In order to prepare for the NFL draft (and survive the unbearably long offseason), we've decided to check in on this year's draft class from time to time and discuss some of the potential future characters of the League that stand out for some reason or another. Today, Michigan WR Adrian Arrington.
The League is a great place for second receivers. Chad Johnson was Housh’s second option at Oregon State; now, Housh thanks God every day that Ocho Cinco is distracting the defense on the other side of the field. Laveranues Coles always played second fiddle to Peter Warrick at FSU, and now P-Dub’s primary source of income is owning an Applebee’s in central Florida (having spent a lot of time in the area, that basically makes him Sarasota royalty). The point is that many of the things that make someone a college football superstar (quickness, ability to beat man coverage) tend to give way to the skills that the League values (size, toughness, speed, route running), coincidentally also the skills that keep these players starting in college despite their lack of star power. In this way, and unlike practically any other professional sport, it offers a chance at rebirth, complete with an entirely new birthright. If sports reinforces the hegemony of the “American Dream,” it is nowhere more effective than in the NFL draft, and particularly so in the realm of wide receivers. This is because, unlike most walks of life, passing games in the league are finally starting to thrive not on highlight generators but on consistent targets, the triumph of the Jeffersonian “yeoman farmer” in pads and cleats.
Adrian Arrington has the look of another second option receiver ready to become a rags to riches story thanks to the NFL draft. Long forced to play in the shadow of Mario Manningham (a short, quick-not-fast receiver who will make some team grossly overpay for him in the draft), Arrington has managed to put together a solid resume working outside of the limelight. Furthermore, he’s easily the better red zone option thanks to his 6’3” frame, something that teams are finally starting to hold in high regard after years of watching small first round picks fizzle in the pros. He also has proven to be a dangerous route runner, finding holes in defenses and exploiting them at every point on the field, particularly over the middle of the field, a place most “feature” wide receivers coming out of the draft have never had to do much work (to Ted Ginn Jr., for example, the area between the hash marks is what the deepest, darkest Congo was to British explorers: an undiscovered source of nightmares).
Yet the most interesting thing about Arrington as I watch him is the fact that none of his success, a success that is made clear upon examination of the numbers, looks difficult at all. Manningham’s shifty quickness (a trait that disappears quicker than any other upon entry into the League) produces those “OH LOOK WHAT HE JUST DID!” moments that sports recap shows love. Arrington, by contrast, has a sixth sense for the ball that makes his catches look almost effortless, devoid of instantly gratifying shock value. Maybe that’s what makes him a second fiddle in the college game, but I think it’s also the reason he’ll emerge as a success in the League. I remember watching Laveranues Coles at FSU; he never looked like he was extending himself to make amazing plays. Instead, every catch seemed to flow naturally. Of course he would be where the ball was when it arrived; he was Trubb, it’s just what he did. I get the same sense of inevitability in the catches that Arrington makes. The Henne-Manningham connection was one of stellar beats and Herculean efforts; the Henne-Arrington connection was like twins finishing each others sentences, with A-Squared simply putting his hands exactly where he knew the ball would always be.
To the casual observer, nothing remarkable happens on an Arrington route, and that is precisely what makes him so interesting as he enters the Draft. The League is moving in the direction of receivers who make plays work consistently, and there may not be a receiver who did that as well as Arrington did in college. And while the physicality of his performances may leave some dramatics to be desired, the ease with which they flow from him mask a remarkable ability to make the turn at the last second, to extend exactly when he needs to do so in order to make sure he makes his catch. The ability to do things in stunning fashion is the stuff of college legends, but in the League, it is the exact opposite quality that tends to indicate success, one that Adrian Arrington shows in every move on the field: The ability to make it look easy.