2014 NFL Draft: Cleveland Browns Should Pair Ole Miss WR Donte Moncrief with Josh Gordon

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Updated: March 20, 2014

With under two months until the 2014 NFL Draft, teams like the Cleveland Browns are fine tuning their draft board while addressing needs in free agency. Though general manager Ray Farmer just signed a slot wide receiver in Andrew Hawkins, the Cleveland Browns will still likely look to draft a No. 2 wide receiver to pair with 2013 breakout star, Josh Gordon.

While the majority of Cleveland fans have taken to the “Sammy Watkins or Bust” mentality with the No. 4 pick in the draft, the team would be wise to hold off on drafting a wide receiver so early. This is not to say Watkins will not be a star one day, but the depth at the wide receiver position in this draft is unrivaled by any draft in recent memory—and in some cases you could land a guy with first-round potential in the second or even third round of the draft.

Such is the case with a little-known wide receiver out of the SEC, Ole Miss’ Donte Moncrief.

The 6’2” and 221-pound wide receiver from the state of Mississippi threw his hat into the 2014 NFL Draft class a year early, leaving the Rebels after his junior season. After back-to-back 50-plus reception seasons with over 900 yards each year, Moncrief felt it was time to put his collegiate playing days behind him and take his play to the next level.

In a press conference following his announcement Moncrief said, “After meeting with Coach (Hugh) Freeze and looking at all available information, my family and I have decided that I will declare for the draft…At this time, I have to do what is best for my family and I, and I am ready to pursue my dream of playing in the NFL.”

After watching a number of his games from the 2013 season, it is easy to tell why he left for the NFL. With 59 receptions, 938 yards, six touchdowns and a 15.9 yards per catch average, there was very little more he could have done with Bo Wallace as his quarterback for another season to improve his current second to third round draft projection.

The first thing about Moncrief that jumps off the tape is his willingness as a blocker. He is routinely securing the defensive back on his side of the field with solid blocking technique, often opening running lanes for other wide receivers on screen plays or opening up outside holes for his running back. He seems to play with a tenaciousness as a blocker, seemingly relishing every opportunity to lower his helmet and mix it up with a defensive back.

Usually when you lead with that type of analysis on a wide receiver, there is some issue with him in the receiving game—but that is not the case. In fact, after racking up 156 receptions, 2,371 yards and 20 touchdowns in three seasons in the SEC, it is surprising he has not jumped higher in terms of draft projection, but that is more of a credit to the depth of the class than his play on the field.

Utilizing his 4.4 40-yard dash speed, Moncrief has the ability to gain separation early from defenders. He is a polished route runner with very deceptive speed on the field, often kicking it into a second gear when he catches the ball in space. Moncrief also seemed to have an excellent route tree from his days at Ole Miss, as he ran slants, double moves, screens and deep plays flawlessly on tape.

CBS Sports Draft Analyst Rob Rang had a ringing analysis of his own on Moncrief, stating, “He does not possess the explosive moves of Southern Cal’s Marquise Lee or Clemson’s Sammy Watkins but might be a better player than either of them. He is sudden in his breaks, showing the ability to generate separation even against tight man coverage, and accelerates quickly, often leaving defenders in his dust on double-moves.”

Rang’s analysis echoed everything you see when watching Moncrief for an entire game. Well versed in using his hands at the line of scrimmage, he makes it look effortless in gaining separation from a defensive back applying press coverage before the snap. This is something that is so smooth that you do not notice it until watching other receivers struggle to gain separation at the line.

One of the most important aspects of his game that jumps off in film study is his body control. He has the ability to fluidly adjust to his quarterback—something he had to do a lot with Wallace routinely throwing behind him or at a different spot in the route. While some players may lose speed or concentration while having to do this, Moncrief was smooth enough to make it look easy and not give away his readjustment to the defensive back.

So why is a guy with such polished skills not a first-round projection?

As mentioned before, it is more of a credit to the draft class than a knock on him as a player. Playing for Ole Miss probably did not help his cause either, as he did not receive the “national spotlight” of players like Watkins, Lee, Mike Evans and Kelvin Benjamin. But his lack of being featured and talked about all season long shouldn’t soften your opinion on him—this kid can play.

You can watch the video above for yourself and check him out in more videos on Draft Breakdown, but Moncrief embodies the hard-nosed style of play head coach Mike Pettine is going to bring to the Browns. Add in the fact that new offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan is bringing his zone blocking scheme with him to Cleveland, and it really seems like a perfect match for Moncrief and the Browns in the second or third round of the draft.

If the Browns pull the trigger on their quarterback of the future with the No. 4 overall pick, supplying him with a cast of Gordon, Moncrief, Hawkins and Jordan Cameron as his four primary options would be a great way of returning an offense to the shores of Lake Erie.

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2 Comments

  1. Bob Evans

    March 22, 2014 at 12:55 pm

    MJM,

    There are certainly a lot of smokescreens this time of year, so it is tough to really believe a lot of the “reports” put out by connected media members from their “sources within the team”. Appreciate the kind words about the article, this is a very deep draft class with a lot of quality WRs that can fill the team’s major need of a No. 2 WR next to Josh Gordon.

    In regard to Little, I’m not sure if it was you or someone else, but Farmer had some very good things to say at the combine about Greg Little and how the offensive staff is excited to “work with him”. With him not making very much money, the team has very little incentive to cut him if they think they can work with him and make him into a viable WR. I think a lot of fans forget that he is still really young (24 years old) and didn’t make the conversion to WR until his final year of college, and then had to sit out a year before coming to the NFL. So the NFL has essentially been his “baptism by fire” at the WR position.

    I see a lot in Little so I guess I’m on the side of the Browns. He is big, tough and physical and can get yards after the catch WHEN he holds on to the ball. So if the Browns think they can bring him along as a No. 4 WR and have someone work with him on the hands part…then they won’t cut him.

    They won’t take a guard at four…but one is certainly in play at 26 or 35.

  2. MJM

    March 22, 2014 at 12:03 am

    Bob, as I mentioned in another post, one writer termed this time of the year as the lying season. Supposedly Farmer and the coaches are snubbing QB’s while looking at other positions. Like wide receiver.

    Personally, i believe that for the Browns it is quarterback all the way. Hands down. Then it is onto either Guard or Wide Receiver or ILB. Which is why this article is so interesting. It is good to know that there will be quality players at this position in the second round.

    Question: The Browns have cut ties with a number of players including Weeden, Campbell and others. Why not a single word out of Berea on Little, he with the Heisman Pose, each and every time on those rare occasions when he actually retains possession, somehow, after a pass is thrown his way? Do you think the Browns see something in his play that the rest of humanity does not?

    If so, then their supposed interest in WR this high in the draft could be a gauzy smokescreen for another player at another position this team desperately needs — LIKE A GUARD that can block AND sweat at the same time.

    MJM

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