Wide Receivers Shine at Texas vs. the Nation Practices
The 2013 NFL Draft already has an embarrassment of riches at the wide receiver position. Judging by the performance of the wideouts at this week's Texas vs. the Nation all-star game, that overabundance will extend well into the third day of the draft and even to the group of undrafted free agents. Each squad features multiple receivers who displayed NFL quality talent in some aspect of their game during the week of practices. Who are the names to know from the list of prospects who are trying to impress pro scouts in Allen, Texas this week?
TJ Moe, Missouri—Moe's game was very reminiscent of a wide receiver I watched at this game in 2008—former Texas Tech Red Raider Danny Amendola. Blaine Gabbert's favorite target in 2010 does everything with great intent and precision. His breaks and variation of speed in his routes create easy separation, and Moe had the most reliable hands of any receiver in Allen this week.
Moe has better size (5'11 1/4", 201 lbs.) than Amendola, and he might be a little faster than the current NFL free agent, too. Amendola went undrafted, but with the increasing value of slot receivers in a pass-happy league, Moe should hear his name called on the third day of the draft.
DeVonte Christopher, Utah—Christopher's production dropped off this season, but he showed the skills that made him Utah's leading receiver in 2011. His ability to create separation with sudden and smooth moves in his routes was easy to see, even during Tuesday's cramped indoor practice. He left many a defensive back flatfooted, and Christopher's double move was as polished as a beloved Corvette.
Christopher's natural body control was apparent when he adjusted to the ball in flight. He did leave you wanting more consistency, especially in the areas of hands and focus, but it's clear that he can get open at will against this level of competition. He should get into a camp and at least secure a spot on a practice squad.
Kenbrell Thompkins, Cincinnati—Thompkins and Christopher have a lot in common. Their frames (Thompkins 6'1", 194, Christopher 6'0", 192) and ability to create separation with a variety of moves and quickness made them indistinguishable at times. Thompkins is better at elevating and snatching the ball out of the air at its highest point with full extension, but like Christopher, he was prone to the occasional concentration lapse and bad drop.
It's going to be hard for Thompkins to get drafted, as one anonymous scout told Tony Wiltshire of BillsDraft.com that he had the receiver graded as a "reject" because of character concerns, but he could impress if he can get his foot in the door with a club this summer.
Ryan Spadola, Lehigh—Spadola wasn't carving pinpoint routes and stopping on a dime like Moe. He wasn't leaving defensive backs grasping at air with quick-twitch moves like Christopher and Thompkins. Yet, there he was, open at the end of most of his routes, and doing the best job of any Nation wide receiver at getting open deep. Spadola won't win any beauty contests, but if he can contribute on special teams, he might hang around the league and impress if injuries ahead of him on the depth chart create an opportunity for playing time.
Justin Brown, Oklahoma—Brown didn't play at Oklahoma until this season. He transferred from Penn State in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky scandal, and filled an important role providing veteran leadership and steady play for the Sooners. His big frame (6'3", 207) and ability to make catches outside of that frame will certainly draw interest from the NFL.
Brown's ball skills were excellent, with accurate leap timing and soft hands to finish plays, even when he had to go up for a contested ball. He's not a sudden or fast receiver, but Brown could be a viable red zone target and possession receiver in three and four-wide sets in the pros.
Uzoma Nwachukwu, Texas A&M—If you're looking for a speed merchant out of this game, Nwachukwu is your man. If he was even with a defensive back, then he was leavin'. Only Dax Swanson of Sam Houston State had the footwork to mirror Nwachukwu. The rest of the Texas defensive backs were powerless to stop Nwachukwu from getting open downfield. He was also able to use the threat that his speed presented to create a lot of room on short and intermediate routes with an excellent throttle down.
Nwachukwu's hands and field awareness did leave something to be desired, and sometimes he was too far downfield too quickly for the poor Texas quarterback group to give him a chance to make a play on the ball. It was still obvious that his raw physical talent could make Nwachukwu the gem of the receiver group in a game filled with potential diamonds in the rough.
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