Futures: WR Marquess Wilson

Futures: WR Marquess Wilson

by Matt Waldman

This week’s Futures is about more than Marquess Wilson. It’s about the dynamics of power within college football programs and the risks that come with questioning their authority. For most of us outside the situation, it’s about being willing to reserve judgment about a player’s decisions when we may never know the truth behind them. Most of all, this week’s column addresses the mindset that I think a scout or personnel director should utilize when evaluating a football player who left his college team on bad terms.

Tall, wiry, and athletic, Wilson had a chance to go in the top half of the 2013 NFL Draft. Some analysts dinged the former Washington State receiver because they speculated that he’s too thin. If there were a physical template that scouts and draftniks used to determine the body type of a first-round talent at the position, Wilson’s 6-foot-3, 188-pound frame isn’t an exact match.

I’m not concerned if Wilson is lighter than prototypes like Andre JohnsonDemaryius Thomas, or Vincent JacksonRobert Meachemhas all the physical characteristics a football team wants from a wide receiver, but I’ve never liked his game. Meachem makes the act of catching a ball look like it requires a doctorate in quantum mechanics. And forget about routes –- I’ve seen out-of-town drivers who lost their GPS connection look less confused with their surroundings.

The way I see it, once a player meets the physical baselines to perform in the league, the rest of it is little more than a potential bonus. I say “potential” because these skills have to be harnessed into technique. Otherwise, you have a great athlete who cannot play fast, strong, or smart because he’s thinking rather than reacting.

This is why I am more concerned with positional skills. Knowledge, precision, and technical skill determine whether speed, strength, and agility will be used productively. A 5-foot-11, 188-pound receiver with great technical skill will play stronger, faster, and smarter than a 6-foot-2, 215-pound prospect without it. In other words, put Meachem’s game side-by-side with Marvin Harrison’s and it’s no contest.

Wilson demonstrates enough physical skill to develop into an NFL starter. He’s effective at shielding defenders with his body. He catches the football with his hands. Wilson has the height to win on the perimeter and in the red zone, yet the slippery power and arsenal of moves to avoid direct hits as a ball carrier through the shallow zones of a defense. The Cougars loved to feature his combination of skill sets on fades, smoke screens, slants, and vertical routes with double moves.

Wilson can set up a route in single-coverage and he flashes some promise working against the jam, but he has a ways to go. He has to develop better technique with his hands and shoulders to defeat press coverage while still moving down field. Otherwise, his tendency to lean away from contact slows his release from the line of scrimmage and it can ruin the timing of his routes.

Wilson is not a prospect with rare ability. However, he has enough NFL characteristics in his game that, with enough development, he could become an asset in a starting lineup. Several draft analysts believed he was one of the top-five receiving prospects at the beginning of the season. Until last month, I believed Wilson had a chance to be a second- or third-round pick.

I’m giving you the executive summary on Wilson’s game because the more fascinating question about the former Washington State receiver is the fallout from his imbroglio with head coach Mike Leach. There are dynamics of this story that parallel past incidents where a player and football program didn’t see eye-to-eye and NFL teams made a mistake to trust the program.

Sometimes the consequences for the player are deserved. Read the rest at Football Outsiders

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