Boom or bust: Jordan Love, Justin Herbert 15 riskiest prospects in 2020 NFL draft

Risk tolerance can be one of the biggest variables for teams in the NFL draft.

Throughout the process of assessing players and weighing them against one another, franchises look to unearth every imperfection they can find. And though the label of a “can’t-miss” prospect is clearly a misnomer, some of the early selections carry more risk than others. Whether the problem area is a matter of refinement, playing style or an off-the-field concern, NFL teams will have to consider what they can do to help a potentially volatile player tap into his talent.

With less than two weeks until the draft begins, here’s our look at the riskiest prospects in this year’s class:

QB Jordan Love, Utah State

Utah State Aggies quarterback Jordan Love (10) throws a long pass during the second half of play against the Boise State Broncos at Albertsons Stadium.

In a league in which Jameis Winston’s proclivity for turnovers has left the former No. 1 pick still looking for a new home in free agency as a likely backup, it’s not clear what kind of demand will there be for a quarterback who threw 17 interceptions in 2019 against subpar competition. Love had to adapt to a new coaching staff and set of starters last year, but he still too often telegraphs his intentions to the defense, locking onto his primary target and failing to manipulate safeties. With a 6-4, 224-pound build and the ability to make off-platform, downfield strikes look easy, the three-year starter has drawn lofty comparisons to Patrick Mahomes. In order to approach a level anywhere close to the Super Bowl champion and 2018 NFL MVP, he will have to speed up every part of his process, as his struggles to throw with anticipation lead to missed opportunities. Both in his draft positioning and potential pro performance, Love is the biggest wild card of the first round.

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QB Justin Herbert, Oregon

How much are prototypical tools worth if they’re not properly utilized on a consistent basis? That’s the question facing any team considering Herbert, who offers a tantalizing physical profile with his 6-6, 236-pound frame, upper-echelon arm strength and good mobility. But while Herbert can put everything together in stretches, an oncoming rush can throw him off his game and force him into making poor decisions. With improved anticipation, poise and touch, he could reach the level of stability that has eluded him thus far. Without those advancements, however, Herbert will have a hard time escaping the ranks of other talented but uneven signal-callers who leave their team frustrated about what might have been.

RB Jonathan Taylor, Wisconsin

Another player who might have been best fit for a bygone era, Taylor is the kind of bell-cow back no longer heavily prized. At 5-10 and 226 pounds with breakaway speed (4.39-second 40-yard dash) and great instincts, he’s an accomplished ball-carrier who finished sixth all-time in rushing for the Football Bowl Subdivision. It’s the passing game, however, that could trip Taylor up, as he struggled at times as a receiver and didn’t do much as a blocker. Pervasive fumbling issues (18 in 41 career games) also could put him out of favor with his next head coach. So long as he can remain healthy after tallying 968 touches in three years, Taylor will have the chance to prove himself as a dependable back at the next level, but his biggest challenge will be becoming a complete one.

WR Laviska Shenault Jr., Colorado

Despite establishing himself as one of college football’s best all-purpose threats, Shenault is now behind many of his peers in the intricacies of his position, most notably in his route running and releases. His value might be inextricably tied to the creativity of his future offensive coordinator, as Shenault won’t have as many opportunities to take on defenders one-on-one unless he’s afforded the quick-developing plays to which he’s become accustomed. A rash of injuries possibly brought on by his aggressive style also might be problematic for his longevity. Once seen as a virtual lock for the first round, Shenault now could be in for a slide.

WR Denzel Mims, Baylor

Standout performances at the Senior Bowl and combine helped vault Mims into the discussion for the first round. The 6-3, 207-pound target can get downfield in a hurry thanks to his rapid acceleration and long strides, and he comfortably contorts his body to haul in difficult catches. Mims’ knack for big plays, however, is hard to reconcile with his all-too-frequent failure to capitalize on easy ones, as he has been plagued by drops. He also ran a limited variety of routes at Baylor and didn’t show sufficient attention to detail. 

WR KJ Hamler, Penn State

At his best, the 5-9, 178-pound pass catcher resembles Tyreek Hill by racking up yards after the catch, burning defenses on deep passes and breaking off big plays as a returner. But not all rail-thin receivers can replicate the success of the Chiefs star, and Hill’s slight build makes him vulnerable to defensive backs who won’t be afraid to bully him at the line of scrimmage and the catch point. His limited catch radius and struggles with drops also portend problems at the next level. Though his dynamic ability can be tapped into in sporadic bursts, Hamler will have to become stronger and more reliable to be worth the expected investment of a second-round pick.

OT Austin Jackson, USC

Any offensive tackle with Jackson’s size (6-5, 322 pounds) and quickness will turn heads as a pro prospect, as there are only so many players with the physical makeup required to battle NFL-caliber pass rushers. For all his potential as a blindside blocker, though, Jackson won’t be able to rely on his foot speed alone to keep opponents in front of him. Lapses against Iowa’s A.J. Epenesa, who notched 2 1/2 sacks against USC in the Holiday Bowl, highlighted that Jackson can too easily be dispatched with a physical approach and proper use of hands. As a potential first-round prospect, he might face an extended learning curve before he can take on a starting role.

OT Isaiah Wilson, Georgia

If not for the presence of draft classmate Mekhi Becton —  the 6-7, 364-pound likely top-10 selection from Louisville — the 6-6, 350-pound Wilson would be earning more attention for his own massive build. More than just a mauler, Wilson has the frame and footwork to be a formidable pass protector. Some heavy technical work is in order, however, as the finer points of the position typically escape him. Though he could end up joining Georgia left tackle Andrew Thomas in the first round, Wilson likely will find that he can’t rely on sheer size at the next level.

DE/OLB K’Lavon Chaisson, LSU

From his highlight reel and splash plays, Chaisson looks every bit the part of a first-rounder, with the quickness and bend to beat elite offensive tackles around the edge. Yet his performance from play to play can be maddening, as his limited arsenal of pass-rush moves render him helpless when linemen can get into his body or force him back inside. Given that he’s only 20 and has just one year of starting experience, there’s reason to believe proper coaching will help him unlock his true potential. Without it, though, he runs the risk of being largely erased by savvy blockers. 

DE/OLB Terrell Lewis, Alabama

Almost all of Lewis’ worrisome areas stem from his missing nearly two full years due to injuries. Beyond the durability concern, the setbacks also limited the 6-5, 262-pound edge rusher’s reps at Alabama, where he played in just 26 games. Though long and explosive in his first step, Lewis still has to become a stronger and more complete player. A potential Day 2 pick, he could emerge as a major threat as a 3-4 outside linebacker, but such a trajectory likely will take time.

DE Curtis Weaver, Boise State

At a position for which teams often have a high threshold for desired physical traits, Weaver is an outlier — and not in a good way. Despite his heavy physique along with suboptimal burst and quickness, the 6-2, 265-pound first-team All-American racked up 34 sacks and 46 1/2 tackles for loss in three years. Determination and power will only take an edge rusher so far, though, meaning Weaver will be under pressure to hit the weight room and develop a wider array of tricks.

CB Noah Igbinoghene, Auburn

The son of two former Olympic athletes, Igbinoghene can stick close to even the most imposing receivers. The real trouble arrives once the ball is thrown, as his mere two years of experience at cornerback leave him prone to panicking. In the NFL, that tendency will exacerbate his proclivity for penalties, as he shows a poor feel for the timing necessary to thrive at the position. Though there’s plenty of room for growth, Igbinoghene might be best off as a developmental prospect to be brought along slowly, even if he’s drafted in the first two rounds.

S Jeremy Chinn, Southern Illinois

Any chance Chinn had of flying under the radar ended at the combine, where the 6-3, 221-pound safety recorded a 4.45-second 40-yard dash, 41-inch vertical leap and 11-6 broad jump. Defensive coordinators dream of picking up players who can close on the ball as quickly as Chinn can, so there’s a solid chance he will be selected at some point in the second round despite his small-school background. His instincts, however, are underdeveloped, making him a significant project for whatever coaching staff he ends up with. If he doesn’t improve his overall awareness and diagnosing skills, he’ll be pigeonholed into a limited role at the next level.

Follow Michael Middlehurst-Schwartz on Twitter @MikeMSchwartz.

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