Thanks to our being part of the SB Nation network, we have access to literally hundreds of other experts that cover both the NFL and college football.
This series of Five Questions With... will focus on not only the 2015 draft class for the Chicago Bears, but some of the undrafted free agents as well. This series of articles has become one of my favorites to do here at Windy City Gridiron, as I feel it gives us an added insight to the new players on the Bears.
This time out we're talking with Conner Morris, one of the Editors at Our Daily Bears, the SB Nation site that covers the Baylor Bears, about undrafted free agent Levi Norwood.
Windy City Gridiron - Norwood steadily improved throughout the early part of his Baylor career, then in 2014 his offensive numbers dipped to just 35 receptions, 319 yards and 2 touchdowns. I know he had an injury that kept him from the final three games, but was there more to his declining production?
Our Daily Bears - Levi was a crucial part of the Baylor offense during his career, especially in 2013. Baylor's consistent depth at wide receiver meant that he had to fight constantly for playing time during his career against pros like Terrance Williams and Kendall Wright. He really began to shine when Tevin Reese went out with an injury against Oklahoma in 2013. Levi took over Reese's IR (inside receiver) position and ended up with over 1,000 yards despite being a rotation guy beforehand.
He took a step back in 2014- he missed the first few games due to an offseason injury, and his absence allowed young guys like Corey Coleman and KD Cannon (who are both likely future first rounders) to shine. It wasn't due to a lack of talent or chemistry on Levi's part- he was every bit the receiver he was in 2013, he was just sharing his targets.
WCG - Was Norwood moved around the offense much at Baylor or was he primarily split out wide?
ODB - Levi was a consistent special teams guy and played mostly inside receiver on offense, but he could split out wide as well. His usefulness on the inside comes from his combination of size and mobility, a holdover from his basketball career. He can change direction effortlessly and shake linebackers and nickels with ease. That's his true value to an offense: He's big and fast enough to demand attention from a corner or cover safety, but defensive coordinators usually didn't have one to spare against the spread.
WCG - Norwood has a lot of experience as a returner with 64 punt returns and 38 kick returns during his four year career. Often times the biggest transition a returner makes from college to the NFL is they have to learn to not dance around once they catch the ball. Would you call Norwood a north/south returner or does he play around and try to get east/west too often?
ODB - Levi's punt returns suffered in 2014 when teams started kicking away from him. Click here for a video (at 1:03) of his best punt return that shows off all of his strengths. Levi's main objective in any return scenario is to move forward, but he makes use of his mobility to do that. He makes the first man miss as both a returner and receiver, and gets as far downfield as possible from that point with his balance and agility. There are times when he makes the first man miss and doesn't have anywhere to go, and those are the times when he scrambles and occasionally loses yardage, but his upside far outweighs the occasional mental errors.
WCG - The scouting reports I've read on him paint the picture of an elusive runner, more quick than fast, with good hands, do you agree with this assessment and what is the biggest thing he needs to improve on to impress Chicago's coaches?
ODB - The scouting reports you've read are pretty accurate. Norwood is a long, fluid athlete who excels in one-on-one scenarios where he can force the first defender to miss. He changes direction as easily as the rest of us breathe, and what he lacks in straight line speed he makes up for in elusiveness- he's certainly fast enough to outrun any linebacker and the majority of safeties, however. He needs to improve on his route running a bit- he tended to fall back on his natural talents at times, which was enough to beat most collegiate defenders but won't fly against NFL defenses. He needs to find a niche in the Chicago system that keeps him out of direct competition with guys like Kevin White and Alshon Jeffrey, who are on a different level in terms of athleticism.
WCG - Do you think Norwood has the talent to stick on an NFL roster in some capacity in 2015?
OBD - I think Levi has what it takes to stick on an NFL roster. His combination of size, strength, speed, and agility makes him a great candidate for a backup receiver/special teams role. I'm a Saints fan, and the guy I'd compare him to is Courtney Roby, who was a longtime specialist in New Orleans- shifty and athletic, strong work ethic, all over the place on special teams, and a capable receiver in a pinch.
Awesome stuff from Conner Morris, thanks again!