15 College Football Stars Who Will Be NFL Busts
15 College Football Stars Who Will Be NFL Busts
To make it in the NFL is an incredibly difficult challenge. Only the very best get the opportunity to put their bodies on the line for the chance to play on Sundays, and nobody is guaranteed to stay there for long.
Even when a player has demonstrated incredible abilities at the college level, they can quickly wash out in the pros. For every Andrew Luck, there’s a Ryan Leaf or Eric Couch. Each season, a dizzying list of decorated college stars step up to take their shot at the NFL and miss entirely before fading away into obscurity.
Even this season, some of the very best among college football’s elite are poised to slip up as they move up to the highest level of football. Players that are up for college football’s highest honors and individual awards, players who have broken records and rewritten the history books, will ultimately find themselves unable to make it in the NFL. They will find themselves out of the game they love quicker than they would have liked and teams will have moved on trying to find the next college star to plug in who they hope will find success.
It happens every season. As rosters turn over, so many of yesterday’s college heroes quickly become filler for the NFL’s free agent listings. Success in college just doesn’t equate to success in the pro ranks as much as we’d all like it to. Some very good kids who have done some very amazing things for their universities will have to hope their free educations have served them well.
So without further ado, here are 15 college football stars who are doomed to bust in the NFL.
Sheldon Richardson, DT Missouri Tigers
Sheldon Richardson is a junior-college transfer that has exploded onto the national scene for the Missouri Tigers and blossomed into one of the more promising interior defensive linemen of the SEC. Scouts have raved about his effort, quickness and use of hands to get after ball-carriers and fight for tackles.
The concern for Richardson is that there isn’t a track record of success for him. With just one year of experience under his belt at college football’s highest level, there’s a risk that he’s a flash in the pan or a one-year wonder. Once he “makes it” by getting drafted, is he going to be able to sustain that same drive and intensity that made him a breakout star this season?
Jonathan Hankins, DT Ohio State Buckeyes
Jonathan Hankins is a big man in the middle of the Ohio State Buckeyes defense at 6-foot-3 and 335 pounds. He has the potential to be a fantastic anchor on a defensive line at the next level with size and athleticism that will likely make him a first-round draft pick for some defensively-strapped team.
However, Hankins has had difficulty imposing his will on a regular basis against college competition. This season, Hankins has just 4 tackles for loss, leading to questions about his explosiveness and ability to penetrate. If he can’t move the line of scrimmage against the Indiana Hoosiers, what chance does he have against the Houston Texans?
Robert Woods, WR USC Trojans
The USC Trojans fielded one of the most talented group of offensive specialists in college football this season, including wide receiver Robert Woods. Along with Marqise Lee, Woods helped give the Trojans one of the deepest and most talented receiving corps in the country.
As the season went along, though, Woods tended to get overshadowed by Lee and disappeared for stretches during a game. He didn’t do much to stretch the field, though he was excellent in short and intermediate routes, which creates some doubt about how well he’ll be able to separate at the next level. Will he be able to become a special player in a league filled with Lee-type stars?
Collin Klein, QB Kansas State Wildcats
The Kansas State Wildcats rose all the way to No. 1 in the BCS this year and were on the verge of playing for a national championship because of the play of their quarterback Collin Klein. The dual-threat signal caller did whatever it took to take the Wildcats to the top, drawing comparisons to former Heisman Trophy winner Tim Tebow in the process of building his own Heisman campaign.
But much like Tebow this season, Klein will find it difficult to find the field in the NFL. His skill set does not translate well to the quarterback position in the NFL and he isn’t athletic enough to make the transition as a wildcat-option for teams. He also doesn’t enjoy the groundswell of devoted followers that Tebow had when he left the Florida Gators to chant his way into a lineup.
Tavon Austin, WR West Virginia Mountaineers
The West Virginia Mountaineers looked like they would roll through this season behind an unstoppable offense and the many talents of wide receiver Tavon Austin. The speedy Austin has been moved all over the field, using his athleticism to punish opposing defenses. Some have called him the most explosive offensive player in the country.
At the next level, however, his speed may not be enough. Questions about Austin’s size and focus are red flags for him in the NFL. At just 5-foot-8 and 173 pounds, Austin doesn’t have the frame to withstand a lot of punishment. He also isn’t going to win many jump balls and his run blocking is ineffective at best. He has also had a tendency to peek at on-coming defenders before making catches, leading to drops. Austin is a competitor but does he have the physical traits to stick in the NFL?
Star Letulelei, DT Utah Utes
Star Letulelei has been a force in the middle of the defense for the Utah Utes. He is able to absorb blockers to free others up while clogging the middle of the field while still creating push. His coaches rave about his strength and quickness off the ball and can seriously disrupt an opposing running game. His upside is enough that he’ll likely be a top 10 pick in April.
The problem for Letulelei is that he has disappeared for long stretches this season even against inferior opponents. He was supposed to be the building block to one of the premier defenses this season, but with his occasional disappearances, Utah was able to muster stretches of just “pretty good”. Will he be able to bring his best game on every down in the NFL?
Montee Ball, RB Wisconsin Badgers
Montee Ball has been one of the most productive college football players in history during his time with the Wisconsin Badgers, setting the career mark for touchdowns last Saturday against the Penn State Nittany Lions. He’s enjoyed prolific rushing stats behind the Badger offensive line and has racked up stats on top of stats, earning recognition as a Heisman Trophy finalist in 2011 and Doak Walker Award finalist each of the last two seasons.
But Ball’s production has been significantly down this season compared to 2011, creating red flags for his chances of catching on in the NFL. Scouts worry about Ball’s average size, speed and strength at the next level as he struggles to carry tacklers for tough yards when a seam isn’t available. He struggles to make defenders miss in space and is underwhelming in pass protection and has a tendency to look upfield before securing catches out of the backfield. Add in a pair of concussions suffered in the last year (one football related), and Ball looks like a prime candidate to bust at the next level.
Denard Robinson, QB Michigan Wolverines
The Michigan Wolverines have enjoyed the talents of Denard Robinson over the last four years as he has wowed college football fans with his amazing athleticism. He has been a human highlight reel in Ann Arbor, breaking off huge plays with his legs more often than his arm. For that reason, Robinson will have to make a switch out of the quarterback position and is being evaluated as a wide receiver for the NFL.
That’s a tough transition, especially for a player that hasn’t started a single game as a receiver and wasn’t asked to catch too many passes or run any routes while in college. Add in durability issues with his lingering elbow injury and history of not being able to finish games after getting hurt, and Robinson looks like a long shot to find success at the next level.
Barkevious Mingo, DE LSU Tigers
The LSU Tigers routinely field one of the fiercest defensive lines in the country and this year is no exception with the play of Barkevious Mingo. The 6-foot-5, 240 pound defensive end could have one of the highest ceilings of any defensive player in this draft which means someone will take a chance on him early in the NFL draft. He has got exceptional length and is so quick with his first step.
However, there are concerns. At LSU, Mingo has largely been used as part of a deep rotation, so there are questions about how well he will hold up if tasked with a majority of snaps. He also struggles against the run as his lean frame does not allow him to take on run blocks well. More often than not, he will meet a run block by rising up and losing his strength. If he can’t stay on the field or defend the run, how long will Mingo last in the NFL?
Jonathan Franklin, RB UCLA Bruins
The UCLA Bruins have been one of the pleasant surprises of college football this season as they’ve ridden their running game and Jonathan Franklin to a Pac 12 South division title with a shot to go the Rose Bowl in the Pac 12 Championship. The senior running back has been outstanding this season, busting out for huge games this year on his way to being named a Doak Walker Award finalist and second-team All-Pac 12.
But Franklin’s game is filled with indicators that he’ll fall off at the next level. Franklin’s size isn’t going to do him any favors against the big boys of the NFL. He’s also had a tendency to disappear against the best competition he’s faced this season. When the Bruins took on the Oregon State Beavers and Stanford Cardinal, two of the more physical run defenses in the Pac 12, Franklin turned in two of his most disappointing performances of the year. Every week in the NFL, he’ll face run defenses even more physical, so how hopeful can he be to find success?
Justin Hunter, WR Tennessee Volunteers
The Tennessee Volunteers had one of the most prolific passing attacks in the country thanks to the exploits of Justin Hunter at wide receiver. Rated as one of the top receivers in this year’s draft class, Hunter has wowed scouts with his quick burst and wide catching radius. His length and speed has teams salivating as they see a potential number one wide receiver at the top of their draft boards.
Hunter isn’t a sure thing, though, as most receivers are. While he has a long frame, there isn’t much on it and his wiry build opens him up to getting pushed around by aggressive press coverage. Most cornerbacks in the NFL are going to get up in his face and if he can’t shuck them and get into his routes, his number one receiver potential won’t get off the line of scrimmage.
Kenjon Barner, RB Oregon Ducks
Kenjon Barner has stepped up as the man in the high-flying Oregon Ducks offense. The senior running back has taken the lion’s share of the carries in the run heavy blur offense, gashing opposing defenses for huge runs all season long. His dominance in the running game earned him first-team All-Pac 12 honors along with being names as a finalist for the Doak Walker Award.
However, as has been the case with most Oregon offensive stars, Barner will find a difficult road ahead of him for the NFL. The speedy back lacks the prototypical size of an NFL running back and doesn’t have the strength to run through defenders or move a pile. If Barner isn’t running to daylight, he isn’t nearly as effective as he needs to be. The NFL is filled with tough runs that have to be made, but is Barner going to be able to get them done?
Geno Smith, QB West Virginia Mountaineers
The West Virginia Mountaineers started the season as an offensive juggernaut behind the unbelievable play of their quarterback Geno Smith. For the first five games of the season, Smith and the Mountaineers were unstoppable. Smith finishes his career never having completed less than 68-percent of his passes for a season with a nose for the end zone, excellent pocket mobility and a keen ability to avoid turnovers.
However, at some point this season, opposing defenses seemed to solve Smith and West Virginia, tightening up the throwing lanes with varied defensive looks that seemed to stifle Smith down the stretch. At the next level, every throwing window is going to be small, with defenses that will be constantly shifting and challenging Smith to make the correct read. If he thought that the Texas Tech Red Raiders defense was tough, how will he be able to overcome the Chicago Bears or Pittsburgh Steelers?
Manti Te'o, LB Notre Dame Fighting Irish
The Notre Dame Fighting Irish are one of the most storied programs in college football history and they finally return to the national title picture in their first BCS National Championship appearance thanks in large part to the efforts of middle linebacker Manti Te’o. The senior defensive captain has been all over the field this season, making at least 100 tackles for the third straight season while acting as the emotional spark for ND’s historic run to the title game. Te’o has been named a finalist for just about every award possible, including the Heisman Trophy.
As good as he has been for the Irish, Te’o will find the going much tougher next year in the NFL. Te’o is not exceptionally gifted athletically but has made up for it with great instincts and “intangibles” that have endeared him to his teammates, fans and most scouts. But intangibles can only take a player so far, and his competitive spirit alone won’t be enough to make him successful among a sea of players with all the same passion, drive and intangibles.
Matt Barkley, QB USC Trojans
Matt Barkley came back to the USC Trojans for some “unfinished business.” While he may have fallen short in getting that done, he did little to hurt his potential draft stock. Barkley had the opportunity to come out last season in a crowded quarterback class, but now he will emerge as more than likely the first quarterback taken in this year’s draft with a thinner class of quarterback to contend with. Scouts continue to rave about the senior’s ball placement, timing, vision, poise, leadership and experience which will lead some quarterback-needy team to select him early in the draft.
However, there are red flags about Barkley’s ability to transition to the next level. Against the more difficult competition this season, Barkley struggled heavily. He looked undone by pressure and became erratic and inaccurate when forced to scramble out of the pocket. Despite having NFL-caliber talent at his disposal, the USC quarterback failed to push this Trojan team over the top. Is Barkley merely next in the long line of disappointing USC quarterbacks in the NFL?