There’s no such thing as a simple NFL Draft. In a simple NFL Draft, the top prospects go in roughly the order they were scouted in, the “can’t miss” guys become instant stars, and the later round players only become role players at best. However, we all know that isn’t how it works. It’s never worked like that. A normal NFL Draft includes a bevy of busts, plenty of sleepers, and no shortage of surprises. It’s just the nature of the beast. There’s no way to predict exactly how players are going to turn out no matter how many of the top scouts you have monitoring them leading up to draft day. There are going to be busts and surprises no matter what.
While it may be impossible to accurately predict the long-term prospects of every player entering the NFL Draft, there are a few things that we’ve seen from the busts and surprises over the years that make it that much easier to identify which players will fall into each category. From players that are so “can’t miss” that there’s almost no chance they will actually live up to hype to those slightly undersized guys with heart and work ethic to spare, we’ve seen a lot of stories over the years that might not match the scouting reports but are starting to adhere to the new normal of the NFL Draft. It’s hardly a science, but here are our guesses for the 10 biggest potential 2019 NFL draft busts and the 10 biggest steals.
20 Potential Bust - Nick Bosa (DE, Ohio State)
The general consensus is that Nick Bosa is going number one overall in the 2019 NFL Draft. The Cardinals own the pick and would certinaly love to add an elite pass rusher opposite of Chandler Jones. He’s certainly one of those players that teams would kick themselves for passing up on. However, recent college football history has taught us that there’s rarely such a thing as a “can’t miss” prospect (especially on defense).
Nick Bosa will probably end up being a fine NFL player, but he wasn’t quite as dominant in college as Mario Williams and Jadeveon Clowney were. On top of that, his injury and decision to skip the rest of his final year could be causes for concern.
19 Potential Steal - Daniel Jones (QB, Duke)
There are many scouts who think that Daniel Jones could go in the first round of the NFL Draft, but they see him going late in the first-round if he goes there at all. We think teams are undervaluing him in terms of the first-round QB prospects. Jones is built for the NFL (6’5”, 220 lbs), throws a very catchable deep ball, and has the ability to take the rock for a run when he has to. There are concerns regarding the quality of opponents he faced at Duke, but there’s a lot to like about this kid in terms of whether or not he’s NFL ready. In a draft thin on elite QB prospects, Jones could very well leave a lot of teams regretting passing on him.
18 Potential Bust - Drew Lock (QB, Mizzou)
As you’re soon going to discover, this year’s NFL Draft is potentially very dangerous for anyone desperate for a franchise quarterback. The fact is that the top QB prospects just aren’t as strong as they have been in recent years, or will be in the 2020 and 2021 drafts. That’s especially true of Drew Lock. What concerns us about Lock is that he operated in a very “college-style” offense, and he’s a big-arm quarterback that has some accuracy problems. Drew Lock’s ceiling might be Matthew Stafford, and we’re not entirely sure that’s a good thing. Someone will risk picking him, but it is a risk.
17 Potential Steal - Karan Higdon (RB, Michigan)
Higdon has a few things working against him that have little to do with his actual skill set. First off, only top-tier potentially generation running back talents tend to go in the first round. Second, Higdon wasn’t used as an every down kind of back and might not be one. However, Higdon has showcased tremendous talent during the times he was handed the ball. We don’t know if Higdon is going to be the next major starting running back in the NFL, but he’s a tremendous change of pace option for any team lucky enough to snag him later than the first.
16 Potential Bust - D.K. Metcalf (WR, Ole Miss)
There’s a lot to like about D.K. Metcalf. He’s big, he’s fast, and he’s shown excellent pass catching ability. He’s a promising prospect, but he’s a prospect. That means that he’s a piece of mostly raw talent who NFL teams are going to undoubtedly take a chance on. However, the truth of the matter is that few of those prospects, particularly at receiver, have worked out well in recent years. Metcalf just hasn’t been a consistently dominant player in college football where a guy with his measurables should dominate. There’s a chance he turns it around in the NFL, but it’s a gamble nonetheless.
15 Potential Steal - Andy Isabella (WR, UMass)
Yes, Andy Isabella is undersized. Yes, he played in a conference not known for hosting top-tier talent. However, a quick look at Isabella’s numbers reveals that he has the potential to really light things up. There’s no way that Isabella is going to be able to carry a team as their number one receiver, but if you throw this guy into the role of a possession receiver (maybe even a slot receiver) and let him just burn people on quick cuts, he could prove to be a real asset along the lines of a Wes Welker type. In the right system, Isabella could thrive.
14 Potential Bust - Ed Oliver
There was a time when Ed Oliver and Joey Bosa were seemingly competing for the right to be the first overall pick in the NFL Draft. That conversation is pretty much over now, and the reasons why that’s the case leaves us with some doubts regarding his overall position in the upcoming draft. Ed Oliver is an aggressive and talented player, but his slightly smaller size casts some doubt regarding his ability to play in anything but a 4-3 defense. On top of that, Oliver isn’t quite as big as some people think he is. He could struggle to get to the QB, as he'll have to get past massive bodies in the NFL.
13 Potential Steal - Josh Oliver (TE, San Jose State)
The 2019 NFL Draft class is certainly not lacking in terms of tight end prospects. That’s certainly part of the reason why Josh Oliver has seemingly fallen down the draft charts. After all, most of his stats came during his final season, and he’s unproven as an all-around player. However, there’s nobody that doubts his work ethic or his potential as a pass catcher. There are teams that just straight-up need a pass-catching tight end, and we’ve yet to hear from the scout that says Oliver can’t fill that role. He’s probably not a first-rounder, but he’s a steal after that.
12 Potential Bust - Kyler Murray (QB, Oklahoma)
One of the biggest dramas leading up to the draft was the debate surrounding whether or not Kyler Murray will enter the NFL Draft or opt to play baseball instead. It now seems that Murray has his heart set on the NFL. However, we’ve got some doubts concerning his pro potential. Murray has talent to bring, but he’s very small even in terms of small quarterbacks. Some people say that Murray has a Russell Wilson ceiling, which is nice, but Wilson’s development was aided by the presence of a great defense and an elite running game. With the way most QBs are thrown into the fire, we don’t know if Murray will have the same chance to develop, especially if he's a high first round pick.
11 Potential Steal - Oshane Ximines (DE, ODU)
With so many top-tier defensive line prospects expected to go early in the draft, it’s really no surprise that Oshane Ximines isn’t getting a lot of love. Ximines is limited in terms of his ability to be purely dominant, and there are certainly some concerns as it relates to his ability to get to the quarterback. However, Ximines has shined as a run stopper in the past who is able to use his quick moves to get past blockers. Ximines will need to have a great combine to go higher, but we think that someone might end up stealing him late.
10 Potential Bust - Clelin Ferrell (DE, Clemson)
Clelin Ferrell’s star certainly rose just as Clemson was making their National Championship run. His dominant defensive presence certainly helped Clemson reach the peak of the college football mountain, but there are reasons to doubt that he will be worthy of the possible top-ten pick that someone might eventually spend on him. For one thing, Clelin Ferrell lacks the complete toolset that the other defensive end prospects in the draft boast. There’s also the matter of Ferrell not really putting coming along until his senior year and the fact that he benefited from playing with some other NFL quality players.
9 Potential Steal - Alijah Holder (CB, Stanford)
The knocks against Alijah Holder are all fairly understandable. There are reasons to believe that he can be straight up burnt by the fastest of receivers, and he hasn’t really proven himself to be the kind of corner who will aggressively stop outside runs to his side. Those issues aren’t insignificant, but as a possible number two cornerback on a team, Holder’s ability to excel in zone schemes and his consistency with open-field tackles makes him a real asset. As long as he’s not covering someone like Tyreek Hill, Holder’s smart play and first five yards coverage ability will translate well to the next level.
8 Potential Bust - Dwayne Haskins (QB, Ohio State)
There seems to be a growing consensus that Dwayne Haskins is the top overall quarterback prospect in the NFL Draft. He lacks some of the intangibles and upside of Kyler Murray and Drew Lock, but he’s a solid all-around player in almost every other respect. On paper, Haskins looks solid, but the fact that there aren’t many people who think he’s a runaway must-have QB in a year of questionable QB prospects speaks to Haskins’ lack of game-breaking intangibles. He looks like a solid quarterback, but he would need to be in the right situation to really make a difference for his team.
7 Potential Steal - Devin Singletary (RB, FAU)
In 2017, Devin Singletary went off for 1,920 rushing yards and 32 touchdowns. Granted, he was playing for the Florida Atlantic Owls, but numbers like that force you to turn your head. The knocks against Singletary are going to be the lack of premiere competition he faced in college and his slightly smaller size. However, at a time when most NFL teams are employing two running backs for change of speed purposes, it’s easy to imagine Singletary finding a little niche for himself due to his absolutely incredible ability to read a play and make the right moves.
6 Potential Bust - Greg Little (OT, Ole Miss)
Greg Little seemingly has everything you want in an NFL offensive lineman. He’s big, he’s strong, and he’s been a top prospect ever since he came out of high school. However, you can’t have a conversation about Little without eventually getting to his intangibles. Some people have said that Little has a lack of aggressiveness and work ethic. You sometimes see that in guys who have gotten by based on their physical gifts. Start putting Little against a line of equally gifted defensive players, and Little might not shine quite as bright as he has through his career up until this point.
5 Potential Steal - Jovante Moffatt (S, Mid Tenn State)
It’s hard to find a good safety in the NFL. The position itself is a pretty thankless one that requires a special athlete to really master. Hey, not everybody can be Ed Reed. The story on Jovante Moffatt for much of this NFL Draft season has been the fact that he has sustained notable, recent injuries and he didn't create turnovers. However, Moffatt also so happens to be one of the hardest hitting and quickest safeties entering this year’s draft. While we don’t think he’s going to be a ball hawk terror down the field, he’s someone that will complement a decent pair of corners quite well.
4 Potential Bust - Byron Murphy (CB, Washington)
There’s actually much more to like about Murray than there is things not to like about him. He’s fast, he knows how to stick to a receiver, and you’ll never catch him giving up on a route even if he’s “beat.” It’s hard to argue against any of that, but the problems with Murray are more about how he will perform when he starts going against NFL receivers. Murray is a bit smaller than the most dominant corners in the league, and we wonder what he’s going to do if he’s matched up against a bigger NFL receiver who is just as aggressive.
3 Potential Steal - Jamarius Way (WR, South Alabama)
Production in college football is an odd thing. It’s entirely possible to put up big numbers in college football and do nothing in the pros. On the other hand, it’s just as possible to put up pedestrian numbers in college and do very well in the NFL. We think that Jamarius Way might be in the second category of players. No, he didn’t tear it up in college all of the time, but he also wasn’t playing on the most gifted team. A guy with his size, speed, and fundamental ability might just be able to make it in the right system.
2 Potential Bust - J.J. Arcega-Whiteside (WR, Stanford)
Whiteside is a big, fast, and strong proven receiver who is seemingly everything you want from a wide receiver. However, there’s something to be said for considering the quality of opponents when drafting any college star. So far as that goes, we haven’t seen Whiteside matched up against many defenders who can just beat him physically. That’s why he’s been able to pad his stats a bit with deep balls that were sometimes almost entirely uncontested. Remove that aspect of his game, and you start to wonder whether or not Whiteside is going to be anything more than an outside possession receiver.
1 Potential Steal - Jonathan Ward (RB, Central Michigan)
There are many reasons why Jonathan Ward isn’t projected to light up the draft boards. There are real concerns regarding his ability to handle a full workload, he was a little hit and miss in college, and it’s not like he faced a bunch of world beaters. However, it’s hard not to love Ward’s size, speed, and general abilities. We get that Ward won’t be seen as a top running back heading into the draft, but as a possible change of pace back, you’ve got to love his quick cuts, great reads, and even his willingness to block. He also has upside as a receiver.