With Valentine's Day coming up, it seems to me that there are some similarities between online dating and scouting draft prospects.
Teams can read through the prospects' profiles (in this case, scouting reports). General managers and scouting directors can interview them on campus, at an all-star game, or at the NFL Scouting Combine. But the fact is that you don't really get to know a person until you spend a lot of time with them outside of the initial "getting-to-know-you" phase.
With that in mind, I've picked seven players below that teams might consider "boom-or-bust" prospects.
All of the players listed below could be excellent NFL players, but might need to improve a part of their game (or prove they are capable in a certain facet) through working with their new coaches and teammates if they are to reach their potential. These players offer plenty of promise, and come with a bust factor that could scare some teams away.
First-round or second-round quarterbacks are "boom or bust" almost by definition, so I'm not going to include any here. QBs Jacoby Brissett, Connor Cook, Jared Goff, Christian Hackenberg, Paxton Lynch, and Carson Wentz are all going to be under the microscope early in their careers and will be labeled "boom" or "bust" if they are picked early in the draft.
1. Shawn Oakman, DE, Baylor: The prototypical "boom-or-bust" prospect, Oakman's size, physique, and flashes against dominance will entice some defensive line coaches to think they can "make a player out of him." His lack of lower-body strength, inconsistent motor chasing plays and inability to make plays against better competition have some believing he'll be a third- or fourth-round pick instead of the top-10 pick his physical characteristics would warrant. If he's picked later in the draft and is willing to put in the work to become better, some team could end up with a steal in the Calais Campbell/Chris Canty/Michael Johnson class.
2. Robert Nkemdiche, DT, Ole Miss: Even before the bizarre incident that led to his suspension from the Sugar Bowl, Nkemdiche was a bit of an enigma to scouts. His athleticism is off the charts and he earned All-American notice the past two seasons, even though his production was not commensurate (11 tackles for loss, five sacks over last two seasons) with most nationally recognized players. Watching him play, you can see how disruptive he can be using a quick first step. However, without a strong track record of finishing plays, and in light of the off-field concerns, it won't be surprising if he falls down boards a bit.
3. Braxton Miller, WR, Ohio State: There's no doubting Miller's athletic ability. He said last summer that he was the best athlete in college football, and he'll get a chance to prove himself at the combine. The question for most scouts was whether he possessed the hands to play receiver at the next level. His play as a senior showed no cause for alarm on that front. Now, Miller has the task of trying to prove to evaluators that he can master the intricacies of the position with only one year of collegiate experience under his belt. He didn't get a lot of opportunities in Ohio State's offense this year (26 catches in 13 games).
4. Derrick Henry, RB, Alabama: Henry proved himself worthy of the Heisman Trophy and helped the Tide roll to a national title. The question is: Will his upright running style translate to the NFL? There are not a lot of tall backs in the league, as they tend to get chopped down or take big hits from linebackers if unable to run behind their pads consistently. He'll also need to prove himself in pass protection and as a receiver out of the backfield. However, when he does lower his pads inside, he can move the pile. And he's by no means slow, despite his size. So could he be an Eddie George-type back? Absolutely. That's why a team will select him in the first or early second round.
5. Leonard Floyd, OLB, Georgia: Tall, long, and lean pass-rush prospects have had mixed results in the NFL. For every Clay Matthews, Manny Lawson, and Julian Peterson, there is a Dion Jordan or Barkevious Mingo. Unfortunately for Floyd, the latter two were the more recent selections, leading scouts to wonder if Floyd has the strength and flexibility to consistently hassle quarterbacks on Sundays. In fact, Floyd managed just 3.5 sacks in his junior year at Georgia, down from 6.5 and 6 the previous two years, respectively. There's certainly nothing wrong with Floyd's "want-to," and his ability to blow through gaps and around the corner when in pass-rush mode are impressive. As an early entrant, he has time to add onto his frame in a pro strength and conditioning program. He deserves to be an early-round pick, but how early will depend on teams' willingness to project another 20 pounds onto his frame over the course of the next couple of years.
6. Shon Coleman, OT, Auburn: Coleman's battle to beat cancer is amazing, and I join everyone else in the football world in rooting for him to excel in the NFL. There are times where he destroys his competition, using his length and strength up top, and he shows very good agility to reach linebackers in space. However, facing veteran pro linemen will be a challenge for him due to a lack of strength in his lower body. His long legs might also cause issues, because although he plays with a wide base, that width can cause him to lose recovery speed and fall prey to better pass-rush moves.
7. Mackensie Alexander, CB, Clemson: One of the top recruits in the country coming out of high school, Alexander clearly has the physical characteristics to be an excellent NFL cornerback and is a mid-first-round value. Though not the tallest of defenders, Alexander's size is adequate and he has great speed and arm length to break up passes downfield. He also has the attitude that a successful pro cornerback needs to overcome the inherent disadvantage of the position. Scouts will have questions about his physicality and tackling ability, though. The fact that he's played just two seasons of college ball (he redshirted as a true freshman due to injury) adds a layer of uncertainty. Alexander had just 11 pass breakups and no interceptions during those two years, partially because opposing quarterbacks didn't want to throw toward him. But NFL passers will pick on the rookie all day long, and he hasn't had a chance to prove he can convert turnover opportunities.