Fire Sale: NFL Draft WR Preview
Michael Floyd of Notre Dame is masterful at disguising his receiving routes
Some in NFL wonder about Justin Blackmon's ability to handle press coverage
T.Y. Hilton projects to be a dangerous receiver and good return man in NFL
With the NFL Combine in the rear-view mirror it's time to begin the process of breaking down this year's draft class. Through my contacts in the NFL I've received videos of close to 150 draft prospects. I use what I see on those videos to go along with countless hours of watching college football in order to form my opinions. After breaking down each prospect we'll offer some early thoughts on their potential fantasy impact. We'll take a look at quarterbacks, running backs, wide receivers and tight ends for fantasy purposes. If you want to discuss any draft prospects or have fantasy football questions you can follow me on Twitter @thomascasale or send me an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
(Note: I didn't get any tape on Georgia Tech WR Stephen Hill so to be fair I didn't include him in my breakdowns.)
Michael Floyd, Notre Dame
The Good: Floyd is the best receiver in this class at driving into a defender and changing direction. Besides the obvious like catching the ball and having NFL speed, the one thing scouts look for is the ability to disguise routes. And Floyd already is good at that.
Floyd has long arms and that helps him both go up and get the ball and push defenders off in traffic. Floyd isn't Larry Fitzgerald but he's similar in the way he goes up and gets the ball at its highest point. Floyd is going to be a huge asset in the red zone for any team that drafts him. He has tremendous body control to go along with the ability to fight for the football. Floyd has the best hands of any receiver in this draft; of lf the plays I watched of him, Floyd dropped only one very catchable pass, by far the best of all the receivers I broke down.
Floyd ran well at the Combine but his speed isn't an issue. He's a fluid receiver who doesn't lose speed or quickness when he changes direction.
The Bad: Floyd has had some off-the-field issues, but that's something NFL teams need to assess, not me.
Floyd is one of my top-rated players in this draft at any position. If we're nitpicking, he seemed a little disinterested at times. Again, this is something NFL teams are better suited to assess, but in games where Floyd wasn't targeted much it looked to me like he took some plays off. Other than that, there aren't any holes holes in Floyd's game.
The Bottom Line: Most people have Justin Blackmon as their top-rated receiver, and while I like Blackmon, I love Floyd. Again, Floyd's only real red flag in my opinion is his off-field issues. If teams believe those problems are behind him, I view Floyd as a can't-miss receiver prospect. He should be a Top 10 pick.
Fantasy Impact: If Floyd goes to a team with a capable quarterback, he will easily be the top-rated rookie heading into fantasy drafts. He may not be as fast but Floyd is just as good a prospect as Julio Jones last year.
Justin Blackmon, Oklahoma State
The Good: Blackmon's production over the last two years is scary. Keep in mind, however, the Big 12 plays the worst pass defense of any major conference. Still, putting up 232 receptions, 3,304 yards and 38 touchdowns in two seasons is impressive on any level.
People were up in arms about Blackmon's 40-time, but the guy is a big-play machine. It's almost impossible to provide as many big plays as Blackmon did at the major college level without having good speed. That's not a concern for me. Blackmon may not be a track guy but he resembles Anquan Boldin. When Boldin was in his prime he rarely got caught from behind.
Along with Floyd, Blackmon is one of the two receivers in this draft who look like they belong in the NFL now. He runs good routes and has no problem going over the middle, something NFL teams love.
The Bad: There are a few minor complaints regarding Blackmon. First, Blackmon dropped some very catchable balls, especially last season. It was a never a big deal at Oklahoma State because they ran so many offensive plays per game, but in the NFL some of those drops could lead to a lost possession.
At the risk of sounding like a broken record, Blackmon was rarely challenged by Big 12 corners. The one corner that was physical with Blackmon and jammed him at the line was Iowa State's Leonard Johnson, and he was able to frustrate Blackmon. This is the biggest question mark surrounding Blackmon heading into the NFL. How will he handle press coverage? I don't think many people can answer that question right now considering he saw so little of it in college.
Many are wondering if Blackmon is better than former Oklahoma State receiver and current Cowboy, Dez Bryant. I say no. Blackmon put up better numbers but he also played with an NFL-caliber passer in Brandon Weeden. Bryant is still one of the most physically-gifted college receivers I've ever seen. Let's not get into why Dallas refuses to throw Bryant the ball in the second half of games. I'll save that for another day.
The Bottom Line: Blackmon is a very good prospect. The fact that I have him rated second is more of a compliment to Floyd than a slight to Blackmon. He'll contribute to an NFL team right away and be a star down the road.
Fantasy Impact: In today's NFL rookie receivers have a much bigger impact than they did a few years ago. If Blackmon goes to St. Louis or Cleveland, he'll become the No. 1 receiver the second his name is announced. I would rather have Floyd, but Blackmon should put up good fantasy numbers as a rookie.
Kendall Wright, Baylor
The Good: Wright's disappointing 40-time at the Combine was laughable. Why? Because Wright is the fastest football player in this draft at any position. When you put on pads and go out on the field, Wright is faster than anyone. He has what I call "toy with people speed." Wright can blow by defenders and it looks like he's not even running hard.
Wright was a big-play machine at Baylor. There was really no cornerback in the Big 12 who could handle his speed. Wright changes direction well without losing his top end speed and that makes Wright very difficult to cover. If a corner takes one wrong step, Wright will blow right by him.
The fascination with Wright's speed overshadows the fact that he has tremendous hands. From the tape I watched, Wright dropped fewer balls than Blackmon. He never breaks stride. That makes him dangerous on short slant routes.
The Bad: The only real negative with Wright is his size (5-10, 196). Some have suggested he's better-suited to play in the slot at the NFL level. I don't buy that. In the NFL today receivers get moved all over the place anyway. Steve Smith isn't a huge receiver and he's done just fine in the NFL.
While Wright is a good route runner, I still think he needs some work in that area. A lot of times in college Wright used his speed to blow by defenders. That's harder to do at the NFL level. Wright has quick feet but he doesn't disguise his routes as well as Floyd or Blackmon. Once he learns how to do that, he'll be scary.
The Bottom Line: Wright ranks alongside Floyd and Blackmon among the draft's three elite receiver prospects; then there's a drop-off. Wright's blazing speed and excellent hands will allow him to make an immediate impact in the NFL. If Wright is still on the board when Houston picks and they pass on him, the Texans should release a statement to their fans explaining why.
Fantasy Impact: Wright may not catch a ton of passes as a rookie but he's a big-play waiting to happen. I like Wright in re-draft leagues but I love him in keeper leagues.
Rueben Randle, LSU
Outlook: Randle is hard to analyze because LSU runs such an archaic offense. Seriously, watch an Ohio State/Michigan game from 1972 and those teams are running the same offense LSU runs in 2012. Plus, LSU had the worst quarterback play of any title contender in recent memory. Add all that together and Randle becomes the wild card at the receiver position in this draft.
There's no doubting Randle's physical ability. He has good speed, quickness, great moves in the open field and his hands are above average. The one question surrounding Randle at the NFL level is route running. Randle simply wasn't asked to run a lot of different routes at LSU. He ran go routes, outs, square-ins, basically simple routes that any major college receiver can run. It's not his fault; it's just the offense he played in.
One thing we know Randle can do is block. Playing in LSU's predominately run-oriented offense, Randle was asked to block often and he did it well.
My gut tells me Randle will be a good pro. I think he has all the physical skills to succeed; Randle just needs some seasoning in a pro offense first.
Fantasy Impact: Randle is strictly keeper league material for me. Once he gets used to running more routes in a pro-style offense he has a chance to be a very good receiver but it will likely take a year or two before that happens.
Alshon Jeffery, South Carolina
Outlook: It pains me to list Jeffery as overrated. Anyone who follows the Fire Sale knows I've been big on Jeffery the past couple of years. Before last season, we rated him as the No. 2 overall prospect behind Andrew Luck. However, people who follow me also know that I'm not pig-headed and I won't stick to an opinion if the circumstances change.
It's impossible to ignore all the red flags surrounding Jeffery. First, he came into the '11 season 15-20 pounds overweight. Then he goes to the NFL Combine and refuses to workout. Furthermore, he turned off a lot of NFL people during his interview process by acting aloof and immature. If you add up all the players throughout history who did the things I just mentioned over a calendar year before the draft, I'd bet almost all of them were busts. It simply isn't a good recipe for success.
On the field, Jeffery can still be a dominant player if he stays in shape, gets his head screwed on right and plays hard all the time, but those are a lot of "ifs." During the year it seemed Jeffery's numbers went down because of South Carolina's horrendous quarterback play. While that did have something to do with it, there's no question that Jeffery was much quicker and created more separation two years ago when he was in better shape.
Jeffery goes up and gets the ball over defenders as well as any receiver in a long time. He has that uncanny skill like Randy Moss, where he waits until the last second to put his arms out for the football, so the defensive back has no idea the ball is coming. I've only seen a couple receivers in my lifetime do that as well as Jeffery does. Moss is the best at it.
Jeffery has great body control and he's a master at using his big frame to wall off smaller defenders. He has to use that skill a lot because he doesn't have great speed. Jeffery picks up speed once he gets going but he doesn't get off the line fast, and that's concerning.
It's too early to close the book on Jeffery, but the Combine incidents are troubling. If I said you were about to make millions of dollars and all you had to do was be in great shape and act mature, would you do it? Yeah, me too.
Fantasy Outlook: It all depends on Jeffery's attitude and where he goes. Regardless of what Jeffery does in his career, he'll always be a threat in the red zone. His ability to go up and get the ball guarantees that much. Still, wait a year and see what Jeffery brings to the table first.
T.Y. Hilton, Florida International
Outlook: Unless you are a huge college football fan who watches meaningless games on Tuesday night, there's a good chance you've never seen this kid. That's unfortunate because he's a flat-out stud.
Hilton is just 5-10 and 183 pounds but he's lightning quick. Hilton may be the best receiver in this draft when it comes to not losing any speed in and out of his breaks. Hilton will be a dangerous slot receiver in the NFL but he'll also be a dynamic return man.
When you consider where players will be drafted compared to their talent level, Hilton may represent the best value in the draft. Whichever team gets Hilton in the fourth round area will be getting a steal. If Hilton had played at a bigger school he would be one of the most talked about players in this draft. He's that good.
Fantasy Impact: I would be all over Hilton in a keeper league format. Once a team figures out a role for him, Hilton will be a dynamic NFL player. I have no doubt about it.
Joe Adams, Arkansas
Outlook: Adams is a good receiver but the reason I'm mentioning him is because he's the top return man in this draft. If you don't believe me go to YouTube and check out his touchdown run against Tennessee. There aren't a lot of football players at any level that can make that run.
Adams is probably the best open-field runner in this draft. The way he changes direction and avoids tacklers makes Adams a nightmare to bring down in the open field. He's still raw as a receiver, but Adams will initially win a job as a kick returner and have a chance to develop into a productive slot receiver down the road.
Fantasy Impact: Adams will initially have more of an impact on fantasy defense/special teams because of his return ability but he's a guy to keep an eye on at receiver for the future.
Receiver is one of the deepest positions in this year's draft. There are a bunch of solid mid-round prospects like Juron Criner, Nick Toon, A.J. Jenkins and Greg Childs that I didn't even get a chance to talk about in this article. There are three studs in Floyd, Blackmon and Wright but don't be surprised if more than a couple receivers drafted in Round 3 or later end up becoming big-time NFL players at some point. The receiver class this year is that deep.
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