Player Analysis: Odell Beckham Jr, WR, LSU

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Name: Odell Beckham Jr

Class: Junior
Height: 5’11”
Weight: 198 lbs.
School: LSU

image by Morgan Searles courtesy lsureveille.com

Strengths: Beckham is fast, but not just in a straight line. He can use his speed to gain separation, yes, but his routes are quick as well and he can accelerate through his breaks, making it easy for defensive backs to fall behind and stumble. Beckham is able to change gears both during routes as well as after the catch, making him a slippery guy to cover and contain. He’s worked to improve his hands as well (though he still has work to do), and does a good job going up and getting the ball in the air. Beckham has a nice, big catch radius as well, despite not having above-average height and adjusts well to the ball in the air and can catch it in stride without losing speed. He can also contribute on kickoff and punt returns, but was much less effective on the latter.

Weakness: Beckham has average height and not a ton of strength, but he does seem to have the frame to get bigger/stronger. The 4.43 speed at the combine was nice, but it doesn’t always translate on the field and he could get caught from behind by NFL-level defensive backs. While Beckham has improved hands, he still struggles with some drops and can’t be relied on across the middle where he sometimes seems to hear footsteps. Beckham doesn’t always come down with balls he needs to fight for and I’d like to see more toughness in that area of his game—a little more “my ball” mentality. He’s not great at blocking and needs to improve that aspect of his game. Struggled against top teams like Alabama and Florida as well as Texas A&M though he did well against a No. 9 ranked Georgia. And while he can shag punts and kicks, his work on punt returns leaves something to be desired. Rarely found the end zone before this year, scoring just 12 touchdowns on 143 receptions.

Intangibles: By all accounts, Beckham is a very dedicated, very hard-working receiver. He also certainly shows a passion for the game, which translates into more focus on both of the above traits..

Notes: If he were more consistent or fought harder for the ball, Beckham would probably be higher on the list, but that, his height and lack of elite game speed drag his value down. It will be interesting to see how the acceleration and extra gears he shows on film are enough to get past faster corners in the NFL. I could see him out of the slot or maybe as the “Z” if he can show that the speed he flashed at the combine—and what he showed on tape—combine to work at the pro level.

image by Jerry Ward via SportsNola.com

 

Player Analysis: Brandin Cooks, WR, Oregon State

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Name: Brandin Cooks

Class: Junior
Height: 5’10”
Weight: 189 lbs.
School: Oregon State

Strengths: Cooks nearly beat Chris Johnson’s 40-yard dash record time at the combine, running a 4.33. Cooks isn’t just fast going in a straight line though—he shows explosiveness off the line, great ability to start and stop when

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cutting during a route and smooth action when running. He has an extra gear to escape pursuit after the catch as well and is a threat to turn a short catch into a long gain on every pass. Aside from speed, he brings great route running as well, using nice footwork and shoulder jukes to confuse defenders to gain separation. This is something you see build over his time at OSU, and a clear sign that not only will he work, he can be—and is will to be— taught. Cooks also has great hands, fantastic body control and great concentration. Cooks does an equally good job tracking the ball and adjusting to a throw. Cooks will not shy away from bigger defenders and is very competitive, though at times he will avoid contact. That may be why he was so productive (setting Pac-12 and school records for catches, receiving yards while also setting an OSU record for touchdown receptions) and missed no games while in college. That’s not to say he isn’t tough—he is, very much so—just that he will ditch out of bounds rather than lower his shoulder. At his stature, I mark that down as a plus, to be honest. Cooks can return punts, so he brings an added bonus to a team though he isn’t extraordinary at it.

Weakness: He’s a bit small, so he can be knocked around a bit on routes and may get consumed in man coverage at the NFL level. Cooks’ size and build also limit him as a blocker and he needs to improve in that area. Doesn’t have a huge catch radius due to size and arm-length (just 30 ¾ while the similarly sized Odell Beckham has 32 ¾ length arms). His hand size is also a concern, as they are on the small size (9 5/8) and he has had some issues securing the ball with them. At his size, there are bound to be durability concerns, despite the fact that he has always been healthy in his college career.

Intangibles: The one thing you hear about Cooks over and over again is how tough and competitive he is. At his

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size, he’d need to be to have the measure of success he’s had. As mentioned in an earlier section, Cooks improved his technique going into and coming out of breaks, as well as running his routes in general. That willingness and ability to improve is a big deal and shows he is coachable, something teams like to see.

Notes: The only thing which could hold Cooks back is that size. He’s got natural ability and athleticism and is dangerous after the catch, but he has to prove he can hold up physically at the pro level where defenders are bigger, faster and nastier. I’m not terribly concerned, and don’t think a wise team will use him in a role where he is going to take a pounding. His size does make him much more of a complimentary receiver though, rather than a No. 1, as he could struggle to get off a No. 1 cornerback and get free. Then again, there are plenty of teams who get by without a “classic” No.1. Cooks would be a great addition to any of the teams in the draft in need of a playmaking wide receiver.

 

Player Analysis: Marqise Lee, WR, USC

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Name: Marqise Lee

Class: Junior
Height: 6′
Weight: 192 lbs.
School: USC

Strengths: Lee is overlooked a little due to a down season with USC, though it’s in part because the departure of Robert Woods allowed defenses to key on him alone. Having sophomore quarterback Cody Kessler replace Matt Barkley was an issue as well.

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While he lacks elite speed, Lee has great acceleration, getting up to top his speed quickly. His explosiveness, along with savvy route running, and his ability to read coverages make him able to find open space to make a catch or navigate through traffic afterwards. Those same skills allow him to create separation even without blinding speed. Lee will attack the ball in the air and does a great job snagging a pass at a high point. Lee is also a good kick returner and adds something to special teams.

 

Weakness: While part of his down junior year came because defenses had only him to key on. Much of it was because of constant injuries and inconsistency. The injuries, in particular, will bother scouts as Lee isn’t incredibly big, which was certainly a factor in his knee issues this year. It’s going to make some ding him for durability. He also doesn’t show a ton of strength, and won’t break many tackles. Along with the injuries come the consistency issues and he had some real problems with drops and, at times, ball security. The drops weren’t merely an issue in 2013 either—even in his fantastic 2012 season, Lee had too many drops, many of which seem to be focus drops. He needs to change that at the next level, especially as he will see an increase in contested catches. We also see that Lee has a tendency to run backwards and give ground at times to try and get around defenders which might cost his team valuable yards at the NFL level. Overall, while he’s definitely got ability, Lee isn’t a polished, finished product.

Intangibles: By all accounts, Lee is a very motivated, hard-working player. His background shows someone willing to fight for what he wants and overcome obstacles. Lee’s home life wasn’t particularly stable—he moved between his grandparents and mother’s house, ending up in foster care and his older brothers were both in gangs and had trouble with the law (one dying in a gang-related shooting).

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Despite all that, Lee made his way through the world, taking help from family and friends and worked hard to achieve his dreams. Lee doesn’t appear to be the type of person who will allow a setback to destroy him—either on the field or off of it.

Notes: The durability concerns are certainly valid after last year, though he never missed a game during the previous two seasons at USC. A lot of people dropped him significantly in their rankings because of it, and in a class as tightly knit as this one, I can’t blame them. We’re all looking for reasons to separate one player from another. Ultimately though, I believe the drop issues will be overcome and the durability issues not as big a deal as people believe. The fact that his knee might have been acting up during the draft analysis process gives me pause, but ultimately I still feel confident that 2-3 years down the road, we’ll be talking about a very good—and healthy—wide receiver.

Player Analysis: Mike Evans, WR, Texas A&M

image via CBS

Name: Mike Evans

Class: Redshirt Sophomore
Height: 6’5″
Weight: 231 lbs.
School: Texas A&M

Strengths: Evans is an absolutely huge receiver in every sense of the word. A former basketball player who uses his size to box out defenders and can go up and highpoint the ball, Evans also makes big catches when the offense needs him to. When he goes up for a catch, his strong hands make it very hard for defensive backs to come down with the ball. All of that makes him a ridiculous red zone target.

image via CBS

After the catch, Evans is awfully hard to take down as his strength and body size allow him to plow through would-be tacklers, dismissing any attempts to arm tackle. Evans’ size and physicality also help him blocking, something he does effectively and aggressively.

Evans is not just physically tough, but mentally tough as well, having stepped up when his team needed him to in big moments throughout his college career. On top of that, he is the type of receiver with a big catch radius and was the recipient of more than a few Johnny Manziel throws where the quarterback put the ball up in the air knowing Evans would make a play.

Weakness: Evans’ speed is does not help him separate and he doesn’t quite have the explosion off the line to force a defender backwards or get past him quickly. A lot of his catches and routes and he needs to refine his route running. Because he gets very little separation, Evans has to rely on his physicality to win catches—sometimes that’s fine, but it often makes his job harder than it needs to be. Evans didn’t have to run a full route tree so there is some concern he might need to catch up at the NFL level.

image via CBS

 

Intangibles: Everything you see and hear about Evans tells you he is a tough player, emotional and fiery during the game and enthusiastic off the field. On occasion, that can get him into trouble and we’ve seen other receivers (the Chicago Bears Alshon Jeffery comes to mind) who struggled against savvy defensive backs who could get in their head. That’s a maturity thing and the best receivers get over it (Jeffery did) but might curtail his success early on. Still, you like a guy who is passionate about the game and if he can keep his emotions under control, that enthusiasm will be an asset to an NFL franchise.

Notes: An interesting though occurred to me about Evans while I was doing an article this week. Daniel Jeremiah and Curtis Conway of NFL Network were discussing Evans recently and the idea came up that, as good as Manziel was, Evans may have made him more than Manziel made Evans.

While we could debate that all day, it reminded me of the 2008 NFL draft, the first year I really covered the draft intently. Early on in the draft process, people were fawning all over Kentucky quarterback Andre Woodson.

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As I started to watch Kentucky games, I began to notice Steve Johnson and Keenan Burton making a tremendous amount of plays on balls that were not well thrown. After seeing Johnson work out with Travelle Gaines in Los Angeles, I remember discussing with the people I was with (ESPN Denver Radio’s Cecil Lammey and former BR writer and Footballguys co-owner Sigmund Bloom among them) about how we were getting the feeling that Johnson and Burton were the only reason anyone was talking about Woodson.

Now, this is not to compare Manziel and Woodson—Manziel is a ton more talented and will be a much better NFL player than Woodson ever was. Put that aside.

This is more about things which jumped out at me in terms of what Evans can do for an offense and a young quarterback. I think in our zeal to discuss Manziel, we’ve missed just how vital Evans was to that offense, much like we initially missed how critical Stevie Johnson was to Woodson.

And while Manziel is far more talented than Woodson, he certainly hauls the ball into the air with reckless abandon at times, knowing full well he has a receiver who can make the catch.

Consider that Evans’ 1,394 yards and 12 touchdowns are far and away the best totals on the team. The next closest receiver was Derel Walker, who I don’t have ranked in my top 25, CBS Sports has ranked as their No. 54 receiver and Draftcountdown.com’s Scott Wright doesn’t even have ranked.

And Walker still falls short of Evans’ by 576 yards, 18 catches and seven touchdowns (though his 800 plus receiving yards are worthy of note). Evans accounted for just under a third of Manziel’s 37 touchdown passes and 33 percent of his 4114 passing yards.

Again, this isn’t to downplay what Manziel did, as if he couldn’t have without Evans (an interesting but off-topic discussion)m so much as to point out how important Evans was—and how important he could be for his new quarterback.

image via CBS

Player Analysis: Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson

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Name: Sammy Watkins
Class: Junior
Height: 6’1″
Weight: 211 lbs.
School: Clemson

Strengths: There is so much to like about Watkins, one could go on for days. Watkins accelerates smoothly, getting to an impressive top speed easily and can fly past a corner who gives him space off the line. He possesses great footwork as well though, and is able to beat press-coverage off the line by outmaneuvering the defender and then turning on his speed.

Watkins also shows more than one gear both in route running and after-the-catch yards, easily going from half to full speed while juking defenders. Was called upon to catch a lot of screen passes from quarterback Tajh Boyd, but showed a propensity to add bonus yards after the catch, both with his own speed and by wisely setting up and following his blockers. Watkins has great hands, helped by his habit of looking the ball into them as he makes a catch. He can adjust to off-target throws and snatch the ball out of the air quickly if he can’t get underneath it.

Watkins can go vertical for big yards, run short routes and then add to them with great ability after the catch and shows the toughness to initiate contact as well as effectively block on run plays. Watkins is also very versatile, having lined up in the slot, out wide or in the backfield.

Weakness: Watkins’ height isn’t considered ideal, nor is his build. While he posted a nice 40-yard time at the combine, there are still a few questions about his top-end speed, though a lot less. Watkins needs to polish his route running a little bit and isn’t prone to go across the middle, though was rarely asked to do that anyway. As a punt returner he had a few botched punts in college.

Intangibles: Everything you hear is he is a hard worker and a solid teammate. There are no off-the-field issues, and he doesn’t take foolish penalties on-field. Watkins seems to ignore trash-talking, though there are some masters in trash talking at the NFL level who will test him.

Notes: There is a difference between game speed and 40-yard speed. While Watkins had a nice 40-yard time, it wasn’t something I was worried about anyway. Watkins’s acceleration, smoothness and overall speed combine to make him play far faster than he was expected to time. After having watched a ton of games of Watkins, charted his receptions and watched the things he did when not targeted (blocking, for example) I really feel as though his potential is through the roof.

Player Analysis: Jimmy Garoppolo, QB, Eastern Illinois

Name: Jimmy Garoppolo

Class: Senior
Height: 6’2″
Weight: 226 lbs.
School: Eastern Illinois

 

Strengths: Garoppolo has a very quick setup and release, with a smooth motion and compact delivery. He can read the field, make a quick decision and get the ball out all in rapid succession. Garappolo sees the field well, scanning the defense and making his progressions in an efficient and fast manner without rushing it when he has time.  Does a good job getting rid of the ball and not taking foolish sacks. Garoppolo is very clearly willing to take a hit to deliver a pass. Garoppolo started for four years without any injury or durability concerns. While he showed touch on passes during games, in Mobile for the Senior Bowl he seemed unable (or unwilling?) to show anything resembling a touch. It may be that he was trying to prove the knock that he lacks good velocity on his ball is untrue, but it was something which surprised me. Garoppolo seems to have a short memory in games—if he makes a mistake, he doesn’t appear to dwell on it.

Weakness: As mentioned above, the touch I saw on game film wasn’t there in practices at Mobile. While I may think the issue was trying to prove that he had velocity (something he lacks a bit of on film), it’s a concern.  Some of his velocity issues stem from a low release point and a somewhat awkward sidearm motion. While he is confident in his arm, he can be too confident, attempting to fit throws into windows which are too small. Definitely shows some cracks under heavy defensive pressure, where he will speed up his motion or make poor decisions. It’s very obvious on film—when he has a clean pocket he is very smooth and efficient, making impeccable choices, while under pressure all that can at times fade. His pocket awareness needs to improve, as does his footwork both setting to throw and during his throwing motion. He definitely feels pressure when it isn’t there and doesn’t trust his line when he needs to. While at Mobile, during footwork drills his foot frequency was a bit slow compared to Derek Carr (who he was grouped with).  Garoppolo worked mostly in a shotgun, so he will need to work on being under center, though he progressed well with it in Mobile.

Intangibles: By all accounts, Garoppolo is a very smart, very dedicated player with a high football IQ. Talking to him at the Senior Bowl, I found him very smart and personable and observing him at practice you could tell he worked well with both coaches and other players.  He was vocal when he needed to be, light when he wasn’t working and laser focused when he was.

Notes: Garoppolo is one of those prospects who pops up each year—a momentum builder nobody has on their radar in December, but has heavy buzz by March. With back-to-back great practice weeks at the Shrine Game and Senior Bowl, Garoppolo has made a lot of people go back and look at his tape. One of the biggest questions is whether he will be able to handle the higher level of competition in the NFL that he didn’t see weekly in the Ohio Valley Conference.  He doesn’t have elite physical skills or attributes but makes the most of his tools with sharp decision making and timing. Of course, that makes concerns about how he reacts under heavy pressure even more focused because he lacks the elite tools to fall back on that an Andrew Luck or Tom Brady has.  In the end, I believe this is a player who can adjust to the level of play and overcome his limitations, improving his reactions to pressure through good coaching and a solid supporting cast. As such, as much as I like him, I’d say a second round or late first round pick is as high as he should go and a team would be well served by being patient (if not sitting him) if they lack a good supporting cast. A team like the Houston Texans might be able to plug him in more quickly than a team like the Jacksonville Jaguars who lack playmakers in the offense.

Player Analysis: Derek Carr, QB, Fresno State

Name: Derek Carr

Class: Senior
Height: 6’2″
Weight: 214 lbs.
School: Fresno State

Strengths: Carr is a very good all-around athlete, able to move well in and out of the pocket and generally move well when he needs to.  He has a tremendous arm, with the ability to throw deep as well as drive the ball with good velocity.  Carr has shown good accuracy and record-breaking production at Fresno State, despite having to adjust to a coaching and system change. He’s got solid mechanics, with pretty good technique during his delivery and the ability to get the ball out quickly.

Weakness: The problem with lauding Carr’s accuracy and production is that it came against sometimes sub-par teams in the Mountain West Conference. When he played against bigger teams, like USC in the 2013 Vegas Bowl, he wilts. Yes, the loss to USC (I would have also accepted the words “disaster” and “pummeling”) was one in which the whole team collapsed, but Carr himself looked overwhelmed. He struggled under pressure and had a hard time completing passes under fire. That’s a real concern considering USC’s defense wasn’t one of its best ever and the level of play in the NFL will be much fiercer. I didn’t walk away from the Senior Bowl excited either (more on that below), as I saw too many passes sail on him even when there was no pass-rush. When he’s blitzed, you can see him hurry throws, which result in some badly overthrown balls. He also has a tendency to stare down receivers at times. Carr played almost exclusively out of the shotgun, so he’ll need to adjust for that. He didn’t look terrible comfortable under center in Mobile and he’ll have to work on it, though that’s common for many quarterbacks these days. Carr also seems to struggle on deeper throws.

Intangibles:  The biggest question about Carr, in my mind, is how he reacts to pressure and pressure situations. While he appears calm and poised in many games, he has struggled in bigger games. Now, as mentioned above, the bludgeoning by USC was a team-wide failure. If Fresno State doesn’t collapse early on defense, maybe USC’s defense  doesn’t have carte blanche to tee off on Carr and maybe he struggles less. On the other hand there are definitely times in other games where he was under pressure and definitely looked shaky.  Aside from that, all reports are that he is solid in the huddle and a smart quarterback who was able to weather changes in the program without freaking out. That may not seem like much, but for a young quarterback in the NFL, that’s a big deal—just ask Alex Smith.

Notes: A lot of folks came away from Mobile and the Senior Bowl saying Carr was the best quarterback there—and he was. Which was a lot like saying he was the best natural disaster.  That’s a bit harsh but I really just want to drive home the point that, save for Carr and Jimmy Garropolo, this was not a group where “being the best” should mean as much as you think. Once you take that grain of salt, combined with what you see on tape, a picture is painted of a decent quarterback whose ending value is balanced on his ability to improve. It’s what would keep me from drafting him in round one, or at least high is round one. That said, he’s a solid second round pick or a good pick for a team willing to get back into the late first. He has some issues, but the upside is there to become a solid NFL starter.