The first round of the NFL Draft was a much needed sports fix last night. As a Clemson graduate, I had the added excitement of cheering when Isaiah Simmons and A.J. Terrell were selected in the top 16 picks. It’s fun to watching a guy you followed from a high school recruit, turn into a college superstar, and then pay off his college career with a spot in the first round.
Wildcat fans had a shot at that last season with Dalton Risner. Even though he slipped to the second round, the idea that he might be drafted in the first round (I’m guessing, I don’t know your lives) made the draft more interesting. There isn’t a Kansas State Wildcats player like that this season. The only intrigue is if Scott Frantz can slip into one of the later rounds to extend the draft streak.
Trying to predict who on the current K-State roster has a chance to hear his name called on the first two days is tough. This isn’t an overly talented roster, and doesn’t have any one player that stands out as “the chosen one.” At the same time, there are a few players on the roster that have the potential to make the jump from intriguing talent to first round stud.
Malik Knowles - 6’2, 190 - RS SO
Average Yds/Reception: 14.7
I went with Malik for a few reasons. First and foremost, he showed flashes of elite talent in his first full college campaign last season. Nagging injuries suppressed his overall production, but there a couple plays where he showed his potential. There are two reasons why I think Malik could eventually become a first round pick.
What He Has Now
Elite Physical Ability
The first play was his clutch 99 yard kick return against Mississippi State.
(Knowles return at 3 min mark in clip)
Mississippi State wasn’t a great team, but they have plenty of athletes. When Knowles found the seam in the coverage and cut hard, no one was going to catch him. While kick returners don’t have the same value they had in the NFL a few years ago, Knowles showed great vision, burst, and enough long speed to keep from being tracked down late.
The second play that gives me hope was his touchdown against Texas
(Knowles touchdown at the 20 second mark in clip)
This is another play that shows off his burst and speed.
This was a great play call that isolated Knowles one on one with the Texas safety, and Malik made the rest happen. The move he hits the poor Longhorn leaves him laying flat on his stomach grasping at air. After he made the first defender miss, much like in his Mississippi State return, no one was going to catch him. That’s the elite run-after-catch ability that NFL teams want out of a first round receiver.
Position and Size
Wide receivers are popular picks in the first round And not only is Knowles is a wide receiver by position, he fits the mold physically as well. He’s 6’2, 190 right now, but I’m guessing he finishes his college career somewhere around the 200 pound mark. That’s not incredible size for and NFL receiver, but he’s not going to be labeled as “too small”. At 6’2, 200, he would either work in the slot or as a boundary wide receiver, probably both. His ability to play multiple wide receivers positions would be considered a plus.
How He Gets to the 1st Round
This is just a projection based on some flashes of greatness. In no way am I saying Knowles will be, or even probably will be, a first round pick, but these things need to happen for him to have a shot.
You can’t work your way into the first round sitting on the sideline. Knowles battled knee and ankle injuries last season, and it significantly hurt his overall performance. Kudos to Malik for gutting it out and playing, but he needs a full season (probably two full seasons) of consistent, healthy play to sneak into any draft discussions.
Dramatic Improvement as a Wide Receiver
Malik still has a looooong way to go before anyone would consider him to be a polished wide receiver. His route running ability is still in its infancy. He flashes good hands, but he must be consistent. He’s explosive when he catches the ball, but 27 catches isn’t going to get him where he wants to go. He must get open consistently, and he’s got to demand the ball from the quarterback when he is open.
He’s a player that has barely scratched the surface of his ability. Some guys never make it past this stage. It’s going to take a dogged work ethic to move from a guy with potential to an elite player. If he puts in the work, I can see him being the next great Kansas State wide receiver when all is said and done.
Justin Jefferson - 6’2, 202, Rd 1 Pick 22 - LSU
As a sophomore, Jefferson looked like a solid wide receiver. He brought in 54 receptions for 875 yards and 6 touchdowns as an outside receiver. Last season, LSU moved him from the outside to the slot and he rewarded that move by leading the Tigers in receptions and helping them win a National Championship, pulling in 111 receptions for 1540 yards and 18 touchdowns. Jefferson also ran a 4.43 40 yard dash at the combine, further solidifying his breakout season with nice speed numbers. If he doesn’t run in the 4.4 range, he’s not a first round pick.
Like Jefferson, I see Malik’s ideal position as a slot receiver. I don’t think he’ll be a full time slot receiver at K-State, but I’m hopeful Chabastin Taylor will take over the boundary wide receiver position and allow Malik to play a role similar to Jefferson played in the LSU offense. Malik needs to be a high volume receiver for the Cats. That obviously means something different in the K-State offense, but if he can put up 50 - 60 receptions while maintaining something close to his 14.7 yards per reception average (Jefferson averaged 14 yards per receptions last season) he’ll start getting serious buzz.
Other Players Considered
Josh had an amazing freshman season as a kick returner, but he’s brand new to the wide receiver position. He reminds me a little of Mecole Hardman at Georgia. Mecole had undeniable physical ability, but it took him a while to figure out the wide receiver position. He has the physical ability, but he’s not going to be a first round pick because he can return kicks. He has to show ability as a wide receiver. He’ll have ample opportunity to do just that over the next few years.
In his first season as a regular on the Wildcat line, the gargantuan Rivas earned First Team All-Big 12 honors at guard. Unfortunately for Rivas, interior linemen aren’t considered a high priority in the first round. You’ll see an occasional guard or center go in the first round, but for the most part, the first round is all about tackles. Rivas has the size to play tackle, but I haven’t seen him do it yet. I’ll be interested to see if he makes the move from guard to tackle next season on the reshuffled line. If he can successfully make the transition from guard to tackle, he moves to the top of my list.
*If ya’ll like this article, I’ll give you a follow up defense article next week.