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2017 NFL Draft: 8 biggest boom-or-bust players on defense

When discussing "boom-or-bust" prospects, most people focus on the "bust" factor. The players listed below, however, are mentioned because of their great potential, not because I expect them to fail. You can't have a "boom-or-bust" player without the "boom".

However, NFL scouts do have questions about these players that will play into the evaluation process. Players with great talent don't always make it in the NFL. Their failures are sometimes due to injuries, inadequate willingness to prepare, and things out of their control like coaching changes. Teams must, therefore, consider risk vs. reward when deciding if they'll invest an early round draft selection on a talented prospect with question marks.

NOTE: Click on each player's name for a full scouting report and click through the tabs above to see the boom-or-bust prospects on offense and defense.

Over the past two years, scouts, media, and fans alike have seen the glimpses of size and athleticism that give Williams a chance to be an elite pro pass rusher. They've also seen Williams disappear at times, even playing limited snaps on early downs in some games (partially due to the depth of Alabama's defensive line rotation). There are also off-field issues with Williams that concern NFL teams. Still, it's likely that there will be coaches who beg their general managers to select Williams early in the draft because they believe they can get the most out of his coveted skill set. Time will tell if he will stay out of trouble off the field and convert his athletic gifts into production.

Everyone knew McDowell was athletic, but his performance at the NFL Scouting Combine earlier this month exceeded expectations. He also flashed explosiveness off the snap during his three years in East Lansing. Will that be enough to force teams to consider him in the top 10? Possibly, but his production and consistency in college did not portend a selection that high in the draft. It's possible that teams will wait on him and that he'll be selected him later in the first round -- in the range of recent picks like Arik Armstead (17th overall), Nick Fairley (13), and Robert Nkemdiche (29 -- but his skills might be tough to pass up earlier.

One of the top recruits in the country when he arrived at UCLA, Vanderdoes exploded onto the scene, becoming one of the rising defensive stars in college football. Unfortunately, a knee injury in the first game of 2015 sidelined him on his way to the NFL. He returned to play in 2016, but his production decreased (29 tackles, 1.5 for loss) while his weight increased. Vanderdoes got his weight down from 320 at the Senior Bowl to 305 for the combine, though, and the result was an exceptional display of athleticism that earned second looks from around the league. If he can stay healthy and motivated, Vanderdoes could be one of the top defenders in this class -- a team might take a chance on him in the top 50 in the hopes he looks as disruptive as he did earlier in his career with the Bruins.

Like every player on this list, the upside of Lawson's game is immense. He exceled in combine testing, showing the necessary agility to be a starting rush linebacker at the next level. When he was at the top of his game at Auburn, he was a constant presence around the ball. Lawson missed significant time in college with knee and hip injuries, however. Scouts also didn't see a variety of pass-rush moves or elite change-of-direction ability from Lawson on the outside. A team (or more specifically, a coach) that can help him smooth out the rough edges of his game could get a fantastic value.

There is no safety in this year's draft with better range in the deep half than Hooker. However, there are also few safeties with less experience (one-year starter, 179 plays in his redshirt freshman season, two years of high school football). He was also unable to work out at the combine and his pro day as he rehabs from surgery on the labrum (hip) and sports hernia surgery. The upside to Hooker's game portends a Pro Bowl-caliber player who's able to affect plays on either sideline from a single-high position. But there is an element of risk for teams selecting any one-year starter who is coming off surgery.

Jackson's clearly an athlete with the ability to be an excellent returner, but his inconsistency in man coverage (see his game last fall against Washington receiver John Ross) and slight frame (5-foot-10, 186 pounds, 31 3/8-inch arms) are causing concerns about his ability to match up well with NFL receivers. The Jim Thorpe Award winner is not contact-shy, however, and is able to convert turnovers. In a zone-heavy system, he could excel. As with most prospects, the way Jackson is utilized at the next level will play a large part in determining if he'll reach his potential in the NFL.

Anzalone is an instinctive, athletic player who could be a very good inside linebacker in the NFL. He's looked good at the Senior Bowl and combine after missing the second half of the 2016 season with a broken left arm. Injuries have been a problem for Anzalone since arriving at Florida, as he struggled through multiple maladies as a freshman and missed all but two games of 2015 with a shoulder issue. Talent alone would dictate a mid-second-round selection, but picking him there might be difficult for teams given his history. As coaches say, the most important ability is availability.

If Allen's college tape was the only factor in his evaluation, then he wouldn't be on this list. But his arthritic shoulders are an issue that teams picking in the top five have to consider. Also, Allen's strength in moving aside college offensive linemen was impressive, but will he be able to do that against pro players on Sundays? Especially with potential shoulder issues? There's no question Allen should be a top-15 player, but there is a $12-13 million difference in teams' investment between picks 3 and 12.

Follow Chad Reuter on Twitter _@chadreuter_.

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