Scouting the Draft: Wide Receivers

In Part 4 of our Packers draft preview, we look at the first three rounds of a loaded class of wide receivers. Perhaps five will be taken in the first round, with plenty of talent in the second and third.

In Part 4 of our Green Bay Packers draft preview, we examine the wide receivers.

PACKERS AREA OF NEED (1 TO 10)

Six: Jordy Nelson, who was awarded a contract extension through 2018 at the start of training camp, finally was selected to his first Pro Bowl. He produced one of the truly great seasons of all-time with his 98 catches for 1,519 yards and 13 touchdowns. Randall Cobb, playing his final season under his rookie contract, earned a four-year, $40 million deal by hauling in 91 receptions for 1,287 yards and 12 touchdowns. They became the first tandem in league history with 90-plus receptions, 1,200-plus yards and 12-plus touchdowns. Davante Adams had a nice rookie season, as well, with 38 receptions for 446 yards and three scores, but 24 of those catches came in four games — meaning he had 14 catches in the other 12 games.

However, the Packers need more, as the offense couldn’t function when Seattle limited Nelson and Cobb in both matchups. Maybe it will be Adams taking the Year 1-to-Year 2 jump that is the bedrock of Green Bay’s draft-and-develop philosophy. Or maybe it will be two other members of last year’s rookie class, Jared Abbrederis (fifth round; torn ACL in training camp) and Jeff Janis (seventh round; two catches but inactive in 13 games). Regardless, there’s so much talent here that the Packers would be foolish to not provide Aaron Rodgers another weapon.

IT’S WORTH NOTING

Last year’s wide receiver class was excellent, with five taken in the first round and seven more in the second. Green Bay was a beneficiary, with Adams the ninth receiver off the board.

“They'll probably do a ‘30 For 30’ on those guys,” Rams general manager Les Snead said, referencing the ESPN documentary series.

This group is loaded with potential, as well, though it might not have the dramatic instant impact after last year’s rookie crop produced six players with at least 60 catches, three with at least 1,000 yards and five with at least eight touchdowns.

“I think it’s stacking up favorably,” Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert said. “Last year’s wide receiver class was unique. It was unique in terms of numbers and in terms of impact players. You really felt it at this time of the year last year. I am not sure it will have quite the impact of last year’s class but, in all honesty, not many will going forward because that was a special group of players. It’s coming together.”

Packers general manager Ted Thompson has hit the jackpot with his second- and third-round receiver picks. What’s interesting is he’s had such success without taking any Scouting Combine Olympians. None of those early-round hits were especially tall or especially fast.

THOMPSON’S SUCCESS RATE

When it comes to early-round receivers, Thompson is in a league of his own.

ROUND 1

Amari Cooper, Alabama (6-1, 211; 4.42): As a junior in 2014, Cooper set Alabama and SEC records with 124 receptions while finishing second in SEC history with 1,727 receiving yards and 16 touchdowns. His touchdowns averaged 33.3 yards. He won the Biletnikoff Award as the nation’s top receiver and was one of three finalists for the Heisman Trophy. Some of the production was inflated, as first-year starting quarterback Blake Sims through his way early and often, but he caught 70.9 percent of targeted passes. He dropped five passes (2.9 percent).

“Cooper has an outstanding reach and arm length to get to off-target throws and shows excellent body control keeping his feet along the boundaries,” reads a snippet of his scouting report. “He can rise off the ground and get to the ball at its highest point, demonstrating great elevation and timing. He is a tough cookie taking on defenders to get to the ball in tight areas and uses his large hands and body control to adjust to the ball underneath.”

Kevin White, West Virginia (6-3, 215; 4.35): The junior-college transfer caught 35 passes for 507 yards and five touchdowns in 2013. As a senior, he stepped up to the challenge with a Big 12-leading 109 receptions. He turned those into 1,447 yards (second in Big 12) and 10 touchdowns. Those scores averaged 34.3 yards. He caught 66.9 percent of targeted passes without a single drop. Not only is he fast but his 23 reps on the bench were tied for first among this year’s receivers.

“White has the quickness to stretch the field, but is also quite effective playing the physical game and is very productive underneath,” reads his scouting report. “He has that second gear needed to turn an ordinary play into a big gain. He has quick feet and good balance cutting on the move. He might not be the most elusive after-the-catch runner you will find, but has the lower leg drive and ball security skills to power through the initial tackle.”

DeVante Parker, Louisville (6-3, 209; 4.45): Despite playing only three conference games and just five games on the season due to a broken foot sustained in summer camp, Parker was second-team all-ACC. He was second on the team with 35 receptions for 735 yards (21.0 average) and five touchdowns. He registered four 100-yard games, including a career-high 214 yards in a loss to No. 2 Florida State. He caught only 60.6 percent of targeted passes in 2014 and, considering the missed playing time, had an astounding 16 passes broken up. He didn’t drop any of 43 targeted passes.

“Even with slight injury concerns, Parker has great size and initial explosion for this position, showing the flexibility to get in and out of his cuts instantly in attempts to separate,” reads his scouting report. “He has very good acceleration off the line and the speed to challenge the deep secondary. He also shows good body control to adjust to the off-target throws. His speed and arm extension are his best qualities, but his leg strength is evident by the way he generates RAC. He has the change-of-direction agility to go along with his speed to be a breakaway threat with the ball in his hands.”

Dorial Green-Beckham, Missouri/Oklahoma (6-5, 237; 4.49): What’s a GM to do? His size-speed combination is beyond compare. As a sophomore at Missouri, he caught 59 passes for 883 yards (15.0 average) and 12 touchdowns. In two seasons, he caught 74.6 percent of targeted passes. However, he was kicked off the team. Green-Beckham landed at Oklahoma but the NCAA refused a request to play immediately. He enters the NFL with a lot of baggage. He was arrested twice for marijuana possession and, in April 2014, he allegedly pushed a woman down at least four stairs.

Based on tools, he’s likely a first-round pick.

“I watched every target he had in 2013 and the comment I made is he has no clue what he’s doing but he still tilted the field just because of his height/weight/speed,” NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock said. “He has no idea what he’s doing but he catches the ball well. He’s 6-5 and runs 4.5 or better. Some teams are going to have a tough decision to make.”

Jaelen Strong, Arizona State (6-2, 217; 4.44): Strong enjoyed a redshirt junior season of 82 receptions for 1,165 yards (14.2 average) — third- and fifth-most in school history. Strong was one of 10 semifinalists for the Biletnikoff Award and a second-team All-American. Strong spent just two years at ASU, with 75 catches for 1,122 yards and seven scores in 2013. His 40 time probably solidified his spot in the first round. He dropped two passes (1.4 percent).

“Strong shows very good foot speed and quickness, along with an explosive up field burst, drawing comparisons to Atlanta’s Roddy White,” reads his scouting report. “Strong uses his size to force the defender out of his backpedal and into a bail technique. He is best served when used on crossers, stops, outs, quick slants and control routes. He is not as polished on deep patterns, where he is more apt to round his cuts, as he takes more of a soft angle approach rather than 90-degree angle cuts. Use him on posts, bubble screens and hitches, if you want to get the best production out of him.”


CLICK HERE FOR THE FULL SCOUTING REPORTS from the NFL’s head scout, Dave-Te’ Thomas.


ROUNDS 2-3

Devin Smith, Ohio State (6-0, 196; 4.42): Smith caught only 33 passes in 15 games but he made the most out of them, turning them into 931 yards and 12 touchdowns. That staggering big-play production could get him into the first round. He averaged an eye-popping 28.2 yards per reception, which led the nation. He caught 76.7 percent of targeted passes, among the best of FBS receivers. That includes touchdowns of 39, 44 and 42 yards vs. Wisconsin in the Big Ten title game. For his career, he caught 121 passes for 30 touchdowns. His average touchdown catch covered 39.4 yards — second-best in major-college history. He dropped two passes (4.7 percent).

“I’ll tell you what he does better than any wide receiver that I’ve seen in several years: He tracks the deep ball,” Mayock said. “If you look at his average per catch — big-play guy. Defensive backs were literally lining up 7 yards off and turning and running, they were so worried about getting beat deep but he still beat them deep. He tracks the deep ball. There’s value to that.”

Nelson Agholor, USC (6-0, 198; 4.42): Agholor had a monster junior season with 104 receptions for 1,313 yards (12.6 average) and 12 touchdowns to earn first-team all-conference and be one of 10 semifinalists for the Biletnikoff Award. He caught 76.5 percent of targeted passes and had only five passes batted away — second-fewest of the top 10 receivers in this draft. He dropped three passses (2.2 percent). For his career, he averaged 14.6 yards per punt return with four touchdowns. He’s drawn comparisons to Jeremy Maclin.

“Agholor has that explosive playing burst to easily gain separate after the catch,” reads his scouting report. “He shows above-average lateral agility and balance when changing direction, doing an excellent job of extending for the ball and keeping his feet inbounds when working along the sidelines. He is a smooth open-field runner who accelerates instantly coming out of his breaks. He has the burst to quickly eat up the cushion and run by defensive backs consistently.”

Breshad Perriman, UCF (6-2, 212; 4.26): The all-AAC first-teamer racked up 50 receptions with 1,044 yards (20.9 average; 55.6 percent catch rate) and nine touchdowns as a junior in 2014. He had a stretch of seven consecutive games with a touchdown and ended his career with at least one catch in 31 consecutive games. If his name rings a bell, his father, Brett, played receiver for the Lions and Saints for a decade.

“Perriman has good sideline awareness and shows quickness and good urgency working back to the ball,” reads his scouting report. “He will not hesitate to sacrifice his body to get to the jump balls and will mix it up with the defenders. With his size and reach, he is capable of taking the ball away from defenders. He does a nice sideline toe dance to stay in and out of the route and is aware of boundaries and coverage. He just shows no flinch in him getting to the pass, especially when making the tough slant catch with defenders all over him, but must concentrate better, as there are times he will turn and run before having secured the ball.”

Phillip Dorsett, Miami (5-10, 185; 4.33): As a senior, he turned his 36 receptions into 871 yards — a whopping 24.2-yard average — and 10 touchdowns. He caught 51.4 percent of targeted passes. He’s returned punts and kickoffs in his career but with modest success.

“He demonstrates excellent athleticism for his position, as few opposing defenders can mirror him on deep routes due to his speed,” reads his scouting report. “He not only has the speed to threaten the deep secondary, but the body control, lateral quickness and change of direction agility to make the underneath catches.”

Sammie Coates, Auburn (6-1, 212; 4.40): As a junior in 2014, he caught 34 passes for 741 yards (21.8 average) and four touchdowns. His catch rate was just 43.0 percent. While a lot of that had to do with the quarterback, 13 passes thrown his way were batted away. He dropped two passes (2.5 percent). As a sophomore he caught 42 passes for 902 yards (21.5 average).

“He's got size — over 200 pounds,” Mayock said. “One of those wide receivers with a completely different gear. You turn the Alabama tape on and he had five or six catches for over 200 yards. The concern with him has always been does he have natural hands? He's got some drops. He's got several double catches and, obviously, for a wide receiver, especially as we move on to the next level, you want natural hands, not somebody who is fighting the football.”

Rashad Greene, Florida State (5-11, 182; 4.53): Greene had a monster senior season, with 99 catches for 1,365 yards (13.8 average and 67.8 percent catch rate) and seven touchdowns. He led the team in receptions all four seasons and piled up a four-year total of 270 catches, 3,830 yards (14.2 average) and 29 touchdowns. Those figures rank third, first and fourth, respectively, in ACC history. He also scored two touchdowns on punt returns as a sophomore.

“When Greene gets a free lane, he is explosive coming off the snap, immediately getting into his routes,” reads his scouting report. “He needs to be more aggressive with his hands, as he struggles a bit vs. physical press coverage, but has the burst to recover. He shows the acceleration to stem on the route and the quick feet to explode down the sidelines.”

Tyler Lockett, Kansas State (5-10, 182; 4.40): Lockett, a four-year All-American, dominated as a senior, whether it was as a returner (consensus first-team All-American) or receiver (second-team All-American and Biletnikoff Award semifinalist). He caught 106 passes for 1,515 yards (14.3 average; 78.5 percent catch rate) and 11 touchdowns to run his career total to 249 catches, 3,710 yards (14.9) and 29 touchdowns. Lockett averaged a whopping 19.1 yards per punt return with two touchdowns and merely 20.1 yards per kickoff (down from his career average of 28.5, which included four touchdowns). He also was a finalist for the Campbell Trophy (aka, Academic Heisman) and the Senior CLASS Award.

“Lockett has that quick burst off the get-off foot and really hops into the route’s progression,” reads his scouting report. “You can see on film his ability to uncover and free himself up when working in the short area. Even though he lacks great size, teams looking for an all-around mighty mite will see that Lockett can not only excel as a deep threat, but he’s become a very efficient crack blocker and few in this draft boast his return skills ability. “

Devin Funchess, Michigan (6-4, 232; 4.70): Funchess, in his first season at receiver after playing tight end, recorded 62 receptions for 733 yards (11.8 average) and four touchdowns to earn second-team all-Big Ten in 2014. In 2013, he was voted the Big Ten’s Tight End of the Year. As a tight end, he wore No. 87 — a number reserved for elite tight ends after it was made famous by former Packers great Ron Kramer. He had no drops out of 103 targets.

“Funchess lacks a strong release and needs to be more consistent generating explosion coming off the line of scrimmage,” reads his scouting report. “He is a bit of a long strider, but has the burst to separate after the catch. Despite his adequate timed speed, he does not have good initial quickness, as he needs to build to top acceleration. As a route runner, Funchess needs to refine his technique. He rounds his cuts too often and while he shows a good burst after the catch, his long stride makes him appear lazy getting into his routes. In order to be effective, he will need to explode out of his cuts better.”

Justin Hardy, East Carolina (5-10, 192; 4.56): The All-American ranked second nationally in receptions (121) and fourth in receiving yards (1,494) — both single-season school records. He caught more passes than any player in the FBS history, with his 387 receptions obliterating Ryan Broyles’ old record of 349. He nabbed at least two catches in all 49 career games played, caught at least 10 passes 15 times, had 17 100-yard games and hauled down at least one TD pass in 31 contests. Plus, Hardy averaged 8.0 yards as a punt returner.

“Hardy has that extra gear to elude in the open field, but needs to do a better job of selling the route and setting up his breaks,” reads his scouting report. “When he is lined up in man coverage, he is very capable of rocking the cornerbacks on their heels and getting them out of the backpedal early. He still needs to be more physical vs. the press, but it is his acceleration that allows him to turn a short pass into a big play.”

Tre McBride, William & Mary (6-0, 210; 4.41): McBride was a three-time all-CAA selection. He finished his career ranked second in school history with 196 catches, fifth with 2,653 receiving yards, fifth with 4,281 all-purpose yards and sixth with 19 touchdown receptions. As a senior, he had 64 catches for 809 yards (12.6 average) with four touchdowns. As a junior, he was the CAA’s Special Teams Player of the Year with a 27.5-yard average on kickoff returns. He’s fast, smooth and strong.

“He adjusts smoothly to the off-target throws and, as his 4.41 speed indicates, he has the explosive burst needed to gain separation after the catch,” reads his scouting report. “He does not shy away from the crowd, using his hands well to force his way through traffic. He plants and drives sharply on deep routes and has the lateral agility to shake free of press coverage at the line of scrimmage.”


CLICK HERE FOR THE FULL SCOUTING REPORTS from the NFL’s head scout, Dave-Te’ Thomas.


Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at packwriter2002@yahoo.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report’s subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/PackerReport.


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