Though there may have been more physically gifted wide receivers than LSU's Brandon LaFell in the 2010 NFL draft there was nobody who embodied the hard nosed Carolina Panther spirit. When Carolina selected LaFell with the 78th pick in the draft I was ecstatic. Prior to the draft this is what I wrote about LaFell:
"Brandon LaFell, WR- LSU: Tough, strong WR who uses his body better than any WR in the draft. Does not have game breaking speed and may be destined to be a career #2, but he's a #2 who a team will have for a long time.
Arrelious Benn may be a better instinctual blocker, but LaFell is a harder working one. Not afraid to lay his body on the line he has a Hines Ward-esque love for blocking that will hopefully translate to the next level. Needs to work on his hands and route running. Lower ceiling, but more of a ‘sure thing' than other receivers in the draft.
Highest pick: 36 overall to Kansas City
Lowest pick: 67 overall to Tampa Bay"
More after the jump
The biggest problem I see with WRs in the NFL is a high level of self worth and oftentimes a lack of humility and work ethic; neither is a problem for Brandon LaFell. He was not a highly touted prospect out of high school, but he was a very hard worker with an almost unstoppable motor. He resembles Muhsin Muhammad not only in how he plays the game, but his 'do everything' attitude. Prior to the draft he unfairly gained a reputation for being a 'prima donna' however, much like the Panthers' first selection Jimmy Clausen there doesn't seem to be any evidence indicating this is the case
Here are some analysts talking about LaFell, first from scout.com
Talented receiver with great hands and breakaway speed ... One of the most productive receivers in school history with 118 career receptions for 1,725 yards and 14 touchdowns ... Ranks just out of the LSU career top 10 in receptions, yards, and touchdowns ... Led LSU in receiving yards in both 2007 and 2008 ... Has caught at least one pass in 28 straight games, a streak that dates back to the Sugar Bowl win over Notre Dame during the 2006 season.
I don't see the ‘breakaway speed' but I love that he's one of LSU's top receivers ever. I see where the Dwayne Bowe Comparisons come in.
Russ Lande of Sporting News:
LaFell is a solid prospect but lacks the explosiveness and elite speed that separate the elite big receivers from good ones. He is a safe pick in the middle of the second round who projects as a good starter.
Middle of the second? Sounds like a steal in the middle of the third round!
Finally, Yahoo sports which sees LaFell as more than a #2 receiver:
A big, well-built receiver, LaFell knows how to extend his arms and pluck the ball away from his body. He's also a load to bring down after the catch. Possesses impressive body control and coordination and is reliably able to adjust to poorly thrown balls. LaFell, however, loses his concentration at times and drops some very catchable passes. Latching onto corners and angling them out of the play, he works hard as a blocker. Gets into his routes quickly and has the balance and footwork to sharply snap off routes and separate from his man. Lines up a lot in the slot and looks most natural working the middle of the field. Knows how to set up corners and is very effective planting his foot in the ground and getting up to speed quickly down the field. Accelerating well out of his breaks, LaFell can consistently create separation against man coverage. Possesses only average deep speed but has the ability to threaten NFL corners down the field. He's a big, smooth route runner who has the makings of a No. 1 wideout in the NFL, but he will put the ball on the ground.
Upside: B LaFell's game easily translates to the NFL and with a professional strength and conditioning program he should be able to enhance his physical characteristics. I don't believe LaFell is an A grade for upside, solely because he's more NFL ready, but has a lower ceiling than other QBs from the 2010 draft. If he is able to make his cuts and route running more crisp he will vastly improve his role in the Carolina offense and could potentially be Steve Smith's successor when the time comes, but it will require a lot of work on LaFell's part to run routes well enough to overcome his lack of top level speed.
Downside: B There is less risk in LaFell being a bust compared to say, Arrelious Benn, Damian Williams or Golden Tate who rely on their speed to burn DBs more than their work ethic. LaFell could have issues losing NFL DBs, particularily in press coverage as he doesn't have the speed or elusiveness to burn opposing DBs, so in worst case scenario we have a big, strong, possession #3 receiver.
Fit: A+ There was no WR in the 2010 draft who was a better fit for the Carolina Panthers. While I understand and appreciate the desire to have Golden Tate his selection would have risked the Panthers passing game becoming too one dimensional with two elusive YAC type receivers. Furthermore, in blocking there's no comparison. He fits the Carolina Panthers' meltality very well.
Summary: The Panthers made a fantastic pick in selecting Brandon LaFell in the 3rd round. He easily had 2rd round talent but much like Jimmy Clausen, slipped for no good reason. Many teams were overlooking the crop of wide receivers in favor of filling needs in the trenches. Comparing LaFell to Muhsin Muhammad is an easy one, because right now they look like very similar receivers, and they are. Where Moose is a better route runner, LaFell uses his body better- here's hoping that the maturation of Brandon LaFell helps to groom him as the #2 receiver for a long, long time.
I will leave you with this video. You can look up any WR prospect and find an impressive reel of catches and touchdowns but you can't find a video like this of a receiver influencing a game through blocking alone, and that's what I look forward to with LaFell's days in Carolina.