Every draft pick comes with risk. Some more than others. There are also prospects who present upside that could outweigh the risk of the player not working out. This is the type of balancing act needed for the NFL Draft.
The extreme cases of these players are typically labeled “boom or bust.” The name is catchy, but there is always a middle ground for these prospects, too. For this exercise, we can consider these the players with the widest range from ceiling to floor or considering the talent available at the same position or draft range, ones that carry a bit more risk for the drafting team.
Let’s look at a few prospects who fit that description and are expected to be selected around where the New York Giants will pick in the first two rounds.
Rashan Gary, DL, Michigan
Gary has been a highly regarded prospect because of his athleticism. That athleticism is still apparent and isn’t going anywhere. Gary tested as one of the most athletic players at the NFL Combine, with a SPARQ score — a composite testing metric — in the 95th percentile of NFL edge rushers. The problem is there just hasn’t been production anywhere near what the athletic profile would suggest.
There is a lack of a plan when Gary rushes the passer. That’s not exactly rare for super athletes, but even those players win more often with their athleticism.
Over his three-year career at Michigan, Gary totaled 9.5 sacks and 23 tackles for loss. Last season alone, Josh Allen 17 sacks and 21 tackles for loss at Kentucky. They’re not exactly the same players, but one has been able to turn more raw athleticism into production.
Gary has drawn comparisons to other raw pass rushers like Ziggy Ansah, but the problem with that is that Ansah was still new to football when he got to BYU. Gary got to Michigan as one of the most sought after recruits in the country.
During the 2018 season, Gary played in just nine games. In that time, he had 3.5 sacks, 7.5 tackles for loss, and just nine run stuffs. Per Sports Info Solutions he had a pressure rate of just 12.4 percent, which would be above average for an interior defender, but well below average for an edge rusher. Part of the problem, too, is where Gary will play. At 277 pounds, he played both edge and on the interior for the Wolverines. At the NFL level, Gary will need a coaching staff to both develop his pass rush technique and put him in a position to succeed on the field. That sounds obvious, but not every NFL team has that ability.
Gary is currently mocked to the Giants at sixth overall in 10 percent of mock drafts, per the SB Nation mock draft tracker, the third-most picked player behind Dwayne Haskins and Montez Sweat.
Drew Lock, QB, Missouri
Most of the 2019 quarterback class could be placed here, but let’s focus on Lock who might be the boomiest/bust-iest of the group. There are things to like about Lock — the size and the arm strength and some flash plays that show great potential. But then there’s the other side — the inconsistency, the inaccuracy, the poor decision making. This is the guy who threw a screen pass to a player who wasn’t there.
I have officially found my favorite throw from any quarterback in this draft class.— Dan Pizzuta (@DanPizzuta) February 20, 2019
Let me now present to you “Drew Lock and how a play can go the most amount of wrong.”
Unlike some of the other “big arm” prospects in this draft, Lock does have the touch to make that arm strength meaningful. Per Sports Info Solutions, only Kyler Murray had a higher on-target percentage on passes more than 25 yards down the field than Lock in this draft class. But Lock’s accuracy is problematic in the short and intermediate areas of the field, a range he’s likely to throw significantly more passes in the NFL — especially a Giants offense that isn’t exactly set up for a high volume of deep passing.
What makes the bust potential so high for prospects like Lock — and Daniel Jones, who lacks Lock’s upside — is accuracy rarely improves. Of the nine quarterbacks to get drafted in the first two rounds and play significant time over the past two seasons, none have reached a higher on-target percentage than in his last college season and only two came even within one percent below — one of them (DeShone Kizer) was the least accurate of the group, so that doesn’t help much. Inaccuracy can occasionally be masked in college, but in the NFL where coverage is typically better, it becomes a bigger problem.
Dexter Lawrence, DL, Clemson
How Lawrence is viewed among NFL teams will depend on how they view positional value. A team values strong run defense up the middle could view Lawrence quite favorably. But taking a player like Lawrence high in the draft is an all-in bet on outstanding run defense with little in the way of interior pass rush. Lawrence is a 350-pound interior defender who spent 48.1 percent of his snaps at nose tackle last season and 48.7 percent as a 3-technique defensive tackle, per Sports Info Solutions.
Lawrence played in the middle of a dominant Clemson defensive line and part of that cut into his production. He only had 13 run stuffs and 7.5 tackles for loss this past season while Christian Wilkins, his linemate, had 16.5 run stuffs and 12.5 tackles for loss. However, per SIS, 41.7 percent of runs at Lawrence were bounced to another gap — one of the highest rates among this class of defensive tackles.
For Lawrence to play up to where he could go in the draft, he’ll either have to become an extremely dominant run defender or improve his pass rush skills. His college pass rush was based on being a gigantic human being, which will be slightly less effective in the NFL. More technique will be needed at the next level.
If Lawrence is just a good run defender, the opportunity cost of missing out on some of the other available interior defenders in this deep class who can be good against the run and better against the pass could be massive.
Parris Campbell, WR, Ohio State
There is so much projection involved in Campbell’s game. He was great speed — 4.31 40 at the combine — but success at wide receiver comes from nuance and there wasn’t much of that for Campbell at Ohio State. Campbell lined up in the slot on 86.5 percent of his snaps, per SIS, and his average depth of target (aDOT) was just 4.5 yards past the line of scrimmage. The only player close to that mark in this year’s draft class is Deebo Samuel, whose 7.8 aDOT is still more than three yards further down the field.
As one could imagine with that type of aDOT, not many of Campbell’s routes went deep — just 32.3 percent of his routes went further than 15 yards down the field, per SIS. Despite the speed, Campbell was never asked to be a deep threat for the Buckeyes, he was more of a glorified running back from the slot. More troubling, his positive play percentage — the percentage of plays that resulted in positive Expected Points Added — against man coverage was just 38.1 percent against a class average of 54.1 percent. For as much as Campbell was involved in the passing game, the Ohio State offense wasn’t significantly more productive when going his way compared to other receivers on the team.
Prior to Ohio State’s Pro Day, Adam Schefter suggested Campbell was a projected first-round pick. Now there is the difference between not being asked to play a certain role and not having the ability and that’s what teams will have to figure out with Campbell. Right now, he’s a player an offensive coach has to have a plan for current usage and future development.
Jabrill Peppers, S, New York Giants
Considering the amount Dave Gettleman and others, but Gettleman especially, has put over Peppers as a second first-round pick from the Odell Beckham trade, it feels fair to put him here. The stakes and opportunity cost surrounding Peppers’s acquiring — lack of another pick, sitting out early picks at safety, still having Odell Beckham — put a lot of weight on Peppers’ performance over the next two seasons.
Usually when trading for veteran players, the acquiring team knows what it’s getting from a longer track record of play in the NFL than the unknown of a draft pick. But that hasn’t really been the case for Peppers. We still don’t know exactly what he is or what his consistent level of play will be. He spent much of his rookie season 25 yards off the line of scrimmage because defensive coordinator Gregg Williams thought that was a good way to stop deep passes (it was not). Then last season, he played more in the box but struggled more than Landon Collins in coverage without being as good as Landon Collins at everything else. Peppers was 57th among 59 safeties who saw at least 20 targets last season by Adjusted Yards per Attempt, which weights yards with touchdowns and interceptions.
Peppers has to play better than that to live up to how hard the Giants are selling him as a first-round pick replacement, especially since only two years remain on his rookie deal before a fifth-year option kicks in that should give him a significant raise. The stakes are just as high — if not higher — for Peppers to work out as it is for either of the Giants’ first-round picks this year.