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Searching for a deep threat in the NFL Draft

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Who will burn up Indy?

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NCAA Football: Georgia Tech at Georgia Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

A constraint refrain from the fan base last season was that the Philadelphia Eaglesneed a deep threat”.

While I’m not as sold on the absolute need as others, it definitely hurt the offense when Mike Wallace went down for the season. It also didn’t help that for most of the season Nelson Agholor was used in a low depth of target after catch role that didn’t suit his game. Additionally, I have a hard time believing Alshon Jeffery “commands attention” while also believing a field stretcher is as desperate need as some make it out to be.

Extra attention is extra attention and Jeffery absolutely received it towards the end of the season. The offense went from creating the 21st most explosive passing plays of 20+ yards to 16th in 2018, which isn’t ideal yet also doesn’t fit the narrative. But I digress.

The Eagles’ are definitely interested in utilizing a speed element on the outside opposite of Jeffery. They signed Torrey Smith for the role in 2017 with mixed results. They took a swing on Shelton Gibson in the fifth-round in the 2017 NFL Draft, that move has produced basically nothing. They signed Wallace for the role in 2018. They reportedly had interest in New York Jets’ deep threat Robby Anderson before ultimately dealing for Golden Tate.

The resources used to acquire these players were of the bargain bin variety. Of the three noted above, none came at a higher than $5M cap hit. That might be a sign of bad news to come for those that desperately want to select a home run hitter in the first round. It might also mean nothing, as that first round contract won’t hit over $5M unless the fifth-year option is picked up. Still, a first round selection should be considered a premium pick. Ultimately, this could all mean nothing, but it’s worth noting.

If the answer to this problem doesn’t come in free agency, it’ll have to come in the 2019 NFL Draft. I tried to cast a wide net in the search for the next burner and the following list of prospects span Day 1 to Day 3 projections. With the NFL Combine fast-approaching, it’s a great time to take a look at who I think will elevate their stock with lightning fast testing.

MECOLE HARDMAN JR., Georgia (5’11”, 183lbs)

Hardman is fairly new to the wide receiver position, but he’s not new to having afterburners. The number one ranked athlete in the 2016 recruiting class, he’s been clocked at 4.32 coming out of high school. Confident in his development and training, Hardman has even said John Ross’ record of 4.22 isn’t out of sight.

A national audience got a glimpse of his speed in the 2018 National Championship Game.

Hardman’s one of my favorite potential Day 2 bargain buys, but the secret on him may be out after he lights up Indianapolis.

PARRIS CAMPBELL, Ohio State (6’1”, 208lbs)

Campbell had big time production in his last year as a Buckeye, posting an impressive 90-1,063-12 stat line. While he lacks polish as a route runner, when Campbell gets the ball in his hands he’s a threat to take it to the house every time.

From The Draft Network’s Kyle Crabbs:

“...projects best as a swiss army knife at the NFL level. His speed can be game-breaking and his ability to create missed tackles will hold value in the quick game and as a screen receiver. That said, Campbell’s play speed doesn’t translate to the rest of his routes, making him somewhat one dimensional as a receiver going forward. Look for Campbell to play special teams and be a package specific weapon during his NFL career.”

DARIUS SLAYTON, Auburn (6’2”, 190lbs)

The Tigers’ run-first offense didn’t do Slayton many favors in terms of scheme or usage. He ran a basic route tree and essentially ran less than a handful of routes. When the offense took an aggressive approach for their bowl game against Purdue, Slayton shined.

In 29 games Slayton grabbed 79 balls for 1,605 yards (20.3 yards per catch!) and 11 touchdowns. He’s said to have been clocked at 4.35 in the past and has the athletic profile to project to a more advanced route tree if asked. Slayton is a sleeper that teams might pass on for lack of imagination.

EMANUEL HALL, Missouri (6’3”, 200lbs)

Another prospect that ran a limited route tree but projects well is Missouri’s Emanuel Hall. What makes him enticing is that he’s a 6’3”, 200-pounder that could run in the low 4.4s.

Hall’s stock took a hit when he battled through a groin injury in the middle of 2018. It’s a shame because before the injury he posted back-to-back 171-yard receiving performances while hitting pay-dirt three times.

Outside of his deep threat ability, what impresses me most about Hall is the polish in his releases. Too often “field stretcher” means “one trick pony” for these prospects, but there’s more to like about Hall’s game than his ability to create big plays. Hall consistently wins at the line, which is a must if he’s going to be a consistent three-level contributor.

ANDY ISABELLA, UMass (5’8”, 186lbs)

If you can get past the limited physical profile with a tiny catch radius and cant-hold-a-Whopper hands, Isabella will charm the pants off you with his testing. There’s a legit chance he comes in the 4.2s in the 40-yard dash and he’s likely a lock to hit 4.3s. His track background, which includes beating Denzel Ward in the 100m, projects well to exciting numbers in Indianapolis.

From Pro Football Focustop 101 college players of 2018, in which Isabella ranked sixth overall:

“All he did in 2018 was lead the nation in overall grade (93.2), receiving grade (93.8), yards (1,695) and combined first-down and touchdown receptions (68). He was a threat with the ball in his hands just as much as he was a threat to get open even against the best competition, something he put on display against Georgia in UMass’ biggest game of the season. Against the vaunted Bulldogs secondary, Isabella went for 15 receptions, 219 yards, four first downs and two touchdowns.” - Cam Mellor

ALEX WESLEY, Northern Colorado (6’0”, 184lbs)

Wesley is aiming to land in the 4.3s at the Combine and has produced big numbers in the last two years. In the past two years, he’s produced consecutive one-thousand yard seasons and an 18.4 yards per catch average. In 2018, he blitzed the box score with six 100-yard games.

Wesley’s extensive track background bodes well for the turf in Indianapolis and for his draft stock. Could wind up being a Day 3 steal.

MARQUISE BROWN, Oklahoma (5’10”, 168lbs)

“Hollywood” has 3rd round tape with a 1st round trump card. If you look past the issues contested catch issues, you’ll find a lot to like about Brown. Namely, his devastating speed. Along with that comes his ability to hit home runs after the catch, where he’s a creative and shifty threat. He averaged a blistering 8.5 yards after the catch in 2018.

Brown won’t test at the Combine due to requiring Lisfranc surgery on his foot. It doesn’t matter though; we know he’s got jets. In fact, his preferred nickname is “Jet”.

I don’t think I’ll value Brown high enough to be “in” on him, but if he can consistently hit dingers, nobody will regret drafting him high. If the warts on his film grow in the NFL, there may be some buyers’ remorse.

Will the Eagles satiate the fans’ desire to select a player that can “take the top off” enemy defenses? Time will tell. If they do, chances are it’ll be one of the cheetahs from this list.