- Why would the Cowboys overpay for Amari Cooper? Perhaps they were looking at the 2019 draft class and didn’t like what they saw at receiver—scouts across the league feel the same way. A look at the top wideouts who could be available this spring. Also, a Notre Dame tight end with a chance to shine on Saturday
At face value, the Amari Cooper trade to Dallas confirmed the reality that Jon Gruden is rebuilding the Raiders, starting with a firesale. Yes, Oakland is tanking and the Cowboys are hurting for receivers, but this trade might say as much about the 2019 draft’s class of receivers as it does about either team.
Sending their 2019 first-round pick for the talented yet inconsistent Cooper is a sign that the Cowboys are taking a win-now approach in the wide-open NFC East. But it could also signal that Dallas doesn’t see a receiver in next spring’s draft whom they’d rather have than Cooper. The MMQB polled five team scouts who all agreed that there isn’t a stud receiver in the 2019 class, a second straight down year at the position. One evaluator (who doesn’t work for the Cowboys) believes the trade made sense because none of the draft’s receivers measure up to Cooper.
Ole Miss junior A.J. Brown’s name came up most often as the guy at the top of the 2019 receiver class. The 6' 1" receiver has a knack for making tough catches in traffic and has a good blend of size and speed. He has 60 catches for 805 yards through eight games this season and will take on an even bigger role in the offense now that sophomore receiver D.K. Metcalf is out for the season.
Some scouts think Metcalf has more ability than Brown, but the redshirt sophomore is now out for the season with a neck injury and seems more likely to return to Oxford for another season. Before his injury, the big-bodied Metcalf was having a standout season, and was considered likely to forego his junior and senior seasons for the NFL.
A few scouts voiced concern about drafting an Ole Miss receiver with a high pick, citing former Rebels star Laquon Treadwell’s struggles since Minnesota took him 23rd overall in 2016. Brown is a better athlete than Treadwell, but he doesn’t run a full route tree and Ole Miss receivers often get one-word playcalls, which is not a reality in the NFL. One scout said he didn’t subscribe to that theory, because all college offenses develop players for their system rather than for an NFL system—it’s up to NFL staffs to teach their material to their players.
Arizona State junior N’Keal Harry could end up being the first receiver off the board this spring. At 6' 4", he’s a big target who has been held under 60 receiving yards in a game only once this season. In Saturday’s win over USC, Harry made an acrobatic one-handed catch while falling backwards—he was almost completely horizontal when he stretched his arm back behind him to pluck the ball. That play showed off one of his strengths—the ability to consistently make difficult, contested catches downfield.
Oklahoma junior Marquise Brown is also in the first-round conversation. At 5' 10", he’s not as big as Harry or Brown, but he’s a skilled route runner and downfield threat, averaging 18.5 yards per catch with seven touchdowns this season. Buffalo senior Anthony Johnson is also garnering attention; he’s also been praised for his route running and is now averaging 21.0 yards per catch on the year after Tuesday night’s 238-yard, three-TD performance against Miami-Ohio.
Here are a couple other names and scouting reports that have come up in conversations with NFL scouts:
JJ Arcega Whiteside, Jr., Stanford: “He knows how to play big in the red zone and is a consistent mismatch in Pac-12. He also continues to improve as a technician and route runner and is not just a one-trick pony. Some may worry about his lack of elite speed, but he won't be asked to take the top off of NFL defenses so it is a bit unfair to crush him for that. Probably a second- or third-round guy.”
Deebo Samuel, Sr., South Carolina: “I would have maybe taken him in the late first round a year ago, but he's not been as good after the injury [Samuel broke his leg in September of 2017 and missed the rest of the season]. He’s been a little disappointing this year. Looks heavy. Not as dynamic. Has shown good playmaking ability over his career. Strong with ball in hands. Needs a good Senior Bowl.”
Kelvin Harmon, Jr., N.C. State: “He’s a big guy [6' 3", 215] and he’s got skills.”
Parris Campbell, Sr., Ohio State: “Great speed. Smooth and sudden, but has bad hands. He’s a great athlete, so he’ll probably be a second round or third round guy.”
Riley Ridley, Jr., and Mecole Hardman, Jr., Georgia: Ridley is the younger brother of Falcons 2018 first-round receiver Calvin Ridley. “Ridley is as talented as any of these guys, if he decides to come out. He just hasn't had a lot of opportunities because Georgia’s offense doesn't feature him. I also like Hardman. He is blazing fast but he’s small [5' 11"].”
Stanley Morgan, Sr., Nebraska: “Good sized kid, looks the part. Long arms equals big catch radius. High-cut frame, so longer legs. These guys usually aren't as good changing direction in a short area. More of a possession-type guy, short to intermediate range receiver. Better on routes on the move, linear/angle cuts than short space. Speed is above average, more build up than explosive vertical/home run threat. Strong and tough after the catch, can work middle and in a crowd. Probably a third rounder.”
Emanuel Hall, Sr. Missouri: “Been hurt for most of the year. Pretty much the opposite of Morgan. Good size, but strictly an outside, vertical threat guy. Has excellent speed, stretches the field easily. Raw route runner, doesn’t run a big route tree in this offense. Not as physical in terms of play style. Has more upside and immediate vision to contribute in a vertical/outside role in the league.”
SENIOR BOWL SCOUTING NOTEBOOK
Former longtime NFL scout and current Reese’s Senior Bowl Executive Director Jim Nagy shares the matchup he’s monitoring this week…
Notre Dame TE Alize Mack vs. Northwestern OLB Nate Hall
We picked this game for our matchup because in a weekend full of more nationally publicized games like Penn State at Michigan and Alabama at LSU, but this one between undefeated No. 3 Notre Dame and underrated Northwestern shouldn’t be overlooked. Pat Fitzgerald’s gritty Wildcats have already pulled off a pair of upset wins over ranked Big Ten teams at Ryan Field this season (Michigan State and Wisconsin) so we expect this game to be close.
Brian Kelly’s undefeated team is loaded with future NFL talent on the defensive side of the ball, with potential Senior Bowlers like defensive lineman Jerry Tillery and linebackers Drue Tranquill and Te’von Coney, but one player to keep an eye on when the Irish have the ball is tight end Alize Mack. Mack came to South Bend out of powerhouse Bishop Gorman High School in Las Vegas and after three years of very limited production he is finally starting to show why he was the consensus No. 1 rated TE in the country out of high school. After having only 32 catches his first three years, Mack is currently tied for third on the team with 27 receptions (for 250 yards) and the Irish offensive staff deserves credit for getting the tight end more involved in the passing game than the vast majority of college coaches do these days.
Similar to his counterpart in the matchup, it also took time for Northwestern outside linebacker Nate Hall to truly get rolling in Evanston. Coming off a pair of inconsistent seasons his first two years, Hall finally broke out as a junior with 16.5 TFL, which was good for second-most in the Big Ten a year ago. Unfortunately, Hall suffered a major setback during bowl prep last December when he sustained a torn ACL, however, the NFL scouts we have spoken with say he has bounced back well and shows no noticeable affects from the injury.
When you are watching this ESPN-aired game, focus on the pass game aspect of this matchup. One area where Mack will pose a mismatch problem for Hall is in sheer size. Based off the listed measurables, Mack (6' 5") has roughly a three-inch advantage over Hall (6' 2") and the size factor will critical down the middle of the field. Hall has enough straight-line speed to carry seam routes but Mack’s ability to extend and make contested catches make him a difficult assignment for any average-sized linebacker in man coverage.
From strictly a tools perspective, Mack is very intriguing to scouts because it is hard to find big-bodied pass catchers with his blend of size and athleticism. While he is more fluid and controlled than explosive or dynamic, Mack has everything required to be a good route runner at the tight end position—he has good feet and he can drop his weight at the top of routes. We expect Northwestern to play mostly zone concepts on Saturday.
WHAT I’M WATCHING THIS WEEKEND
All times Eastern…
No. 6 Georgia at No. 11 Kentucky, 3:30 (CBS): The rise of Kentucky football is one of my favorite storylines this season. The Wildcast are off a dramatic one-point win at Missouri, and Georgia is coming off a dominant win over Florida. The stakes are high—both teams are 5-1 in conference play and the SEC East title is on the line.
No. 3 Notre Dame at Northwestern, 7:15 p.m. (ESPN): Yes, my Wildcat bias is showing, but this will be a fun one. Undefeated Notre Dame has to keep the ball rolling to stay in College Football Playoff conversation, and the Wildcats are on a four-game winning streak. Do I smell an upset?
No. 14 Penn State at No. 4 Michigan, 3:45 (ESPN): No word on whether Michigan star defensive tackle Rashan Gary will be back from a shoulder injury. He has missed the entire month of October and there’s been speculation he could be pulling a Nick Bosa and saving himself for the NFL (his mother and his teammates have shot those rumors down). Though Michigan has a firm hold on the Big Ten East, this will be a competitive matchup.
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