Former Ohio State Buckeye Santonio Holmes will enter the 2006 National Football League Draft as one of the nation's top prospects at the wide receiver position. It is widely anticipated that he will be selected in the first round. Many believe he will be one of the first receivers taken off the board, if not the first. Of course, Holmes' fantasy impact in the pros will largely depend on which team selects him, at least for the first few years of his career. But regardless of where he goes in April, the talented receiver has shown that he has skills and discipline to find success at the next level.
Holmes originally hails from Belle Glade, Fla. where he was a successful three-sport athlete at Glades Central High School (basketball, track and, of course, football). The 5-11, 190-pound speedster redshirted his first year as a Buckeye but impressed his coaches while practicing with the scout team. He struggled early in his freshman year in 2003 but finally received his break when he took over the starting spot vacated by an injured Drew Carter in Week 8 against Indiana, hauling in six receptions for 153 yards and two touchdowns. He finished the season with 32 receptions for 549 yards and seven touchdowns.
Big things were expected from Holmes in his sophomore year in 2004, and he didn't disappoint in spite of spotty quarterback play from Ohio State QB Justin Zwick and increasingly sharing the ball with fellow WR Ted Ginn Jr. Holmes maintained his position as the primary receiver and led the team with 55 receptions for 769 yards and seven touchdowns for the year. The elusive wideout also learned to combine his good hands with his running skills, as he returned 20 punts for 214 yards and one touchdown. In 2005 the fourth-year junior caught 53 balls for 977 yards and 11 touchdowns, establishing himself as one of the top receiving talents in college football.
Holmes' combination of speed, agility and precise routes makes him difficult to cover. The proven playmaker excels at separating from defensive backs and is a threat to score every time he touches the ball. He has a great second burst, making it difficult to overthrow to him, and he has a knack for beating cornerbacks underneath deep balls. Holmes extends his arms to catch the ball, and he regularly displays good control by making catches with his body between the ball and the defender. The fleet-footed Holmes is a dangerous open-field runner who intentionally avoids making "falling down" catches. This makes him particularly effective on quick screens and on receptions where the defender is overly aggressive. Also, his running talents will likely make him an instant contributor on special teams. The former No. 4 for the "Scarlet and Gray" is tough, and he can take a hit. He is very durable with no injury history.
Despite these impressive skills, Holmes' greatest attributes might be his mental preparedness and stability off the field. His NFL idols are Jerry Rice and Marvin Harrison. Holmes is a father of two sons, and he is very close to his family. Holmes is up at 6:00 a.m. every game day, illustrating his dedication. The First-Team All Big Ten honoree doesn't listen to music prior to kickoff, and he keeps conversations to a minimum, preferring instead to focus on his assignments as well as his opponents' tendencies. Holmes is considered to be very "coachable" and is comfortable playing within his team's game plan.
Holmes made noticeable improvements in the precision of his route-running from his sophomore to his junior year. He will need to continue to improve at this as he competes against quicker defenses. Holmes can sometimes rely too much on his speed to gain separation and needs to improve the fluidity of his routes, particularly when trying to sell double cuts to a defensive back. He will need to be more cognizant of when his quarterback is under pressure and learn to "sense" when to break back towards the line of scrimmage on broken pass plays. Due to his quickness, Holmes has generally avoided getting jammed at the line in the collegiate level, but he will be more vulnerable to this in the NFL.
The early comparisons to Carolina Panthers WR Steve Smith are inevitable when talking about Holmes, but remember wide receivers are notoriously slow in their growth at the professional level. Very few make substantial contributions in their first or even second year. It takes time to perfect the timing routes, to develop chemistry and confidence with their new quarterbacks as well as coaches. Holmes is talented and mature, but he will nonetheless have to overcome these obstacles. The very nature of the NFL draft will probably land the Ohio State star on a team whose passing game is struggling to improve, further devaluing his fantasy potential.
The Philadelphia Eagles, with the 14th overall selection, could certainly use help at the receiver position. Even with WR Terrell Owens on the roster at last year's draft, the Eagles selected WR Reggie Brown in the second round to bolster their corps. With Owens on his way out, the need for a dangerous deep threat is glaringly obvious. Not to mention Holmes' maturity and stability would be much welcomed in Philadelphia. The Eagles are so desperate they might go for experience over potential here and might try to land a wideout in the free-agent market rather than roll the dice on a rookie.
The three teams most likely to pull Holmes card at the draft are the Dallas Cowboys (18th), San Diego Chargers (19th) and Kansas City Chiefs (20th). The Cowboys need to begin looking for youthful replacements for WRs Keyshawn Johnson and Terry Glenn. Many thought Dallas would grab a top receiver in last year's draft, but the Cowboys focused on defense. Head coach Bill Parcels has a reputation for being comfortable with older veterans however, particularly on offense, so don't be surprised if Dallas selects secondary help instead.
San Diego is frequently mentioned as a team that could use a playmaker at wide receiver. TE Antonio Gates and the aging WR Keenan McCardell hold down the possession chores; WR Eric Parker has been a gutsy contributor when he is not injured, and Reche Caldwell has shown flashes, but neither have developed into the game-breakers San Diego was hoping for. The Chargers picked up WR Vincent Jackson in the second round last year, but he will likely fill McCardell's shoes. Holmes would be a good fit as a long-ball threat for San Diego.
Kansas City has been searching for an elite No. 1 receiver for quite some time. There has been some speculation that WR Terrell Owens might be the wide receiver to fill that role. If Owens does sign with the Chiefs, it is unlikely that they will consider any receiver in the first round. Kansas City is still working to improve their defense and will probably look to draft secondary help. If Owens goes somewhere else, look for the Chiefs to take a long look at Holmes if he's still available.
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