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Draft Preview: Wide Receiver 6-Pack

I plan on wrapping up the wide receiver previews over the weekend. Clearly, wide receiver is a position Seattle could upgrade at. But it's also an exceptionally tough position to scout. Wide receivers produce a representative sample of their play. Most draft-worthy wide receivers run roughly 300-500 routes a season. Unfortunately, only a handful show up on television: the one's in which they're targeted. Even if I were to watch every contest a particular receiver played in, investing hours of time, I'd still only see ~100 plays. Therefore, this is my best attempt however limited.

James Hardy
Games: 3
Rec: 57.6%
YPA: 5.67

Madden fans should hope their team drafts Hardy, because he'll be a beast. The 6'5" Hardy is strong, fast, agile and can jump. As a football player, though, he hasn't yet unbolted the training wheels. Hardy was targeted on 141 passes in 2007 and completed just 79 (56%). His quarterback, Blake Powers, completed 60% of his passes. Indiana faced a middle of the road schedule when it came to opposing defenses. Hardy's best ability is using his body to box out opposing DBs. He's also very good at competing for the jump ball. That, combined with his speed, makes Hardy a potentially deadly deep threat. He's a high risk pick, great athlete + middling football skills practically defines "day 1 bust", but his potential is as high as anyone's.

Lavelle Hawkins
Games: 5
Rec: 68.8%
YPA: 10.66

Hawkins scores off the charts in my yards per attempt metric. That's all about his 9/10, 192 yard performance against Oregon State. Not so coincidentally that's the same game DeSean Jackson was shutdown to the tune of 4/11, 5 yards. Methinks Jackson may have received the Steve Smith treatment and Hawkins was the beneficiary. Without that performance his Rec drops to 56.5% and his YPA drops to 6.48. Another way to look at it: In the one game Jackson missed, against Stanford, where Hawkins was Cal's team's presumed #1 receiver, he went 7/14 for 63 yards. Stanford owns the 53rd ranked defense as measured by FEI. Hawkins isn't known as much of a route runner and won't be able to simply run around and by DBs in the pros like he did in college. His productivity might just be further indication of DeSean Jackson's greatness.

Andre Caldwell
Games: 3
Rec: 56.3%
YPA: 6.63

Caldwell was only targeted 16 times in the 3 games listed above. Against 28th ranked South Carolina Caldwell went 11/13 for 148 yards. It's not fair to include that, but for the sake of not being dogmatic, it's worth noting that it nearly doubles his sample and boosts his Rec to 69% and his YPA to 8.76. To my eyes, Caldwell is the second best wide receiver prospect in the draft. He's agile, fast, tough, a crisp route runner and polished. Caldwell's been banged up a bit, but don't read too much into his broken leg, a freak injury with no chance of reoccurrence. In my dream draft Caldwell would be Seattle's second round pick.

Earl Bennett
Games: 2
YPA: 5.17

No one had to do more with less than Bennett and it shows. It also makes him very hard to evaluate. 12 targets doesn't tell us much, but, even so, his 58.3% target-completion percentage is well better than Chris Nickson or Mackenzie Adam's season completion percentage. Bennett runs solid routes and shows good zone awareness. You have to like his work ethic and total package. He looks like a good wide receiver that may need a few seasons to get up to speed in the pros.

Jordy Nelson
Games: 2
Rec: 63.3%
YPA: 7.57

The humble kid from Riley, Kansas, a city higher than it is populace, suffers unduly from his lacking pigment. He has always been able to stretch the field and is an athlete, no matter his contrast alignment. Nelson was a walk on that peaked his senior season. Though the team did run its offense through Nelson, that doesn't mean there's air in his stats. He wasn't shutdown once, and performed ably against top competition. Nelson is a well rounded player that possesses a bit of everything you could want in a wide receiver. Sure to be overrated by some and underrated by twice as many, Nelson looks like a low-downside receiver who could easily be an above average pro.

Eddie Royal
Games: 4
Rec: 52.9%

Royal is a top athlete. What he's not and what he's a long way from becoming is much of a receiver. The paradoxical aspect of Royal is that scouts are sure to talk about his upside, but ultra-toolsy receivers like Royal don't really have much upside. The thinking is that he has all the tools and just needs to "figure out" the game--not that that's hard or complex or anything. Should he learn enough about the pro game and be able to put his talents to use his upside is something like Antwan Randle El. It's simple really, he's had nearly his entire lifetime to learn how to be a productive wide receiver and never has. He's so far down the growth curve that he'd need phenomenal growth just to catch up. A punt returner some misguided team will reach for.