By Marc Sluis, Staff Writer
1. Keenan Allen CAL
Strengths: Allen has great ball skills, snatches the ball of the air and can out-jump defenders for the ball. He has great height but also terrific athleticism with the speed and agility to rack up YAC. He was also productive and a solid return-man.
Weaknesses: He lacks the elite speed to consistently separate from defenders. He could refine his route running skills.
The Take Home: Allen is a big-play threat with the height and strong hands to beat defenders to the ball. Without the breakaway speed to consistently separate solely by straight-line speed (like Robert Woods), Allen needs extraordinary athleticism, change of direction and lateral agility to beat defenses. He sure has those qualities and despite his height runs with a low center of gravity and resembles a running back in the open field with the ability to accelerate quickly and avoid defenders.
His frame and hands allows him to get to the ball before defenders and haul in tough catches in the red zone. He is physical enough to beat press coverage and get position on cornerbacks. Allen and Woods have different skill sets but the gap between the two is small. It’s Allen’s ability to play physically as well as make plays with his feet that gives him the nod.
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2. Robert Woods USC
Strengths: Woods has electric speed and acceleration allowing him to consistently get behind defenders. He is deceptive in and out of breaks and possesses the agility and shiftiness to make defenders miss. He uses his soft hands to catch the ball away from his body.
Weaknesses: He lacks the bulk and physicality to be a jump ball threat in the red zone, and will struggle against bigger concern backs applying a jam at the line of scrimmage.
The Take Home: Woods has track star speed paired with tremendous quickness and agility makes him a home run threat. He is able to stretch defenses and get down field for big plays. Woods paired with fellow top prospect Barkley to terrorize PAC 12 defenses, while putting up great production and will likely improve even more in his junior season. He was able to consistently beat defenders and create space, but may struggle with battling defenders for the ball in close quarters as well as releasing cleanly against press coverage. In other words he’s not a possession receiver and needs to bulk up a bit to avoid being re-routed at the next level.
3. Justin Hunter TENNESSEE
Strengths: Hunter has incredible leaping ability with long arms, large hands and great height. He provides a deep threat with terrific speed, but is willing to go over the middle and make catches in traffic.
Weaknesses: A very thin frame and may struggle against NFL caliber corners in press coverage and run blocking situations.
The Take Home: Hunter has freakish athletic talent. He has a long 6’4 frame with big hands and was a world-class high jump and long jump track and field athlete. Pair that with his 4.4 caliber speed and you have a raw, but uber-talented receiver with massive potential. Hunter shows soft hands and the ability to make catches in traffic and doesn’t shy away from contact, suggesting he has some natural football instincts and isn’t just a track athlete playing football.
Still a raw player who needs to polish his route running Hunter has every physical trait of a player with huge upside. He is tall, fast, has explosive leaping ability and good hands. With Da’Rick Rodgers banished from the Vols, Hunter will be the bona-fide number one threat and could put up huge numbers this season.
4. Da’Rick Rodgers TENN TECH
Strengths: Rodgers is a tough, strong and physical receiver who takes on big hits without fear. He has good speed and nice hands with the physicality to fight defenders to the ball and break tackles.
Weaknesses: He’s not a home run threat with the pure speed to run past corners down field. He isn’t the most explosive athlete and doesn’t have standout leaping ability. He left Tennessee after reportedly failing drug tests.
The Take Home: Rodgers is a hard-nosed and physical player who should become a very solid possession type receiver. He uses his hands and strength to create separation and get open. He’s not overly elusive in the open field, but is difficult to bring down because of his physicality and determination. His speed is nothing to sneeze at (anywhere from 4.48-4.52) but his lack of natural athleticism and agility limits his elusiveness in the open field.
He may not be a play-maker vertically, but will give you toughness and the ability to take a hit and hang on to the football while taking defenders head on; he is a big, bruising possession style receiver that is valued on every team. He will need to prove to teams that he has matured and is capable of staying clean.
5. Aaron Dobson MARSHALL
Strengths: He has the look of a big time NFL X receiver; he is tall with long arms and the ability to bring in and adjust to poorly thrown balls. He can make the acrobatic play and out-compete corners for the ball in the air. He also shows nice straight-line speed.
Weaknesses: He could add some more muscle to his frame. He’s not the quickest guy and lacks elite change of direction skills. Played in a very weak conference and wasn’t tested against top competition week in and week out.
The Take Home: Dobson has all the makings of true force at the X spot. His height and amazing ball skills allow him to make acrobatic catches (see one-handed backhanded gem against ECU) and outfight defenders for the ball. His speed is very solid around 4.49, but he doesn’t elude defenders with quick COD or explosion.
However, he does show the big time ball skills and long arms needed to compensate for his inability to easily create separation. He has the raw physical tools that can’t be taught and should only improve his route running with more practice. The biggest concern is the level of competition he faced. His performance in the Senior Bowl may give a better barometer of how his skills match up against his peers.
6. Marquess Wilson WSU
Strengths: Wilson is very smooth with soft hands and the body control and balance to extend his long frame and make difficult catches. He shows good vision, and allows blockers to set up before accelerating up field. He is confident, and plays with a swagger.
Weaknesses: He lacks the strength to be an ideal red zone target and doesn’t have the straight-line speed to separate from or blow past defenders.
The Take Home: Wilson is a coordinated athlete with excellent balance and body control that allows him to bring in balls off target around the sideline. He has good height with soft hands, but it will be interesting to see how he measures out height wise.
He is listed at 6’4 but appears on many scouting reports at 6’3 or lower. With offensive guru Mike Leach bringing his pass-happy scheme to the Pacific Northwest, Wilson’s numbers should bulge and give him more national attention after producing for a bad Cougars team last year (82 catches, 1,388 yards and 12 TD). He isn’t explosive or blessed with great speed, but plays with confidence and should be a real headache for defenders in the red zone.