Boom-or-bust picks:

USA TODAY Sports Weekly - - NEWS - Michael Mid­dle­hurst-Schwartz

Bills quar­ter­back Josh Allen tops our list of high-risk, high-re­ward play­ers from the NFL draft.

Even af­ter teams pore over prospects for months, ac­cept­ing some de­gree of risk is a ne­ces­sity in the NFL draft.

Some play­ers, how­ever, have a more volatile pro­jec­tion than oth­ers. The “boom or bust” di­chotomy can also de­pend on the team that picks a player, as well as his cor­re­spond­ing op­por­tu­nity for de­vel­op­ment. (Re­call that Alex Smith, the No. 1 pick in 2005, was seen as largely dis­ap­point­ing for most of his ca­reer with the 49ers. Yet he set­tled in as a three-time Pro Bowler in Kansas City be­fore land­ing a mas­sive con­tract fol­low­ing his trade to Washington.)

Here are 10 picks from the 2018 draft that rank highly both on risk and re­ward:

Josh Allen, QB, Bills (No. 7 over­all):

Per­haps no in­com­ing player has a greater gulf be­tween po­ten­tial and pro­duc­tion. If the Wy­oming prod­uct is able to har­ness his abil­ity to make the high­light-reel throw into some sus­tain­able plan of at­tack, Buf­falo’s gam­ble to trade up for him will be well worth it. But Allen reg­u­larly strug­gled in the face of pres­sure, and he should face heaps of it be­hind an of­fen­sive line rav­aged by the loss of its three best starters this off­sea­son. Even if LeSean McCoy, who turns 30 this summer, man­ages to re­duce the heat on Allen — as­sum­ing he plays ex­ten­sively in 2018 — a lack­lus­ter re­ceiv­ing corps might strug­gle to ad­vance his de­vel­op­ment.

Mar­cus Dav­en­port, DE, Saints (No. 14):

Pound for pound, he might have had the best 40-yard dash mark (4.58 sec­onds) of any prospect at the NFL scout­ing com­bine. But that speed doesn’t al­ways trans­late to the field, as the 6-6, 264pounder’s pedes­trian ini­tial burst and lack of a pass rush plan might negate his oth­er­wise sig­nif­i­cant po­ten­tial. The Saints’ se­lec­tion of him was made even more risky by the fact that they gave up a firstrounder in 2019 to move up the board, and he’ll have to do more than take Cameron Jor­dan’s left­overs to war­rant that price.

Kolton Miller, OT, Raiders (No. 15):

The first draft class of the Jon Gru­den-Reg­gie McKen­zie pair­ing con­sisted of gam­bles through­out, none big­ger (lit­er­ally or fig­u­ra­tively) than Miller. The 6-9, 309-pounder rep­re­sents a con­sid­er­able bet on po­ten­tial, as the tech­nique and foot­work lapses he dis­played at UCLA will prove even more prob­lem­atic against NFL edge rush­ers if un­solved. He should be able to learn be­hind in­cum­bent left tackle Don­ald Penn for at least a year, but fail­ure to adapt could be cat­a­strophic since Miller isn’t built to kick in­side, where Oak­land is stacked any­way.

Leighton Van­der Esch, LB,

Cow­boys (No. 19): At his best, he looks ca­pa­ble of stay­ing on the field for any as­sign­ment that could be asked of a line­backer. Yet he’s some­thing of a wild card as a one-year starter who too of­ten lacked dis­ci­pline. Sean Lee and Jay­lon Smith seem like long shots to make it through the sea­son fully healthy, so Van­der Esch could be forced into ac­tion more than he’s ready for and po­ten­tially ex­posed with­out vet­eran pro­tec­tion.

Ter­rell Ed­munds, S, Steel­ers (No. 28):

His se­lec­tion had some of the draft’s coolest con­nec­tions, as Ryan Shazier an­nounced the pick that made him and brother Tre­maine Ed­munds (No. 16 to the Bills) the first pair of broth­ers to be taken in the first round of the same draft. But Pitts­burgh un­ques­tion­ably made the big­gest reach of Round 1, as there’s a strong case to be made Ed­munds wasn’t one of the top five safeties in this class. The Steel­ers can hide some of his shortcomings by lim­it­ing him his re­spon­si­bil­i­ties in cer­tain zone cov­er­ages, but he won’t be the man-to-man as­set that the team needs against the likes of the Pa­tri­ots.

Mike Gesicki, TE, Dol­phins (No. 42):

The for­mer vol­ley­ball stand­out is at his best when left to go up and pluck the ball from the air, so he could be­come dom­i­nant in traf­fic, es­pe­cially on red-zone tar­gets. But he’s not fully there yet, and his lack­adaisi­cal block­ing is bound to get him chewed out by ei­ther a coach or a team­mate. The hope is for him to end up as a Jimmy Gra­ham-type left to split out wide, but Adam Gase’s dal­liance with Julius Thomas high­lighted how those ex­per­i­ments of­ten fall flat.

Kemoko Tu­ray, DE, Colts (No. 52):

While at Rut­gers, he oc­ca­sion­ally looked like he had the skill set of a fu­ture Pro Bowler, with the abil­ity to con­tort around block­ers and close on quar­ter­backs. But he dis­ap­peared for stretches amid in­juries and is still quite raw. And, un­like Dav­en­port in New Or­leans, Tu­ray won’t even have the ben­e­fit of a dom­i­nant team­mate to mask his in­ex­pe­ri­ence or reg­u­larly af­ford him one-onone op­por­tu­ni­ties.

Donte Jack­son, CB, Pan­thers (No. 55):

His rare clos­ing speed (tied for a com­bine-best 4.32-sec­ond 40-yard dash) and spe­cial ball skills should serve him well on a Carolina de­fense that af­fords its sec­ondary op­por­tu­ni­ties to make plays. But at 5-10 and 178 pounds, he’ll be dwarfed by the likes of Julio Jones and Mike Evans in the NFC South.

D.J. Chark, WR, Jaguars (No. 61):

Jack­sonville loves to give Blake Bor­tles op­por­tu­ni­ties to go deep with play-ac­tion, and Chark’s 4.34 speed will make him a men­ace to cover down the side­line. But it’s hard to trust a player with hands as shaky as his, and the Jags might strug­gle to find more than a one-note role for him given his fre­quent fail­ures to fight for po­si­tion­ing on jump balls and un­der­neath routes. Bor­tles’ bouts with in­ac­cu­racy could also leave Chark frus­trated and al­low de­fenses to pay him lit­tle mind.

Brian O’Neill, OT, Vik­ings (No. 62):

At nearly 6-7 and 297 pounds, with nim­ble feet, he has the tools to be a high-end left tackle. Those traits won’t mat­ter, how­ever, if he can’t clean up his tech­nique is­sues, in­clud­ing a ten­dency to lunge. NFL de­fen­sive line­men might also feast on his vul­ner­a­bil­ity to the bull rush. If O’Neill proves to be a weak link on an oth­er­wise stel­lar of­fense, Mike Zim­mer won’t hes­i­tate to give him the hook.


Josh Allen is the high­est-drafted quar­ter­back in Bills his­tory. Allen reg­u­larly strug­gled in the face of pres­sure at Wy­oming and he should face heaps of it be­hind an of­fen­sive line rav­aged by the loss of its three best starters this off­sea­son.

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