Next week's NFL Draft is bursting at the seams with intriguing wide receiving prospects. In an increasingly aerial-centric league, having a deep and versatile stable of wideouts has never been more important. Teams are salivating as they shove tape after tape into the VCR in an attempt to identify the next guy they can send out on a post pattern.
NFL Network analyst Daniel Jeremiah has 18 wideouts on the top 100 of his draft board. For those not into analytics, that's 18 percent of them. Of course, team needs and differing valuation mean it's unlikely all go in the first 100 picks.
On a conference call with reporters mining for juicy draft-related nuggets yesterday, Jeremiah was asked a very good question about why it's been so hard to evaluate the position in recent years, what with all the high-first-round busts and all.
"Last year was a good year in terms of a bunch of rookies coming in and having a lot of success, but if you look over the last several years, that second- and third-round receiver group has arguably been better than the first-round group," he said. "The challenge in scouting the position is it's almost like two different games for college and the NFL in terms of what routes you're asked to run, which are very limited at the college level. You watch a college game on a Saturday, you're going to see a bunch of slants, hitches and goes. It's very limited in terms of what they ask them to do, very limited in terms of them having to read coverage and sight adjust their routes. They don't see very much press coverage so they don't have to get off press. Now you're bringing them to the NFL, you're asking them to get off press coverage, you're asking them to think on the move and you're asking them to run a lot of routes they've never run before."
But lest you think it's a hopeless situation, the analyst has seen some adaptation by the NFL to put these young players in situations they can immediately succeed.
"There's a lot of adjustment there, but I think -- I give the NFL credit. I think the last couple years we're seeing the NFL be a little smarter with the transition period for these guys and figuring out ways they can get them on fly sweeps or bubble screens and just get the ball in their hands and let them make plays, simplifying it a little bit while they're young before they can grow and evolve into everything you want them to do. I think we're seeing -- I thought last year was a great example of the blueprint to get these guys on the field earlier and prove that track record at the position."
So here's the dilemma teams are facing. Go early for the cream of the crop or sit tight and get someone in the middle of the pack capable of turning into a diamond in the rough. There are plenty of options. And Jeremiah points out that this year's draft has the potential to be even more unpredictable than usual.
An intriguing smorgasbord of menu items, uncertainty, and tighter silos of operation all combine for a situation where surprises can become the expected. Wide receivers may very well be the most important chapter in the draft story this year, and it'll be a few years before winners and losers can identified responsibly.