The draft season has been kind to few receivers. Pick a random receiver’s name out of a hat, and you’ll likely find their physical traits lacking in several areas. Few were more disheartening than DeMarcus Ayers, a talent whom I had pegged as a potentially dangerous slot weapon following an electric junior season for the Houston Cougars. While I knew Ayers was not an explosive athlete, a 4.72 forty yard dash at 5’9”, 182 to go along with a modest 33” vertical is just another strike against a diminutive receiver with only one season of production. Let’s dive right into the spider chart, courtesy of mockdraftable.com.
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This is a pretty sad graph, and the top matches include perennial All-Pros Sherrod Gideon, Steve Savory, and Syndric Steptoe. The most encouraging comparable is likely Davone Bess, who at least carved out a role as a short-term slot guy and PPR asset. Small, athletically limited players have certainly thrived if they’re incredibly skilled elsewhere but the early deck is stacked against Ayers, even though we didn’t get to see him go through a full workout at the Combine. Let’s hop over to see what PlayerProfiler.com has to say about him.
If possible, this paints an even bleaker picture. While the comparison to Jeremy Kerley is somewhat optimistic given he was at least a roster worthy player for dynasty owners, you have to wonder how much he was propped up by Houston’s offense. Did he really make monumental strides as a receiver, or did the situation around him improve so much he was elevated by his teammates?
Despite many red flags, I am not completely dismissing Ayers as a late round rookie flyer. The Cougars utilized him in a variety of different ways and his game is not predicated on elite long speed so much as it is quick cuts and toughness over the middle. Those two traits can net you some traction in the league even if you’re lacking in other departments. I know the dangers of highlight tapes, but let’s pop one on to see what he does well.
Firstly and most importantly, he enters the stadium with swagger. He’s rolling in undeterred by any outside factors and oozing with confidence. Once the game tape rolls, a few things stand out. For starters, it is painfully obvious he is not a high level athlete. He struggles to separate from second-tier defenders and is undersized even by AAC standards. His burst after the catch is pedestrian and he’s not going to be using his physicality to bully his way for extra yards.
On the flip side, while he is not exactly a supreme quick twitch athlete, he uses his feet and body very well to make defenders miss after the catch. He can square his shoulders and quickly shimmy from side to side while keeping his balance and generating forward momentum. This offers hope he can do damage inside the hashes as he takes on safeties or linebackers dropping into coverage. He’s also pretty fearless over the middle, demonstrating a willingness to mix it up underneath and lock horns with defenders at the catch point. Many slot receivers stick around in the league thanks to sheer toughness and determination and they’re skills Ayers shows in spades. If he is going to find a home at the NFL level, it will be these two traits which carry the day.
I have been forced to cool on the overall wares of DeMarcus Ayers. I liked him whenever I got a chance to catch a Houston game in 2015. He was a do-everything talent capable of being an excellent safety valve over the middle and someone I thought had more potential outside than met the eye. While I don’t lend a ton of credence to athletic profiles for wide receivers, you still need a baseline of athletic prowess and he falls woefully short there.
I am not bailing on him completely; I am just resetting my expectations. As opposed to late day two/early day three selection, he is looking more likely to be a late round/UDFA type which decreases the odds of success significantly. However, throw him a developmental role or stash him on the practice squad and I see him having the potential to net short-term returns. His grit should allow him to at least have an opportunity on special teams if he can learn the nuances of the kick games. He contributed to the return game in college, though I don’t see him being a great fit as the athletic dial is turned up. I am not going out of my way to select Ayers in rookie drafts, but assuming the draft or undrafted free agency interest in him is anything north of nill, I wouldn’t be opposed to securing him with one of my last rookie picks.
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