As we begin the countdown to the NFL Draft starting on April 30,
I will spend anywhere from 4-8 hours to break down the strengths
and weaknesses of at least the top 15 offensive skill-position prospects
available in this draft.
Parker has NFL size and sneaky speed but
will need the right scheme to flourish at the next level.
Parker burst onto the scene as a sophomore, leading the Cardinals
with 744 yards receiving and a school-record tying 10 touchdown
receptions in 2012. The Kentucky native stepped up the production
even more as a junior, recording career highs nearly across the
board (55-885-12), with the 12 touchdowns setting a school record.
Still, he generated only second- and third-round grades from the
NFL as a junior, so he returned to school despite the fact quarterback
Teddy Bridgewater turned pro and played out his final year. Although
his senior season got off to a rough start – he missed the
first seven games of 2014 after suffering a left foot injury during
summer practice that required surgery – Parker came back like
a man possessed, nearly matching his junior-year totals by posting
a 43-855-5 line despite playing half as many contests in 2014 (six)
than in 2013 (12). Even though he made only four starts and missed
more than half the season, Parker still earned second-team All-ACC
honors as voted on by the league’s coaches and leaves Louisville
tied for first in career touchdown receptions (33).
Best Scheme Fit: West Coast offense,
especially after he puts on more muscle. His route-running, which
is already better than most college receivers, should only improve
as he moves forward, making him an even better fit for a short-to-intermediate
Evolved from primarily a deep threat into an all-around
receiver in 2014, increasing the number of routes he ran and
turning numerous short throws into big plays.
Hands-catcher who was credited with only three drops
since 2012; more than willing to go over the middle and consistently
tracks the ball well over his shoulder on sideline throws.
Surprising open-field elusiveness for a taller receiver;
defenders are rarely able to get a jam on him.
Long strider with build-up speed; also does nice job
of setting defenders up, allowing him to create separation on
intermediate and deep routes.
Huge wingspan (80-plus inches) combined with prototypical
height gives him a big edge in close quarters and on poorly-thrown
Consistently works his way back to the quarterback when
he is under duress (scramble rules).
Will win more than his fair share of jump balls, but
seems indifferent at times if the deep ball isn’t thrown
close enough to him; shows too much inconsistent (and sometimes
poor) effort when he is not the target.
Lacks elite initial burst, which could make it hard
for him to separate from NFL defensive backs; doesn’t
use big frame well enough at this point to shield off defenders.
Has shown a tendency to push off on downfield throws
to create last little bit of separation; unlikely to consistently
get away with that in the NFL.
Made strides in terms of his blocking in 2014, but still
has much work to do to become merely average at the pro level.
Durability will be a bit of a question until he adds
more muscle; missed at least one game each of the last two seasons.
While he flashed first-round talent and played with a much-heightened
sense of urgency in 2014, I feel Parkerís ability to be
a No. 1 receiver at the next level will be much more scheme-dependent
than West Virginiaís Kevin White or Alabamaís Amari
Cooperís will. As such, I will place him on a rung below
the two receivers most analysts have recognized as the draftís
top two prospects at the position. For what it is worth, Parker
did his draft stock a huge favor by coming back for his final
year of college as I saw very little in six pre-2014 games to
suggest he wanted to be anything more than a downfield threat.
Based on the jump he made from his junior to senior year (and
projecting the same to his rookie year in the NFL), I can easily
see why evaluators are ready to put him into the top 10 of this
draft. After all, he has great height/wingspan with the frame
to add more weight, is slippery in the short passing game and
sneaky good as a vertical threat. Iím just not ready to
go there yet with him. As you might be able to tell from above,
my biggest problem with him is desire; I studied him in nine games
and not once did I see an example of him making a play to break
up an interception on a poorly-thrown ball or a critical block
to spring a running back for a big gain. Thereís no doubt
in my mind he is a NFL receiver, but I believe how good he becomes
will ultimately depend on how much his coaches stay on him to
get the most of his talent. Iíd feel more comfortable with
him as a second receiver initially, although he could easily enjoy
the same kind of immediate success as a deep/red-zone threat that
Martavis Bryant did in 2014 for the Pittsburgh Steelers. He could
just as easily land in a poor situation and struggle due to a
lack of strength and separation as a rookie. Suffice it to say
I believe there is a wide range between his floor and ceiling
at the pro level.
Doug Orth has written for FF Today since 2006 and appeared in
USA Today’s Fantasy Football Preview magazine in 2010 and
2011. He is also the host of USA Today’s hour-long, pre-kickoff
fantasy football internet chat every Sunday. Doug regularly appears
as a fantasy football analyst on Sirius XM’s “Fantasy
Drive” and for 106.7 The Fan (WJFK – Washington, D.C).
He is also a member of the Fantasy Sports Writers Association.
E-mail Doug or follow
him on Twitter.