Christian Kirk brought game-breaking ability to Texas A&M for three years and now the Arizona Cardinals are hoping he can do the same in the NFL after taking the receiver with the No. 47 pick in the 2018 NFL Draft.
Kirk, 21, was an instant contributor as a true freshman for the Aggies, and began his collegiate career with 106 receiving yards, a touchdown reception and a punt return touchdown in his first ever game. In three years at the college level, he racked up 26 receiving touchdowns, six punt return touchdowns and he returned one kickoff for a touchdown.
At 5’10, 200 pounds, Kirk is built like Golden Tate of the Detroit Lions with similar athleticism, but will need to hone his craft if he hopes to replicate the NFL career of the former Notre Dame product.
The Cardinals are banking on the belief that he can’t be that and more.
Kirk can eat up yards underneath
His size will likely require him to win in the middle of the field as a slot receiver. Luckily for Arizona, that was Kirk’s specialty at Texas A&M where he ate up opposing defenses with sharp footwork and did especially well on crossing routes.
Where Christian Kirk won in 2017 pic.twitter.com/JkYuKjfnxY— PFF Draft (@PFF_College) April 14, 2018
While his big play ability and touchdown numbers would seemingly indicate that he’s a deep threat with explosive speed, Kirk’s real strength is that he can rack up high-percentage throws and turn them into more than just a few yards.
He’s able to cleanly beat defenders close to the line of scrimmage and use that separation to make more happen. Then he becomes truly dangerous once he has the ball in his hands.
The best part of Christian Kirk's game is his ability to win after the catch. He's the best screen WR in the draft. pic.twitter.com/URcWMkvkSY— Marcus Mosher (@Marcus_Mosher) January 31, 2018
Texas A&M made a point to get the ball in Kirk’s hands often, feeding him 234 career receptions, 23 rushing attempts, 37 punt returns, and 48 kickoff returns.
Kirk’s return ability pushed him into the first round
Even though Golden Tate had 2,576 receiving yards and 25 touchdowns in his two seasons at Notre Dame, he still landed in the second round. The success of undersized receivers like Tate and Odell Beckham Jr. as No. 1 receivers certainly helped Kirk, but it was his ability as a returner that likely earned him a spot in the first round.
A punt or kickoff return for a touchdown is about as big of a swing of momentum as a player can provide in a game and Kirk did it plenty at Texas A&M.
The pick will really be worth it if Kirk can connect with first-round pick Josh Rosen and make for a dynamic duo for years to come. But even if they somehow never get on the same page, it’s hard to imagine Kirk not finding a way to make an impact.