BBD Assistant Editor: Joe Marino
If you don’t think there’s a place and demand for small explosive receivers in the NFL, you haven’t been paying attention to the first rounds of the last two drafts. In 2013, the St. Louis Rams traded up with the Buffalo Bills to acquire the No. 8 overall pick and select Tavon Austin, a West Virginia product who is listed at 5’8” and 176 pounds. In similar fashion, the New Orleans Saints traded up seven spots to the No. 20 overall pick in this year’s first round to draft 5’10″, 189-pound Oregon State wide receiver Brandin Cooks.
Listed at 5’9” and 175 pounds by Duke’s official athletics website, senior wide receiver Jamison Crowder is built similarly to Cooks and Austin while possessing a comparable skill set to the recent first-rounders.
A first-team all-ACC selection by the league’s coaches in 2013, Crowder also led the ACC in receptions, beating out Bills first-round selection Sammy Watkins by seven grabs. He set Duke’s single-season records for receptions and yards as he compiled 108 catches for 1,366 yards and eight touchdowns. Having tallied 76 receptions for 1,074 yards and eight touchdowns in 2012, Crowder is looking for a third consecutive 1,000-yard season in 2014.
Why You Should Watch Crowder in 2014
Crowder is an exciting, dynamic football player who is talented enough to win at all levels of the field. For a player with limited size, Crowder is still able to beat press coverages and get off the line of scrimmage with quick and shifty moves into his route. He has outstanding burst and acceleration off the line and can blow by defensive backs to take the top off a defense. He tracks the ball well downfield and is a big-play threat.
A good route runner, Crowder is sharp in and out of his breaks and changes directions with ease. He is fluid in his ability to sink his hips and explode. He is a quick-twitch athlete with superb balance and body control, and he has no issues separating. Because of his ability to win downfield, Crowder is able to take full advantage of a “soft” cornerback who gives respect to his long speed. That can be seen in the following play.
The game seems to slow down for Crowder at the catch point. He is sure-handed and aggressively attacks the football when it’s in the air. Crowder is skilled enough to beat double coverages and make contested catches.
Because teams have to respect Crowder’s long speed and ability to win on short and intermediate routes, his teammates are able to benefit greatly. Often times, Crowder will shift or hold the coverage away from his teammates and allow them to have easy separation, which leads them to receptions. Duke’s entire offense is better because of what Crowder brings to the table.
Not to be overlooked is Crowder’s ability to contribute as a punt returner at a high level. Last season, Crowder had 401 punt return yards while averaging 16.0 yards per return and scoring two touchdowns. This increases his value immensely, especially considering his lack of ideal size.
What Crowder Needs to Prove in 2014
It’s highly unlikely that Crowder will grow in stature as a college senior, but his lack of height will ultimately be what decreases his value. That said, it is vital for Crowder to focus on what he can do. Validating his speed and quickness with another strong season and with his performance at the 2015 NFL Scouting Combine will be vital in determining how highly Crowder is drafted in 2015.
Although he is generally overmatched in size by his opposition, Crowder can stand to become more physical. A willing blocker, Crowder just isn’t able to produce much power to make an impact in that area.
Projecting Crowder’s Draft Stock
It remains to be seen if Crowder’s draft stock will soar to the first round like Tavon Austin and Brandin Cooks, but one thing is clear: he can impact the game and is a valuable asset on offense and special teams.
Crowder is an ideal slot receiver who can provide a big-play threat to an NFL team. Already producing at a high level and possessing athleticism that should translate well to the NFL, Crowder will be an intriguing prospect to monitor throughout the season.