Few players came into the 2014 NFL Scouting Combine with more attention than Sammy Watkins, but another wide receiver from Clemson stole the show when wide receivers took the field to work out Sunday morning.
Martavis Bryant tied for the fifth-fastest time among all receivers when the 6’4”, 211-pound wideout officially rank a 4.42-second 40-yard dash Sunday, according to NFL.com.
Bryant isn’t nearly as complete of a wide receiver as Watkins, and it would be a big surprise if he ended up as a first-round pick, whereas Watkins is considered to be among the elite prospects in this year’s NFL draft class.
Nonetheless, the combination of size and speed Bryant proved at the combine will attract the attention of NFL scouts—if he didn’t have it already.
In a 2013 season in which Watkins caught 101 passes for 1,464 yards and 12 touchdowns, Bryant was overshadowed. Still, Bryant was a major deep threat for the Tigers this past season, catching 42 balls for 848 yards and seven touchdowns.
Few players actually run as fast as they do at the combine when they are in pads, but Bryant’s 40 time is no fluke. He showed on a number of occasions in 2013 that he could burn opposing defenses with his ability to run deep, such as he did when he torched multiple defensive backs for a 76-yard touchdown against Georgia Tech in November. (See the 1:06 mark in the following Draft Breakdown video.)
There’s no shortage of fast wideouts in this year’s draft class, but what makes Bryant’s potential special is the size he combines with that speed.
While his gait alone is sometimes enough to separate from defensive backs downfield, he can also make plays above them when he is unable to break away from coverage. Combining his height with great leaping ability—he had a 39-inch vertical jump, tied for sixth-best among wide receivers Sunday—Bryant can out-jump defensive backs as he did on the following touchdown catch against NC State.
Bryant has the strength to hold up against contact from defenders, and he made no shortage of spectacular catches in 2013, including a remarkable touchdown reception against Ohio State in the Orange Bowl, as can be seen at the 3:10 mark in the following Draft Breakdown cut-up.
The biggest concern with Bryant is one that often seems to plague players who are best known for spectacular catches. As Greg Peshek of Second Round Stats noted on Twitter, Bryant doesn’t always haul in the grabs that should be easy.
Bryant has all the physical tools to succeed, but his concentration as a pass-catcher needs to improve. While he should bring some immediate big-play ability to an NFL offense, he will need to prove he can be consistent and reliable to earn a starting role.
Additionally, Bryant needs to prove he can be more than just a straight-line weapon.
While his size and speed will make him a tough matchup for any cornerback, he did not show much route-running diversity at Clemson. Furthermore, he might be overly reliant on his speed, as he does not show much ability to make defenders miss in space.
Where Should Bryant Be Drafted?
Bryant’s ability to shoot up the draft board is somewhat limited by a talent-laden wide-receiver class with double-digit players at the position vying for potential first- and second-round draft selections. Still, players with his measurables always have the chance for soaring stocks, even with the deficiencies that Bryant has in his game.
He seemingly did nothing but help himself at the combine, also putting up 16 repetitions of 225 pounds in the bench press while performing fairly well in the route-running and pass-catching drills.
If he becomes an early-round pick, he wouldn’t be the first to do so after emerging from Watkins’ shadow. DeAndre Hopkins was often overshadowed by Watkins in the final two seasons of his Clemson career, yet still went with the No. 27 overall pick in the 2013 draft.
That said, Hopkins was a far more polished receiver coming out of Clemson, who combined good measurables with great hands, defined route-running ability and an 82-reception, 1,405-yard, 18-touchdown junior season.
Bryant is more likely to be a third- or fourth-round pick, based off his potential more than his collegiate production. During Sunday morning’s workouts, he drew comparisons to a former Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver who was selected in the third round of the 2005 NFL draft.
Dan Hope is an NFL/NFL draft Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report.