Finding the Best Fits for the Fastest Players in 2014 NFL Draft
In the NFL, speed kills. Speed is one of the only attributes that can't be taught. A player either has it or he doesn't. Teams not only want players that will make noteworthy plays, but athletes that will make the plays at a record pace.
However, the fastest players don't always end up with the perfect organization. Finding the right fit is half the battle. For guys to fully unleash their speed and maximize their potential, they have to get drafted by a team that will utilize them correctly.
The bad news is that doesn't always happen, as sometimes teams love a player so much they seem to disregard how well he fits into their system. Let's take a look at some of the fastest players in the 2014 NFL draft and examine the best fits for each player.
All combine results courtesy of NFL.com's results tracker.
Dri Archer, RB/WR, Kent State
It only makes sense to start with the fastest player at the NFL Scouting Combine. Kent State running back Dri Archer turned heads and challenged Chris Johnson’s 4.24-second 40-yard dash time when he ran an eye-opening 4.26-second 40-yard dash on his first attempt.
While Archer’s blazing speed is impressive in shorts, there’s no question he’s a bit of a tweener on the football field. At 5’7”, he struggles to consistently break tackles and pick up yards after contact. This will be concerning to more than a few NFL teams based on the fact the league’s best tailbacks find a way to extend plays and fight for extra yards.
The second thing teams will be concerned about is Archer’s position in the NFL. Will he be a running back, wide receiver or a return man? That’s the million-dollar question surrounding his draft stock. Bleacher Report's Matt Miller compared the 173-pound speedster to Kansas City Chiefs wide receiver Dexter McCluster (see above video).
McCluster hasn’t exactly taken the league by storm over the course of his four-year career, which could potentially hurt Archer on draft day. As it stands right now, Miller has the redshirt senior as his 34th-best wide receiver on his post-combine big board.
Best Fits: New York Jets, Green Bay Packers, New Orleans Saints, Houston Texans, Denver Broncos
Brandin Cooks, WR, Oregon State
Since Archer worked out as a running back at the NFL Scouting Combine, let’s move on to the fastest pure wide receiver in the year’s draft class. Oregon State’s Brandin Cooks may remind a lot of people of St. Louis Rams wide receiver Tavon Austin, but to scouts and media members alike, he is a more physical version of last year’s first-round pick.
The first-team All-Pac-12 member was one of the most dangerous pass-catchers in 2013. He tallied 128 receptions, 1,730 yards receiving, 217 yards rushing and 18 total touchdowns. Furthermore, his 16 receiving touchdowns were the second-most receiving touchdowns in all of college football.
His junior season statistics have draft evaluators comparing him to Tennessee Titans wide receiver Kendall Wright. This is a very good comparison, considering Cooks' playmaking ability. Like Wright, he also plays well in space and picks up big chunks of yards after the catch.
Cooks' lone downfall is his inability to beat press-man coverage, which is why his offensive coordinator in the NFL has to do him a favor and keep him off the line of scrimmage. Brendan Leister of DraftBrowns.com believes Cooks would have a ton of success as a flanker or in the slot off the line.
According to the National Football Post, Cooks is the fifth-best receiver in this year’s class, and it awarded him with a plus-6.7 grade. That is the same grade it granted USC wide receiver Marqise Lee and LSU wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr.
Best Fits: San Francisco 49ers, New Orleans Saints, Cleveland Browns, San Diego Chargers, Kansas City Chiefs
Jason Verrett, CB, TCU
Prior to the NFL Scouting Combine, TCU cornerback Jason Verrett noted that his draft status would be all about his speed. “Teams just want to see me run,” he said, per SI.com, “So my main priority is just working on my 40 [yard-dash time].”
Even though Verrett wasn’t the fastest corner at the combine, his 4.38-second 40-yard dash and 4.0-second 20-yard shuttle times were inspiring nonetheless. Todd McShay of ESPN (subscription required) now has the former TCU ball hawk going in the first round to the San Diego Chargers.
McShay previously mocked Oklahoma State cornerback Justin Gilbert to the Chargers before the combine. Obviously, there’s no guarantee Verrett lands in San Diego, yet his strong performance in front of NFL scouts helped him jump up draft boards.
In Matt Miller’s post-combine mock draft, he has Verrett as the third cornerback off the board:
Verrett has the toughness and ball skills to be a very good outside cornerback in the NFL. He's quick and rangy and shows the instincts to get in place to make big plays. He finds the ball well and has the tools to excel in man or zone coverage.
Very few corners come into the league poised to excel in man or zone coverage, so it is safe to say Verrett will have plenty of suitors on draft day. The only thing that could possibly hold him back is his impending shoulder surgery.
Per Mike Huguenin of NFL.com, Verrett is getting ready to undergo surgery to repair a torn labrum.
Best Fits: Cincinnati Bengals, San Diego Chargers, Chicago Bears, St. Louis Rams, Carolina Panthers, New England Patriots, San Francisco 49ers, Dallas Cowboys
Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina
The fastest pass-rusher in the draft needs no introduction. South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney has been the consensus No. 1 defensive prospect for quite some time now. A handful of people have even pegged the 266-pound monster as a “once-in-a-decade” player.
That is extremely high praise when you look at all the quality talent in the NFL, yet Clowney truly is a once-in-decade-type player. In addition to amassing highlight-reel plays on a weekly basis, the pass-rushing phenomenon has dominant size, active hands, raw power, strong pursuit skills and elite speed.
Here’s what one NFL executive told Daniel Jeremiah of NFL.com, when Jeremiah asked him if Clowney was the best defender in college football he had seen over the last decade:
Yes. I have him over Von Miller, (Ndamukong) Suh, (Darrelle) Revis and Mario Williams. He has size, speed, rare athletic ability, flexibility and explosion. He's a dominating player vs. the run and pass.
What team couldn’t use one of the most heralded prospects in draft history? Even though Clowney may not end up being the No. 1 overall pick in May’s draft, he should be. He’s too good of a player to pass up, and there isn’t a quarterback in this year's class who is a can’t-miss prospect.
Defensive players don't necessarily win Super Bowls, yet it never hurts to have a game-changing player who can single-handedly effect the outcome of a particular game.
Best Fits: All 32 teams
Martavis Bryant, WR, Clemson
Sammy Watkins is the Clemson wide receiver getting all the predraft buzz, yet that doesn’t mean he should be the only Clemson pass-catcher people should be talking about. Why? Because Martavis Bryant proved at the combine and all throughout the season that he has all the necessary tools to be a force.
Amid his junior season in 2013, Bryant averaged 19.7 yards per catch, scored 17 touchdowns and garnered an All-ACC Honorable Mention selection. His uptick in production from Year 2 to Year 3 had scouts intrigued, but it was his 4.42-second 40-yard dash time that officially put him on the map.
No, Bryant didn’t run the fastest 40 time, but it was the fastest for a wide receiver who measured in at over 6’3” tall. NFL executives love the combination of size and speed, which is why the long-strider has enormous potential at the next level.
He won’t fill a need for every team, based on the fact he has limited experience and drops too many easy passes; however, Bryant would be a perfect fit for an offense that is looking for a red-zone threat who does a nice job of positioning himself to go up for jump balls in coverage.
Currently, CBS Sports views Bryant as a second- or third-round pick and has him as its 13th-best wide receiver. Draft analyst Dane Brugler compared him to New York Jets wide receiver Stephen Hill, but to me he offers more upside than Hill.
With the proper coaching, Bryant could easily develop into a quality possession receiver. Nonetheless, until he fully develops, he will rely on his speed and jump-ball ability in the red zone.
Best Fits: Miami Dolphins, Detroit Lions, New York Giants, Philadelphia Eagles, San Francisco 49ers, Seattle Seahawks, Pittsburgh Steelers
Terrence Brooks, FS, Florida State
Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and Calvin Pryor have been the talk of this year’s safety class because of their enforcer style of play and playmaking ability. Nonetheless, there is one free safety who has recently been labeled as a “fast-riser” since the combine concluded on Feb. 25.
Florida State free safety Terrence Brooks caught the eye of talent evaluators when he ran a 4.42-second 40-yard dash. The time ended up being a bit of a surprise, considering his lack of speed on tape. During his final collegiate season, he often won in the open field by playing the correct angles.
He rarely chased ball-carriers down from behind, so his speed often came into question. Clearly, there is a big difference between short-area speed and deep speed, which is why his superb 40 time may not sway teams into drafting him.
Then again, his 40 time could easily change the minds of NFL teams that question his speed. After the combine came to a close, Mel Kiper Jr. and Todd McShay put together a list of their top risers and top fallers, and surprisingly enough, Brooks was one of the four names mentioned as a riser, via Andrea Adelson of ESPN.com.
His poor hands and small frame will undoubtedly turn some teams off. Yet, I wouldn’t be shocked if a front office staff gambled and selected Brooks on Day 2 of the draft. His closing speed and instincts have helped him draw comparisons to former Detroit Lions safety Louis Delmas.
Best Fits: Dallas Cowboys, Miami Dolphins, Buffalo Bills, Philadelphia Eagles, Chicago Bears, Washington Redskins, Atlanta Falcons, Minnesota Vikings, Oakland Raiders, Green Bay Packers