WR Draft Update #1

Free agent WR Joe Jurevicius went to the Tampa Bay Bucs, leaving the third wideout spot open. Will the Giants look for Dixon to step up, or will they look to the draft once again for a speed demon?

After another outburst from Ike Hilliard, the Giants may be forced to look a little harder at the position in the early rounds, especially seeing as they were unable to sign Ricky Proehl as a potentially cheaper alternative to Joe Juevicius (though it was also rumoured that the Giants wanted to re-sign JJ as well). As such, I finally got around to watching a few of the better known prospects again.

I'd never seen Donte Stallworth (Tennessee) until I caught glimpses of him tearing up Notre Dame while at a sports bar with MDK. Mark was right; Stallworth was a great looking receiver. In fact, he looked like a horse galloping down the field, a thoroughbred one at that! Despite playing with a cast on his right hand he made some nice over the shoulder catches, showed a great burst into and out of cuts, set up his opponent nicely with fakes and turning the double move up field. He certainly has a burst to separate when the ball is in the air too so the stop-watch times at Tennessee's Pro Day and his individual workouts didn't lie, he is a true deep threat. He also doesn't stray too close to the sidelines – a problem a lot of NFL receivers still have – making himself an easier target to hit deep downfield as the QB can allow him to ‘make a play' by putting it in the vicinity rather than having to be pinpoint accurate or have the pass sail out of bounds. His running skills after the catch are top-notch, he brings the ball in with his arms extended without breaking stride and turns up field for big yardage. He still drops the odd pass, but a hand in a cast can do that to the best of them – he played most of the year with it – which also says a lot for his willingness to play in pain to help the team. Another thing that showed he'd do whatever it takes to win was in recovering a teammates fumble downfield diving on the ball even though he knew he'd take a blow to the hand in doing so. He can make the catch with a defender challenging for the ball and maturity will probably cure the odd ‘easy' drop. His routes look pretty good but I'll admit I'm no great judge of receivers so I'll take another look at him next week against Florida.

Stallworth is not just a great athlete, he's a great receiving prospect who, if he taps his talent to it's fullest, could be a Pro Bowler many times over. I am pretty sure he'll be drafted between 5 & 10. Look for him to be a commodity more than a few teams have their eye on and who are almost certainly preparing themselves to make a bid to trade up for him as he looks to be the only ‘sure thing' of the speedsters in this draft and that makes him very attractive.

In the only game I'm ever likely to see him play as a collegian, I was hoping to see whether Ashley Lelie (Hawaii) could live up to his billing against BYU. A starter on the outside of a run ‘n' shoot offense, he had a hugely productive day (277 yards and 2 TD's), I was more than a little disappointed in his overall play as he appeared to be a fast guy with hands rather than a receiver with great speed and to say the least he looked in serious need of a good meal because he was so skinny! He got open with regularity on hooks, outs and post routes against zone coverage, primarily because backed off coverage allowed him to just find the open spot rather than him having to beat them with great head fakes and sharp cuts on his routes. He looked a little rounded on his cuts though. He did show the instincts to turn up the field immediately after the reception, turn on the jets and score from distance though and that is a major plus in the eyes of NFL teams. Against bump and run however, he struggled at times – his 80 yd TD reception happened solely because the CB caught his foot in the turf on his turn and fell leaving Lelie all alone down the sideline – lacking the strength and body positioning to prevent the DB making frequent plays on the ball from behind and he also did not always hang on in traffic (all but one of his catches were in space). Lelie also lost a fumble when it seemed he was protecting the ball against his body but just didn't have the strength to prevent it being pulled out by a DB going over his back after a long catch and run play headed towards the sidelines.

My big concern is that just about everything he does is about speed rather than any inherent ‘football' skills. Running after the catch he was pretty much a straight-liner, not making a bunch of open field moves or cuts, just heading in the direction he turned up the field and leaving defenders trailing in his wake until they got the angle on him. His slight frame is a major worry as the weight he put on for the Combine has apparently had a knock-on effect to his hamstring and he hasn't been able to work out properly for anyone other than the Chiefs or even run close to his reputed 4.25 speed (there's no reason to doubt he's a flying machine however). Without the weight he will struggle with physical bump and run corners – but still make big plays because when he gets off they won't be able to catch him – but with it he may not be fit to play. I wouldn't want the Giants to draft him even though he may be available with the 15th pick overall as his rating may be slipping with many teams concerned about whether he is strong enough or cultured enough as a receiver to be an impact player in the pro's. I certainly don't see him as a go-to guy for any team as a rookie or even as one of the top 3 receiving prospects in the 2002 draft but NFL teams are infatuated with speed and he will almost certainly be off the board in the top 20 picks, probably as the 2nd WR selected.

Andre Davis (Virginia Tech) did absolutely nothing to suggest he was a top prospect in the game against Miami (Fla), covered up like a hand in a glove and shut out altogether by highly rated CB prospects Phil Buchanon and Mike Rumph. While it's fair to say that his QB didn't try to get him the ball too often and wasn't accurate anyway, Miami's secondary threw a blanket over him and picked off two passes intended for him by breaking underneath his routes. I don't think he's skilled enough as a route runner yet to get a top player off balance for long enough to make a play himself. His name has surfaced once again as a potential late 1st round pick but the sole reason for that appears to be his sprinters speed rather than his football skills. I say again, I don't want Andre Davis to even be considered as a Giant before the 3rd round as only then would he provide ‘value' for the skills he offers. The same teams willing to ignore Lelie's shortcomings because of his speed will likely do the same for Davis and he can probably expect to be drafted in the 2nd round regardless.

One player whose recent performances in the 40 yard dash at his individual workouts have increased his exposure is Antonio Bryant (Pittsburgh), the draft sites now seemingly ‘rediscovering' his talents, most now projecting him to be a solid 1st round pick rather than a 2nd rounder they dropped him to when he ran average times at the Combine. I've liked Bryant all along, he's an excellent receiver and having now seen Lelie, I'd have to now move Bryant up the charts at the formers expense to rate as the 2nd best receiving prospect in this draft. The question mark with Bryant has always been his attitude/maturity and whether he will behave in the NFL like a professional rather than a locker room cancer not what he can do on the field of play when healthy. Has that off the field reputation now suddenly been forgotten, his ‘stock' rising solely because he runs faster in shorts when he's more relaxed? I still wouldn't take him in the 1st round with the Giants pick – even if we traded down first – because of the ‘risk' involved but I think more than one team may be willing to bet on his receiving skills and cross their fingers on how he'll effect team chemistry. Based on playing skills he should go mid-1st round but NFL teams know far more about a players off the field activities than fans can hope to so he might last until the 2nd round after all if they feel he is still too risky even though they love what he can do for them on the field.

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