The War Room: NFL Draft Debate Round One

The Jets are on the clock with the 18th overall pick. Odell Beckham Jr. and Brandin Cooks are both available. Connor Rogers is yelling to take one, preferably Cooks. Fellow draft analyst Mike O’Connor is shouting back to avoid both. Let’s listen in on their conversation inside the war room.

Connor Rogers: Why would you avoid Cooks and Beckham Jr. at 18 overall?

Mike O’C:  One word jumps to mind when answering this question: mediocrity.  There are prospects that I watch to evaluate and simply don’t like.  Cooks and Beckham Jr don’t fall under that category.  In fact, I like both for their particular skillsets, but that’s where I started drawing lines.

Even if I could find a perfect fit for them in an offense, I’m not sure their overall talent warrants anything more than a late second round pick.  To me, it’s a classic case of getting exactly what you see on tape.

With Beckham Jr, I understand the love for him that makes him worthy of going at 18, or at least more so than I do with Cooks.  Most of the online scouting community has even heralded him as a Top 3 receiver in this class.

Before the 2013 college football season, I watched the LSU wideout and gave him a mid round pick radius-type prediction.  After seeing him improve on some inconsistencies a bit like concentration and discipline in 2013, I pinpointed his grade to an early third round grade.

The key was that he reassured some about his inconsistencies.  I’m not convinced at all there’s a wide enough skillset to draft him in confidence that he can be a dynamic #1 receiver in future time.

The 5’11, 198 lb LSU product is a superbly refined receiver and being an extremely critical evaluator of catching ability and route running, this is essential.  Yet, even the perfectly refined receiver can only get so far if he doesn’t have any skills that set him apart from the rest of the pack.

Beckham is fast, sure, but doesn’t explode out of his cuts like one would hope to see.  He also possesses great flexibility within his routes, but it doesn’t translate to its full potential since he doesn’t know how to set up defenders to faint on his routes.

Additionally, a guy with a slight frame who’s a shade under six feet must have fearless yet smart physicality to work with, and I’m not sure I can credit his with either one of those descriptions yet.  While he can surely improve on some tactics at the next level, there are really no special things to go on about that I would guess he could utilize at some point in his career.

One might wonder what I mean by finding “special traits” that can make even those who come off as average players very valuable.  Last year, West Virginia receiver Stedman Bailey wrote the book on this.

He was only 5’10 without the speed that Beckham or Cooks have and he wasn’t all too explosive after the catch.  Yet, his route running was immaculate.  So good, in fact, that the separation he was always getting wasn’t just a result of his precision in routes and clean practice, it was his intelligence to set up defenders as bait and act on their mistakes.  Such an ability isn’t one somebody can master after they’ve proved they can’t do it.  It’s special (and for what it’s worth, I liked Bailey in the late first round).

Brandin Cooks is a similar story in the regard that I don’t think he can advance further with his upside beyond what he basically already is.  After exploding the past two years at Oregon State, Cooks has proved himself as a reliable weapon in the slot or out wide, and even more lethal with the ball in his hands.  Yet, how much value does he actually have?

Cooks is just barely 5’10, which doesn’t bode well for him when he also has a very narrow frame and arguably has his most severe flaws in maintaining adequate physicality through the process of the catch.

He flashes nice body control and discipline at the catch, but it’s such a rare sight because his height and inability to consistently get himself in the position of beneficial leverage over a defender restrict him so much.

Cooks also lacks the gears and precision in routes that make some of the top tier receivers special.  I think he may be restricted to the slot in the NFL because of his inability to set up defenders, since his routes are basically stuck on the notch of top speed (which isn’t a good thing, it makes routes obvious).

We see what he can do when he flashes with go routes and underneath plays designed to get him the ball in space, but why is the worth of a limited receiver who’s flaws will only get heavier on him in the NFL suddenly considered valuable to the Jets?  They need a starter out wide, it’s that simple.

If fans want to draft a guy who’s probably of most use in and out of the backfield to try and be their best receiver on the team next year (a receiver at 18 should be able to accomplish that), they can be my guest to hope for mediocrity.

In no way shape or form am I severely degrading Beckham Jr or Cooks as prospects, because I can see the talent and where it’s valuable.  But in my blunt opinion, it’s just not there for 18.  Teams more thoroughly built on offense can pick role-specific players, but the Jets are the furthest structure from that right now.

If they can grab Jace Amaro or Marqise Lee and not only adequately fill a position of need, but get a player with a wide skillset and an evidently large ceiling, they will be better off.

Sometimes the draft is much simpler than it seems, and in this case, I believe that is so.  The Jets need to fill wide receiver, a position of intense need, with one capable to do the job to its full potential and not serve as just a gadget.

Rebuttal- Connor Rogers: 

Regarding Beckham Jr., his style of play reminds me of Steve Smith of the Panthers. While not the most physically imposing figure, he has a solid build and attacks the ball in the air. Not only is he is a lethal punt returner, but he improved drastically on his receiving game from his sophomore to junior seasons.

In each of his three seasons (even as a freshman when he was not a focal point of the offense) Beckham Jr. has exceeded 40 catches. When watching the tape, it seemed as if he often bailed out quarterback Zach Mettenberger’s errant throws.

For a guy classified as a gun slinger, Mettenberger often under threw Beckham who came back to the ball nicely, often reaching over defensive backs. The Jets need a big play wide out and Beckham Jr. fits the mold as he averaged 19.5 yards per catch on 59 catches this past season.

As for Cooks, you claimed that “he is what he already is.” If that is the case, I’m okay with that after the previous two seasons he posted at Oregon State. He compiled 195 catches for 2,881 yards and 21 touchdowns. He did not become Oregon State’s number one target until his Junior year, as he played across from the dynamic Markus Wheaton.

When Cooks did take over Wheaton’s number one spot, he thrived. He reeled in 128 catches for 1,730 yards and 16 touchdowns on his way to winning the Biletnikoff award as the best wide out in the country. On tape he finds the soft spot in the zone better than any wide out in this draft class, including Sammy Watkins.

Geno Smith needs a wide receiver that can gain separation no matter the situation. Pair Cooks with Jeremy Kerley and the Jets receiving corps becomes much more difficult to handle, especially on third downs (one of the most important aspects on both sides of the ball in the NFL).

 

Mike O’C:  Interesting how two can feel so differently on players.  Just so I do notlook like a troll from under the draft bridge, I’m very high on Wisconsin WR Jared Abbrederis.  So high, in fact, that I’d rather see the Jets take him at 18 if they’re going to decide to reach for a receiver.  However, I’d love the value if they take him in the second round.  He embodies a complete receiver who can grow even more at the next level.

Connor, what’s your stance on him?

Connor: 

Unlike a majority of the draft community, I am not a big fan of Abbrederis at all for a magnitude of reasons. At best, I currently see him as a late third round selection but more of a fourth to fifth round prospect. Here is why:

Similar to how you feel about Beckham Jr., I think Abbrederis has maxed out his ability. While he had a nice college career, I do not see his game translating well in the NFL, especially as an outside wide out.

He is not a physical player and immensely struggles against press coverage. Unfortunately, he was also not blessed with “pure” speed. He appears more quick than fast on the field, but his lack of strength allows him to be easily thrown off of his routes.

The NFL is an entirely different game than college ball, especially the passing attack. Defensive backs are bigger, stronger, and faster than they ever have been. While one could make the same argument for wide receivers, Abbrederis does not fit that mold.

I’m not saying he has no chance of making it in the NFL, I just feel he will not be the impact wide out the Jets are searching for. If he is on the board on day 3, taking a flyer on him would not be a bad move. A team taking him on day one or two will most likely be disappointed though, as I do not see him being physical or athletic enough to get open on a consistent basis in the NFL.

At the end of the day, I’ll bet the two juniors who declared early (Odell Beckham Jr. and Brandin Cooks) have a higher probability of rounding out their (already impressive) game, while the senior and former walk on in Abbrederis has peaked in terms of ability.

Give me your thoughts on Abbrederis, Mike.

Mike O’C:

Even though I’m a big fan of Abbrederis, I actually agree with the fact that his ceiling isn’t necessarily very high.  He is what he is, like I said with the other two receivers, but I kind of like it in his case.  He’s fast enough for me and his all around explosiveness is very underrated.  His catching ability has proven to be consistent, even though his hands aren’t as strong as some of the bests’ this year.

The real reason I love the Wisconsin product is his route running. With his adequate speed and acceleration, he already has some of it down.  Yet, he’s also fluid in routes and perfectly patient.  I agree with you, Connor, in the fact that his overall strength is lacking.  However, with how strict he is to maintaining his focus to his route and patience to accept and fix getting redirected in-route, I really don’t mind.

Additionally, Abbrederis can outsmart defenders like I haven’t seen from the former two receivers we’ve debated.  Not only does he correctly sit down on routes and round them off when he’s set up his defender with a fake, but he goes beyond that with his ability to smooth over his lack of strength.  Like I mentioned before, he has a knack for still getting eventual separation even when being out-muscled off the line.  Even more importantly, he finds open zones when he can’t continue a route because of double teams or press.

I think Abbrederis certainly has a role in the league, despite not being an overly attractive fit with the Jets.  I wouldn’t be surprised to see him become the first receiver taken in the second round after Watkins, Lee, and Evans in the first.