceptionally intuitive and intelligent at reading plays. He’s expected to go late in the first round.

Draft bust alert: Daniel Kelly, a former NFL scout, is not a believer. “I can’t get into Kool-Aid McKinstry’s game film in 12 games over the past two seasons. I just can’t,” Kelly writes on his FirstRoundMock.com. “The film doesn’t match the hype. The rest of the draft community seems to be in love with this Crimson Tide corner.”

Kelly then lists almost two dozen websites that have first-round grades on McKinstry. The former New York Jets scout doesn’t get the hype.

“McKinstry is good at covering in a straight line. … The issues begin when receivers start quickly and suddenly changing direction at the route breakpoints. That’s where they lose him,” Kelly writes.

“Scary — because the NFL is filled with elite-level receivers who can cut on a dime and leave corners five cents change.”

Chop Robinson, edge rusher (Penn State)

Draft buzz: Pro Football Focus said Robinson is an “alien-like athlete. He makes some jaw-dropping plays where he can fire off the line and get into the backfield with ease.” He’s expected to go somewhere late in the first round.

Draft bust alert: Ian Valentino, who has provided scouting services for the NFL, points out Penn State has a history of extremely athletic players who fall short of expectations in the NFL. While saying Robinson could break that trend, he admits he has question marks.

“Robinson produced many pressures and quarterback hurries in college but not many sacks,” Valentino wrote for The33rdTeam.com. “His burst off the line is elite, but his play strength, lack of length and limited move set have pushed someone with top-five traits into the late first round.”

Michael Penix Jr., quarterback (Washington)

Draft buzz: Size, speed, arm strength, leadership, and proven production are what every team looks for in a prototypical first-round quarterback. Penix checks all the boxes.

Draft bust alert: He’s been injury prone, with two torn ACLs and a couple of shoulder injuries in college. Those concerns have made him one of the toughest players to gauge in mock drafts, which have him going anywhere from low in the top-10 to the second round. Yet Penix hasn’t missed a game the past two seasons, and told ESPN at the NFL Scouting Combine he can’t control what teams think about him.

“I can’t control it at this point,” Penix told ESPN. “That was another reason I came back for the 2023 season, was to have another fully healthy season, just show I’m ready to compete and ready to do it at the next level. At this point I can’t control the questions about the injuries.’”

Several wide receivers in first round

Draft buzz: Three wide receivers in Marvin Harrison Jr., Malik Nabers, and Rome Odunze are considered top-10 picks, and some mock drafts have as many as seven wide receivers going in the first round.

Draft bust alert: Based on past history, there will be several receiver busts in the first round. The Athletic recently charted every first-round wide receiver picked since 2011. Bottom line: For teams drafting a receiver in the opening round, caveat emptor.

“There’s a 63 percent chance of drafting a bust or a reach (in the first round),” the story noted.

The study found odds against landing a star wide receiver in the opening round are even lower, less than 20%

While it may seem there’s no way Harrison, Nabers, Odunze, and a couple of others wideouts can possibly miss, those are not good odds. Teams that drafted Tavon Austin (No. 8 in 2013), Kevin White (No. 7, 2015) and John Ross (No. 9, 2017) all thought they were getting a future star.

Only time will tell which players in this year’s first round fall into the “bust” category. For now, the Chicago Bears are on the clock.

About Arthur Weinstein

Arthur spends his free time traveling around the U.S. to sporting events, state and national parks, and in search of great restaurants off the beaten path.