Draftivus: Don't Sleep On Me - Wide Receivers

To keep Brandon Marshall or not to keep Brandon Marshall, that isn't the question.

I don't think it matters what we do with BMarsh. McXanders will not take a first round wide receiver. I don't even think he takes a second or third round wide receiver.

Whatever you may think about our depth, we have everything we need at the position - with or without BMarsh. The idea of needing to have a Top 5 WR is one of the most overrated beliefs in football.  

To back this up, I will use the New England Patriots as my example.  They went to the Super Bowl and lost in 2007 with two top flight wide receivers in Randy Moss and Wes Welker, yet who were their starting wide receivers in 2004 when they actually won the Super Bowl?  Deion Branch, David Givens, David Patton.  Yeah.

I still think McDaniels will target a wide receiver in later rounds and after an exhaustive search for players who meet my criteria of talent, character, and scheme fit, I have come down with a list of five wide receivers and one potential kick/punt returner.

I will start with the kick/punt returner and then list the wide receivers in order, ending with the guy I hope we target first.  Some of these guys are higher ranked than others on draft boards, but it all comes down to value for me. Some guys are more valuable to me in later rounds than more talented guys in earlier rounds.  The post is a long one, but there were just too many good prospects not to cover here.

Trindon Holliday, WR, LSU
5'5", 162 lbs

This guy is almost too small to be considered.  However, his weight on his frame makes him somewhat more durable than one might think.  His size will also cause him to fall considerably in the draft, possibly even into the free agent market.

McDaniels cannot allow that to happen. My question is simple. Is a 7th round draft pick worth several huge kickoff and punt returns through the course of a season? I say absolutely and if it takes a late 6th round pick, then I would also be happy with it.

We all know how our special teams has languished without a consistent threat returning kicks. Holliday would instantly provide us with that threat.  He will get blown up occasionally, just like Eddie Royal does, but when he squeezes through with nothing but grass ahead of him - no one will catch him.

Andre Roberts, WR, Citadel
5'11", 192 lbs

I really like this kid. He hails from a military school, which means he will be disciplined and will have an excellent work ethic.  His is a wee bit undersized, but there have been plenty of 5'11" All-Pro wide receivers for me to overlook that. The only problem I have is that he is projected to go in the 4th round. I am hoping his small school status, size, and many other wide receiver prospects will cause him to fall to the 6th or 7th rounds.  If that happens, the Broncos should try to snatch him up.

Let's see what CBS Sports had to say about him:

Release: Good straight-line speed and superior quickness. Quick first step off the line, and separates from defenders after a cut or once past the second level with great acceleration. Will need to learn how to beat the jam from pro corners, but won't back away from the challenge.

We have all seen how a wide receiver will struggle to make an impact if they are unable to fight through a corner jamming them at the line.  Our own Eddie Royal has to figure out a way to get open when pressed.  Some guys learn how to do this, some don't.  Andre tends to work hard and hard work is a good way to fix any potential problems.

Hands: Makes the easy catch consistently, and can make difficult catches look easy. Strong hands and good vertical in jump-ball situations, albeit against smaller FCS corners. Can track the ball over either shoulder. Maintains control of the ball after taking a hit down the sideline. Secure with the ball as a punt returner.

I find it hard to judge his actual ability here as it is easy to shine against inferior opponents.  However, many greats hail from schools like this.  Shannon Sharpe comes to mind.  I wish I could have found some film of him making catches with defenders all over him.  That is what the NFL is all about.

Route running: Most receptions come on screens, drag routes or down the sideline. Separates from nickel corners on quick outs, and can stop on a dime after securing the ball to head upfield. Will need to learn the finer points of route-running to find holes in zones from the slot, but his quick feet and sure hands should allow him to excel.

Good thing the Broncos run a lot of screens.  The NFL is all about timed routes.  Catching the ball in zones or man-to-man isn't all that big of a deal if the wide receiver is open at the time the quarterback expects him to be where he is supposed to be.  Finding holes in zones, I think, may happen more when the wide receiver has several different routes he could run as the play develops.  That's something I expect from a veteran, not a rookie.

After the catch: Very elusive after the catch, often turning short throws into big gains using quick reverse moves, vision and acceleration. Protects the ball well, and plays stronger than his wiry frame would indicate. Fights for additional yardage after initial contact. Nice first step, cut back and quick acceleration on punt returns, but NFL special teams units will be tougher to gain yardage against.

This is what sold me on this kid.  Plays must be made after the ball is in your hands and Roberts takes the ball and makes plays.  Brandon Marshall is not a great wide receiver because he can catch a ball, he is great because he takes the ball and makes great things happen.  As for his punt return skills, the level of competition is no where near the NFL.  So I agree with CBS Sports analysis here.

Blocking: Willing downfield and goal-line blocker, but lacks the size and hand technique to sustain against larger corners. Could give more consistent effort maintaining the inside angle and getting to defenders in the open field. Gets a body on a defender to seal back-side edge when run blocking from motion.

Typical wide receiver in this regard.  A Hine Ward-like blocker is a rarity.  All we can ask is that he is willing and puts forth maximum effort.

Intangibles: Hard worker on and off the field, as is expected from students of a military school. Quiet leader, well-liked by his coaches. Received the South Carolina Athletic Hall of Fame's annual Bobby Richardson Sportsmanship Award in May 2009.

All around, I would love to have a guy like Andre Roberts on the Denver Broncos depth chart.  He may never ascend to a #1 guy, but he could be dangerous in three or four wide receiver sets.  Not quite worth a fourth round pick in my opinion, but the farther he falls the more valuable he becomes.

Verran Tucker, WR, California
6'2", 184 lbs

Tucker is a solid prospect out of California who would make a fine addition to the practice squad. He has shown flashes of ability in his senior season, but is still considered a project, and many consider the drop-off in production from his junior to senior campaigns to be a bit of a red flag.  

I know I keep bringing up former Broncos, but who really minds hearing the names of former Bronco greats?  Rod Smith was once a practice squad player who went undrafted.  Tucker may not become the next Rod Smith, but the Broncos would serve themselves well to continue to bring in solid depth to compete against in practice.

Verran Tucker is graded out as a 7th rounder, but I think he will end up going undrafted.  An easy practice squad sign right here.

Release: Still developing his technique in this area, but has enough lateral agility and suddenness to defeat press coverage. Eats up the cushion against zone coverage and has a second gear to get behind the defense.

Hands: Better than expected. Shows soft hands to pluck the ball out of air, as well as the long arms to extend outside of his framework. Good body control to adjust to the poorly throw pass behind or low. A natural leaper who times his jump well and catches the ball at its highest point. May be able to make an immediate impact in the NFL as a red-zone target on fade routes due to this ability.

Route running: Quicker feet than you'd expect for a long, skinny-legged athlete, but remains quite raw in this area. Flashes the ability to plant his foot and drive for the slant route, but too often rounds off his longer routes, including the deep out and post, which will lead to NFL defensive backs easily recognizing the play. More sudden acceleration than most receivers his size, but is still learning how to use this to his advantage.

After the catch: Relies on his burst to slip by tacklers, rather than showing the strength his size would indicate to break free. Some lateral agility to elude, but isn't going to make a lot of plays on his own when he isn't hit in stride. Too often goes down to the first defender. Does have the burst to get free and into the open field, but lacks the elite speed to pull away.

Blocking: Doesn't offer much in this area. Possesses a long, lanky build with little overall muscle definition. Gets in the way of the defender, but doesn't have enough strength or the toughness yet to sustain blocks for long.

Intangibles: Isn't yet a finished product, as he only began playing football as a high school senior and has only five years experience, overall. Has the athleticism teams are looking for, but may struggle with a complicated playbook. Originally signed with a junior college due to his inability to score high enough on placement tests for a D-I school. Struggled academically during his time at Cal.

 There is no doubt the kid is raw and his academic struggles are a concern. A solid coach and mentor would go a long way in helping him develop into a contributing player on the depth chart.  I have him graded a bit higher than he probably deserves, but that is with his expectation of being a CFA.  He is at least worth a look at in my opinion.

David Gettis, WR, Baylor
6'3", 217 lbs

Projected as an early fifth round prospect, he could see his stock rise due to his size.  I think he would be a very valuable pick up in the fifth round, but any earlier and it could become a risky proposition.  Gettis is still too raw to make any kind of impact in his rookie year.

He could turn out to be a diamond in the rough, much like Brandon Marshall turned out to be.  Gettis suffered early on with a lacking work ethic, but all reports lead to him having changed that. 

Release: Has moves and strength to get past press coverage, but must be more quick and violent with his hands to beat the jam. Accelerates quickly off the line and gets past most corners with his long strides.

I like violence.  Will he be strong enough to man handle smaller corners?   I think so.

Hands: Catches nearly everything thrown his way, but traps the ball against his chest too often; needs to trust his large and strong hands and catch the ball away from his frame. Extends to grab wide throws and reaches above his head to snare high throws, exhibiting good body control in the air.

This sounds a lot like the big man already catching balls for the Denver Broncos.  BMarsh has shown marked improvement over the past three seasons in regards to catching the ball with his hands rather than his body.  I am not too worried about the chest catching, that can be coached.

Route running: Uses his size and length to get physical separation, and his long strides are hard for corners to match when running full tilt down the sideline. Sells the deep route, but has better foot quickness than expected for his size when stopping to curl or turn outside. Working on sinking his hips to get into and out of cuts more fluidly.

Gettis is not a Top 5 deep threat, but he would be better than anyone on the Broncos right now.  That respect for the deep ball would open up the middle of the field for other receivers.  Kyle Orton proved he can throw deep with accuracy, but most of the time our slow wide receiver core has been unable to break free down the field.  Gettis would give us that threat in most games.

After the catch: Possesses acceleration and elusiveness not expected of large receivers. Also able to stiff arm and run through smaller would-be tacklers in the secondary. Used on quick screens. Though he's taller than most kick returners, he has a chance to contribute there because he has a bit of elusiveness and hits holes at full stride.

Ignore the part about kick returns, that's just bullcrap.  I'm sorry, but elusiveness in college will rarely translate to elusiveness in the NFL for a guy this big.  Players are just too fast.  As for his after-the-catch abilities, I found myself impressed by this kids abilities to gain critical yards after first contact.

Blocking: Uses his size to neutralize corners in the run game or on quick screens, dropping his hips and extending to keep them from ripping off. Needs to consistently give the effort to get to a target.

Has the size to be a solid blocker in the run game, but like most wide receivers, he does not give consistent effort. He'll need to be browbeaten out of that habit or he won't be invited to play in the final game of the season.  Ha

Intangibles: Took him some time to become a regular contributor despite his physical attributes. Puts effort in on the field now, however, gaining the respect of his teammates and coaches - and now looks to be ascending up draft boards in a similar way.

It's easy to put in effort when someone tells you it is hurting your draft stock.  I'd wait to proclaim him "cured" of his lack of effort until he is seen in action during training camp.  This is a major reason why I would prefer to see the Broncos take him no earlier than the fifth round.

Seyi Ajirotutu, WR, Fresno State
6'3". 211 lbs

If you can say his name five times in a row, I commend you.  Put him in the finalist list for "Coolest Name in the Draft" Contest.  I like Ajirotutu because he clicked well with Tom Brandstater and has the size and speed to be a solid wide receiver threat in the NFL.

My only minor point of contention with him is that he snubbed my Boise State Broncos after he scored MVP honors in the California High School State Championships.  Using that to, instead, sign on at Fresno State.  It turned out to be the worst choice, after all, Boise State is the best team in the nation - it just gets no respect.  

Release: At least moderate initial quickness and use of hands to avoid the jam at the line of scrimmage against press coverage. Smooth acceleration downfield, but is a bit of a long-strider who doesn't get to top-end speed immediately. Rare timed speed for a player of his size.

His long stride will prove to make Seyi a dangerous deep threat receiver.  Corners will think they are staying with him when they look back, only to have Seyi turn it up a notch.  I like that, especially for a sixth round pick.

Hands: Soft hands to pluck the ball outside of his frame. Good concentration to make the reception in traffic. Times his leaps well to catch passes over defenders. Can track the ball over either shoulder.

This ability is what sets Ajirotutu apart from those I profiled before him.  Catching in traffic is the single most important skill a wide receiver can develop when it comes to pure catching.  There is not much difference in talent among NFL players, so most of a players catches will be in the midst of one or more defenders. 

Route running: Can drop his hips and shows some burst out of his breaks to gain separation, but needs to be more consistent in this area. Too often rounds off his routes and relies on his size and speed advantages to get open. Good exterior threat for the deep ball.

His tendency to round his routes can be coached.  My belief in his deep threat capabilities is only confirmed more by that last statement.  

After the catch: Build-up speed is enough to pull away from defenders once he has the ball in his hands, but he lacks the agility and explosive acceleration to elude if he's not hit in stride. Has to do a better job of securing the ball (lost two fumbles as a senior).

His biggest drawback and likely the reason he will fall to the fifth or sixth rounds.  Still will be an excellent deep threat, but other than that, don't expect much in the way of yards after the catch.  His ball control could be an issue, but every player goes through a bit of fumbilitis.

Blocking: Good size, strength and toughness as a blocker. Appears to take his role as a blocker seriously. Not afraid to work his way toward the action for the seal block on the linebacker. Good effort downfield to stalk and sustain.

Well, there you have your Hines Ward-like blocker, but can he become a Hines Ward-like wide receiver?  I'm not so sure.  I think Seyi Ajirotutu could become a solid #3 or 4 wideout on the depth chart.  That deep threat guy who can open up the middle of the field for guys like Royal or BMarsh.  

Intangibles: Reliable performer with 34 career starts (in 40 games). Competitive player at his best in one-on-one situations - i.e. jump balls and blocking on the edge. No known off-field issues or injury concerns, other than the ankle injury which sidelined him for much of the 2006 season.

His durability will ensure continuity for whichever team adds him to their depth chart.  His ability to be a top receiver is unknown, but there is little doubt that he can find a niche somewhere on the depth chart.  The deep threat ability is more than enough to land him a roster spot somewhere.

Danario Alexander, WR, Missouri
6'5", 221 lbs

We're finally here.  My #1 must have late rounder wide receiver.  Danario Alexander led the NCAA in receiving yards and should have been destined to be a first round pick.  However, his poor showing at the Senior Bowl and already three knee surgeries in his career have pushed his stock downward to the fifth or sixth rounds.  There are also his concerns about speed, but I've never been keen on 40 times and .09 difference doesn't phase me none.  Alexander has game speed and that is what matters the most.

That said, his injury history warrants concern.  Even so, I think the Broncos could spend a 4th rounder on him and still come out okay in my mind.  The risk would be high, but the thought of landing a first round talent in the fourth round would be awesome!  

In many ways, this is the guy I would be looking to draft to replace Brandon Marshall if the Broncos somehow part ways with him this offseason.

Release: Used in the slot quite often, not often faced with the jam. Lacks a quick get-off from the line, but has the physical tools to muscle his way past corners down the sideline or inside for slants. Separates using size and acceleration once free.

He would have to become an outside possession receiver to make it in the NFL.  He is too big and strong to be wasted in the slot.  He may not have to have a quick get-off the line ability if he can out jump and out muscle cornerbacks.

Hands: Very good hands, only the occasional drop when trying to make a play after the catch. Gets to passes others wouldn't because of his height and exceptional leaping ability. Athleticism and strong hands allow him to win jump balls. Good red-zone target for that reason; also uses his body to shield defenders on slant routes. Very good body control, extends for high throws over the middle and gets his feet down to stay in-bounds on sideline passes. Traps balls against his chest when facing the quarterback.

His pass catching abilities are obviously first round talent and he would allow McDaniels to call more aggressive plays and allow Orton to throw riskier passes, confident in Alexander's ability to snatch the ball out of the air more often than not.

Route running: Usually lines up in the slot so he can work the middle of the field. Needs to work on a head fake to sell seam route before heading to the corner. Rounds off routes too often, failing to sink his hips. Takes advantage of open zones inside where footwork isn't as crucial.

The guy is not afraid to go over the middle and does not shy from contact.  His route running can be coached up, but his willingness to take punishment cannot.

After the catch: At his best when catching the ball on the run, using his long strides to beat defenders down the field. Used on receiver screens to get the ball in his hands in motion. Slow to accelerate when stopped on a route, but is tough to catch once in his stride. Able to change directions after the catch or make a quick sidestep to avoid defenders, but lacks quick-twitch elusiveness. Defenders bounce off him when failing to wrap up, and he runs with good balance after that contact to drive forward for additional yards. Good stiff arm in the open field.

He is a big man and big men are harder to bring down.  He doesn't quite have the agility that Brandon Marshall does, but he has shown he can plod his way through defenders for extra yardage.  What a tandem he and BMarsh could become...

Blocking: As physical as he wants to be blocking for the run, with a chance to be really good. Handles small defenders well using aggression and length to hold them off, usually just a one-arm shove takes them out of the play. Will need to bend his knees and move his feet more quickly to mirror and sustain against NFL corners who will out-quick him in space.

As physical as he wants to be.  I don't like that comment.  If he wants to be a top flight receiver, he needs to be as physical as he must be in the running game.  He needs to take pride in punishing the defenders.  If he can't do that, he'll find himself on the bench on first and second downs.

Intangibles: Constantly works with his quarterback and in the film room to be a better receiver. Showed great work ethic to come back after injuries, but his medical record is still an issue. Coaches have nothing but kind words about him.

Danario Alexander has what it takes to be a starter in the NFL someday and his value has dropped significantly enough for the Broncos to capitalize and draft a "diamond in the rough" here.  I'd be very pleased if we nabbed both Alexander and Trindon Holliday.  We will have upgraded our special teams unit and our wide receiver depth.

There are a plethora of other prospects out there, but these six players stuck out in my mind as having something to offer the Denver Broncos.  It will be interesting to see which way McXanders goes in later rounds, but I have to believe a wide receiver will be one of those late round picks.

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