Let’s start by making one thing perfectly clear: Malachi Dupre was a very good get in the 7th round. In fact, this post is mostly going to be about the reasons he was available in the 7th round, as those are the same reasons to be skeptical about Dupre’s likely impact to the 2017 Green Bay Packers. Perhaps no one has divided fans and analysts more than this particular 7th round wide receiver out of LSU, with some analysts pegging him as a potential replacement for Jordy Nelson, and others (myself included) who think his best case scenario in 2017 is as a practice squad player.
What do people like?
Dupre is an interesting, if flawed prospect. A former 5-star recruit and high school track star, his athleticism has had scouts salivating for as long as they’ve known his name. He’s tall and lanky at 6-2, and he can out-jump just about anyone. This, by itself, is a useful NFL skill, as proficiency in vertical space is of prime importance near the end zone. The Packers haven’t really had a vertical receiver in a very long time and there is some sentiment that a player like Dupre would go a long way towards improving their red zone passing.
Many people will also tell you that you can teach an athlete to play football, but you can’t teach a football player to be an athlete. With prospects like Dupre, who come in raw for one reason or another, it’s easy to project development, as well as a higher upside. While Dupre struggled to put up eye-popping production in college, LSU featured legendarily bad quarterbacks during his tenure, and some of that can be excused. He also attended LSU during a tumultuous period where Les Miles was relieved of his duties, and Miles was never the greatest passing game guru even in his prime. What the optimists see in Dupre is a superior athlete who found himself in a bad situation in college, who offers a skillset that the Packers currently lack, and who could, with better coaching and a great quarterback, turn into something special. I hope they are right.
Reasons to be pessimistic
Let’s start with Dupre’s other measurables. You can see from his Mockdraftables chart that, while Dupre is one of those athletes who can probably jump out of an empty swimming pool, he isn’t particularly fast in terms of straight line speed (his 4.52 40-yard dash put him slightly under average for the position), he’s not strong, and boy is he not shifty. The 3-cone, 20-yard shuttle, and 60-yard shuttle (the “agility drills”) are not as crucial to vertical wideouts as they are to some other positions, but it highlights his limitations in terms of running other routes.
I have a very simple scouting system I use to keep myself in check. I ask myself the following questions:
1. Does this player have the minimum necessary measurables to succeed in the NFL?
1a. Corollary: Do not move players up because of combine scores, but do move them down.
2. Is this player good at football?
My biggest problem with Dupre is the 2nd factor. Dupre regressed every year of his college career, and while I certainly won’t go to bat for the quality of his quarterbacks, his skillset doesn’t usually require a very good quarterback to be effective. What people saw in Dupre was a “go up and get it” vertical threat. Many college programs lacking an accurate passer base entire offenses around the concept that an athletic receiver can pull down a bomb as long as it’s thrown far enough and high enough. Dupre pulled down his fair share of these, but he did not dominate in the way you would expect for an elite athlete. In fact, Dupre was routinely the second best receiver on his team.
In 2016 he fattened up on substandard competition. Against Conference USA and ACC opponents, Dupre averaged 23.9 yards per reception and scored 2 of his 3 TDs. Against the SEC and Wisconsin, LSU’s lone Big Ten opponent, he averaged just 11.4 yards per reception over 31 receptions and scored only once, against Texas A&M. I don’t expect any receiver to go out and dominate Alabama, but Dupre never dominated anyone with any kind of defense. His best yardage total against an SEC or Big Ten opponent in his final season was a 60 yard effort (on 2 catches) against Arkansas, and the highest number of receptions he made against any SEC or Big Ten opponent was 5, for 54 yards against Ole Miss. Scouting by stats is always a dicey proposition, however most prospects will at least flash their talent once or twice a season no matter how bad the circumstances surrounding them might be.
Dupre also lacks advanced technique for the position. He is a poor route runner and lacks strength at the catch point. If you watch the Wisconsin-LSU game again, you will see Dupre drop a few balls due to the mere presence of an approaching defender. While his quarterback missed him open at least once, he also failed to adjust properly several other times, and had a few outright drops. Wisconsin had an elite defense in 2016 and having a bad game against them is fine, but it’s striking how easily Dupre was taken out of the game. Wisconsin, unconcerned with anything outside of deep routes, had no issue shutting him down. If Dupre is to succeed at the next level it is critical that he develop some kind of short-to-medium game to draw defenders down.
The biggest issue facing Dupre in terms of making the 53 man roster is simple math. The Packers are unlikely to keep more than 6 receivers. Nelson (1), Adams (2), and Cobb (3) are absolute locks. Geronimo Allison (4) flashed real potential last season, is similar to Dupre athletically, and has shown himself to be a much more polished player. Trevor Davis (5) did not show much in his rookie season, but he was taken in a higher round than Dupre, he is more athletic than Dupre, and most importantly, adds special teams value, as does Jeff Janis (6). Dupre is unlikely to provide much if any special teams value, which means he has to offer serious on-field value from day 1. That means not only beating out Allison, but also 5th round pick DeAngelo Yancey (7). He must do all of this while holding off a slew of undrafted free agents. It’s a tall order for an unpolished rookie.
In all honesty, the hype that some have placed on Dupre isn’t fair. If he is going to turn into something special, the practice squad is the perfect place for the athlete to become a football player. Dupre’s tape basically begs for another year of development, and in 2018 the Packer receiving corps is much more likely to have some openings. While I’m not a fan of his current profile, it’s easy to see why Ted grabbed him when he did. Both Dupre and running back Devante Mays represent excellent late round finds. In the 7th you usually find what I call “try-hard guys:” fringe athletes who have shown enough football acumen and effort to warrant a shot, but who likely max out as solid backups. In this case, the Packers landed on two players with the physical tools to be much more. I don’t expect much from either early on, and they are the types of high-ceiling, low-floor players who can bust out of the league at almost any time, but this is also how you find the occasional late round star. Dupre is worth keeping an eye on, but save the hype for a later date.