NFL Draft: Breaking down deep threats

Apr 9, 2013, 8:18 PM | Updated: 8:50 pm

“Obviously, I’d like to get a couple linemen on both sides of the ball. Guys in our division, the one thing that stands out is how good the lines and trenches are in all the teams that we play against,” he told Lindsey Soto.
“We need depth, offensively and defensively, on the lines. I’d like to have a young safety and corner, and any receiver that runs 4.2.”

That was from Vince Marotta’s article last week about Bruce Arians’ draft wish list. One thing stood out to me that I feel like a lot of people had been overlooking: the Cardinals need a vertical threat at the wide receiver position.

Sure, they took Michael Floyd extremely high in round one last season, and that seemed to work out as the season progressed. But Floyd’s impact was minimal due to lack of playing time early, and awful quarterback play as his time on the field increased. The problem with Floyd is that he isn’t a true speed threat.

That means the Cardinals will be in the market for a true deep threat wide receiver, as Arians stated in his draft wish list. The question is what round?

This draft only possesses two legit 4.2 forty-yard dash guys in West Virginia’s Tavon Austin and Texas’ Marquise Goodwin, but the draft is full of guys in that 4.3 to low-4.4 range, and there is one in every round.

Here are the possible deep threat targets in every round for the Arizona Cardinals.

Round 1

Tavon Austin, West Virginia (4.34 forty-yard dash)

The definition of speed, Austin is the best all-around weapon you will find on this list.

Austin possesses a rare blend of speed and athleticism, he moves more like a running back in space and had one of the lowest drop rates in college football in 2012 — part of the reason Geno Smith’s completion percentage was so good.

Austin was adept at attacking every level of the field, but most of his plays were near the line of scrimmage. Yet, he was also very effective on deep routes.

Can the Cardinals afford to take a wide receiver at seven? Austin is a completely different weapon than anything else they have on the roster, but that’s still early for a guy who only gets 5-8 touches a game. And with Larry Fitzgerald, Floyd and Austin on the roster, the Cardinals would have used three top-13 picks on receivers in the last decade.

Round 2

Markus Wheaton, Oregon State (4.45)

I know what you’re saying: Wheaton’s forty time was barely faster than that of Michael Floyd, how could he possibly be the deep threat Bruce Arians was talking about.

Well, Wheaton’s strength isn’t necessarily his quick speed off the line, but his ability to build up to his top-end speed and maintain it, which allows him to be an excellent deep threat option.

Wheaton runs good routes, shows a good ability to run different routes and is a hands catcher. But most of all, in the Arians offense, he’s a guy that is a legitimate threat to take the top off of the defense at any time.

Wheaton would be an excellent addition going forward to the Cardinals offense, especially with his ability to be a consistent deep threat.

While Wheaton won’t cost you a first round pick, with the needs on both sides of the ball you have to wonder if a wide receiver in round two is really still an option.

Round 3

Marquise Goodwin, Texas (4.27)

This is the guy that you may start seeing mocked to the Cardinals more and more in third round just based off Arians’ comments.

Goodwin is the ideal deep threat weapon, which was completely underutilized at Texas because of bad quarterback play.

Goodwin is a little raw in his route development, but he has something that can’t be taught: pure speed.

Round 4

Kenny Stills, Oklahoma (4.38)

While Stills isn’t an ideal citizen at times (he is a big time trash talker and has gotten into some trouble off the field with a 2011 DUI), he is the epitome of the deep threat in what the Cardinals would be looking for in their vertical offensive attack.

Stills is probably the best route runner of the group that we will be looking at, shows nice hands, a comfort working in all levels of the secondary when catching the ball and has game breaking ability when going deep.

He’s a more physical receiver than he appears to be and shows a good ability to manipulate defenders to open up routes, even if he is smaller-framed.

Stills doesn’t come back to the ball aggressively enough and his effort level looks like it varies at times.

Round 5

Josh Boyce, TCU (4.38)

What Boyce lacks in size, he makes up for in pure deep speed and solid route running ability.

Boyce doesn’t have the ceiling of a Goodwin or Wheaton, but he’s in the same class when it comes to being able to take the top off the defense and make plays deep in coverage.

His hands are a bit inconsistent at times — he tends to try and make a move with the ball before securing it — but he shows the ability to win 50/50 balls, and catch the ball in traffic consistently.

Round 6

Corey Fuller, Virginia Tech (4.43)

While Fuller was expected to make strides in 2012, the play of his quarterback has relegated him to a late round prospect.

Fuller was hindered while at Virginia Tech because he never developed as a route runner. He showed sloppy footwork in and out of breaks, rounding off routes and generally just needs some seasoning at the position.

His raw speed, though, makes him an intriguing day three prospect, and someone that could be a fit in the Arians vertical attack.

Round 7

Uzoma Nwachukwu, Texas A&M (4.45)

Much like Wheaton, Nwachukwu’s speed is more that of a long strider — he isn’t quick in reaching his top speed, but he’s able to maintain it through the end of his routes and win deep because of it.

Uzoma needs to work on his concentration — dropped balls were an issue as he was looking to make a play before he had the ball in his hands. But he is a guy who can come in and be a weapon early, while working on refining himself as a wide receiver.

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NFL Draft: Breaking down deep threats