Two receivers, two very different challenges in 2011

Michael Floyd (WR, Notre Dame) and Dwight Jones (WR, North Carolina) carried very different expectations heading into their junior seasons. Floyd was the big name remaining on Notre Dame’s offense after Jimmy Clausen and Golden Tate made the decision to turn pro. A lot of projections had him down as a potential top-15 pick with incredible physical qualities and decent 2009 production as a true sophomore despite injury problems during the season (795 yards, nine touchdowns). Brian Kelly was the new head coach and his spread system enabled Mardy Gilyard to thrive at Cincinnati with Tony Pike supplying the ammunition.

Jones on the other hand was a very different commodity. He had only five catches during his first two years with the Tar Heels for a grand total of 21 yards and zero touchdowns.

So why, twelve months on, is Jones among my top-50 prospects for 2012? Perhaps more importantly, why is Floyd absent from the list?

Let’s start at Notre Dame.

Generally speaking, Floyd didn’t have a poor 2010 in terms of the numbers. He reached 1025 yards and twelve scores which was an improvement on his first two years with the Fighting Irish. His average yardage per catch however dipped from 18-yards to 13 and the stats were padded somewhat by big performances against Western Michigan (157 yards, three touchdowns) and Tulsa (101 yards, two touchdowns).

Whenever I’ve watched Floyd I’ve always been left wanting more. Nobody can deny his obvious physical talent – he’s 6-3 and 227lbs with decent straight line speed. However, he doesn’t play up to those physical qualities. He’s not an aggressive player who makes the most of his size, his routes are often sloppy with a lack of explosion and he rarely extends his arms to complete a catch. Every now and again he makes a brilliant play that draws you in, such as this tip-toe’s grab against Stanford in 2009:

…But overall it just adds to the frustration of a player who promises so much and rarely delivers. If he really wanted to, Floyd could be great. Yet you see the general lethargy as he gets out of his breaks, the consistency with which he body catches the football and the general lack of explosion. Right now the best you can grade the guy is in the middle rounds as a complimentary possession receiver who generally runs a hitch or slant, but every know and again you can send him deep.

Everyone expected Floyd to declare for the 2011 draft and indeed for the most part it seemed like that would be the case. However, despite suggestions he has chose to return in order to complete his degree, I suspect the decision was largely based on unfavorable feedback on where he would be drafted. It certainly wouldn’t have been as high as perhaps Floyd expected.

Nevertheless, return he did with the task of getting his stock back on track and making the most of his physical gifts. So it was some surprise when it was revealed Floyd had been arrested on a drunk driving charge. He was more than twice over the legal Indiana limit with a blood-alcohol level of 0.19. Not the best way to show the doubters you warrant a higher grade and that 2011 is going to be your year.

Indeed it’s still unclear what his future will be. Floyd remains suspended by coach Brian Kelly, although he has worked through similar issues with Mardy Gilyard in the past. It seems likely that Floyd will return to the team eventually but he’s probably going into be in last chance saloon.

Teams love to draft receivers with size who can get down the field. Jonathan Baldwin maintained a place at the bottom of round one despite a lot of negative publicity leading up to the draft because he had size, made spectacular catches that negated the times when he switched off and of course he could run for a big guy. Floyd has a lot of work to do to have any hopes of going as early as Baldwin.

For highlights on his performance in the Sun Bowl against Miami, see the bottom of this piece. This was an odd game all round, I didn’t understand Miami’s coverage which often left Floyd in space or unchallenged. For two touchdown passes defensive backs tripped up or got in each other’s way. Floyd attempts an ill-advised one handed catch (and fails) which would’ve provided a third score.

In contrast, I graded Dwight Jones at #41 on my top-50 prospects for 2012 list.

His career at North Carolina was almost over before it began. He didn’t have the necessary academic credits and originally appeared destined to join little-known Valdosta State in Georgia. A bureaucratic error was eventually rectified and he was allowed to join the Tar Heels programme at the last minute. He didn’t feature at all as a freshman and some character concerns surfaced during his first year in the NCAA. Jones’ sophomore season also showed little promise, catching just five passes.

However, with several key UNC players missing through suspension in 2010, Jones had his opportunity. The team’s star receiver, Greg Little, didn’t play a single snap and his replacement took full advantage – recording 946 yards and four touchdowns.

It hinted towards the light finally switching on. Like Floyd, Jones is a physical specimen at 6-4, 220lbs but he has much greater deep speed and does a better job of creating separation. The thing that impresses me most about Jones is the way he adjusts to the ball, you don’t need to throw the perfect pass. There were times last year, such as the performance we see in the video below against Florida State, where Jones dominated and looked every part the high draft pick. He made the big plays, showed excellent hands and was explosive in a 223 yards, eight catch display. He also had 198 yards in a big win over Virginia. Consistency issues reigned supreme though and such dymanic displays were offset by one-catch peformances against Virginia Tech and Clemson.

He’s admitted consistency will be the key in 2011. You get the impression that while Floyd has to bounce back, Jones has momentum on his side. He’s already put the wheels in motion for improvement, he’s kept his head down and focused on the task in hand during spring camp.

The contrast between the pair goes beyond just that. Floyd is the storied five-star recruit who has warranted attention since year one at Notre Dame. He started his career with high expectations with the perfect introduction at a big school, but now he has to fight to justify the hype. Jones couldn’t have had a more different start to his college career, but right now his stock is on the rise. He needs to capitalise on that and keep improving.

This is potentially a very deep receiver group and depending on how things go this season, it may be one of the best we’ve seen in years. Mike Williams-clone Alshon Jeffery heads the class but it’s complimented by Jeff Fuller, Juron Criner, Justin Blackmon and Mohamed Sanu. The likes of Floyd, Jones and Arkansas’ Greg Childs will look to further enhance the depth on offer. At the moment, it’s Jones I’d back to claim that place as the #6 receiver on the board.


  1. Misfit74

    How do we explain Dwight Jones staying in school while others such as Nicks and Little have defected to the NFL? Is Jones a late-bloomer or a sub-par talent as relative to the other two I mentioned? It seems if Jones was that good, he would have declared by now.

    • Rob

      One year of inconsistent production is probably the reason. If he’d entered the 2011 draft he would’ve been a mid-late round pick because the body of work isn’t there. If he can have a 1000 yard season with 8-10 TD’s – something he’s more than capable of – he’ll be in a much better position on draft day.

      • Misfit74

        I can agree with that. A strong season could really improve his stock and we all know how popular bigger WRs are becoming. There could be a handful of guys over 6’3, 220 with quality skills drafted early in 2012.

        That’s exciting for us tired of watching the little guys get hurt all the time (see: DeSean Jackson, Deon Butler, etc.). Power receivers a la David Boston (sans steroids) are the rage. San Diego has been running that way for several seasons and guys like Fitz, Vincent Jackson, and Sid Rice have shown that size can beat coverage. Another reason I love watching our own Mike Williams – though I’d like to see him get more physical.

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