Draft season is in full swing, and while quarterbacks are the hottest ticket in town, they must have someone to throw to. Rookie wide receivers don’t always make big impacts, but they’re important building blocks for any passing attack. Joseph Ferraiola breaks down former Notre Dame receiver Will Fuller.
You may have heard: Will Fuller is fast. The Notre Dame star ran the fastest 40-yard dash for a wideout at the combine with a time of 4.32. Because of his electrifying speed, Fuller is getting a ton of buzz and some think he could be the gem of this year’s lackluster wide receiver class.
After leading the Fighting Irish in total receptions, yards, and touchdowns with 62, 1,258, and 14, respectively, Fuller declared for the NFL Draft. Fuller finished his career at Notre Dame with 144 receptions for 2,512 yards and 30 touchdowns. Fuller is an explosive playmaker, gaining 20.5 yards per reception. At 6’0” 186 pounds, he possesses solid height and a lean build combined with adequate hand size of 8 1/4”.
Tale of the Tape
|40 Yard Dash||20 Yard Dash||Bench Press||Vertical Leap||Broad Jump||20 Yard Shuttle||3 Cone Drill||60 Yard Shuttle|
Against off coverage, Fuller accelerates to top speed and eats up cushion in a hurry. In college he was given a lot of off coverage releases and I expect that’s because cornerbacks respected his speed; there is not much film on Fuller against press coverage at all. Fuller possesses only adequate play strength and, because of that, he’ll have a difficult time against top physical corners, though he has the quickness to beat slower corners off the line. Notre Dame tend to line up in bunched and stacked formations that give their receivers favorable releases; either his new team will want to incorporate those formations into their playbook or Fuller will have to adjust quickly.
Fuller’s big-play ability is what makes him a borderline first-round talent. His straight-line speed and ability to accelerate to that speed in a hurry allows him to pull away from defenders on deep routes. He shows that ability in this play against USC, which was Notre Dame’s first offensive play of the game:
Initially the cornerback is playing up on Fuller, but then pedals backward into off coverage. Once the ball is snapped, Fuller accelerates off the line of scrimmage and blows past Adoree’ Jackson with the help of a stop-and-go move for a 75-yard touchdown.
Fuller not only displays very good straight-line speed, but also excellent speed in and out of his breaks that allows him to create separation at the apex of his routes. On this play against Florida State in 2014, Fuller beats one of this year’s most talented NFL defensive rookies, Ronald Darby, on a comeback route.
Fuller possesses adequate hands at best: He is a body catcher and that allows defenders to more easily knock the ball loose on contested catches as compared to if he grasped the ball and then secured it. On this play against Boston College, Fuller is lined up at the top of the screen. Quarterback Deshone Kizer targets Fuller who is running a comeback route. The ball is thrown high, but Fuller lets it hit him in the high chest / facemask instead of catching it away from his body and working back to the ball. The defender closes on the play and jars the ball loose, resulting in a drop.
While Fuller doesn’t have strong hands, he does track the ball well. In the USC game, Fuller runs a slant-and-go route and makes a difficult over the shoulder catch near the sideline to put the Irish inside the 30. This play took a good amount of concentration, as he has a defender near him as well as the sideline with the ball being thrown over his shoulder.
Yards After Catch
Fuller’s yards-after-the-catch are a product of his pure speed and evasive maneuvers. He has good ability to shake a defender, cut upfield, and accelerate past them for extra yards. Against FSU in 2014, Fuller is the receiver all the way to the top, facing off coverage with a slot receiver to his right. The man covering that slot receiver shows blitz and does so when the ball is snapped. The slot man runs a streak up the seam and Fuller breaks on a 5-yard slant and receives the pass from then Notre Dame quarterback Everett Golson. Fuller accelerates through the defenders and picks up nearly 30 yards.
Fuller is a willing blocker, but he doesn’t have the play strength to consistently hold his block for a long period of time. On this play against Texas, Fuller can’t hold his block long enough and his man is able to impact the ball carrier.
I have a second-round grade on Fuller. Some evaluators have him going as high as the mid-20’s to Houston, Minnesota, or Cincinnati. He’d be a good fit for any of those three teams, as he’d take the pressure off DeAndre Hopkins, Stefon Diggs, or A.J. Green. Some teams will shy away from Fuller because of his middling receiving skills, but others will jump at the opportunity to draft a home run hitter. His hands aren’t the best, but I think they’re serviceable in exchange for the playmaking ability he brings to the table.
He best fits lining up on the outside and, occasionally, from the slot position. He’s a career No. 2 receiver who can help stretch the field vertically and take the top off a defense. He can make an impact this season if he’s on the right team with the right players around him making sure he’s not the focus of the opposing secondary.
Follow @ITPylon on Twitter. Check out Joseph’s other work here including his scouting profiles of Michael Thomas and Laquon Treadwell.
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All video and images courtesy Draft Breakdown.