I have vivid memories of New Year’s Day in 2005. After a week on a post-Christmas cruise, my family and I were going to fly from Florida back home to Rhode Island on January 2nd. I am one of the few people lucky enough to be born on New Years Day, so we were spending my 12th birthday, our last day of Vacation, at Busch Gardens in Tampa.
Now, I can’t recall the name of the roller coaster, but every amusement park has it. The signature ride that is plastered on every advertisement. The attraction that you swear you will ride 100 times that day. The ride that you anticipate the entire car ride and walk through the park, overflowing with excitement.
It’s the same feeling I get when I watch “prototype” #1 wide receiver prospects make plays.
It’s hard not to get excited when you see a 6’4 and 225 pound bag of muscles out-leap defenders and high-point a football.
When I made my way to the roller coaster I had been looking forward to, I realized the line stretched far too long for a 12 year-old with little patience to handle. This is the same feeling I get when I see every draft analyst jump on the bandwagon of bigger bodied receivers with sky-high potential.
It’s not a desire of mine to be different, but it’s motivation to find exactly what else is out there.
“Okay, this roller coaster is obviously awesome, but let’s go find other rides that I can actually get on and have fun.”
“Okay, this receiver could obviously become awesome, but let’s look around college football and find others who could be awesome, too.”
So that’s what my family did. We looked for underappreciated rides that could provide equal fun. We eventually stumbled upon a log flume ride with a bridge directly over the bottom of the descent. We soon realized that the wave caused by the ride would absolutely smoke those waiting in line on the bridge, and knock over every small child in sight.
Bingo. I found something equally as entertaining as whatever-that-big-roller-coaster-was-called.
That’s the same feeling I had the first time I watched DaMarkus Lodge play football.
“This dude can ball, and everyone seems to think he’s the afterthought of the Ole Miss wide receiver trio.”
It makes sense that Lodge is underappreciated, it’s not every year we see four potentially elite prospects competing for targets on the same team. When you add tight end Dawson Knox into the equation with fellow wide receivers D.K. Metcalf and A.J. Brown, that’s the exact situation the Rebel pass-catchers find themselves in. Lodge is the smallest, so the immediate assumption is that his potential is the most limited. Fair enough, but I’m more confident in Lodge hitting his ceiling than any of the others on his team.
Lodge’s acrobatics and body control are currently second-to-none in college football. His route running is advanced with efficient, elastic breaks. Lodge plays the game with an edge and is relentless in how he attacks defensive backs. He is versatile enough to be moved across the formation, and has been effective working against all types of coverages. Lodge has produced in all levels of the field, and he's shown flashes of being a dominating blocker when he wants to. These traits are all within a long, 6’2 frame.
Each year, potential NFL prospects at each position will return to school because of injury or to further their game. As draft rankings change, it seems like the older and more polished prospects are always the beneficiaries. Their safer games begin to offer more value as some high-ceiling players do not declare. This season, my money is on Stanley Morgan Jr. to become more appreciated as as we reach the draft-cycle.
Morgan is the most nuanced route runner I have studied so far in the draft class, as he can alter the direction and pace of his stems with ease. Few collegiate receivers have the combination of polish and ball skills that Morgan possesses, and eventually his separation ability will be coveted.
Morgan does not have elite size or speed, which factor into his lack of draft hype. However, he accelerates out of breaks well and operates in space with fluidity, which more than make up for his lack of top-end speed.
Both Lodge and Morgan missed out on The Draft Network’s All-Draft Eligible Team, meaning they have yet to crack the top-6 consensus rankings among our evaluators. It is my prediction, however, that as we get closer to draft day both receivers will have elevated their stock and be in consideration for top-5 at the position.