NFL Scouting Combine Research: Receivers, Part 4

Who caught 111 passes as a senior? Who caught 294 for his career? And what might be the best story in this entire draft? Plus, potential first-round picks Laquon Treadwell and Michael Thomas as we get to know this year's class of wide receivers.

Demarcus Robinson, Florida (6-1, 204): Underclassman. Robinson caught 48 passes for 522 yards (10.9 average) and two touchdowns in 2015, despite missing a late-season game vs. Florida State due to a suspension for breaking team rules. It was his fourth suspension at Florida. He didn’t always see eye-to-eye with coach Jim McElwain, who struggled to get the best out of the talented receiver. “Really, it’s his choice,” McElwain said a few weeks before the FSU suspension. “As I’ve told all the [NFL] scouts, this guy has come farther than any guy in our program. I’m proud of him.” Still, his 2015 production was a step back from his breakout sophomore campaign, when he had the best season by a Gators receiver since 2009, totaling 53 catches for 810 yards and seven touchdowns. Robinson is the nephew of former NFL receiver Marcus Robinson, who played for the Bears, Ravens and Vikings. He’s also close with Jacquez Green, a six-year NFL veteran receiver.

Alonzo Russell, Toledo (6-4, 205): Russell was a four-time all-MAC selection, earning second-team honors as a senior with his 36 receptions for 618 yards (17.2 average) and five touchdowns. He is only the third Rocket to earn all-MAC honors four times, joining two NFL players — offensive lineman Nick Kaczur and safety Barry Church. For his career, Russell ranks fifth in Toledo history with 202 receptions, third with 3,076 yards and second with 24 touchdowns. He caught at least one pass in all 50 career games. Russell was a hot recruit coming out of high school but couldn’t qualify academically. He spent a year at Milford Academy, a prep school in New Berlin, N.Y. “I feel like the year I spent at Milford helped me mature and helped me decide whether football was important to me,. It was like I was cut off from the rest of the world. Berlin is in the middle of nowhere, honestly, and it made me focus on why I am here. I am here to play football, to be successful, to make my mom happy. I was focused on those types of things and I still am to this day.”

Rashawn Scott, Miami (6-1, 195): Scott played in only six games as a freshman, nine games as a a sophomore and four games as a junior due to injuries and suspensions. After sitting out 2014 with a broken clavicle sustained in fall camp — the second of his career — Scott had a breakout senior season, finishing with team-high and career-high totals of 52 receptions, 695 yards (13.4 average) and five touchdown. “He’s acting like older players should act right now. We’re in there watching film as a staff, and he stops in with his lunch and he wants to pick up whatever he can pick up,” coach Al Golden said. “They become great when they do that and they absolutely immerse themselves into it, and he’s doing that right now.”

Hunter Sharpe, Utah State (5-11, 199): Sharpe was second-team all-Mountain West as a senior with 71 receptions for 835 yards (11.8 average) and nine touchdowns, despite missing the first two games due to a suspension for breaking team rules. In limited duty as a returner, he had a 96-yarder on a kickoff vs. Nevada. Sharpe contributed 66 receptions for 939 yards (14.2 average) and seven scores in 2014, his first season after two years at Antelope Valley College in Lancaster, Calif. Before focusing on football, he was an avid skateboarder. “I used to skateboard,” Sharp said. “In high school, I almost gave up football. Actually, I gave up my first two years of high school for skateboarding. I was that committed to it.”

Tajae Sharpe, Massachusetts (6-2, 189): Sharpe had a huge senior season with a FBS-leading 111 receptions. He turned those into 1,319 (11.9 average) yards and five touchdowns. “I love and have such respect for the game. I want to win no matter what. Everybody goes through tough times. You have to keep going and keep working hard. It’s eventually going to pay off.” Along with 61 receptions as a sophomore and 85 as a junior, he finished his career with 277 catches for 2,486 yards and 16 touchdowns. He was picked for the East-West Shrine Game and the Senior Bowl. He set as many UMass records as he won games during his career. “The records, they mean a lot to me, and I’m very humbled by breaking so many records by great players that played here in the past, but I would definitely trade those records in to have more wins in the win column. That’s what you play this game for, is to win.” He is the quiet record-setter among receivers

Sterling Shepard, Oklahoma (5-10, 193): Shepard earned All-American honors after a senior season of 86 receptions for 1,288 yards and 11 touchdowns. That ran the two-time Biletnikoff semifinalist’s four-year total to 233 catches, 3,482 yards and 26 touchdowns. His father, the late Derrick Shepard, played receiver at Oklahoma in the mid-1980s. Both wore the No. 3. Sterling was only 6 when his father died of a heart attack. Upon graduating from Oklahoma in December, his mom gave Sterling his father’s national championship ring as a gift. She had always promised him the ring. It was just about waiting for that right moment. Mother and son agree this was the perfect time. Said Cheri Shepard: “It was just a few days before, and I was thinking what gift could I give to him. He’s not a high maintenance kid. He didn’t really want anything for Christmas. But I was thinking. He’s going to be on his own. This is like his threshold into manhood. His father can’t be here, but it’s a reminder of his dad. They’re in the final four. It’s 30 years later. It was perfect." Sooners coach Bob Stoops created the Derrick Shepard Award for the team’s most inspirational walk-on and has had a long relationship with Sterling. “I was always aware of having my arm around him whenever I could,” Stoops said. “I wanted him to know this was a special place for his dad, and for him to feel like he was part of it.” He did in creating a lasting legacy. “More than anything, I think my proudest moment is that he accomplished what he wanted to do,” Cheri Shepard said. “He made his own mark. He’s leaving his own legacy. I’m proud of him getting his degree in three-and-a-half years instead of four. All the hard work he has put in. It’s all paid off."

Nelson Spruce, Colorado (6-1, 205): In his four seasons, Spruce set or tied 43 Colorado and Pac-12 records. The list includes almost every significant Colorado receiving record: most touchdown catches in a game, season and career (three, 12, 23); most receptions in a game, season and career (19, 106, 294); and most receiving yards in a career (3,347). At one point during his junior season, he caught 66 passes in six games. In Pac-12 history, he ranks No. 1 in receptions and No. 8 in receiving yards. He’s a two-time all-conference second-teamer and an Academic All-American. "Any company out there, I would tell you, 'Hire Nelson Spruce and he will run your company in five or 10 years,'" coach Mike MacIntyre said. "Nelson is a worker. He is intelligent. He pushes. He has ice in his veins." As a senior, he caught 89 passes for 1,053 yards (11.8 average) and four touchdowns. He’s a legend in Colorado, with the John Kuhn-like “Spruuuuuce” serenade from the fans, but is something of an unknown nationally. “I think I fly under the radar, and that's something I'm OK with. I've kind of been doing it my whole career, even coming out of high school … Now, I get to play against (Pac-12 athletes) and show them what I can do on that type of stage. So, I definitely play with a chip on my shoulder because of that.”

Michael Thomas, Ohio State (6-3, 210): Underclassman. Thomas had 56 catches for 781 yards and nine touchdowns in 2015 and 54 catches for 799 yards and nine touchdowns in 2014. "Coaching Mike is what I would imagine coaching a guy like Peyton Manning would be like," Ohio State receivers coach Zach Smith said. "As a coach, if you aren't an expert in your trade, you will get exposed in a second. He demands the best coaching, and his drive is to be the best receiver in America." Thomas is the nephew of former NFL star Keyshawn Johnson. Johnson lobbied his alma mater to sign Thomas but USC coach Lane Kiffin didn’t. Kiffin got fired at USC and landed as Alabama’s offensive coordinator. In last year’s Sugar Bowl, Thomas caught seven passes in the Buckeyes’ win over Alabama. "See," Johnson says he told Kiffin later, "you would still have your job at USC if you'd have listened." Unlike Johnson, Thomas is not the type to plead for the damn ball, though. “He’s been a great motivation for me and he also set the bar high for me and for my younger cousins and brothers that came up playing football,” Thomas said. “We have a high standard in our house.” Perhaps he should have pleaded for the ball more, though, when his production is stacked up against lesser talents. "Honestly, sometimes I think about it," Thomas said. “I feel like just how you notice things that are going on, everyone notices things that are going on, so I can only control what I can control."

Laquon Treadwell, Ole Miss (6-2, 210): Underclassman. Even though he played only three seasons, he was the SEC’s active leader with 196 receptions, 2,322 yards and 18 touchdowns. He caught at least one pass in all 34 career games. In 2015, he was a finalist for the Biletnikoff Award, which goes to the nation’s top receiver. He ranked second in the SEC with 76 receptions, first with 1,082 receiving yards and third with eight touchdowns. He caught at least one touchdown pass in six consecutive games. Late in the 2014 season, he caught 10 passes vs. Auburn but suffered a broken leg and dislocated ankle as he tried to score the game-winning touchdown. It was his worst nightmare. "Once I got pulled back, I felt the awkward movement," he recalled. "I knew I had to let the ball go to actually save myself." The injury made him part of the “Scooter Gang” with Ole Miss linebacker Denzel Nkemdiche, who had broken his ankle the week before. He stopped taking the pain pills and just dealt with the pain. "I didn't like the feeling of having to pick up a bottle and take pills just to go to sleep. ... I just wanted to feel the pain. I would just try to sleep through the pain just to motivate myself."

D’haquille Williams, Auburn: Williams caught 45 passes for 730 yards and five touchdowns as a junior. However, after allegedly punching four people at an Auburn bar in early October, he was thrown off the team. He finished his final season with 12 catches for 147 yards. He also was suspended for the Outback Bowl against Wisconsin to cap the 2014 season and again in fall camp before the 2015 season. After two seasons at Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College, Williams selected Auburn rather than home-state LSU to get away from the violence of his hometown of LaPlace, La. In 2013, a cousin was shot and killed. "He'd go home and you never were sure he'd come back, but he always did," one of the MGC’s coaches said. "He graduated with a 3.3 (GPA) and did a great job, but there were always questions like if he was going to go challenge the guy who killed his cousin, things like that."

De'Runnya Wilson, Mississippi State (6-4, 215): Underclassman. Wilson started 24 games in his three seasons and finished his career with 133 receptions for 1,949 yards and 22 touchdowns. He ranks fifth, sixth and second, respectively, in school history in those categories. In 2015, he was second-team all-SEC with 60 receptions for 918 yards. Before playing football as a senior, Wilson was a basketball star Wenonah High School in Birmingham, Ala. In fact, he was Mr. Basketball for the state of Alabama in 2013. He played football and basketball for one year at Mississippi State, averaging 0.9 points and 1.6 rebounds in seven games during the 2013-14 season. "Sometimes I wonder what my potential is — what I'm capable of doing," Wilson said. "But I just keep trying to have that mindset of improving and making my team better. I don't want to ever get comfortable because I'm afraid I won't work as hard today or tomorrow." He was arrested in March for possession of marijuana and possession of drug paraphernalia.


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Wide receivers, Part 1 (FREE)
Wide receivers, Part 2
Wide receivers, Part 3
Wide receivers, Part 4 (FREE)
Running backs, Part 1 (FREE)
Running backs, Part 2
Running backs, Part 3
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Quarterbacks, Part 1 (FREE)
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