Not many speculators believe the Falcons will select a wide receiver in the NFL draft this season at any point, but after Atlanta's first two picks in the second and third rounds however, anything can happen.
As we continue to examine players Atlanta may consider in the middle rounds with the draft spotlight, this week we look at Joe Adams, Arkansas' dynamic wide receiver and return man. Sideline Scouting's Ian Kenyon, the site's vice president of scouting, helps this week in understanding everything about the 5-foot-11, 179-pound receiver.
Scouts are divided on Adams. After watching him perform at an All-American level during his final seasons in Arkansas' prolific offense, many thought he'd enter the scouting season as a fast-riser up many team's boards. Believed to be electrifyingly fast based on how he's played the game, the NFL Combine was where Adams was expected to go and blaze a sub-4.3 40 time.
Instead he ran a 4.55 and many came away disappointed. But Adams' Combine performance can't overshadow what he accomplished in his career at Arkansas and also what he did at the Senior Bowl to begin the offseason. Kenyon isn't worried about Adams' slow time and still sees a player that's as quick as he is fast and his straight-line-on-the-field speed is exciting.
"Adams is an electrifying playmaker who can contribute as a wide receiver and as a punt returner," Kenyon said. "He can line up outside but his best fit is in the slot where he can work the middle of the field and make plays with the ball in space. Though he didn't run well at the Combine, he plays much faster and has elite short area quickness to shake defenders."
The wide receiver had a solid senior year with 54 catches for 652 yards and three touchdowns. Numbers like that are impressive considering how explosive the Arkansas offense was during 2011. There were plenty of playmakers on the field, but what sets Adams apart is his abilities in the return game.
Adams, though slightly underrated because of his size and perceived speed, may be one of the best pure athletes in the draft. In addition to his three touchdowns receiving in 2011, he added five more scores, one as a rusher and four as a punt returner. Kenyon doesn't see a better return man in the draft this year.
"He's probably the best return guy in this class, he had the return of the year last year against Tennessee (see below)," Kenyon said. "Adams is a terrific open field runner who sees running lanes and that's what helps him both as a receiver and as a returner. It's definitely an added value to his draft stock. I wouldn't say that his return ability is what gets him drafted, but it is one of those things where if a team views Adams and another prospect on the same level, his return ability can be the extra factor to give him the edge."
His return prowess earned him numerous All-American honors last season and he also became the first recepient of the Johnny "The Jet" Rodgers National College Football Return Specialist Award. His four punt return touchdowns led the nation last season and his 16.89 yards per return was second in the country. Adams was the only player in the nation last season with a rushing and receiving touchdown and multiple return touchdowns.
Although the Falcons appear stocked at wide receiver with Roddy White, Julio Jones, Harry Douglas and young players like Kerry Meier and Kevin Cone, they did lose a receiver during free agency. Eric Weems, the team's former return man, signed with Chicago, opening up a job on the roster. Adams, who scouts believe can improve his pass-catching ability, could join the Falcons in a reserve role, continuing to hone his receiver skillset while making an impact as the team's returner.
His size makes him best-suited as a slot receiver in the NFL and his explosive burst and first step mean he carries the traits desired at the position at the next level. An extremely versatile player, he can also be lined up in the backfield, as his 92-yard rushing touchdown run demonstrates.
Kenyon sees another receiver with similar knocks entering the draft when he watches Adams. Pittsburgh's Antonio Brown is a receiver quickly being recognized as a talented deep threat and Kenyon sees a similar player.
"Adams shares some similarities with current Pittsburgh Steeler Antonio Brown," he said. "Brown disappointed, too, with his 40 but on the field the speed translates and both players do a great job of tracking the deep ball."
If scouts need further proof that Adams is a playmaker beyond what he accomplished at Arkansas, they need to look no further than his performance at the Senior Bowl. Named the South's MVP, Adams walked away with 133 yards on eight catches, against some of the best senior competition in the draft.
Projected to go somewhere in the third or fourth rounds, Adams could be a strong fit with the Falcons based on his return ability alone. His versatility and potential to grow are also very intriguing.
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