So far in this series we’ve looked at Matt Barkley and Landry Jones (courtesy of game tape supplied by Draft Breakdown). The next four 2012 prospects in focus will all be wide receivers, starting with Alshon Jeffery (South Carolina) and moving on to Jeff Fuller (Texas A&M), Ryan Broyles (Oklahoma) and Justin Blackmon (Oklahoma State).
Jeffery is a true junior with 2280 yards and 15 touchdowns already in credit. He enjoyed a productive freshman season (763 yards, six scores) and really burst onto the scene as a sophomore in 2010 (1517 yards, nine TD’s). At 6-3, 233lbs he’s very much in the Mike Williams category of receiver and will draw some comparisons to Jonathan Baldwin (drafted 26th overall by Kansas City this year). Jeffery has benefited from a potent setup at South Carolina. Stephen Garcia is a capable quarterback and Marcus Lattimore’s 1197-17 touchdown freshman campaign added elite rushing skills to an already thriving offense.
The similarities between Baldwin and Jeffery may grow depending on the fate of the aforementioned Garcia. He’s currently suspended after yet another off the field incident and there’s some talk his days as the Gamecock’s signal caller are over. If they’re forced to turn to less experienced sophomore QB Connor Shaw, it could spell trouble for both Jeffery and Lattimore. Ask anyone who followed Pittsburgh last year for the evidence.
With Bill Stull at quarterback – a capable if not explosive college player who eventually went undrafted in 2010 – Baldwin recorded 1111 yards with eight touchdowns in 2009. When Stull moved on the Panthers transitioned to sophomore Tito Sunseri who was anything but consistent. Productive games against Rutgers and West Virginia were offset by poor displays against Miami and Kentucky. Baldwin’s production took a major hit, dropping to 822 yards and just five touchdowns, despite catching only four fewer passes in 2010.
The end product was a player who entered the year as a possible top-15 prospect and went into the draft with some touting a fall into round three. Kansas City took a chance on the big body that could move and flashed explosive talent, but a few eyebrows were raised when he went at #26.
As I hinted earlier, it wasn’t just Baldwin that suffered. Dion Lewis went from a 1799 yard rusher with 17-touchdowns to a struggling running back who scraped to 1061 yards in 2010 with four less touchdowns. There were other mitigating factors in Pittsburgh that contributed to a disappointing season last year, but there’s no doubt what so ever that inconsistent and inexperienced quarterback play hampered the teams’ skill players.
If Garcia is out in South Carolina, that could hurt Lattimore (who won’t be available for the draft until 2013) and Jeffery’s production in a similar fashion. Last week ESPN’s Todd McShay paired the big receiver with Seattle in his early 2012 mock draft at #7 overall. Jeffery’s certainly capable of going in that range but he’ll need to maintain the same kind of production witnessed during his excellent sophomore year.
So what’s to like? He gets separation despite lacking an explosive first step or brilliant deep speed. He is fluid into his breaks and he’s shown the ability to make big time catches away from his body – that’s absolutely key when judging these big name receivers. There are one too many body-catches, but you expect to see that because not every player is going to be Michael Crabtree in that regard. You can toss the ball up in his general direction and he’ll go up and get the football. He’s not going to beat anyone deep with pure speed, but he’ll be a great red zone target.
He looks a notch slower than Jonathan Baldwin on his deep routes but he makes up for it with much greater control and awareness, especially when he leaps for the football and extends those long arms. Look at the way he gets open on the second touchdown against Alabama – that’s the kind of thing teams want to see from a guy who won’t run in the 4.4’s.
You can see in several instances where Garcia was willing to take a shot at throwing into tight windows, trusting his receiver to make a play. There’s also the odd spectacular play, such as the stunning one-handed grab against Alabama with Dre Kirkpatrick (another possible top-15 pick next year) draped all over him. That kind of quality will boost his stock and make up for the lack of elite deep speed. He’s not going to be Julio Jones – who ran in the 4.3’s to match the size and ended up in the top-ten. I’m not convinced that even with another year of great production Jeffery can go in that range. He’s very much in that 10-25 area for me as we shift attention to the 2011 college season.
However, if I’ve spent a lot of money on a young franchise quarterback and I’m looking for a safety net to make life easy then I’m less concerned about the speed and more concerned about how Jeffery absolutely fits the bill. I’m not entirely sure why McShay paired Jeffery with Seattle because ultimately the Seahawks already have this type of player on the roster. At the end of the day, what use are two big bodied receivers when the only contracted quarterback currently on the team’s roster is Charlie Whitehurst? His contract is also up after 2011 and if Seattle does own yet another top-ten pick next year, you have to believe quarterback comes first. In McShay’s mock, Landry Jones is still on the board.