The trend towards receivers around 6'3" and 220lb's seems to have lessened slightly the past couple of years as whilst those big-body types represent a great target over the middle and at the sidelines, few really have had the burst to stretch the field though some can get deep because of their size and ability to outmuscle smaller defenders for the ball. That is certainly the case to an extent with Toomer, though he makes few big plays away from the sidelines. In the Giants offense, the flanker is the primary receiver – the Quarterback's ‘first look' – but Toomer's lack of concentration makes him less than dependable as a possession receiver. I feel he is holding back our passing game to an extent because the go-to guy ought to be the biggest threat and that just isn't the case.
Hilliard, the split end, is the Giants most creative runner after the catch and the only one of the receiving corps to make something happen with the ball in his hands. He has had injury problems throughout his career and also suffers from the dropsy's at times. At 5'11" and 190lb's, he plays with heart, passion and great quickness – though he isn't a deep threat – but his size is detrimental in his role catching short and intermediate passes underneath the coverage and taking big hits to move the chains. The job description for Hilliard suits the bigger Toomer better but Amani doesn't run patterns nearly as well and is too ‘straight line' to switch position.
Ideally, I'd want the Giants to draft someone around the 6'1" and 195lb mark with both the size to get off the line of scrimmage and the speed and after the catch running ability to make something out of nothing. I don't want someone ‘fast for their size', I want someone with the speed to stretch the field! Ron Dixon of course fits the mould to perfection but apparently his physical talent is not matched by his ability to learn the position or his desire to do so! Dixon of course is listed after Hilliard on the depth chart at SE and the team isn't willing to give up on him yet so maybe he will come through. That doesn't mean we should leave Toomer unchallenged though and I expect the Giants to look for someone for the flanker position who could be the deep threat.
I waited for the majority of the prospects to complete their individual work-out's before publishing this because so few of the top prospects – almost all of whom are junior entries – worked out at the combine. As such, there was no documented proof of their size or speed and this more so than their proven abilities on the field is what separates the player rankings at this position where ‘potential' is king and speed the most desired commodity. Why? Because you can teach route running and catching techniques but you can't make a slow guy a deep threat.
Firmly perched atop the group is junior entry Donte Stallworth (Tennessee), a player who entered then tried to back out of the NFL draft! However, having already had dinner with an agent, he had no choice but to enter. Wow, what a personal disaster that dinner has turned out to be! At 6' and 198lb's he has almost prototypical size and his speed – a stunning sub 4.3 on every stopwatch at his recent individual workout – is even more impressive. Reportedly, he caught the ball extremely well and showed explosive cutting ability in receiving drills during his workout too. Can he win the jump ball? His 39" vertical jump says he can soar in the air with the best of them too. At his best, he'll grab the ball with his arms extended and without breaking stride hit the crease between defenders, taking it in for the score in a matter of strides. He missed some games early on with a hand injury though (one of which I have on tape!) and these were not the pass happy Peyton Manning Volunteers he played for so he does lack some game experience. That said, what I have seen of him this year – little over a half against Notre Dame– was impressive (I'll watch him against Alabama too) and I can't see him taking long to develop. He's certainly productive when he plays – 49-940 & 10 TD's – and I anticipate him being selected between 8th and 12th pick overall so can't see him with a future as a Giant (we can't afford to trade up, too many holes to fill). There is no doubt that he can be a huge factor in the deep passing game the team drafting him may have to show some patience before they ‘get a return' on their investment.
Ashley Lelie (Hawaii) has many detractors as a junior entry coming from the run ‘n' shoot offense of June Jones but also possesses two things that make coaches smile – game-breaking speed and production over the course of his career. Certainly, it's hard to argue with his performance this past year (84-1713 and 19TD's), especially when he improved so markedly over what was an impressive sophomore year (65-940 and 9TD's). I haven't got around to viewing him yet but the highlight films on the various tapes I have show a tall, angular receiver leaving DB's trailing in his wake on the way to the end zone an awful lot and there is no smoke without fire! At 6'2 ½" and weighing anywhere between 197 and 205lb's he has good size but he played at only 180lb's in college so hasn't proved that he can play at that weight or that he is big enough to stand up to the NFL style hitting. Comparisons have therefore been made to Philadelphia's Todd Pinkston (who I also liked) but Pinkston has never added the size/strength needed to beat press coverage or take shots over the middle and Lelie should be commended for at least trying to do so.
Lelie promised to run under 4.3 at the Combine but disappointed everyone when he didn't run at all, a hamstring bothering him. As always happens when a player misses the Combine workout whispers about the reasons behind it begin. Sometimes it's advice from the agents telling them not to run; sometimes it's a genuine injury. Other times the player simply doesn't want to see his own athleticism overshadowed by other prospects. Having added nearly 10% of his body weight in two months, there is some thought that perhaps Lelie had over-trained and made himself susceptible to the injury because of it. If so, it could be an ongoing problem – it was for Sehorn when he came into camp at a rock-solid 225lb's a few years ago – and if he pulls up lame again as Koren Robinson did last year, he could see his rating plummet a few spot$. I think he'll be a top 15 selection but I'm not sure he'll make it as far down as where the Giants pick. If he were available, his ability to stretch the defense would certainly be attractive and it would be a tough decision for the Giants to make, needs at other positions where we do not have solid starters in place perhaps taking priority.
Florida receivers have had a bad rap amongst NFL scouts because none of them have provided the same explosion in the pro ranks that they exhibited week in, week out in college. The reason for this is both a positive and negative: On the plus side, they can run all the routes on the ‘receiving tree' and understand how to adjust to coverage on the move, make plays after the catch and will go over the middle. On the downside, they have played almost exclusively against zone coverage so don't have the experience of beating the bump and run man coverage they will see from aggressive teams in the NFL and have rarely faced the double team of safety help ‘over the top'. This year both Jabar Gaffney and Reche Caldwell will be hoping to convince scouts that they are the one's with the ability to beat both man and zone coverage because otherwise both will be heavily marked down.
At 6'1" and 193lb's Gaffney also fits my prototype for a receiver in size but has a loping stride and I don't think he'll ever be a deep threat in the NFL because of it. However, that doesn't mean he doesn't have a chance to rank up with the better receivers of the NFL as he has a knack for getting open, particularly in the red zone running crossing routes and does well in jump ball situations. As you'd expect from a Gators receiver, he was very productive notching up over 100 yards in all but 3 games this season and finished with a highly impressive 67 receptions for 1191 yards and 13 TD's. Not just a one-season wonder he also grabbed 71-1184 & 14TD's in 2000 as a redshirt freshman. He does drop too many passes though – yet his former Coach Steve Spurrier says he is better in games than practice – and word from the Combine suggested that he didn't open scouts eyes with his workout (he didn't run, but participated in the receiving drills and the 3 cone and shuttle runs). For me he drops too many passes and watching him against Georgia though he had a productive day he deflected a pass that was intercepted when he clearly saw the LB coming rather than the ball, lost a fumble and didn't show an appetite for blocking. However, at his individual workout he caught every ball coming his way and ran 4.41 when speed tested. There are some character concerns about him – was almost kicked out of school before last year – but that may just be a case of immaturity though whether you'd trust him to behave professionally given a huge sum of money is something hard only those closer to his situation can judge. I think he'll go in the top 20, I just hope it's not the Giants that pull the trigger on him. What's that? He's destined to be a Redskin? Don't discount it!
Caldwell is similar in many ways to Ike Hilliard but without the production throughout his career. At 6' and 195lb's he's a little bigger and more athletic than Ike, setting the standard for all WR's at the Combine with his 41.5" vertical – still not beaten in individual workouts by his peers – but he ran between 4.41 and 4.5 at his individual workout and uses moves and sneaky speed to make yards after the catch as opposed to flat-out speed. He too had a productive season (65-1095, 10TD's) but having played second fiddle to Gaffney, NFL teams have to wonder whether or not he can be their lead receiver and if not, how high a pick are they willing to spend on the second receiver in their offense? He wasn't used as a deep threat that much at Florida – primarily played the slot not the outside - so that suggests he isn't one and though I think he has better hands than Gaffney, I'm not sure he'll ever be a #1 receiver. Will he get drafted in the 1st round? Probably, but likely in the mid-20's and after his more touted team-mate.
Josh Reed (LSU) was a guy I was hugely impressed with as a sophomore in 2000 when he wasn't even a starter – but still the leading receiver on his team – and his performance as a junior before entering the draft early could be best described as mind-blowing (94-1,740 – 145 yards per game!) Winner of the Belitnikoff Trophy as the nation's top receiver, he was primarily used on the shorter patterns (slants, quick outs, crossing patterns, hooks, etc) but has some great moves and consistently runs through tacklers – he's a former RB and still built like one at 5'11" and 210lb's – to make something out of nothing, delivering a blow and keeping his feet moving. Despite only playing the position two years he has exceptional awareness of where to make cuts and nearly always beat the first tackler. He uses his hands to catch the ball and will lay out for it over the middle and always seems to hang on in traffic. He runs good routes and gets CB's off balance with his moves but may need some work on things simply because he's so new to the role. I don't think bump and run will bother him though because of his build. While he can get open deep he has more sneaky quick speed than flat-out explosion (ran in the low 4.5 range at his individual workout) so doesn't fit my ideals of what the Giants offense needs. However, he'd fit perfectly into our scheme in the Ike Hilliard role, asked to make yards after the catch. The Giants interviewed him at the Combine (he didn't work out there) and were he to be available in the 2nd round – though I don't believe he will be – there could be a very heated ‘war room' discussion going on, especially if that oft-rumoured Ike Hilliard to the Redskins trade comes off!
Opinions differ wildly on Antonio Bryant (Pittsburgh) because he has had some off the field problems, came out as a junior after an injury plagued year (hurt both ankles and his Achilles) and then disappointed scouts by running a ‘slow' time of 4.57 at the Combine. Off the field stuff aside, I'm actually quite heartened by his ‘stock' dropping as there is more chance of his being available in the second round now than there ever was before! At 6'1" and 188lb's he fits the mould of my ‘prototype' receiver and his Belitnikoff Award winning performance as a sophomore – snagged 68 receptions for 1302 yards and 11 TD's – shows what he is capable of when healthy. This year he got hurt before the opener and his numbers dropped off sharply (42-659 and 9 TD's) but despite still being hurt he turned in a game-winning MVP performance in the Tangerine Bowl against NC State. Can he be the deep threat we need despite his less than terrific stopwatch speed? 27 receptions longer than 25 yards and 8 over 50 as a sophomore should answer that for you!
A well-rounded prospect from a pro style offense he runs smooth patterns all over the field, changing direction fluidly, gliding into and out of his cuts and setting up his opponent deep with changes in speed. He catches the ball very well with his hands though he does drop the odd easy one looking up field before he's brought it in. He also shows the body control to tiptoe inside the line at the back of the end-zone – seemed to be practicing getting both feet down a couple of times when he scored! – plus the jumping ability (37" vertical) to snag the high ball in a crowd or draw the interference call. Some see him as having an arrogant demeanour but confidence in one's own ability is what separates the great from the good where the talent level in similar so I don't see it as a bad thing. Immaturity may be a problem for him and his team interviews reportedly didn't go well at the Combine. The experience with Dixon should ward us off taking a ‘problem child' but were Dr Goldberg and the coaches to be convinced he's not a risk and would work with the team to better himself, he would be a tremendous pick for us (or another team) if he's still there in the 2nd round.
Javon Walker (Florida State) has an excellent size/speed ratio – blistered the track in 4.37 at the Combine despite being 6'2", 207lb's – but is a late bloomer, spending two years in junior college before joining the Seminoles – getting hurt early in his first year after making a quick impression – and only really stepping up this past season when injuries to the projected starter gave him the opportunity to do so. To say he took it with both hands is an understatement grabbing 47 passes for 1088 yards and 9 TD's (an average of over 23 yards per catch!) despite not having an experienced QB. As the eye-popping stats suggest, he is a true deep threat and what is also nice to see is that he will go over the top of defenders to snag the jump ball and seemingly has already mastered the art of ‘pushing off' just enough to gain separation but not enough to draw a flag (one the flag happy Toomer is still learning apparently!). At the Senior Bowl, he reportedly impressed but showed that while he has big-time talent, he is still a bit of a straight-liner needing work on his route running to get consistent separation on his cuts. His hands are pretty good though so once he learns more how to control his speed and use it to his advantage there should be no looking back. He has had a few injury problems at FSU but none that effected this season in full-time duties so he should be tough enough. Nevertheless, if he is still available when we step to the podium in round 2 he might be considered an interesting choice for the flanker role with an awful lot of ‘upside' though he may need a year of polishing before he shows it.
Andre Davis (Virginia Tech) fits close to my idea of prototypical size at 6'1½" and 194lb's and has great leaping ability but has the reputation of being more a track athlete than football player and as his legitimate 4.36 speed suggests he's a ‘game-breaker' who makes most of his plays deep. He really burst onto the scene as a deep threat as a soph (39-962 and 9 TD's) but struggled with a high ankle sprain and corners playing well off the line of scrimmage as a junior and didn't come close to repeating his performance (Vick also being banged up didn't help any). This year he returned to form (39-623 and 7 TD's), coming up with a huge performance in his college farewell against Florida State to remind us all of his talents. He's not just and out and out burner – I've seen him take more than a few quick slants to ‘the big house' with his open field running ability – but he's not a ‘complete' receiver by any means either. His route running is raw, he doesn't come back to the ball to help the QB and he's more of a body catcher than we'd prefer. Another huge plus for him though is his ability as a punt returner, a role in which he excels though he does need to look after the ball better in traffic. I like him, I just don't think he fits the Giants style of receiver well enough to be a consideration in the 2nd round and I can't see him lasting to us in the 3rd when he would be better value in my eyes.
Marquise Walker (Michigan) was widely considered to be the best Senior prospect available and a player who many draft projections had going in the first round earlier in the process but whose ‘stock' appears to have dropped recently. At 6'2" and 214lb's he certainly has the size we like for flanker but without having the speed to challenge cornerbacks deep – ran in the 4.65 range at his individual workout on slow turf – though he runs very good routes and can create separation with his size, he's too similar to Amani Toomer in my opinion (though his concentration is a lot better and he drops far less passes). While he can make the circus catch, he does tend to body catch a bit and will drop the odd football too. I think he'll be taken in the late 2nd round and have a successful career as a ‘possession' receiver who makes the odd play down field but he's not going to offer the Giants an upgrade over what they have so I believe they'd pass him over altogether despite rumours that we supposedly love him.
Kelly Campbell (Georgia Tech) is a ‘smurf' receiver at a hair under 5'10" and just 171lb's but is fast enough – ran a 4.48 at the Combine – and versatile enough to make an impact in the pro ranks as the slot man/punt returner. Certainly, he'd fit into the Rams offense very nicely as a replacement for Az-Zahir Hakim but whilst I think he'll be a deep threat as a pro it will likely only be from the slot. I don't think he offers quite enough to be considered part of a ‘base' offense – struggles with press coverage because of his size and drops too many catchable balls – and as the Giants would be looking for starters from their top picks, I don't think he'd attract us unless he lasted into the 3rd round.
Tim Carter (Auburn) really came to the forefront of the second tier receivers with an excellent performance at the Senior Bowl practices followed up by an excellent workout at the combine, proving in drills that what he showed in Mobile, Alabama was no fluke. He's got pretty good size at 5'11 ½", 188lb's and can absolutely fly as his combine times – 4.33 & 4.34 – confirm. I've seen Carter a few times and he always impressed me, looking fast and elusive making yards off the WR screen and on ‘end around' plays though his opportunities have been limited. There were some suggestion that he doesn't have good hands but I've never seen him drop a pass and I believe his lack of production for a top prospect – just 35-591 and 2TD's this year as his team's leading receiver – is due more to the poor Tigers QB and archaic passing game than his lack of ability. That said, Bill Parcells always talked about guys having ‘pelts on the wall' and I'd be nervous about the Giants taking him before the 4th round and I doubt he'll last that long.
Cliff Russell (Utah) is the last speedster amongst the ‘known' talent. At 5'11", 182lb's he's a little under-sized and I've never seen Utah play so can't tell you much about him first hand. The reviews I've read on him suggest that he's very good at driving the DB off and taking what's available underneath on the outs but that he really struggles against bump and run coverage, runs poor routes and drops far too many catchable balls. A friend of mine watched him against BYU and thought the corner outplayed him all day after breaking his foot! At the Combine, he flashed his speed (ran a blazing 4.36) but didn't participate in anything else so other than being fast there isn't much to go on. Speed only counts in the pro's if you know how to use it and I'm not sure he does. He may go as early as the 3rd round but I wouldn't want someone who can't catch consistently and would sooner pass.
Looking for big college ‘sleepers'? Notre Dame's pairing of David Givens and Javin Hunter are worth a look late in the draft. Their Combine performances show them to be excellent athletes, something which had largely gone unnoticed playing for the Fighting Irish as they threw the ball about as effectively as Nebraska this year. Obviously, their production isn't great but watching them play, they make the most of the opportunities that come their way though they will need to learn a lot about route running for a pro-style offense. Of the two, Givens is more of a possession receiver, Hunter the acrobat with a knack for going up in a crowd down the deep middle, soaring through the air between defenders and grabbing the under-thrown pass.
Amongst the small-college guys, Charles Terry (Portland State) stood out at the Combine. With great size at 6'3" and 207lb's with a 36.5" vertical jump and 4.52 speed he certainly has the tools for the job. I'm wary of lower-level competitors until they prove themselves against top competition and though he played in the (Florida v USA) Gridiron Classic, I haven't seen any real news on the practices or game itself so don't know how he stood up to the challenge. I can tell you though that he had a productive season with 71 receptions for 1096 yards and 12 TD's to earn the right to be one of only 3 Division 1A prospects to be invited so he must have some skills. Where will he go? Your guess is as good as mine.
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