It’s that time of year again. The clocks have sprung forward, the days are getting longer, snow is no longer in the forecast, and the NFL draft is right around the corner. In some circles, the NFL draft is a far far better thing than the Superbowl, the Kentucky Derby, and the lower Oakland roller derby finals all rolled into one. Draft weekend attracts a very special breed.
As I alluded to in my free agent primer for wide receivers, one of our blogging brethren—Johnathan Wood—has come up with some interesting observations (check out his full article on the subject here). Because of his wonderful work, it got me thinking whether or not this methodology* could extend to other positions. After a lot of plugging numbers into a spreadsheet, I have concluded that there is absolutely a “type” at each position (specialists and quarterbacks excluded).
*Methodology: Johnathan Wood explains his methodology quite specifically in his article, so please be sure to check that out. As for what I am doing for this series, well, I am taking it a step further. Height, arm length, 40-time, vertical jump, broad jump, and 3-cone drill were all used to find the Bears “type.” Since Ryan Pace has only been a general manager for 3 seasons and Matt Nagy is entering his first season as a head coach, I have used the last 10 years of Andy Reid’s draft data to set a baseline.
Here are the Reid-picked wide receiver’s combine numbers from the past 10 years:
As you can see, not every receiver checked every box, but if a number was reasonably close, I felt safe in using the numbers where the remainder of the players formed a cluster. For instance, Tyreek Hill is 5’10” but all of the other receivers drafted are 6’0” or taller. So I set the minimum “threshold” for 6’0” or taller. You will see below that not all receivers fit this mold exactly but I took the players that checked the most “Bears boxes.”
The main reason that I went this route was two-fold. First of all, it was really intriguing to me when I first heard Johnathan mention it. This sort of analysis, while tedious and time consuming, I find to be a valuable tool. Secondly, by doing a bit of legwork up front, I was able to narrow my prospect “watch list” from 44 players down to 12. In the long run, this saved me time and narrowed my focus much like a front office would when evaluating players.
I am not going to break down all 12 of these players. Some of them have been mentioned in other articles while others just simply aren’t great prospects for the Bears new-look offense. I decided to narrow it down to 4. This gave me a good mixture of top names, value picks, and sleepers. If you don’t see a particular player, make sure to stay tuned for my “overrated” and “sleeper” articles which will follow this series.
In addition to the raw numbers and film study, there is one more aspect that goes into an article like this for me: value. Thanks to Josh Sunderbruch, we have this lovely confidence board to work off of. So while I might really like a player, I might feel that his value doesn’t match his confidence board position.
Now that you understand my methodology, let’s look at some prospects!
DJ Moore - Maryland
There seems to be a lack of a consensus this year on who the top rated wide receiver is, but here is one player who is definitely in that conversation and rising up draft boards. Moore can pretty much do it all on a football field. With good size, speed, athleticism, and route running ability, it isn’t a stretch to think that Moore might be the first receiver off the board in this draft class.
Moore is an excellent route runner. He has lightning quick feet and no wasted movement. Everything he does is with a purpose. In the first angle you can see that he knows exactly how far he needs to make the first down, then he comes back to the ball to secure the catch. You see the natural “hands catch” as well.
Watch what I would consider the top of the route, where he does the stutter step. He makes that same move on most of his routes, which is what will make him successful at any level. This is a poorly thrown ball but you see the speed and once he gets the cornerback flat-footed, he is running full speed immediately. This should have been an easy touchdown.
There is a lot going on here. First off, you see the hop off the line-of-scrimmage, which gives the corner just a second of pause. Then there is the subtle push off, which is perfectly executed. Then there is the body control and physicality to come down with this ball, in bounds, and with control.
Another impressive catch here by Moore. This is a simple crossing route but he sees the safety creeping up and cuts his route a little shallower, which likely causes the higher throw. The ability to pluck that ball out of the sky with the safety bearing down on you is impressive. Ultimately, he is untouched heading into the end zone, but there are plenty of players that don’t come down with this catch.
Moderate (42 which is the early part of the 2nd round. I don’t see him getting out of the 1st round though. While Moore is a very good prospect, the lack of high-end receiving talent is likely going to push him up higher than his value)
DJ Chark - LSU
For those of you who missed the Senior Bowl, Chark was one of the standout players in the game. I strongly suggest checking him out. One of the few players who seemingly “has it all,” Chark is definitely a big play waiting to happen, with an added bonus of return ability.
Quite possibly the best attribute that Chark has is pure speed. He routinely catches deep balls and has the speed to get over the top with ease. What separated him from other “deep threats” is the subtle ability to create extra separation on under thrown passes. Watch the replay below for the little chicken wing move he uses.
It isn’t just straight line speed that makes Chark a special prospect, it is his ability to make people miss as well. While he isn’t necessarily a jitterbug type at his size, he uses a lot of subtle movements to set up defenders and has elite start/stop ability in the open field.
Did I mention he can return punts too? While this isn’t necessarily the most impressive punt return in the world, it does show his open field vision and pure speed to take it to the house at any time.
Not all prospects are perfect, and Chark is no exception. The biggest criticism I have of his, besides the fact that he isn’t the most polished route runner, is his hands. He does drop some passes and has a fair amount of these “double catches.” My guess is that the routes improve but the occasional drop will follow him to the pros.
Moderate (76 which is the middle of the 3rd round, although most expect him to go in the middle of round 2, which I view as proper value)
Michael Gallup - Colorado State
This is the embodiment of an all-around receiver. Gallup doesn’t have any one trait that truly stands out from the rest, he simply does everything pretty darn well. While obviously a much smaller receiver, stylistically, he reminds me of how Anquan Bolden played. Just gets those tough and dirty yards.
One of the things that I like about Gallup is he appears to be lackadaisical in his route running but that is simply a ruse. His cuts and depths are precise but he will lull you to sleep in the process.
Gallup is not an exceptional athlete for a wide receiver, so he has had to work on his craft in order to get to this point. You see on this route that he not only fakes an outside fade route but also uses his hands to get inside position on the defender. He is a guy that just knows how to get open and doesn’t rely on speed or size to do so.
That’s not to say that he isn’t an athlete, because he is. But you see him use vision to gain yards after the catch instead of speed, quickness, or strength. Again, he is a jack of all trades and a master of none, but he is pretty darn good at all of them.
There are a number of examples of Gallup being able to high-point the ball as well. All things considered, I think he ends up being a very good number 2 receiver at the NFL level.
Moderate to High (80 which is the middle of the 3rd round, which is about where I see him mocked. That would be pretty good value at this point)
Richie James - Middle Tennessee State
This little jitterbug is like a mad scientist’s cross between Taylor Gabriel and Tarik Cohen. He has the size of Gabriel with the smoothness to his routes but lacks the pure speed like Cohen. He also has thrown a few passes in his college career. There is a lot to like here.
Don’t look at the arrow, it points to the wrong player. James is lined up as the quarterback in the wildcat. He has a lot of versatility as a guy who is similar to Cohen but with better size. I didn’t include any videos of it but James also can throw pretty well too. He would be another very interesting tool for Nagy to work with.
This play illustrates that James is a football player and not simply an athlete on a bad team. He sees his quarterback in trouble, works back towards him, but is careful to leave him a big window to throw into (watch him check his surroundings). After the catch, the pure athleticism and balance is on full display.
Unlike a lot of receivers his size, James has a pretty large catch-radius and isn’t afraid of going over the middle. Like Cohen, he doesn’t necessarily seek out contact, but he sure doesn’t shy away from it either.
Pay attention on this one. Watch James (3) lay out the defender (8) on this play. Like I said, he plays a more physical brand of football than you would think for his size.
Moderate to High (Unranked which is the middle of the 5th round or later. I view him as around a late 4th to high 5th round talent. His upside and versatility make him a solid value there)
This draft class really is loaded at wide receiver. Much like running back and edge rusher, there is a little something for everyone this year. Based on what we assume that the Bears will like to do, these seem like the best fits for them. I don’t see them drafting a receiver before their 4th round picks come up however, so that might take the DJs out of the equation.
If the Bears want to find a player to groom if they believe that eventually Cameron Meredith and Allen Robinson will be too expensive, then the middle of this year’s draft is the perfect place to look.