A productive wide receiver from a football powerhouse whose stock had dropped because of a poor combine, I thought I'd love Mario Manningham. Except, I didn't. And the more I watched and deeper I dug, the less I liked.
I'm not too worried about Manningham's speed, it's sufficient--at least. He changes gears smoothly and is very good at tracking the ball in flight. I am worried about his cuts, which are long and sloppy, his ability to beat the press, the slightly built Manningham was put in motion a ton, and how his skills will translate to the pros. Being that Manningham isn't incredibly fast, tall, able to jump, outcompete for the ball or shed the press, I just don't see him translating as a deep threat. If he can't run a clean route, or dependably catch the ball, he's not going to become much else, either.
Another thing that struck me was that Michigan seemed to run their passing offense through Manningham. He was the go-to guy, targeted on deep passes and wide receiver screens. Could his yardage be the result of a Steve Smith-like focus in the passing attack? Instead of looking at raw yardage, I looked into his completion percentage. In 2007, only 55% of all passes that targeted Manningham were completed. So, 16.3 yards per completion, yes, but only 8.96 yards per target. Compare that with Field Gulls favorite Malcolm Kelly: 58% completion, 9.77 yards per target. Manningham gets away with a lot of cutback antics that won't fly in the pros, too. His game screams undisciplined. He's the kind of athlete that can dominate inferior competition, but whose cocky style becomes a liability against top competition. Need further proof? Against top 25 defensive teams as measured by FEI, expanded over the past two seasons to improve the sample size (6 games), Manningham caught 56% of passes targeting him. An improvement, right? Except his YPC drops to just 12.25, and his yard per attempt is an awful 6.90. In other words, his completion percentage is still just okay and, in fact, propped up by a lot of go-nowhere wide receiver screens. Instead of looking like a top deep threat, Manningham looks like the best weapon in a bad offense.
It's interesting the path a post can take you down. I started this with the hope of advocating Manningham, thinking Seattle needs to target a wide receiver in the draft and looking for a bargain, but end it feeling pretty confident that Manningham's a bust. Seattle already has a wide receiver with good open field skills, exciting athleticism, but loose route running and a questionable ability to get open, Nate Burleson. I talk a lot about not expecting a player to develop new skills, how that's poor talent acquisition, but you must also be aware of the skills that a player might lose. Through age, injury or a transition to faster, stronger more competent competition. After researching him, I wonder, if Manningham's not a pro caliber deep threat than what is he?