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Biggest Boom/Bust Picks in 2021 Draft

Every draft has players that seem to have every tool in the proverbial NFL toolkit. Then there are players with the same tools and one heavy piece of baggage, a medical history with a severe injury. On paper, still a can’t miss pick. Size, weight, speed, even highlight reel game tape moments. While some of these players turn into stars, the majority never reach their appointed star status. Many struggle just to see an NFL regular season starting lineup. A smaller group spends their careers in between these two extremes. Bouncing between a starting lineup and the injury report, these players inevitably prevent a team from reaching playoff goals. Derwin James is an unfortunate member of this team. James had a college career cut short by a meniscus tear in his knee. He missed an entire college season with the injury. His final year at Florida State he was a consensus All American and seemed fully healed. The Chargers drafted him with the 17th pick in round one of 2018 draft after the Packers passed him up. The Packers drafted Jaire Alexander with the very next pick.

The Chargers were immediately rewarded with an All-Pro performance in James’ rookie season. Many Packer fans and pundits lamented the Packers passing on James while watching second year Packer Josh Jones struggle to diagnose NFL plays. As the 2021 draft approaches, the Packer pick of Alexander has luckily been rewarded on the field. Alexander is now the All- Pro. James suited up for five games in 2019 and has yet to see the field since tearing the same meniscus in the same knee he injured in college. James’ tale is an oft repeated one in the NFL. If players had significant injuries in a shortened college football season, it increases the likelihood of a shortened NFL career. There is always the Frank Gore exception to the rule, but make no mistake, gambling a first round pick on a player who has missed significant time in college to injury is more likely to lead to a Justin Harrell than a Frank Gore. Paying players to rehab does not win championships.

This year’s draft has a number of boom/bust options that will be available in the draft. A Wisconsin newspaper just released an article on the potential of cornerback Caleb Farley. Farley did not play in 2020. He cited Covid concerns as the reason. Though he did not play, he still recently underwent back surgery. The surgery prevented him from working out this spring for NFL scouts. The article written by the newspaper called his surgery a, “microdiscectomy procedure”. While the first syllable, “micro” might sound small, it describes the operation Farley underwent to relieve a bulging disk in his S1 vertebrae, the lowest vertebrae above the tail bone. Farley admits he has been dealing with the injury and recently “aggravated ” it. He hopes to be ready to participate in training camp. Add to that the 2017 ACL tear that Farley suffered while in college and you have a player with HUGE red flag warnings.

In the aforementioned article, the writer acknowledges Farley’s injury history and his lack of experience at the position (he has only played corner for two years). The article also quotes a draft analyst’s conclusion that Farley struggled tackling and needed to, “get tougher”. The article concludes that if Farley slips to 29, in the first round, the Packers, “could be ready to pounce”. Can any reader name an NFL player who became a tougher tackler after back surgery? Every fan can look back at a couple of picks in every teams draft and scratch their collective heads over a lack of NFL production wondering, what the scouts saw in the player. But name a first or second round pick coming off spinal surgery and most fans will be stumped. It does not happen. It is GM 101: don’t spend big money on broken talent.

This draft has a number of players with significant injury histories that the Packers should stay away from in the early rounds. Late round picks are where you take risks with injuries. The Packers drafting of Simon Stepaniak was a good selection choice for an injured player. A sixth round pick can spend a season on IR behind a seasoned group of veterans. I would hope the Packers have learned their lesson and will stay away from the biggest injury history players on days one and two of the 2021 draft. Besides Farley, a few of the biggest injury risk players this writer hopes the Packers avoid are below:

Oct 10, 2020; Clemson, South Carolina, USA; Clemson Tigers quarterback Trevor Lawrence (16) throws to running back Travis Etienne (9) against Miami Hurricanes defensive line Jaelan Phillips (15) during the first quarte at Memorial Stadium. Ken Ruinard-USA TODAY Sports

Jaelan Phillips – Edge – Miami

Phillips has incredible physical athleticism but he has already taken a year off from football due to persistent recurring symptoms from multiple concussions.

Sep 19, 2020; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA; Syracuse Orange defensive back Andre Cisco (7) in pass coverage against the Pittsburgh Panthers during the second quarter at Heinz Field. Pittsburgh won 21-10. Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Andre Cisco – Safety – Syracuse

Cisco is still rehabbing an ACL tear. He may miss the entire preseason and could miss regular season action. How the injury affects his play is another big question.

Vanderbilt defensive lineman Dayo Odeyingbo (10) blocks Purdue running back Zander Horvath (40) during the first quarter of a NCAA football game, Saturday, Sept. 7, 2019 at Ross-Ade Stadium in West Lafayette.

Dayo Odeyingbo – Edge – Vanderbilt

Odeyingbo tore his Achilles’ tendon in predraft training. A potential career ending injury for an Edge player who depends on explosion.

Walker Little – Left Tackle – Stanford

Little is the most intriguing of the group as he displayed starting left tackle potential as a sophomore. Unfortunately his junior season ended in the first game with an injury to his knee. He elected to opt out of 2020 which could mean he needed more time for his knee to mend. At his pro day he ran a 5.28 forty, and a 7.44 3 cone drill and 4.58 short shuttle. If Little were available at the end of round three, I might break all the rules and common sense practices and write his name on the card. I’m sure one of our Total Packer writers would ream me for it and they would be right to do so. Let’s watch to see when the paid GM’s pull the trigger on him.

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Paul Edwards

Paul Edwards is a lawyer, victim advocate, writer, and long term Packer fan and Packer history enthusiast.

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12 Comments

  1. Howard April 16, 2021

    I’m not sure how Stepaniak is going to adjust to the NFL and his injury. I do like what the Packers did with Stepaniak last year. The Packers put Stepaniak on the reserved/ non-football injury list. The Packers then activated Stepaniak for enough games that he could practice with the team for a few weeks, and earn a credited season. A credited season (3+ games on the active roster) allowed Stepaniak to enter NFL pension programs, etc. The Packers by not activating Stepaniak for 6 or more games stopped Stepaniak from receiving an accredited NFL season. A player must have 4 accredited seasons to become an unrestricted free agent. The Packers have Stepaniak for 4 more seasons if Stepaniak pans out. Last season for Stepaniak, was truly a redshirt year with the Packers maintaining rights to Stepaniak through the 2024 season.

  2. Mick April 16, 2021

    Rounds 1,2,3, and 4 is no time to think about boom or bust type players; no matter how talented they are. In fact, I’d think 3 times before considering in the 5th also. The players that Paul described above have been touted in many mock drafts, some very highly. Sorry, but concussions, back injuries and torn up knees have to be BIG CONCERNS; as those type of injuries have a history of re-occurring. Some say the draft is a crapshoot to start with; but to add boom/bust types, concussed types and severe injured players still recovering from college injuries, and taking a chance on them with those early round picks, is careless.

    1. PF4L April 16, 2021

      Also…..Beware of the draft pick described as having a high ceiling, especially in the first 2 rounds. Or picked 12th.

      High ceiling is code for “Project”

      Matter of fact…if i had to pick, i think i’d take the skilled proven player with injury history, over the high ceiling guy.

      RAS scores are chocked full of high ceiling guys.

      1. Mick April 17, 2021

        Good points! Those high ceiling players, the ones that haven’t proven consistantly against college competition has to make you wonder; what makes you think they can reach and sustain new levels in the pros. Like you mentioned, especially in the early rounds. It does happen every now and then, but it’s rare; either by position change or, lack of quality coaching in the college ranks. So, I’m not ready to gamble high round picks on them.

        1. PF4L April 17, 2021

          In much the same way…beware of the player who suddenly gets noticed and hyped and moves up the draft board at the combine.

          All related

    2. JP Sharkey April 18, 2021

      I agree with the thought that when you buy damaged goods, it can bite you in the butt.
      We do have certain needs: DL, OT, CB, LB in that order. If our defense can make 2-3 extra stops during a game, the offense may very well score close to 600 points.
      I hope our first pick is Christian Barmore, DL, Alabama.

  3. Ferris April 17, 2021

    They all sound like UDFAs to me. Isn’t that where TT trained Gute to look for his starters anyway? On the leftover pile.

  4. Big B April 18, 2021

    Farley has had two discectomy procedures, a previous one at the L4-5 disc, and most recently L5-S1 and he’s in his early 20’s. Two levels of involvement is worrisome. I would be leery of taking this guy in round 1.

  5. Arch Stanton April 19, 2021

    So, in other words it’s Farley for the Packers first round pick per typical Gute draft. Wouldn’t be surprised if he traded up to get him and threw in a fourth round pick to do it.

  6. PF4L April 20, 2021

    Just because….i don’t care…

    Minnesota government officials announce a pre-emptive “Get Tough” policy against possible rioting, arsonist, looters, vandals and other criminal acts…..

    Warning them….that all Police Departments will again be on full alert with orders to stand down and retreat until all the criminals get tired and hungry, pick up their TV’s and go home.

    Minnesota Governer Tim Walz was asked if they will request the help of the National Guard…”No need, this is nothing we can’t handle on our own as was proven last summer”.

    1. Ed April 20, 2021

      You sure know a lot about Minnesota there “Killer”. :-)

  7. Ferris April 20, 2021

    If they draft Cisco at least a nick name will be easy. Boy did I watch that show. Oh Cisco….Oh Pancho.