As offensive coordinators put in their two cents in their team’s war room, they’ll likely be pounding the table for players that can create match-up nightmares for opposing defenses. A versatile weapon that can play all over the field can certainly take an offense to the next level.
Which game breaking players will they be lobbying for this year?
WR Tavon Austin, West Virginia
If you're a team looking for a slot receiver with elite game breaking ability, look no further than Tavon Austin. With 4.34 speed and incredible vision and change of direction ability, Austin was one of the most dangerous weapons in all of college football last year.
One of Austin's best traits is his versatility, which was put on display in his massive game against Oklahoma. In that game he caught four passes for 82 yards, had 21 carries for 344 yards, and racked up 146 return yards as well. Those 572 all purpose yards were the second most in NCAA history, and were a perfect example of just how versatile Austin can be.
Austin won't be carrying the ball 20+ times in the NFL, but he'll still be a tremendous weapon however he gets the ball in his hands. He plays tough in spite of his size, and isn't afraid of getting hit over the middle. He's small, but players like DeSean Jackson came into the league undersized and were able to make an impact. Austin could end up being one of the biggest play makers drafted this year.
FB Kyle Juszczyk, Harvard
In an era where fullbacks are often overlooked altogether, it might be surprising to see one listed as a player with the potential to be one of the more unique weapons in the Draft. And while Kyle Juszczyk isn't likely to be drafted within the first few rounds of the draft, but the Harvard product will likely end up making an impact at the next level anyway.
Juszczyk isn't a prototypical fullback. He wasn't invited to the Combine, but at his pro day he put up some extremely impressive numbers. His 4.71 forty time wouldn't have stood out in Indianapolis, but his 37 in vertical, 10 foot 1 inch broad jump, and 24 reps on the bench press show what an athletic talent Juszczyk is.
While at Harvard he led the team in receiving in 2012, catching 52 passes for 706 yards. He was also a strong lead blocker when asked to, and with such strong talent in the running and passing game he should prove to be a great H-Back player in the NFL.
WR/RB Denard Robinson, Michigan
For any draft prospect, making a transition from one position to another leading up to the draft is an extremely difficult task. For Denard Robinson, making the move from quarterback to potentially wide receiver or running back, all the while trying to recover from nerve injury that caused numbness in his hand, it’s been even more difficult.
The move got off to a rough start during the Senior Bowl, where Robinson failed to look comfortable as a wide receiver throughout the week. However, his showing at the Combine was light years ahead of where he had been, and he now looks like a legitimate talent at either wide receiver or running back.
There might be some question about where Robinson will play at the next level, there’s no doubt that he’ll have the raw talent to make plays. Time after time he showed the ability to create big plays out of nothing while at Michigan. He’s got a great talent of making defenders miss and has the sort of ability that a creative offensive coordinator can use all over the field.
TE Tyler Eifert, Notre Dame & TE Zach Ertz, Stanford
As the NFL has gone searching for athletic tight ends with the ability to burn defenses deep, players like Jared Cook and Aaron Hernandez have become examples of what many want out of a “modern” tight end. But blocking is still a key trait for tight ends, and neither Cook nor Hernandez excel at that.
For Tyler Eifert and Zach Ertz on the other hand, their presence on the field will give defenses little indication as to whether the offense will be running or passing. These two stand out amongst the other tight ends because they’ve shown great ability to block as well as impressive talent catching passes that many other players would have been able to. Both of these players are very talented and could prove to be two of the best all-around talents in this draft.
WR Justin Hunter, Tennessee
If wide receivers were drafted solely on athletic ability alone, there’d be no question that Justin Hunter would be a first round selection. Prior to the Combine there were many that wondered what sort of numbers he’d put up as he was just over a year removed from an ACL injury. By the time he left Indianapolis, those questions were certainly answered. He ran the forty in 4.44 seconds, put up a 39.5 inch vertical jump and 136 inch broad jump. Pairing those numbers with a 6’4 frame, he’s got raw athletic talent that can stretch defenses and create mismatches with smaller defensive backs.
It is concerning that Hunter didn’t have quite the same success in 2012 stretching defenses as he did prior to the injury, but that’s partially due to his role changing in Tennessee’s offense. The coaches there elected to have Cordarrelle Patterson run more deep routes, which left Hunter to spend more time running intermediate routes and blocking. While no one would claim Hunter excelled at blocking, he did show that he’s capable of making at impact in the running game and that ability makes him more than just a one trick receiver. Still, his best trait in the NFL will be running past defensive backs, and not necessarily blocking them.
RB Gio Bernard, North Carolina
There may not be a more dynamic running back in this year's class than Gio Bernard. Not only is he perhaps the best running back in this draft, but he's also one the most talented kick returners as well. An explosive player, he's a threat to take the ball to the end zone on any carry. He also could be the running back with the best hands and route running skills in this class.
The main knock on Bernard is his durability. He's more powerful than you'd expect a guy his size (5'10, 205) to be, and he's capable of getting yards after contact. In spite of that, he's struggled to stay healthy for a good portion of his career. He'll be better off in a system where he can share the backfield with another good running back, which could limit how much of his explosive potential is realized.
WR Cordarrelle Patterson, Tennessee
A quick glance at Cordarrelle Patterson's scouting report, and you might think you were reading about a smallish slot receiver. What you might not expect, however, is a 6'2 215 player that is capable of playing in the outside of formations as well as playing in the slot.
Patterson boasts a combination of size, speed, and vision that make him a fit in practically every NFL offense. There’s no question that athletically, Patterson has the potential to 31 defensive coordinators trouble for years to come. The real question here is whether or not Patterson will be able to develop into the star he could potentially be.
TE Jordan Reed, Florida
Jordan Reed often gets lost in the tight end discussion thanks to players like Eifert and Ertz, but don't overlook the talent the former Gator possesses. And while he’s not nearly the blocker that those two are, Reed still has a significant role in many offenses. He’s the sort of tight end that can play outside as well, and even when he’s playing in a three point stance he gets of the line quickly. With good hands, separation, and route running, he’ll attract the attention of teams looking for a player in the mold of Jared Cook.
WR Ryan Swope, Texas A&M
Prior to the Combine, many thought of Ryan Swope as player that displayed good technical qualities but athletically would be limited to a role as a slot receiver. Now that he’s shown that he’s actually got straight line speed to challenge players like Tavon Austin, Swope could realistically grow into quite an offensive weapon. It may take some work to get that out of him – there’s a reason people didn’t see that speed on film – but he could prove to be a great selection for a team looking for speed at the position.