Since Notre Dame’s pro day, there has been plenty of talk surrounding Michael Floyd and his rising draft stocl. While Floyd is seemingly secure in being no less than the second receiver off the board on NFL draft day, there’s been at least some talk that he may have even overtaken Justin Blackmon as this year’s top receiver. A draft duel of Blackmon vs. Floyd has merit but, in the end, it’s far too easy to predict the fallout that I would receive for even suggesting a selection of Floyd over Blackmon. On nearly every board, Blackmon is the clear choice and, it’s a choice I agree with.
Originally, this duel was planned between the aforementioned Michael Floyd and Baylor’s Kendall Wright. Circumstances and pro days taken into consideration leads me to believe that Floyd is cemented into his position as the second receiver off the board and the real battle is between Wright and Georgia Tech’s man of mystery, Stephen Hill.
Age: 22 (11/12/89)
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Baylor’s Kendall Wright is a high risk, high reward player who is likely going to hear his name called in the bottom third of the first round of the NFL draft. After watching extensive tape on Wright, he’s a difficult player to peg relating to ultimate potential success at the next level. As often as his dynamic and confident play style shows through, so too does a certain level of “rawness” and undisciplined play. However, there’s no doubting or second guessing his play making ability when he puts it all together.
In fantasy, receivers are the undoing of many a coach holding relatively high draft picks. Because of the learning curve attached to the position and the sheer amount of chemistry that must be formed with a quarterback over a long period of time, most rookie wide receivers never pan out. Outside of the first five picks of the NFL draft, a selection of a wide receiver usually ends up as a wasted pick.
Identifying the traits of successful NFL receivers is an important exercise and Wright has many of those things we look for. He is undersized, but reminds me a lot of Percy Harvin, a similarly sized, yet dynamic receiver with a relatively thick build. Wright has the ability to get into his breaks quickly, does a nice job of squaring to the ball prior to the reception and quickly turns and reaches top speed. He’s particularly elusive and dynamic within the short to short-intermediate passes where he can work in space or generate agility-created separation.
Wright is a fierce competitor with toughness to match. He has rare leaping ability which allows him to outplay larger cornerbacks for jump balls or higher-point receptions. He climbs the ladder extremely effectively and shows relatively soft hands in traffic. On the move, he normally snatches the ball well away from his body with fluidity and confidence. He has elite short area quickness and lateral agility to match.
Wright has a tendency to lose focus and fights his hands on occasion, which has resulted in drops. As often as he snatches the ball away from his frame, he tends to allow balls thrown within his frame to reach his body. He doesn’t play overly physical off the line of scrimmage and in the NFL, more physical corners will try to negate his agility by physically pressing and jamming him off the line. He also has a tendency to be loose on his routes and rely on his speed and agility to find open space, rather than make crisp breaks and cuts. Long speed is somewhat in question as he did not run as well as expected at the combine. At Baylor’s pro day, Wright did improve his time and it’s generally understood that he does player faster than his timed forty. As noted previously, Wright’s best dynamic is seen in short and intermediate routes where he’s able to use his elite lateral agility to create separation. One fact not often mentioned about Wright is that his hands are small, which is the likely cause for many of his hand eye reception issues; small hands simply don’t allow for a large error margin when tracking a ball that can’t be squared up to.
Production wise, Wright was all-world for the Bears in 2011. Notching over 100 receptions for 1,663 yards and 14 touchdowns, he sent his stock soaring at the most opportune time. In each of his four years at Baylor, he improved on his previous year’s statistics and has likely solidified his spot as a first day selection.
Age: 20 (4/25/91)
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Somehow it seems unfair to compare an ever-improving and maturing player like Kendall Wright to that of a relatively unknown NFL Combine workout-warrior like Stephen Hill. After all, Hill’s TOTAL collegiate receptions (49) falls one short of Wright’s freshman year total of 50. However, when you have a receiver put together to the same degree, physically, as many of the top NFL wideouts and blow up the NFL combine with the cameras rolling, it can happen.
At 6’4″ tall and 215 pounds, many comparisons are already being made to a former Georgia Tech receiver who has achieved NFL greatness, Calvin Johnson. Playing in a gimmicky offense that doesn’t tend to be overly friendly to its receivers, players must make the most of their opportunities, whenever/however they come. While Hill’s reception totals were anything but impressive, his yards per receptions in 2011 were a gawdy 29.3. During his senior year, Hill rushed out to a quick start with four touchdowns in his first four games, but was held scoreless over the remaining regular season. What’s more is that over his final eight games, he notched only twelve total receptions. Stephen Hill simply all but disappeared from the offense.
Looking at what there is offered for us to judge Hill’s game, it’s obvious that he has rare athleticism and size that is difficult to match up against. He’s a long strider, but confident with the ball away from his frame. He has the ability to come down with ridiculous catches due to relatively large and soft hands. He all jumped 39.5″ in the vertical, good for fourth best at his position. Once beyond the last defender with the ball in the air, it’s likely game over. Due to his long strides and his size, his speed is deceptive and he doesn’t look like a sub-4.40 forty runner. Size, speed and hands remind me a lot of both Calvin Johnson and fellow Tech receiver Demaryius Thomas. Hill is a willing blocker, but not overly adept from what I have been able to see. Given his size and willingness, this very well will improve at the next level.
On the negative side, Hill is essentially a complete unknown, productivity-wise. If not for a lights out combine performance, he would have been destined for a fourth or fifth round selection with NFL clubs unwilling to take earlier risk. He’s is a bit stiff on underneath duties and in Tech’s system, was primarily used in vertical routes. His route tree is very limited at this point in his development and he’ll need time to learn the nuances of the position on a stage where the learning curve will be extremely steep and unforgiving. Football IQ will be a significant question mark due to lack of experience.
Stephen Hill is as interesting a wideout as we’ve had recently. It’s not out of the realm of possibility that he sneaks into the bottom of the first round to a team already mature at the position, but needing youth and upside. More than likely, Hill will be selected after Baylor’s Kendall Wright and could even fall behind LSU’s Rueben Randle. For fantasy coaches needing a receiver help, he’s as boom-or-bust of a pick as you can get. Ultra-high risk, but with ultra-high rewards a possibility. Caveat emptor!
If there was ever a need for a crystal ball, I can think of no better time to use it than now. I like to choose these duels based on the difficulty of making a decision. I’ve learned over the years there’s even more entertainment and strategic interest involved when the two players are extremely divergent in skill-set. Kendall Wright vs. Stephen Hill presents interesting issues on both sides of the discussion that will likely incite emotional responses – at least I’m prepared for it.
When looking for receivers outside the top five NFL draft selections (read that as players who are more likely to bust), I need an undeniable dynamic that brings me some level of comfort, something tangible to grab onto. History has shown that it’s not often that you find NFL success combined with collegiate anonymity. Kendall Wright’s production is just too notable to not weigh heavily in this decision. His confidence, agility and production all combined likely make for the more rational choice.
Unfortunately (and you knew that was coming), wrapped into that production and obvious skill set is the fact he’s an undersized receiver with small hands. Beyond that, there’s something about his level of confidence that rubs me the wrong way. Elite collegiate receivers that are quickly shown the difference in speed and physicality of the NFL game, when combined with an overly-expressive confidence style often times don’t mix well. Whether Wright can become the next Percy Harvin or Steve Smith (CAR) is yet to be seen, but the odds are not stacked in his favor. Smallish wide receivers with noteworthy collegiate careers are a dime a dozen.
In the end, when it comes to selecting fantasy receivers, I tend to stick with a recipe I believe in. Moderate or pedestrian fantasy production from the receiver position doesn’t often lead to fantasy championships. When looking at the top fantasy receivers, you see names such as Calvin Johnson, Larry Fitzgerald, Andre Johnson, A.J. Green, Roddy White and Hakeem Nicks. Even the past legends of fantasy such as Randy Moss and Terrell Owens have the same make up. Quite simply put, size and speed are your best bets at fantasy prominence at the receiver position. Go big, or go home.
It’s far from an apples to apples comparison and my decision could be swayed based on their drafted situation. If I have a late first round draft selection at this point and have my choice between Kendall Wright and Stephen Hill, I’ll be selecting Stephen Hill.