SI 64: No. 9: Louisville WR DeVante Parker
With the 2015 NFL draft fast approaching, it’s time for all 32 NFL teams to start getting their draft boards in order and ranking players based on their own preferences. At SI, it’s time for us to do that as well. To that end, Doug Farrar and Chris Burke have assembled their own definitive Big Board, consisting of the players they feel deserve to be selected in the first two rounds.
Louisville's DeVante Parker is being mentioned alongside Amari Cooper and Kevin White as this draft's top receivers, all worthy of being in the top-10 discussion. How high can Parker climb come Round 1?
Bio: Before he became the Vikings' new franchise quarterback, Teddy Bridgewater threw for a combined 7,618 yards in 2012–13 as a Louisville Cardinal. Around 21% of that total came via DeVante Parker, who thrived as Bridgewater's go-to option in the passing game.
Somewhat amazingly, Parker was just as productive overall last season, despite missing Louisville's first seven games due to a broken foot and with Bridgewater off enjoying the NFL life. Parker's 2014 totals, in just six games: 43 catches for 855 yards and five touchdowns. He topped the 100-yard receiving mark in five of those contests, including a brilliant 214-yard effort (on 26.8 yards per catch) against Florida State.
"He's definitely a good receiver," said Florida State cornerback P.J. Williams (who's ranked No. 20 in the SI 64), whom Parker named as the best DB he played against in college. "He's a big receiver and he's quick off the line, and that causes problems."
Parker, a Louisville native, finished his career with 33 receiving touchdowns, tied for the most all-time in program history. His 10 touchdowns and 18.6 yards per catch in 2012 led the Big East; last year, after the Cardinals moved to the ACC, Parker finished behind only Phillip Dorsett and DeAndre Smelter in the yards-per-catch category. Could a reunion with Bridgewater await in the NFL? Minnesota holds the 11th-overall pick in Round 1 and, in theory, could use a potential No. 1 receiver.
"It'd be a good thing," Parker said of teaming with Bridgewater again. "We have a good connection with each other because we played together for about three years. That'd be a good thing if I went there."
Strengths: Thanks to his body control in the air, the 6'3" Parker makes catches on which other receivers would not even come close. He said he first realized he could be that sort of weapon for a passing attack during his freshman year: "Somebody threw me a high pass and I just went up and got. That's when I became known [for that] in practice."
It's also as much a reason as any that Bridgewater and Louisville's group of 2014 quarterbacks leaned on Parker so much—he is always available as an option, even when covered. Parker also shows awareness for developing plays, seeking out open space to present himself as a target. His height, length and 36.5-inch vertical all work to Parker's advantage on jump-ball situations, but he is just as likely to make a grab over the middle and turn upfield for yardage.
"It's just God-given talent," Parker said. "He just blessed me with the ability to outrun the defenders and to be able to catch the ball."
How reliable is Parker? Since the 2012 season, he has been chalked up for just three drops—over that same timespan Parker made 138 catches.
Weaknesses: Not many, although his rather lanky frame could leave him susceptible to jams from stronger, more compact NFL cornerbacks. Once Parker makes it into the open field, any questions about his strength disappear, but he even talked at the combine about how important it is for him to get off the line.
"You can't get jammed or anything," Parker said, "because if you get jammed it's gonna mess up the timing with you and the quarterback. So you've gotta get a clean release."
His 4.45-second 40 time is right in line with what many of this year's receiver prospects hit, and he plays fast with the ball in his hands. Still, that doesn't put Parker in the "elite speed" category. Add in a need for refinement in his route-running and, well, there is a reason Parker has to make so many tough catches: He does not always show the ability to leave a defender in his wake prior to a pass being thrown.
The foot injury, which required surgery, no doubt forced teams to dig into his health more than Parker would have liked. Parker was gangbusters upon his return, but another, similar setback could have a long-lasting effect on his explosiveness.
Conclusion: The smart money is on Amari Cooper or Kevin White to be the first receiver off the board in Round 1. Consider Parker a darkhorse for that honor, and close to a lock for a top-20 selection. He was as good as any receiver in college football over his final six games last season, ending with a three-touchdown regular-season finale against Kentucky and a 120-yard showing vs. Georgia in the Belk Bowl.
Parker plays both stronger and faster than he looks, repeatedly winning battles for receptions. And he is a threat to take one the distance whenever he makes a grab in space.
Any team drafting a receiver with a high first-round pick has to believe that player can be a leader in their offense. Parker is capable of just that, perhaps even as a rookie.