Don't be shocked if these guys go early in the draft... and fail to meet expectations
Every year as the NFL draft approaches, talking heads and sportswriters start labeling prospects with terms like "sure thing" and "can't miss." The players that receive these plaudits rarely live up to them, but that doesn't seem to stop them from getting tossed around.
The 2021 NFL Draft season is no different. In what appears to be one of the deeper drafts in recent memory, there are quite a few players who are expected to come into the league and transition into elite-level superstars with relative ease.
As we see every year, that's almost never the case.
Regardless of how good everyone projects these players to be at the next level, the fact is that some of these will either be out of the league before their first contract expires — or never quite live up to where they were drafted.
We call those players "busts."
Here are four such players, and I'm officially putting them on "bust watch."
Zach Wilson, QB, BYU
There's no doubt that Wilson is talented, and that he led BYU to a phenomenal year in 2020. A couple of things concern me. For starters, we really only have him dominating what is essentially Group of 5 competition for one season. This past year, you could make the argument that Wilson's BYU team was significantly more talented at most positions than every team they faced. That's not going to be the case in the NFL, and if he is selected by the New York Jets as most predict, it won't be the case for at least two full seasons. If I saw any evidence of a plan to "draft and stash" Wilson as the Chiefs did with Patrick Mahomes, I'd feel better about his potential. As of now, it looks like he'll be thrown into the fire, expected to carry one of the league's worst franchises to the top of the mountain.
Travis Etienne, RB, Clemson
Depending on how the chips fall and what scout you talk to, Etienne is expected to be either the first or second running back taken in the draft. That means the team that drafts him will expect him to come in and win the starting role early on during his rookie season. As was the case with Zach Wilson, Etienne played on a team that was significantly more talented than most opponents at every position — especially on the offensive line. He was largely ineffective in two of the four games Clemson played against top-10 teams in 2020 — teams with the talent to rival the Tigers in the trenches. We never really saw him dominate high-level competition on the big stage consistently. That concerns me, and it should concern fans of the team that drafts him expecting him to become a high-level starter in the NFL.
Patrick Surtain II, CB, Alabama
Surtain is a specimen, with the size, speed, and length that you want at the cornerback position. He also quite obviously has NFL pedigree. That said, he's going to be expected to defend some of the best receivers in the league right away. The biggest knock on Surtain is that he struggles against slants and some underneath routes. That is a huge concern, and most of the league's top receivers in the league's top offenses are terrific route-runners who have the ability to get open underneath immediately and lose their defenders. What this essentially means is that Surtain will be just fine running step-for-step with the likes of DK Metcalf on vertical routes, but he's going to struggle against the league's more well-rounded receivers.
Penei Sewell, OT, Oregon
We've seen Sewell at the top of 2021 mock drafts for more than a year. It makes sense if he truly is a generational talent at the left tackle position. You always draft a guy like that in the top five — whether you need a tackle or not. My concerns with him, as with others I've previously mentioned, start with the competition he faced in college. There's not a lot of film of him working against edge rushers who are or are projected to be impact players at the next level. Additionally, we're starting to hear whispers that he may need to slide inside to the guard position as his career progresses. In my opinion, you aren't burning a top-10 pick on a guy who you think might need to change positions sometime in the next 5-7 years. That's a huge red flag for me.
— Written by J.P. Scott, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. His work has appeared on SI.com, FoxSports.com, Yahoo! SBNation and Bleacher Report. He is a three-time FWAA writing contest award winner. Follow him on Twitter @TheJPScott.