Williams’ game inspires a narrative of wishful thinking that college receivers will take the NFL by storm as rookies from here on out.
The 2014 class of rookie receivers has taken the NFL by storm. Mike Evans, Odell Beckham, Sammy Watkins, Jarvis Landry, Jordan Matthews, John Brown, Martavis Bryant, Allen Hurns, Allen Robinson, and Donte Moncrief have all at least flashed their potential, if not become reliable weapons from the jump. The past two classes have been stocked with talent, and a popular narrative making its rounds among colleagues is that the work of the 2014 rookie class is a sign of things to come for the future of college receiver prospects.
It’s obvious that the NFL has incorporated several college offensive concepts in recent years. The willingness of certain teams to simplify some of its passing game concepts encourages a faster transition for young wide receivers.
However, I’m not buying the inference that the future crops of rookie wideouts will perform anywhere close to the 2014 class because of the gradual changes in both college and pro football. The emerging narrative suggests that scheme is making it easier for receivers to contribute immediately, and it’s an unintentional swipe at the excellence of the 2014 class.
Yes, the paring down of passing game intricacies helps the likes of Jordan Matthews and Jarvis Landry, two big slot receivers who draw enough coverage from linebackers and safeties that their production isn’t nearly as dependent on beating cornerbacks on refined routes as some of their counterparts, but the Dolphins and Eagles one of only a handful of teams that are adopting these concepts. It’s easy to say, “The talent is there … but he’s got to round off his game, he’s got to become more complete, he’s got to understand the intricacies of playing the receiver position. It’s not just running down the field and then making a play. There’s a lot more to it.”
Mel Kiper said this yesterday on this week’s pre-draft conference call to the media about Auburn junior D’haquille Williams, and I could not say it any better in a succinct sound bite. At the same time, writer Brandon Marcello of Al.com paraphrased a Kiper statement that Williams “has the ‘ability’ to [refine his route running] quickly like Mike Evans and Kelvin Benjamindid out of the draft last year.”
Evans is 6-foot-4, 230 pounds and Benjamin is 6-foot-5, 240 pounds. Williams might be 6-foot-2, 216 pounds. With the exception of smaller options with great vertical skills as speedsters and leapers, the difference of 2 to 3 inches and 15 to 25 pounds shows up dramatically in the ways that NFL teams use receivers.
Evans and Benjamin have shown some improvement with the way they set up defenders after the break and play the ball in the air, but they were already building on strengths more than shoring up weaknesses. The size of both receivers affords the Buccaneers and Panthers the luxury to use them in high-impact situations that aren’t much different than their college offenses. However, Evans and (especially) Benjamin still display a lack of route refinement on targets that, if they improve, will make them the weapons everyone expects them to become in a season or two. It has been well-documented that Benjamin hasn’t finished his breaks on targets, which has resulted in interceptions.
Williams is closer to Michael Crabtree in size and athleticism than Benjamin and Evans. It also doesn’t take many plays to see some of the major strengths and weaknesses of his game at this stage of his development.
The Boiler Room is a series at my blog designed to display a minimum number of plays to share something vital about a prospect’s game. Imagine if you were a scout or scouting director asked to compile highlights during a pre-draft meeting with a general manager, owner, and coach of an NFL team, and they only wanted to see key plays that support your overall report. This week, I’m taking this approach with Williams. Williams might get paired with an offense that can maximize his strengths and minimize his weaknesses early, or he might polish his route running immediately. I believe, however, that Williams’ game is an example of the non-stop wishful thinking that we’re seeing embedded in the narrative that college receivers will take the NFL by storm as rookies from here on out.