In this post I'm going to take a quick glance at two WR prospects that I like, Vandy's Jordan Matthews and LSU's Odell Beckham Jr. They both may be in play when we pick at 28 and they both bring their own strengths/weaknesses to the table.
First up is my second favorite WR in the draft, Jordan Matthews(after Sammy Watkins, who will most likely be long gone when we pick). Listed at 6'3" 205lbs he has good size, something that GM David Gettleman seems to be stressing and focusing on as he continues to mold the team in his vision. Matthews is a senior and is one of the most productive WRs in Vandy/SEC history. He has steadily improved each year suggesting that he has a good work ethic, and was a member of the National Honor Society while in high school. He seems to be the high character, hard working player that Jerry Richardson likes to bring in.
To start off, let's take a look at one of the main things that Matthews struggles with:
If I have one big concern about Matthews it would be his lack of elite footwork when making cuts/jukes, and a lack of elite acceleration. I think this is what is keeping him from being viewed in the class of WR as Sammy Watkins and Marqise Lee. At times he can be slow off the line, and if you expect him to break ankles like Allen Iverson you are in for a big letdown. He sometimes struggled to shed defenders off of the line against collegiate DB talent....that task gets harder as he transitions to the NFL, and it may limit him to being a very good #2 WR, instead of the #1 stud WR that we are all craving.
Let's take a look at a few examples against Florida:
On this play he tries to shake his defender off at the line by making a quick cut to the left, and then attempted to run around him towards the sideline on the way to the endzone. The defender was having none of that and was not phased in the slightest by Matthews' attempted tomfoolery. Matthews is not able to get open downfield, and in fact lets himself get driven out of bounds by the defender, negating a would-be TD catch(to be fair, the defender got away with a little bit of holding...but let 'em play, I say).
This time he is lined up on the other side of the field, against a different defender. He tries to do a little shake'n'bake stop'n'go route yet he didn't fool the defender at all. His lack of elite stop-start acceleration allows the defender to easily adjust his coverage, gain leverage and position on Matthews, and make a play on the ball to nearly intercept it. Again, a little bit of contact by the defender but good no-call I say, he was playing the ball in the air.
Another more minor gripe (and a more fixable gripe) is that his route-running, while certainly above average, can sometimes be a little lazy. I noticed that he sometimes rounds out his cuts a little too much which can be a problem in the NFL where the DBs are...ya know...a lot better. Get him some good NFL coaching and that can be improved.
Of course, lacking elite speed and acceleration isn't necessarily going to hold him back from being a stud in the pros. There are plenty of top-notch WRs that win due to size, awareness, the ability to catch in traffic, route-running, and jump-balls. Matthews possesses all of these skills. He might not be a guy who gets wide open all the time, but he will still move the chains and score TDs....even if he isn't technically "open". He is a versatile WR who ran a large route tree, regularly lining up on the outside and in the slot. One of my favorite things about him is that not only can he catch the ball, he can catch the ball in heavy traffic and isn't afraid to take a shot.
He makes a good catch across the middle of the field and holds on to the ball despite taking a hard hit. He makes catches like this quite often, willing to lay himself out to make the crucial catch.
Another thing that I noticed when watching his tape is that he may force a lot of defensive pass interference in the NFL. We all know that the NFL is flag-happy these days, rightly or wrongly. I noticed that because of his size, route-running, and catching ability many defenders resorted to making a lot of contact/holding onto Matthews to try and prevent a completion (most times the ball was completed anyway). Will this trend continue as he transitions into the NFL? Whichever team drafts him will hope that answer is "yes".
Odell Beckham Jr is another interesting prospect, and to me is basically the opposite of Jordan Matthews. Matthews is taller while Beckham is more on the shorter side (listed at 6' though he looks closer to 5'10" or 5'11" to me). While Matthews has solid hands and concentration Beckham needs to continue getting better at bringing in and securing the ball. I noticed some lapses in concentration that led to dropped passes/near turnovers. Where Matthews struggles with quick cuts and acceleration, Beckham shines. Beckham has great speed and can burn you deep if you let him get past you. In my opinion Matthews' route-running is also superior to Beckham's. I'd also argue that Beckham has more raw upside than Matthews...he needs to get better with some things but with some NFL coaching he could be very, very good.
On this play, a high-but-catchable pass hits him right in the hands and bounces to the turf, incomplete. These are catches that he will need to make as he transitions into the NFL.
While this isn't the best throw this is one that he should have come down with.
Of course, you don't put up nearly 1,200 yds and 8 TDs in the SEC if you can't catch at all. Here is an example of a fantastic catch by Odell:
In the end both of these WRs would look nice in a Panthers uniform, and they bring different strengths/weaknesses to the table. I'd argue that Matthews is a lower risk pick but may not have as much natural upside as Beckham. He lacks gamebreaking speed but will be a reliable chain-mover and redzone target. On the other hand Beckham is a bit riskier in my opinion, but he has the potential to develop into a DeSean Jackson-type WR...a speedster who can break your ankles with ease and break the game open. However, depending on his development, Beckham might not turn into a consistent WR...I think there is a chance that he peaks as a slightly better version of our very own Ted Ginn Jr. A speed demon that pulls out a big play every once in a while but not quite good enough to be a true stud in the NFL.
Either way I'd be fine with either of these two guys being the pick at 28 if they are still on the board.
For further reading on Jordan Matthews, check out CSR's Derek Leazer's review HERE.