The NFL Draft is, and always has been, the offseason transaction period that best allows a franchise to better their roster for the long-term. Likewise, each year in the draft there lies a spread of high-profile college players, who's game may or may not translate effectively into the professional, NFL level. The hype machine for college players who fall into this category is always substantial, if not borderline excessive. Some live up to the high praise, and some fall flat, not worthy of the first round pick that was spent on them.
Thankfully, for the sake of entertainment, the situation is similar for the 2017 NFL Draft. There are a handful of players getting much of the press, and some of them aren't going to be as good as predicted. In the realm of college football, players are stars for a variety of reasons, and not all of them connote future success at the NFL level. Inevitably, some of the prospects in the 2017 draft will have their careers result in mediocrity, or even worse, bust out of the league all together. Let's take a look who this will apply to, and who will be able to overcome the massive jump from college ball to the NFL.
Ranked below are 8 college football stars who will excel in the NFL, and 7 who will underachieve.
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15 EXCEL: T.J. Watt, Wisconson
The younger brother of one of the best defensive lineman in the NFL, J.J. Watt (of course), T.J. had a standout season at Wisconsin as a linebacker, and seems as NFL ready as they come. He can play both the run and the pass effectively, and can do a bit of everything at the position. This versatility will make him an attractive pick for most NFL teams who run a 4-3 defense. While Watt could be seeing significant playing time as a rookie, it may take a while before he starts hitting his peak production. So while he's not going to be up the level of his older brother as soon as he steps on an NFL field (and who would?), there remains a good chance for him to land in the upper-tier of the league's linebackers as he develops. A good pick late in the first round here.
14 UNDERACHIEVE: Jabrill Peppers, Michigan
There's no doubt that Peppers is a superior athlete, and can play multiple positions on the field. He's got a knack for versatility, which could aid him at the next level, but he also has some questionable cover skills. Considering that he's most likely going to end up as a safety in the NFL, this is a cause for concern. Peppers has blinding speed, but the mental aspects of playing the position may take a while to develop in the NFL, if they end up doing so at all. Michigan was helped mightily by having him on the field this year, but Peppers may end up being a player who was a better college player than he was in the pros. In the second round or later he would be a worthy pick, but there will probably be a reach for him, and he'll go somewhere in the first round instead.
13 EXCEL: Sidney Jones, Washington
Jones is a tough, no-nonsense cornerback, and one of the players at the position in this year's draft. He aided the Huskies to their best season in a long time, and he'd be an asset to just about any NFL team's cornerback roster. His physical nature and adequate speed mean he'll likely be able to start as a rookie if needed, which could boost his value even further. When it's all said and done, Jones could end up being the first cornerback taken in the entire draft, which is hard to argue with at this point in the evaluation. There should be potential suitors all across the league for him. Just a technically sound, physical player who should be able to make an impact right away, in the right situation.
12 UNDERACHIEVE: O.J. Howard, Alabama
While he will likely be a fine NFL player, the way people are projecting Howard as a potential top-ten overall pick as a tight end, may be a bit of hyperbole. He had a stellar career at Alabama, but his projection could be higher than his future NFL production will warrant. We've seen tight ends be overvalued in the draft in recent years (looking at you, Eric Ebron), and it's a risky proposition to draft one when so many other productive players at different positions are on the board in round one. It's extremely doubtful that Howard ends up being a bust, but he could end up just being "pretty good", and if he's taken somewhere in the top-20 of this year's class, that may not end up being a good return on the investment.
11 EXCEL: Dalvin Cook, Florida State
Many believe that Cook is the best all-around running back prospect in this year's draft, and for good reason. He's had one of the best careers in the history of the Seminoles, which is saying something, considering the slew of talent that always emerges from there. Cook is effective as a rusher or a pass-catcher, which will increase his value no doubt. He's the kind of player that can be a featured running back right away for a team in need, which all but ensures that he'll be taken somewhere in the top-20 overall. It may be a running back-heavy draft class this year, but Cook stands above the rest when you consider all aspects of his game. He should be effective in the NFL right away, and live up to the hype.
10 UNDERACHIEVE: Deshaun Watson, Clemson
Watson may be the most high-profile quarterback in this year's class, but that doesn't mean he's the best option out there for the position. In fact, many would say that he suffered a down year for the Tigers this season, struggling with accuracy, and sound decision making, both of which are inevitably needed to excel at the NFL level. Then there's the additional aspect of reading defenses, and being able to play in a pro style offense, making necessary audibles at the line of scrimmage, etc. There's no questioning his athleticism, but Watson may have a ways to go before he's ready to be an NFL starter. Despite the fact that Clemson added a National Championship to their trophy case last season, and Watson was a significant reason why, his skills may not translate into the pros quite so quickly. He should be taken in the third or fourth round, but realistically will go much higher.
9 EXCEL: Derek Barnett, Tennessee
Contrary to some other views out there right now, Barnett is the best pass rusher in the draft this year, and should be a top-ten overall pick. Whether or not that ends up happening is still up in the air, but many have Myles Garrett ranked ahead of him right now as far as defensive ends go. That may end up being a mistake. Barnett has elite strength and combination combination, to go along with a toughness that is rarely seen at the college level. He may even be able to start effectively from the beginning, a rare thing for a player at his position. Even if Barnett falls to the middle of the first round, it's a steal for any team that could select him. He's the total package for a defensive lineman, and will be a star in the NFL. On the other hand...
8 UNDERACHIEVE: Myles Garrett, Texas A&M
Garrett will probably be a good NFL player when it comes down to it, but the talk of him going number one overall is overrating him just slightly. His speed is NFL ready, but other aspects of his game are not. The return on Garrett will probably be that of a late first rounder, which is still very good, but ultimately a disappointment if he were to be drafted in the top-five of the class. He has the kind of raw talent to prove this prediction wrong, but Barnett is a more NFL-ready player, and the upside for both players is roughly the same. Both are definitely the best two options for defensive end in this class, but Garrett is is the lesser of the two, all things considered. If he drops to the middle of the first round, then it could end up being a worthy pick.
7 EXCEL: John Ross, Washington
There are probably more polarizing opinions on Ross than any other player in the draft right now. First off, he has absolutely blazing speed, that will immediately translate into taking the top off of a defense in the NFL. The question lies in his strength against physical corners, along with his potential for injury, since he's dealt with a knee issue in the past. Overall, Ross is probably worth the first round selection, and could develop into one of the best receivers in the league in a year or two. If he's drafted into a situation that compliments his skill set well, that development could materialize even faster. He's not an absolute surefire bet, but a skill set like his is valued in the NFL, and he can be schemed to get open consistently in the right offensive system.
6 UNDERACHIEVE: Christian McCaffrey, Stanford
McCaffrey got a ton of press while at Stanford, being the son of a former NFL player, and an exciting player to watch in general. It's easy to see why he was effective at the college level, but his NFL potential is a bit more limited. There's been talk of him hitting in the first round at some point, and his skill set just doesn't seem to translate to the pros at that production level. He can certainly be an asset to an NFL team, but McCaffrey is probably closer to a backfield swiss army knife such as Danny Woodhead, than he is a featured running back that can carry a heavy workload. He's got some upside as a pro player, but on recognition alone he'll probably be drafted too highly for what he actually is.
5 EXCEL: Marshon Lattimore, Ohio State
Lattimore is probably the most talented raw cornerback in the draft this year, and will likely be a top-ten pick. It will be worth it though after a year of development. His athleticism is off the charts, and he won't struggled with matching up to NFL receivers in that regard. He's young, but he could develop into one of the truly great corners of the era, something that most teams in the top half of this draft would love to have on their roster. In all, Lattimore is probably going to be the first corner taken this year, and in a stacked draft for that position group, it means that his sky is the limit. Lattimore will become a top-five cornerback in the NFL very quickly, barring any injury.
4 UNDERACHIEVE: Corey Davis, Western Michigan
There are some that believe Davis is the best wide receiver in the draft this year, and if you go strictly off of his highlight tape, it's difficult to argue with that estimate. He was a statistical maven at the college level, has great size for a receiver, good hands, and has shown to be a playmaker. Of course, he played many of his games against teams in the MAC, which hardly boasts a quality level of competition, compared to a power five conference. Furthermore, he's been limited when he's played against legitimate teams (Ohio State, for example). Davis could be great, or could be a complete bust, and it's risky to take such a player in the middle of the first round, which is where he's currently projected. Davis' output will likely be that of a second rounder instead.
3 EXCEL: Mike Williams, Clemson
On the other hand, Williams is probably a surefire bet in the middle of the first round, as far as receivers go. He played against big-time competition, and can do just about everything from a skill set standpoint. He just stands out when he's on the field, the kind of player that you know if going to be a go-to receiver in the NFL, who can be a legitimate game-breaker. Some minor injury concerns aside, Williams is the best option for receiver in the draft, and will live up to his first round selection, especially if he's paired with a quarterback that can get him involved right away. Consider Williams one of the safest bets in the entire draft, and an elite receiver in the NFL once he gets his footing.
2 UNDERACHIEVE: Leonard Fournette, LSU
To many, Fournette is considered the best running back in the class this year, and it's easy to see why. He's reminiscent of a young Adrian Peterson, the way his power running game blasts through defenses on a regular basis. While this may be true (and that running style is never a guarantee to translate into the NFL), his blocking and pass-catching skills will come into question in the pros, as they are substantially weaker than everything else in his skill set. In today's NFL game, an increasing amount of running backs are expected to be able to be a receiving threat, and to pass protect, which may not give Fournette the chance to be a three-down player. For someone projected to be taken in the upper half of the first round, this is a concern. In fact, Fournette has some frighteningly similar qualities to Trent Richardson, who busted out of the league very early. Consider him a major under the radar question mark.
1 EXCEL: Reuben Foster, Alabama
Pound for pound, Foster may be the most talented player in the entire draft. At the very least, he'll be the best linebacker taken, completely worthy of a top-ten overall selection. He simply dominated at Alabama, and was the hallmark player on their defense in 2016. Foster is the definition of a "can't miss" prospect; whichever team ends up getting him is going to receive an immediate plug-and-play linebacker who can be moved all over the field. He's a hard hitter who can play the run, or if needed can drop into coverage equally as well. Far and away the best linebacker in the draft, and will be taken very early. It will ultimately be worth it, and Foster will be prove to be an elite NFL player in short order. A true generational talent.
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