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The problem with DeVante Parker

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Retired NFL defensive end Stephen White likes what the Louisville receiver can do on the field, but has real concerns if he can do it consistently.

Jamie Rhodes-USA TODAY Sports

I like DeVante Parker a lot, but let's acknowledge right off the top that a wide receiver having foot surgery can be problematic. Parker's medical reports are going to be a huge deal and none of us outside of the NFL have access to them, so there's no way to know what they're going to say.

You might think because Parker balled out in the last six games after he came back and performed well at the combine that nobody will care, but if a team is thinking about drafting a guy, it needs to know he won't break down on them in a year or two. I'm not saying there will be any problems with his medicals, but if you see Parker slide a bit on draft day, I'd imagine that is the reason.

For the purposes of this breakdown, I watched Parker play against NC State, Florida State, Kentucky and Georgia, over at Draft Breakdown. Those represent the eighth, ninth, 12th and 13th games of Louisville's season. Because of a foot injury, Parker actually missed the first seven games, so these were really the first, second, fifth and sixth games of his season.

The guy is impressive on film. I do have to add the caveat once again that I would much rather use five games rather than four to evaluate him. It doesn't matter that he only played six games. I still need to see at least five to feel all the way comfortable basing my evaluation on them. Unfortunately, there aren't five games posted so I will just have to make do with what I have.

It was evident in those four games that Parker was a big-time playmaker at the college level. One of the things I appreciated about watching Louisville's offense is that it didn't try to reinvent the wheel to try and get the ball to Parker. Say what you want to about Louisville head coach and resident offensive guru Bobby Petrino, and I damn sure have said plenty, but the dude knows how to get his offense to matriculate the ball down the field efficiently. A lot of the time it was evident that opposing defenses were backed off Parker for fear he would beat them deep. What did Petrino do? Sent him on a ton of quick slants. It was an easy way to get the ball in his hands and allow him to use his ability to break tackles to get an easy 10 yards or so. As soon as they rolled back up on him, the bombs came over their heads.

That was soooo impressive, and Parker, for his part, really did make a lot of hay out of those quick slants. He was constantly looking to break the first tackle attempt on those routes and then turn on the jets. It was hard at times to tell how fast Parker was or wasn't on film, but his 4.45 at the combine shows he has the speed for the next level. His 6'3 frame as well as his 36.5-inch vertical also confirm that he is a guy who can take the top off a defense. The reality is if that was all he brought to the table, then he probably wouldn't even be worthy of first-round condition. It's the fact that he is such a good runner after the catch that pushes him up the ladder.

Still, there ain't nothing like a wide receiver who can get you a chunk play at any given time, and Parker can damn sure do that. When a deep ball is in the air and Parker is in the vicinity, there is a high likelihood that somebody is about to get "Moss'd." I swear I could damn near see the fear in some of the corners he faced as soon as they realized he was going deep and the ball was coming to him (Florida State secondary, I'm looking at you). Time and time again, Parker made the kinds of catches in those four games that showed their fear was not unwarranted.

One of the reasons I'm not quite as high on Parker as other evaluators is that while he made a lot of those big plays, he also seemed to give away several big plays. Like, here is a guy that obviously knows how to go up and high point a back shoulder fade. With his height and leaping ability, he should be a monster on those routes. And he was a monster ... just not consistently.

I can live with a receiver not catching some contested balls in those situations -- there's a reason we call them 50/50 balls in the first place. My problem with Parker was that he didn't always appear to fight for the ball when he had an opportunity.

Sometimes that lack of fight manifested itself in Parker not actually jumping to catch the ball at the highest point possible, where he could ensure that he would be the only person with a chance to catch it. Instead, he sometimes allowed shorter, less physically gifted corners make plays on the ball because he allowed it to get to a lower point where the corner could get to it.

I hope that makes sense. If not, then hopefully watching the GIFs will make it clearer.

It's like a tall basketball player who can jump really high but is a shitty rebounder. Instead of jumping up over his opponents to get the ball when it comes off the rim all the time, he opts to stay on the ground every once in awhile and just reach up with his arms as if that will be enough to get the job done.

That guy wouldn't last very long in the NBA, and Parker is not going to last very long in the NFL unless he learns to high point those back shoulder fades all the time.

If it only happened once or twice, I wouldn't trip, but not only did it happen a lot more frequently than I would like, several passes that Parker had a legit shot to catch or at the least knock down, ended up being intercepted. That is something that should never happen. A guy with Parker's physical tools should at least break up those interceptions, if not catch them himself. But nah, he just stood there or slowed down and watched as the defender jumped up and plucked the ball out of the air.

He almost had me fooled for a minute thinking maybe he wasn't quite the athlete I thought he was. That's why he wasn't making plays on those balls, but I saw too many other plays in those four games where Parker skies up in the air to catch the ball. I knew that wasn't it even before Googling his numbers from the combine.

Keeping it 100, Parker also pretty much quit on a deep ball against Georgia in the bowl game. I'm not sure if he would have had a shot at it had he kept running, but the replay clearly shows he did stop running. That is never a good look on tape.

I don't want to kill him for some of these things, because I want to be sensitive to the fact that he was coming off the foot surgery. I imagine after all the hard work he put in just to get back on the field last season there were times when he was scared to truly test out his foot. That's especially true when you think about how re-injuring the foot would have dropped his stock heading into the draft this spring. I also recognize that he may have had some endurance issues in those six games because football is the only thing that truly gets you in shape for football, and he wasn't able to "do" football stuff for half the season.

At the same time, I do have to wonder if he will have those same inconsistency issues on the next level. Nobody has a crystal ball, but I would definitely need to do some more investigating to see what kind of effort he gave at practice both before and after the injury. I wouldn't say Parker was a loafer -- hell, if a loafer can make the plays that he made last season even coming off foot surgery, maybe it's not such a bad thing. In the NFL all it takes is a play or two when one guy doesn't give the kind of effort he should and all of a sudden you have a disaster on either side of the ball. The difference between winning and losing is so thin you just can't put a guy out there you don't trust unless you have no other choice.

One of the things I love about Parker is how smooth he looks all the time. Even when he was obviously hauling ass, he never appeared to be laboring at all. I wouldn't say I saw him run all that many routes in the four games I saw, but when he did, he was silky smooth going in and out of his breaks. Unfortunately, there weren't many plays where he was at the line of scrimmage with man-to-man coverage in those four games, so it's hard to know if that would have shaken him up a bit. Based on what I saw, if you give him a free release, he's probably going to eat your lunch. And they kept giving him free releases, go figure.

Parker's blocking left quite a bit to be desired. You know what, though? Blocking for a top receiver is like the cherry on top of a sundae. It's nice to have, but if the fudge, ice cream and nuts are slamming, you won't notice much if they forget to add the cherry. Would I like Parker to have been better at blocking? Sure, but I'm not dropping him down my totally-made-up big board because of it.

Before you say it, I'll acknowledge that at times when Parker looks like he isn't going hard enough even though he is, it could be because he is so smooth. There are also some plays that are open to interpretation when it comes to his effort. But not jumping for 50/50 balls is clearly some bullshit, and I can't just erase those plays from my memory.

Those memories can't totally cancel out watching of some of the jaw-dropping plays he made this past season. Could it be that all or most of the things that worry me about his game can attributable to the injury?

Possibly.

That still doesn't mean that those concerns are unfounded. I would expect that some of the teams had the same concerns, and they did their due diligence to get to the bottom of them.

So where does that put Parker on my mythical totally-made-up big board? Well, without having all the information available that NFL teams have, I still feel comfortable saying DeVante Parker has the talent to go in the top of the first round, with maybe second-round effort overall on film. If teams are comfortable with Parker as a hard worker and with his medical reports, then he could easily be a top 16 pick. Guys his size and with his ability are hard to find.

If he has any red flags with his medical reports or from feedback from coaches about his work ethic, then I could also see him sliding, but still probably not making it out of the first round unless something in those reports is really bad. Of the four receivers I've covered so far, he's the one guy who I think could literally be taken almost anywhere in the first round.

If not for the injury, Parker would have spent all of 2014 as one of the top rated wide receivers. If his medical reports check out, could a team possibly take him over Kevin White, who is around the same size, a little faster, but also less polished? Could a team bypass the shorter, similarly fast, but less athletic and more polished Amari Cooper to take a guy like DeVante Parker?

It's the NFL draft, bruh, of course it could happen. I don't think it will, but you never know.

As far as a projection of what kind of pro Parker will be, again it all comes down to those medical reports and his work ethic. If he can stay healthy and works at his deficiencies, the sky is the limit for that kid.

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