Thursday, March 22, 2012

2012 NFL Draft: Wide Receivers

What it says on the tin. As always, the order is semi-random and not necessarily representative of who I think the best receivers are.

- Justin Blackmon, Oklahoma State: Ok, so this might be representative. I said the other day in my quarterbacks post that I was going to talk highly of Blackmon and such is the case here.

For me personally Blackmon is the most complete receiver entering the draft this year. He has the size, the speed, the strength, the jumping ability, the safe hands, the timing, the route running and the run after the catch ability to start in the NFL and go on to become a top receiver in time. If it were me then I'd be happier taking Blackmon than I would Andrew Luck.

I just can't see this pick going too far wrong. He's too good for that. With the right coaching Blackmon has the raw talent to go on and have a career comparable to guys like Andre Johnson and Larry Fitzgerald. Easily top of his class

- Michael Floyd, Notre Dame: Very little to complain about with Floyd. If I was pushed to have a moan (like I need pushing) then I would say that his run after the catch isn't great and sometimes he tries to make one handed "Hollywood" catches when I'm pretty certain he could have used two hands, but other than that Floyd is an excellent receiver.

He's a big target man with excellent hands who concentrates well on the ball. His route running will need a bit of tweaking but a lot depends on how teams use him. Floyd is better when gets downfield and can use his size along the sideline to make leaping catches or to cut across the face of defenders on in-breaking routes.

Receiver could prove to be this years hot position with lots of guys being taken early and frankly you can't go too far wrong with Floyd. He'll need some of that arrogance that he plays with knocked out of him, but all things considered he's a solid first round pick.

- Alshon Jeffery, South Carolina: Big receiver who runs really good routes. Hands are safe too. Has taken a lot of flack for not getting separation from defenders, but to be fair College ball is a lot more lenient of jersey tugging than the NFL is. At the pro level defenders wont have the option of holding him back so blatantly to stop him getting past them. Could go in the first round and that wouldn't be out of place for him. Good receiver.

- Kendall Wright, Baylor: Kendall Wright is something of an enigma. I say that because he has a major strength and a major weakness, either of which could potentially cancel out the other. Allow me to explain.

Wright, in pads, on a proper football field, is fast. Greasy fast. His combine 40 yard dash time wasn't great but I don't care, the video evidence is there for all to see. That's the major strength. The major weakness is that his route tree in college was very limited, so there's a good chance that he will take a long time to adapt to the pro-style offense that awaits him.

Now I say that either of those could cancel the other out for a good reason; because it's true. A team may look at his speed and decide they're only going to use him on the routes that benefit him the most, which means some screen passes, some quick slants, some fade routes and some deep post routes. It would put him in a category along with Mike Wallace and DeSean Jackson, where bad routes on some plays are ignored because of the home run hitting potential on others.

On the other hand, the bad route running could overwhelm the speed. If he's unable to run anything but a handful of routes then that makes him less useful in the passing game. He may find that his speed alone isn't enough at the next level and lacking any alternative plans to just "run fast down the sideline", he becomes a bit part player who is eventually dropped.

Me personally, I think his 40 time will push him down draft boards (speed is the only real selling point he has) but I also think that the 40 time is not representative of what you're going to get on the field. I think Wright does have the legit full stride speed to cause defenses serious issues and whether slanting inwards out of the slot, or as a flanker tearing down the sideline, Wright is going to cause people a lot of problems.

- Stephen Hill, Georgia Tech: One of the reasons I hate covering the wide receivers, despite this being a position I used to coach, is that when we're talking NFL prospects you end up repeating yourself a lot.

"Tall". "Big Body". "Quick". "Safe Hands". Etc, etc. If you're one of those pretentious knob heads who likes to use "scout speak" for no good reason then you can always make those attributes sound more impressive by replacing tall with long armed, big body with imposing, quick with explosive, and safe hands with some some variation on the theme of dependable.

Well Stephen Hill is like many other receivers in this years draft. He's an imposing, long armed receiver with explosive speed and dependable hands. Actually that's not quite true.

Sometimes he drops easy catches. Yes, in the Pierre Garcon sense, of the ball literally dropping into his lap and him still managing to find a way to not catch it. He usually chalks up about one or two of these a game. On the flip side he's 6 foot 4 and ran a 4.36 at the combine. Not really sure as his "field speed" matches that, but there you go.

DeMaryius Thomas, in that as a member of the Georgia Tech offense the amount of different routes he's been asked to learn can probably be counted on one hand. That means he will take longer than most receivers to adapt at the next level.

For that reason he might get pushed down the pecking order, as there are other receivers who do the same things he does, just as well, and yet they've also run a much fuller route tree in college. In Hill's favour is that blistering 40 yard dash time and his significant size.

At the next level? Hard to say because I don't know how well he'll respond to coaching when it comes to learning the various routes, but generally his size, athletic ability and concentration when waiting for deep passes would suggest he'll find moderate success at the very least, maybe more.

- Rueben Randle, LSU: Randle did himself no favours at the combine and as a result of his disappointing 40 yard dash time he's dropped on a lot of boards. Personally I don't see why.

Randle has a great combination of size and speed, and was in a kind of pro-style offense in college which means he ran a decent variety of routes. He has great hands, he adjusts very well under the football on deep passes and has proven himself to be quite a shifty, agile runner after the catch. His run blocking is ok too.

I expect that whoever drafts Randle will be very happy with their new toy over the coming few years.

- Mohamed Sanu, Rutgers: Not the quickest, not the tallest, not the most outstandingly athletic. Not a bad route runner though. The trouble is that Sanu has earned a reputation for his catching skills thanks to a few highlight reel catches, but overall Sanu doesn't have that great a pair of hands. He was hampered by the frankly shocking quarterback play at Rutgers, but still. He's probably not good enough to stand out at the next level. Maybe a servicable #4 or #5 receiver on a roster.

- Nick Toon, Wisconsin: Great receiver. His route running is excellent, his hands are very good and he's even a willing run blocker. Perhaps not the fastest wide receiver in this draft, but his route technique is so clean and tight that it gives him an edge that makes up for any lack of speed.

His run after the catch is ok and he's not going to blaze away from defenders with the ball in his hands, but don't discount just how good a receiver Toon is because of that. His projections range from late second to as low as early fourth, and to be honest any of those is a nice fit for Toon. However gets him gets themselves a legitimate number two receiver, from week one of the season. Impressive.

- Tommy Streeter, Miami: Looks like a giant bean pole running down the field. It's almost comical to watch. In all seriousness though, I like Streeter. He's very tall and makes an excellent target in the red zone. Speed is pretty good, as his hands. Not the greatest technical route runner, but quite adept at slowing down then accelerating past defenders on double moves.

There's a lot of big play potential in Streeter, but the fact that he'll need work to fully develop himself as a consistent route runner will likely push him down a little. It's a shame, he has the potential to have a big career. Potential being the operative word and meaning not guaranteed. Toasters and all that.

- Juron Criner, Arizona: Despite playing in a spread offense, Criner has run a far more developed route tree than some due to the kind of plays that Arizona used in their offense. He's pretty quick, despite his combine numbers, and made some really good catches in college. Sometimes his ball security is a bit sketchy, as he occasionally runs with the ball held out away from his body ala Adrian Peterson during his period of serious fumbling issues.

On balance though Criner is a good receiver. He runs his routes very well, with little wasted movement except for the occasional little-too-much-shimmy at the start of some of them as he tries to get around corners who are in press coverage. His acceleration with the ball in his hands after the catch is tremendous. Could end up being something of a steal.

- Marvin McNutt, Iowa: Coming from Iowa means that right off the bat McNutt has the advantage of being a "pro-style" guy who has run a pretty varied route tree. His hands are a question mark for me, because while he has become famous (infamous?) for juggling passes while on the move and then catching them, that's normally a result of his failure to catch the pass properly in the first place.

Speed wise he's ok without really being eye catching. I think concerns by some over his ability to separate from defenders are over rated. A constant example that comes up was the Nebraska game, but as we'll cover when we get round to talking about Alfonzo Dennard with the corners, McNutt was constantly having his jersey pulled.

I'm still a little skeptical of McNutt because of the hands issue, but broadly speaking he's a good receiver. His route running technique is pretty well developed (possibly one of the best in this draft class) so that eases his learning curve and means that he might be able to contribute from day one. On that basis, McNutt gets a tentative thumbs up.

- Marvin Jones, California: Meh. Average speed. Average hands. His body control when making tight and/or difficult catches is pretty good, but other than that there isn't really a lot to make him stand out. Has the potential to have an ok career, but teams tend to not be all that excited about "ok" receivers.

- Chris Givens, Wake Forest: Meh. See above for speed and hands. Route running is ok. He has some nice moves in the open field, but for a receiver who is under 6 feet he isn't all that quick on the field. I just came away with that very underwhelmed, almost disappointed feeling.

- T.Y Hilton, Florida International: First lets get the bad out of the way and done with. His route running is pretty limited and at times he looked lazy. His ball security is horrendously bad. I mean that in the worst possible way, it's chronic. However, Hilton is speedy as all f**k. I mean speed, greasy, super lightning speed. With the success in recent years of guys like DeSean Jackson and Mike Wallace, Hilton will likely draw plenty of suitors.

The only potential problem is that his small size makes him vulnerable to bump coverage which, with a safety over the top, could negate a lot of his speed advantage. But if an offense can get him in the open field then he will flat out streak away from people.

- Joe Adams, Arkansas: Diamond in the rough. The rough is more to do with his attitude on the field. Like many receivers he has a habit of getting in peoples faces and trash talking, which is never a good thing, not least when those people have essentially free reign to clock you one as you run across the field.

That aside, he's quick, has pretty good hands, concentrates well on the ball, has great body control to make difficult catches and stay in bounds, is fairly elusive as a runner and runs pretty good routes. There is a lot about him that reminds me of Santonio Holmes, which is a good thing. The projections I've seen on him range from 2nd to 4th round, and any spot like that would fit him. A late first wouldn't be too much of a reach to be honest, I think he's that good.

- A.J. Jenkins, Illinois: I actually really enjoyed watching Jenkins. He has a nice combination of both size and speed, has pretty good hands, and runs really excellent routes. Any time you watch a receiver and think to yourself that it looks like you're watching an NFL game then that is obviously a good sign. Again, the projections for Jenkins are not great but I'm pretty impressed.

I'm going to do something a little different and leave the receivers there for now. I want to get through all the position groups in at least some detail before the draft, as I can always come back and do extras on each group, preferable before the draft but if not then it gives me something to do in the monotony of the off season.

Next up will be tight ends.

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