NFL Draft bust candidates: J.J. McCarthy, Bo Nix, & Xavier Worthy among riskiest picks in 2024

Many NFL fans, draft analysts, and scouts like to speak in absolutes when it comes to the NFL Draft, but in truth, the event is an inexact science.

As much as everyone likes to think there are safe, can’t-miss prospects each year, it’s impossible to tell whether prospects will succeed at the next level. Injuries, scheme fit, coaching, work ethic, and personal matters all play a role in determining whether a player can thrive.

Falling short in even one area can cause doom even the highest-end prospects to failure in the NFL.

MORE: Tracking the latest NFL Draft rumors, news, trade buzz before Round 1

While it’s not fun to cast doubts on the abilities of perceived top talents, it’s an important part of the scouting process. Identifying overrated players or prospects with off-field concerns helps general managers avoid making mistakes and selecting a player earlier than they should.

This method isn’t always foolproof. Some players with the dreaded “character concerns” label find NFL success. So, too, do undersized or less athletic players who play bigger, faster, and stronger than their testing metrics indicate.

Generally, though, there are enough indicators to signal when a player might be a risky selection. Making a few of those boom-or-bust choices is OK, but NFL decision-makers have to make sure they don’t do that too early or too often.

The 2024 NFL Draft is no exception to the rules involving busts. There are plenty of high-end talents in this year’s class, especially on offense, but in a loaded quarterback class, there are sure to be reaches for some signal-callers and other prospects with red flags.

Who are the biggest boom-or-bust candidates in the 2024 NFL Draft? Sporting News runs through some of the riskiest players that could go in the first or second round of this year’s draft.

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2024 NFL Draft bust candidates

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J.J. McCarthy, QB, Michigan

McCarthy is a bit of a tough evaluation for the NFL level. He has the tools needed to be a high-quality NFL quarterback, as he is mobile and possesses a strong arm. He was also a winner at Michigan, going 27-1 as a starter and leading the Wolverines to a national championship after a 15-0 season as a junior.

MORE: Experts explain McCarthy’s meteoric rise up draft boards

So, why is McCarthy a potential bust candidate? He was surrounded by a stellar supporting cast at Michigan that allowed him to be a high-end game manager.

To be fair, McCarthy performed well in this role. That’s why he completed 67.6 percent of his passes for 6,226 yards, 49 touchdowns, and 11 interceptions with the Wolverines.

Still, it brings up questions about what McCarthy can accomplish at the NFL level, especially if he isn’t surrounded by as strong of a running game or blocking unit as he had in college. He may still perform well, but some of his deficiencies — notably his ball placement on throws and timing over the middle of the field — could shine through more in the NFL than they did at Michigan.

Perhaps McCarthy will land in a good situation in Minnesota, where he will have a talented supporting cast featuring Justin Jefferson and a great offensive-minded coach in Kevin O’Connell. But if he lands with the Patriots or Giants, it might be hard for McCarthy to overcome their offensive limitations. That makes him more of a situation-dependent pick than some of the other high-end quarterbacks in the 2024 NFL Draft.

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Were McCarthy poised to be a mid-to-late-first-round pick, he probably wouldn’t fall into the bust category. He has a high floor and experience in a pro-style offense, after all.

However, McCarthy is trending toward being a top-five pick and seems likely to be drafted as a franchise quarterback. He may never quite reach those heights, as his ceiling is probably more as an Alex Smith-type quarterback than an elite-tier signal-caller.

BENDER: Why J.J. McCarthy is drawing Jim Harbaugh comparisons from Mel Kiper Jr.

Bo Nix, QB, Oregon

Nix is another potential first-round quarterback who could struggle to live up to expectations. He posted prolific numbers at Oregon, which might help him become a top-15 draft pick, but like McCarthy, there are questions about his ceiling.

Nix’s numbers look great on the surface. He completed 77.5 percent of his passes for 4.508 yards, 45 touchdowns, and just three interceptions during his final year with the Ducks.

That said, Nix’s numbers were buoyed by a whopping 66.9 percent of his passes coming within nine yards of the line of scrimmage, per Pro Football Focus. That includes more than a quarter of his passes (28.1 percent) coming behind the line of scrimmage.

Nix won’t have the luxury of throwing that many screens or check-downs at the NFL level. He also won’t be throwing to wide-open receivers as often as he did at Oregon, whose quarterback-friendly offense allowed Nix plenty of easy tosses. That will test Nix’s downfield accuracy and ability to throw passes into tight windows, something he didn’t have to do often with the Ducks.

All that’s to say that Nix will have some growing pains as he transitions to the NFL, especially if he can’t improve upon his 6.8-yard average depth of target (ADOT) from his last season at Oregon. While he could eventually develop into a solid, game-managing starter, it remains to be seen whether teams will be patient enough for him to get comfortable.

If Nix were set to be a late-first-round pick or a second-round pick, these concerns wouldn’t be as worrisome, but if a team like the Broncos selects him at No. 12 overall, it may be difficult for him to live up to the lofty expectations — and Drew Brees comparisons — that could be heaped upon him.

Xavier Worthy Texas

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Xavier Worthy, WR, Texas

The buzz surrounding Worthy exploded after he broke the NFL Combine’s 40-yard dash record in 2024, blazing a 4.21-second time to break the record set by John Ross in 2017 by 0.01 seconds.

Worthy dominated the rest of the NFL Combine, as well, posting a 41-inch vertical jump and a 10-11 broad jump to establish himself as one of the most athletic receivers in the 2024 NFL Draft class. That pushed him into first-round consideration given that he was productive during his career at Texas.

What’s the issue with Worthy? He’s small. It’s not so much the 5-11 frame that could be a problem, but he weighed in at just 160 pounds for the 2024 NFL Combine. Maintaining that playing weight would make him one of the lightest players in the NFL and could cause him to become injury-prone if he doesn’t bulk up.

Worthy played in 39 games during his three seasons with the Longhorns, so some will point to DeVonta Smith’s success at 6-0, 170 pounds as a reason the Texas product could end up OK. Others can look to Hollywood Brown (5-9, 180 pounds) and his history of nagging injuries as a reason Worthy could struggle to make a consistent impact in the NFL.

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Perhaps the best comparison for Worthy is Tank Dell, as noted by’s Lance Zierlein. The Texans’ playmaker (5-10, 165 pounds) enjoyed an excellent rookie season, making 47 catches for 709 yards and seven touchdowns in 11 games, but he missed six games with a fractured fibula.

That serves as a cautionary tale for the team that drafts Worthy. He could develop into a true No. 1 receiver and speed demon at the next level, but his size makes his durability a question mark. As the cliché goes, the best ability in the NFL is availability.

2024 NFL DRAFT TOP 10 LISTS: QBs | RBs | WRs | TEs | EDGE

Nate Wiggins, CB, Clemson

Wiggins comes with similar concerns to Worthy. Despite measuring at 6-1, the Clemson defensive back weighs just 173 pounds. The average NFL defensive back weighs 200 pounds, per a University of Idaho study, so many will question whether Wiggins has the durability needed to defend against bigger, more physical NFL players.

Wiggins didn’t do much to quell those durability concerns at the 2024 NFL Combine. He suffered a hip injury while running the 40-yard dash, clocking a magnificent 4.28-second 40 but failing to participate in the rest of the drills. That allowed Quinyon Mitchell and Terrion Arnold to establish themselves as the top cornerbacks ahead of him.

It also doesn’t help that other aspects of Wiggins’ game have come under fire, per SportsKeeda’s Tony Pauline.

“Wiggins’ slender build, instincts and ability to make plays with his back to the ball have all come under fire,” Pauline wrote ahead of the 2024 NFL Draft. “Several people tell me they believe Wiggins is a one-contract player who won’t make it at the next level.”

Wiggins may prove those decision-makers wrong, but unless a team believes they can add some muscle to his frame quickly, he may struggle to live up to his first-round billing.

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Laiatu Latu, EDGE, UCLA

Judging off tape and talent alone, Latu might be one of the best players in this draft class. He was a consistently productive edge rusher at UCLA and racked up 23.5 sacks over two seasons with the school. He should be a top-20 pick and could even be the first defensive player selected.

The problem with Latu stems from a neck injury he suffered at practice during his sophomore year at Washington. The Huskies medical staff wouldn’t clear him to play, deeming it too dangerous for him to take the field, so he briefly retired from the sport.

Eventually, Latu returned and played at UCLA without any issues. He also was medically cleared from the injury by NFL teams ahead of the 2024 NFL Draft.

Still, head and cervical-area injuries are taken very seriously at the NFL level, so Latu will be monitored closely. He may never deal with the injury again during his football career, but if it resurfaces or he suffers a similar injury, he might be forced into retirement again.

Latu’s plight is similar to that of Jaelan Phillips, a former UCLA defensive end who retired due to concussions, transferred to Miami, and later became a first-round pick. Phillips hasn’t dealt with any head injuries in the NFL, so that could convince edge-needy NFL teams to take a chance on Latu.

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Still, his medical situation can’t be ignored and should be on the mind of any NFL team looking to spend an early-round resource on him.

IYER: What can be learned from bust-filled 2021 NFL Draft QB class?

Kingsley Suamataia, OL, BYU

Suamataia is one of the most polarizing players in the 2024 NFL Draft, but he might sneak into the first round. The BYU product is 6-5, 326 pounds, but he’s raw and will need time to develop in the NFL before becoming a starting-caliber player.

Suamataia has enormous potential as a five-star recruit and a cousin of Penei Sewell. It’s not a surprise to see teams taking an interest in him as a potential first- or early-second-round pick.

But if Suamataia is forced into action too early, that may hinder his overall development. Thus, his ability to succeed may largely depend on his situation and whether the team with which he signs has quality veterans in front of him that will allow him to be eased into action rather than thrown into the fire. That could make him a disappointing addition for any contender hoping for an immediately productive tackle on either side of the line.

T’Vondre Sweat, DT, Texas 

Sweat’s draft stock rose during the NFL Combine, as he measured at 6-4, 366 pounds but looked fluid in the movement drills and ran a rock-solid 5.27-second 40-yard dash. He started to become a potential Day 2 pick at defensive tackle given that he could eat up space with his size and open up pass-rushing lanes for his teammates.

Sweat’s draft stock took a hit when he was arrested for driving while intoxicated (DWI) April 7. That was followed by a report that he was into partying as an underclassman. He said that was behind him, per Dane Brugler of The Athletic.

Naturally, Sweat’s DWI will bring up questions about his off-field activities and ability to stay out of trouble in the NFL. That will make him a risky selection and could cause him to slip in the 2024 NFL Draft.


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