If you could do it all over again and based on the totality of his NFL career thus far, would you still draft Ted Ginn Jr. in the first round? That is basically the question any team looking to pick Will Fuller in the first round of this year's draft has to ask themselves.
Well, let me amend that.
Would you draft Ginn in the first round again if you also took most of his special teams stats away? Because even without seeing Fuller returning punts in those five games, I don't see him in the same class as Ginn when it comes to being a return guy. Ginn has averaged over 11 yards per punt return with four touchdowns for his career, after all.
Fuller just doesn't appear to be shifty enough for all that.
What Fuller does have is long speed aplenty. There's no denying that, and just about every team covets that one dude who can take the top off a defense consistently with just the threat that they might go deep. Other than that, however, I don't see Fuller as being above average at much else.
I hope that doesn't sound harsh, but it's true.
He's 6'0, which is good height for a wide receiver, but it's not like he did a lot of going up and catching jump balls over people, at not least in the five games I watched. A 33.5-inch vertical may have been a factor in that also.
When I see a guy run a fast 40 time like Fuller's 4.32 at the combine, but their vertical leap, broad jump and short shuttle times aren't nearly as impressive (which also applies to Fuller's combine performance), it usually makes me wonder about how explosive they really are. Would a team be able to do other things with them like end-arounds or quick slants and have reason to believe that he might take one of those to the house? Or are fade/go routes pretty much the only ways to really take advantage of his speed?
I have those same concerns about Fuller in particular because it reflected pretty much what I saw on film. He's a definitely a big play guy on vertical routes, but he didn't look all that special as a run-after-catch guy. I didn't see Notre Dame even run him on any reverses or end-arounds, even with all that speed.
On wide receiver screens and shallow crossing routes, both of which he ran quite a few of in the five games I watched, I rarely saw him really pull away from defenders or put a move on a guy and make him whiff. As a result, his production on those routes was significantly less than I would have expected.
Sometimes on the screens, it had more to do with the blocking than Fuller, but for him to have so much straight line speed, I just expected more yards after the catch.
He did have one play where he caught the ball in the red zone and made a guy whiff before he scored, but that stands out because it was the exception to the rule. It also wasn't the kind of route I was really referring to, but since he did make somebody miss on a play where he scored a touchdown, I didn't want anybody to think I overlooked it.
If that was my only problem with Fuller's play, then I likely would still consider him a first-round pick, but it ain't just the fact that both Ginn and Fuller are fast that has me making the comparison between the two. They also both have feet for hands at times when it comes to trying to catch the football. As crazy as it sounds, Ginn's hands may actually be better than Fuller's.
Now, it's not that Fuller didn't make any good catches in the games I watched. A couple were pretty impressive. But most decent college receivers tend to make some really good catches here and there. That can't be the litmus test when you are projecting a guy to play in the NFL. The guys who can consistently make difficult catches are the ones you have to be looking for, especially at the top of the draft.
Some of those catches Fuller was able to make in college are going to be contested a lot tighter on the next level and that's where I think his hands, which were already a little suspect in the games I watched, are going to fail him a lot more than they did in college. With Fuller we have ourselves yet another underhanded catcher and that just will not do.
I concede that sometimes it worked out fine.
Sometimes, however, it clearly did not.
Fuller was bound and determined to try to catch the football that way, more often than not. That tells me he has probably been doing it that way for a long time. It's probably so ingrained in him now that it's going to be hard to get him to catch the football the correct way.
Oh, he might do it in practice. Might even do it in games at times. But when it's the fourth quarter and the game is on the line it's more than likely that Fuller, just like most of us, is going to revert back to what he has done most of his life. Over time he may get that out of his system, but there is no guarantee of if or when it might happen.
I should also point out that at 8 1/4 inches Fuller has the smallest hands of the four receivers I've done breakdowns of so far, and he's the only one whose hands are even less than 9 inches.
So Fuller, like Ginn before him, will likely have decent but never great production on the next level, because he, like Ginn, will also likely leave a lot of plays on the field in the form of dropped catchable passes.
I don't think I need to reiterate again how much value I place on a receiver actually being able to, yanno, catch the football, so as you might imagine it's going to be a no for me as far as Fuller being worthy of a first-round pick. I will say that he does bring some other things to the table that I do like, however.
For a guy who isn't all that tall or physically imposing at 186 pounds, I thought Fuller gave good effort as a blocker.
He wasn't always effective, but at least I saw him trying and that's the kind of attitude I want from my receivers.
Fuller is also so fast that in addition to any deep balls that he catches, he is also likely to force a bunch of pass interference penalties down the field on defensive backs he runs by who are just trying to prevent a touchdown. He forced a couple of those pass interference penalties on plays in the games I watched and even though it's not a spot foul in college football, it still helped his team to flip field position. Being able to force those penalties will be even more valuable in the NFL, however, as his team will get the ball where the foul occurs.
That's one way for Fuller to help the team even with shaky hands.
Fuller showed himself to be a pretty good route runner and he isn't afraid to take a hit. This may be one area where I would say he has an edge over Ginn. I am not saying Ginn is scared to take a hit, mind you. I'm just saying if you threw the ball in an area where he might get BLAAAAAAMMMED, Ginn usually ain't catching it.
He ain't about that life.
Fuller, on the other hand, didn't seem all that bothered by contact.
Ultimately, I see Fuller as a decent No. 2 receiver in the NFL who will be a legit deep threat from day one, but he's also someone who will also drive the team crazy with his drops at times. There is value in having as a receiver like that, as the Carolina Panthers showed last year. I just don't happen to think there's "first-round pick" value in a player like that, however.
Then again, with these new gloves wide receivers use these days even friggin' Darrius Heyward-Bey looking like he can catch now, so I could be wrong.
Since I don't have access to all-22 for college football games, I use Draft Breakdown, the next best thing. They have the tape of a bunch of top prospects already cut up and ready to go. Also, their site is compatible with the new NoHuddle app which turns your cell phone into a "cowboy clicker" which is pretty damn neat. For the purposes of this breakdown I watched former Notre Dame wide receiver Will Fuller against Texas, UMass, Navy, USC and Boston College. Those represented the first, fourth, sixth, seventh and 11th games on Notre Dame's schedule last season, respectively.