INDIANAPOLIS -- General Manager Howie Roseman highlighted the four main traits the team looks for when they evaluate the receiver position. Those skills included hands, route running, the ability to run after the catch and blocking on the perimeter. How do the receiver prospects in the 2014 NFL Draft think they fit those criteria?
Roseman explained the importance of catching the football at the wide receiver position, saying it all starts with a prospect’s hands.
“You know, it’s funny, you go through draft meetings and you start talking about guys and you say, ‘He’s explosive, a good route runner, but he’s inconsistent catching the football,’ and you go, ‘Well, that’s a receiver.’”
Catching the football isn’t just about soft hands (while that is a big part of it). Texas A&M’s Mike Evans detailed how to win at the catch point and come down with the football.
“You have to have good eye-hand coordination, timing with the ball,” the 6-foot-4 All-American said. Considered to be one of the top players in this year’s crop of receivers, Evans’ later added that his basketball background has a great impact on his ability to come down with the football.
2. ROUTE RUNNING
Roseman cited precise route running as an important attribute for a receiver when projecting him to the NFL. Can he run a full route tree? Can he separate from professional defensive backs?
“I take pride in (route running), getting in and out of breaks, that’s where the DB can really gain ground,” Wisconsin’s Jared Abbrederis added. “At the top of the route, trying to be quick in and out of your cut.” The Senior Bowl invitee caught 78 passes for over 1,000 yards and seven touchdowns in 2013.
Another Senior Bowl standout, Texas’ Mike Davis, broke down why sharp route running is important for a receiver at this level.
“Everyone in the NFL is fast, so what else can you do? Run good routes, create separation and give the quarterback a good window to throw the football,” Davis said.
3. RUN AFTER THE CATCH ABILITY
How important is creating a play with the ball in your hands? Roseman said it’s one of the key traits you look for when evaluating college receivers.
Kelvin Benjamin, who was recently mocked to the Eagles by ESPN’s Mel Kiper with the 22nd pick in May’s draft, had a lot of success creating yards after the catch.
“Once you catch it, you just have to keep moving, keep your legs going and get up field and everything else will take care of itself,” Benjamin said. The 6-foot-5, 240 pound receiver caught 54 passes for 1,011 yards and 15 touchdowns for the BCS National Champion Florida State Seminoles last fall.
Oregon State’s Brandin Cooks, considered by many experts to be one of the most explosive receivers in the class, thinks his athleticism goes a long way with the ball in his hands.
“I’m able to create plays from nothing. (I’m) able to catch a 3-yard ball, I’ll take it the distance,” Cooks added. “Speed kills and I feel like that’s what I’m going to bring to the game.” The 2013 Biletnikoff Award winner thinks that quality is what makes him the best receiver in the draft, and he hopes to run in the 4.3-second range in the 40-yard dash on Sunday in Indianapolis.
Does the time in the 40-yard dash always correlate to success making plays after the catch? To Vanderbilt’s Jordan Matthews, a prospect who has been incredibly productive despite what some would say is a lack of explosive speed, that’s something he’s looking to dispel.
“The scouts, they have all watched the film and I have never been caught. I have played four years in high school and four years of college and I still haven’t been caught,” Matthews said. “I know where my speed is and I know I am one of the fastest guys in the country if not the fastest with the ball in my hands. I am not going to have a ball when I line up on that white line so I have been working on my start and working on my finish and I am hoping I can put on a show.”
The ability to be an impact player on the perimeter as a blocker was an especially important trait in Roseman’s eyes.
“Obviously, we run the ball in Philadelphia. When you look at (run blocking) it’s an inherent toughness in being willing to do the little things,” Roseman said.
The little things may not be important to all star wide receivers, but to some of these top prospects, they relish being able to win even the smallest of battles.
“I’m a football player,” LSU’s Jarvis Landry said. “I’m going to play special teams. I’m (tough) across the middle. I’m going to block linebackers, safeties. It doesn’t matter. Just the little things that people forget.”
Regarded by most as the best receiver in the draft, Clemson’s Sammy Watkins said blocking was part of being a complete player at the receiver position.
“For me, I try to be physical out there on the field as far as getting off press, blocking down the field. To be that dominant receiver I need to have that total package. Everyone knows all wide receivers can catch balls and score, but for me I’m focusing on the little things - blocking, getting off the press and being a physical, dominant receiver,” Watkins said.
That all-encompassing approach will sit well with an evaluator like Roseman.
“For us it’s well rounded, you know the receiver position in Philadelphia is going to be a well-rounded guy who is able to do a lot of the little things as well as the things you normally look for in a receiver,” the general manager said.