Sunday, April 14, 2024

NFL Draft 2024: Comparing consensus top prospects in this year’s class to former infamous draft busts

I love pro comparisons. Adore them. Spend way too much time formulating them for prospects every draft season. 

Of course, comparisons are always “stylistic” and not solely based on things like height, weight or college program. And because I take them seriously and do so many, many comparisons for prospects aren’t exactly superstars at the NFL level. They can’t be, right?

I will say, in most cases, the top prospects in every class are universally compared to established stars. But even if you follow the draft on a casual level you know — many first-round picks never reach superstar status, and in fact, “bust.”

With that thought in mind, let’s compare the consensus top prospects in the 2024 class to former infamous draft busts. Hat tip to Purple Insider’s Matthew Coller for this idea. 

(VITAL DISCLAIMER: These are not my legitimate comparisons for these prospects. It’s just for fun.)

QB Caleb Williams (USC)

Bust comparison: Johnny Manziel

  • Pick and year: No. 22 overall, 2014 draft (Browns)
  • College: Texas A&M

Let me be clear — the off-field issues and incessant nonchalant mentality of being a professional quarterback from Manziel were two enormous components of why he became one of the most notorious quarterback busts of the 21st century. 

But let’s not pretend had his head been on straight in that period of his life, the overly chaotic on-field style of Manziel would’ve perfectly translated to the NFL. And it was only a decade ago when Manziel smashed SEC defenses with insane off-structure scampers and repeatedly found Mike Evans and Co. on the Aggies offense down the field when a completion felt impossible. Manziel certainly won from inside the pocket too en route to being a first-round selection. 

Does all that sound like anyone?

EDGE Dallas Turner (Alabama)

Bust comparison: Barkevious Mingo

  • Pick and year: No. 6 overall, 2013 draft (Browns)
  • College: LSU

Mingo was the combine darling of the edge-rusher class of 2013. Spectacular performance for the chiseled, explosive outside speed rusher from the vaunted Tigers program. His numbers didn’t jump off the statbook though, as he managed just 15 sacks and 29 tackles for loss in his three-year college career at LSU. His most productive season came as a sophomore.  

While not exactly the same career arc as Mingo, Turner had a pressure-generation rate under 13% in each of his first two seasons at Alabama before erupting in 2023 when that rate jumped to 18.8%. After his breakout campaign as the No. 1 rusher on the Crimson Tide defense, Turner scorched the track in Indianapolis at the combine, running 4.46 with a 40.5-inch vertical. 

With Turner, like Mingo, there’s no doubting his elite athleticism. But if he flops in the NFL, it will look like Mingo’s disappointment in Cleveland and beyond. 

QB Jayden Daniels (LSU)

Bust comparison: Robert Griffin III

  • Pick and year: No. 2 overall, 2012 draft (Commanders)
  • College: Baylor

Sleek, supremely gifted scrambler with impeccable deep-ball touch in college. The one-sentence scouting report on Daniels and Griffin III. Oh yeah, they both won the Heisman too. Comparable athletes with comparable frames and strengths, Daniels and RG3 were nearly identical in the weakness category too in that they tended to take off too early and absorbed too many sizable hits in college. 

Like with RG3, if the latter continues in the NFL, Daniels could very well take too much punishment early that’ll shake his confidence. While I’ll never predict injuries, and many quarterback injuries actually occur inside the pocket, you can never prepare yourself for taking shots in the open field as a quarterback.  

QB Drake Maye (North Carolina)

Bust comparison: Blake Bortles

  • Pick and year: No. 3 overall, 2014 draft (Jaguars)
  • College: UCF

Bortles had an NFL frame, a stellar collegiate career without loads of NFL talent around him, and his running capabilities were a nice cherry on top of his draft resume. At UCF, he made a variety of pro-caliber throws and was a real threat with his legs, especially on read-option keepers. 

While, yes, Bortles did have a 35-touchdown season and played in an AFC title game in 2017, and was excruciatingly close to advancing to a Super Bowl, he never quite met the expectations that come with a No. 3 overall selection. 

If Maye fails to meet expectations for whenever he’s picked in the first round, it’ll feel similar to Bortles because of their size and stylistic similarities. There isn’t a throw on the field Maye believes he can’t make, and he was a designed run-game weapon for Mack Brown’s Tar Heels over the last two seasons. 

WR Malik Nabers (LSU)

Bust comparison: Corey Coleman

  • Pick and year: No. 15 overall, 2016 draft (Brows)
  • College: Baylor

In a strange first round of 2016, Coleman was the first wideout off the board, after the Browns moved out of the No. 2 overall pick in a deal that netted the Eagles Carson Wentz. At the time, many thought the Coleman pick was sensible for Cleveland. He was electric at Baylor, scoring 31 touchdowns at right around 18 yards per grab in his final two seasons. 

At 5-foot-11 and 194 pounds, Coleman ran 4.37 with a 40.5-inch vertical and 10-foot-9 broad at the Baylor Pro Day. The boxes were seemingly checked. Except once he got to the NFL, his rawness as a route-runner disallowed him from advancing his game to where it needed to be as a true No. 1 receiver. 

It’s easy to say now that Nabers feels a lot safer than Coleman but if there’s one knock on the LSU star’s game, it’s that he didn’t need to run many routes to be a big-play machine in the SEC. 

WR Marvin Harrison Jr. (Ohio State)

Bust comparison: Kevin White

  • Pick and year: No. 7 overall, 2015 draft (Bears)
  • College: West Virginia

White arrived on the scene at West Virginia and rocked down the football field immediately, averaging nearly 15 years per grab with five scores in 2013 before a bodacious 1,447 yards with 10 scores in 2014, including a dynamic outing in the season-opener against an Alabama secondary oozing with future NFL talent. 

Now, White’s bust story isn’t entirely fair, as injuries to his legs were the main culprit for his slowed and eventually totally halted development. Nonetheless, tracking long balls majestically into his outstretched arms never really materialized in the NFL like it did for the Mountaineers. And Harrison was a downfield specialist at Ohio State in his three seasons in Columbus, and he’s similarly sized to White, who was mostly a boundary receiver in college too. 

TE Brock Bowers (Georgia)

Bust comparison: O.J. Howard

  • Pick and year: No. 19 overall, 2017 draft (Buccaneers)
  • College: Alabama

Howard could play in the NFL, he just fell well short of massive expectations that came with his top billing as a high school recruit and what early-career splashes at Alabama indicated he may become as a professional. 

And that’s the story of Bowers to date. Like Howard, he looked like a future first-round pick in his freshman season, and the production never stopped building in the ultra-competitive SEC. Howard was longer and leaner than Bowers, but when the Buccaneers picked him in the middle of the first round in 2017, it was widely viewed as one of the safest selections in the entire draft, that Tampa Bay just had their tight end for the next decade. And Howard just never matured as a player. He caught six touchdowns as a rookie but never reached 40 grabs in a season or hit the 600-yard plateau. 

This comparison is based on the hype at the tight end spot and how each prospect had said NFL hype begin when they were 19 years old. 

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