Rookie Watch 2019: Hands Edition
Preseason football can be viewed two different ways. Either you can look at Preseason as a pointless exercise in getting backups hurt and to remind yourself of just who Matt Schaub is. Or you can look at it the way I do. A 4 week long job interview for Rookies and players on the Roster bubble.
I enjoy preseason because it gives me another chance to see players from the draft process and how they have or maybe haven’t progressed in the last 8 months. I can get a glimpse of who, is starting to make real progress, and who isn’t. Who has adjusted and who is going to need longer.
With that in mind I am putting together a list of offensive players who will be worth keeping an eye out for over the coming weeks. Starting with the “Hands” players. Thats Wide Receivers and Tight Ends. These guys are separated by team and I will be looking at players and groups of players with real potential to shine and win roster spots.
As a bonus I will be putting links to some of the player profiles I have done for draft prospects this year. These profiles are deep dive pieces that give a little more detail to the player. Just click on the links for the relevant players for extra content on each one.
Arizona went to the ice cream parlour and got one scoop of every flavour all in one visit. And all the flavours they got. Work together. On paper.
Too short, too small, too skinny. And too darn fast to cover. He is marmite to everyone. You either love him or hate him. But to my mind he is an explosive piece with versatility at all 3 levels of the field. Out wide ( played 70% of his snaps outside last year) or in the slot he could bring a lethal speed element to Kliff Kingsbury’s Air Raid.
The combination of size, speed, quickness and natural playmaking should have put Hakeem Butler in 1st round contention. But instead he slid all the way down the board and into the laps of the Cards. Butler has a limitless ceiling to his game from a physical standpoint. He also has that Alpha mentality that prepares him for that potential “X”role in the offense. He is an exciting player who could, all things being well, make quite an impact.
Sometimes, just sometimes a team will pick a player in the late rounds who makes absolute perfect sense. Johnson is a well rounded talent who is good at a lot of very important things and is a high effort player with Nuance to his route running, excellent hands and a natural savvy that maximises his utterly pedestrian athletic traits . And produces in volume inspite of it. Ironically, Of the three I would imagine he is the one of these three with the easiest transition.
The Ravens went and got 3 unique types of receiver for Lamar Jackson. Each one with a raw but high ceiling skill set that could finally see the Ravens have success at the position after 10 years of mediocrity.
Drafting Brown is all about adding the one ingredient you can’t coach into an offense. Speed. Mind bending, headache inducing speed. Generating yards after catch in the short passing game will be crucial for Lamar Jackson’s development. If he is able to overcome an injury marred start to camp and have immediate impact in preseason then he could completely change the way teams play coverage against that offense.
The Ravens have been searching for a true “X” receiver for a very very long time. A player who can line up outside to the Boundary and win one on one, who can draw a double team, a player who can dominate. If you were wondering what a developmental version of an “X” might look like, it’s probably Boykin. Also he, like Brown adds a potent speed/size combination to the Receiver room. Boykin is a lot like Kenny Golladay when he came out. A big bag of all the correct raw materials. They just need piecing together.
Wesley only had one year as a starter at Texas Tech, but in that year he racked up 88 receptions, 1400 plus yards and 9 TDs. He is 6’5 and a little over 200lbs. His M.O. is as a surprisingly technically proficient route runner who wins regularly in contested situations. He is surprisingly smooth for such a Skinny Lanky player however, his lack of experience and occasional struggles against press will need ironing out. If successful, Expect him to play a role as a big body outside and in specific red zone situations. Similar in a lot of ways to the rising star in New Orleans Trequan Smith.
In round 4 Chicago grabbed the most complete receiving technician in the Whole draft as an absolute steal. Then picked up an undrafted free agent who is the very definition of upside. Two very different prospects for two very different roles.
Like Big brother Calvin, Riley was buried in an offense that didn’t really generate many targets or much production for him. But he is probably the most polished, technically proficient and underrated player in the Whole process. Just like Calvin was last year. He isn’t bad at anything. He is either good or very good at most things, especially getting open and catching the ball. Which are important. He can be anything he puts his mind to at this point. And I am sure that Matt Nagy is doing cartwheels, backflips and a cheeky Macarena about getting him so low in the draft.
Hall has to be the most unnerving prospect to try to evaluate in this process. I am certain that he is responsible for being the reason Drew Lock constantly overthrew go routes last week. Because there aren’t many people who can chase an overthrown Drew Lock pass quite like Emmanuel Hall did at Missouri. He has track speed that shows up on turf. The kind that is up there with the Joey Galloway’s and Darrell Greens of this world. and he has a career average 22.0 yards per reception for his career. However everything about Hall is raw and needs fine tuning, he also has one of the worst career catch rates of any College receiver I can remember and lots of awkward “what on earth was that.” Type miscues on routine plays. He is very up and down but the upside will keep teams interested. A one trick pony for now, but it’s a neat trick. Look out for some splash plays in preseason from this one.
The modern “move” Tight End. A player whose sheer speed and athletic potential could be the thing that tips the balance for this offense. Fant has a unique, smoothness to his acceleration and is a formidable weapon to give a QB like Flacco. His blocking isn’t terrible either but his USP is that he is a fast explosive player who can terrify defenders from anywhere in the formation.
A highly proficient route runner with a knack for spectacular catches. And all round technical prowess. Alas, One with an extensive injury history. But so much potential. Elway traded up for a reason. Winfree is clearly is capable of developing into a starter in time. If he can stay healthy and continue to maximise every single opportunity he gets. His potential ceiling is probably WR2 but he has the skillset to become a particularly good one.
Give Matt Stafford a quick player who is the size of a Barn door and good things will happen.
The most complete tight end prospect since OJ Howard. Hockenson has a balanced high level skill set both as a receiver and as an in-line blocker. He is position versatile and has explosive measurables that in any other class would put him among the top of athletes in the position group. He can stay in for every play positionally because he can contribute in the run and pass attack and is not averse to splitting out wide isolated to the Boundary matched up one on one. He gives Matt Stafford a big, reliable target and a guy who can help protect. His value to Stafford could be huge.
Green Bay Packers
A quick shifty, multi-skìlled Tight End who has to suffer the indignity of not being thrown to by Aaron Rodgers. Hopefully in Matt LaFleurs offense there are a few more wrinkles to get him the ball as he has a variety of skills at the position, although he needs to work on play strength and needs to bulk up a little, he has the potential to be a nifty weapon, particularly in the red zone.
The Colts went and signed Devin Funchess. They also drafted two receivers who are the absolute antithesis of him. Two dynamic players who embody quickness and the ability to create yards after the catch.
Any receiver who takes the 40 yard dash title in the class generally will get plenty of opportunity to shine in the offense. Campbell is a potential yards after catch machine. Ohio State didn’t fully exploit his abilities. I know Frank Reich will.
The most explosive slow player in The draft had a phenomenal senior bowl showing in drills and has enough on tape as a Special Teams Player, Return Specialist and Slot Receiver to be worth a shot.
The Dolphins took a shot on a rough diamond.
The Dolphins have picked up this year’s Antonio Calloway. Preston is a kid who has had some real character issues and discipline problems that have really hurt the way his considerable talent is perceived. I hope he can work this stuff out.
He is the ultimate Diamond in the rough receiver. He flashes incredible talent and football instincts and has been very consistent from a production standpoint. He may flash in preseason and catch everyone off guard. He is so Raw, but so compelling as a rock em, sock em potential “X” receiver.
Irv Smith JR
Smith was my TE3 in The draft this year. Smith gives Cousins another weapon in the passing game. Expect him to do well in preseason as a “5 tool”l Tight End who has athletic ability and versatility. Being able to line up with Smith and Rudolph both on the field at the same time and it still being presenting a potential passing threat keeps a defense honest and keeps them off balance.
New England Patriots
The Pats drafted a player to fill a glaring need for a certain type of receiver. Then picked up a potential replacement for an aging Pro-bowler to boot. Clever Bill.
Of all the different types of receiver the Pats have on the Roster, they are lacking a player who excels in contested situations on the boundary. N’Keal is definitely that. Harry is also excellent as a YAC receiver. Whilst he isn’t the most nuanced of technical player, and he is on the slow side. He has real value and potential as a weapon for Tom Brady on the boundary.
A converted QB (since 2016), Meyers is reportedly turning heads in camp at Receiver. He is a heady, tough, effort player who has adjusted to the position change better than most. Very much in the mould of Julian Edelman he is a scrappy, shifty slot player who was One of the most productive weapons from the slot in College Football last year. A “Pats Guy” for sure.
The Raiders signed AB. And then went and drafted the darkest horse of all the wide receivers in the class.
Renfrow has the best hands in the draft class. He also looks like an accountant. That said, the second he puts pads on he becomes a “quicker than you think”, “Tougher than you knew”, player who has a knack for getting open that defies all logic. And an complete inability to drop the ball.
They say “Go big or go home”…..The Eagles did not “Go home”….
The team that already has 4 tall rangy receivers across the WR and TE population goes and drafts another big, tall guy who can win jumpball situations. If you laid the Eagles receivers and Tight Ends end to end, they would go at least once around the globe. Arcega-Whiteside might just be the new Alshon Jeffery. Not just stylistically, but in reality, he may be Jeffrey’s replacement down the line too. He could be that Red zone monster that Wentz leans on in year 4.
Never, ever question any pick the Steelers ever make at receiver. Because they will be better than you thought and will produce and you will feel stupid for doubting them.
Steelers draft raw, receiver with natural athletic traits and develop him into a star. We have seen this movie before.
San Francisco 49ers
The Niners are feeling creative. Which is like saying water is wet and farts are funny. Two converted Running backs drafted at receiver. This could be fun.
I really like Deebo. I think he is great. He is in the right offense. With the right Coach. I am Excited.
Is it a bird? Is it a plane? Is it a Running Back with Receiver upside? Or is it a Receiver who you can line up in the backfield? I don’t really know.
If a player converts from one position to another then generally they stop playing their old position. Hurd converted from RB to WR a couple of years ago but no one really got the memo. He still had significant snaps running out of the backfield in his senior year. He did however prove he could be a perfectly draftable wide receiver prospect who has surprisingly good route running, decent hands and some pretty unique Size and Athleticism traits. He represents a potential matchup nightmare for opposing defenders. He needs to tighten up on the details to find success here in an offense that requires attention to detail.
Whatever DK Metcalf truly is at the next level remains to be seen. I have a feeling the slide down draft boards was a heady cocktail of scheme fit, injury concerns and his limited role in that Ole Miss offense. But I couldn’t think of a better QB for him to be working with. The deep ball will be alive and well in Seattle this year.
Tennessee make possibly the safest “high floor” pick of the entire receiver class.
If I were to put money on a particular receiver being immediately productive then its a toss up between Riley Ridley or AJ Brown. Brown is a natural to the position who has shown he can produce consistently and be the focal point of an entire offense. Even with DK Metcalf on the team at Ole Miss. He has demonstrated a knack for getting open and producing and he is a natural playmaker and a big personality on the field. This could be fun
The Redskins got two great value gems. Two of my favourites.
Great hands. And neat tricky route running that helps him separate inspite of some very average athletic measurables. He has had a good camp so far and has taken leaps forward in his routes. He and Terry Mclaurin are the kind of players that in this offense, could generate good production with Haskins under center. Look for Harmon to surprise people early.
Mclaurin is the player who at every step of the off-season, be it Senior Bowl, Combine, or Camp has made clear and sizeable steps in his development. He was already a quick explosive player with plenty of potential but he has been turning heads at every step. He has nice smooth routes, and has a nicely rounded skill set that could see him fill a significant role as a speed weapon outside.
So that’s my list of players with potential to shine in preseason. Thanks for reading. Enjoy preseason and don’t get too carried away……