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Kenny Lawler is a fantasy prospect worth watching

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Leading up to the 2016 NFL Draft, each day NFL Fantasy will profile a prospect who could make a splash in fantasy next season. Today's subject is former Cal wide receiver Kenny Lawler.

Much of the attention in this draft lies with Cal's star quarterback, Jared Goff. However, one of his top weapons in college deserves consideration as a mid- to late-rounder with legitimate NFL ability, and that's Kenny Lawler. Lawler only racked up 1,359 yards over the last two seasons, but scored 22 touchdowns in 23 games during that span. The scoring machine looks to take his game to the next level as an NFL draft selection in the coming months.

Full 2016 "Prospect a Day" list

Lawler's NFL.com draft profile

Strengths

» Strong ball skills in contested situations
» Comfortable leaving his feet and tracking the ball in the air
» Consistent route-runner who has a good feel for finding holes in zones
» Routinely made the first defender miss

Since he's not really a flashy player, watching Lawler requires a fine comb-though approach to see some of the subtle, refined positives to his game. Lawler is a disciplined, controlled route runner. He's particularly adept at sifting through zone coverage -- he repeatedly worked back for holes in those defenses on curl routes. He shows shiftiness on patterns like the post and slant to jerk from from man coverage at the stem and break points.

With several big-time catches littered throughout his college film, Lawler showed a strong ability to win the ball in the air. He has strong body control and times his leaps well to earn favorable position over defensive backs. There's value for his NFL team right away with his strength in contested situations. Additionally, Lawler would not seem like the type of player who is dynamic after the catch, yet he consistently makes the first defender miss with the ball in his hands. It's just another aspect of the game where Lawler's understanding of timing and short-area quickness makes up for a lack of high-end athletic tools.

Weaknesses


» Can get re-directed in his routes
» Needs to polish his release moves against press
» Lapses in focus and inconsistent hand technique caused drops
» Average physical tools

Kenny Lawler does his best work on underneath routes, and is by no means a burner. He struggled to get over the top on Pac-12 defenders, and NFL corners won't need to worry about his 4.64 speed. Lawler's lanky frame causes him to get bumped around a bit too easily on vertical routes, as well. If he wants to find a starting role at the pro level, he'll need to continue to completely polish up his release technique against press, and overall route nuance. To his credit, he shows the potential to do both.

Some puzzling drops started to creep into Lawler's game this season. Considering his strength at playing the ball while in the air, that was strange. However, a close look reveals that Lawler will occasionally overthink his next move before securing a routine catch. Additionally, he will at times neglect to bring his hands together in a fully formed web, and try to trap the ball instead. Those sort of technique issues are correctable, but need ironing out in order to quickly endear himself to his NFL team and earn a role.

Ideal NFL fantasy fits


» New England Patriots
» Minnesota Vikings
» Green Bay Packers
» New York Giants
» Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Lawler compares favorably to the player Oakland Raiders wideout Michael Crabtree became later in his career: a subpar athlete who thrives in traffic and excels at using nuance and timing to win in-route and after the catch. Crabtree needed a timing based offense and quarterback to revive his career this past season, and those sort of teams should also have interest in Lawler.

The Patriots released Brandon LaFell this week, and are once again in search of a split-end receiver. Lawler fill that spot at a low draft cost, and fits well with New England's underneath passing game. The Vikings need help at the position, and Teddy Bridgewater's strengths are still his timing and anticipation. Don't rule out the Packers taking at least a mid-round stab at the receiver spot and Lawler fits their mold. He could be a fine insurance for a team that cannot go into next season relying on James Jones or Davante Adams again. The Giants and Buccaneers don't quite fit the laid out prototype of a quick strike offense with a timing quarterback. However, both are in desperate need of consistent complementary receivers. Lawler could provide relief as a possession receiver, or even a big slot-type player for either organization. His route-running ability would fit well with either offense that asks a lot of both Eli Manning and Jameis Winston.

Early fantasy draft projection

Kenny Lawler is a draftable player with legitimate NFL skills. Yet, he is still destined for the middle rounds, at best, making projecting his landing spot and any shot at an early role a shaky task. As former NFL player Ryan Riddle reminds us, "First-round draft picks must prove that they can't play, while late-round prospects are forced to prove that they can." As such, Lawler will likely be no more than a third-round pick in dynasty rookie drafts, unless he gets drafted into a near perfect situation. Odds are stacked against him to make any noise early in his career for redraft leagues, as well. More than likely, Lawler is someone to keep an eye on throughout the early stages of his career. However, we see his has ability that is worth monitoring, and could bring to light a solid player if everything else breaks his way.

Matt Harmon is an associate fantasy writer/editor for NFL.com, and the creator of #ReceptionPerception, who you can follow on Twitter @MattHarmon_BYB.

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