Alas, Tier 3 – the final tier in my look at the best skill position players in the 2012 NFL Draft. In this tier, I will cover Russell Wilson, Lamar Miller, Isaiah Pead, Mo Sanu, Juron Criner, Rueben Randle, Joe Adams, and Stephen Hill. As with Tier 1 and Tier 2, I’ll provide a scouting report, explore potential destinations, and provide an outlook on fantasy impact in their rookie season and beyond.
QB Russell Wilson, Wisconsin
A shade under 5’11, the biggest thing (pun intended) working against the draft stock of Russell Wilson continues to be his height. Though he worked behind a tall line at Wisconsin, the pocket will be much worse no matter which team he lands at in the NFL. As a result, it will be difficult for Wilson to find passing lanes. What he does have working for him is athletic feet (he’s a former baseball player and you can tell) and a quick release. His ability to improvise and throw outside of the pocket are also strengths.
Buffalo Bills (71), Denver Broncos (87)
Buffalo may add a quarterback earlier than Round 3, but if they haven’t by then and Wilson is still there, they have to consider. In Chan Gailey’s offense and with their weapons, Wilson should be able to move around the pocket and get the ball in the hands of their playmakers. Ryan Fitzpatrick graded out negatively in 7 of his final 9 games last season, so the quarterback concerns are justified.
The Broncos signed Caleb Hanie (-6.9 rating in just 4 starts), but surely they aren’t banking on him as an insurance policy for Peyton Manning. Down the road, Russell Wilson could become the heir-apparent to Manning or if the neck can’t hold up they at least won’t be stuck with just Caleb Hanie.
Oddly enough, Russell Wilson is one of the safest QB prospects in the NFL Draft. It’s strange to say that about someone his height but absolute worst case scenario Wilson will be a solid spot starter like a Seneca Wallace. He is a good teammate and should help out whichever team drafts him in some capacity though likely not as a starter out the gates.
RB Lamar Miller, Miami
Hailing from the University of Miami, the redshirt sophomore Lamar Miller is one of the more intriguing rookie running back prospects. Seen by many as a one cut runner, Miller has straight line speed and the ability to kick it into gear very quickly if given a lane. But, rarely does he string multiple moves together and his willingness to engage contact has been questioned in both the running game and the blocking game. Though he has the ideal NFL running back body (5’10 210), there are also concerns about how quickly that Lamar Miller can grasp an NFL playbook.
Baltimore (60), Washington (69)
With the retiring of Ricky Williams, the Baltimore Ravens wouldn’t go into next season (and the potential Ray Rice holdout) with just Anthony Allen (7 total snaps in 2011) would they? It’s hard to believe that Ozzie Newsome would be okay with that. Even with Ray Rice, someone new needs to step up and take the 269 snaps that Ricky accounted for and Lamar Miller could be a nice change of pace to keep defenses off-balance.
Tim Hightower looks to be out of Washington and even though Roy Helu/Evan Royster looked promising, Mike Shanahan cycles through running backs like pieces of gum. The last time Mike went with a running back from Miami it turned out pretty well with Clinton Portis. In fact, several scouts compare Lamar Miller to Clinton Portis, and either way, the zone blocking scheme that Washington incorporates would be great for him.
As mentioned before, there may be a bit of a learning curve for Lamar Miller if reports are true about him taking some time to grasp a playbook. Keep an eye on where he goes in the draft as that can be a good indicator of how often a team will use him.
RB Isaiah Pead, Cincinnati
Isaiah Pead is a true change of pace running back, with ability to take it the distance if you give him the edge. He also packs some serious wiggle and has showcased skills in the return game as well. Like all young change of pace backs, his ability to contribute early centers on how consistently he can do the dirty work of blocking, catching, and holding onto the football.
Tampa Bay Bucs (68), Cincinnati Bengals (83)
The Bucs sorely lack a change of pace running back. Acquiring one would be great for Josh Freeman as a safety valve on 3rd down, as Kregg Lumpkin (-8.5) wasn’t cutting it and has gone to the Seahawks anyways. Not only that, but it would be a nice mixer for LeGarrette Blount, or maybe even someone to push for starters playing time.
I’m sure that Isaiah Pead wouldn’t mind staying in Cincinnati and heading to the hometown Bengals. They did sign the law firm but could still use a change of pace back and would welcome the added return ability as well.
Isaiah Pead may never be more than a 20 carries a game type of guy but he could make up for that by being a versatile offense weapon for defenses to fear. Similar to a Reggie Bush, even if the statistics don’t excite, defenses understand what he brings to an offense. In the right situation, Isaiah Pead could serve as a very important asset.
WR Mo Sanu, Rutgers
Mo Sanu hopped onto several radars after an impressive true freshman 2009 season and maintained that pace throughout his time at Rutgers. Though some soured on him after a 4.67 40 time, the former running back can make defenders miss even without lightning fast straight line speed. He also displays impressive body control and is willing to make the tough catch over the middle.
New York Jets (47), Tampa Bay Bucs (68)
The landing spot for Sanu has been all over the place. While I wouldn’t bat an eyelash if he went early 2nd round, he could last until the 3rd with concerns about his speed. The Jets could use not only a receiver like Sanu, but an offensive weapon. As we’ve seen from the acquisition of Tim Tebow or the utilization of Brad Smith in the past, the Jets like to think outside of the box and don’t generally put limits on their offensive scheme personnel.
Tampa Bay seems like an obvious spot for Mo Sanu to reunite with his college coach Greg Schiano. At Rutgers, Sanu was basically the only weapon on the Scarlet Knights offense. As a result, it’s likely that Schiano realized just what Sanu brings to the table.
Sliding under the radar for the past 4 months, Sanu may not be flashy or a burner but he will make the tough catch and is used to being the primary focus of an offense. Whichever team gets him will just have to make due with the fact that he’s a good football player.
WR Juron Criner, Arizona
While he doesn’t have fantastic run after the catch or the shake-and-bake moves to fool defenders, Juron Criner always finds a way to make the tough catch. While the type of speed that most wish Criner had cannot really be taught, neither can his innate ball skills. He goes up like a power forward going for a rebound and usually comes down with it. Even though many cite separation issues, the player believed to be the top man-to-man cornerback in the draft (Janoris Jenkins) called him the best wide receiver at the Senior Bowl for a reason.
Miami Dolphins (72), Arizona Cardinals (80)
The Dolphins still have a void at the wide receiver position left by the trading of Brandon Marshall. It seems that when a team trades a player, they’ll use that same draft pick to get their replacement. Now that I said that it probably won’t happen, but Juron Criner could make a good complimentary receiver to pair with Hartline, Bess, and Gates. Still, none of those players graded positively, meaning at the very least a backup plan could be a good idea.
As for Arizona, plenty of things point to Juron Criner being a good fit. Not only would Criner fill the role of receiver to be opposite of Larry Fitzgerald, but he played his college days in Arizona too. Between Fitzgerald and he, there might not be a better combo at going up to attack the ball.
Predicting the immediate production of Criner is a tough call. A lot will depend on the connection that he gets with his quarterback, how often the offense passes, and the depth chart around him. Don’t look for him to be a big yards after the catch guy but he could become a popular red-zone target.
WR Rueben Randle, LSU
Highly recruited out of high school, Rueben Randle could be utilized as much as he should have been at LSU with inconsistent QB play. He is one of the more gifted route runners to come out of college with ability to cut on a dime. He also has strider speed to beat you deep and is a consistent hands-catcher though his run after the catch isn’t quite as great as his run before the catch is. His ability to catch the ball in traffic isn’t superb but there is some untapped potential with Randle.
Cleveland Browns (22), St. Louis Rams (33)
I’m not sure if there even needs to be an explanation about why either of these team needs a WR.
Though he was never part of a pass-happy offense at LSU, the skills were most definitely there. He should step in day one and be a deep threat but his chances at taking his game to the next level will depend on how hard he’s willing to work and if he’s willing to make the tough grab he didn’t have to make at LSU.
WR Joe Adams, Arkansas
There are certain players who make fans hold their breath when they touch the ball – Joe Adams is one of those players. He may not have Jacoby Ford straight line speed, but he can make defenders miss in a phone book. His route running is a work in progress like all rookies, but his balance and shiftiness bodes well toward learning that craft. He will make plays on special teams and in the slot.
New England Patriots (62), Jacksonville Jaguars (70)
So many things make Joe Adams a fit for the Patriots. He can give them a deep threat that they lack. He can give them the punt returnman they haven’t had in a while. Even more, Adams could probably play cornerback too (and did so in high school). It almost makes too much sense.
In Jacksonville, they just don’t have any playmakers on the offensive side of the ball. Joe Adams would not only provide that but he would give them a legitimate punt returner too. Last year, Jaguars returnmen averaged just 4.4 yards per punt return, bad enough for 31st in the NFL. It’s the exact pick that the Jaguars should make, but probably won’t.
It’s tough to expect Joe Adams to be a big-time fantasy contributor if his senior year he only had 3 receiving touchdowns. Whether it was the case of not enough balls to go around if he just doesn’t possess a nose for the goaline is tough to determine. Either way, Adams was arguably the best return specialist in college football and should contribute in that department immediately.
WR Stephen Hill, Georgia Tech
Stephen Hill has been riding high on his performance at the NFL Combine, where he wowed with a 4.3 40 yard time. Though he averaged an eye popping 29.3 yards per catch last year, his 49 career catches would be the lowest by a 1st round pick since Arkansas quarterback Matt Jones. He also struggled with drops at times and has been criticized for his poor route running ability.
Houston Texans (26), Carolina Panthers (40)
The Texans are in a prime position to pick Stephen Hill. They have a clear need at wide receiver opposite of Andre Johnson and are fortunate enough to not have glaring needs at many other positions. Thus, they can afford to roll the dice on the upside of Hill and could do so if he falls to their laps at 26.
Carolina has a propensity for throwing the ball deep. In fact, last season Cam Newton attempted a pass of greater than 20 yards 17.2 percent of the time – the third most often of any QB in the NFL. So it makes sense that they would be salivating over a receiver who averaged 29.3 yards per catch.
The word “raw” is repeated a bit too often for rookies, but in the case of Stephen Hill it’s hard to find a more fitting term. His route running is far from ready for the NFL but his size/speed combination is extremely rare in the league. Expect early growing pains on Hill but if you’re a fan of high upside/high risk selections at wide receiver, look no farther.
The NFL Draft can’t get here any sooner. For more coverage, follow me on Twitter @MDaneshgar.