Thursday, April 11, 2013
Versatile Riddick can be a contributor
By Steve Muench
Draft analysts -- including yours truly -- always seem to focus on first-round talents, with their awesome physical tools and lofty expectations. Fans want to know which of those players might fit in with their favorite teams and how they could help fuel a Super Bowl run.
Hitting on those players is imperative, but it's proven every year that successful teams will also find help on Days 2 and 3 of draft weekend. So with that in mind, let's take a closer look at a Day 3 prospect who isn't generating top-tier buzz but could still make an impact at the next level.
It's not like jack-of-all-trades Theo Riddick flew under the radar last season during Notre Dame's run to the BCS title game, but he was overshadowed by a talented Fighting Irish defense and first-round TE Tyler Eifert. In addition, Riddick's stock has been sliding a bit thanks to a disappointing showing in the championship game and a subpar showing at the NFL combine.
Still, Riddick is capable of making an NFL roster and helping a team if the pieces fall into the right places, so let's see how his game breaks down.
Riddick's experience playing both positions isn't the only reason he's considered a hybrid receiver/running back. His frame plays a role. At 5-foot-10, he's on the shorter side for a receiver, and he'll likely work out of the slot because of it.
At 201 pounds, he's on the lighter side for a running back, which raises concerns about his ability to grind out yards between the tackles and handle the beating NFL backs take. His timed speed doesn't help his cause, either. Riddick did pull a hamstring on his first 40 attempt at the combine, but he reportedly ran in the mid-4.6 second range at his pro day and that's below average for a prospect who projects as a slot receiver and/or third down back.
Theo Riddick can get his hands on the ball in several different ways.
Riddick's physical limitations are evident when you break down his ability to separate from man coverage. He just doesn't have the explosive burst to run away from corners.
On the other hand, he's an underrated route-runner who does a nice job of masking this weakness with savvy, and flashes the ability to shake defenders at the top of his stem. He sets up his breaks with sound footwork and he changes speeds well. There's also a lot to like about his ability to locate pockets in zone looks and find open space when the quarterback gets flushed out of the pocket.
One of the bigger issues here is Riddick's small catching radius. With 30-inch arms and a 32-inch vertical jump, he isn't going to get his hands on passes that a lot of other receivers would reach so his quarterback has to be that much more accurate throwing it to him.
His eight-inch hands raise another red flag, one that shows up on film. He body-catches too many passes and occasionally drops what should be routine balls. Making matters worse, he puts the ball on the ground more than you'd like, and NFL teams have little patience for players who can't protect the football.
It's not all doom and gloom, though. Riddick shows good body control adjusting to passes outside his frame, and his ability to bring the ball in without breaking stride puts him in position to produce after the catch.
Even though Riddick plays faster than his timed top-end speed, he doesn't have the second gear to run by NFL defensive backs and under the deep ball like Indianapolis slot receiver T.Y. Hilton, who was drafted in the third round last year.
Plus, Riddick's not going to consistently win 50-50 balls downfield. He's a threat to get behind linebackers running wheel routes and seam routes out of the backfield, but he's not much of a vertical threat. He can pick up chunks of yards after the catch despite his lack of breakaway speed, though.
He's quicker than fast, can make the first defender miss, and his experience at running back shows up in his above-average vision in space. He's similar to Miami's Davone Bess in this regard.
Don't mistake a lack of power for a lack of toughness. He doesn't show great lower-body strength on film, but Riddick is a fearless between-the-tackles runner who fights for yards after contact, much like current San Diego RB Danny Woodhead. In addition, he doesn't take his eye off the ball to locate defenders and is willing to expose his frame to the big hit working the middle of the field as a receiver.
Finally, Notre Dame won five games by seven points or fewer and Riddick played a big role late in those games. Most notably, he helped the Irish seal a win over Michigan with tough running, and his late touchdown catch helped force overtime in Notre Dame's dramatic come-from-behind win over Pittsburgh.
Durability is a concern for two reasons. First, you wonder how well Riddick's smaller frame will hold up. Secondly, there is an injury history. In addition to pulling his hamstring at the combine he missed four games after spraining an ankle against Western Michigan in 2010, and he missed two games after injuring a hamstring against Wake Forest in 2011.
The intangibles on the other hands are one of the reasons he is an intriguing late Day 3 possibility despite other concerns. He's a three-year starter who puts the team first and played a number of different roles. In addition to lining up at running back and receiver, he's also returned kickoffs.
Riddick reminds me in some ways of Kansas City WR Mardy Gilyard, who didn't show great ball skills or top-end speed coming out of Cincinnati in 2010. Like Riddick, though, he was more productive after the catch than his speed suggested, and Gilyard was tough over the middle.
Riddick also shares some traits with current Chiefs RB Dexter McCluster, in that both are highly competitive and can play multiple roles.
So where does Riddick end up in the NFL? There's a chance he will remain on the board into the sixth or seventh round, where Minnesota is an interesting possibility.
The Vikings will likely add a receiver on the first two days, but they could still stand to add depth and versatility, as well as some help in the return game. And with 11 picks in its pocket, Minnesota is in a better position to take a chance on Riddick than most teams.