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May 8, 2009

Smith: NFL covets UF receivers

If you're stressed out over what De'Joshua Johnson said after eliminating Florida from his list of suitors, you're losing precious moments in your life you'll never get back.

Seriously, don't be that person. As a colossal waste of time, this ranks right up there with the guy who takes notes at FSU's offensive staff meetings or the guy who designed Ron Zook's trophy room or the guy who worries that Mississippi State and Dan Mullen will have a little something-something for the Gators when they travel to Starkville next fall.

First, a little recap for everyone who hasn't read what Johnson told the Palm Beach Post's Ben Volin (yeah, both of you):

"I dropped Florida and West Virginia because of the spread offense. I don't want to play in the spread offense. I've seen how it affected receivers in the NFL draft. They have to teach them to play in a pro-style offense."

The questions are threefold. Is Johnson right about the plummeting draft stock of spread-offense receivers? Do they take longer to adjust to the NFL than receivers in a conventional offense? And will the perception of that deficiency kill Florida's recruiting at the position?

The answers are no, no proof and no. Let's take the issues in order.

1) Johnson was dead wrong when he claimed spread offenses adversely affect receivers' draft status.

Of the 34 receivers taken in the 2009 draft, 17 played in spread offenses. Crazy Oakland Raiders owner Al Davis stunned everyone by grabbing Maryland's Darrius Heyward-Bey before any other wide out went off the board, but the next three receivers - Michael Crabtree of Texas Tech (No. 10) Jeremy Maclin of Missouri (No. 19) and UF's Percy Harvin (No. 22) - all came from spread attacks.

Hmm. If half of the receivers taken come from the spread and three of the first four wide outs taken hail from the spread, Johnson's point is a wee bit shaky. He also might want to look at the career of Patriots' wide out Wes Welker, a product of Texas Tech's spread attack. Welker has 223 receptions in the last two years, the most in the NFL.

Since Urban Meyer arrived at Florida, as many UF receivers have gone in the draft (six) as any program in the country. The Gators are tied with LSU and Ohio State, double the number produced by USC, the shiny model for the pro-style offense crowd.

More ado about nothing: UF wide receiver Louis Murphy and tight end Cornelius Ingram lasting longer than expected in the draft.

Don't blame the spread for their fate. Their red flags flew elsewhere. Murphy went in the fourth round because he has shaky hands and never was UF's No. 1 wide receiver. Ingram went in the fifth round because he is coming off a serious knee injury that sidelined him for his senior season after he spent two years at quarterback, one at wide receiver and one at tight end.

2) Johnson was off base when he said spread players take longer to develop in the NFL than guys from traditional offenses.

In Meyer's case, the jury hasn't come in yet. He coached Chad Jackson for one year, so it is hard to pin Jackson's lack of development on him. Andre Caldwell has a horrific broken leg in his past. Dallas Baker was not fast enough to find a niche in the NFL.

Harvin will be a better test case, but he enters the NFL with baggage. The adjustment from a spread offense is low on the list of reasons he might not have a huge impact as a rookie. His immaturity and history of foot problems are bigger concerns.

"I've devoted a lot of time personally to study and evaluate the Florida offense," former Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach John Gruden said. "You can see that the Florida receivers have an advanced knowledge of a pro-style passing game. They know how to identify blitzes, read coverage's and run good routes."

Granted, Gruden is a shaky source. Since he was devoid of good quarterbacks and receivers for most of his seven-year stint with the Bucs, it is unclear whether he can spot a good wideout. But Cincinnati Bengals coach Marvin Lewis, New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick and Minnesota Vikings quarterback coach Kevin Rogers have offered similar testimonials (included at the bottom).

It is far too early to bury Meyer's ability to produce NFL-ready receivers.

3) Don't just assume other top-notch recruits share Johnson's opinion.

The Gators have no wide receivers among their first 12 commitments for 2010, but there is no reason to panic. It is not even the middle of May yet. Five-star 2009 signee Andre Debose, whom the coaches hope can play the Harvin role as running back/receiver hybrid, waited until January to commit.

If Debose meets expectations, the Gators will be in good shape at the Percy position for another three years.

Even the worst-case scenario is manageable. If Debose takes a long time to develop and Harvin tanks in the NFL, Florida still will be attractive to versatile athletes.

While opposing recruiters mimic Johnson's words, Meyer can tell prospects that Harvin went 22nd in the draft despite his off-field issues. Imagine how high he would have gone if he had a pristine image.

High school hot shots always think they will become stars in the NFL. A Harvin flameout wouldn't scare them away from Florida any more than the failure of Steve Spurrier's wideouts at the next level in the 1990s.

Jack Jackson, Reidel Anthony, Jacquez Green and Travis Taylor were major NFL disappointments at a position that produced zero superstars from the Fun 'n' Gun. Still, Spurrier's last team featured Jabar Gaffney, Reche Caldwell and Taylor Jacobs, one of the most prolific receiving trios in Gator history.

Meyer will find the same answers.

Johnson says he is spooked by the spread, and he is entitled to his opinion. History says few of his peers share it.

NFL coaches on Florida receivers

"Florida receivers come to the NFL prepared and ready to play. They are familiar with a philosophy that we are implementing. We ask our receivers to run precise routes, read and react, block on the edge, and play with toughness. The Florida receivers do just that. We drafted Andre Caldwell in 2008 because we felt he was so well prepared to contribute immediately, which he did for us last season." - Marvin Lewis, Head Coach of the Cincinnati Bengals

"They have a spread offense. They read coverage's. They run routes based on coverage's or the technique of the defender. They have multiple formations and blitz adjustments and all those kinds of things that are common in the National Football League. I think kids that come out of that offense have a good understanding of passing concepts." - Patriots coach Bill Belichick

"One of the things that impressed me the most about my evaluation of Florida receivers is that they run very disciplined routes. They are similar to what we run in the NFL. The wide receivers at Florida are already well versed in an offense that most NFL teams are now using." - Kevin Rogers, Quarterback Coach Minnesota Vikings

"Florida receivers are very fundamental. They are NFL ready and have a great knowledge of offensive concepts that we utilize." - Karl Dorrell, Wide Receiver Coach of the Miami Dolphins

Gator receivers in the NFL fast facts

  • Florida is one of two schools nationally to have a WR selected in the last four NFL Drafts.

  • There were seven former Florida wide receivers on NFL rosters in 2008, six of them caught a pass during the season.

  • Florida leads the nation with six wide receivers drafted in the last four NFL Drafts, while FSU has had just two WR selected (see chart below).

  • The last time a skill player was taken in the first round from:
    FSU (2002)
    Miami (2003)
    Alabama (2000)

  • WR Selected in NFL Draft (2006-2009)
    Florida 6
    LSU 6
    Ohio State 6
    Southern Cal 3
    Florida State 2
    Miami 1
    Georgia 1
    Tennessee 1

  • 13 of the top 15 scoring offenses in the NCAA last year ran a version of the spread offense, including all teams in the top 10.



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