By Marc Sluis, Staff Writer
The Big 12 has taken its hits, most notably losing Nebraska to the Big 10, and Missouri and Texas A&M to the SEC, and it shows when breaking down their NFL prospects. One position they do offer some talent in is at the wide receiver spot. This is no surprise given the wide open, defense optional style most of the conference plays. Let’s take a look at the top WR prospects for the 2015 draft class.
1. Antwan Goodley, Baylor
Baylor has become a factory for speedy slot receiver prospects and Goodley might be next in line. I’ve read the comparisons to former Bear and current Titan Kendall Wright who was picked in round one, which are pretty accurate, at least to a degree. Some would say its accurate because both are crafty route runners with average at best straight line speed, but I think Goodley is underrated in that department. Watch him vs Kansas St. take it to the house after giving a defender a stiff arm and turning on the jets from there. His hands are far too unreliable to be a top 50 pick in my opinion. That said, if he can improve his concentration and turn in another solid season without the drops, he has fringe first round ability.
2. Tyler Lockett, Kansas St.
When looking for an ideal slot receiving prospect draft evaluators sometimes overvalue speed and underestimate the importance of consistent hands. But sometimes the importance of the former is justified. In the case of players like Tavon Austin, they are much too small to line up outside, therefore limiting them to the slot, but the value they possess there is not though traditional slot qualities like savvy route running, toughness and reliable hands but explosive speed and quickness. Lockett certainly falls into that category as well. He drops far too many passes and doesn’t look that natural reeling it in, but his speed and ability to create separation and breakaway from the defense are valuable in their own right.
3. Levi Norwood, Baylor
Yet another Baylor wide out with NFL level talent Norwood looks more like a running back (even at 6’1) and runs like one in the open field. He has tremendous agility to run effective routes but really becomes a weapon in the open field, especially on returns. Norwood doesn’t look to have long arms but does a nice job extending away from his body and quickly pulling it in as he surveys the field in front of him. With an underrated skill set and an uncanny ability to slip tackles Norwood could sneak his way up the rankings, especially given that he’ll likely posts gaudy numbers in Art Briles’ offensive machine.
4. Jaxon Shipley, Texas
While not a standout athlete Shipley has utility as a savvy slot receiver who is unafraid going over the middle of the field and finding soft spots in the defense. The UT senior also shows toughness and great hand eye coordination bringing in difficult and contested balls among defenders. Much like his older brother Jordan, who last played for the Jags but is now retired, Jaxon will make a team because he is a reliable target not an explosive one.
5. Brandon Carter, TCU
A very talented but volatile prospect Carter has the burst to catch and explode upfield but also the athleticism and soft hands to attack the ball at its apex even over defenders or stretch out to make a difficult one handed grab. He is on the smaller size for sure but his ability to make acrobatic grabs in addition to his top end speed (I would guess mid 4.4s) is enough to challenge defenses vertically. If he can stay on track off the field and focused on it, he has the talent to be a top 100 type prospect, but that’s assuming a lot at this point.
6. Nick Harwell, Kansas
Harwell played most of his career at Miami OH catching passes from current Bronco backup Zac Dysert before being booted off the team. He transferred to Kansas and will look to put up a solid senior campaign and attract NFL interest. He has decent size and only average explosiveness and top end speed but has a smoothness to his movements that translates to route running and body control in the air. He has too many double catches and drops without the elite athleticism to buoy those shortcomings for my liking, but is still a guy to watch this fall.
7. Daje Johnson, Texas
Texas has been down for a few years now so when you see two potential NFL receivers on this list they are certainly not in the same sphere as a Roy Williams but are intriguing nonetheless. Johnson is comparable to current Bill Marquise Goodwin without the world class speed and Olympic pedigree. That’s obviously no knock on him as his speed is still a major asset and has proven to be quite valuable on returns and bubble screens that highlight that acceleration and breakaway speed. He’ll be challenged to handle NFL level physicality and might need to bulk up some to earn legitimate interest from NFL scouts.
8. Justin McCay, Kansas
A heralded recruit McCay originally chose to suit up for Oklahoma but later transferred back home to the Kansas-Missouri area. With a strong and well built frame including good height McCay has an NFL ready body, but his game is lagging behind. If he can refine his technique he has the talent to take a major leap forward and become one of the better receivers in the conference.