NFL Draft bust candidates: Tua Tagovailoa, Jalen Hurts and the riskiest picks in 2020

Though some picks can be considered relatively safe, there is no such thing as a sure bet in the NFL Draft. All selections are inherently risky because of the long list of variables that determine whether a prospect will have a successful pro career, not to mention the importance of every selection for a team’s future.

In 2020, for a handful of projected first-round picks and quarterbacks, the risks attached to their selections are amplified.

Just as important as finding value in later rounds is avoiding busts in the NFL Draft. All of the biggest draft whiffs in NFL history were first-round (usually top-10) picks whose failure set back the teams that invested such valuable selections in them. That’s why our list of NFL Draft bust candidates for 2020 is limited to projected first-rounders, plus a few quarterbacks who could be picked as potential franchise passers.

For the same reasons NFL teams annually miss on draft picks with inaccurate evaluations or projections, we can’t predict a player’s failure, but we can point out some negative factors that are beyond his control. For Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, it’s the injuries. For other first-rounders, it’s the pressure that comes with being part of a deep class at their positions. For all the top quarterbacks, it’s simply the pressure that comes with being a top quarterback.

Using our complete, seven-round NFL mock draft as a guide, here are the 2020 prospects who carry the most bust potential despite their upside.

2020 NFL Draft bust candidates

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Tua Tagovailoa”>

Tua Tagovailoa, QB, Alabama

We all know by now this has everything to do with the injuries and nothing to do with Tagovailoa’s off-the-charts ability. And to some, the nasty hip fracture that prematurely ended his final season at Alabama — one from which he has recovered ahead of schedule — isn’t as concerning as the broken finger, the sprained knee, the tweaked quad and the pair of ankle injuries that preceded it during his college career.

Any NFL talent evaluator who believes in injury proneness is probably terrified by the idea of drafting Tua Tagovailoa to be the team’s franchise quarterback. If the injuries follow him from college to the pros, they could result in the kind of draft whiff that would derail a team for years.

Of course, if Tagovailoa can manage to stay relatively healthy in the NFL, there’s little doubt the team that selects him will be landing a franchise-changing star. At this point, it’s about weighing how big of an “if” that is.

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Mekhi Becton”>

Mekhi Becton, OT, Louisville

To be clear, this is less about Becton’s potential and more about what appears to be a top-heavy class of offensive tackles.

In SN’s mock draft, Becton is the first of five tackles picked in the first round. Whoever actually gets selected first among them — whether it’s Becton, Jedrick Wills, Tristan Wirfs, Andrew Thomas or Josh Jones — will have a tough time proving he was indeed the best tackle in the 2020 class, and therefore will take on the most bust potential. That pressure would be amplified if a team like the Chargers were to pass on another obvious need (quarterback) in the top 10 and draft what it believes is a long-term left tackle.

Becton specifically benefits from his ridiculous NFL Combine measurables. The rare athleticism at his size is intriguing enough for a team to fall in love with the wrong qualities.

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Justin Herbert”>

Justin Herbert, QB, Oregon

There’s a chance Herbert will be drafted before Tagovailoa simply because the Oregon quarterback does not come with the injury concerns. Yet Herbert still carries all the risks associated with drafting a top-10 quarterback in general.

There’s plenty to like about Herbert, including his strong arm, his running ability and what his coaches tout as a hard-working mentality. Yet, as is the case with all QBs in this class not named Joe Burrow or Tagovailoa, accurately projecting the translation of his skills to the NFL is impossible with so many variables like scheme fit and environment impacting the process.

It’s the case for all prospects, but especially for one like Herbert: The higher he is drafted, the riskier of a pick he will be.

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Tee Higgins”>

All first-round wide receivers

Yep, all of them. Good luck knowing definitively which of these impressive wideouts will have the best NFL career.

Comb through any recent NFL Draft, and you’ll find later-round wide receivers who have either outperformed or at least played on par with first-round picks. Much of this is the nature of a position dependent upon so many on-field variables like scheme, QB play and pass protection. Of the 13 wide receivers across AFC and NFC Pro Bowl rosters last year, for example, only four (DeAndre Hopkins, Julio Jones, Mike Evans and Amari Cooper) entered the NFL as first-round picks.

That means the top receivers drafted in 2020 will be expected to shine brightest among what many consider one of the deepest wide receiver classes in the history of the draft.

Sure, it’s reasonable to anticipate strong NFL careers from Lamb, Jeudy, Ruggs, Jefferson, Higgins and Reagor. But what about Brandon Aiyuk, Laviska Shenault Jr., Michael Pittman Jr., KJ Hamler, Denzel Mims, Chase Claypool, Tyler Johnson, Jauan Jennings, Bryan Edwards, KJ Hill, John Hightower, Donovan Peoples-Jones, Van Jefferson, Isaiah Hodgins and Devin Duvernay?

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Jordan Love”>

Jordan Love, QB, Utah State

While coaching and scheme changes certainly were factors, Love might be having a hard time explaining to NFL teams how he went from throwing six interceptions as a sophomore to throwing 17 interceptions in his final college season as a junior — all while his passing touchdown total dropped from 32 to 20.

That inconsistency would be among the sources of risk for a team like the Chargers if it were to wait to draft Love in the second round; even more so if a team were to reach for him in the first.

The upside of Love’s arm talent is obvious. But again, like with Herbert, there are too many variables at play for a team to feel completely comfortable drafting Love to be its franchise quarterback.

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Jacob Eason”>

Jacob Eason, QB, Washington

If you’re sensing a theme here, you should be. Quarterback selections beyond the first round in the NFL Draft typically carry much more weight than others given the impactful nature of the position.

To be fair, whether Eason will become a true bust candidate depends on who drafts him and at what pick. If the team already has a young, established passer and is simply interested in Eason as a high-quality backup, there’s little risk involved. If it’s a team like the Colts, who employ an aging Philip Rivers on a one-year contract and should be looking toward the future, the pressure on Eason to become a quality starter increases.

No, not many top NFL quarterbacks were drafted in Round 3 or later. But if a team like the Colts were to select Eason at that point in the process, it would be natural for that team and its fans to dream about the scenarios that produced Russell Wilson, Dak Prescott and Tom Brady.

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Jalen Hurts”>

Jalen Hurts, QB, Oklahoma

The risks with Hurts are pretty much the same as those associated with Eason — although a Hurts selection by a team in a similar QB situation and at a similar point in the draft would ring much louder since he is such a high-profile prospect.

If a team picks Hurts in the third round or higher with the intention of developing him to be its multi-year starter, it will do so largely because of his toughness and leadership intangibles. Otherwise, nobody is confusing him with Kyler Murray, last year’s No. 1 overall draft pick from the same offense at Oklahoma, or even Baker Mayfield before him.

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