Draft Focus: Scouting the top WRs
Heading into the 2017 Draft, the Ravens have a number of positions of need that they will likely look to address early in the first round. One of the more glaring needs is at WR and there are three highly rated prospects that could be on the board when the Ravens make their 16th overall selection. There has been a lot of discussion regarding how these prospects would fit with the Ravens, if they are worthy of selection at #16, and what their addition could potentially mean for the offense. I decided to go to the tape to get a good handle on what separates Mike Williams, Corey Davis and John Ross. Here are my observations:
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Mike Williams, Clemson #7
At one point Williams was the consensus WR1 in the draft, but questions about his speed and ability to separate from man coverage have led to him falling down the draft boards of some evaluators. I watched Williams in 4 different 2016 games and came away very impressed.
First and foremost Williams has elite size for a WR and he uses his build exceptionally well. In this first clip against Alabama in the National Championship Game, Williams runs a simple slant route that he converts for a first down on 3rd and short. What may seem like a simple throw and catch is made possible by how Williams uses his body to create space and seal off the defender. This is a skill that is not present in every WR’s toolbox and suggests he can be a go to guy on short yardage situations in the NFL.
In this next clip, Williams demonstrates what I think is his most defining characteristic as a WR, the ability to fight for and win in contested catch situations. It is true that he does not create separation on a regular basis, but the consistent ability to compete for and come down with the ball is incredibly important. In this play Williams actually has a half step on the CB, but the ball is slightly underthrown forcing him to adjust to the ball. Williams has no problem leaping over the defender to highpoint the ball and come down with the catch.
This is who Williams is. He’s not an explosive weapon at WR who is going to run past defenders with the ball or without it. He is however, a huge target with elite body control and ball skills who routinely makes catches of extreme difficulty look incredibly easy.
Corey Davis, Western Michigan #84
Davis has a similar build to Williams, and at first glance one may think they are similar receivers because of that. After watching their tape however, it becomes apparent that they are in fact very different players. I watched 4 games of Corey Davis, 3 in 2016 and 1 from 2015. I watched the 2015 game against Michigan State because I wanted to see him perform against a high level of competition and coming from a smaller school many of the teams he played were not highly talented. Similar to my impression after watching Mike Williams, Corey Davis was also highly impressive.
This first clip embodies what I think is the strength of Davis’ game. He is a very smooth athlete who is explosive with the ball in his hands. In this play, Davis makes a nice snag of the ball with his hands fully extended from his body and seamlessly turns upfield, showing off speed, agility and power in open space. His ability to make plays after the catch is phenomenal, but that’s not to say he can’t win in other ways as well.
Here, Davis shows off his speed and his ability to function as a deep threat. In tight man coverage, Davis gets a free release off the LOS and runs right past the CB who is in catch up mode right from the start. Davis tracks the ball well and comes down the deep completion down the sideline. This combination of size, speed, and ball skills would make Corey Davis a top prospect in any draft class.
John Ross, Washington #1
John Ross is an interesting case study of a player who was a dynamic talent in college, but mostly flew under the radar until he blew up the combine with a record 4.22 40 time. Some might say he is overhyped because of the speed, but there is more to his game than just being able to run fast in a straight line. I watched 4 games of Ross in 2016 and the speed is readily apparent as soon as you turn on the tape, but there is also nuance to his game.
This first clip is just one example of any number of times he simply runs right past a CB. The CB is beat off the snap and never has a chance without interfering with the receiver.
If Ross had a QB with a bigger/more accurate arm his stats would have increased significantly, but unfortunately he was routinely underthrown. Still he managed to put up a very impressive stat line, including 17 TDs in his 2016 campaign.
This second play highlights his quickness and route running. Although he is not able to make the TD catch on a ball that probably could have been caught, his ability to create space with his short area burst and suddenness translates well to the NFL.
The one knock I would give Ross stems from his lack of size. He doesn’t have the ability to fight for contested balls like Mike Williams and to a lesser extent Corey Davis. Ross also sometimes can get knocked off his routes and he doesn’t have the ability to consistently break tackles in the open field, which is an area where Davis excels. It’s also important to note that Ross has a very extensive injury history and it may be that concerns over his medical will push down his draft stock.
Overall, I think the Ravens would welcome any one of these playmaking WRs with the 16th pick in the draft. Each one has special attributes that will in my opinion translate very well to the NFL. Mike Williams is exceptional in contested situations and excels at using his large frame to create separation. He may not have top end speed, but he can win downfield because of his size and ball skills. Corey Davis has more vertical speed than Williams and has a smooth release off the LOS. He is also a very effective weapon with the ball in his hands that can take a crossing route or slant to the house if given an inch of space. John Ross is an incredibly smooth athlete with elite speed that leaves defensive backs in the dust. He is also probably the best route runner of the bunch, but his smaller size may limit his effectiveness in some situations.
If the Ravens are serious about adding an offensive weapon in the draft, one of these three WRs will fit the bill. I would personally give the slight nod to Williams because we have seen similar players like Alshon Jeffery and Mike Evans have immediate success in the NFL, and the Ravens receiving corps needs the guy who can make plays in tight coverage. That said, all three of these prospects are exceptional talents and would greatly improve the WR position for 2017 and beyond.