2016 NFL Draft Combine Preview – Wide Receivers
Dom Murtha takes a detailed look at this year's wide receivers class heading into the 2016 NFL Combine.
Over the last few drafts, NFL fans have been spoiled with the flood of elite level receivers that have entered the league. Riddled with Pro Bowlers, every draft since 2010 has seemingly been stacked with top-tier wide outs. Now while draft evaluators may be predicting a drop-off for the class of 2016, I am not sold that this group of incoming receivers is completely void of talent. Listed below, in order, are my top-10 wide receivers in the class, a more talented one than people are giving credit.
1. Laquon Treadwell (Jr) – Ole Miss
Height: 6-foot-2 Weight: 210 lbs.
Pretty much undisputed, Treadwell enters the Combine as the No. 1 receiving prospect in the class. Drawing comparisons to Dez Bryant and DeAndre Hopkins, most expect that the junior from Ole Miss will be selected at any point in the first 15 picks come draft day. Treadwell had a distinguished collegiate career, finishing his final year with 82 catches for 1,153 yards and 11 scores, good enough for All-American honors.
What the tape says…
First noted is that Treadwell is a straight bully at the line of scrimmage. Whether it is getting a proper release or punishing a defender on a run play, cornerbacks are no match for him physically at the snap of the ball. His routes are good, his hands are great, and his ability to go up and get the football is spectacular. He uses his big frame to body corners on jump balls, while he is also excellent at contorting himself to wherever the quarterback places it. When given the opportunity on a red-zone fade, Treadwell is elite at high-pointing and tracking the football as if the defender wasn’t even there. Evidenced here is his physical play, good route running on the “sluggo,” and strong hands with the one-handed catch…
To go along with his ability to win on the 50-50 ball, Treadwell completes his receiver skill-set with an incredible knack to gain yards after the catch. Like Dez Bryant, Treadwell is incredibly physical with the ball in his hands, striking fear into the hearts of defenses. He uses a very good stiff arm and is a terror to take down in the open field. He will enter the draft as one of the most willing blockers in the class, and will only get better at it with NFL coaching.
On the negative side, the big-bodied receiver is feared to possess low top-end speed. Because of this, Treadwell will not be running at the combine, and will instead save himself for Ole Miss’ pro day, where he will have had extra time to work on this flaw of his. Scouts also worry about his ability to change gears at the bottom of his routes, but this could also be considered nit picking really. Lastly, Treadwell suffered a season-ending leg injury in 2014, on in which many feared that he would never recover from. His production in 2015 mostly silenced the doubters there, however we will all know where his health stands after his physical in Indy.
2. Josh Doctson (RS Sr) – TCU
Height: 6-foot-3 Weight: 198 lbs.
Participating in really only 10 games this past season, the All-American and Fred Biletnikoff Award finalist still managed to haul in 79 catches for 1,327 yards and four touchdowns. He finished off his career as the most accomplished receiver in TCU history and likely will have his name called in one of the first two days of the NFL Draft this spring.
What the tape says…
In a few words, Doctson has the look of a tall, lanky X receiver, who has a real nose for the end zone. His frame may be slight, but at 6-foot-3 he rarely loses on 50-50 balls. His hands are sticky and strong, overcompensating for where he might lack physically. Doctson is a silky-smooth route runner and surprisingly does some of his best work across the middle of the field despite his frail figure. With the ball in the air, very few receivers in this class can adjust their routes or body position in order to make a proper play on the ball the way that he does. Also noted on film, Doctson does an adequate job as a blocker in the run game. Here’s an idea of what he can do with the ball in the air…
While his speed never seemed to be a problem for him at the collegiate level, Doctson is not expected to run a top-notch 40-time this week in Indy. An even slower than expected time might cause problems at the NFL level, making it difficult for him to get separation from professional cornerbacks. Oh and have I mentioned yet how frail he is yet (sarcasm)? He will likely weigh in below 200 lbs., making him the lightest outside WR in the entire class. In college this was never a problem for Doctson, as he rarely saw press coverage. In the NFL, man-up corners will abuse him at the line of scrimmage if he doesn't put some weight on fast.
3. Sterling Shepard (Sr) – Oklahoma
Height: 5-foot-10 Weight: 193 lbs.
A true Jack-of-all-trades at Oklahoma, Shepard established himself a very distinguished collegiate career. His work out of the slot as a receiver, out of the backfield as a runner, and on special teams both as a gunner and return man, give him instant value to any NFL team willing to take a chance on an undersized wide out.
What the tape says…
It’s clear right off the bat why Shepard was Oklahoma quarterback Baker Fayfield's best friend both on and off the field, as he uses lightning, yet polished footwork to leave man-up defenders in the dust, while operating almost exclusively out of the slot. He runs some of the most crisp routes out of any receiver in this class and is excellent at changing gears in order to keep defenders guessing. His hands are football magnets -- just eight drops in his four years at Oklahoma. Watch here on an excellent route combination and even better execution from Shepard, as he uses terrific footwork and a deft outside release to bait the corner ultimately allowing him to win inside for the score…
Teams will worry about his lack of ideal height and slight frame. There are also concerns about his top-end speed, despite his electric agility and acceleration. Ultimately why teams will have him slide down draft boards is because he looks to be strictly a slot receiver. I personally don’t see that as any reason to downgrade him on my top-10 list, as in today’s game, almost every play features a slot receiver and is trending more and more toward a short passing attack.
Overall with Shepard, he is going to face the usual doubters that undersized receivers typically take on during the draft process, but to put it bluntly, there aren't really any holes in his game. Sure he might struggle at the next level as an outside receiver against more physical corners, but it is going to be tough to stick with him in the slot no matter who is guarding him. He will eat zone defense alive and has the footwork and short line quickness to go toe-to-toe with anyone man up. He is unlikely to win 50-50 balls due to his lack of height, but concentration drops will never be an issue with him either. Without wanting to get killed here, I see a ceiling of Antonio Brown and a floor for Shepard that would have him serve as one of the best special teams contributors in the league.
4. Corey Coleman (Jr) – Baylor
Height: 5-foot-10 Weight: 190 lbs.
Coleman, similarly to Will Fuller listed below him, was mostly seen running wide open during his junior season in Waco. Having said this, however, his production in 2015 was second to none amongst NCAA receivers, as he caught 20 touchdowns for the Baylor Bears, making him a very intriguing draft prospect this spring.
What the tape says…
Like Bruce Springsteen said “Baby you were born to run!” and that is exactly what Coleman does best, as he frequently scorches opposing cornerbacks on film. He seems to glide as a natural athlete, with no clunky hitches or false-steps in his motion. His routes are solid, but limited, as he wasn’t asked to do much more than run a handful of combinations in Baylor’s up-tempo offense. His hands are sticky, giving him the ability to snatch the ball at high-speed flight, provided it’s within his catch radius. Here, we see that with all of the noted ability for straight-line speed and home run, deep-ball catches, Coleman also possesses an underrated ability to make things happen after the catch, exhibiting multiple gears and excellent wiggle with the ball in his hands…
The question marks about Coleman on film arise with his size right off the bat. He wasn’t hit or bumped too much in college due to Baylor’s wide-open offensive scheme, worrying scouts that he might struggle at the next level when bodied up by a pro corner. Coleman also struggled with concentration drops in college, oftentimes failing to secure passes thrown at his body, while making the more difficult radius receptions look far easier.
Despite the criticisms, Coleman is far too electric to slide past the second round. I believe that after the Combine, someone will fall in love with Coleman enough to take him in the first round.
5. Michael Thomas (RS Jr) – Ohio State
Height: 6-foot-3 Weight: 210 lbs.
The nephew of former No. 1 overall pick, Keyshawn Johnson, many see Thomas as a young flanker with plenty of potential. He was limited in 2015 due to shoddy quarterback play in the mostly dormant Ohio State offense, leading scouts to question how good Thomas really is.
What the tape says…
He’s built really well and it shows on film. One might like him to have a little more meat on his bones, but that will come with one summer of an NFL diet and training program. He’s naturally gifted in his routes in the sense of getting defenders to buy what he’s selling. Here we see Thomas fool Kendall Fuller – one of the nation’s best cornerbacks – for a score with a DiCaprio-like performance on a hitch-and-go…
He is very good with the ball in his hands, moving like an NFL receiver should, while his catch radius is where it needs to be for his size. He does some excellent work keeping both feet in on sideline receptions, proving that he can work in the three phases of a complete receiver – possession, run after the catch, and deep threat.
Issues with Thomas surprisingly arise in his route running, despite having tons of potential in that very area. He tends to run with heavy feet in and out of his breaks, while also struggling to slow down and find a soft spot in the defense once the route is complete. His tree is limited also due to the Ohio State offensive struggles, leading many to worry what his mental game is truly capable of.
Considering his NFL bloodlines and already ample evidence of a high potential ceiling to his game, expect scouts to look past speculation on Thomas and go by what the tape says. His build and NFL physicality make him destined for no later than the second round come draft day, leaving him bunched up with the rest of this talented cluster in 2016.
6. Will Fuller (Jr) – Notre Dame
Height: 6-foot Weight: 184 lbs.
In his junior season at Notre Dame, Fuller dealt with a carousel of injured quarterbacks throwing him the ball, but despite the adversity, still ended up with 1,258 receiving yards and 14 touchdowns. On 27 percent of his catches, he managed to explode for 25 yards or more, registering him for an astounding 20.3 yards per catch.
What the tape says…
He’s a burner, plain and simple. His game reminds me of a poor man’s DeSean Jackson or maybe just a rich man’s Ted Ginn Jr. Obviously on film he has no problem getting separation, and because of this, it is tough to get a sense of what he can do against professional corners. On simple slant and in routes, Fuller uses his elite speed and proper footwork to torch opposing DB’s, making a long catch and score look easier than getting into the University of Phoenix. Take this catch and score vs. USC for example, as he creates massive separation on the simplest of routes for a big time score…
Where scouts worry about Fuller is in a couple of areas. The tape shows that he possesses some pretty inconsistent hands, while there is little evidence of him having to adjust to balls in the air. His size is slight so his work as an outside receiver will be limited at the next level. There is a fear that Fuller is a one trick pony, as he seems to just use straight-line speed to get himself open.
Despite these worries, if fuller runs a sub 4.4 40-time, expect him to be taken in the first round by someone desperate for a deep-threat playmaker. This is not to say that a first round grade for Fuller is a mistake, however, there are definitely more complete pass catchers in this class.
7. Tyler Boyd (Jr) – Pittsburgh
Height: 6-foot-2 Weight: 200 lbs.
Misused and overworked, Boyd saw his numbers decline drastically in his junior season at Pitt in 2015. However, that is likely because of inconsistent quarterback play and lack of playmakers on the offensive side of the ball. Because of this, Boyd was used almost exclusively on short and bubble routes, or even on designed runs for the versatile wide receiver. Don’t let his coaches’ poor utilization of talent dismiss Boyd, as he is a player this year who might translate to the pros very nicely.
What the tape says…
Upon first glance at the film, Boyd looks much bigger than he is listed, not so much in height, but in weight, as his physical build and play reads much more as 225 lbs. than his mere 200 lbs. listing. He works really well on the copious amounts of designed quick hits and bubble screens he is given from the Pitt coaching staff, but they really seem to ruin his bottom line. With the ball in his hands, Boyd intends to punish defenders when finishing off runs, making him someone that all coaching staffs will like at the next level. He is often double-covered, but seems to have the physical ability to beat it, but again this factor limited the type of production that he could tally on the stat sheet.
Most complimentary on Boyd’s tape are his strong, vice grip-like, mitts, that allow him to secure the ball without any question for the review booth to ponder. He’s got a big snatching radius, making him one of the most reliable pass catchers in the draft. The trait that will help Boyd out the most early on at the next level is his experience on special teams. He is a decorated return man, and with his physical play, could – in his worst pro scenario – have him become a special teams captain. In this .GIF, Boyd displays his physical nature as a runner and confident and concentrated demeanor while the ball is in the air. He plucks the ball out of the air with his excellent hands, despite all well knowing (and hearing) the safety bearing down on him over the middle…
Negatively for Boyd is his lack of breakaway speed and evidence of stretching the field past 20 yards on routes. Likely he has the ability to run deeper routes, but with the myriad of quarterback issues at Pitt during his three seasons, Boyd wasn’t able to unleash his full potential.
His range come draft day is still cloudy at this point, as it seems like the Combine might make or break his draft position. If he shows up to Indy a twitchy athlete and can complete the 40 in 4.60 or under, Boyd might have his eyes set for the second round, but if he is physically slower than the rest of the pack like his tape displays, then it might be a long three days for Boyd come April.
8. Pharaoh Cooper (Jr) – South Carolina
Height: 5-foot-11 Weight: 208 lbs.
Cooper is a first round pick trapped in a fourth rounder’s body, as his slight frame detracts from what he can do with the ball in his hands. He’s experienced obviously as a receiver, a running back, a returner, and also as a wildcat quarterback. His versatile stat line across his three-year career at South Carolina speaks for itself, making him an intriguing prospect this Combine.
What the tape says…
His electric get-off at the line of scrimmage is something that is instantly noticed. He has some of the best short-area quickness in the entire class, making his Combine spurt and cone drills must watch television. Beyond the first three yards, Cooper maintains relatively clean routes, and has a good sense of where the boundaries are. A natural with the ball in his hands, Cooper has the God-given ability to make people miss, no matter what the cost. This should give you a good idea of the talent that Cooper possesses when given the opportunity to create on his own… He seems to have a future as a punt returner in the NFL…
The downside for Cooper is his size. He doesn’t have the build that many talent evaluators look for in the early rounds of the draft. His size limits his catch radius, really holding him back from making consistent, pain-free, receptions. Cole Beasley of the Dallas Cowboys faces this same problem each Sunday, leaving him at risk for difficult catches that should otherwise be routine for bigger guys. Unsurprisingly because of his smaller hands and short arms, Cooper struggles with drops. He also, in this pedestrian South Carolina offense, ran a very vanilla route tree, leaving scouts to question whether he has the mental capacity to learn more complicated routes or not.
While some are projecting Cooper for the second round, I foresee him slipping to day three come draft time, although I am a pretty big fan of his. It seems that with so many wide outs expected to go on day two, someone has got to be the odd man out, and I wouldn’t be surprised at all if the undersized unconventional one is the scapegoat. In terms of resemblance to NFL players past, I will give you three potential comparisons to Cooper. His ceiling is Randall Cobb, his likely doppelgänger is Antwaan Randle El, and his floor is Brad Smith. Considering this, Cooper is definitely someone worth taking a look at come draft day.
9. Braxton Miller (RS Sr) – Ohio State
Height: 6-foot-1 Weight: 204 lbs.
One of the most well-documented backstories on this list, Miller was a former Heisman frontrunner as a quarterback, but then decided to make the switch to H-Back in his senior year in order to boost his draft stock. Boy did it ever, as now Miller is being discussed as a potential first-round talent.
What the tape says…
One of the most naturally gifted athletes in this class, Miller’s got it all when it comes to making things happen. The tape shows great open-field speed, excellent short-area quickness, and a mindfulness in traffic on par with NFL running backs. Watch his natural instincts take over against Virginia Tech in the first week of the season….
For most of the season, with the noted offensive struggles that Ohio State had, Miller was kept slightly in a secret to the scouting world, not due to lack of exposure, but due to the team’s lack of utilization of such a great athlete. Miller entered the Senior Bowl with some serious question marks and pleasantly surprised many with his progression as a receiver after only 12 games.
Miller still needs some polishing, as he tends to use too many steps on routes, and can oversell, wasting motion, and ultimately messing up timing patterns. Also with his size, most expect that he will bode well when asked to go up and get a pass, but this didn’t show on his tape, worrying many scouts about his timing on jumps and ability to adjust to errant 50-50 balls.
Despite these concerns, many project that Miller will be taken in either of the first two days, carving out himself out a fine professional career, especially if he can learn the trade of special teams.
10. Kenny Lawler (RS Jr) – Cal
Height: 6-foot-2 Weight: 195 lbs.
Rounding out the list is Kenny Lawler who was the Golden Bears leading pass catcher and leader in “SportsCenter Top 10” nominees. Serving as Jared Goff’s No. 1 target, Lawler caught 13 touchdowns this past season as a redshirt junior.
What the tape says…
While he doesn’t run the crispiest of routes, and doesn’t have the fastest top-end speed, what Lawler does bring to the table is a flair for the spectacular. Let me stop myself before I under sell him here… Lawler is the most acrobatic receiver in this class – bar none. He has hands similar to that of Odell Beckham Jr. in that he can pluck almost anything out of the air, one handed or two, while also like Beckham, he falls victim to the occasional concentration drop.
While people may fall in love with his highlight reel catches, I rank Lawler as my 10th overall receiver in the class because of his physical limitations that hold him back in other areas of the game. Sporting a wiry frame, Lawler looks like a sudden sneeze could blow him over if unprepared. This brings up issues at the line of scrimmage when jammed and also after the catch, where he seemingly is incapable of breaking even the weakest of arm tackle attempts. If trained with a proper diet and workout plan, Lawler has a chance of becoming a true outside threat as a pro, but at least early on, he will likely serve as roster depth.
*** Below is a complete list of all wide receivers invited to Indianapolis this week ***
Bralon Addison, Oregon
Geronimo Allison, Illinois
DeMarcus Ayers, Houston
Tyler Boyd, Pittsburgh
Chris Brown, Notre Dame
Aaron Burbridge, Michigan State
Devon Cajuste, Stanford
Leonte Carroo, Rutgers
Corey Coleman, Baylor
Pharoh Cooper, South Carolina
Cody Core, Ole Miss
Trevor Davis, California
Josh Doctson, TCU
D.J. Foster, Arizona State
Will Fuller, Notre Dame
Keyarris Garrett, Tulsa
Rashard Higgins, Colorado State
Johnny Holton, Cincinnati
Cayleb Jones, Arizona
Kenny Lawler, Cal
Roger Lewis, Bowling Green
Kolby Listenbee, TCU
Ricardo Louis, Auburn
Byron Marshall, Oregon
Jalin Marshall, Ohio State
Mekale McKay, Cincinnati
Braxton Miller, Ohio State
Malcolm Mitchell, Georgia
Chris Moore, Cincinnati
Marquez North, Tennessee
Jordan Payton, UCLA
Charone Peake, Clemson
Demarcus Robinson, Florida
Alonzo Russell, Toledo
Rashawn Scott, Miami (FL)
Hunter Sharp, Utah State
Tajae Sharpe, UMass
Sterling Shepard, Oklahoma
Nelson Spruce, Colorado
Michael Thomas, Ohio State
Laquon Treadwell, Ole Miss
D'haquille Williams, Auburn
De'Runnya Wilson, Mississippi State