2017 Senior Bowl Wide Receiver Preview

In preparation for the 2017 Senior Bowl in Mobile, Alabama, three Inside the Pylon writers previewed the crop of wide receivers heading to this year’s event. Michael Nuttle, Justin Twell and Joseph Ferraiola split up the receivers attending the all star game and broke down their skillset, including what they do best and what they can improve in their time with NFL coaches this week. Each prospect is listed under the writer who studied them for this piece.

[dt_divider style=”thick” /]Michael Nuttle

Ryan Switzer, North Carolina, 5-10 185 lbs

Ryan Switzer is a true senior who played in 53 career games as both a wide receiver and punt returner for 4 years for the North Carolina Tar Heels. He had a career year playing from the slot in 2016, registering 96 receptions, 1,112 yards, and 6 touchdowns. He is small  for a wide receiver, but he possesses good athletic ability, which North Carolina took advantage of with screens and flare routes.

Switzer’s mental processing is probably his biggest asset. When running routes, he has a good ability to read a zone defense and find holes between zones to get himself open. He also does a good job of reading the defensive back covering him in off coverage, using the stem of his route to attack directly at the defender and chew up the cushion the defender has before making a quick jab in one direction to get DBs to turn their hips, or lean, in the wrong direction before quickly breaking in the other direction with space to catch the ball. He employs a similar strategy after the catch, getting behind blockers and working in one direction to get the defender to commit one way before cutting back and giving his teammates a good angle to block with.

There is no bigger glaring weakness in Switzer’s game than his inconsistent use of hands when catching the football. At North Carolina, they did a good job of running plays that worked him into space as previously noted so he had many uncontested opportunities and got away with catching the ball against his body. When he did use his hands to catch, he still has issues securing the ball and would “double catch” passes where the ball would bounce off his hands before he finally secured it against his body. He ran a pretty limited route tree in college and would round off certain cuts in his routes such as on out routes. He is not the most physical player, at times electing to quickly run out of bounds instead of taking on a defender after the catch.  

[dt_divider style=”thin” /]Trent Taylor, Louisiana Tech, 5-8 178 lbs

Trent Taylor is a true senior who played in 53 career games over 4 years for the Louisiana Tech Bulldogs as both a wide receiver and a punt returner. He led the nation in receiving yards with 1,803 and was also second in the nation in receptions with 136. He is a smaller option at wide receiver, but the Bulldogs used him well in the slot and gave him plenty of opportunities to succeed with his good athletic ability and quickness.

Taylor is a smart receiver who reads a zone defense well and looks to adjust his route to exploit holes in the defense. He utilizes his quickness by getting to those spots in a hurry before the defense can adjust to him and he shows good awareness of his position on the field, and makes sure to go the extra yard if he is close to the first down. Despite his smaller stature, he does a good job of extending his arms and securing passes with his hands outside of his frame, giving the quarterback a bigger target to throw to. He is a physical football player, as well. He can use his quickness and athletic ability to create YAC, but he is also not afraid to lower his shoulder and grind for extra yards if need be.

Playing from the slot a majority of the time, he had the luxury of getting to play in space plenty and was able to release cleanly off the line of scrimmage. Though he is aggressive and willing to be a physical player, when facing a defensive back playing press coverage with a jam at the line of scrimmage, he struggled to get a clean release, often taking too long to be a factor in the play. His route running was not as precise at times and instead he would have to revert to using strength at the top of his stem, which he struggled use effectively.

[dt_divider style=”thin” /]Taywan Taylor, Western Kentucky, 6-0 195 lbs

Taywan Taylor is a true senior who played in in 52 career games over 4 seasons for the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers. Playing as an X, Z, and even slot receiver at times, he set the school mark in 2016 for receptions (98) and receiving yards (1,730) while also tying the record (also set by him in his junior season) for touchdown receptions (17). He has good size for a wide receiver and is a good athlete overall, displaying good quickness and very good ability to change direction.

Taylor’s athleticism is a big strength in his game, as he uses it to create separation to get himself open often. He likes to set up the DB on his slant and post routes by making a quick jab in one direction to get the DB to begin to turn his hips, or at the very least hesitate and lean that way, before quickly cutting in the other direction. His ability to change directions so quickly makes him dangerous when running a double breaking route as he does get the DB to fully commit to his first move before breaking in another direction. He does a good job tracking the ball on deeper routes, as well. Though he benefited being open due to blown coverage, he does a good job of tracking the ball and adjusting to it in the air.

Although he is listed at 195 pounds, Taylor’s play strength and just overall physical toughness is a weakness. He struggled to fight through jams at the line of scrimmage quickly enough to be a real threat in a play. On contested catches, he allowed himself to be boxed out too easily by DBs and would have to try to out jump them to go over them to make the catch, which he did not do successfully very often. After the catch, he could use his speed well to create YAC, but if he wasn’t able to work in space, he was quick to take the ball out of bounds instead of trying to fight through tackles to gain extra yards. Though he is quick and explosive through certain cuts like on his slant route, a majority of the time he lacked that attention to detail and rounded off cuts for other routes. He played against off coverage a lot so he was still open plenty, but in a league where coverage is much tighter, he will need to be more precise with his routes.

[dt_divider style=”thick” /]Justin Twell

Amara Darboh, Michigan, 6-2 215 lbs

Amara Darboh is a redshirt senior who has played in 48 games, starting 28 of them for the Michigan Wolverines. This last season he played in all 12 games, starting 11 and amassed 57 catches, for 862 yards and 7 touchdowns. Born in Sierra Leone, Darboh’s parents were killed in the Sierra Leone Civil War and he moved to Iowa when he was 7 years old.

Darboh has the ideal size for an NFL wide receiver and can be effective as both an outside receiver or in the slot. During his time at Michigan, Darboh ran a lot of slant routes, crossing routes and curl routes and can find holes in zone coverage, particularly when the play breaks down into a scramble drill and the quarterback is forced on the move. He is very strong when it comes to contested catches, not only due to his size but also his great athleticism for someone his size, as well as his sure hands. He also has the ability to track the ball well in the air even when a defensive back is draped all over him, showing good concentration.

While he ran a decent amount of routes throughout his college career, a lot of the time he doesn’t look fluid in his route running, and at times doesn’t sell a route well, particularly curl routes. He played against a lot of off coverage so was able to get open, especially on screen passes, but may struggle a little against the tighter coverage in the NFL and will need to make better use of his body to shield off defenders on those curl routes. He’s also an inconsistent run blocker and was easily knocked off his feet at times.

[dt_divider style=”thin” /]Zay Jones, East Carolina, 6-1 197 lbs

Zay Jones is a senior who spent 4 years amassing huge numbers for the Pirates, hauling in 399 catches for 4,279 yards and 23 touchdowns in 50 games played. Jones is the son of former Dallas Cowboys linebacker Robert Jones, who won 3 Super Bowls and was NFC rookie of the year in 1992.

Although Jones is listed as 6’1’’ he looks taller on film. His biggest strength is his hands, which he uses extremely well. He has long arms so is able to extend his hands towards the ball and catch cleanly rather than letting it come into his chest. Jones shows good footwork and his route running is solid. The WR can ‘’stop and go’’ very well on vertical routes and ran a diverse route tree at East Carolina including slants, posts, curl and corner routes. He is also versatile having played his first 3 years in the slot and his senior year as an outside receiver. Solid run blocker and wasn’t afraid to get physical and open up running lanes on the outside.

Jones does have a slight frame and could do with bulking up just a little, otherwise he could struggle against tight, physical man coverage in the NFL especially if he’s lined up outside. Although he can find space, he sometimes doesn’t make good use of it with the ball in his hands, and so needs to improve his decision making as to where he takes the ball when he has it in his hands. Was a little inconsistent in following his blockers out in front of him particularly on screen passes.

[dt_divider style=”thin” /]Amba Etta-Tawo, Syracuse, 6-2 202 lbs

Amba Etta-Tawo was born in Oman but grew up in Georgia. He is a senior who transferred from Maryland to Syracuse for his senior season. Statistically he had a strong season with 94 catches for 1,482 yards and 14 touchdowns in 12 games. He certainly benefited from the Syracuse passing game which has now put him well within reach of the NFL.

Etta-Tawo has very good size and measurables as well as the ability to fight for contested catches. He also breaks tackles extremely well and fights through arms tackles with ease. The WR is effective in open space with the ball in his hands and works the sideline well on deep vertical routes, which he ran a lot of last season. He played against man coverage and won some of these matchups to come up with big plays. Etta-Tawo follows blockers well on screen passes and when he gets free down the sideline or across the middle of the field he showcases very good speed to get away from would-be tacklers.

He didn’t run much of a route tree in his college career and is inconsistent with his hands and at times dropped easy deep balls. The WR needs to improve his route running which at times appeared to be poor. For a guy his size he isn’t as consistent at the contested catch as he should be and this seemed to be down to lack of concentration at times, while having a propensity to wait for the ball to come to him rather than work towards the quarterback on short to intermediate routes. His timing on routes where he has to turn towards the quarterback also needs improving.

[dt_divider style=”thin” /]Travin Dural, LSU, 6-2 203 lbs

Travin Dural is a senior who spent 4 seasons at LSU but only played in 3 due to a season-ending knee injury in his freshman year. Statistically he doesn’t jump out after compiling 72 catches for 1,436 yards and 12 touchdowns in 3 years, but it’s key to remember he played in a run first offense and opportunities to see a lot of targets were at a minimum. But there is more to his game than you might think.

First, Dural has great speed for someone his size. Has the look of an NFL receiver and in particular his straight line is speed allows him to get down the field and behind defenders quickly. Has good athleticism for his size and he shows good acceleration out of his stance and will use speed and agility to get away from jams at the line of scrimmage to good effect at times. Dural is a good run blocker on the outside, showing good strength and technique.

Although Dural has good hands, he doesn’t show this when thrown to across the middle of the field and can easily lose concentration if he sees a big hit coming. Didn’t run a variety of routes during his college career, running mostly deep routes to make use of his speed. Bigger, more physical DB’s will give him trouble when playing press coverage as he has poor hand usage when jammed at the line of scrimmage. Some scouts may find it hard to get past his lack of production so will need a strong senior bowl showing.

[dt_divider style=”thick” /]Joseph Ferraiola

Josh Reynolds Texas A&M, 6-3 193 lbs

Reynolds played in 38 games during his career at Texas A&M. He performed well for the Aggies in 2016 while playing on the outside having career highs in receptions and yards with 62 and 1,039 respectively. Reynolds also caught 12 touchdown passes making him a serious scoring threat for whoever lined up against him.

Reynolds displays good athletic ability using his speed and quickness to eat up cushion given by DBs playing off coverage on him. Against press coverage, Reynolds beats the jam using his hands to swat away defenders at the line of scrimmage to get into his route. It will be interesting to see how he develops this skill as he transitions to the NFL. Like most players entering the NFL he may want to add more weight to develop his strength. Reynolds has good mental processing abilities by settling in voids that zone defenses give him. He does a good job of getting inside positioning on the slant route to create separation between himself and the defensive back. Also has good hands to catch the ball within the strike zone and has a good catch radius to extend beyond his frame to catch some poorly placed passes. Reynolds has the ability to be a deep threat as he displays good ball tracking skills. With his height and competitive toughness, Reynolds should also be a red zone threat as quarterbacks will like throwing the fade to this target. Showing solid play strength with his knack for working back to the ball and extending his arms to pluck the ball on contested catches against corners, Reynolds has solid YAC ability as he can break waist tackles to gain yards after the catch.

Reynolds will have a focus drop here and there due to him wanting to make a play before he secures the ball in his hands. Like most wide receivers coming out of college he’ll need to work on his blocking abilities and deepen his route tree.

[dt_divider style=”thin” /]Fred Ross, Mississippi State, 6-2 207 lbs

Ross played in 42 games for the Mississippi State Bulldogs amassing 200 career catches and 2,545 yards, mainly during his Junior and Senior seasons. Ross’s catches and yards took a dip in 2016 compared to his 2015 season, but that could be attributed to Mississippi State losing Dak Prescott to the NFL. Although, sophomore Nick Fitzgerald did find Ross in the end zone for a career high of 12 touchdowns in 2016.

Ross is a reliable receiver who is used on the outside and in the slot. The WR eats the press by being physical using his hands to push cornerbacks off him to get into his route. Has good mental processing as he can diagnose a defense and sit in voids of the zone. Ross creates separation with his quickness at the top of his route as well as using the cornerbacks cushion against him. He does a good job of getting inside positioning on defenders and displays good hands with the ability to go over the middle and make tough catches with multiple defenders surrounding him try to free the ball loose. Ross has a good catch radius and can adjust to the passes thrown outside his frame while being quarterback friendly by working back to the football. He has very good competitive toughness displayed by his ability to hustle down field to throw the additional block on a run play. Once the ball is in his hands Ross will use his elusiveness to gain YAC, but can also break low tackles.

Something Ross could work on would be that he did run an array of routes while at Mississippi State. While he’s a willing blocker it’s something that has to be refined while transitioning to the NFL. I believe Ross could be a good number two receiver in the NFL if a coaching staff is able to develop and help refine his overall game.

[dt_divider style=”thin” /]Jamari Staples, Louisville, 6-3 195 lbs

Staples played two seasons at Alabama Birmingham before transferring to Louisville in 2015. He didn’t put up much production in his four year career catching only 113 passes for 1901 yards and 10 touchdowns in 38 games. He played both on the outside and in the slot for Louisville.

Staples has the ability to extend beyond his frame to reel in errant passes due to his long arms. He also displayed toughness while at Louisville by holding onto the ball while being hit from behind from defenders. Louisville used Staples as a blocker in the screen game where he was to create a path for his blocker to run.

Without much production and film on Staples publicly it is difficult to come up with a true evaluation of his game. I’m hoping scouts are able to get a clearer picture of the receiver down in Mobile, Alabama this up and coming week.

[dt_divider style=”thin” /]Cooper Kupp, Eastern Washington, 6-2 215 lbs

Kupp has played in 52 career games for the Eastern Washington Eagles. The Senior has NFL bloodlines with his father, Craig Kupp, and grandfather, Jake Kupp, both playing in the NFL. Kupp certainly impressed with his production despite coming from a FCS school as the Eastern Washington product holds the Division 1 record in receptions, yards, and touchdowns. He put up more impressive statistics in 2016 with 117 receptions, 1,700 yards, and 17 touchdowns in 13 games.

Kupp is a big slot receiver who has good athletic ability. He made a lot of catches where he had to adjust to a ball thrown behind him. Kupp has good mental processing ability as a lot of his catches come on settling in voids of the zone. He has good hands and is a reliable receiver who will come down with contested catches at the point of attack. The WR has very good competitive toughness as he’s not afraid to make a catch over the middle. He also suffered a left shoulder injury during the FCS playoffs, but played through it anyway. Kupp has good speed and quickness to outrun defensive backs to get YAC. Kupp also has good play strength and plays with a physicalness to his game, displaying the ability to break tackles for yards after the catch.

There are a few questions with Kupp, however. He did not face press coverage much as he mainly lined up in the slot. Also, many will question whether Kupp can play at the NFL level because he comes from a small school. I think the Senior Bowl will help answer a lot of questions surrounding Kupp’s ability to play against higher levels of competition.

[dt_divider style=”thin” /]Artavis Scott, Clemson, 5-10 190 lbs

Scott is a Junior, but is Senior Bowl eligible because he graduated early. He’s played in 42 games and has made an impact in every season he’s played thus far. He’s caught at least 76 passes in each of his first three seasons and accumulated 2,480 receiving yards and 19 touchdowns.

Clemson used Scott in a plethora of ways. He returned punts and kicks for the team at various points in his career and was also used as an outside and a slot receiver. Although, I think at his size he’s best used as a slot receiver going forward. He is good at working the underneath areas of the field using his good quickness and settling in voids of the zone. Clemson used him in the screen game as he has the ability to read his blockers allowing him to burst through the right path. A high effort player who is a willing blocker in the run game, Scott is also an unselfish player as he’s been able to learn the subtle art of (link to Ted’s Pick Play piece) being the man who sets the “pick” on pick / rub plays. Clemson has also motioned Scott into the backfield as a running back on outside plays made for him to get to the edge.

Scott’s size limits his ability to go against larger cornerbacks on the outside as he doesn’t possess the play strength to win 1 on 1 battles for contested catches.

Michael Nuttle, Justin Twell & Joseph Ferraiola wrote this entry. Follow Michael on Twitter @MPN_21Follow Justin on Twitter @JustinTwell78

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