No draft prospect is a perfect player, but some get more love than they probably should. That can be scary, especially if you have misgivings about a particular player and you see them rising up the draft board.
This week, our writers are sharing their fears about prospects generating buzz in the run-up to the draft.
Evan “Tex” Western: EDGE Arden Key, LSU
Jon and I discussed this today: it’s not a good sign when your top Google result is as follows:
Key was once a top-ten-caliber prospect, and he might display the athletic ability to warrant that type of attention this weekend, but as the highlighted article notes, there are questions all over about him off the field. He left the LSU program for a short time last year, for reasons that were never explained. His weight has fluctuated wildly over the past year-plus. He had a significant shoulder injury last summer.
He also never gave interviews at LSU, so his media availability on Saturday should be fascinating, and teams will surely put a lot of stock into their one-on-one interviews with him. However, unless we find out what happened during his career at LSU, I’d much rather see the Packers stay away from Key and find a different player to boost the pass rush.
Jonathan Barnett: EDGE Harold Landry, BC
Landry missed the final four games of the regular season and the Pinstripe Bowl due to an ankle injury. The combine physical will be very important as teams judge him. He has started since his Sophomore season and had a giant Junior campaign. The return for his Senior year led to decreased production and injury. His sack rate dropped from almost 1.4 sacks per game to just over half a sack a game. Also saw his tackles from loss drop from nearly two a game to just over one a game. He has speed and could be in the area where the Packers are picking in the first round, but it might be hard to predict what he will be going forward. There was no Senior Bowl practice for Landry and he has not been on the field since October 21, 2017. Intriguing and risky.
Paul Noonan: WR Calvin Ridley, Alabama
I saw @Peter_Bukowski making similar points on twitter the other day, and I just can’t get past Ridley’s age. I could if he were some kind of physically imposing monster, but he simply isn’t, and while I guess I understand why he’s the consensus top receiver in the draft, I wouldn’t touch him with a ten foot pole unless he plummets. There are so many things about Ridley that just scream “old guy dominating kids” and age matters a ton with prospects. First of all, his stats don’t blow anyone away, and he averaged just 10.7 and 11.7 yards per reception as a freshman and sophomore for Alabama. You can excuse that in a lot of ways, but he’s old now, and he was old for his level then too, and it’s not as if he wasn’t being targeted. In fact, his junior (final) season where he did jump up to 15.3 yards per reception, he was actually targeted less than in previous seasons.
Alabama isn’t a passing juggernaut, but the good thing about playing offense for the Tide is that you never have to face their defense, and the rest of the SEC isn’t exactly a murderer’s row of great defensive play. His final year was impressive, but how impressive would it look if we wasn’t a known, heralded prospect? He didn’t crack 1000 yards, scored only 5 TDs. He lit up Mississippi State and Mercer, but did nothing against Auburn, Clemson, and Georgia.
Ridley is just 6-1, and under 200 pounds, and he’s essentially the same age or older than Tyreek Hill (23) Sterling Shepherd (23), JuJu Smith-SChuster (21), Amari Cooper (23), and Duvin Funchess (23). He is basically only a year younger than Allen Robinson. Davante Adams and Ridley both have late December birthdays. This year, Adams will celebrate his 26th birthday and 5th season in the NFL while Ridley celebrates his 24th birthday just as his rookie year comes to a close. Given that it often takes receivers a few years to put it all together, there just isn’t enough value there for a first rounder.
Jon Meerdink: EDGE Marcus Davenport, UTSA
Marcus Davenport is among the most popular mock draft targets for the Packers, and it’s easy to see why. He’s a tantalizing physical prospect, possessing great length and excellent speed off the edge. He looks great on highlight films… until you start seeing the names of opponents on film.
While there are are a lot of factors that go into who a player ends up facing in his career, it’s hard to give a guy a lot of credit for beating up on Conference USA opponents. For example, nearly a third of Davenport’s career sacks came against Rice and Alabama State, both well known as traditional football powerhouses.
To be sure, there is something to be said about dominating your level of competition, and to a degree Davenport did that. But seeing his statistical resume bolstered by big numbers against schools most teams would consider cupcakes, it does give me some pause. Combined with the apparent need for him to put up big Combine numbers to be taken seriously as a prospect (like Arden Key above), I’d prefer if the Packers went a different direction.
Shawn Wagner: The Top Pass Rushers/Sam Darnold
I agree with each of the above notes on Key, Landry, and Davenport and I’d also throw Ohio State’s Sam Hubbard into the mix. Outside of Bradley Chubb, I feel the potential for bust is abnormally high for this year’s top ranked edge rushers. Unfortunately, this is a year in which Green Bay would have the best opportunity to snag a top-end talent at that position with a higher pick in the first two rounds.
Key’s consistency and desire are absolutely under fire despite his superb athleticism. Landry will struggle mightily to hold the edge against the run in the NFL even with great speed and bend around the corner as a rusher. Davenport has the length, speed, and size you search for but is raw in terms of his technique outside of his speed and bull rush moves. His competition at UTSA also raises questions. Hubbard’s work ethic makes him safer, but he’s not an elite twitchy athlete. Sure, any or all of these players could eventually become major contributors or stars in the NFL, especially an athlete like Davenport that could flourish with NFL coaching. But it’s a risky proposition almost every year with edge rushers and this year maybe even more so.
If I can throw in a runner-up, it’s Sam Darnold. Another position of extreme risk in this year’s draft is quarterback and I’ve struggled with Darnold all season. I’ve watched a few games against better competition and never came away impressed, questioning his decision making and release many times. There’s more time for him to win me over between now and draft day, but if I’m the Cleveland Browns picking first overall I’m having trouble choosing Darnold like several experts have.
Peter Bukowski:s Arden Key DE LSU
First off, let me just say, I feel personally attacked by some of the names on this list (I’ve made by affection for Davenport and Landry well known by now) but there are good people on many sides.
For me, the answer is Key. He produced a ton in 2016 for LSU, coming mostly off his pure athletic talent and some scheme and that was the worst thing that could have happened for him (on the field). The hype was too much. He got hurt in 2017 and now comes into the draft with injury concerns, size concerns—he’s not anywhere near the 265 LSU lists him —plus attitude and off-field questions. I just don’t think he has a clue was he’s doing out there, and clearly that extends off the field. A lot of fans want him. He’s all upside. I’m passing unless I can get him late on Day 2. No thanks.