With the 2010 NFL season in the books, it's time to turn our eyes to the NFL draft, and the pre-draft evaluation process. Before the 2011 scouting combine begins on February 24, we'll be taking a closer look at the 40 draft-eligible players who may be the biggest difference-makers when all is said and done.
We continue our series with Miami wideout Leonard Hankerson, whose name has been on the lips of most personnel evaluators after his stellar performance in the Senior Bowl game and the week of practice. Hankerson finished his Miami career with 128 catches for 2,089 yards and 21 touchdowns in 40 games.
Pros: Had a pretty serious problem with drops early in his collegiate career, but his work with former Dolphins great Mark Duper and subsequent improvement speaks to his ability to take coaching and turn it into production. Has a good understanding of, and the ability to run, the entire route tree. Hankerson is particularly polished on intermediate vertical routes that allow him to get going after the catch.
Shows good toughness in traffic, as well as on comebacks with defenders all over him. Great in any route where short-quick cuts are needed. He sits in zones very well and gets upfield with authority. He will go up to catch high throws on slants and posts with everything he's got - no fear when it comes to potential tacklers obviously closing in for big hits. Duper wasn't the only former NFL star to help him out - his position coach in high school was should-be-Hall-of-Famer Cris Carter.
Cons: Hankerson doesn't explode off the line - it takes him a bit of time to get a full head of steam - and as a result, he may have problems with press and man coverage at the NFL level. At Senior Bowl practice, he was more easily able to show his attributes in three-receiver sets where a slot guy on his inside was able to take a safety or nickel back away from his route.
That lack of immediate speed also shows up when he's asked to run routes demanding quick cuts (digs, slants, and crosses). This is less of an issue if the routes are underneath coverage, but he's not going to win a lot of short-area speed battles in coverage on cuts alone.
Conclusion: So far, the primary NFL comp for Hankerson seems to be Andre Johnson(notes), but at 6-foot-2 and 205 pounds, he doesn't quite have that kind of size. The other comp I've seen is Sidney Rice(notes), but Hankerson isn't quite that explosive. What he does possess is a great overall understanding of how to play the receiver position; the little things and intangibles which make receivers great.
The fact that he's already developed so much as a player in the last few seasons, and done so in an offense under construction during his time there, indicates that he'll excel at the NFL level. In the right kind of system (he seems the ideal outside guy in an offense that doesn't demand specific receiver speed), he could have multiple 1,000-yard seasons in his future.