The first round: who to stay away from

Everybody loves to predict busts. This guy has character concerns and that guy is too small. The truth is that writing prospects like that off is a dangerous business. For every player that wasn’t athletic enough to make an impact, there’s a Tom Brady and a Wes Welker. For every player that got caught up with off-the-field issues, there is a Ray Lewis and a Michael Vick. Most of the time, players become busts for a reason that isn’t as obvious as what “experts” are pointing to with Ryan Mallett, Jimmy Smith, and Nick Fairley. Here are the players I believe are too risky to take in the first round.

7. Muhammad Wilkerson, DT/DE, Temple: Wilkerson has a rare combination of size and athleticism that will allow him to succeed as either a 3-4 defensive end, or as a 3-technique (DT) in a 4-3 scheme. However, coming from a small school, scouts want to see you dominate your opponents, not just your potential. While Wilkerson flashes extraordinary talent, he plays down to the level of his competition too often. If he can’t be a difference maker in the MAC, I doubt he will find much success in the NFL. He’s worth a draft pick in case the light comes on for him, but the first round comes with too lofty of expectations.

6. Aldon Smith, DE/OLB, Missouri: Smith’s burst and athleticism are truly remarkable coming off the edge, and there’s no question that he can develop into a great pass rusher. It’s the amount of development that he has in front of him that concerns me. He needs to add a lot of strength, and he plays far too upright right now to make an impact against superior tackles. Nobody questions his ceiling or potential, but it’s no guarantee that he will go from a tall, lanky kid to a solid, fundamentally sound defensive end.

5. Cam Newton, QB, Auburn: Cam Newton is another one of those players who has unlimited physical ability, but is just too far away from being a productive pro. In Carolina, his playbook will not be centered around the QB draw and QB sweep. He will not be throwing ten bubble screens a game, and he will not be able to outrun safeties or bulldoze linebackers. He has no experience whatsoever in a pro-style offense, has not proven that he can throw intermediate routes, and should not be forced into the starting role, which is probably what will happen in the event that he is the first player chosen. In his defense, he performs very well under pressure, is ready for the rigors of the NFL, and is supremely talented. Still, he needs too much work and is not worthy of a high first rounder.

4. Jake Locker, QB, Washington: As I stated earlier, prospects usually don’t bust because of one obvious factor. However, poor accuracy is too important of a factor for an NFL quarterback to overcome. Locker’s character, mobility, and toughness cannot make up for this deficiency in his game, and as much as I’d like to see him succeed, the odds are truly stacked against him.

3. Prince Amukamara, CB, Nebraska: Pick a random Nebraska tape. You likely see an incredibly sound cornerback who plays with great instincts, awareness, feet, and technique. He is likely blanketing receivers and being much too physical for them. You are likely ready to take him in the top ten, unless of course you picked up the Oklahoma State tape. I know it’s only one game, but when he lines up against a receiver of Justin Blackmon and gets beat over and over again, it does not look good. He’ll be expected to lock down receivers at least as good as him in the pros.

2. Blaine Gabbert, QB, Missouri: If Andrew Luck had decided to come out, Gabbert would not be a top five pick. He played in a ridiculous offense, which I thought was a spread punt formation at first. He has no pocket presence, and strikes me as arrogant. His deep ball needs a ton of work, and I see him as a fit in a west coast system only. I think the best he can be is a more mobile Chad Pennington. That’s not first-round material.

1. Nate Solder, OT, Colorado: Is Nate Solder really supposed to be a left tackle? He is tall and very gifted, but his athleticism does not translate to the field at all. He plays like his feet are stuck in the mud, and you cannot play tackle in this league without feet. I realize that he’s improving and new to the position, but projects like him usually go in the fourth round. I don’t understand why he’s regarded so highly.

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