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Rashard Higgins doesn't deserve to be overlooked

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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 Colorado State wide receiver Rashard Higgins.

The NFL Draft process is much like a kaleidoscope. Already a multi-faceted endeavor with several key points and events prior to the selection of players by the teams, the fact that so many different analysts bring a wide array of methods to evaluating prospects only further fragments the picture. While it certainly can add more color, diversity and beauty to the art of scouting, there's no doubt all the differing techniques contribute to taking the gaze of observers in several different directions. When the result of one evaluation method so clearly clashes with another, the opposition is forced to take something of a leap of faith, as Rumford Johnny calls it, to assert their view of the player will dominate the picture of their NFL career. No wide receiver exemplifies this conflict more than former Colorado State star, Rashard Higgins.

Strengths


2016 NFL DRAFT

Draft coverage:

» Brings strong and consistent technique to every level of his route-running.
» Great acceleration in and out of breaks to create easy and smooth separation.
» Tracks the ball well, and plays with good timing both in his ball skills and timing his jumps in contested situations.
» Excels after the catch and able to elude multiple incoming defenders in the open field.
» Some of the best hands in the class.

Rashard Higgins enters the NFL after a dynamic career at Colorado State. The exciting talent piled up 2,811 yards and 25 touchdowns over the last two seasons. In 2014, he led the NCAA in both categories with 1,750 yards and 17 scores. His production in the box score speaks to what a driving force he was for that offense through quarterback and coaching changes between the two years, but also to his diverse skill set.

Over the course of his career, Higgins proved himself a detailed and nuanced route runner. He carries multiple different release moves in his arsenal, and can dislodge from press coverage off the line if he keeps the defenders hands off him. While other receivers in this class don't have experience running the full route tree, Higgins did it all in college. He mixed in a variety of digs, outs and comebacks to complement the standard slant, curl and nine route assignments.

Higgins looks like a natural running routes and creating separation. He sinks his hips and smoothly changes direction without losing speed in-routes. Higgins complements that ability with strong hands regardless of situation. A consistent catcher of the football, he routinely displays strong hand technique to form the web and trap the ball. Even when he must leave his feet in contested situations, Higgins wins those passes more often than not.

Not just a strong technical player, Higgins was exciting with the ball in his hands at Colorado State. He frequently set defenders up in the open field, and would cycle through multiple moves in order to make them miss. There's enough quickness in his game on film to believe he'll be an asset in the open field at the NFL level.

Weaknesses

» Comes with an atrocious measured athletic profile.
» Has a wiry frame that will be challenged more by longer, more physical NFL corners.
» Lack of pure speed shows up on the field, and he'll need to perfect his craft to challenge beyond the short areas.
» Struggles to disengage from contact if his first release move doesn't deceive the cornerback.

Despite functioning as a vertical threat in the Mountain West conference, Higgins may not possess requisite pure speed to get downfield at the NFL level. Perhaps he perfects the route-running craft to the point where he can win vertically, as a player like Antonio Brown has, but that's a lot to expect. More likely, Higgins will need to transition to an underneath role player deployed as a slot receiver.

Higgins measures in at 6'1 and sub-200 pounds. His wiry thin frame makes him an easy target for physical defenders. NFL corners could make good on jostling him in-route more than the corners in college did. Higgins dislodged from press coverage regularly on film, but when stronger defenders were able to get their hands on him, he didn't have the functional strength to get free. If his initial release move is thwarted, Higgins doesn't have the body type to offer a counterpunch.

All these concerns are real, but might be missing the boat on the real issue. At the NFL Scouting Combine, Higgins essentially shanked his pre-draft showing. Zach Whitman of 3sigmaathlete.com calculates the college prospects' SPARQ scores, a process employed by several NFL teams for measuring athleticism. After his dismal day, Higgins' measured athleticism scores below the fourth percentile among NFL wide receivers. Players with that level of athletic ability, far more often than not, never contribute and don't even last long in the NFL.

Despite all the clear positives that Higgins shows on the field, his measured athleticism cautions that he will need to beat almost every odd to end up as an NFL success story. He could certainly be the exception to those rules -- outliers are real -- but it's important to recognize what he's up against.

Ideal NFL fantasy fits


» San Diego Chargers
» Cleveland Browns
» Tampa Bay Buccaneers
» New York Giants
» Minnesota Vikings
» Green Bay Packers

Frankly, with the specter of his combine workout in plain view, a tumble in the draft looks likely for Rashard Higgins. As such, his supporters should just hope he lands on a stable team with a quarterback in place leading a growing offense.

The San Diego Chargers provide an offense that consistently produces numbers for fantasy. Philip Rivers works the underneath area of the field as well as any quarterback in the NFL. A quick strike passing game would suit Higgins well, and he could eventually replace Steve Johnson as their slot receiver. The Vikings have a similar anticipatory quarterback in Teddy Bridgewater. There is opportunity for immediate contribution in Minnesota, and Higgins could follow a similar path to last year's rookie, Stefon Diggs.

Tampa Bay continues building a strong offense around their No. 1 overall pick in 2015. Jameis Winston could always use more weapons, and Higgins is quite similar to Rashad Greene, who was a great running mate with Wintson at Florida State. The Browns will either roll with Robert Griffin III or a rookie at quarterback this season. Either way, they need more pass catchers at their disposal. Higgins' polish could earn him an early role, while the team looks to add more top-tier talent around him.

The Giants helped develop another low-priority college player, Victor Cruz, when he came out of school with little fanfare. New York's dearth of pass catching options is well-documented. The Packers seemingly invest in the receiver position every year, and after the disaster of Davante Adams' sophomore campaign, expect them to do so again. Higgins fits the type of build and technical discipline Green Bay likes in their wideouts. The Packers could present the best opportunity for his long-term growth.

Early fantasy draft projection


We know with the athletic profile of Rashard Higgins we are betting on a long shot with the odds stacked against him. However, this is a player I'm willing to defend and go to bat for. His Reception Perception, the methodology I use to evaluate wide receivers, was just too good and caused me to offer a passionate defense for him. For more detail on this player, and my true feelings on the matter, feel free to peruse those thoughts.

In all likelihood, Higgins will fall in the NFL Draft and ends up as a third-day pick, further stacking the odds against his future success. However, I believe he has the technical understanding and ability to transcend those odds. Don't be surprised if he ends up mattering in the NFL, and fulfills a valuable role at worst for his future team.

With the negativity surrounding Higgins after his combine and predicted fall in the NFL Draft, his dynasty ADP is sinking. He is now a player you can hope to snag in the third round of your rookie drafts. It's worth taking the gamble on a productive college player who shows real ability as a player.

Bookmark Higgins as a discount player in your dynasty drafts and make sure to track his career as long as it lasts. My process demands I keep the range of outcomes open for Higgins, so I'll be right along there with you.

Follow Matt on Twitter @MattHarmon_BYB.

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