With the 2011 NFL season in the books, it's time to turn our eyes to the NFL draft, and the pre-draft evaluation process. Before and after the 2012 scouting combine, we'll be taking a closer look at the 50 draft-eligible players who may be the biggest NFL difference-makers when all is said and done.
We continue this year's series with Notre Dame wide receiver Michael Floyd. Floyd is a talented receiving prospect with issues. That happens a lot; when I type "talented receiving prospect," AutoText fills in "with issues" automatically so I can save a few character strokes. In Floyd's case, these issues include three underage drinking and DUI incidents and arrests. As the old saying in scouting goes, once is a mistake, twice is a pattern, and three is Janoris Jenkins. While a little underage drinking on a college campus can be shrugged off, a DUI does not exactly demonstrate that Floyd learned from his previous mistakes.
Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly suspended Floyd indefinitely after the third incident. In college coach-ese, "indefinitely," means "you will be in, definitely, by the time we play an important game." Sure enough, Floyd returned just in time to catch a school-record 100 passes. Since then, Floyd has been saying the right things about changing his lifestyle and moving forward from his youthful indiscretions. He also ran a sub 4.5 forty, closing the gap between himself and top receiver Justin Blackmon, who also has a DUI on his record (though Blackmon's appears to have been a quirk of Texas law).
So, is Floyd slow or fast? Reliable or immature? The tape cannot answer all questions, but it does confirm that Floyd is big, and he can catch.
Pros: Floyd is 6-foot-3 and 220 pounds, and he has "big receiver" skills. He can shield the ball on slants, post up cornerbacks on jump balls, and is a willing, high-effort blocker. Scouts who tracked Floyd in 2010 say that his blocking improved last season.
Floyd's route running gets very mixed reviews, but I liked what I saw. He has great potential as a double-move receiver on deep routes: he can fake with his head and shoulders in one direction then crisply turn the other way. He is smooth and natural at the top of his stem when running in and out routes. Floyd ran a lot of short hitch routes against zone coverage, and he knew when to come back an extra step for the ball or slide laterally to find a crease between two defenders. There is certainly room to improve, and there may be inconsistency issues that I missed, but Floyd ran a full route tree and demonstrated an understanding of how to set up a deep route by making it look like his short routes.
Floyd will not blow anyone away with his open-field moves, but he can break tackles and sometimes drags defenders for an extra yard or two.
Cons: Floyd does not look like a 4.4 receiver on tape; some of that speed will likely disappear when he is wearing pads and the speed specialists are not standing by with their "get-off" tips and parachutes.
Floyd had some concentration and attention drops. He dropped a sure touchdown in the end zone when he tried to one-hand the ball, even though both hands were free. He once kneed the ball out of his own arms after catching a short hitch. Both of these plays came late in productive games, and Floyd may be a guy who coasts after he has had some success.
Floyd suffered a collarbone injury in 2009. Oh, and the three alcohol-related incidents.
Conclusion: Floyd has the skill set to be a go-to, all purpose receiver. His size and ability to shield defenders on slants makes him a great West Coast Offense fit. His knack for getting open deep make him the kind of receiver Norv Turner likes to mold (and while we always tease Norv, he is good at tutoring wide receivers). He blocks well enough to help any team.
The unanswerable question is whether he will do all of these things consistently, while staying out of trouble. The downside for Floyd is Kenny Britt, a gifted receiver whose flashes of excellence are being swallowed by injuries, drama, and Sammy Hagar driving habits. The upside goes straight up to Terrell Owens, if Floyd really is as fast as his Combine performance suggested.
For our NFL Comparison, let's split the difference and take note of the fact that the Bills are reportedly very interested in Floyd. Chan Gailey has a lot of patience for a certain kind of talented, enigmatic receiver.
NFL Comparison: Stevie Johnson, Buffalo Bills
More Shutdown 50:
#18: Dre Kirkpatrick, CB, Alabama | #19: Mark Barron, S, Alabama | #20: Cordy Glenn, OL, Georgia | #21: Riley Reiff, OT, Iowa | #22: Coby Fleener, TE, Stanford | #23: Devon Still, DT, Penn State | #24: Janoris Jenkins, CB, North Alabama| #25: Jerel Worthy, DT, Michigan State| #26: Nick Perry, DE, USC | #27: Alfonzo Dennard, CB, Nebraska | #28: Dontari Poe, DT/DE, Memphis | #29: Whitney Mercilus, OLB/DE, Illinois | #30: Brandon Thompson, DT, Clemson| #31, Dwayne Allen, TE, Clemson| #32: Jonathan Martin, OT, Stanford| #33: Bobby Massie, OT, Mississippi| #34: Andre Branch, DE/OLB, Clemson | #35: Dont'a Hightower, ILB, Alabama | #36: Chandler Jones, DE, Syracuse| #37: Stephen Hill, WR, Georgia Tech| #38: Vinny Curry, DE, Marshall| #39: Doug Martin, RB, Boise State | #40 : Mohamed Sanu, WR, Rutgers| #41: Zach Brown, OLB, North Carolina| #42: Lavonte David, OLB, Nebraska| #43: Jared Crick, DE/DT, Nebraska| #44: Alshon Jeffrey, WR, South Carolina | #45: Kirk Cousins, QB, Michigan State| #46: Orson Charles, TE, Georgia| #47: Lamar Miller, RB, Miami| #48: Shea McClellin, OLB/DE, Boise State| #49: Rueben Randle, WR, LSU | #50: Jonathan Massaqoui, OLB/DE, Troy