Louisville wide receiver DeVante Parker has been a hot name as the 2015 NFL draft approaches. The 6’3”, 209-pound receiver is coming off a spectacular but shortened season where he posted 855 yards in just seven games. He’s widely regarded by draft experts as a first-round pick.
He’s often listed as the third receiver behind Alabama receiver Amari Cooper and West Virginia receiver Kevin White. But is he being pushed up behind those two elite prospects because of class depth, or is he deserving of that company? I dove into Parker’s film to find how he wins and what skills translate best to the NFL.
It’s important to properly value Parker because of how the NFL is evolving. Receivers must be effective playmakers, but of the last five Super Bowl winners, only Hakeem Nicks of the New York Giants was a first-round pick. Unless a receiver is going to be an elite difference-maker, a first-round selection seems rich for the return.
By comparing what Parker does well against each White and Cooper, we can determine whether he is talented enough to be in that conversation. Even if he isn’t, he can certainly be a great NFL player. But we are looking to evaluate how good of a prospect he is and how he projects at the next level.
Where Parker Wins
Parker is certainly an explosive athlete. His combine measurements were very good overall. His best athletic comparisons include Cincinnati receiver A.J. Green, Jacksonville receiver Justin Blackmon and Minnesota receiver Cordarrelle Patterson.
|DeVante Parker Combine Performance|
|Height||Weight||40-yard dash||Vertical Jump||Broad Jump|
The most notable measurement is his leaping ability. At 6’3”, Parker posted an impressive 36.5” vertical jump. That explosiveness in his lower body is critical for him to win jump balls. He showed that ability on film as well, so the combine was able to check the box.
Winning at the catch point and reacting well to inaccurate throws is a must in the NFL. Even the elite quarterbacks struggle with ball placement on some passes, and receivers that can adjust mid-air are very valuable. Parker has the physical traits to execute on these plays.
There are times when Parker is absolutely brilliant as the ball arrives. Like the play above, Parker properly tracks the ball and leaps as it arrives into his catch radius. The throw was good, but Parker made sure the defender wouldn’t break up the pass.
Parker has the speed and frame to put cornerbacks in an impossible position. His 4.45 speed at the combine seems much faster than he plays, but Parker is quick off the line. Below is a good example of his quality quickness.
Parker’s go-to move with tight coverage is the stutter step. It was highly effective in college because he has the ability to get across the face of the defender and go over the top. His combination of speed and size was too much for many cornerbacks to handle.
He can shield the ball away from defenders with his length. Once he has that step on the cornerback, a pretty accurate throw is likely to be hauled in. Parker does struggle dealing with physicality, though, so a roaming safety can influence the play.
The most impressive aspect of Parker’s game comes after the catch. He is powerful as a runner and takes long strides. He eats up yards in a hurry and can move as well horizontally as he does downfield.
Defenders have to take great angles to keep up with Parker, and then usually struggle to bring him down. His field vision is obvious and natural. He’s a major weapon once he gets into space because of the broken tackles he creates.
Compared to Amari Cooper and Kevin White
Both Amari Cooper and Kevin White bring unique skill sets to the table. Cooper is a much quicker player who relies on perfect routes and great acceleration. His top-end speed is good, but it’s precision that creates his separation.
It doesn’t take long to find Cooper’s excellent route running in his film. Even when facing zone coverage, Cooper can isolate matchups and destroy one-on-one matchups he created. Defensive coordinators have to scheme for Cooper’s whereabouts every play, or else one coverage gaffe can lead to a touchdown.
White is the bigger, faster and more physical player of the three. He’s the least experienced but the most dangerous downfield because of his tracking ability. He’s an elite playmaker in the mold of Julio Jones.
White’s ability to play the ball is unrivaled in this class. He has great vision and hands. His timing on jump balls is also standout. The consistency in which he plays is astonishing considering he has just two years of FBS experience.
Parker’s most dominant trait, his yards-after-catch ability, is not nearly as valuable as Cooper’s and White’s. He will be playing in less space in the NFL than he did in college, and defenders are better athletes. In terms of valuable traits, Parker just doesn’t have the top-tier consistency as a receiver to compete with Cooper and White.
Where Parker Struggles
According to Chris Brown of Smart Football, all receivers must master at least two moves that can break press coverage at the line of scrimmage. He recommends having three or more. Hand usage is also critical.
One of the biggest differences from college to the NFL is the level of professionalism. NFL cornerbacks study tendencies for hours so they can predict your route before it is fully underway. That’s why Parker must improve his release at the line of scrimmage.
Nearly every route I charted from five games that featured Parker facing on-man coverage, he tried the stutter step. He doesn’t use his hands at all. Instead he relies on going with some outside-to-inside foot pattern that is dependent on the cornerback guessing incorrectly.
Above is a good example of why Parker must learn to vary his moves. Although he does get on top of the cornerback with his acceleration, the cornerback correctly plays the trail position. The breakup that happens in the end zone occurs because Parker didn’t give himself enough space to come back for the ball. He couldn’t give his quarterback a big enough bucket to throw into since his release wasted too much time.
Another area Parker trails behind Cooper and White is route running. His routes are very inconsistent. He often produced on slant routes when facing off-coverage. Of all routes charted in five games, he faced off-coverage 64 percent of the time. That is highly unlikely to happen in the NFL.
It’s very easy to feast on slant routes. But when Parker was asked to do more, he struggled to create downfield separation. Part of that reason is Parker likes to tip his routes with his body.
Take a look at the play above. Parker lines up at the top of the screen and will run a simple curl route. But the cornerback easily smothers it and basically runs it for him.
It is easy to see why. Parker slows down a full three yards prior to reaching the apex of his route, and his body is halfway turned to the ball before he fully plants. This is an obvious route for even collegiate cornerbacks to defend.
There are many examples of Parker’s average route running in his film. Sometimes he is just blatantly passive in effort. See below for an example of where Parker doesn’t cut hard to the inside on his slant route.
The final area where Parker trails behind the elite two receivers in the class is his downfield receiving ability. Being a vertical threat is about so much more than speed. Tracking the ball, then competing for it are two huge factors for success once the ball goes further downfield.
Notable NFL receivers with great vertical ability include Dallas Cowboys’ receiver Dez Bryant, Washington Redskins’ receiver DeSean Jackson and Green Bay Packers’ receiver Jordy Nelson. Pro Football Focus’ signature statistics has each as a top-five deep threat. New Minnesota Vikings’ receiver Mike Wallace, Oakland Raiders’ receiver Andre Holmes and Tennessee Titans’ receiver Justin Hunter are among the league’s worst vertical receivers, per Pro Football Focus.
Parker struggles to play the ball downfield. He doesn’t locate the ball and will slow down at various points of his route. This is a major concern as he looks to become a downfield threat. If a quarterback cannot count on the receiver to get to the catch point, then chemistry will be next to nil between the two.
Compared to Amari Cooper and Kevin White
I previously evaluated Kevin White’s immense talents, and his biggest weakness right now is his route running. But, it is a different concern than Parker’s routes. White simply wasn’t asked to be a master of the route tree in West Virginia’s spread, and he only played two seasons.
Parker was a four-year contributor who was able to play with Teddy Bridgewater for three of his years. He was in a pro-style system that asked him to be a precise runner, and yet he is at best average there. That’s not an area we should assume would improve because he’s already had the repetitions needed to develop more.
Amari Cooper’s biggest weakness is that he is an “on the ground” receiver. He is not the type you’d throw many jump balls for. He isn’t very physical by nature and his leaping ability is poor. Thus, he wins on the ground.
Since Parker is bigger and has better leaping ability, he has the edge in terms of competitiveness in-air compared to Cooper. But, Parker is not nearly as explosive or consistent overall. He’s just bigger and can leap higher.
That’s not enough for Parker to bridge the gap between he and Cooper. Even if Cooper is more of a Jeremy Maclin-type, he brings immense value to any offense because he has near-elite traits like quickness and route precision.
DeVante Parker is a great athlete and solid football player, despite being picked apart in the previous sections. When comparing him to the top two receivers of the 2015 draft class, he’s not quite the same caliber. The level of consistency as a playmaker is yet to be proven.
When talking top-15 picks in the draft, receivers should be bona fide stars. Parker has the makeup of a star, but he hasn’t proved he is that reliable No. 1-type receiver. Thus, he shouldn’t be pushed up into the conversation with two potential stars like Kevin White and Amari Cooper.
All stats used are from sports-reference.com.
Ian Wharton is an NFL Draft Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report.