There isn’t a lot in Allen Lazard’s profile to get excited about. At Iowa State, he played for one of the least intriguing Power 5 programs in the country; just one active NFL player (the otherworldly Kelechi Osemele) has been taken in the NFL Draft’s first four rounds after playing for the Cyclones. Of course, compared to other draft prospects, Lazard hasn’t been able to do much to help his case: His stats are good, not great, and his play style is far from dazzling. It’s clear that he doesn’t thrill the dynasty community, either. DLF’s rookie rankings slot him in at 37th overall, a late third-rounder or early fourth-rounder in rookie drafts.
As you can see on the rankings page, I think the consensus has overreacted to that lack of first-glance appeal. To me, he more than makes up for it with rock-solid reliability as one of the class’s best possession receivers.
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Statistics from sports-reference.com.
What Lazard lacks in eye-popping single-season numbers, he makes up for in years of steady production and proven ability. He’s spent the last three years simply leading ISU in receptions, receiving yards, and receiving touchdowns, and he finished second on the team in all three categories in his freshman year. That’s nice.
As can be seen in his year-to-year reception and yards-per-reception numbers, his role has hardly changed over time. The Cyclones found their go-to chain mover early on and have stuck to their guns. The end result? The Big 12’s ninth-highest career receiving yardage total.
Generally, I’d prefer to include a single game in this section, but given the general ennui that surrounds him, I figured that it’s best to show that there are, indeed, spectacular elements to Allen Lazard’s game. Most notably, he is one of the class’s biggest receivers, with top-end height and build. He puts that size to good use both before the quarterback has released the ball and while the ball is in the air.
The Cyclone’s impressive ball skills are his most apparent talent at first glance of his tape. He has the requisite level of body control to make rotating catches over defenders on sideline fades, paired with an ideal propensity to catch with his hands. His vertical jump ranked in the 81st percentile of receivers, and that explosiveness shows up when he combines it with his height to make catches on overthrown passes. He isn’t the most nimble guy (we’ll get to that in a bit), but he turns up the precision when working at the sidelines (his concentration is there too). Further adding to his catch radius, he’s got the bend needed to contort his body on inaccurate targets. Superior strength enables him to gain strong positioning at contested catch points.
More subtly, Lazard is a surprisingly-good route runner. With dominant cut strength, he knows that despite a relative deficiency in agility, he can gain an edge before the ball is in the air by muscling his defenders. Of course, strength alone won’t get him open, and so uses proper route-running technique to take care of that. Precise cutting allows him to open small windows in congested areas. He gains inside separation by fooling corners with outside releases and following with an inside turn and push. Head fakes and concerted efforts to drop his hips allow him to execute double moves that most 6’3”-plus receivers can’t pull off. He wastes no time identifying, getting to, and sitting in holes in zone defenses.
However, all these small pluses merely work as ways for him to clear the hurdles of mediocre quickness and agility. At about 6’4.5”, he is surprisingly quick… but that’s relative. He can look awkward running simple routes at times, not because his technique isn’t sound, but because sometimes it’s hard to stay in control when you’re a big dude running fast.
The good news, there, is that he can run fast (I’m looking at you, Auden Tate). A 4.55 40 yard dash time won’t blow anyone away, but it’s good enough. In today’s NFL, it’s just as important to be multi-faceted as it is to be strong at any one skill. Thus, Lazard will make money in the NFL with his size and ball skills, but his good-enough footwork and solid route running are just as important. Putting that all together, he shapes out as a reliable high-floor, low-ceiling possession receiver and red zone target — who can take games over when he needs to.
We’ve worked around Lazard’s measurables already, but for such a size-dependent receiver, they’re worth a second look. As can be seen in his measurement web, his height and weight are, indeed, elite. Beyond that, his wingspan and vertical jump stretch his catch radius even further. A strong bench press mark supports the notion that he has ideal play strength as well.
As I’ve mentioned already, possession receivers aren’t the most fun guys to have in your lineup, at least to me. But, that doesn’t make them any less valuable. While Lazard won’t be the best possession receiver, it’s hard to see him being a bad one. Installed into the correct offense as a reliable number two or three, he could put up WR2 numbers in PPR leagues.
After the top 10 rookie receivers, owners will have to look for limited-dimension role players who fall into an ideal system, with both opportunity and proper use. Lazard fills such a role pretty well, so he currently fits in as my twelfth-ranked receiver. Depending on how you perceive positional values and the rest of the rookie class, that could make him a late-second-rounder (as he is for me) or a mid-third-rounder (as he is for Travis May). The two of us are higher on him than any other DLF rankers, which means (if you like my reasoning, at least) that there’s serious opportunity for owners to mine value out of Lazard in the third and fourth rounds in rookie drafts.
For many reasons (boring school, good-not-great stats, and lackluster play style), Allen Lazard has flown too far under the radar. He provides real value to NFL teams as a big guy with enough all-around talent to be a legitimate possession receiver. Currently slotted around names like Dante Pettis and Josh Allen, he won’t be the most fun player to pick right now, but is just as likely (if not more) to provide meaningful production to owners in September.
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