The 2015 receiver draft class is looking to replicate the historic success of the preceding 2014 class, which featured stars such as Sammy Watkins, Mike Evans and Odell Beckham Jr. But the talented group of rookies last season was as top-heavy as it was deep. Receivers Jarvis Landry, Davante Adams and Martavis Bryant were productive in their first season despite being put into situations with other playmakers around them.
As the NFL keeps finding quality receivers deeper in the draft, the value of selecting a receiver high in the first round isn’t necessarily diminishing, but the ability to find secondary and tertiary options later in the draft is improving. This is good for teams and bad for veteran receivers with bloated salaries.
Mid-round receivers usually aren’t asked to contribute early in their NFL careers. Some need time to add bulk, refine their route running or prove to be little else than roster fodder. They’re much less of a sure thing than many receivers who work their way into the first round.
But better athletes are playing receiver more than ever before, and the influx of talent is causing really good players to slip down draft boards. The 2015 class already has an obvious candidate for biggest draft steal: William & Mary’s Tre McBride.
CBS Sports projects McBride to go in the third round of the draft, but his resume is impressive and his film even more so. His combine performance only reassured what can be seen on film; he’s a big, strong athlete who can run well and create after the catch. He’s checking all of the boxes but still slept on by far too many.
Rotoworld's Josh Norris noted McBride's impressive physique:
The three-time All-CAA selection caught 196 receptions for 2,653 yards and 19 touchdowns in his career with the Tribe. His versatility paid major dividends for William & Mary, as he was its offensive weapon and special teams ace. His 1,294 kickoff return yards rank fifth in school history, and although he isn’t great as a return man, he can play there and produce as a backup return man if needed.
As a receiver, McBride brings the complete skill set needed to be a high-impact playmaker. He’s a smooth runner who has a good burst off the line of scrimmage. He’s not a quick-twitch athlete or extremely fast, but he eats up cushion from the defensive back in a hurry. His ability to put pressure on the defensive back to read his routes is already refined, and that will help him contribute right away in the NFL.
The concern about McBride playing a low level of competition on a weekly basis is well warranted. It’s hard to really know how good his adversaries are at times, but in the opportunities that McBride had against NFL-caliber players, he dominated.
CBS Sports draft analyst Dane Brugler named McBride as one of the best prospects at the East-West Shrine Game, citing that McBride has natural receiving ability: "He prides himself on the details, selling routes and using his foot quickness in his breaks to create just enough separation. McBride did an excellent job attacking the ball in the air with his quick eyes and hands, also taking reps as a punt returner. He is more smooth than explosive."
In 2013, McBride had the opportunity to prove himself against West Virginia. The jump in competition didn’t matter, though, as McBride produced 108 yards on just three catches. What he showed on those receptions was more impressive than the numbers.
Facing off-coverage above, McBride quickly gets up to the stem of his route and uses a stutter step to get the cornerback to think that he’s running a dig route. The cornerback starts to come down, and then McBride accelerates to eat up the rest of the space between himself and the defender. Then McBride finishes at the catch point using focus, leaping ability and great hands.
Later in the game, McBride did it again. Facing a Cover 2 defense, he releases from the line and successfully avoids the cornerback who is sitting on underneath routes. He progresses upfield and has to adjust to the ball and go over the safety providing help coverage. Not only does McBride finish the play with the ball in his hands, but he also lands in bounds to complete the catch process.
Being able to win in jump balls is crucial for any receiver who will spend time as an outside receiver. NFL defenders are almost always as fast as the receiver, but it’s the technique and mindset that separate effective players from noneffective talent. McBride has consistently demonstrated that he wants the ball, and he’s going to go get it.
McBride’s ability to win in the slot is another valuable aspect to his game. He’s more of a downfield slot in the mold of Marques Colston than he is Wes Welker. He finds the gaps in zone coverage and gets to those spots with enough room to give his quarterback a solid throwing window.
His on-field intelligence is apparent as he shreds defenses from the slot. The talent to quickly read the defense and find the proper depth to settle into while also being mindful of the quarterback’s reads is something that is underplayed in analysis of the position. But McBride has that talent, and his frame is capable of withstanding the beating slot receivers face.
This is something that should translate to the NFL quite well. The passing windows might get tighter, but McBride doesn’t need to worry about that. He can catch contested passes just fine, as we’ve seen. His quarterback should also be more consistent and accurate than what he had in college.
Another major positive of McBride’s athleticism is his balance. He can control and contort his body to adjust to the ball mid-air. Even though there is limited film to work with, there are two great examples of McBride getting to the ball despite the pass being off-target.
Quarterbacks will love his ability to come down with passes that are somewhat inaccurate. Even the best quarterbacks have throws that come out funny, but receivers who can make up for small mistakes have great value for the offense.
Stuck in a deep class, Tre McBride has the resume and film of a standout playmaker with starting potential. He checks all of the boxes that are needed. He has the size, speed (4.41 40-yard dash), intelligence and playmaking ability that are critical for receivers.
The team that selects McBride in the 2015 draft will be getting one of the biggest sleepers in the class. As a potential mid-rounder, his value will far outweigh the cost it takes to add him to the roster. He could be a big reason why the 2015 crop of receivers will challenge the 2014 class for immediate dividends.
Ian Wharton is an NFL Draft Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report, contributor for Optimum Scouting and analyst for eDraft.