After the scouting combine, mostly what you will hear about on any given rookie skill player is what I call the “Mel Kiper measurables”. This is height, weight and 40 time. Don’t get me wrong, those measurables are important but are by no means a formula for success. I find that the 3 cone drill and 20 yard shuttle times are far more important when assessing the skill set a player might possess. The 3 cone drill displays a players ability to quickly get in and out of cuts. The 20 yard shuttle displays a players ability to quickly stop and accelerate. I think that represents more of what a player will need to do on the field rather than post a blazing 40 time. A 40 time gives you an idea of whether or not a player has breakaway speed but how many times does a player run a straight line in a game?
There were no elite wideouts that seperated from the pack in this years draft class. The majority of them look to be 3rd or 4th on the depth chart or return men. Here are 3 wideouts that have the skill and landed in the right situation for immediate opportunity to reach fantasy success, sooner rather than later.
James Hardy: Buffalo – 6′ 6″ 218 lbs – 41st pick out of Indiana
Pros – 1st Hardy will tower over the latest version of the “smurfs”, whose top 3 wideouts average 5′ 10″ in height. He has a big wingspan to match his height, good hands and a “my ball” mentality. He uses his size and long arms to fight jams and in his release. He clocked in at 4.45 in the 40 or 13th among wideouts at the combine, more of a long stride rather than initial burst. Recorded a top ten time in the 3 cone drill, showing a quick ability to get in and out of cuts. Recorded a top ten time in the 20 yard shuttle, showing a quick ability to stop and accelerate. He had 79 receptions for 1,125 yards and 16 touchdowns last year. His 16 touchdowns earned him all Big Ten honors. He was consistent through the season and showed he has the ability to take over a game. He had a touchdown reception in 11 of 13 games and multiple touchdown receptions in 5 of those 13 games. He went over 100 receiving yards in 6 of 13 games and over 50 receiving yards in 10 of those 13 games.
Cons – He has off the field issues. He will need to bulk up a little and work on his route running. If he can dedicate to the craft and keep his nose clean he is in the best situation to be in for immediate success.
Overall – Hardy will likely line up as the #2 wideout on the team at the start of the season. He should make an immediate impact in the redzone. He lands on a young team with an above average offensive line, a future stud running back, a legitimate #1 wideout and a young up and coming quarterback. He should be able to make some noise since the deep safety will likely be occupied with Lee Evans and the free safety will likely be in the box and occupied with Marshawn Lynch, leaving him with single coverage. Hardy could be the biggest reward for the gamble in this years class.
Devin Thomas: Washington – 6′ 1″ 215 lbs – 34th pick out of Michigan State
Pros – Thomas is big, athletic, has good body control, has good hands, adjusts to the ball and makes acrobatic receptions. He is elusive, he is quick enough to get a clean release off the line, has the ability to make yards after the catch, will go over the middle and will return kicks. He clocked in at 4.41 in the 40 or 7th among wideouts at the combine. Recorded a 4.26 in the 20 yard shuttle or 14th among wideouts, showing a quick ability to stop and accelerate. He had 79 receptions for 1,260 yards and 8 touchdowns last year. He had a touchdown reception in 6 of 13 games, including a 3 touchdown performance. He went over 100 receiving yards in 7 of 13 games and over 50 receiving yards in 12 of those 13 games.
Cons – He placed 36th in the 3 cone drill or 19th lower than the average of those that ran it, although his 20 yard shuttle time eased concerns about the poor showing. Thomas only played one season as a true starter in Division 1. He lacks experience and is raw as a route runner. He may have trouble with running some of his routes. He will need to be coached up and work on some aspects of his craft, but the physical tools are there.
Overall – He lands on a team implementing the WCO this year. This will fit his skill set. He should excel in short quick passes and over the middle. He lands on a younger team with an above average offensive line, a stud at running back, a legitimate #1 wideout and a young up and coming quarterback. Santana Moss and Antwaan Randle El both seem to have a hard time starting every game during a full season and with the WCO being implemented, TE Chris Cooley is due for a decrease in targets. He should push and beat out Randle El for the #2 spot, when he does the opportunity will be there.
Earl Bennett: Chicago – 6′ 0″ 209lbs – 70th pick out of Vanderbilt
Pros – Bennett is not a wideout who will wow you, but he does everything right when you see him play. One of the best all around wideouts in this class. He is a smart, natural born receiver. He has good hands, good field awareness, judgement and can read coverage. He can get off the line with power or finesse and sells subtle bobs and dips while running crisp, sharp routes. He is fearless, while putting his body on the line and can turn into an elusive runner after the catch. Will fight for the ball and has a “my ball” mentality. Has shown that he knows how to get open, has quick feet and can get in and out of cuts quickly while accelerating to full speed. Clocked in at 4.48 in the 40 or 15th best among wideouts at the combine. He didn’t run the 3 cone drill, but did run the 20 yard shuttle and clocked in at 4.22 or 9th best among those who ran it. He was the SEC’s all time leading receiver in receptions with 236 in 3 seasons. He had 75+ receptions in all 3 seasons, with a high of 82 in his sophmore season.
Cons – The negatives are not necessarily about Bennett’s talent level but rather the team he lands on. No doubt, Chicago has questions all around the offense, like the offensive line, quarterback and running back.
Overall – In the offseason, Chicago got rid of their top 2 wideouts so the only competition ahead of Bennett consists of: aging Marty Booker, Brandon “I’d rather rap” Lloyd, developments Mark Bradley and Devin Hester. The door will be wide open and he should win out the 2nd wideout spot and could easily be the best wideout on the team by seasons end. The questions about the team surrounding him knocks him down slightly from the other two.
2 wideouts to keep an eye on during preseason for possible waiver wires:
Will Franklin: Kansas City – 6′ 0″ 214 lbs – 105th pick out of Missouri
Franklin is a good athlete, with good speed, quickness and moves to get open. He has strong hands, good body control and the athleticism to adjust and make tougher catches. He runs good routes, shows good instincts and enough agility to make would be tacklers miss. He clocked in at 4.38 in the 40 or 4th best among wideouts at the combine. He did not run the 3 cone drill or the 20 yard shuttle. He would only have to beat out Jeff Webb and Devard Darling to start at the #2 wideout spot. The KC offense is questionable but with Dwayne Bowe, TE Tony Gonzalez and a healthy Larry Johnson drawing most of the attention, the 2nd WR spot could put up decent numbers.
Armen Shields: Oakland – 6′ 0″ 194 lbs – 125th pick out of Richmond
Has good natural hands, attacks the ball and runs good crisp routes. He will go across the middle, works well in traffic and will battle for the ball. Shields is coming off a knee injury that cost him his 2007 season. He played at a small school and may lack as much experience as some of the other wideouts in this class, but at the combine, he showed up everybody else in the class. He clocked in at 4.37 in the 40 or 3rd best. He clocked in at 6.67 in the 3 cone drill or 2nd best. He clocked in at 3.96 in the 20 yard shuttle, best time in the drill. He also had the 2nd best vertical at 37.5″, 2nd best broad jump at 10′ 8″ and in the 225 lb bench press, he put up 19 reps, tied for 4th. Ahead of him are Javon Walker, Ronald Curry, Drew Carter and Johnnie Lee Higgins. He could push Higgins and Carter once the pads go on. Curry and Walker are injury prone and Walker just recently tried beating somebody up with his face. Preseason should dictate Shields progress and where he will be on the depth chart and if an opportunity will present itself.