Offensive Skill Players: Top Options for Respective Roles
So your offense needs a little help scoring points in 2014...welcome to the club, about three quarters of the league is in the same boat. Especially with the recent evolution of the rules to favor offenses, it's an expectation to average 28+ points a game if you're going to be successful. So whether your team needs a complete overhaul of the skill positions or if they're just missing that final piece, you're in luck! The 2014 class is absolutely loaded with offensive talent. Whether your team is looking to go the Philadelphia Eagles route and attack with speed on the perimeter with the likes of Desean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin, hit between the hashes like the New England Patriots have done with much success the past few seasons with TE play or simply out-muscle opponents like the Chicago Bears did this past season with their twin towers in Alshon Jeffery and Brandon Marshall...the options are there. And I'll tell you exactly who in this draft is your team's best bet to fill these stereotype roles in 2014.
- The Scat Back: Bishop Sankey, Washington
If your team is in need of some speed in the backfield, Sankey is your guy. He's got outstanding vision and game breaking speed as a runner. Where Sankey doesn't win is running with leverage, he's apt at forcing missed tackles but he isn't a grind it out type of running back by any means. He doesn't necessarily stop his feet dead on contact but he isn't consistent falling forward. If your team needs a little lightning to go with some established thunder, Bishop Sankey somewhere in Day 2 makes a lot of sense.
- The Hammer: Carlos Hyde, Ohio State
On the other hand, if you need a short yardage back your team should eye Carlos Hyde. Hyde came out of relatively no where this season to have an extremely productive season as the featured back for the Ohio State University. Hyde combines his impressive size with a tendency to attack the line of scrimmage, so catching him for a loss is pretty rare. Hyde runs downhill and it is impossible to bring him down with anything less than your whole body behind your tackles. He also has some decent speed to pair with all that power, so don't be afraid to plug him as a featured back either somewhere in the 2nd round!
- The "Sproles": De'Anthony Thomas: Oregon
A lot of attention is given to Arizona's Marion Grice as a well rounded runner with great hands. While that's an accurate assessment, if you need a move piece in your backfield, shoot for De'Anthony Thomas instead. He doesn't have the kind of size as Grice or other backs, but Thomas is extremely potent. Get him in space with screen passes, draws, working out of the slot and watch as he returns your efforts with chunk yardage again and again. Thomas is no where near an every down player, but getting him 8-12 touches a game with specific calls is certainly worth an early Day 3 selection. The best toy you can give your offensive coordinator this offseason is definitely Thomas.
- Featured Back: Ka'Deem Carey, Arizona
Carey is a guy who can do everything. He's a good receiver, a good runner with good vision, consistently falls forward and has enough speed to gash you if you give him a crease. While he's incredibly well rounded, he doesn't do any one thing GREAT. He's simply very good at everything. He's physical enough to block and grind out yards but he's also agile enough to make a tackler miss one on one and has the hands to be a good check down option in the passing game. Carey is the only back I'd consider selecting in the 1st round, albeit somewhere AFTER pick 25.
- Big Body, Big Plays: Brandon Coleman, Rutgers
Now hear me out...there are a lot of Kelvin Benjamin and Mike Evans aficionados out there likely taking offense to this statement. Brandon Coleman is physically just as good as Kelvin Benjamin and more dynamic than Mike Evans. Evans is a linear athlete, very rigid in his breaks. Additionally, Evans doesn't run a very expansive route tree (as a matter of fact its about 3 routes). Kelvin Benjamin would get the nod, but he's got questionable hands. So we turn to Coleman...a guy who has been a legitimate burner threat at Rutgers for the past 3 seasons, but has struggled with finding someone to deliver him the football. Ignore the production and look at the physical tools, Coleman has good deep speed, a huge catch radius and is the smoothest athlete out of the bunch. He's got imposing size as well. If you want a big body to make big plays deep, eye Coleman somewhere in the late 1st, the value is there.
- Possession Receiver: Jordan Matthews, Vanderbilt
Sticking with the big body theme, if your offense needs a guy who excels at the finer points of the Wide Receiver position such as running routes, working the middle of the field, moving the chains, strong hands, Jordan Matthews is the obvious solution. Another late 1st value, Matthews has displayed immaculate route running over his career and Vanderbilt and is very sure handed, even when coming across the middle and into the teeth of a defense.
- Slot: Jalen Saunders, Oklahoma
Slot receivers are generally regarded as smaller receivers with short area quickness to create huge mismatch separations against safeties and linebackers out of the base defense. I could have opted for Oregon State's Brandin Cooks here, but I think Cooks is more of a perimeter burner...he's got that kind of skill set. So we look at a guy in Saunders who is diminutive but extremely slippery. He might be the best route runner in the class as well, no wasted movement. He's very good at setting up defenders once he's closed his cushion. He also sports a good set of hands to make his targets count. If you need a slot guy, don't be afraid to pull the trigger on the back end of Day 2, his size will cause him to slip outside the first few rounds...but he's a huge steal anywhere in Day 3.
- Perimeter Burner: Odell Beckham Jr, Louisiana State
The name of the game is speed. You can't coach speed. So if you have a guy who has HUGE hands, catches the ball well, has the size to play on the outside and has killer speed, the value is going to be much greater than many of the other roles an offense can fulfill. Odell Beckham is my #3 overall receiver and I'd be comfortable taking him anywhere in the middle of the first round even going up into the 12th overall selection range. Based on the film he's 16th overall on my big board. He comes from a pro style passing offense, helps his team with kick return duties, excels at making big plays and displays good ball skills catching the ball away from his body. He's the total package, but he will beat you with his speed again and again if you let him.
- Featured Receiver: Sammy Watkins, Clemson
This really came down to two options for me: Watkins and USC's Marqise Lee. Both are good route runners but Watkins has hands that are a little softer and is a little more dynamic after the catch. If you need a guy to feature your passing offense around, Sammy Watkins is your best option, but you'll pay a hefty price; likely somewhere in the top 8 picks.
- Down Field Seam Threat: Eric Ebron, North Carolina
He's the most dynamic receiver at the TE position I've seen since Vernon Davis. Size is there, speed is there, outstanding hands, runs good routes and will get overtop of the linebackers in a hurry. Ebron is the latest "new age" TE to enter the league, a physical freak who will cause fits for a defense trying to game plan against him and he's much, much more refined than the likes of Jimmy Graham, his established contemporary. But again, you'll have to pay a hefty price for Ebron, I see very little chance of him slipping outside the top 12.
- In Line Blocker: CJ Fiedorowicz, Iowa
Just because the league has evolved into a finesse passing league doesn't mean that guys who are more blockers than receivers at the TE position don't carry value. Fiedorowicz has massive size and fit in well at a school like Iowa with a long lineage of powerful smashmouth blockers. He isn't going to consistently beat you running routes, he's pretty lethargic down the field. But that's alright...he still carries plenty of value somewhere at the tail end of Round 3 as a guy to sure up your run game and have just enough to keep a defense honest with his receiving.
- Move piece H-Back: Jacob Pedersen, Wisconsin
Pedersen was pretty under-appreciated this season by the draft community, he's a very technically sound player who was very productive as a receiver in his Senior season and also displays a very high football IQ in his blocking technique. He always has the proper head placement and is very good at baiting defenders in both run and pass situations. His size and functional strength limit him as a traditional TE but as a move piece you can shift across the set or line up in the backfield, it doesn't get any better in the class than Pedersen. If you want a guy who can win vs. LBs and line up in a multitude of places but isn't quite an every down hand in the dirt TE, Pedersen somewhere in the middle of Day 2 presents a lot of value.
Traditional TE: Austin Seferian-Jenkins, Washington
If you're nostalgic at heart, Austin Seferian-Jenkins likely tugs at your heart strings. Line him up next to the tackle with his hand in the dirt and watch him manhandle linebackers or turn out defensive ends with ease. Watch him get up the seam inside the red zone and just simply outreach a Safety for a well placed football for an easy touchdown. ASF is a throw back to the old school Tight Ends and the best option if you need a well rounded guy who can fill the traditional TE role in an offense. And as an extra bonus, because isn't quite as dynamic as some of the other guys, he's a pretty good bargain value if you can manage to scoop him up somewhere in the first half of Round 2!
Questions? Comments? You can reach me on Twitter at @NFLDraftTracker, I'm more than happy to give you my thoughts on the other skill players who you feel may fulfill these roles.