A tale of two college wide receivers

It’s been a tough couple weeks for two of the nation’s top wide receivers prospects as Minnesota’s Eric Decker and Syracuse’s Mike Williams are both out for the remainder of the season, although for different reasons. Decker will have surgery today to repair torn ligaments in his left foot and is expected to miss up to eight months rehabilitating. That means he’ll not only miss the rest of the season but is also expected to miss the Senior Bowl, NFL combine and Minnesota’s pro day.

Williams, meanwhile, unexpectedly quit the Syracuse football team this week. “He walked up to me and voluntarily took himself off the team. That's it,” head coach Doug Marrone said, refusing to discuss specifics.

So where do these two highly rated and talented prospects go from here? And how much will each player’s circumstances affect his draft stock going forward?

We’ll start with Decker, who was considered one of the nation’s premier senior wideouts and possessed an impressive blend of size and body control for the position. He also showcased the balance as a route runner to consistently generate initial separation out of his breaks and used his body well to shield defenders and pluck the ball away from his frame. He lacked an ideal second gear down the field but did display the ability to beat press, track the football and high point the play. However, even with the impressive game tape Decker has produced over the past three seasons, the timing of his injury and surgery will likely have a negative effect on his draft stock.

Forget the fact that he’ll be unable to play at the Senior Bowl and compete against some of the country’s best players. The real negative will be his inability to run/work out in front of scouts at next year’s combine and at the Minnesota pro day. The main question surrounding Decker’s potential at the next level is: Does he have the speed to separate down the field vs. NFL-caliber corners, or is he simply more of a possession-type No. 2 receiver? In my option based off tape alone, he looks more like a possession-type wideout who will end up developing into a very solid No. 2 threat.

For now, however, he’ll be unable to prove otherwise because of his inability to work out during the postseason. But in my estimation, he’ll still fall somewhere in the second/third-round range because of his impressive game tape and overall intangibles.

This is an unfortunate situation for Decker and will likely keep him from ever having a chance to become the late first-round pick I thought he might be with a strong postseason showing. Still, he’s the type of kid who understands it’s not where you start in the NFL, it’s where you finish. And I can guarantee that this will only motivate him further to prove the doubters wrong and that he’ll be ready to make an impact on an NFL team by season two.

As for Williams, his situation is a whole lot more complicated. He’s currently rated 12th on the National Football Post’s Super 30 and is listed as the second overall wideout on the board. There’s no denying the kid’s talent; he showcases impressive initial burst and vertical speed for a guy his size (6-2, 204 pounds) and possesses the ability to go up and get the ball as well as any receiver in the country. On top of that, he’s shown significant improvement as a route runner under head coach Doug Marrone this season and had the makings of a potential No. 1-type impact receiver at the next level.

Williams, however, may have committed one of the most unacceptable acts in the eyes of NFL officials: He quit on his team. Williams does have a history of character concerns. He was suspended by the school in 2008 for academic reasons and missed the entire season and was also suspended this year against Akron for violating team rules. But this may be the tipping point in the eyes of scouts since it will not only kill his character grade but also his draft stock.

Even though Williams is as talented as any wideout in the nation, how can you justify drafting a kid in the first round who has quit on his team? I might be one of Williams’ biggest supporters out there. Based on his game tape, he might be the most dynamic receiver in the country and looks like someone who could develop into an elite upper-echelon wideout.

But after this, I can’t say I would take the kid in the first round. And as we’ve seen in the past, wide receivers are a dime a dozen in the draft. It doesn’t always matter how talented you are or how fast you can run because if a majority of NFL teams have red flags on a prospect, he’s going to fall on draft day.

As of now, I can’t see Williams going anywhere before the second round because of all these concerns, and it wouldn’t surprise me to see him fall into the middle rounds. With his decision to quit the Syracuse team, he not only displayed the type of selfishness and immaturity that NFL teams hate to see from young wide receiver prospects, he literally cost himself millions of dollars in the process.

Good luck trying to explain himself to NFL officials at the combine. He’s going to need it.

Follow me on Twitter: WesBunting

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