Reception Perception: Stanley Morgan Jr. is a Favorite Day 3 Sleeper in the 2019 NFL Draft
Note: Since I no longer have access to the necessary college film to chart prospects and their Reception Perception samples, I’ll be taking RP data from the NFL level and using it to frame what we can expect from these incoming rookies and their best role as pro receivers. You can get access to Reception Perception data on the Top 50 NFL receivers in the 2019 Ultimate Draft Kit.
The 2019 NFL Draft’s wide receiver crop has been a challenging one. By now, there is usually a litany of Day 3 potential prospects I’ve convinced myself will stick and matter in the NFL. We know full well that doesn’t happen anywhere near the degree to which we spill words over these prospects.
Nevertheless, it was disappointing that so far, the lone non-first round receiver to jump off the tape was Miles Boykin. At least, until Stanley Morgan Jr. came into the picture.
Stanley Morgan has solid production to rest his head on. He cleared 950 yards in back-to-back seasons to finish his college career and racked up 17 touchdowns in that span. Morgan led Nebraska in receiving in both 2017 and 2018, despite playing just 11 games in the former season. He was certainly the most prolific touchdown scorer through the air in what was far from a high-flying pass offense.
Leading up to the draft, Morgan continued to check boxes at the NFL Scouting Combine this February. He put his quick-twitch athleticism on display, testing above the 70th percentile in the shuttle, three-cone drill, the vertical and the broad jump.
When you’re looking to check off-field boxes, Morgan has everything you’re looking for. Don’t worry, the appeal only continues when you look at his game.
Separation is an art form. Football discourse has truly blossomed and improved in quality over the last few years. But you’ll still occasionally hear someone claim wide receivers primarily get open due to their athleticism or speed. That could not be more false. To believe that is to discount the countless hours of work put in by wide receivers across the league who grind every day to become better route-runners.
The art of separation is mastered by detailed technique, deceptive movements and furiously consistent quickness at the proper breakpoints in routes. Stanley Morgan Jr. has all that in spades.
You’ll consistently see Morgan create separation early in his routes. It doesn’t matter where he lines up, either. Morgan can win off the line with ideal hand placement and combat, or execute a quick move out and back it to elude press coverage. He can also run routes with precision from the slot. His utility will make him a quick coaching favorite.
Morgan’s best routes are crucial ones in the NFL passing portfolio. Able to sell the deep route to his opponent, Morgan’s hard decisive snap back to the passer on curls and comebacks earn him easy separation eight to 15 yards down the field. If he continues to hone this skill at the NFL level, he’ll pile up production when given opportunities.
The most surprising part of Morgan’s route acumen was his ability in the deep game. Morgan can find soft spots in zones down the field when running post and corner routes. His deep production will only make him more of a threat in the intermediate area as he’s so good at selling the vertical play.
He’s also tough as nails at the catch point. Contested passes are no issue for Morgan, who has vice-grip hands and a fighter’s mentality when in the air. His next quarterback will love that in addition to his strong route running. These two traits combine to make it tough to not earmark Morgan as a Day 3 sleeper to watch.
A rugged player with plus versatility and a strong technical understanding of the position, Morgan’s well-rounded skill-set makes him a tough player to find a comparison match. One receiver who approaches the game in a similar fashion is Los Angeles Rams receiver Robert Woods.
Since arriving in LA, Woods has played every receiver position for Sean McVay’s offense. Primarily the flanker in two and three-receiver sets, Woods has the quickness of the line to elude enough press coverage, if he faces it at a below league average rate (28 percent of his charted 2017 routes). We saw this year that Woods was the primary option to replace Cooper Kupp in the slot position. Rather than downgrade two areas, the Rams moved Woods inside to seamlessly replace Kupp and promoted solid reserve Josh Reynolds on the outside.
Morgan could run a similar route tree to Woods in the pros. Woods thrives on intermediate in-breaking routes but is even better running out-breaking routes.
If Morgan rips off some downfield plays in early action, he could gain enough respect to feast on off-coverage by snapping outside on short routes with the provided cushion.
Another player who comes to mind as a comparison for Stanley Morgan is current Ravens receiver, Willie Snead. Long since out of the good graces of fantasy players, let’s not forget Willie Snead was once clearly on an upward trajectory with the Saints before landing in Sean Payton’s doghouse. Snead’s calling card at the NFL level was immediately apparent and helped him rise quickly to the ranks of the undrafted to a steady contributor. His route-running resembled that of an NFL veteran. Snead gained easy separation on a variety of routes and was the lone receiver among those sampled in Reception Perception during the 2016 season to record an above average score on all routes.
During his prime New Orleans seasons when he cleared 100 targets in back to back years, Snead was a rugged player who could separate across the route tree. It’s a description that perfectly fits Stanley Morgan Jr. Both players show the ability to get off press coverage outside and are even more deadly when lining up against zone coverage inside. Neither is the simple “popgun slot receiver” who only runs layup routes. Snead made big plays with Drew Brees, Morgan has those chops as well. In fact, Morgan may be an even bigger plus at the catch point than Snead, although the latter did record a 93rd percentile contested catch rate in 2016. Again, the comparison really fits.
The dark nihilistic truth of NFL Draft analysis is that after the conclusion of April’s event, we will never again speak the names of a vast majority of the players we have spent months watch and debating over. The odds are long for even highly drafted players to sustain long impactful careers. It gets even more perilous when we enter the third day of the NFL Draft.
The long odds make studying these players for possible clues and hints at traits that will grab the attention of coaches even more important. They won’t get much time, they need to seize the opportunity the moment it comes.
It’s those skills that once again bring back the Snead comparison for Morgan. Snead was an undrafted free agent in 2015 but when he landed with the Saints as a practice squad player, his toughness and route prowess must have stood out. Those traits helped vaunt him to the Saints starting lineup and he accumulated over 1,800 yards in his first two seasons of NFL action. If he wasn’t a rugged player who could play multiple receiver spots with above average separation ability, we likely never hear from Willie Snead.
Stanley Morgan Jr. has a bully mindset off the line, over the middle and in contested situations. He can lineup inside or outside at both X-receiver and flanker. The incoming rookie runs disciplined routes and creates separation at all levels of the field.
Few Day 3 receivers even show one of those traits to make the desperately needed pleas to a coaching staff to give them cracks at the rotation. Morgan is one of the ultra-rare receivers who has a claim to all three. As such, he’s my favorite likely Day 3 receiver to find a way to make an impact in the NFL.