2018 Senior Bowl Preview: Wide Receivers

[dt_divider style=”thick” /]The 2018 Senior Bowl is quickly approaching, and in preparation for the week ahead I’ve attempted to get an idea of this year’s wide receiver group by outlining what they can do and what I’d like to see from them in Mobile. The 2018 crop is filled with intriguing prospects that possess good traits and physical gifts. There might not be a true WR1 among the group, but there are several prospects who flash potential to grow into that role at the NFL level, while the group also contains some nice complimentary pieces. I broke down the receivers by the position I think they’ll play in the NFL.

[dt_divider style=”thick” /]X Receivers

Marcell Ateman, 6’4”, 220 pounds, Oklahoma State

Much is said about the Biletnikoff Award winner, James Washington’s, but Ateman is the most likely of the Oklahoma State receivers to make a name for himself in the NFL. He’s a true X receiver with plenty of size, physicality and length. Accelerates very well and has good flexibility to execute hard breaks consistently. Does an excellent job of consistently working back to the ball to prevent defenders from breaking on the pass. He’s very good at contested catches, using his height and long arms to extend for the ball. He also does a great job shielding and protecting the ball, extending it away from his body so that the defender can’t reach in and break it up. He’s a threat to run the fade and go up for jump balls in the red zone. Has good speed with the ball in his hands and uses a good active free arm to break tackles for yards after the catch. In the run game Ateman provides some value as a blocker using his strength to stay in front of his man and turn his shoulders parallel to the boundary.

The issue that Ateman poses and would like to see him improve during his time in Mobile and beyond are his hands. In my film study I didn’t discover many drops, but there are plenty of plays where his hands are too far apart and it leads to a wiggle in the ball. This could lead to drops eventually, especially in the NFL. Overall, this is a nice player who has the potential to be a true WR1 at the next level if he work to develop his technique.

For a more nuanced piece check out Matt Waldman’s breakdown of Ateman at the RSP.

D.J. Chark,  6’4”, 198 pounds, LSU

Chark is an intriguing receiver prospect. He has good acceleration and long speed to test the defense on vertical passes down the field. Does a good job of extending for the ball and adjusting to the high and low throw. He also flashes some elusive ability with the ball in his hands. Chark is someone I really want to see in person, as the tape had me asking for more based on how LSU uses their receivers.

Michael Gallup, 6’1”, 200 pounds Colorado State

Gallup is a tough receiver with some finesse, but his game is mainly focused around physicality. He can plant hard and quickly change direction to create separation into his break. Gallup possesses strong hands to extend and can win contested catches in the middle of the field while taking hits from defensive backs. Has some burst with the ball in his hands to gain yards after the catch. His best run after catch quality is how he embraces contact, uses his free arm to shed tackles and lowers his shoulders into defenders to finish plays strong.

The concern with Gallup is how quickly he can transition to the NFL playing with a physical style like he did at Colorado State. It’ll be fun to see how he fares down in Mobile in an All-Star game type environment.

Allen Lazard, 6’5”, 222 pounds, Iowa State

Lazard is a big bodied receiver who’s a prototypical X. He’s not going to excite with his athletic ability as he’s not all that fast or fluid. However, he’s a good player that’s smart and can occasionally win jump balls at the point of attack. Not much of a run after catch receiver, but when he is able to he’s good at driving forward to finish. Lazard is a good blocker in the run game displaying strong effort and good level of play strength.

For a 6’5” receiver you would expect better jump ball skills, but he’s not a great leaper despite what the profile may suggest. Could definitely be a good complimentary WR2 in a run heavy offense.

J’Mon Moore, 6’3”, 205 pounds, Missouri

Moore’s combination of size and speed makes him a must watch player this week. He physically fits the X receiver mold at 6’3”. He releases well off the line with excellent acceleration. Can sell the initial move and turn the cornerback enough to gain separation and leverage. Good route running ability with quickness and can perform hard plants to further gain separation at the top of his routes. Aggressively works back to the ball on a consistent basis. Has the long speed to blow the top off a defense and test coverage deep. He has very good hands to adjust for the high pass and balls thrown behind him. Also displays good ball tracking ability over his shoulder along the boundary. Physical style receiver, especially with the ball in his hands fighting to never go down, using a strong stiff arm and twist/spins to shed tackles.

Overall, Moore looks like one of the better receivers down in Mobile this week.

Jaleel Scott, 6’6”, 215 pounds, New Mexico State

The secret has been out for a while about Jaleel Scott. If the Senior Bowl did superlatives voted on by evaluators he’d win “most likely to shred up Mobile” with his performance. Scott possesses rare size and extreme length to go along with very good athletic ability. He moves extremely well for someone his size and makes incredible acrobatic catches with very good body control. He possesses a large catch radius and wins a lot of jump balls with excellent leaping ability.

During the Senior Bowl Week I’d like to see him use his long arms to extend and pluck more often than I saw on tape. Too often he lets the ball into his body and that leads to some wiggle and drops. I’d also like to see him play with more aggression and attack the ball in the air as he sometimes waits for it to drop in his hands allowing the defender to swat it away. He’s a project, but you can’t teach the size and potential he possesses.

Justin Watson, 6’3”, 210 pounds, Penn

The two-time FCS Offensive Player of the Year finalist had himself an excellent Shrine week to put him in a position to compete down in Mobile this week. It should be a good test for Watson to go up against higher level of competition. Watson holds Penn records for receiving yards, all-purpose yards, receptions and receiving touchdowns. He finished the 2017 season with 81 receptions, for 1,083 yards and 14 touchdowns.

[dt_divider style=”thick” /]Z Receivers

Tre’Quan Smith, 6’1”, 210 pounds, UCF

Smith is a junior who finished his degree early, earning him the right to a Senior Bowl roster spot. The tape I viewed of Smith is not quite as extensive as I would have liked. I’ll get a better idea for him live, but for now I like Smith’s hands to work through press coverage. He also does a nice job of shielding the ball from his defender and has good overall hands. Against Auburn in the Peach Bowl he made a nice contested catch along the sideline, displaying the concentration to stick with the play midair as well as good ball tracking ability while bracketed by two defenders.

James Washington, 6’0”, 205 pounds, Oklahoma State

Washington has the look of a running back more than a wide receiver with his broad shoulders and thick frame. He’s an excellent deep threat that consistently separates from coverage while stacking the cornerback. He has good overall hands to make contested catches with defenders on him.

I’m concerned Washington might not be flexible enough to routinely separate in the NFL, as he looks tight in the hips. He doesn’t quickly break down and smoothly transition in and out of his routes as well as a wide receiver is expected to. I’m also not sure he has the long speed to beat NFL cornerbacks like he did Big 12 cornerbacks.

Cedrick Wilson, 6’3”, 188 pounds, Boise State

Wilson has excellent height for the position, but needs to add bulk to his frame. He has NFL bloodline with his father Cedrick Wilson Sr. playing for the Pittsburgh Steelers. He’s a good overall receiver with no extreme flaws. He has good acceleration and long speed to beat the defense deep with good ball tracking ability. Good hands, but the best part of Wilson’s game is what he does with the ball after he catches it. His run after catch ability is high quality as he can use elusive moves to break defenders and make them miss.

What Wilson struggles with is his play strength and his ability to beat press coverage at the line of scrimmage. It’ll be good to see him in person in some one on one drills with the cornerbacks to see if he’s learning how to better release against press.

Byron Pringle, 6’2”, 205 pounds, Kansas State

Pringle is a Junior, but is given the opportunity to play in the Senior Bowl by graduating early as a late add after Anthony Miller was scratched from the game. He’s had good production as a receiver and kick returner finishing with over 2,400 all-purpose yards in two seasons at Kansas State.

[dt_divider style=”thick” /]Slot Receivers

Braxton Berrios, 5’9”, 186 pounds, Miami

Berrios is a pure slot receiver who displays many of the necessary traits to play the position at the NFL level. He’s not the fastest player, but he does show suddenness in his route running. Berrios also uses the defender’s leverage to his advantage to create extra separation. He plays with nice competitive spirit, attacking the ball and laying out for passes beyond his reach. Has to use every bit of his arm length to extend for some catches. Good body control to adjust to back shoulder throws. Displays very good toughness when going over the middle of the field. Good quickness and solid stiff arm in open field. Can return punts. High effort blocker who’ll cut down defenders and get back up to throw another block down field.

I’d like Berrios to sell his fakes better to get more space between him and the defender during his route. Sometimes uses his hands and arms too much resulting in offensive pass interference.

DaeSean Hamilton, 6’1”, 205 pounds, Penn State

Hamilton had himself a great week at the Shrine Game last week. He looks to expand upon his performance following up with a great Senior Bowl week. He displays very good acceleration off the LOS and can easily get in and out of breaks with great flexibility to run crisp routes. Hamilton is good at getting positioning on contested catches down the field and working back to the ball.

A part of his game that may need to be cleaned up are his hands. There are plays where he looks to be hesitant to make catches when he’s looks to be in a poor position against a defender and thus loses concentration. I’d also like to get a better idea of his ball tracking ability. Overall, Hamilton is a good player who has the quickness to win from the slot and could also project as a Z receiver.

[dt_divider style=”thick” /]Late scratches

Anthony Miller, 5’11”, 190 pounds, Memphis

Miller was a late scratch as Senior Bowl rosters were released on Thursday. I’m disappointed I’m not going to be able to get a live look at him because he’s a lot of fun on tape. He’s extremely quick and displays good speed and separation into his routes. Very good ability to adjust back to the ball and then possesses excellent body control and balance to stay upright and gain run after the catch for good gains.

Darren Carrington, 6’2”, 205 pounds, Utah

Carrington is likely a Z receiver or slot at the next level. He has good athletic traits, namely his speed, burst and acceleration on his release. Has a knack for finding the soft pockets of zone coverage and can adjust to passes thrown high and slightly beyond his frame. Uses his speed in open field to gain yards after the catch.

Limited play strength against Press could be a concern. As is his tendency to loosely protect the ball on his runs after catch.

Javon Wims, 6’4”, 215 pounds, Georgia

Wims was a late acceptance compared to most of the other receivers heading to Mobile. Yet, I like Wims’s play overall. He has a basketball background which helps him with his leaping ability on jump balls and fades to high point the ball near the end zone/down the field. Great flexibility to throttle down and execute hard breaks to create separation on stop routes. Good ability to aggressively break back to the ball. Shows some nuance in his route running and has good fake moves with his plant leg as well as his head/shoulder fakes. Has strong hands to extend out away from his body and has the awareness to keep the ball extended if he feels the defender has an opportunity to break the pass up if he brings it back to his body.

Wims has concentration drops from time to time looking to the defender before he fully secures the catch. I was looking forward to seeing Wims because he’s not all that talked about so far in the pre-draft process. I thought he had the potential to have a good week of practice and get some buzz around his name.

Check out more of Joseph’s work here, including a look at Kareem Hunt’s superior balance, how to mask deficiencies along an offensive line, and the effect environment has on a quarterback’s development.

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