Sometimes, things can change in a flash. I had a nice little article all typed up and ready to go. Then, at 5:56 PM on Thursday, the Broncos decide to deal their overpriced starting QB. Okay, I’ll add in a little award to address the trade. Nothing too big, right? But no, because at roughly 11:40 PM (or whenever Captain Marvel ended) my friend tells me that Antonio Brown was just traded… to the Bills. Now that’s an issue, and not because I was raised a Dolphins fan. Once you check out my thoughts on eight WR prospects in this year’s class, why the Cardinals could be making a grave mistake, an MVP-watch for the superstars of the AAF, my Weekly Awards, and some other stuff, you’ll see where I think Antonio Brown will be traded. As I sit here typing this at 12:36 AM on Friday, it’s safe to say my thoughts have changed. Either way, this is still one of my favorite columns despite the late audibles, and not because I’m still jacked on superhero references…
THINGS I KNOW
I know I wouldn’t trade Josh Rosen. If the Cardinals do deal Rosen, meaning their love for Kyler Murray isn’t a smokescreen, then the Arizona Cardinals would officially become a synonym for ‘panic’. Giving up on last year’s first-round pick (whom they traded up to get) would scream desperation. I was a big fan of Rosen last year and still think he can be a very good QB; my Jared Goff comparison still stands. Rosen was not the problem. That distinction belongs to the horrible coaching staff and incompetent offensive line. What makes the Arizona brain trust think that Murray won’t suffer the same way Rosen suffered. After all, the 5’10 Murray will have a bigger learning curve (no height joke intended) than Rosen did. Let’s say that ultimately, the Cardinals feel Murray is a better fit in Kliff Kingsbury’s new offense than Rosen is. That would sit horribly with players and tell them that no one’s job is safe under such indecisive management. As for Rosen, a team trading anything but a first-round pick for him would be highway robbery. Rosen is too gifted as a passer to be written off so soon in his career. If I’m Arizona, I’m trading the first-overall pick, not their rookie QB.
I know this WR class is better than most people think. It could be my affinity for WRs that propels my year-round hype of the draft’s WR class. This year, there’s a handful of well-rounded players who could easily slide into a starting role on a team. None have a higher ceiling than D.K. Metcalf. ‘Terminator 2.0’ successfully built up his hype after a jaw-dropping Combine workout that saw him finish among the best in all drills, excluding his terrible performances in agility drills. Still, there is a lot to love about Metcalf even if he missed the second-half of 2018 due to a neck injury. The dude is the definition of a tank with the athleticism, size and length to dominate all defenders. For a WR just under 6’4 and 230 pounds, Metcalf moves surprisingly well. He can gain separation on defensive backs with ease and also has the long speed to separate down the field. There’s many WRs who excel at snagging the ball out of the air in this class, and Metcalf is no exception. He isn’t the smoothest route runner though and needs to be more consistent at actually catching the football. Sometimes his catches were mind-boggling; then again, so were his drops. Metcalf won’t be the quickest WR on a team, either. While he wasn’t asked to do too much in terms of routes, that can be attributed to the simple Ole Miss offense. I’d like to see him time his jump balls better and to work on those horrid agility drills. However, these are areas that can be improved and if he does, Metcalf could become the best WR of this draft class.
I know why people love N’Keal Harry. He’s a highlight machine and has made some of the best catches out of any WR prospects, which is a tough distinction to own this year. Seriously, Harry is a natural catcher who regularly owned his competition. His hands are outstanding and go beautifully with his leaping ability and ball skills. Despite speed concerns, Harry is shifty enough in open space to be an effective runner after the catch. He wasn’t asked to run many routes at Arizona State and showed flashes as a blocker. As dominant as Harry can be, he can also be equally frustrating. Sometimes there will be lapses in concentration that lead to drops, usually when he allows the ball to fall into his chest rather than extending his arms to snag it. Harry might make some quick cuts, but his speed is limited to the point where he can have trouble separating deep. His stiffness as a runner is usually noticeable and can attribute to his lack of explosiveness off the line of scrimmage. I’ve also seen whispers of effort concerns. While Harry has his limitations, he might also have one of the highest floors of the class. Teams looking for a higher ceiling should target Metcalf, but Harry’s natural ability certainly makes him an enticing option as a bigger inside receiver. There he won’t deal with initial jams by the defenders and will have more space to continue to make plays.
I know Kelvin Harmon is too one-dimensional. Don’t get me wrong, he’s outstanding at contested catches. Throw the ball into traffic and Harmon will almost always grab it. Standing just over 6’2, Harmon tracks the ball fantastically and reacts quickly enough to make those in-air adjustments. He’s like a power forward in how he uses his arms and body to snag the ball out of reach from the defender. His size and length helped him considering his QB was not very good. For a WR with that ‘big-guy’ stereotype, Harmon’s footwork is nice enough in the open field, helping him make quick, sudden cuts. He’s an above-average athlete who isn’t the best at separating. He’s also more of a red-zone threat than a deep threat considering his speed down the field is probably his worst trait. Harmon doesn’t seem fast enough to be a well-rounded number one option and will likely be limited to high passes and end-zone targets. With his success and body type, I still expect him to excel in that role.
I know Marquise Brown is also one-dimensional. Ironically, he might be the exact opposite of Harmon. Standing 5’9 and 166 pounds, I’d bet half of you reading this are bigger than Brown. You’re nowhere near as fast, though. Brown is a true speedster and can separate with ease thanks to his speed and quickness. His versatility will be very useful as well as he can line up all over the offense. Brown is lethal in open space and is always a threat to score. Barring a Captain-America-like transformation, Brown will be limited to a smaller, shiftier role. He is unreliable to go up and grab the ball in the NFL, though he occasionally showed off his hops at Oklahoma. He doesn’t have the power nor frame to compete with bigger bodies and will have to rely on his speed, which isn’t a bad thing because once again, the dude is fast. Brown would be a great complement to a bigger WR and can be used in various ways, if he can stay on the field. His smaller stature contributes to the concerns around his durability; he missed the Combine due to injury. Like Harmon, Brown is not a hard projection to the NFL and should sustain early success doing what he does best.
THINGS I DON’T KNOW
I don’t know how I feel about Hakeem Butler. On the plus side, Butler is an insanely entertaining human highlight reel. He certainly challenges Harry for the best catches. A player with his eye-popping size (6’5, 227) should be dominant, and luckily he was. Butler is superb at contested catches with the length and physicality to be a reliable jump-ball threat. His massive hands (just under 11 inches) and long strides attribute to that ‘freak’ moniker associated with Butler. With his wide catch radius and great body control, throwing to Butler should be an easy completion. Unfortunately, Butler has had some hair-pulling drops in his career at Iowa State. His vision and surprising mobility after the catch erase the idea that Butler is one-dimensional, but it doesn’t mean Butler is fast. There have been major speed and agility concerns surrounding him. Running the 40-yard dash under 4.5 seconds definitely helped his case but Butler will have to prove he can play faster and be a more consistent catcher before he can ascend into the NFL’s elite. His route running needs work as well. My guess is that a team will fall in love with Butler’s unreal physical traits and skills and take him early on Day Two.
I don’t know why Deebo Samuel isn’t getting more praise. His injury history could be a reason, as could his short length and inconsistent blocking. It should be noted that Samuel also had to deal with bad QB play at South Carolina while facing some of college football’s best defenses. Standing 5’11 and 214 pounds, Samuel is a YAC-demon. In other words, he excels with the ball in his hands thanks to his quickness, elusiveness and athleticism. Samuel is also a good route runner who constantly beat press coverage (tough, close coverage by defensive backs). Samuel seamlessly separated from defenders while also displaying strong enough hands and the proper concentration to complete the catch. His speed down the field wasn’t the best and he occasionally couldn’t bring in the high pass, though he was rarely asked to do so. Honestly, Samuel checks off all the necessary boxes for me. There isn’t a huge weakness when it comes to Samuel, so either I’m overhyping him or most of the draft community is sleeping on him. I just can’t shake comparing Samuel to Stefon Diggs.
I don’t know why Riley Ridley is being slept on, either. Akin to Samuel, Ridley doesn’t do anything wrong. He’s a reliable playmaker with the route running skills, athleticism and hands to make an impact. Ridley has a knack for getting open thanks to his field awareness and lethal, fluid cuts. He isn’t the fastest prospect but Ridley can start and stop on a dime. He’s shown he’s capable of going up and adjusting to passes, too. I’d like him to extend his arms a bit more rather than let the football land in his chest, but he was generally a solid, natural catcher. Weighing just under 200 pounds, Ridley isn’t the most powerful player, either. The big knock on Ridley could be out of his control: Usage. In a star-studded Georgia offense, Ridley was not given much opportunity to make plays and his production subsequently took a notable hit. Not to mention that he didn’t run a wide variety routes in such a run-focused offense. He also was arrested for marijuana possession in early 2017, if that means anything to teams. He doesn’t do anything at an elite level and likely won’t be a first-round pick like his brother Calvin was. Despite that, I have a feeling Ridley will make a bigger impact than he did in college and is too well-rounded to drop in the Draft. I’ll call him my sleeper pick.
I don’t know if A.J. Brown will ever be great. He can be very good, though. Brown has some of the safest, strongest hands in the draft and is not afraid to extend them to snag a tough pass. Without the ball in his hands, Brown naturally finds open space thanks to his vision and slipperiness as a runner. Among the loaded Ole Miss WRs, Brown typically saw short and intermediary passes. His route running skills and elusiveness not only allowed him to frequently get open, but it attributed to his ability after the catch. His efficient, clean footwork helps, too. At just under 6’1 and 226 pounds, Brown isn’t a big receiver but his physique and ball skills allow him to compete with the ball in the air. There are some concerns about Brown’s speed and leaping ability. I also think he needs to improve his flexibility in order to adjust better to incoming passes. Brown’s release isn’t good as he struggles to separate against man coverage. He’s in the same situation as Ridley where he’ll be best suited as an inside receiver, but Brown’s talents shouldn’t be overshadowed by his physical limitations. I can see him being a second-round pick.
TRIVIA OF THE WEEK
Dwayne Haskins will likely be the first Big Ten QB taken in the first round since 1995. Who was that player? Hint: He’s a two-time Pro Bowler with a Super Bowl appearance.
Check out the ‘Awards’ section for the answer.
Note that I only included the players talked about in this week’s article and that feelings/projections on a prospect will fluctuate, especially after the draft. Here are my preliminary rankings on this year’s Wide Receivers class and a sentence for each.
- D.K. Metcalf – Athletic freak with highest ceiling.
- N’Keal Harry – High floor with potential to be a Larry Fitzgerald-type player.
- A.J. Brown – Extremely well-rounded but isn’t elite at anything, either.
- Marquise Brown – Game-changing speed demon with physical limitations to keep him as such.
- Kelvin Harmon – Fits the ‘big WR’ stereotype perfectly and will likely be limited to just that.
- Deebo Samuel – Doesn’t suck at anything but needs to stay healthy first.
- Hakeem Butler – An absolute freak of nature who needs to be a better route-runner.
- Riley Ridley – Well-rounded, underused WR with nothing great but nothing bad.
Other Guys Who I Didn’t Have Room For: J.J. Arcega-Whiteside, Damarkus Lodge, Parris Campbell
Following last year’s tradition, each week I’ll focus on one wide receiver in hopes of finding the next superstar. This week, that player is Anthony Johnson.
Stats: In two years at Buffalo, the 6’2, 207-pound senior WR posted 2,367 receiving yards, fifteen touchdowns while averaging 17.8 yards a catch.
- Strong hands
- Clean route running
- Effective hand usage
- Getting Yards-After-the-Catch (YAC)
- Speed is above average
- So is his release off the line of scrimmage
- …and so is his ball skills
- …and his ability at contested catches
- Average athleticism
- Lower competition concerns
- Sometimes slows down when changing direction
- Sometimes rounds off his routes
The Unknown: With no big holes in his game, will Johnson continue to thrive against NFL competition?
Bottom-Line: Johnson is as well-rounded as they come with no huge weakness but no elite trait either. With him, what you see is what you’ll likely get.
Early Team Fit: Tennessee Titans
Early Projection: Day Two Pick
Each week I’ll talk a little bit about the Alliance of American Football in hopes of filling you in on the rising young league. As the midway point of the season looms this weekend, I decided to lay out the top candidates for the inaugural MVP award.
- Garrett Gilbert, Orlando Apollos – The Apollos’ QB is the midseason favorite as his 1,071 passing yards lead all QBs by over 200 yards. It also helps that Orlando is the last remaining undefeated team, though they play the 3-1 Iron on Saturday.
- Trent Richardson, Birmingham Iron – Yes, that Trent Richardson. The former third-overall pick has become a goal-line superstar as he leads all non-QBs in TDs.
- Rashad Ross, Arizona Hotshots – With the most receiving touchdowns and receiving yards in the AAF, it’s safe to say Ross has been a true game-changer.
My overall reaction to the trade sending Case Keenum to Washington: Meh, if you must. When I lamented the Broncos for stupidly trading for Joe Flacco, I didn’t see them trading Keenum so quickly. Now that Keenum is a Redskin, what does this mean? Unless Denver plans on riding with Flacco for some reason, they’ll likely eye a QB in the first round. For Washington, I can still see them taking a QB, just not that early in the draft anymore. This is terrible look for the Broncos yet at the same time it was a win. No way were they keeping Keenum and so yet they found a buyer willing to give up next to nothing. This deal simply undoes the Broncos’ mistake of signing Keenum last offseason and gives the Redskins a starter. Whether Keenum actually wins games is a whole other debate. Something tells me that neither team was overly thrilled about making this deal yet felt it just had to be done. Kind of like how I felt when this trade broke Thursday night after I already finished this article.
Burn of the Week: Steve Smith
Upon news of Jason Witten’s stunning return to the field, the former WR and current TV analyst was jokingly asked about making a comeback himself. His response? “Nah, I’m actually good on TV, so I’m staying.” Enough said.
Combine Winner: Montez Sweat
The Scouting Combine is a great way for prospects to solidify their standing within the NFL Draft class, either for better or for worse. Rarely is there any world-shattering revelation that flips the script on a prospect. In this case, Sweat was certainly a ‘winner’ after posting the fastest 40-yard dash time for a defensive lineman since 2003. Not that his performance guarantees professional success, but teams have to be salivating at a 260-pound lineman running a faster 40-time than guys like Ezekiel Elliot and Antonio Brown.
Combine Loser: Jachai Polite
One huge thing that the Combine provides is all teams a chance to meet a prospect face-to-face in extensive, grueling interviews. Consider it the ‘Behind The Scenes’ aspect of the Combine. Teams grill players in an attempt to measure their football intelligence and character. According to many reports, Polite did not do so well in this area. While his game tape will certainly speak for itself, I can only imagine how many teams lowered their value of Polite if these reports are indeed true.
Trivia Answer: Kerry Collins
Question: Dwayne Haskins will likely be the first Big Ten QB taken in the first round since 1995. Who was that player? Hint: He’s a two-time Pro Bowler with a Super Bowl appearance.
As the fifth overall pick out of Penn State by the Panthers (their first ever draft pick, excluding the expansion draft), Collins would go onto play for six NFL teams across 17 seasons and start at least one game for each team. He is currently 16th in all-time passing yards, too. Aside from taking the Giants to the Super Bowl in 2000, there are two other reasons why you might remember Collins. He was the Titans’ QB for that anomaly of a 2013 season when they went 13-3 and was the QB between the Peyton Manning and Andrew Luck eras in Indianapolis. If I’m the only person that finds this interesting, so be it.
ONE LAST THING
Last week, I listed potential suitors for Le’Veon Bell. This week, I’ll do the same for another former-Steeler: Antonio Brown. The difference is that unlike Bell, we reportedly know which teams have inquired about Brown. (As of 1 AM on Friday, March 8th, Brown has yet to be dealt.)
- Raiders – All of these teams have been linked to Brown recently, but Oakland is the best bet to land the controversial star WR. Without a true number one WR (and they’ve publicly agreed), the Raiders’ could easily dangle one of their three first-round picks for Brown. Not to mention that Jon Gruden is not one to waver from a diva like Brown.
- Redskins – The more I think about it, the more I like the chances of Brown landing here. The Redskins have had a history of going after big-name players with baggage, even if there’s a big contract involved. Like Oakland, they could use a number one WR too but unlike Oakland, they don’t have the capital to spend on Brown. I don’t think it would be smart for Washington to send a first-round pick for Brown as they have bigger holes, but my opinions haven’t stopped them from doing regrettable things before! (See: Alex Smith trade.)
- Bills – I could play it cool and claim I had the Bills here before reports broke of Brown’s potential move to Buffalo. Alas, this was a late-night add, as previously mentioned. Interestingly enough, we still do not know where Brown will land up because a) things are never official anymore in the Twitter-driven sports world and b) Brown said this under the report of this deal. Trust me, when he’s finally traded I’ll have a lot to say about him… (I didn’t bother tweaking the rest of this list, for transparency’s sake.)
- Broncos – I’d be shocked to see them trade for Brown, but if the rumors are true, then Denver has indeed inquired about Brown. Maybe they’d consider swapping picks with Pittsburgh? I personally like their current WRs enough to where it would be stupid to trade draft picks and bypass other current needs.
- Titans – A sleeper team that needs some offensive spice (we’ll see if Derrick Henry is finally legit), Mike Vrabel is a hard-nosed coach who should put up with Brown’s antics. The Titans always find a way to not suck, so maybe Brown is the missing piece to make the playoffs.
The Deep Route Football Notebook features recaps and thoughts about the recent action in the NFL, along with weekly awards, draft spotlights, fantasy updates, and more. Unless stated otherwise, all stats are accumulated using Pro Football Reference, ESPN or 4for4.com.
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