It's been strange to me to see Bruce Arians gush about J.J. Nelson. Soon after the Cardinals took the skinny Alabama-Birmingham speed demon, the coach compared his new receiver to Emmanuel Sanders. Never mind the fact that Sanders checked in 30 pounds heavier at the 2010 combine than Nelson did in 2015. Last month, Arians marveled at Nelson's ability to track the deep ball, going so far as to say, "...when you have a little, fast guy that can do that, you've got a special one."
I never really know what evaluators mean when they use the word "special." Hall of Famer? Pro Bowler? Future starter? Guy who can occasionally make a big play? Arians' quote smells more like positive, OTA coach-speak than anything else. Barring injury, Nelson is still the team's fourth receiver, and that role netted him 27 targets in 11 games last season. Jaron Brown was the fourth-most targeted Arizona receiver in 2013 and 2014, and that earned him 17 and 32 targets respectively. So, while I could see Nelson getting a few more looks this season, I'm not expecting any kind of breakout performance in 2016.
Perhaps Nelson can secure a larger role next year if Larry Fitzgerald retires and Michael Floyd departs in free agency (Seth made a good case for re-signing Floyd here). But few would argue in favor of a 156-pound Nelson and a 179-pound Brown as the top two options at receiver. Quite frankly, I'll be surprised if Nelson ever graduates to seeing top-three receiving targets during his NFL career. Since 2000, the NFL has only seen 14, 50-plus target seasons by receivers weighing 170 pounds or fewer.
Harry Douglas owns six of those seasons, Dexter McCluster (who's seen snaps out of the backfield) has three, and Roscoe Parrish has two. I think it's a virtual lock that the Cardinals will be heavily scouting receivers this year, and looking to add at least a little more size. With that in mind, here are five senior speedsters - all at least 6'-tall (in no particular order) - to file away for the upcoming college football season:
Jehu Chesson Michigan 6'3" 200 rSR
Chesson is a former high school track star who won state championships in the 100 meters, and 300 meter hurdles. He caught fire at the end of last season, with 27 catches for 505 yards (18.7 AVG) and six TDs in his final four games. Chesson sustained a leg injury in Michigan's bowl win over Florida, so his status for this fall's opener is uncertain.
2015 Stats: 50 REC 764 YDS 15.3 AVG 9 TD receiving, 155 YDS 19.4 AVG 2 TD rushing, 41.5 AVG 1 TD on KR
Corey Davis Western Michigan 6'3" 213 SR
Davis was the MAC Freshman of the year in 2013, and is a two-time First Team all-conference selection. He needs 403 yards to set a MAC record for career receiving yards, and has scored 33 touchdowns in 36 career games. His 40 time is estimated to be in the high 4.4 second range.
2015 Stats: 90 REC 1436 YDS 16.0 AVG 12 TD
Travin Dural LSU 6'2" 203 rSR
The fifth-year senior has rebounded from a 2012 meniscus injury that caused him to miss his entire freshman season to emerge as a big-play threat for the Tigers. Dural's 40 time is estimated in the mid 4.4 second range, and he's averaged 19.9 yards per catch and scored 12 touchdowns on 72 career receptions. He also has an excellent reputation off the field. Last summer, Dural and his cousin helped rescue a woman from an overturned car.
His junior season was cut short by a torn hamstring against Ole Miss last November, so leg injuries will be a concern.
2015 Stats: 28 REC 533 YDS 19.0 AVG 3 TD receiving 13 YDS 4.3 AVG rushing
Michael Rector Stanford 6'1" 185 rSR
Another former high school track star, Rector ran an unofficial 4.38 second 40 in the spring of 2015. He's averaged 18.3 yards per catch and scored 12 TDs on 72 career receptions.
2015 Stats: 34 REC 559 YDS 16.4 AVG 7 TD
Stacy Coley Miami 6'1" 193 SR
Coley led the Hurricanes with 1461 all-purpose yards as a freshman in 2013, and scored seven touchdowns through the air, and one each on kick and punt returns. After a nondescript sophomore season and some early 2015 hamstring issues, Coley came back to set career highs in catches and receiving yards in just 11 games last season.
2015 Stats: 47 REC 689 YDS 14.7 AVG 4 TD