Breaking Down the New York Jets' First Round WR Options in the 2014 Draft

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Breaking Down the New York Jets' First Round WR Options in the 2014 Draft
USA TODAY Sports

One would be hard-pressed to find an NFL team more in need of talent at the receiver position than the New York Jets.

Santonio Holmes has yet to turn in a season that even slightly resembles the 2010 campaign that landed him a massive contract, while Stephen Hill is one more "dud" season away from having the "bust" label attached to him. Only slot receiver Jeremy Kerley has proved himself to be a worthwhile commodity.

The Jets are so thin at the position that even if they make a few big acquisitions in free agency, using a few high draft picks on the position would not be out of the question.

If the Jets intend on using their top pick on a receiver, they are in luck—this year's first round is littered with top talent that can make an impact on day one. The question the Jets must answer is what flavor of receiver do they want, as each prospect brings to the table a unique style to playing the position. 

 

Marqise Lee, USC

One of the most dominant receivers in the country in 2012 (1,721 yards, 118 receptions), expectations were sky-high for Marqise Lee headed into this season. However, a lingering knee injury doused Lee's hopes of maintaining his status as the country's best wide receiver, as he totaled nearly 1,000 fewer yards on roughly half of the number of receptions.

Despite his disappointing production in his junior season, Lee is still an incredibly talented prospect who will be a massive upgrade over anyone currently on the Jets roster. 

 

Strengths

When watching Lee play, it is evident that he is a much more fluid athlete than everyone else on the field. He has incredible balance and acceleration that allow him to turn a five-yard slant into a big play.

On this play (starting at the 3:27 mark), Lee turns a short slant route into a about a 20-yard gain.

Because of his tremendous lateral agility, Lee is able to change direction on a dime. He then is able to accelerate quickly enough to beat the cornerback to the edge and secure the first down (and then some).

The key to this play is the plant foot he uses when making his cut after the catch. While the cornerback is still trying to get his bearings to keep up with Lee, he is already headed in the completely opposite direction.

DraftBreakdown.com

Lee is a physically talented player, but that does not mean that he does not have some technical route-running ability. Here, he sets up the cornerback perfectly with his hips, selling the "go" route but cutting inward quickly enough to get a tremendous amount of separation:

DraftBreakdown.com

 

Weaknesses

The further down the field Lee gets from the line of scrimmage, the more issues there are with his game.

The biggest knock on Lee is that in 2013, the vast majority of his production came on short routes and bubble screens. Here is a chart of the percentages of Lee's receptions, as calculated by Greg Peshek of Rotoworld.com:

Marqise Lee Completion Locations
Distance Percentage
Screen 19.3
1-5 yards 29.82
6-10 yards 26.32
11-20 yards 21.05
20+ yards 3.51

Rotoworld

As you can see, the vast majority of his production came on short and intermediate completions. Over 96 percent of Lee's yardage were gained on throws that were less than 20 yards. For comparison, over 25 percent of the receiving yardage gained by Texas A&M's Mike Evans and Florida State's Kelvin Benjamin came on throws over 20 yards.

Some of this is a result of USC's stagnant offense and poor quarterback play, but Lee also has work to do with tracking deep passes and making catches on contested balls, especially deep downfield.

 

Fit with the Jets

Lee is a flawed prospect, but his flaws still allow him to fit into the Jets up-and-down offense like a long-lost puzzle piece. At times, the Jets were an explosive team, utilizing the deep pass to generate offense. 

Where they struggled was in maintaining drives between the 20s—which is exactly where a player like Lee could come in and contribute immediately. Ideally, Lee can turn out to be the player the Jets were hoping Santonio Holmes could be.

Pro Comparison: Santonio Holmes

 

Mike Evans, Texas A&M

Johnny Manziel's favorite target has a unique style that is almost the complete opposite of Marqise Lee. Instead of "winning" by shaking defenders and getting open, Evans excels at coming down with contested catches, overwhelming pass defenders in the process.

Lee may not generate a ton of huge plays downfield, but he will make Geno Smith's life a lot easier by giving him an open receiver on more plays than not.

In a modern NFL that features as much man-to-man coverage as ever, receivers who can come down with the football with defenders draped all over them are becoming more and more valued.

But are Evans' strengths enough to overcome his inability to consistently separate from defensive backs?

 

Strengths

At 6'5", 225 pounds, there are few defensive backs in the NFL who can match up physically with Mike Evans. What makes him even more dangerous is that he knows how to use that immense size to his advantage. 

Evans is an extremely physical receiver with tremendous body control. His hands latch on to any ball that comes his way, and he can torque his body to make mid-air adjustments that result in spectacular grabs. 

On this play, Evans uses his physicality and strength to get around the LSU cornerback (which technically may have been offensive interference, but he is subtle enough about it to not get called). 

DraftBreakdown.com

With a burst of speed, Evans flies by the defensive back to get an enormous amount of separation. Manziel missed on the throw, but Evans did more than enough to give his quarterback a target.

DraftBreakdown.com

A few plays later, he takes out his frustration by making a catch like this, moments after being illegally shoved out of bounds:

DraftBreakdown.com

 

Weaknesses

As good as Evans is at running by cornerbacks and coming down with contested catches on the sideline, he is a bit one-dimensional in that he relies too much on his size and strength. He does not separate well on simpler routes.

On this play, he is unable to shake the coverage from the undersized Duke defender. He rounds off his turn far too much, allowing the Duke cornerback to keep pace with Evans easily. 

DraftBreakdown.com

This is the territory that comes with Evans. His size is a tremendous asset in certain situations, but it also hampers him from being able to make sharp cuts because of his higher center of gravity. 

 

Fit with the Jets

There is no question that Evans would give the Jets a boost to their passing attack, but they may run into many of the same problems they have had with Stephen Hill. Evans is stronger and more technically sound than Hill, but neither of them can separate with any kind of consistency.

Evans may be able to develop his route-running skills in the NFL, but initially, his role will be somewhat limited in the NFL to being a downfield and red-zone target.

Pro Comparison: Sidney Rice

 

Odell Beckham Jr., LSU

Right in the middle of the two opposite ends of the receiver spectrum (Lee and Evans) is LSU receiver Odell Beckham Jr. 

The 5'11" Beckham is nowhere near as big as Evans and is not quite as fluid of an athlete as Lee, but he has a unique skill set that blends the talents of Lee and Evans to make for one of the best receiver prospects in this class. 

 

Strengths

Beckham Jr. is a superior route-runner who times his jumps as well as anyone, which is exemplified on this one spectacular deep catch. 

He sets up the cornerback perfectly with a triple move, to get a step of separation. To the cornerback's credit, he plays the situation rather well, staying within striking distance of Beckham.

DraftBreakdown.com

Beckham finishes the play by making a spectacular catch on a well-thrown ball from quarterback Zach Mettenberger, overcoming his height disadvantage by timing his jump perfectly and making the catch away from his body, using his hands. 

DraftBreakdown.com

Beckham may be a small receiver, but he certainly does not play like one. He has the best body control of any receiver in this class and enough balance and explosiveness to be a terror after the catch.

 

Weaknesses

Unfortunately, Beckham's Achilles' heel is something he has no control over—his height. At 5'11", he will struggle to make the same spectacular catches in the NFL against bigger, more physical defensive backs. 

There is also some legitimate concern about his top-end speed. Beckham can accelerate and cut easily, but he won't win many footraces at the next level. In the NFL, there will be instances in which he wins the battle at the line of scrimmage but fails to maintain his separation because of his somewhat average speed. 

There is also room for Beckham to get a bit stronger. At 193 pounds, he may struggle at the next level to beat press coverage off the line of scrimmage.

 

Fit with the Jets

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Because of his diverse skill set, there is no way that Beckham would be anything but a massive upgrade to the Jets' receiving corps. However, there are a few holes in his game that make it difficult to determine whether or not he can be the same type of player in the professional ranks that he was in college. 

Beckham plays as if he were a No. 1 receiver, but his size and speed may suggest otherwise when it comes to his role and his ability to perform in the NFL.

No one will fault a team for drafting Beckham in the first round, but they may not be getting the same player that was so dominant in college.

Pro Comparison: Golden Tate

 

In truth, there is not much separating these three wide receivers in terms of overall talent. All of them would be well worth the 18th overall pick—the Jets need to decide which type of receiver would be the best fit for their offense and develop into the superior player over the long haul.

More than anything, the biggest factor that will go in to whom the Jets ultimately draft with their first-round pick will be how the board shakes out. General manager John Idzik will likely have a decent selection of receiver prospects to choose from in the middle of the first round, but he must be prepared to make a tough choice if multiple players worthy of the selection are available.

Hitting on the right receiver with their first pick will put the Jets offense on the fast track to success. 

 

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