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Ricardo Louis needs to add polish to stellar athleticism

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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 Aubrun wide receiver Ricardo Louis.

When D'haquille "Duke" Williams was dismissed from Auburn midway through the 2015 season for off-field incidents, the team needed Ricardo Louis to pick up the slack and expand his game. He responded by growing his route tree and posting career highs in catches, receiving yards and rush attempts -- in spite of subpar quarterback play. Far from a finished product but a tremendous athlete, is Louis ready for early-career fantasy success? I went to the tape to find out.

Full 2016 "Prospect a Day" list

Louis's NFL.com draft profile

Strengths

2016 NFL DRAFT

Draft coverage:


     » Excellent athlete with good size
     » Versatile player out of the backfield and on returns
     » Great body control to adjust for poor throws
     » Uses size/athleticism to high point balls and box out defenders

Athletically, Louis is quite the specimen. He ran a 4.43-second 40-yard dash standing 6-foot-2 inches tall and weighing 215 pounds. He compares favorably to both Andre Johnson and Donte Moncrief athletically, which is a great sign. Louis' raw ability is evident on tape, as he is quick, can burn past defenders and is able to out-leap smaller cornerbacks.

After being asked to work more downfield in 2015 than years past, Louis was able to put on a show with his body control, contorting into all sorts of positions to reel in errant passes from his quarterbacks. He seemed to get a better feel for how to use his size effectively as the season wore on. Auburn loved running Louis on jet sweeps and other plays from the backfield, but his production as a senior suffered a bit (career-low 5.4 yards per carry). It seemed defenses were more prepared for these plays in 2015, which could be a reason for the decline in his statistical output.

Weaknesses


     » Inconsistent hands made worse by focus drops
     » Loses too many contested catches
     » Needs to develop more precise footwork as a route runner
     » Never had a true breakout season against SEC

The most frustrating part of Louis' game is his inconsistency catching the football. He was plagued by both focus drops and poor hand technique throughout his senior season, and didn't fight back to the ball enough to win many contested catches. Defenders were easily able to beat him and break up potential receptions. These look like correctable deficencies, but they are certainly concerning.

Louis' raw athleticism allowed him to run some pretty solid routes thanks to his quick feet, especially on comebacks and out routes, but he desperately needs to improve his footwork on deeper routes to become a more nuanced route-runner. Lance Zeirlein noted that Louis has a route "tell" right now, and that is clear as safeties rarely bite on his deeper patterns. Also of note is Louis' lack of college production, as his 716 yards and three receiving touchdowns in 2015 were both career highs. It's fair to wonder if NFL teams will question whether Louis will be able to routinely win against NFL coverage, if those were his best numbers in the SEC (albeit with poor quarterback play).

Ideal NFL fantasy fits


     » Cleveland Browns
     » Cincinnati Bengals
     » New England Patriots

While Louis' combination of size and athleticism is enticing, he'll likely be labeled as more of a project at the NFL level and figures to be a Day 2 or, more likely, a Day 3 pick. He needs polish, but has the skills and versatility to be a role player at least from the get-go. Cleveland would make sense, as new head coach Hue Jackson turned Mohamed Sanu into his offensive Swiss-Army knife in Cincinnati. With both Sanu and Marvin Jones free agents for the Bengals right now, the team could look to develop Louis into a big-bodied slot receiver, adding more explosive athleticism to their already dynamic offense. The Patriots passing attack lives via short throws, which would allow Louis to transition into the offense sooner. His route-running would need to improve, but he would add a new dynamic to the New England short-area passing attack.

Early fantasy draft projection

Louis checks several of the boxes you want in an NFL and fantasy receiver, but there are big, legitimate concerns over his ability to transition to the pros. If he can iron those out and land in the right situation, Louis might have late-season waiver appeal as a rookie. For now, his redraft upside is minimal as a rookie, but dynasty owners looking for a developmental wide receiver could look to grab Louis at a much cheaper draft price than someone comparable, like Braxton Miller. Louis has many of the pieces necessary to be a solid NFL wide receiver -- it'll be up to him to put them all together.

Why wait? CLICK HERE to get your 2016 NFL Fantasy season started.

-- Follow Alex on Twitter @AlexGelhar

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