General managers and coaches will spend the next few months preaching the importance of acquiring players with exemplary character and impeccable intangibles, but troubled prospects with extraordinary talent and athleticism are tough to bypass on draft day.
In an ultra-competitive league where a dominant player can change the fortunes of a franchise, executives must grapple with the "risk vs. reward" debate when deciding whether to take on an enticing youngster with a rocky past. At the center of such discussions in meeting rooms around the NFL this year is ex-Missouri wide receiver Dorial Green-Beckham.
The 6-foot-5, 237-pound pass-catcher is arguably the most talented receiver in this class. Yet, it's possible he won't hear his name called until Day 2 of the draft, due to concerns about his character and past troublesome behavior. Green-Beckham was dismissed from the Missouri football program last April after a stint at the school that included two marijuana-related arrests and an alleged assault, and he subsequently transferred to Oklahoma (though transfer rules prevented him from playing in any games in 2014, and he then decided to turn pro). Those incidents are accompanied by questions of a suspect work ethic and a problematic attitude, all of which makes selecting him with a top pick a risky proposition.
On the field, however, Green-Beckham has all of the tools coaches and scouts covet in a WR1. He is big and athletic, and he has speed, quickness and impressive ball skills. He effortlessly snatches the ball out of the air and routinely wins 50-50 balls with defenders in close proximity. In addition, Green-Beckham shows sneaky running skills with the ball in his hands. He displays rare elusiveness for a big-bodied receiver, which helps him pick up extra yardage after making short and intermediate catches over the middle. When focused and engaged, Green-Beckham can be the most dominant player on the field; defenses have trouble containing him when he brings his A-game.
If I had to point out a few weaknesses, I would cite his inconsistent focus, route-running skills and physicality as concerns. He doesn't bring energy and effort consistently enough to dominate at the next level; he must play with more urgency to succeed against the elite corners in the NFL. In addition, he must clean up his routes and learn to make sharper breaks at the top. Although it's tough for big-bodied receivers to execute stop-start cuts, Green-Beckham needs to learn how to master speed cuts on in-breaking routes, to avoid tipping off his intentions to wily defenders.
Finally, Green-Beckham needs to become a more physical player against press coverage. Given his superior size and dimensions, he should be able to overwhelm defensive backs with power maneuvers at the line of scrimmage. But he hasn't yet incorporated those tactics into his game. If he masters the art of the push-off and learns to use his length to create separation down the field, Green-Beckham can be a force on the perimeter.
I believe Green-Beckham could grow into a Plaxico Burress-type playmaker as a pro. He is a long, rangy pass-catcher with the size, length and ball skills to demoralize opponents on the edge. If he keeps his nose clean and avoids making the kinds of knuckleheaded mistakes that plagued his tenure at Missouri, he could be a perennial Pro Bowler at the position.
Here are five potential NFL fits for Green-Beckham:
San Francisco 49ers (No. 15 overall pick)
The Niners need a dynamic WR1 to help quarterback Colin Kaepernick rediscover his game in 2015. Green-Beckham is a big-bodied playmaker with the size, length and leaping ability to excel on the perimeter. He can routinely win 50-50 balls down the boundary, and also flashes the courage, concentration and focus to make contested catches in traffic. With Beckham-Green exhibiting sneaky running skills and explosiveness in the open field, he could become the focal point of San Francisco's revamped offense going forward.
Kansas City Chiefs (No. 18)
The Chiefs -- who did not have a single touchdown scored by a wide receiver in 2014 -- are intent on upgrading the position with dynamic playmakers on the perimeter. Green-Beckham is an unrefined receiver, but he is a proven scoring threat with a knack for putting the ball in the paint. He scored 17 touchdowns in 25 career games at Missouri; he understands how to use his size and athleticism to win in the red zone. Given Kansas City coach Andy Reid's experience developing young receivers during his time in Philadelphia (see: DeSean Jackson, Jeremy Maclin, Riley Cooper, James Thrash and Todd Pinkston), seizing the opportunity to mold Green-Beckham as a youngster could pay off handsomely for the Chiefs.
Baltimore Ravens (No. 26)
General manager Ozzie Newsome is one of the best talent evaluators in the business; he's made a living identifying blue-chip players in the first round and then maximizing their talents. Green-Beckham is a supremely gifted receiver with impressive physical tools for the position. He possesses the size and length to dwarf smallish defenders, yet he is nimble enough to win on crafty perimeter routes. New offensive coordinator Marc Trestman is familiar with developing big-bodied receivers, having recently worked with Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery in Chicago. In Baltimore, Green-Beckham would have a chance to grow into a WR1 in a vertical-based offense designed to take advantage of quarterback Joe Flacco's big arm.
Indianapolis Colts (No. 29)
If the Colts are going to successfully build a team around the talents of quarterback Andrew Luck, they must find a big-bodied WR1 to target downfield. T.Y. Hilton (5-foot-9, 178 pounds) has been Indy's primary playmaker in the passing game of late, but he lacks the size to overwhelm defenders on the edge, particularly down in the red zone. Green-Beckham would fill that void in the lineup while also giving Luck another weapon to lean on in critical moments. Yes, he's inexperienced, but Green-Beckham is also a freak athlete, which is something you can't teach. Although he will need some time to polish his route-running skills, he can make an immediate difference as an exceptional jump-ball specialist in an offense designed to push the ball down the field.
Seattle Seahawks (No. 31)
The loss to the New England Patriots in Super Bowl XLIX exposed the Seahawks' lack of a WR1. Of course, Doug Baldwin and Jermaine Kearse would scoff at that suggestion, but the fact that Russell Wilson was forced to target a practice-squad call-up (Chris Matthews) in the biggest game of the year says a lot about the state of Seattle's receiving corps. Coach Pete Carroll and GM John Schneider would be wise to find a prototypical WR1 with the size to win against physical defenders on the outside. Most importantly, the Seahawks need a playmaker capable of attracting a double-team, to eliminate the extra defender in the box that opponents routinely use to counter Marshawn Lynch on the ground. With Green-Beckham's imposing presence and immense talent creating problems on the outside, he would serve as a dynamic chess piece for the Seahawks, bringing sizzle to an offense that missed it last year.