The Percy Harvin trade gives me an easy topic to write on for this week’s Gems: WR and return specialists. I was already planning on building toward replacing Bryan Walters as the PR, but now we may also want to look at drafting another WR, too. Let’s take a look at WR first, and then dabble in some specialists.
After two consecutive years of (essentially) spending our first pick on WR; I don’t think we will look at WR very early - maybe 4th round and down. And that’s not a terrible spot to look. As hyped as last year’s WR class was for its quality and its depth, this year is more under the radar with how good the depth is. Well…as of now. As it goes with many players I write about, those that look like 4th’s today, can become 2nd’s by draft day. But in the meantime, I’m skipping the WR that currently look like 1st-3rd picks.
In addition to looking at guys from the 4th round and down, I’m also looking for a bigger target. Currently we have two WR that are listed at 6’2": Ricardo Lockette and Kevin Norwood. Yet neither feel like the kind of WR I’m imagining. Honestly, I’m imagining Sidney Rice.
We’ll start off with the guy I touched on briefly last week. At 6’4"/205, Alonzo Russell is possibly my favorite of this type of receiver. Unfortunately, he’s only a junior and I’m not sure we’ll see him declare. After posting a year of 59 catches, 728 yards, 12.34 ypc, and 6 TD’s in 12 games as a sophomore, Russell is on pace to improve upon those numbers with 33 catches, 490 yards, 14.85 ypc, and 6 TD’s through 7 games in 2014. Here is the same game we looked at last week…the key here is what Russell is doing on contested throws…something the current Seahawk receivers struggled with against Dallas:
Russell is currently list as nfldraftscout’s 33rd ranked WR for 2016. They don’t do overall rankings for 2016 draft yet, but for reference: the 33rd WR in the 2015 class comes in at #269 overall (basically an UDFA). If Russell did decide to declare early, I could easily see him come off the board similarly to 2014 4th round, 118th overall pick; Martavis Bryant. Then again, Russell shows better hands than Bryant, and I don’t know of any character problems on Russell.
Up next, we revisit a player that I’ve been slowly beating the drum for since week 1 of the college season (here http://www.fieldgulls.com/2014/9/2/6096083/2015-nfl-draft-jareds-gems-week-1), Michigan State’s wonderful Mr Lippett. Listed at 6’3"/190, all Tony has done this year is rank 11th in the country in receiving yards per game, 16th in yards per catch, and 3rd in receiving TD’s.
We’ve looked at this Oregon tape before, but it still stands as his highest volume target day of the year (finished with 11/133/1TD). And, as such, it gives a pretty fair depiction of some of his pluses and minuses. For some reason, MSU had him playing in the slot in the 1st half, but as the game progressed, they moved him back outside and he saw better results. This is a dead redline receiver.
Lippett isn’t completely dominant in that video, but that’s in part because of some pretty good DB play from guys like 1st round projected Ifo Ekpre-Olomu. I kinda like that he’s a bit flawed because I’d like him to be on the board at #155 overall, where he’s currently projected. Here are a couple more single-play videos:
Awesome separation on redline throw, and the extension to catch the ball in-stride is really nice.
Contested catch in double-coverage. Also…Redline.
And redline, highpoint, plus broken tackles for a big 1st down.
You’ll notice these are all catches of over 25 yards. Lippett is averaging 20.15ypc on the year.
Another big, Senior WR that seems to be trending upward is WSU’s Vince Mayle. Listed at 6’3"/219, and with a rumored 4.4 forty, Mayle has a lot of what I liked in Cody Latimer last year. For the year, Mayle is 5th in the country in catches, 12th in receiving yards, and 7th in receiving TD’s. And, of course, these numbers (and similar numbers from River Cracraft and Isiah Myers) are to be expected from an offense throwing at such a legendary clip as the Cougs are this year, but they also rotate WR in and out of series regularly. I think Vince is showing tremendously in his snaps.
Mayle is currently ranked #161 overall.
If there is one WR that qualifies for my search parameters, and also qualifies as probably the biggest boom-or-bust candidate, it would be the guy that comes from the same school as Demaryius Thomas and Calvin Johnson…but also Stephen Hill. This year’s version is Deandre Smelter (6’3"/222), a Senior who is averaging an absurdly high 23.22ypc in the same triple-option offense that saw Hill average 29.29ypc in 2011, and 25.09ypc for Thomas in 2009.
I’ve only seen bits and pieces of Smelter. One thing that is undeniable, the dude is built. Like, every bit of that 222 (maybe a few lbs more), with a lot of it in his thick lower half. Really provides strong drive to break tackles:
There is also evidence that he can high-point well to win contested in double-coverage:
Smelter’s long-speed isn’t bad either:
Smelter came to Georgia Tech on a baseball scholarship, didn’t play football until 2013, left the baseball team in March of this year to focus solely on football, and now, a year and a half into his college football career, he is responsible for 38% of GT’s receiving yards and half their TD’s through the air. In counting stats that amounts to 18 catches/418 yards/5 TD’s…but remember the caveat of the Yellow Jackets’ play selection: 75% run, 25% pass. Of the 128 current FBS teams, Georgia Tech is 124th in pass attempts. So Smelter is basically the definition of a wildcard.
Calvin was the 2nd overall pick in 2007, Demaryius was the 22nd overall pick in 2010, Stephen Hill was the 43rd overall pick in 2012, and Smelter is currently projected as the 604th overall for 2015. That number is stupid-low. Even if Deandre pays the price for Hill’s busting, I don’t know that I see him not getting drafted. And between undrafted and Hill’s 2nd round, I would love for Smelter to settle into that 4th round conversation.
Before turning to return specialists, I’ll point out a couple more Juniors. Keyarris Garrett of Tulsa is 6’4"/221 (looks a little thicker) and reminds me a little bit of Brandon Browner playing offense. Maybe Browner mixed with BMW. I don’t know much about Garrett, other than he took a medical redshirt last year after breaking his leg. If he has a decent season this year, I could see him declare so as not to be entering the draft as a 23-year old. This is some of Garrett’s 2012 tape:
He’s not a consistent catcher, but neither was Kelvin Benjamin. I can’t confirm this from online research, but I worry about Garrett’s character and maturity. Garrett is currently ranked #467 overall.
Breshad Perriman of UCF is also a Junior (6’3"/214), and he’s averaging 23.41ypc on limited targets. While the few catches Perriman has been able to put on tape make it hard to get a good sense of his ability, it also prevents his stock from getting too high. Perriman looks a LOT like Sid:
Not the most sudden of movers, but the long speed is good and there’s no questioning the size or his ability to snatch the ball away from his body. Draftscout has Perriman in the 2016 ratings only (8th WR in the class), and he seems over-rated ranked there. I like many of the names I’ve discussed prior in this piece more than I do Perriman. I would look at him more as a 6th rounder this year (if he declared).
Speaking of UCF; this allows us to transfer nicely into the kick/punt returners - UCF has one of each. On the punts it’s a guy that comes close to being both a 6’3" possession WR and a good punt returner: JJ Worton. Listed at 6’2"/212, Worton is known to have excellent hands.
Pretty much all of the UCF receivers’ numbers are down this year after the Knights lost Blake Bortles to the NFL, so I’ll give you the 2013 numbers first: 47/721/15.34ypc/7TD. And 2014: 16/202/12.63ypc/1TD. More importantly, Worton on punt returns: 12.42ypr this year (15th in the country) and 12.08ypr in 2013.
I am told that Worton will not show up high on the SPARQ meter, but it appears he will show decently in the agility drills (especially for a guy at 6’2").
UCF’s kick returner is Senior Ranell Hall (6’1"/200) and he’s averaging 29.00 yards/return this year (12th in the country). Receiving-wise, Hall is missing Bortles perhaps even more than the other two as his YPC is down to almost half of what it was in 2013.
I have this weird feeling one of the UCF receivers ends up in Seattle. My gut is leaning towards Worton, even though he seems the least obvious of the three with his #458th overall projection.
Perhaps the most well-known of the return specialists is Stanford’s Ty Montgomery (6’2"/220). He is certainly well-known in these parts after what he did the Huskies in 2013. I won’t show that video.
I hesitate quite a bit with Montgomery (as well as Utah’s Kaelin Clay). They are clearly superior return men, but they are also clearly inferior wideouts. I don’t know that the Seahawks 53-man has the room to sustain a player with these qualities. Here is Montgomery’s 2014 game vs UCDavis:
His hands will be a problem at the next level. Somehow draftscout has Montgomery listed as their 33rd overall player this year. Those hands and that price are just not reconcilable in my mind.
The list of return men that also play WR also includes: Kansas State’s Tyler Lockett (5’11"/175), Auburn’s Quan Bray (5’10"/195), and Virginia’s Darius Jennings (5’11"/175). All three of them rank in the top 15 of either return discipline, with Jennings representing the best value (from a microscopic UDFA listing).
To me, a really interesting return/WR option is a guy that has rarely returned kicks this year, but averaged 26.48ypr last year (18th in the country)…Nebraska’s Senior WR Kenny Bell (6’1"/185). I noticed Bell while watching Ameer Abdullah a couple weeks ago. After watching him on TV, I had to go back and look for some more tape. I liked pretty much everything I could find…routes, hands, running after the catch, returns…but the thing I liked most was this single play:
Straight up MURDER. (Ain’t Gus Johnson just the best? I digress.)
Kenny Bell is a FOOT.BALL.PLAYER. Period. In the span of a few, single-play highlights, and then the longer highlight reel; Bell has shown me the best qualities of Ricardo Lockette (thump), Kevin Norwood (hands), and Bryan Walters (returns). Like, even if you never think he’ll even amount to WR3 status, what a great utility WR to have stashed away in the WR5-6 spot. Bell is currently ranked #195 overall, and he’d be an awesome use of one of the Seahawks day-three compensation picks.
Return specialists aren’t limited to the WR room. Bobby McCain of Memphis (5’11"/195) is averaging 25.45ypr while also playing some pretty scrappy CB. I am definitely keeping my eyes on him for the nickel role, as well.
And, finally, in the year of the RB; we can’t not include them in our search for a return specialist. A case can be made for Missouri’s Marcus Murphy (5th in the country in KR, 10th in PR), but I’m going with a guy that is already on my draftboard anyways: Ameer Abdullah.
While receiving his due acclaim for what he is accomplishing as a RB this year, it often goes unrecognized that Ameer is a pretty incredible return-man. This year, he has only had 9 returns (avg: 20.22ypr), but in years past Abdullah has had seasons of averaging 29.35 and 21.18 yards per KR, and 13.06 yards per PR. His hands are very good, and his open-field running is on par with Percy himself. With Marshawn under contract for 2015, it wouldn’t be crazy to work Ameer in as a returner first, and then slowly introduce him into the backfield.
The only question is: will PCJS change course on the size preferences they have shown for RB, and do so at the 1st-2nd round price that Ameer seems to be decidedly on trajectory for??
At this point in the college season, I really don't have my WR/KR/PR preference narrowed down beyond a 4-6 player list...which isn't very specific. I like quite a few of these options, and probably end up simply satisfied by the one that is still available when I want to go WR come draft weekend. I like almost all that I've seen of Lippett, Mayle, Smelter...I like Alonzo Russell if he declares...and Kenny Bell surprised the hell out of me, and now I really like him. I think the key is the 4th round.