2021 NFL Draft Boom-Or-Bust Players: Zach Wilson & More Risk-Reward Picks
As part of his continuing 2021 NFL Draft analysis, Marcus Mosher offers up his Top 5 2021 NFL Draft Boom-Or-Bust Players.
In every draft, there are a handful of players that we deem “boom-or-bust” prospects. Typically, these are players with elite athleticism and little production or injury concerns that could keep them from reaching their ceiling. The 2021 NFL Draft has several players who fall into this category, many of whom will be selected in the first round. Today, we are taking a look at the riskiest players in the draft, who, if they hit, could all become Pro Bowl players. So without further ado, let’s dive into the list.
5 Biggest 2021 NFL Draft Boom-Or-Bust Players
1. Zach Wilson, QB, BYU
Before the 2020 college football season, Wilson wasn’t even on the radar of NFL scouts. As a sophomore, he threw just 11 touchdowns to nine interceptions in nine starts for BYU. With two years of eligibility left, most scouts didn’t even think he would be in the 2021 draft.
But after a monster junior season, Wilson is now the presumed No. 2 pick to the New York Jets. What is concerning about Wilson outside of just the one year of solid production is that he played behind arguably the best offensive line in football. Rarely was he touched and forced to make throws under pressure. That will undoubtedly change in the NFL as the Jets have one of the worst offensive lines in the NFL.
On top of that, the competition that Wilson faced in 2020 wasn’t all that daunting. In the toughest game of the year, Wilson looked pedestrian against Coastal Carolina. BYU lost that contest and Wilson threw for just 240 yards and one touchdown (with one interception). He put up big stats against bad teams such as Texas State, North Alabama, and Troy. But when it came time to play against another ranked team, the production was mediocre. Wilson’s talent is undeniable. But there is some significant risk here.
2. Jayson Oweh, EDGE, Penn State
Penn State’s Jayson Oweh is a rare player. In fact, we’ve never quite seen an athlete like him. At 6’5, 257 pounds, Oweh ran an official 4.37 40-yard dash at his Pro Day. Not only is he fast, but he’s explosive too. Oweh posted an incredible 39.5 inch vertical along with a 134-inch broad jump. Both of those numbers put him in the elite category for explosion.
So you would think that a player of Oweh’s size and athleticism would be a sure-fire first-round pick in the NFL Draft, right? Well, that’s not the case and it’s due to what he did (or didn’t do) on the field. Despite playing in 24 games for the Nittany Lions, Oweh totaled just 13.5 tackles for a loss. Typically, first-round EDGE rushers rack up around 1.5 tackles for a loss per game. Obviously, 0.56 tackles for a loss per game is less than ideal. But what is more concerning is the sack totals for Oweh.
During the 2020 seasons, Oweh started seven games and failed to record a single sack. He also was unable to record a forced fumble or an interception and was non-existent for Penn State. A team will likely gamble on Oweh in the first round, but he is a long way away from becoming a polished pass rusher. Right now, he’s just an athlete who is still learning the position.
3. Jaelan Phillips, EDGE, Miami
Arguably the biggest boom-or-bust prospect in this class is Jaelan Phillips from Miami. Unlike Oweh, Phillips is a polished player who also has elite athleticism. During the 2020 season, he totaled 15.5 tackles for a loss in 10 games and recorded eight sacks. He was a second-team All-ACC and one of the best pass rushers in the country.
On talent alone, Phillips is close to the Bosa brothers, who were both selected inside the top-three picks of their respective drafts. In fact, Phillips is more athletic than both brothers but might not be quite as powerful. Either way, he is an elite prospect with a big-time NFL ceiling.
However, Phillips makes this list due to his prolonged and severe injury concerns. During his short collegiate career, he was diagnosed with three concussions, had a high-ankle sprain in 2017, a broken wrist in 2018 that required two surgeries and a broken hand when in high school. The ankle, wrist and hand injuries are scary enough, but the concussions are the most problematic.
Phillips was forced to medically retire after the 2018 season due to concussions (UCLA) but was eventually cleared by Miami’s doctors to play in 2020.
Teams will have to do a ton of research into Phillips’ medical history before selecting him in the first two days of the draft. If he can stay on the field, he has All-Pro potential. If not, he could be out of the league before his rookie contract ends.
4. Trey Lance, QB, North Dakota State
There are several other quarterbacks we could have put on the list, including Mac Jones of Alabama and Kyle Trask of Florida. However, we are going with Trey Lance from North Dakota State.
First and foremost, the competition level is a concern as the Bison rarely played a team with a single NFL quality player on the roster. On top of that, North Dakota State is a powerhouse in their conference, winning the national championship at the FCS level in eight of the last nine years. Even the most polished quarterback coming from the FCS level should bring about some concerns considering just how big of a jump it is to the NFL.
Then there is Lance himself, who has started just 17 games in college. If you look at the numbers alone, they are mindboggling. In 2019, he threw 28 touchdowns and no interceptions while being named a unanimous All-American. He also added 1,100 yards on the ground and 14 touchdowns with his legs. He’s an incredible athlete with a strong arm and a big body that will remind teams of Dak Prescott.
However, Lance is far from a finished product. His accuracy comes and goes and when facing even slightly better competition, his production dropped in a major way. In his only game in 2020, he threw for just 149 yards while completing only 50 percent of his passes. He is also prone to fumbles and has never really been put in a situation where he was pressured or forced to lead his team to a comeback.
Lance has all the tools to be a great quarterback in the NFL, but he is untested and unproven. It would be wise for a team to draft him and sit him on the bench for a year to get up to the speed of the NFL. Otherwise, it could be really ugly early in his career as the jump from FCS to the NFL is quite a leap.
5. Kadarius Toney, WR, Florida
There aren’t many boom-or-bust prospects at wide receiver, but Florida’s Kadarius Toney certainly qualifies. Toney is a bit of a one-year wonder as he totaled just 501 receiving yards in his first three years at Florida. In his defense, the Gators didn’t know how to use him, lining him up as a running back and as a wildcat quarterback.
Toney broke out in 2020, catching 70 passes for 984 yards and ten touchdowns. While his senior season in Gainesville was good, it certainly wasn’t elite or dominant compared to other potential first-round picks. Toney is an incredible athlete who treats every offensive touch like a punt return.
He is dynamic in the open field and can take any play to the house with his 4.37 speed. Teams looking to add speed from the slot or from the backfield may want to consider Toney at the end of Round 1 or top of Round 2.
However, teams will have to weigh how raw of a prospect he is as a receiver versus how explosive he is when it comes to the draft. Is he more of a gadget player right now, or is he ready to contribute as a full-time receiver?
Considering the limited route tree and the frequent drops, the answer might be that he needs to be schemed touches early in his career to be successful. Those types of players have a hard time succeeding in the NFL and reaching their full potential. Don’t be surprised if Toney falls some in the 2021 NFL Draft as teams aren’t quite sure what his role will be in the NFL.
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