Several factors go into the success of any draft pick, and not all of those factors are controlled by the player. The player had control of his talent, his development, his on-field acumen, and his ability to stay straight off the field. Beyond that, he must hope that he’s in a hospitable set of schemes that magnify his attributes and minimize his liabilities until and unless those liabilities can be ironed out. If any of these factors start to go awry, the prospect’s potential starts to dissipate, and you may just have a bust on your hands.
Here are five players taken in the first two rounds of the 2020 NFL draft who could be standing on various precipices, and could wash out if everything doesn’t go right.
Justin Herbert, QB, Los Angeles Chargers
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Some quarterbacks come out of the chute with absolute boom-or-bust potential in that if you were to compile a reel of their best throws, you’d think said quarterback was the best player in his draft class. The problem with this kind of selective scouting is the stuff left on the cutting room floor. The Chargers took Herbert sixth overall in the 2020 draft in part because, at 6-foot-6 and 236 pounds and with the ability to shoot the ball out of his cannon of an arm all over the field, he fits the NFL’s preferred “Big Guy/Big Arm” prototype for quarterbacks.
Last season, per Pro Football Focus, Herbert completed 27 of 69 passes of 20 or more air yards for 874 yards, 12 touchdowns, two interceptions, and a passer rating of 114.3. If you want a vertical passing game, and a young quarterback to fulfill it, that seems like a perfect match.
The problem with Herbert? Well, it’s most of the other stuff. On passes of 10-19 air yards last season, his passer rating dropped to 106.5, and on passes of 0-9 air yards, his passer rating dropped yet again to 89.7 — which ranked 89th in the NCAA. And while he did improve under pressure to a serious degree last season (his passer rating under pressure went up from 58.8 in 2018 to 102.2 in 2019, per Sports Info Solutions), his iffy ability to go through his progressions, a maddening tendency to freeze when committing to throw on the run, and obvious issues with all the moving parts that can plague bigger quarterbacks will set him back if he’s not completely committed to the process.
In short, Herbert is the kind of quarterback who makes the glamorous stuff look easy, and the subtle things look nearly impossible. That is a prototypical formula for a boom-or-bust guy.
Touchdown Wire’s own Mark Schofield has a fascinating breakdown of Herbert’s “interesting” decisions here:
Damon Arnette, CB, Las Vegas Raiders
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The Raiders took Arnette with the 19th overall pick, and went back in the fourth round at the cornerback position to take Louisiana Tech’s Amik Robertson. Based on tape, it could be argued that Robertson was the better player in 2019, though Arnette’s 2019 showings were pretty respectable, and he’ll improve what was one of the league’s weakest cornerback groups — as long as he’s used correctly. Both Arnette and Robertson are at their best when they’re allowed to press receivers at the line of scrimmage, though Robertson is more fluid in off and slot coverage, and Arnette is a highly aggressive cornerback at all times.
Here, against Indiana, he makes a great play in the right defensive slot because he’s able to trail his receiver from the start. This is where he thrives.
What the Raiders are hoping is that Arnette will build on the breakout season he had in 2019. In his previous two seasons, he gave up more than 800 total yards, per PFF, and allowed completions on more than 60% of his targeted passes. But last season, he shaved that down to a completion rate of 44.6%, and he gave up just 306 yards, and 25 completions on 58 targets for an opponent passer rating of 60.6.
One of the reasons for that improvement is that Arnette was asked to play less man coverage — 65% in 2018, and 51% in 2019. The schematic adjustment allowed Arnette to be as aggressive as he likes, without his relative lack of downfield trail speed and ability to flip his hips to adjust to more angularly adept receivers becoming obvious liabilities. As long as the Raiders are going to be a zone-based team in 2020 (last season, per Sports Info Solutions, the Raiders played zone on 54% of their snaps, which ranked 21st in the NFL), Arnette has the attributes to make an immediate contribution. But he’s not a scheme-transcendent player right off the bat, and the adjustment period could take a while.
K’Lavon Chaisson, EDGE, Jacksonville Jaguars
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The Jaguars have long been one of the most forward-thinking franchises when it comes to advanced metrics, though there’s not always a direct line from the analytics department to the scouting staff in any organization. Chaisson, selected 20th overall, presents a fascinating conundrum when it comes to production versus potential. Last season for the national champion Tigers, Chaisson put up 6.5 sacks, seven quarterback hits, and 21 quarterback hurries in 370 pass-rushing snaps. In his three-year collegiate career, he’s totaled 8.5 sacks, eight quarterback hits, and 34 quarterback hurries.
To put that in perspective, second overall pick Chase Young had 16.5 sacks, seven quarterback hits, and 31 quarterback hurries… last season. And yes, Young is a different type of player, but if you’re taking a player in Chaisson with this kind of middling production, you’re banking a lot on potential, and there are some worrisome traits when it comes to Chaisson’s ultimate NFL upside.
While Chaisson does zoom around the edge with estimable speed, and he does have an interesting-but-nebulous bull rush in his palette, he also has a tendency to get absolutely erased by power tackles. Georgia’s Andrew Thomas, taken fourth overall by the Giants, put Chaisson in his place on a loop last season.
— Anthony Rivardo (@Anthony_Rivardo) April 3, 2020
We suppose the Jaguars hope Chaisson will become the next Danielle Hunter — another former LSU edge-rusher who came out of college with amazing raw traits and a desperate need to bolster them with technique. Hunter eventually did, but Chaisson has a lot of catching up to do.
Jordan Love, QB, Green Bay Packers
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Much of what has been said about Justin Herbert can be said about Jordan Love — both good and bad. At 6-foot-4 and 224 pounds, and with an arm that can absolutely make any throw you’d want him to make, Love fits the suit. The Packers certainly thought so, because they caused quite the tizzy by trading up and taking the Utah State alum with the 26th overall pick. Quite the move to make when you’ve got Aaron Rodgers under contract through 2023, with some fairly massive cap considerations over the next couple of years.
Not that the Packers are pushing Rodgers out the door, but this is a clear acknowledgement that head coach Matt LaFleur and general manager Brian Gutekunst have gone to their local hardware store, purchased a door, and are in the process of sawing a hole for it. To that end, they put their faith in the ostensible future of the quarterback position in Green Bay in Love, who had some of the prettiest throws in the NCAA last season, but also threw 17 interceptions to 20 touchdowns in 2019. At the 2020 scouting combine, Love referred to those negative plays as “17 learning moments,” which is nice, but how does he get past them?
Love now has time in the incubator as Rodgers plays out the end of his career (or, at least, the end of his career with the Packers), and very much like Herbert, he’s a guy who at this point is very good at making the spectacular look simple, and the complexities of the position look impossible at times. Last season, Love completed 30 of 85 passes of 20 or more air yards for 992 yards, 10 touchdowns, five interceptions, and a passer rating of 95.0. On throws of 0-9 air yards, he completed 107 of 152 passes, with no touchdowns and six interceptions, and a passer rating of 68.7. And this is a guy who, per Pro Football Focus, had 26.5% of his completions last season come on screen passes. It’s a weird inverted pyramid of efficiency.
Not to say that Love is an irredeemable player; but the Packers had best know that it may take a good chunk of his rookie contract to smooth out the bumps. That’s not an ideal market efficiency.
Grant Delpit, S, Cleveland Browns
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Last season, the Browns had a bunch of safeties on their roster, and only Morgan Burnett played at what you might call a credible level in coverage. Clearly, the idea was to get younger at the position, as the franchise has done estimably with cornerbacks Denzel Ward and Greedy Williams. So, the selection of Delpit with the 44th overall pick in the second round made a great deal of sense. In fact, if you’re paying attention only to Delpit’s coverage abilities, it’s one of the steals of the 2020 draft. Yes, Delpit could be the next in a line of great safeties coming out of LSU, adding his name to a list that already includes Jamal Adams, LaRon Landry, Eric Reid, and Tyrann Mathieu.
Last season, Delpit lined up all over the place, and when in coverage, he was effective just about everywhere. Per PFF, he had 385 snaps at free safety, 149 in the box, 316 in the slot, 10 at outside cornerback, and 24 on the defensive line. Overall, he allowed just 14 receptions on 22 targets, with two interceptions, four forced incompletions, and an opponent passer rating of 71.1. He also had 15 run stops and 45 solo tackles.
The problem with Delpit’s NFL potential, though, is the 800-pound gorilla in the room we haven’t yet mentioned: He throws his body around with an alarming carelessness, and he misses tackles at a frightening rate. Last season, he missed 20 tackles, and his 36 over the last two seasons is one of the highest totals in the FBS.
Moreover, Delpit’s issue isn’t just one technical thing that can be easily fixed. He’ll lunge at ballcarriers without wrapping up, he’ll go for the feet when he should aim higher, and at times, he’ll just flat-out whiff. There are other times when… well, let’s not say he’s looking to avoid contact, but judge for yourself.
Delpit has the coverage talent to erase potential big plays, but his tackling could create just as many.