NFL Draft 2014: Highlighting This Year's Most Explosive Athletes
There are some things that cannot be taught to a player making the transition from college to the NFL. One of those things is the ability to be explosive.
Yes, there are many athletes with track-team speed looking to make a name for themselves in the NFL, but explosiveness goes beyond that. It is a player who can make that first move, someone who can evade a defender and somehow get into position before an opponent even knows what hit them.
These players can become, at worst, special teams aces, and, at best, dynamic playmakers that can change the course of a game for a team, and that's what gets them on this list.
While getting on this list is based on speed and playmaking ability primarily, the rankings themselves are based on where they are likely to go in the draft. I tried to provide a combination of high and low draft picks in order to better showcase the explosive players on all days of the draft.
7. Dri Archer, RB, Kent State
A combination of a lackluster senior season with 527 rushing yards, compared to 1,429 yards his junior year, and a lack of size, means that Archer could very well go undrafted.
Despite that possibility, that strikes me as unlikely due to Archer's explosive ability. He is quick enough that he can make waves at the scouting combine, and his versatility could be an advantage as well since he can line up at both running back and wide receiver.
What puts him on this list, however, is what he can do in the open field. He likely does not have the strength to overpower anyone, but if he is placed in a slot route or he's able to avoid being tackled, then he is a guy that can make things happen for an offense.
He is noted as someone who needs a good combine showing for scouts to take notice, according to Matt Murschel of the Orlando Journal-Sentinel, but if he is able to do that, then we could be looking at another Dexter McCluster in the league—someone that can be damaging to opposing defenses in spurts.
6. De'Anthony Thomas, RB, Oregon
Entering this past season De'Anthony Thomas was a player to watch, especially after Tavon Austin became a top-10 draft selection. So long as he was again productive, he could have followed suit.
Instead, injuries took a toll on him, and while Sports Illustrated's Chris Burke still notes that he can be a day-two selection, that may not happen, and it's still a far cry from where he was.
Despite a later selection that may have been in the cards earlier, Thomas is still a force, especially in the open field. He put up big numbers in his career at Oregon, is one of the fastest backs in the draft and he can blow past players.
If Darren Sproles can become a key part of the New Orleans Saints' offense, then I do not see why Thomas could not have an important role on an NFL offense. He is not going to be a featured back, but he would make a great change-of-pace option for any team with his playmaking ability.
5. Jason Verrett, CB, TCU
Cornerbacks are a position where you have to have a degree of explosiveness if you're going to be successful. You have to have a quick first step, and you have to be able to run alongside wide receivers and keep them from catching the ball.
Jason Verrett did just that during his time at TCU. His read and react ability is perhaps the best in the secondary class, and while he does not have blistering speed, he is quick enough to make reading the opposing offenses that much easier.
NFL.com's pre-combine scouting report notes that Verrett's instincts are great to go along with his ability, and while his lack of size and strength could hurt him, he has enough playmaking ability to make an impact in the NFL.
4. Brandin Cooks, WR, Oregon State
Brandin Cooks is the type of player that has risen up draft boards the more that he has been looked at. He has the numbers after a productive career at Oregon State and he has the speed to be a good receiver in the NFL.
The best part about Cooks' game is his footwork. According to Dane Brugler's scouting report at CBS Sports, Cooks is a "special athlete with explosive feet and natural burst...fluid body control with excellent start/stop move ."
He is the type of receiver who is able to rectify a lack of size by using his footwork to get opposing defenders to miss tackles, and by doing so he was able to be highly productive in college.
He is projected to go either in the late first round or the second round, and while he is not quite in the mold of Tavon Austin, he shares some of the same abilities in his footwork, and that explosiveness should make him a hot commodity.
3. Aaron Donald, DT, Pittsburgh
On the surface, this may seem like a preposterous idea. After all, how could a defensive tackle be one of the most explosive players in the draft, given that many are near or over the 300-pound mark?
This is true for some, but Aaron Donald is not simply some defensive tackle. He was one of the top defensive players in college football this past season, and his numbers, combined with a great Senior Bowl week, opened the eyes of scouts.
Rob Rang at CBS Sports says that Donald "comes off the snap like he's shot out of a cannon." That kind of explosive ability cannot be taught. If a defensive lineman can be that quick and break through the first level of the offensive line, then that makes things much tougher for a quarterback and it can drastically increase sack totals.
If he is able to continue his rise and have a good combine, he should have no difficulty being a first-round selection. With his quick first move, he would be able to make an easy transition to the pros.
2. Dee Ford, DE, Auburn
During Auburn's road through the SEC this past season, one player quickly made his presence known nationally after putting up big numbers for the Tigers his senior season.
Dee Ford is the type of player who can get an immediate edge on an offensive lineman, as he has a great first step. It's how he managed to hit double digits both in sacks and tackles for loss this past season.
After a great Senior Bowl week where he was generally accepted as the most dominant player, Ford's stock continued to rise thanks to his explosiveness off the snap, as well as an ability to quickly get to the quarterback.
He's fast enough that he could actually make the transition to outside linebacker, though his quick reaction time is strong enough that he may fit better where he is now. In either position, he knows how to quickly make plays for his team.
1. Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson
The cream of the crop at wide receiver, Sammy Watkins was a force during his time at Clemson. He had great seasons, but even when he wasn't at his best numbers-wise, he showed himself to be an explosive player.
Watkins is a guy who should have no trouble putting up good combine numbers given his speed and ability, but that's not what puts him at the top of the explosive list.
He fits the mold of a receiver with tremendous football speed as opposed to regular speed. On the field of play, route running means receivers have to stop swiftly at times and make sharp cuts other times.
Watkins is one of the best at this, and his ability to get away from defenders in this manner is what makes him explosive. He can turn short gains into long touchdown runs by making defenders miss, and he is the type of guy anyone would want on their team just from that ability alone.