I suspect that Jared Abbrederis will not make the Green Bay Packers' final roster in 2015. When training camp started last week, I thought he would beat the odds and make it. There is certainly plenty of camp left and he still might, but I think that injuries, some lackluster work in OTAs, and the Packers' amazing strength at the position will eventually doom him.
That's a shame, because I believe that Abbrederis has the tools to be a very productive NFL player for a long time. He is, in many ways, a prototypical Ted Thompson draft pick, and rarely have I seen a player as mischaracterized and misdiagnosed. The number of people who have compared Abbrederis to various other white NFL receivers who have almost nothing in common with him is ridiculous. To understand what Abbrederis brings to the table, and why he is better than most give him credit for, let's look closely at what he can - and cannot - do on the field.
Casual fans and casual scouts often use measurables incorrectly. Scouting, when you break it down to its basics, is about two questions:
- Is this player big enough, strong enough, and/or fast enough to play professional football?
- Is this player good at football?
This sounds simple, but it's surprising how often teams seem to simply stop their evaluations after question one. I usually mention this in the context of quarterbacks (and usually use Kyle Boller as an example), but it frequently applies to the wide receiver position as well (See: ninth overall pick Ted Ginn and his 4.28 40-yard dash). In truth, measurables should usually be used to exclude someone from consideration, not to rocket them up the draft board.
Abbrederis's measurables will never blow anyone away, but they're basically fine. He ran a 4.5 40 (slow-ish for a wideout, but fine), a perfectly fine 4.08 20-yard shuttle, a perfectly fine 09'09" broad jump, and a slowish but fine 6.8 second 3 cone drill. He's listed at 6'1" and 195 pounds, which is a perfectly decent size for an NFL receiver. In every category that matters, there is nothing to indicate that Abbrederis can't be a professional receiver. It was probably a mistake for him to participate in the bench press at the 2014 Scouting Combine, as he's been roundly ridiculed for only managing 4 reps, but outside of offensive linemen it is almost certainly the most useless measureable, and is often de-emphasized in modern training techniques.
In short, Abbrederis's measurables are just fine, and on Combine day, that's literally all you should be looking for in a player.
So, is Jared Abbrederis good at football?
I never thought Ron Dayne would amount to much in the NFL simply because a lot of his success in college was based on overpowering opponents who would, in the NFL, be much larger and faster than they were in college. Sometimes a freak athlete will succeed simply by being a man among boys without developing great technique, footwork, or other little things that separate the men from the boys at the highest level. Abbrederis frequently showed off excellent technique and understanding of the position in college, and excelled at two things in particular.
First and foremost, Abbrederis is an elite route runner. If you watch this highlight package you will frequently see Abbrederis running wide open in the secondary. Some of this is simply bad college defense, but it's important to keep in mind that Abbrederis was usually the only true receiving threat on the team, and that in the post-Russell Wilson era he was generally being targeted by truly terrible quarterbacks.
This play, in which Abbrederis torches 2014 first-round draft pick Bradley Roby on an out and up, shows his route-running skills at their finest:
His cuts are smooth and violent. Abbrederis commits fully to the out, squaring his shoulders and attacking the sideline. Often, young receivers cheat on fakes as they are anxious to get into the meat of the route, but there is none of that from Abbrederis here and Roby bites completely. On his second cut (at the 2 second mark) he plants his trailing foot and violently explodes up the field without sacrificing speed, gaining more than three full yards of separation on the All-American corner. A better throw from Joel Stave would have led to a touchdown, but this throw allows Abbrederis to show off his second great skill: attacking the ball at the point of reception.
If you pause at the 6 second mark you'll see Abbrederis go up for the ball while Roby takes out his legs. Abbrederis is one of the best I've seen at keeping an eye on the ball while absorbing contact. If you look at some of his wide open catches on underthrown balls you can see exactly how big of a habit this is for him, as he looks every single pass into his hands the entire way.
Here's another play against Roby, this time a simple out.
You can see the crisp nature of his cut right at the 2 second mark, immediately after he gets Roby to turn his hips outside. Abbrederis doesn't round his route, but squares his lower body to the sideline while presenting a big target for Stave to hit. It's an outstanding route, and shows off advanced wide receiver skills against top-flight competition.
Tight ends like Antonio Gates, Tony Gonzalez, and Jimmy Graham are/were among the best route runners in the NFL, a skill that is often attributed to their experience playing basketball. The sharp, hard cuts needed to create small amounts of separation on the court transfer extremely well to the football field, and Abbrederis's route-running is on that same level.
Abbrederis is not without his flaws. He had a number of drops during OTAs and he's reportedly had a number of concussions through college. Of course, he tore his ACL last year. Tearing up your knee is never good for a skill position player, and truly recovering to the point of trusting the joint, especially without sacrificing route running precision, can take a very long time. Finally, he has been on the shelf since the first day of camp last week with yet another concussion, robbing him of valuable practice reps and allowing other players like Ty Montgomery to impress in his place. It's too bad because I really do think he's a special talent when he's healthy.
I started this post by criticizing some unfair comparisons of other wide receivers to Abbrederis, and it's only fair that I offer up my own opinion. I see an elite route runner with pedestrian but acceptable measurables, who played all four years in college with large impacts in three of them. I see a player who is about six feet tall and about 195 pounds, who is neither a giant for the position, nor a small, shifty guy. He defies easy categorization like so many Thompson picks before him. He's shiftier than he is fast, he attacks every ball in his vicinity, and he's willing to take a big hit, sometimes to his detriment.