|by David Hood|
This Sunday, however, Hopkins has a different kind of impression he needs to make when he runs the 40-yard dash at the 2013 NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis, hoping to prove he has the kind of speed NFL executives and coaches are looking for in the early rounds of the NFL draft.
NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock, on a conference call with the media Monday afternoon, said that the 40-yard dash time is a critical part of a wide receiver’s combine resume, and said he thinks that Hopkins has more “quicks” than top end speed.
“Some teams have him in the third round. Some have him in the second round,” Mayock said. “With corners and wide receivers, when you’re talking combine, the obvious answer is speed. He goes out there and runs faster than people expect, he’s going to open some eyes and push people back to say, ‘Is he faster than we thought he was?’ I think he’s a little bit quicker than fast. If he went out there and ran a 4.40, it would open my eyes. The rest of the league would feel the same way.”
Mayock said Hopkins – who caught 205 passes for 3,009 yards and 27 touchdowns in three years at Clemson – is a player to watch at the Combine.
“Hopkins, to me, is intriguing,” Mayock said, “Very smooth with good hands.”
I asked Mayock if Hopkins’ performance against LSU in the Chick-fil-A Bowl opened the eyes of NFL execs and talent evaluators, and he said yes.
Hopkins caught 13 passes for 191 yards and two touchdowns.
“His bowl game I watched, it was fun. He made an awful lot of plays and he made them with the ball in his hands after the catch,” Mayock said.
Mayock then said another Clemson player has caught his eye and could be go as early as the second round – running back Andre Ellington.
“The guy that really caught my eye – and I didn’t expect to like him as much as do - is Andre Ellington,” Mayock said. “One of the reasons I like him is because at 195 pounds he might be the best effort, pass protecting running back in this draft, which is really surprising. He squares people up and he gets after them. Typically you don’t see that from those 195-pound, change-of-pace kind of backs. Ellington, I have him number three on my big board at running back. I like him better than most people. Most people see him as a third-rounder, but I have him as a second rounder.”
On Malliciah Goodman – “Goodman is another guy that you could see in the fourth or fifth round. He has some length. “
On Dalton Freeman – “Very draftable. Undersized, but he will make a team next year.”
NFL.com’s analysis of Hopkins, Ellington and Goodman
STRENGTHS: Presents good height and length for an outside receiver, also has some lower-body strength for explosion off the line of scrimmage and in his cuts. Solid route-runner used in the short, intermediate, and deep games, who has flexibility to avoid corners in zone and the quick feet to separate on hitches, comebacks, and other cuts. Does a nice job creating separation and deceiving defensive backs with head fakes and quick moves. Will threaten the top of defenses with NFL-quality straight-line speed. Possesses strong hands in traffic, not afraid of contact downfield and can separate at the last second with an arm extension. Agile enough to quickly avoid oncoming defenders after the catch yet remain balanced to head downfield for the big gain. Does not go down without a fight, can run through arm tackle attempts from cornerbacks. Snatches throws with his hands, even those within his frame. Concentrates on the ball throughout difficult catches and extends his long arms to make a big radius. Sells double-moves well with a head fake and body lean. Very good body control to contort his body on catches and pluck the ball out of the air, keep one foot in-bounds on the sideline. Effective run blocker, usually reaches his target and gets his hands up, uses correct blocking angle to sustain; also shows some nastiness at times, capable of putting his man to the ground. Consistently productive over his time at Clemson, improving his stats each season.
WEAKNESSES: Only average size for a starting outside receiver and has room to add bulk to his frame. Occasionally loses track of the ball on easy catches when trying to make a move too early. Must prove his ability to use his hands to beat press coverage from NFL veterans off the line. Dances around defenders and run backwards after short catches at times, losing his balance or some yardage, instead of heading upfield. Will need to be more consistently physical in the blocking game at the next level.
BOTTOM LINE: Sammy Watkins got a lot of headlines as a true freshman in 2011 because of his exceptional skills, but Clemson’s “other” receiver, Hopkins, produced consistently using his NFL body and hands. “Nuke” excited the Death Valley crowds with his big plays as a sophomore (978 yards, five touchdowns), but he took his game to the next level this past season, emerging as Clemson’s No. 1 weapon for Tajh Boyd. Hopkins re-wrote the Clemson receiving record books in 2012 with 18 receiving touchdowns and to put that in perspective the No. 2 player in the ACC in touchdown grabs was NC State’s Bryan Underwood with 10. Hopkins does a nice job setting up his routes to keep defenders off balance and attack the ball at its highest point – if the ball is thrown in Hopkins area, he goes and gets it. He has fluid body control and the focus to be a reliable starting WR option in the NFL. Should be in the conversation to be one of the first receivers drafted, probably in the late first round range.
STRENGTHS: Possesses above-average straight-line speed. Attacks the line of scrimmage in one-back formations. Good vision and foot quickness for the cutback, has a burst through the hole and can accelerate away from oncoming defenders. Tough for college safeties to get an angle on. Excellent balance in the open field to cut, put his hand on the ground to stay upright, or even leap sprawling defenders. Runs with some lean for his size, and he lowers his pads pre-contact to get an extra yard. Takes big hits and bounces back up. Tight-ropes the sideline when necessary to maximize runs. Shows the ability to create behind the line of scrimmage when the play side breaks down, and the creativity and knowledge of pursuit angles to set up second level defenders. Shows patience running behind pulling guards and fullbacks, can cut in either direction off the block. Stiff-arm in the open field can be effective in keeping away defensive backs. Very dangerous in space. Good hands to be a threat as a receiver in the flat, over the middle, on screens, and down the sideline on wheel routes. Dangerous kick returner who can slide through creases and explode into the open with quick cuts and pure acceleration.
WEAKNESSES: Undersized, and lacks great power as an inside back, though he has some lower-body strength and the effort is there when trying to run clock. Does not possess elite agility to elude defenders in space, and can be brought down by glancing tackle attempts. Cuts are not consistently decisive or strong. Pass protection skills are lacking, lays down at the feet of defenders instead of holding his ground. Generally holds the ball high and tight, but upper-body strength is not exceptional so the ball will come out on occasion. Runs with a very narrow base, negating any power he might have.
NFL COMPARISON: Jahvid Best.
BOTTOM LINE: Ellington turned in a second-team All-ACC season in 2011 and first-team in 2012, taking the lead with back-to-back thousand yard rushing seasons. His elite straight-line speed (if only average size) allows him to press the line with authority and accelerate to freedom, yet he still shows patience when following his blockers –- a dangerous combination for opposing defenses. He has been productive and has shown toughness as an inside runner, but his size and limitations in pass protection will likely leave him as a rotational runner in the NFL. Space players with speed are at a major premium in the NFL, though, and he figures to go in the second round of the draft.
STRENGTHS: Powerful left end prospect with thick upper and lower body builds, and long arms. Frame that would allow him to grow into five-technique if a team required it. Shows consistent hand placement, can control and pop off his man to make stops. Violent hands, often doesn't allow the offensive lineman to grab a hold of him when rushing the passer. Gets off the ball quickly for his size when in pass rush mode, bulling his man backwards or using his strength to work the outside shoulder. Also effective splitting double moves and beating guards when lined up inside on third down. Keeps his eyes in the backfield, will get his hands in passing lanes and shed and close to the quarterback if his man stops his feet when the play is extended. Shows good flexibility on end-twist stunts.
WEAKNESSES: Won’t be an elite pass rusher because of average straight-line speed and change of direction ability. Slow to disengage his hands. Doesn't counter well when locked up. Struggles to contain running backs on the edge when he takes a step inside. Inconsistent reacting to the snap, will be the last player moving at times.
NFL COMPARISON: Frank Alexander.
BOTTOM LINE: Goodman is not an overly impressive athlete, possessing only average speed and change of direction ability. He compounds this issue in the pass rushing department by being slow to react to the snap. However, he has a tremendous frame, with long arms, and active, violent hands. Posssess strength and can really get a push on his blocker, but needs to develop a better set of counter moves when engaged. Goodman fits the profile of a three down 4-3 strong-side defensive end.
David Hood can be reached at email@example.com