3 NFL Draft prospects who could have shocking fall on draft night

No matter how many times they are burned by baseless rumors and pre-draft reports that are later proven beyond a shadow of a doubt to be untrue, NFL fans continue to believe everything they hear until they’re given the actual results during the draft. For example, in the days and hours before the 2023 NFL Draft, , a stock that was boosted in part because of a Reddit post claiming Levis said he was going to the Carolina Panthers at 1.

Levis didn’t even go in the first round, slipping to the first pick of Round 2. And yet, nobody seems to be using that information to be skeptical of reports that J.J. McCarthy could go as high as second overall to the Commanders or that there could be other prospects getting propped up much higher by the media than they’re viewed in actual NFL circles.

Nobody knows yet what will happen on Thursday, but these three prospects have better odds than most to be overrated in mock drafts.

Not top 10: QB J.J. McCarthy, Michigan

Though J.J. McCarthy is not being overrated to the extent that Will Levis was overrated in 2023 or Malik Willis was overrated in 2022, but maybe on par with how much Justin Fields was overrated in 2021. Though there was speculation of the 49ers being interested in Fields at third overall and rumors of teams trading up for Fields in the top 7, ultimately he went 11th after the Bears traded a future first-round pick to go get him.

Even after he won the National Championship, McCarthy was only being given an average mock draft position of 24th overall at mockdraftdatabase, a number that dropped to 38th right before the combine. So what changed at the combine? Nothing we didn’t expect.

For the last year, all we’ve heard is that McCarthy is going to interview well at the combine and generate interest from coaches who would then become excited to work with him. But if the good interviews were expected then how could it have really improved his draft stock? To have his draft stock go up, logically that should imply that something unexpected happened to move him up boards.

But McCarthy didn’t stand out in the throwing session and didn’t have the historic testing day that Anthony Richardson had in 2023 to solidify himself as a top-5 pick.

Yes, McCarthy is a good athlete but his game isn’t suited to run the football from the quarterback position. He’s a thrower and he’s a work-in-progress who doesn’t come with three or four years of being a full-time starter under his belt to gives teams confidence that they know what he is going to be like in the future. Like McCarthy, Richardson and Trey Lance went in the first four picks despite lacking experience, but they are both physical specimens with tools reminiscent of Josh Allen and it is perhaps only because of Josh Allen that quarterbacks like those two end up going that early.

McCarthy isn’t 6’5, 230 pounds with 4.4 speed and a cannon. He’s 6’2 and weighed 219 at the combine, which could mean he’s actually 205-210 on game day and his 9” hands are on the small end.

None of this is meant to imply that J.J. McCarthy is doomed for failure in the NFL. Nothing about this exercise is meant to forecast a player’s future in the NFL; this is only about where he will be drafted and McCarthy’s resume is almost entirely circumstantial. When we think of circumstantial first-round evidence for college quarterback superstars, we think of names like Tim Tebow (25th overall in 2010) and Johnny Manziel (22nd overall in 2014), not Trevor Lawrence. In three years at Clemson, Lawrence threw 1,138 passes, 90 touchdowns, and he led the Tigers to a 29-1 record in his first two seasons on the job (39-3 overall) in addition to having the requisite size and tools of a typical top-3 QB pick.

McCarthy threw 713 passes and 49 touchdowns in college, mostly all in the past two seasons, and was led to a National Championship by being on the best team in the country. We don’t hold that against McCarthy; we just have to go on what evidence we have at our disposal and there’s not much that comes with him compared to some of the other top prospects.

Most mock drafters have been scared away from putting McCarthy outside of the first six picks, but The Ringer’s Danny Kelly has him going 12th to the Broncos with the caveat that he too is afraid he’ll be wrong about the Michigan quarterback’s draft position:

There’s a good chance that some team will trade up into the top 10 to draft McCarthy (and it might be the Broncos), but if that scenario doesn’t materialize, Denver will run to the podium to hand this pick in. McCarthy has a live arm, good mobility, and a steely demeanor. He gives Sean Payton a new franchise quarterback to build around.

Even Michigan alum Adam Schefter has said that McCarthy’s stock is higher in the media than it is in the NFL, potentially going closer to picks 10-12 than 2-3.

If you come out before the draft and say that a very popular quarterback prospect won’t go as high as expected, fans of that player will dismiss it as “clickbait” and if he goes in the top 5, you’ll never hear end the end of it. Yet if that same player doesn’t go in the top 10 as the writer predicts, those same voices somehow manage to disappear and don’t come back to say you were right. It only takes one team to draft McCarthy in the top 10 for me to be wrong—the Giants picked Daniel Jones sixth overall, so who am I to say they won’t pick McCarthy that high?—but the odds are better that the media overrated him than they are that his stock went up without any notable changes in who he was at the end of his Michigan career.

Not top 20: EDGE Laiatu Latu, UCLA

The Dallas Cowboys selected Leighton Vander Esch with the 19th overall pick in the 2018 draft and as a healthy player he was a Pro Bowl and second-team All-Pro linebacker as a rookie. Then Vander Esch missed seven games in 2019 with a neck injury (he was born with cervical spinal stenosis) that required surgery and a four-month recovery, to which Vander Esch said after, “I’m not worried about my neck anymore. I don’t talk about it…I’m already better than I was before I got hurt.”

That’s called optimism and trying to put the Cowboys at ease before any potential extension talks. It wasn’t reality.

Vander Esch tried to gut out four more seasons, but he missed a lot of games and retired this year after being released with a failed physical. There was no returning from his neck injury and unfortunately a prospect with a situation often compared to Vander Esch’s is UCLA’s Laiatu Latu, who former NFL edge Chris Long cites as the best in the class if not for injury and compares him to T.J. Watt:

Considered by many others in addition to Long to be the best edge defender in the 2024 class if it wasn’t for his injury history, Latu no less has to find out the degree he’s been downplayed by the league because of fears that he’s going to have a short career because of it.

Latu suffered a neck injury during a routine practice (at the University of Washington), missing the entire four-game season during the pandemic-shortened year. After the season he underwent surgery, specifically a cervical fusion to address lingering numbness. According to Latu, the procedure did not work and after meeting with five different specialists around the country, it was determined that it was no longer safe to play due to potential paralysis, and was forced to medically retire.

Latu was cleared to continue his career at UCLA in 2022 and became one of the most productive defensive players in the country, recording 24 sacks and 35.5 tackles for a loss with two interceptions in the past two seasons. Without any medical red flags, Latu could be a top-10 pick in the 2024 draft class and he’s gone on record to say teams aren’t worried about his neck. Sounds a lot like Vander Esch saying that there’s “nothing to talk about” with his own neck injury.

When teams are investing top-20 picks in prospects, they don’t just want immediate talent infusions but long-term building blocks as a franchise cornerstone. Medical red flags like this one are reminiscent of Myles Jack and Jaylon Smith, two linebackers who ended up going in the early second instead of the first. Those were knee issues, but the point is the same: Teams dropped them on the board because they didn’t think they could rely on them long-term.

Latu won’t go in the top 10 and he might not go in the top 20, so how long will he sit before a team takes a chance on him because they know he might be the best edge rusher in the class? This feels like a classic Ravens trade-up move if Latu makes it out of the top 20.

Not first round: OT Amarius Mims, Georgia

It’s nothing against Mims, who could still go as early as top 10 to the Jets if they’re not still in shock from the Mekhi Becton draft mistake, but I had to take my shot somewhere and Mims fits an archetype of certain prospects who get overrated in the media prior to the first round: He’s a uniquely built mountain of a man who could be a great NFL player “if only he’s a lot more valuable than he was in college.”

It’s usually size and athleticism that get prospects thrown around as “having the highest ceiling in the class,” but Mims still carries more baggage on his resume that implies risk instead of reward. It’s not that Amarius Mims is a bad football player or tapped out. It’s that in a draft class with a lot of offensive tackles who appear closer to contributing, will teams pass on Mims because he only had eight career starts in college and even hurt himself while running the 40 at the combine?

Do I need to say “Mekhi Becton” again for it to be loud enough?

Most experts agree that Mims is a better, more polished offensive lineman than you’d assume given his lack of experience and probably not as much of a project as fans would think. But even if 6’8, 340-pound tackles don’t grow on trees, they also don’t comprise a very large percentage of the starting jobs in the NFL. Players like Becton, who checked in at 6’7, 360 at the combine in 2020, have often been just very heavy, sometimes expensive players wearing sweats on game day. Becton missed 32 of 33 games from 2021 to 2022. He started 16 games last year but is an unsigned free agent right now despite being 25, not that much older than a rookie.

In a weak offensive tackle class, Mims could hear his name called sooner in the draft. In this class with Joe Alt, Olu Fashanu, Troy Fautanu, Taliese Fuaga, J.C Latham, Tyler Guyton, Jordan Morgan, and Kingsley Suamataia, not to mention Graham Barton as a tackle expected to shift inside, will teams just pass on Mims for a “safer” offensive line prospect?

And not all huge men are guaranteed to be early draft picks. Consider Daniel Faalele, a 6’8, 380-pound tackle who went in the fourth round to the Ravens in 2022. Mims is a better all-around prospect than Faalele, but could we split the difference and say that Mims might be an early second-round pick instead of a mid-first or a fourth? I think so.

Eight college starts from a player already going through injury problems before he even gets to the NFL. It screams more project than Week 1 starter, and that’s why I expect Mims to drop below expectations, if not out into Day 2.

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