O'Gara: Ladd McConkey tearing it up at the Senior Bowl is a reminder than he's better than lazy takes will suggest
You can spot the real NFL Draft analysts from the ones who pretend to be one on the internet based on how they talk about Ladd McConkey.
The pretenders will likely tweet out clips of McConkey with that viral screenshot of Bill Belichick looking through binoculars. That’s lazy on a few fronts, most notably for the simple fact that Belichick isn’t currently employed, which means he couldn’t draft McConkey if he wanted to.
But it’s also lazy because it’s assuming that McConkey is some borderline undrafted guy who’ll play exclusively in the slot somewhere. You know, like Julian Edelman, Danny Amendola and Wes Welker. Edelman was the only one of those guys who was drafted, and the converted Kent State quarterback came off the board in the 7th round with pick No. 232.
We didn’t need the Senior Bowl to tell us that McConkey would fly off the board much earlier than the 7th round. At least, we shouldn’t have needed his week in Mobile.
Still, McConkey offered a route-running clinic in Mobile that should’ve silenced any lingering stereotypes about a sub-6 foot white receiver.
— Marcus Mosher (@Marcus_Mosher) January 30, 2024
That’s not Hunter Renfrow 2.0. That’s a guy who needs to be in that Round 2 conversation as an immediate plug-and-play guy.
The soft-spoken, former 3-star recruit looks like someone who’s making up for an injury-riddled 2023. The usually durable McConkey was limited to a late start to the season because of a back injury, and then after he returned for the Auburn game in Week 5, he was held to just 3 contests with 30 snaps. If you saw him in the SEC Championship when he gutted through 27 snaps, you could tell he wasn’t at the level we’ve grown accustomed to seeing.
Like, the level he was at in Mobile.
To be clear, McConkey was that guy for the majority of his 3 seasons of action at Georgia. He might not have had that gaudy statistical year, though I’d argue that playing at a program with exactly 1 1,000-yard receiver in its history (Terrance Edwards in 2002) puts that into perspective. Not even the historically great Brock Bowers accomplished that feat.
It was Bowers who was the go-to target in Georgia’s offense the past 3 years. He had moments like we saw in the second half of that Auburn game, where he put the team on his back down the stretch. What’s easy to forget on a day like that was how clutch McConkey was in his return from injury. On 3 separate occasions, he hauled in a 3rd-and-long catch that moved the chains, the last of which was a 12-yard grab that set up a game-tying touchdown.
If you go back and watch that play, you’ll notice something significant. McConkey was lined up on the outside facing press coverage on 3rd-and-10. Beck isn’t looking anywhere but in McConkey’s direction. There’s nothing for Beck to sell. The entire play is dependent on whether McConkey can get separation from the pressing corner near the sideline and if Beck can give him an on-time, on-target throw. On a dime, McConkey stops right at the line-to-gain, puts his foot in the dirt and leaves 3-year Auburn starting corner Nehemiah Pritchett in the grass.
It’s not scheme or some perfect throw into a tight window. It’s just masterful route-running. It’s the reason McConkey has a future in the NFL.
And by the way, that future isn’t as some between-the-tackles guy who just sits in the soft spot in zone coverage and makes tight catches in traffic. There’s nothing wrong with that role, but you can find guys like that later in the draft. What McConkey is capable of is beyond that.
The other thing that was noteworthy about that Auburn play? It happened on the outside in press coverage. A lazy Draft analyst would fail to mention that McConkey only played 26% of his snaps out of the slot and the other 74% were lined up out wide. You can move McConkey all over the formation and he’ll get separation.
Ladd McConkey Route Cut-Ups
NFL ready as a route runner pic.twitter.com/n195Kng2K8
— Mike Vannucci (@WRCoachVannucci) January 31, 2024
No, he’s not getting Tyreek Hill comparisons. If his breakaway speed was elite, McConkey would be firmly in that first-round conversation. For now, the non-lazy draft analysts are giving McConkey the Cooper Kupp comps.
Personally, I think McConkey has some Jarvis Landry and Christian Kirk vibes to him. As prospects at a hair under 6 feet, they were excellent route-runners who could line up across the formation and get separation while also contributing as a special teams returner early in their careers. Both of those guys were second-round wideouts from the SEC who left school with a year of eligibility on the table.
If McConkey were those lazy stereotypes, he would’ve stayed at Georgia another year to boost his numbers as the obvious go-to option for Beck in a post-Bowers world. But he didn’t need to do that. He played in 39 games, the last of which saw him do something for the 4th time — score a rushing touchdown.
Ladd McConkey weaves his way into the endzone for a Bulldog TD ?
Georgia up BIG over FSU in the first half ?
— Yahoo Sports (@YahooSports) December 30, 2023
OK, to be fair, it wasn’t a rushing touchdown so much as it was an incredibly athletic, smart play made by an exceptional player. What else is new?
If you watched McConkey’s college career, his week in Mobile was confirmation bias. If you didn’t watch McConkey’s college career, his week in Mobile should’ve been met with a realization.
McConkey doesn’t belong in whatever box he was put in.