One area where Parker has especially had success at using his spectacular-catch ability to make big plays is within the end zone. His most famous big play in his career to this point came in last year’s Sugar Bowl victory over Florida.
Parker was held by another potential 2014 first-round pick, cornerback Loucheiz Purifoy, on the play. Even so, he managed to track down and the ball over his shoulder going to the right front corner of the end zone and maintain the body control to get one foot down for possession and a touchdown reception.
Parker’s best play of his sophomore season, however, may have been the following 20-yard touchdown catch versus Rutgers.
First, Parker beat 2013 third-round pick cornerback Logan Ryan with a spin move to get a step on him on the left sideline.
In the end zone, Parker had to leap up to catch the pass at the back of the end zone, doing so over double coverage while maintaining body control once again to get both feet down in bounds.
Parker has displayed that he is an incredibly talented receiver and athlete, and he has the potential to be a great No. 1 NFL receiver. He is a big-play threat who has made many of his biggest plays in clutch moments.
As an intermediate receiver, Parker is very good at beating coverage to the sideline on comeback routes and getting inside of them on curl routes. With his size and ability to get downfield, he can also be an asset in the ground game as a willing blocker.
But while Parker has no shortage of playmaking ability, his game needs to significantly develop in his junior season to warrant early entry into the 2014 NFL draft.
What Parker Needs to Prove This Season
Parker’s tape and statistics from his sophomore season both show that he is a big-play receiver. Parker had 10 touchdowns in just 40 receptions, while his average of 18.6 yards per catch ranked 15th in the Football Bowl Subdivision among qualifying receivers, and seventh-best among receivers with 40 or more receptions.
Both the tape and statistics also show that Parker was inconsistent in his sophomore season. While he made no shortage of big plays, he only caught five or more passes in two games last season, while he caught two or less passes in five games.
Drops are a massive concern in Parker’s game. While he can pluck a ball out of the air for a big play, he has also dropped many passes right off of his hands. Even on catches he did made, he had some instances of bobbling the ball and making a catch more difficult than it needed to be. Parker needs to become much better with his concentration and consistently secure the football in his hands to avoid easy drops.
While Parker uses his length well, he needs to become better at using his size. He is not a very physical receiver. He struggles to separate through contact and does not often box out opposing receivers with his body. His blocking also lacks physicality.
Parker is too reliant on utilizing his speed and playing up the sideline. He makes most of his ability on deep fades, comebacks and curls. Parker needs to become more refined in his route-running, and more willing to attack the middle of the field as a receiver.
Parker is good with his initial cuts off the line and can make moves in the open field, but probably won’t make many NFL defensive backs miss with his moves. He is a long strider who will need to become more creative and sharp while less predictable with his route breaks to elude NFL defenders in the open field.
In 2013, NFL scouts will look for Parker to become more than just a big-play threat. While Parker’s playmaking ability gives him first-round potential, he needs to become a more significant presence as a short-to-intermediate receiver to be taken seriously as a top wide receiver prospect and potential No. 1 NFL wideout.
Projecting Parker’s Draft Stock
Parker has as much big-play ability and upside as any wide receiver in college football. His combination of size, athleticism and ability to adjust to the football and make tough catches should have scouts watching him closely in his junior season.
Parker needs to become more consistent with his production, cut down significantly on his drops and prove he can more than just a big-play deep threat and red zone receiver. If he can do that, he should be a first-round draft selection. If not, his best move would be to continue to develop his game by returning to Louisville for his senior season.