Wide receiver is one of those odd positions where no team ever has enough of them, but there is no irrefutable evidence that talented receivers make the overall impact to justify a huge investment at the position. The reality is, wide receiver by its nature is all about the eye of the beholder that seeks out and judges the talent. It is a position whose success is highly dependent upon the scheme, the quarterback, and the skill set of the player.
Due to all of these factors, the NFL has a diverse history of successful receiver talents with significantly different backgrounds and skill sets. What is most important in finding receivers, is identifying the traits that you deem are most important to the scheme that will be installed. For me, I tend to prefer receivers that are precise route runners that understand what the defense is doing everywhere on the field at any given time. Others may prefer a physical boundary type skill set to emphasize the vertical game. Another may desire a size/speed combination that can create vertical mismatches. What is critical for coaches and talent evaluators is ensuring the players they add are compatible with the very specific job they will be asked to do.
Going into 2018 the Oakland Raiders will have Amari Cooper and Jordy Nelson as their top two targets. Seth Roberts is the current number three and he has gone from darling to scapegoat. The question for the Raiders is not if they will add more receiving talent, but rather what kind of receiving talent. With that in mind, let us take a look at this receiving class.
The Value Guy
Keke Coutee, WR, TTU
5’11″, 180 pounds
30 games, 159 rec, 2424 yds, 17 touchdowns
It seems every year the Red Raiders have some big name from their offense that the scouting community must assess. Last year it was Pat Mahomes who became the darling of the Twitter scouts and he ended up going to the Chiefs after a big trade up. Personally, I remain skeptical of Mahomes and I remain skeptical of Keke Coutee as well. For nearly a decade the Red Raiders have failed to produce any significant offensive talent regardless of the huge numbers the school’s offense puts up year after year. The lone exception has been Michael Crabtree.
Coutee profiles as a slot receiver in both stature and skill set. With a combination of 4.43 forty yard dash speed and an explosive lower body, Coutee has the basics to be a dynamic vertical threat. What makes him an intriguing prospect is his ability to create separation whether it is on a deep route or after a hard cut in a post or dig. One issue for him is his lack of game experience. With only 30 games under his belt it could be a rocky transition in year one and maybe year two, but as he learns what NFL defenses are doing he can become highly effective.
Overall, he definitely fits a skill set that Gruden would find valuable. The issue at hand is whether or not he would have the understanding and initial football IQ to avoid getting buried on Gruden’s depth chart. Grabbing this guy in the mid rounds could be a real value add, especially for the long-term planning.
Honorable Mention: Jaleel Scott
The Enigma Guy
Deon Cain, WR, Clemson
6’2″, 202 pounds
40 games, 130 rec, 2040 yds, 20 touchdowns
A consistent theme with “Enigma” players in the VEGAS Archives is inconsistency year to year, especially when the player is expected to make a significant jump. Coming into this season scouts anticipated that Cain would take over the number one receiver duties for Mike Williams and continue the tradition of size/speed combination success stories at Clemson. After only producing 10 more yards, but four more touchdowns than last year, there is a worry that Cain will not be able to handle being a focus of a defense.
Unlike past years, this draft will likely only have one player who ends up being considered a number one type receiver. My concern for a player like Cain is whether or not he has already hit his ceiling because he is too dependent upon his physical traits rather than learning how to be a better receiver. What to love about Cain is his physical stature and style. He does remind one of Sammy Watkins a little bit due to his ability to attack the ball.
Overall Cain projects to being a boundary type receiver that can develop his vertical route tree and take advantage of his size downfield. His skill set could absolutely be used very successfully by Jon Gruden even if he is not as versatile as Amari Cooper or even Jordy Nelson. By isolating him on the boundary in three-wide receiver formations, it allows Gruden to play all sorts of route games with Cooper and Nelson.
Honorable Mention: Antonio Callaway
The GIF Guy
Courtland Sutton, WR, SMU
6’3″, 218 pounds
40 games, 195 rec, 3220 yards, 31 touchdowns
Any time you get a chance to watch a physically dominant player against sub-par competition it is a joy to watch. Sutton is no different and watching him simply abuse smaller defensive backs is borderline comical. At 6’3 and a yoked 195 pounds, Sutton just looks bigger and badder than anybody he went up against.
Sutton is the classic example of how a physical receiver needs to dominate down the field. He is not the greatest route runner and he does not create much separation because of that. On the other hand, Sutton does not need much separation to catch the ball. He is a willing receiver over the middle and can stand up to those big shots.
The best comparison for him would be a Dez Bryant/Michael Irvin type skill set. He is a guy that you will isolate against the boundary and allow him to attack the defensive backs. The biggest issue for him will be his lack of vertical speed. Because he does not necessarily stretch the defense on his own, cornerbacks will squat on routes and look to jump shorter ones. This can cause turnover, but on the same token with his size, he could always cause a smaller cornerback to simply bounce right off of him. His particular skill set is likely the least appealing to Gruden and I do not think the Raiders would be interested in grabbing him in late round one.
Honorable Mention: Equanimeous St Brown
The Anderson Guy
Braxton Berrios, WR, Miami
5’9″, 184 pounds
46 games, 100 rec, 1175 yds, 14 touchdowns
Every person reading this will see the size and speed of this guy and immediately think of a small white Patriots receiver. Well, go ahead because that is about as perfect of a comparison as you will find for this guy. As I said at the beginning of this piece, the most important trait for a receiver to me is the route running. Berrios does that as well as anyone in this draft. What I like most about Berrios is his brain. This is a guy who was told by people that he was not smart enough to have a real major such as finance, and in four years he has graduated with a 3.9-grade point average on a finance/entrepreneurship double major.
Berrios is more than capable of running every route and playing every receiver spot. He also came up with a ton of clutch catches for the Hurricanes in this season while also adding some feisty return yards on special teams. For a coach like Gruden that made popular the term “Gruden’s Grinders”, this is the ideal “no-nonsense” guy who will bust his butt for everything he gets in the NFL.
The Raiders are loaded with picks in both rounds five and six which is right where Berrios should go in this draft. Berrios is one of the few guys I think could walk into camp in July and not be completely overwhelmed with the route concepts and assignments. Add to that his special teams’ value and you have the making of an immediate contributor that could develop quickly into the Raiders’ third receiver and be there for a long time.
Honorable Mention: Anthony Miller
The Stud Guy
Calvin Ridley, WR, Alabama
6’0″, 189 pounds
44 games, 224 rec, 2781 yds, 19 touchdowns
Debates rage on Twitter this time of year regarding who should be considered the best at this position or that position. Many people I interact with regularly have tried convincing me that Ridley is not the best receiver in this draft. I cannot and will not under any circumstances agree with that sentiment and it is not close. Yes, this is to some extent skewed by my personal preference in skill sets. More than that, Ridley has over forty games of experience in one of the most professional college programs in the entire NCAA, and he produced significant numbers year after year.
The more I have considered different ways the first round can play out, the more receptive I have become in regards to trading down and snagging Ridley in the middle of round one. It would give the Raiders an incredible trio of receiving talent along with a long-term plan for a consistent duo heading into the future. Some will say that Ridley will never be more than a solid number two, I not only disagree with that sentiment, but I also do not care. Ridley in conjunction with Amari Cooper would give the Raiders a versatile duo reminiscent of Brown and Rice.
As badly as I want to see a top defensive talent added to the Raiders in round one, especially Derwin James or Minkah Fitzpatrick, I would wholeheartedly support a trade down/Ridley selection for the Raiders. I will leave you with this final request to consider before you write a comment telling me how dumb it is for the Raiders to take Ridley in round one. Go watch how Ridley sets up and manipulates the defender with his routes when he makes a cut. It is the sudden burst and small details that Ridley has shown a knack for, which is what makes him such an impressive prospect.
Follow me on Twitter @holistic_pickle
For a podcast on current events find @PlzSpeakUp on Twitter