Sunday, March 15, 2015

2015 NFL Draft: Wide Receivers

One of my favourite position groups to assess, not least because I did a bit of receiver coaching once upon a time.

With the ascendancy of the passing game over the years and especially now with some of the revised rules on defender contact that has seen the number of 4,000+ yard passing teams go through the roof, wide receivers have never been more valuable. A glut of good rookie talents last year has set the bar high though, so teams now will be highly expectant of this years crop to be plug and play guys that can start producing (and producing well) right from week one.

The likely effect of that optimism will be to push receivers further up the board than they might otherwise have been in another year and could have unfortunate consequences in setting unrealistic production goals by which to measure whether these receivers have delivered value or not.

So the first question then before we start would be "what do I look for in a wide receiver?":

1) Route technique,
2) Release technique,
3) Catching/hands,
4) Run blocking,

One is very important to me. A wide receivers best chance of getting open is to use his speed, agility, but also his brains. Smart receivers use movement to manipulate defenders, setting them up and then breaking away from them suddenly. A skilled receiver can shake pretty much any coverage with the right technique and a determination to win, taking advantage of the inherent fact that defenders will always be reacting to their moves. I'm looking for receivers who use quick changes of direction and clever positioning to create openings for the quarterback to throw to.

Two is related to one, but I consider it a distinct skill. In this case we're talking about the ability to beat the defender off the line, both when the defender is in tight man coverage and also when the corner plays a little softer at a depth of around 5 yards or so. Proper release technique can create opportunities to burn past flat footed defenders, but those first few steps can also be used to set up defenders for more complex moves further down the field. Winning with your release puts the defender in a bad position and leaves him figuratively (and sometimes literally) playing catch up.

At this point we'll just briefly talk about a receivers size. Generally speaking shorter (sub 6 foot) receivers are generally considered to be possession receivers, the type of player who lines up in the slot and runs shorter routes with early breaks. This is because shorter receivers as a broad rule normally accelerate quickly and have superior agility when cutting, but often lack the stride length to compete for speed with taller corners down the field. Being shorter they also often lack the ability to match tall corners in jump ball situations. Conversely tall receivers are generally favoured for down field patterns because of their speed and ability to compete for those jump balls.

I have a couple of problems with this. The first is that arguably the greatest receiver of all time - Jerry Rice - was somewhat notorious when drafted by the 49ers because of his 40 yard dash time of 4.69 seconds which was slow even by the standards of the time, and positively pedestrian by today's standards. Being a little slow though probably helped Rice to achieve greatness on account of making it easier for him to decelerate into his breaks. His route technique was (and still is) textbook, allowing him to get open even against the best corners.

The other complaint I have is that I'm concerned that too many receivers now rely on their height and jumping ability in order for quarterbacks to essentially throw them open. This is fine when a 6'4" receiver is matched up against a 5'9" corner, but against the taller corners and those with better technique, suddenly just being tall is no longer much of a weapon and they can find themselves coming unstuck. This problem is exasperated by the fact that teams are starting to catch on to the fact that Richard Sherman's primary advantage in coverage is the simple fact that he's 6'3" and as such it's very difficult to throw the ball over his head.

For this reason I'm a little sceptical of the pure height and speed advantages so beloved of scouts and draft analysts. I'll be taking note of these as I go along and certainly there are tremendous advantages to having tall and/or fast receivers, but only in the context of what else happens on the field. In my opinion it does you no good to have a very tall receiver who can pad his stats with a few 200+ yard games against small corners, but who then gets largely locked down by better corners for the rest of the season. This relates to my general feeling about draft analysis in that I'm always asking myself "can this player produce against the very best? Can he help someone win a Super Bowl?". Because at the end of the day, in the NFL, that's the only standard that really matters.

On to point three and pass catching, it might seem a little odd for it to be only third on my list of priorities. The reason for that is that by the time they leave college most receivers already have pretty good hands. The difference between the average and the best is normally not that huge. What I'm really looking for here is the extremes, the people that drop a significant number of passes and the people that drop almost no passes. It's also worth noting that when a receiver has problems catching the ball then generally it's very specific to one type of catch, e.g. Braylon Edwards always had problems catching passes over his shoulder and for some reason nobody thought to tell him that maybe if he took his hands away from his facemask then the ball would stop bouncing off it.

Finally point 4, run blocking. This is a pet peeve of mine. Wide receivers are normally asked to block either corners or safeties. Usually when a wide receiver makes his block and holds it for a few seconds that creates the space for big runs. Very rarely does a running back break off a big run without at least one good down field block by a receiver. So when receivers don't put the effort in it really annoys me, more so because many corners and some safeties are normally not exactly keen to get stuck in and won't put up a huge fight. I accept though that it's not considered a big issue by most, despite the significant impact that it has on the running game.

So with that out of the way let's get down to business, and as always the list is ordered the way it is because that's how the list I'm working from is ordered.

Amari Cooper, Alabama
Consensus top receiver in this draft. And horrible run blocker.

No I mean it, it's horrible. I saw a number of plays where Cooper barely even tried and as a result his man tackled the running back and cost Alabama a fair amount of yardage. That really annoys me. Gets right under my skin.

That aside though Cooper is a really good receiver. And I mean really good. His release from the line of scrimmage and his route technique are both superb. Defenders were so scared of him that at times he only had to use a little head fake to get them turned around and heading off in the wrong direction. It was actually quite amusing to watch. His hands are great, he catches pretty much everything that comes his way, and then after the catch he has some nice moves to evade tacklers and get more yardage. You can see why he's projected as a top ten pick.

Aside from the run blocking the only other thing that annoyed me about Cooper was that sometimes he looked like he was holding back a little. There just seemed to be times when he kind of gave up on some of his patterns. It's a difficult thing to judge for certain because on occasion he would start the route slowly to sucker in the defender then jump a gear and race off, but to me it did seem that sometimes he just wasn't that committed.

Overall, and especially given the sub-par standard of quarterback play he had to deal with in 2014, I think Cooper is fantastic. He can play possession football underneath, he can race off down the sideline, he can turn people inside out on post patterns, and he catches practically everything within reach. He's not a big red zone target, but he'll rack up the yardage in the open field. Really good stuff.

Kevin White, West Virginia
Every year I like to cast a glance over other draft analysts predominately for the purpose of entertainment, usually derived from reading contradictory opinions from the same person or otherwise amusing inconsistencies. For example last year one offensive linemen was described by an analyst as having "ideal arm length", then another was later described by the same analyst as "lacking ideal arm length"... despite the difference between the two being 3/8 of an inch. It gave me a chuckle. 

As did this sentence about Kevin White "Terrific inside release to beat press coverage" listed as a strength, only to be followed by this sentence under weaknesses "must learn to get off line of scrimmage against press coverage". If you think that was stupid, it actually gets more amusing than that. Under weaknesses there was this "Must answer questions abound about his top-end speed". Only to be followed by this sentence in the wrap up "a blazing 4.35 40 at the combine, proving he has the top-end speed". ??

Poking fun at others gaffs aside (and now leaving myself open to pillory if I make a similar slip up) let's get down to business and really talk about Kevin White. Does he have a terrific release or not? Does he have blazing speed or not?

Well, how do I put this? Ok, I've got it. You know when you see an artist on TV, and I mean a proper artist that draws pictures and does paintings and stuff, and you see them draw a few simple lines to start off with and wonder what the hell it is they're drawing, then two minutes later they sit back and go "there" to reveal that they've drawn a life like picture of Mount Everest complete with soaring eagles and the bodies of a few failed climbers, and you say to yourself "how does that smug s**t do that?". Well, that's the feeling you will get every week watching White.

He's incredibly quick. He makes everyone else look like they're running in glue and that includes players on top teams, prime recruits who are representative of NFL speed. He has a great release, not least because people are so insanely scared of his speed that some of them turn their backs to run before he's even gone 2 yards. And of course he's 6'3" and weighs 215 pounds, so he jumps and plucks high balls out of the air like it was nothing.

And my god, he actually blocks. And I don't mean that sort of half hearted blocking that most receivers do, though he's not exactly a road grader. I think "sufficient" is the word I would use to describe him as a blocker. For example in one game alone I saw him make five key blocks on corners that created first downs, whereas had he not made the block then the play would likely have ended with just a short gain as the corner would have come down to make the tackle. So he contributes in both the passing and running phases of the game. Win-win.

Would I pick him before Cooper? Yep, 100%. That's not saying that Cooper is bad. Cooper is quality. But White is better. And the scary thing is he still has room for more growth because some of his routes lack a bit of polish and the West Virginia system was a little limited. He did do a decent variety of patterns, but some of the more complex ones he will have to learn. As far as lacking polish, he just needs a bit more snap and crispness in some of his breaks. At the minute some of his inside breaks are quite rounded which gives the defender the chance to drop in behind him and tail him. If he could learn to stick his foot in the ground and whip his body around a bit quicker, with his speed, he'd get open against anyone and stay open all day long.

In summary, I think White is good enough to be a first overall pick. There's only ever been six receivers taken #1 overall in NFL history, the last one being in 1996 (Keyshawn Johnson, by the New York Jets). I doubt the Buccaneers will do it because they have their eyes on a certain Mr. Winston, but I wouldn't hesitate to do it. The money would be worth it. And I'll be interested to see going forward from here if anyone else (from any position) can match my enthusiasm for White. It'll be a tough ask.

DeVante Parker, Louisville
Annnnd Parker might just be that guy!

Well, perhaps. White still has a bit of an edge, but Parker is really, really close. The king of slants, his route tree was somewhat limited. He caught a ton of slant passes, a lot of straight up go routes down the sideline, and the odd crossing pattern. But you can afford to be a little bit predictable when people struggle so much to cover you! Another guy who is 6'3", but a little leaner than White. He can sort of run block. At least he makes an effort, which is more than Cooper. He just isn't very good at it, though if the corner is not up for the fight then the two of them will usually just stand there and have a little hug and try to not to hurt each other.

Once you put those criticisms aside though Parker is a quality wide out. He's quick, he has superb release technique, and he's a big ol' target to aim at. He doesn't always high point the ball (jump and catch it at the highest point possible when under pressure) but normally that only happens when it seems he feels like the defender has no chance to catch it. After the catch Parker is very elusive and tough to bring down. That seems odd because he has quite a slight build, but his balance is just so exceptional and people seem to have real difficulty getting a purchase on his slender frame.

Overall Parker will still need some work and perhaps that's what might put him behind Cooper in the order. His route running is not developed to the standard needed for the NFL, but I think that's something that he can be taught because he has the basics down. He's getting there, it'll just take an off season or two of hard work with his team to take him to that next required level. His combination of speed, size and balance however cannot be taught, and that's where he has the real edge over Cooper in the long run. I'd be tempted to say that I'd take Parker over Cooper based on the assumption that I think Cooper will be a little bit better in the short term but Parker will be a little bit better in the long term.

Breshad Perriman, Central Florida
This is the perfect example of what I was talking about with players who have size and not a lot else.

Perriman suffered a bit because his quarterback was frankly dire, but even then that can't be used as an excuse for all of his failings. He showed classic traits of being a tall guy with a bit of speed and no technique. His release was either just to hit the gas immediately or to come off the line of scrimmage, hop on the spot, and then try to blow past the defender. NFL corners will eat that up all day. There's no variety, no technique. He's just relying on being quicker than the corner. And he's really not that quick compared to the opponents he was facing.

Nor was his jumping ability that great. For a 6'2" receiver he sure does seem to lose a lot of jump balls. Even smaller corners didn't have that many problems covering him. He had no real route technique, again it was just speed, and that didn't always work either. His hands are ok, but he dropped a number of easy catches. His run blocking was, meh. He got in the way of the defenders, which is a start.

Overall I don't see Perriman as a first round pick at all. For me this is a good example of a guy you would perhaps gamble on later in the draft because he is tall and does have a bit of speed, but is so unpolished in his technique it's unreal. He looks like a freshman receiver at times. Against decent corners he'll probably get locked down, even with a good quarterback throwing to him. On balance I think I'd pass because I suspect that even later on there will be more polished receivers available.

Jaelen Strong, Arizona State
Everyone is going crazy because he posted a 42 inch vertical jump at the combine. My argument would be that that's the only really outstanding thing I've seen Strong do.

On the field it was a little pathetic. You're a scholarship athlete who is getting several tens of thousands of dollars worth of free education, learning support, what is effectively a free personal trainer and gym membership, plus all the other perks that come with being a student athlete in an FBS football program, and yet on 90% of the plays he didn't even look like he could be bothered to run.

His release was painfully slow and had very little technique to it. NFL corners will eat him up all day long because he lacks acceleration. His run blocking is tragic and his hands are a bit dodgy. People are calling him a possession receiver because he made a few highlight catches, but double catching the ball is not a positive trait, it's a negative one. His route tree was incredibly limited. He was decent enough with some of the back shoulder fades and his out pattern had a nice snap to it when he made his break, but other than that he didn't do much that was special.

He will need a ton of work to be effective in the NFL. He has a niche area that he can fill on account of being 6'2" coupled with that vertical leap, but it really is a niche skill set. I'm pretty sure that right now you could go and sign a veteran free agent receiver or tight end who could perform that same task equally well, if not better. I think it's crazy how highly rated he his and I suspect it has a ton to do with that leap at the combine. For me he would at best be a late round project, but I wouldn't have the patience to coach him. He'd be on a greyhound home in no time at all. I'd pass.

Phillip Dorsett, Miami
Our first receiver under 6 feet. So how does he match up?

Right off the bat let's make one thing clear: Dorsett is a massive gamble. I say that because despite his blazing speed and good technique he averaged less than 3 catches per game. Why? Partly it was just poor quarterback play. But to me it always raises a big question mark; why is someone that good not trusted by his quarterback more?

And he is good. And he is quick. He combines quick twitch acceleration with sustained top end speed in the open field, and because he's relatively short with a slight build he changes direction on a dime. His release technique is ok, but needs some refining, while his down field technique is excellent. Part of that is just because he's so quick that defenders know they have to react immediately in order to stand a chance, so a quick drop of the shoulder normally sets them in motion one way before he cuts back behind them.

Really the only major downside is his height. He's not going to be catching many jump balls and he won't be worrying people in the red zone with his height. His speed and elusiveness maybe, but not his height. His blocking is relatively mediocre, but credit to him in that at least he engages the defender most of the time and if they fight then he will at least try and put up some resistance.

I just can't get that nagging feeling out of the back of my mind though. Why wasn't he targeted more? We can't put it all on the quarterback surely? That's going to bug me endlessly. Broadly speaking though I think you have to give Dorsett the thumbs up. Probably more of a slot guy than an outside guy, but with that speed he can certainly give NFL corners nightmares. Might not take the pounding at the next level for very long with that frame so could be a long term injury risk, but with a bit of coaching to sharpen up some of his complex route running and a quarterback who can get the most out of him then he has the potential to be a massive hit at the next level. Watch out.

Dorial Green-Beckham, Missouri
I'm impressed by Green-Beckham. It's not often that you see a guy who's 6'5" who can't jump...

Kicked off his team, hasn't played in over a year, touted as being a disruptive trouble maker and uncoachable, has off field behaviour concerns which make him a suspension waiting to happen, loses to much shorter defenders on a number of jump balls, has multiple drops per game and doesn't block. What's there to actually like about Green-Beckham?

Well, he does run well after the catch and his top end speed is excellent. As a very limited deep receiver he has some value. Till he gets arrested. Or kicked off the team. If he can keep his nose clean then he does have value as that deep threat guy who could also be coached to run a very select group of patterns that maximise his skill set. But do you really want to take that risk? Maybe on day three and if you have the picks to spare. To me I think the history of bad character receivers suggests that unless you plan to have him for just the one or two years and go for a Super Bowl right away then you're better off passing on someone like this.

Devin Smith, Ohio State
Before drafting Smith you would have to ask yourself a question.

Because Smith does one thing really well and that's burning down the field with his 4.42 sec 40 yard speed. Matched up in the slot against a safety, and even against most corners, he has the speed to blow past people. Down the field a little shoulder drop to one side is normally enough to throw off most defenders and give the quarterback space to hit him in stride. So here is the question you have to ask yourself; is that enough?

If you're happy with a player who is basically one dimensional and are prepared to invest the time over the course of the next few years to teach him to run more routes than just a go, an in and a hook, then Smith is your guy. Knock yourself out. His speed will probably hold up for several years as long as he can avoid any major injuries and even at the NFL level it will cause people problems. But the risk is that defenses will figure him out quickly. One look at the tape demonstrates that he struggles to beat press man coverage as he has no real release technique other than just being quick, and that press at the line often negates any advantage he has down the field. For that reason I'd pass on Smith myself, but I can see how he will have appeal to some teams and at least has the potential to be a big play receiver in the right setup.

And perhaps I should point out at this point that I can see why teams would draft some players that aren't really my cup of tea, as long as you know what you're getting into before hand. There have been lots of receivers like Smith who have a set of skills that when taken together can produce great results under a certain set of circumstances. Just don't get upset when you ask that player to move out of that comfort zone and it doesn't work, or that opponents lock the player down because he's a bit one dimensional, or moan because he isn't helping your running game. If you want that deep play ability then that's fine, but you have to understand and accept the associated costs that come with it.

Sammie Coates, Auburn
Combine warrior who topped the scoreboards in pretty much every category in Indi.

But I would not go near him because he would drive me insane. The drops are horrendous. He has great speed to blow past people down the sideline, but half the time he fails to make the catch anyway so it doesn't matter. His route tree was incredibly limited just to top it off. For me that's not a winning combination. He'll make plays, put up some yardage, score some touchdowns, and that's great. But he's not consistent enough to rely on and that for me is the killer. I'd pass.

Rashad Greene, Florida State
Bit of a mystery is Rashad Greene.

I say that because on some plays he'll blow past the defender, catch the ball, then race off to the end zone and nobody has a hope of catching him. Then the rest of the game he'll be covered up and remain covered because he's slow to start and doesn't have the route technique to work himself free. For me Greene is a third round or even third day guy who you invest in as a backup. He comes to your team as a third or fourth choice receiver with no immediate pressure on his shoulders and a bit of speed in the open field and you work with him from there. He either develops into a more nuanced threat that can run some decent routes or you end up cutting him after a few seasons.

Tyler Lockett, Kansas State
You take the good with the bad with Lockett.

The good; superb route runner. The bad; catching the football. Typical though really, just when you think you've found a good route runner and he ends up being deficient in quite a critical area. That said he made some great catches even under pressure, but the drops occurred too often to make him reliable. He has speed though and knows how to sell a defender off his pattern and create throwing room for the quarterback. I just think he would build a reputation on a team for not being the guy that the quarterback wants to go to when the chips are down.

That has to suppress his value somewhat. He can play and he's worth a shot, but you need to get value to compensate you for the risk of those drops. It's not like he has a catching epidemic, but it is a little too frequent to not put a flag next to his name. As a slot guy, third in the receiver pecking order, I think he can carve out a space for himself in the NFL and make some money.

Nelson Agholor, USC
I quite like Agholor. He's quick, he's a good route runner, and coming from USC he's been exposed to a much greater variety of route patterns that some of the other guys on this list. And he's a good return man on special teams to top it off.

Is he a premier guy? Maybe not. But I think he has the capability to start on an NFL team as the number two guy and then develop into the number one slot over time. He has a good release, works the defender all the way down the field and has some shifty moves after the catch. I saw him catch some nice balls in traffic and generally his hands are pretty sound. He's likely to fall a little just because he's not seen as a top receiver and so someone will get a bargain a little later on in the draft. If this class wasn't so deep he'd probably be a late first round pick.

Ty Montgomery, Stanford
Well, that was uninspiring. Based on what I've read about Montgomery I was expecting to see an explosive athlete whose slow combine 40 was just an aberration. What I saw was exactly what the combine numbers would suggest. He looked sluggish, he dropped a number of passes and hardly seems worth the time. He did get some nice blocks in because he's a 221 pound six footer, but if it were down to me I would want him to drop some of that weight, down closer to 210 if possible, and pick up some speed. Route running was ok, but nothing special. For me? I'd pass.

Chris Conley, Georgia
Tested exceptionally well at the combine, demonstrating real athletic ability to go with his 6'2" height. Route running was inconsistent though. His release is average, mostly just trying to use speed, but once he gets down field he has some moves. Just not many. And he really lacks sharpness in his breaks, producing more of a curl to his routes which is not really ideal. I wonder how much of that he gets away with just purely because of his speed?

In the NFL you have to respect a guy with his size and speed, but it's not clear how he'll stand up to more physical corners getting in his face near the line. And while he had the ability to win a foot race in the open field his initial acceleration is not great which will cause him problems on shorter patterns, especially with his lack of technique. I think the fact that he's such a raw product would move him to the third day for me, though I highly doubt all 32 teams will wait that long. Someone will bite sooner because of that combine performance, but to me it's speed and height without much else to back it up yet. He's a development guy with potentially a high ceiling, but a long way to go to get there.

Vince Mayle, Washington State
Ran a very limited route tree. And did it slowly. And dropped the ball a fair bit. Thanks but no thanks.

Darren Waller, Georgia Tech
At least he got the opportunity to run block quite a bit. Not sure why Waller is this high on the list I'm using aside from the fact that he's 6'6" tall. He did almost no route running at all, was not especially fast, and seems to be of incredibly limited use to an NFL team outside of the red zone.

Antwan Goodley, Baylor
Ran three different routes that I could see; screen (which isn't really a route), quick hitch and go. He ran one in pattern but failed to recognise that it was man coverage and just stopped as if he was sitting down against a zone despite having miles of room inside to run into. Absolute waste of time.

Kenny Bell, Nebraska
I'm pretty sure I saw him drop more passes than he actually caught. Limited route tree. No thanks.

Tony Lippett, Michigan State
Clocked a slow 40 time at the combine and looked it on the field. To his advantage though Lippett is 6'2" and had some nice moves both in his release and down field. You have to wonder then whether Lippett could find a home as a slot receiver, possession type guy especially on third downs and in the red zone? It's a little niche so you wouldn't want to use anything more than a late round pick on him, but it's not a terrible option. Perhaps wait and pick him up as an undrafted free agent maybe? I think he's worth a look even if it's just bringing him to a training camp.

Jamison Crowder, Duke
Poor hands, poor release, poor routes, poor me for having to sit and watch that. Nope.

Justin Hardy, East Carolina
Undersized guy with some skills.

His route tree for East Carolina was very limited and with the drops, the low height, and the bad 40 time at the combine I suspect he's very much become a fringe guy for some people. But don't count Hardy out just yet. As slow as he may have been at the combine, for whatever reason (the 40 yard dash is as much about starting technique as pure speed), he clearly had some speed on the field, even against teams that traditionally recruit top athletes. He wasn't blazing past people by any means but he did look quicker than that 40 time suggests. And the routes that he did run were actually not bad. Not great, but not bad. I think he's someone that might go to a training camp and perhaps win a job as a backup slot receiver. I don't think he'll ever be good enough to be a number one wide out, but he could probably develop into a decent contributor.

Dezmin Lewis, Central Arkansas
6'4", supposedly turned in a 4.40 40 at his pro day. Yet he doesn't play like it. He has some speed on the field, but he doesn't seem to race away from people which is concerning given some of the opposition he faced. Nor does he play like a guy that is six-four. He never seems to leave his feet to catch the ball and gets muscled out of plays too easily. In one quite amusing incident he was being chased down the sideline by a corner and just ran himself out of bounds despite being out in front! Now he's taken some stick for that and he deserves some of it, but watching the film closely I think it happened because he had his head turned to find the corner and just wasn't looking where he was going.

All of that would seem to be very negative, but I'd actually be willing to take a closer look at Lewis. There were some plays where he was able to fake the corner out and then speed past them, drawing some holding penalties in the process. And some of his routes were not too bad. Not amazing, but not too bad. I have to wonder whether that speed and size combination, with a bit of work, could become useful in the NFL possibly as a number two guy. I'm not sure you'd want to part with more than say a sixth round pick to find out, and depending on the shape of your board at the time even less, but there is something raw and undeveloped about him. As a multi-year personal project for a wide receiver coach I think there is value in Lewis. I'd want to find out how high his ceiling really is. And this for me is exactly what late round and undrafted guys are all about, taking low risk (and low cost) chances on a players potential.

Josh Harper, Fresno State
Suffered from some suspect quarterback play which included one play where he had to come to a complete dead stop despite having beaten the corner over the top, so badly was the pass under thrown. He seemed to have an average turn of speed to me, sometimes looked unsure about what he was supposed to be doing on some plays, had no real release technique and no really special route technique either. He was pretty handy at catching some jump balls and did seem to have a decent feel for sliding into the space between defenders in zone coverage. But I don't know, there was just something that I can't put my finger on that didn't appeal to me about Harper. He didn't jump out and make me think "I want this guy on my team". Perhaps has a future as a decent possession receiver out of the slot, but not for me I think.

DeAndre Smelter, Georgia tech
Saw his 2014 season ended with an ACL tear which will do much to determine how he comes back. If it were down to me I would be happy to use one of the teams official visits to bring him in, go through some film and have that knee scanned and assessed by the teams medical staff. ACL tears are still quite serious, but I've been getting the general sense over the last few years that recovery times (not just in football) have been coming down and that the quality of post-surgical performance is improving. On top of that Smelter is not exactly a speed freak anyway, so even if he was a little hampered after coming back I'm not sure it would impact his game as significantly.

Because Smelter is all about size. He's 6'2" and weighs 226 pounds. Oh and he enjoys hitting people! As rare as it may be, there are indeed some receivers who like to hit defenders and actually block people. This is one of them and that physicality is a calling card of his game. He uses his body much like some of the big tight ends currently in the NFL do to shield the ball and wall off defenders. He seems to have a very natural feel for how to position himself and combined with his height and huge hands (11 inches) he catches pretty much everything that you put into his radius. And that's a pretty big radius.

He has his problems. Like the other G-Tech receiver that we've already talked about, Darren Waller, his route tree was very limited, so you'd be starting almost from scratch with that. As I've already mentioned, he doesn't really have that elite speed either. But on the routes he did run he showed some good technique. He has a feel for faking out defenders, though his breaks are a little clumsy due to his size. You'd also have to work on some of his release techniques, but again his size comes into play as corners found it very difficult to push him off his route and in some cases he just flat out bullied his way past them.

All in all then I really quite like Smelter. The issue is that knee ligament. Will he be the same guy post surgery? I'd be willing to hedge my bets and say it would be less of a problem than it has been for some others given the nature of his game. His potential is pretty high too. I see him as a kind of halfway house between a number one wide out and some of the top tight ends in the NFL like Gronkowski and Jimmy Graham. He's not quite as big as them, but he is a bit quicker. I think that makes him potentially quite versatile, even if it is perhaps as a number two wide out. 

What pick would you use? This is where things get tricky. I'm not sure you can go very high when you're betting on an ACL recovery and a guy that will still need plenty of coaching. Last year the 49ers took offensive lineman Brandon Thomas with a compensatory third round pick after he tore his ACL during a workout for the New Orleans Saints, so there is a precedent for people taking the bet early. I don't think I would go higher than a fourth though due to the risk. I guess a lot would depend on what your board looked like at the time.

Devante Davis, UNLV
6'3" and looked every inch of it. I was somewhat impressed with Davis. He has his problems, for example he's not a super fast receiver and both his release and route technique are not great. But he is a mismatch against smaller corners because of the height, jumping ability and body control. He caught pretty much everything that was thrown at him, which due to the quarterback play often meant having to stretch, reach and otherwise contort himself. Wonder then, does I, whether Davis could be developed into a number two or three playing on the outside. Teach him some release techniques and how to run a slightly more varied route tree and just see how he gets on with that size. Late round/undrafted guy who might be worth taking a bit of a risk on with the promise of modest rewards.

DeAndrew White, Alabama
Like Amari Cooper, White should benefit from that more pro-style Alabama offense. Shame that like Cooper he can't really run block all that well. Just kind of runs up to the defender and stands in the way more than really blocking. Ran some not bad routes and has a bit of speed about him. With the ball in his hands he showed some good elusiveness after the catch but has a tendency to carry the ball one handed away from his body which is a fumble just waiting to happen. The trouble is White doesn't really do anything brilliantly. He does a lot of stuff competently, but doesn't really stand out at all. He looks and feels like an understudy to Cooper. 

In the NFL I'm not sure how he'll get on. I think teams can look past some flaws in a players game providing he does something else well. At least that way you have an immediate positive to point to while waiting for other areas to develop. White just looks like he'll be an average, backup, rotation type receiver. Still, even that can have value for someone. Not for me I think. I'd want to use a mid-late round pick either on what I thought was a steal or someone that was a risk but had a lot of upside. White is neither. As an undrafted camp body I'd give him a whirl but that's about it.

Christion Jones, Alabama
Blah, blah, Alabama, let's skip to the good bit. So, we have a 5'10" wide receiver. That means jump balls are unlikely to be a routine thing for Jones. The advantage that shorter receivers nearly always have is typically acceleration (check) and agility (check). And that's where Jones's strength lies and where he can carve out a career for himself. He has tremendous speed in short spaces though lacks the stride length to really carry that speed down field. He has some basic release work down but would need a bit more help there, while also showing flashes of some superb route technique. 

I say flashes because he was never really the big fish at Alabama what with Cooper and White there, and seems to have been relegated to the fourth string role, as well as returning punts and kicks (which he did really well). In the NFL he probably would remain a smaller fish in a big pond, but I think that with some diligent work on the practice field to maximise his advantages and really get the most out of his shifty movements then Jones could be a surprise package at the next level. You'd have to downgrade him because of a lack of a proven track record of production, but I think as a late round/undrafted guy he could offer value - not least because of his special teams experience - and maybe even surprise a few people as a rotational pass catcher.

Jordan Taylor, Rice
Takes about three hours to reach top speed. On the plus side though he's like a ball magnet. At 6'5" he has an incredible reach, great concentration, good timing on his jumps and soft hands. If you can throw it into his immense catching radius then it's almost certain he'll come down with it. Because of his size he walls people off like they weren't there and should be a match up nightmare for small corners in the NFL. Even if they jam him at the line his ball skills are good enough that most quarterbacks could simply stick it up high and he'll come down with it. 

He doesn't really have much speed or technique, and he's not a great run blocker aside from being a big body. He's absolutely a late round/undrafted guy, with a leaning more towards the undrafted side. But with that size he has to be worth a look by someone and though he's unlikely to set the NFL alight with his receiving he should prove to be a useful asset coming off the bench, especially in the red zone and third down situations where just a simple jump ball and catch is more important than the ability to run people ragged down the field. 

Andre Davis, South Florida
We have us a route runner.

Not a phenomenal route runner by any means, but you can clearly see he understands some of the nuances of rounte running, angling his run to set defenders up, dipping the shoulder and cutting reasonably quickly for a guy that is 6'1". Lot of drops though. Some of those were the result of inconsistent quarterback play, where balls would arrive behind him, down at his knees or in the middle of the sort of traffic that you would hope the quarterback would avoid throwing into in the first place. Has an outside shot I think of making a roster. Like DeAndrew White from Alabama he doesn't really do anything brilliantly. He doesn't have that stand out trait about him. He does some stuff pretty well without being exceptional. Someone will kick the tyres on him but he looks practice squad bound at this point.


And that's your lot at wide receiver. Next up will be tight ends which shouldn't be so time consuming, then I'll have to decide if I want to do the O-linemen all as one giant post, or if I'm going to split up the tackles from the guards and centers to reduce the gaps between posts. We'll see.

All that remains is to say thank you for taking the time to read through this post. I hope you enjoyed it and please share this on Facebook, Twitter etc if you can because it makes a massive difference. Thanks again and I'll see you soon to look at those tight ends.

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