Leading up to the NFL Draft April 27, Brad Evans and Liz Loza will crouch down, explode off the snap and tackle pressing questions about some of this year’s most prominent prospects. Wednesday’s “Three-Point Stance” focus: Wide receiver grab bag.
Sparks emitted from John Ross’ shoes after he blazed his way to a 4.22 40-yard dash, the fastest time ever recorded, at the NFL Combine. What are your thoughts on the speed demon? Is his ceiling Marquise Goodwin or could he develop into someone far more impactful?
Brad – Ross isn’t the next Torrey Smith, Kenny Stills, Mike Wallace or J.J. Nelson. He could outrun a cheetah driving a Ferrari, sure, but he’s an underrated route runner who sports several branches on the tree. Whether post, streak or slant, his cartoonish wheels and quick feet allow him to sell routes, gain separation and generally embarrass bewildered defenders. His ball-tracking skills and reliable hands (six drops on 105 catchable balls from 2015-2016) are also plus attributes. Returning kicks only adds value to the profile.
Some will knock him because of his diminutive size, but many smaller receivers, Steve Smith, Antonio Brown and Julian Edelman instantly come to mind, have logged long, fruitful pro careers. Ross’ unique and versatile skill set arrows to a similar career arc. That’s not hyperbole. If he can stay healthy – he experienced a fair share of knee setbacks while enrolled at Washington – he will routinely torch the competition, especially if he lands a gig with, say, New Orleans or Detroit. Ranking behind Corey Davis, he’s my No. 2 WR in this year’s class.
Liz – Unlike other fliers (ahem, Will Fuller), Ross isn’t a one-dimensional talent. Experience as a kick-returner and cornerback add texture to his game. A nightmare in the open field, the Washington product has been compared to DeSean Jackson, both in play style and demeanor.
A checkered injury history (surgeries on both knees and a recent shoulder tear) and below average size (5’11” and 188 pounds) raise questions about his long-term durability. Yet, with numerous teams in need of speed (Washington, Carolina, New York Jets) Ross will have the opportunity to make an immediate impact. For fantasy purposes, however, his production is likely to fluctuate, making him most attractive in daily formats.
You guys disagree on JuJu Smith-Schuster’s immediate impact. Explain your stances.
Brad – The USC standout was a highly productive and at times difficult to corral red-zone target during his collegiate days. He often beat press coverage, gained ample yards after the catch and made high degree of difficulty grabs seem effortless. That combined with his 6-foot-1, 215-pound size imply a handsome NFL career.
But he’s still an unrefined product. Below average speed, occasional concentration lapses and only sporadic contested catch success say he will struggle against the NFL’s bigger, stronger and more physical defensive backs, at least initially. He could develop into a quality No. 2, but expectations should be tempered in Year 1.
Liz – There’s a nastiness to JuJu’s game that I appreciate. A former safety with strong hands, the Trojan isn’t afraid to get physical, jarring opposing DBs with stiff arms and gritty resolve. He may not be a metrics marvel, but his football smarts, body control, and after-the-catch ability make him a reliable and versatile target. Hauling in 25 TDs while at USC, Smith-Schuster’s nose for the end zone is obvious. Polished routes in combination with fearless play will keep the 20-year-old producing in the red area of the field, which means lots of points for fantasy managers.
Outside of Corey Davis, Mike Williams and the players mentioned above, who else are you enamored with among this year’s WR class?
Brad – COOPER KUPP. The pride of Eastern Washington is one of the more divisive wide receivers in this year’s Draft. His delectable agility score screams “sleeper,” but the stupid numbers he posted at a small school (428-6464-73 over four seasons) raise questions he can transition smoothly against much stiffer competition. However, one scout noted he “punked” Marcus Peters and Sidney Jones when he squared off against Washington in 2014 (Finished 8-145-3). Also, let’s remember FCS products like Vincent Jackson, Victor Cruz and Marques Colston had rock solid careers. Kupp could be next.
Kupp is a superb talent. He showcases terrific size (6-foot-2, 205 pounds), plus ball-tracking skills, polished routes, soft hands and elusiveness after the catch. He wouldn’t sprint away from a basset hound (4.62 40-yard), but his precise footwork deceives which allows him to gain breathing room. Most importantly, he wins most battles in traffic, using his body to shield defenders. That characteristic should pay dividends right away whether as a slot or outside target. Bank on him going somewhere in Round 2 or Round 3.
Liz – ZAY JONES. This kid must own stock in Michaels’ because he is crafty. With a catch radius that Player Profiler ranks in the 92nd percentile, it’s no wonder the East Carolina product hauled in a record breaking 399 balls over his college career.
Playing with enthusiasm and intensity, the smooth strider put on a clinic in January at the Senior Bowl. Exhibiting excellent timing and body control, he wowed the crowd (and scouts) with what should have been three TDs (one was called back due to a boundary ruling and the other because of a penalty).
Admittedly, Jones is on the lanky side (6’2” and 201 pounds), but his frame doesn’t appear maxed out. And while naysayers will additionally point out that he produced at a small school, I believe that coming from a football family (his dad and uncle both played in the NFL) he has the smarts and route running ability to succeed at the next level. He reminds me of Michael Crabtree.