NFL Draft

Buyer Beware: Which 2023 NFL Draft Prospects Carry the Most Risk?

Their talent is tantalizing, but … every year, there are enticing college prospects who should come with warning labels.

As the 2023 NFL Draft draws closer, it’s worth taking a closer look at a handful of players capable of outstanding achievements or crushing heartbreaks. Here are a few of those. 

4 Prospects With Most Risk

Jalen Carter, IDL, Georgia

Remember before the Chicago Bears traded the No. 1 overall pick to the Carolina Panthers? There were a lot of discussions the Bears would take Jalen Carter (scouting report) if they stayed at No. 1 because of his game-wrecking ability from the interior of the defensive line. 

Last year, Travon Walker went first overall to the Jacksonville Jaguars, Jordan Davis went 13th overall to the Philadelphia Eagles, and everyone kept saying the best defensive lineman at Georgia was the one coming back for 2022 — Carter.

Fast forward to this year, and we all know the trouble Carter got into with the road racing incident, the worst part of which was two people tragically lost their lives. The case has been closed. It can’t be refiled or retried. 

>> READ: Carter Setting Himself Up for Draft Fall

Now, teams have to find out if that’s all there is. You can bet teams are digging into Carter’s background right now to find out. My sources say Carter will be OK for whoever drafts him. We hope that’s true. 

Still, having a high-profile incident like that, going to the combine, then having to leave the combine to deal with a legal issue gets everyone’s antenna up. When the focus on Carter is what he can do on the field, he’s one of the top prospects in this draft, if not the top prospect. 

There have been some questions about Carter’s effort level, but my sense is he doesn’t get out of the top 10 picks unless there is more bad news closer to the draft. Philadelphia is sitting at No. 10. That is the absolute floor, and he might not even get there.

The Seattle Seahawks at No. 5 is a great possibility. The Detroit Lions are at No. 6, and they’ve built a great culture there under coach Dan Campbell, general manager Brad Holmes and defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn. 

That would benefit this young man in a big way, and it’s another excellent landing spot for him. It’s tough to see the Eagles passing on that type of talent, considering how they rotate their defensive linemen.

Something else working in Carter’s favor is the importance placed on his position has grown. Remember Super Bowl XLIX? Seattle got pressure up the middle on Tom Brady in that game, and then defensive lineman Cliff Avril got hurt, and the pressure went away in the second half. That became a signal to everyone that even though Brady is big and imposing, that pressure up the gut affects all quarterbacks, even the GOAT. 

The second factor is quarterbacks are getting shorter. Guys like Drew Brees (6-foot) are no longer outliers. Russell Wilson is 5-foot-11, Bryce Young (scouting report) is 5-10, and even Jalen Hurts is 6-1. Teams want to bring pressure up the middle, which has increased the value of guys who can be wreckers inside, like Carter.

Bijan Robinson, RB, Texas

Bijan Robinson (scouting report) makes this list because of his position. There are several examples of teams that took running backs high in the draft. The Dallas Cowboys took Ezekiel Elliott at No. 4 overall, and that paid off for them in terms of him leading their offense and putting them in playoff contention, but it didn’t end with a Super Bowl. They released him this offseason, and they will have to retool at that position.

>> WATCH: Cowboys Should Draft Robinson

The Los Angeles Rams picked Todd Gurley 10th overall in 2015, and he helped them to a Super Bowl, but then his health began to falter. Remember, he was a top-10 running back until then; he was just phenomenal. 

During the Super Bowl run, he was no longer the guy the Rams had drafted. His decline happened so quickly that it was hard to believe. He had so few carries in the Super Bowl because he couldn’t do it anymore. Gurley became a cautionary tale. 

The New York Giants picked Saquon Barkley No. 2 overall in 2018, and people were upset with general manager Dave Gettleman. What if they didn’t have Barkley last season? Guess what? They don’t make the playoffs. Barkley powered them through. So having an elite running back can make a big difference.

If a team is committed to running the ball and helping its quarterback, a player like Robinson is invaluable. Philadelphia at No. 10 also would be a logical landing spot for him because running the ball is vital to the Eagles’ offense. They have a great offensive line. Plus, Robinson is a threat in the passing game. He’s not Christian McCaffrey catching it, but he’s pretty close. Robinson is exceptional and shouldn’t fall out of the top 10. 

Another location that makes sense is the Bears. They have Khalil Herbert and just signed D’Onta Foreman, but they should take a more talented player if they have the opportunity. Remember the lead-up to the 2021 draft when it looked like tackle Penei Sewell was a lock to go to the Cincinnati Bengals? They had to protect quarterback Joe Burrow.

Instead, they drafted Burrow’s LSU teammate, receiver Ja’Marr Chase, which protected Burrow differently. The result? The Bengals went to Super Bowl LVI and the AFC Championship Game last season. 

An argument against taking a running back in the first round can be made by looking at this year’s Super Bowl champions. The Kansas City Chiefs took Isiah Pacheco in the seventh round. He was the 23rd running back taken in the 2022 Draft, even though he ran a 4.36 at the combine and looked like a beast. 

Pacheco became Kansas City’s lead back. Clyde Edwards-Helaire was a first-round pick for them in 2020, had trouble staying healthy and got hurt again last season. While he was out, a seventh-rounder powered the Chiefs through.

Look at the team they defeated in the Super Bowl, the Eagles. Miles Sanders was a second-rounder. Kenneth Gainwell was picked in the fifth round, and Boston Scott was selected in Round 6. 

Emmanuel Forbes, CB, Mississippi State

Emmanuel Forbes (scouting report) is an exceptional player. If he didn’t weigh 166 pounds at the combine, he would be in the first round all day. Forbes made 14 interceptions at Mississippi State and returned six for touchdowns. In high school, he had seven returns for touchdowns. He has a track record of finding the end zone.

The risk is obvious. Will a team take a 166-pound outside cornerback — he’s not a nickel or slot corner — and trust he can hold up on the outside? Some players with similar profiles, such as Jason Verrett and Amik Robertson, were drafted and played well enough. But, in Verrett’s case, there were some injuries. Forbes is a terrific player, but how slight he is will give some teams pause.

Blake Freeland, OT, BYU

Blake Freeland, OT, BYU

Blake Freeland (scouting report) blew away the offensive tackle competition at the combine with his athletic and agility testing. He comes from an athletic family — both parents were athletes at BYU. His father was a linebacker for the Cougars, and his mom played on the women’s basketball team. 

Concern around Freeland’s game entered the picture at the Senior Bowl because he did not have a good week. His tape was good, but he had a tough week at Mobile against similar competition, and it’s hard to get that out of my head. 

That’s the risk. How far do you value Freeland’s combine performance, where he was terrific, vs. Senior Bowl week, when he didn’t have a good showing? 

Charles Davis is an NFL analyst for CBS and NFL Network. He joined the sports media world after playing safety at the University of Tennessee.

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