The aerial evolution of the NFL has made wide receivers hot commodities on draft day. Teams are willing to expend top picks on pass catchers with size, speed and explosiveness because recent history provides numerous examples of such players making an immediate impact.
The scouting community can't stop buzzing about Kevin White following the West Virginia product's spectacular showing at the NFL Scouting Combine. The 6-foot-3, 215-pound receiver has all of the tools scouts covet. From his big, imposing frame to his explosive athletic attributes and remarkable ball skills, White is the prototypical WR1. He possesses the size and length to dominate over the middle of the field and in the red zone, yet he is fast enough (see: his 4.35-second 40-yard dash) to make impact plays on vertical routes. Most importantly, he is an explosive leaper with the bounce and ball skills to consistently come down with 50/50 balls.
Studying the tape from his final season at West Virginia, I was not only impressed with White's raw physical ability, but I was struck by his extraordinary development. A juco transfer, White didn't exude a lot of confidence or swagger in 2013, his first year with the Mountaineers. But in Game 1 of 2014, a spotlight matchup against Alabama, he looked like a dominant force, racking up nine catches for 143 yards and a touchdown. That he played like a man among boys against a defense loaded with NFL-caliber talent immediately suggested he could wreak havoc on defenders at the next level.
White continued to put up huge numbers throughout the season as the focal point of the Mountaineers' passing attack, exhibiting a more refined game and improved fundamentals on the outside. He caught the ball more consistently as a senior, and his remarkable ability to come down with contested balls will expand the strike zone for quarterbacks at the NFL level. In addition, White's sudden acceleration and crafty running skills make him a dangerous weapon in any offense that features catch-and-run plays on the outside.
If I had to identify flaws in White's game, I would point to his route running and inexperience in a pro-style offense as potential concerns. At West Virginia, White wasn't exposed to the entire route tree; he will need to learn how to effectively run pro routes during the offseason to become a productive player against elite corners. White also will have to work on beating press-man coverage at the line of scrimmage. He doesn't fully utilize his size advantage to overpower smallish cornerbacks. In the NFL, he will need to add some physicality to that aspect of his game in order to win consistently against aggressive corners. When White irons out those rough patches in his game, he will dominate opponents with his sheer skill and shine as a Larry Fitzgerald-like playmaker.
With teams afforded the opportunity to take another look at White at West Virginia's pro day Friday, let's consider five potential NFL fits for White:
Oakland Raiders (No. 4 overall pick)
The late Al Davis certainly would not have bypassed an opportunity to add a young, explosive pass catcher like White to the lineup. The ex-Mountaineer is a remarkable athlete with the exceptional speed, quickness and burst that Davis so coveted. Most crucially for Oakland, White is an outstanding playmaker with terrific ball skills and a big pass-catching radius -- thus, he is an ideal candidate to thrive as Derek Carr's WR1 in the Raiders' rebuilt offense. He can stretch the field on an assortment of vertical routes (post, go route and post-corner), but he also displays the balance and body control to win on short and intermediate routes between the numbers. The Raiders have to give Carr at least one legitimate home-run threat at some point -- White definitely could be that guy.
Minnesota Vikings (No. 11)
The Teddy Bridgewater era began in earnest last fall, with the rookie displaying exceptional poise, patience and judgment from the pocket as a first-year starter. Despite Bridgewater's solid performance, the Vikings need to add a dynamic player out wide to help the 22-year-old take another step in his development. White is capable of blowing past defenders on deep routes, but he's no one-trick pony -- given some time to master the pro route tree, White can become a terror to deal with anywhere on the field. His burst allows him to turn short passes into big gains, a skill that'd give the Vikings plenty of production on quick-rhythm throws. Add White to a receiver group that already includes Charles Johnson and Cordarrelle Patterson (who remains raw, but still could develop into a difference-maker), and Bridgewater has a nice young cast of playmakers to lean on as he grows into a franchise quarterback.
Cleveland Browns (No. 12, No. 19)
With Josh Gordon's latest suspension, the Browns' offense will be without its most dynamic weapon for 2015 -- and possibly longer. Thus, general manager Ray Farmer must find a dominant pass catcher in the draft to help Johnny Manziel and/or Josh McCown attack the perimeter when opponents load the box to stop Cleveland's powerful running game. White has all of the tools to develop into a high-impact player early in his career. With explosive speed and exceptional ball skills, White is a threat who must be accounted for at all times. Moreover, he is a big-bodied pass catcher with the potential to elevate the play of Manziel/McCown with his ability to win 50/50 balls down the boundary. Given the lack of sizzle in the Browns' passing game, the addition of an explosive home-run hitter like White would help Mike Pettine field an offense to challenge the bruising defenses within the AFC North.
Houston Texans (No. 16)
The release of Andre Johnson could put the Texans back in the WR market on draft day. The impressive emergence of DeAndre Hopkins gives the team a legitimate WR1, but just think if Houston had a big-bodied playmaker on the opposite side of the field, too. White would not only win against single coverage, but he could force opponents to pause before using double-team or bracket tactics against Hopkins. The ex-Mountaineer will enjoy a significant size advantage over most corners, and his extraordinary leaping ability will make him a threat to score whenever his team reaches the red zone. In addition, White's open-field running skills could help the Texans generate big plays on a variety of catch-and-run passes over the middle of the field. Considering the inexperience of Ryan Mallett and Brian Hoyer's lack of blue-chip traits, White could mask Houston's deficiencies at the quarterback position.
Kansas City Chiefs (No. 18)
Even after adding Jeremy Maclin, the Chiefs must continue overhauling their WR corps, to ensure the unit posts better production in 2015. (Remember, this group failed to score a single touchdown last year.) White would give Kansas City the kind of big, athletic threat the team hasn't had in years. Alex Smith would benefit greatly from the addition of another catch-and-run specialist in a quick-rhythm offense that places a premium on YAC (yards after catch). And suddenly, Andy Reid would have a pair of dynamic pass catchers to complement ultra-explosive running back Jamaal Charles and help the Chiefs' offense get back on track.