For a speedy wide receiver, pulling your hamstring before the NFL Scouting Combine could normally be considered the kiss of death for your draft stock. Former University of Houston wide receiver Donnie Avery was unsure if he would run the 40-yard dash at the combine. After he decided to compete through the pain, he was able to post moderately swift 40 times; he registered an official 4.43 with a low of 4.32 and a high of 4.52. He also reportedly posted a scorching unofficial time of 4.28 before the combine. Avery noted that after running the 40-yard dash during the combine, he had pulled his hamstring again.
His tenure with the Cougars displayed an exponential growth with each season. Avery recorded 18 receptions in his freshman year in 2004 after redshirting the previous season. He caught 44 passes for 688 yards and five scores his sophomore season. He continued his growth in his junior season with 57 catches for 852 yards and five touchdowns.
The Cougars certainly gave Avery plenty of chances to showcase himself during his senior season; the pass-happy Houston offense amassed 3,614 passing yards, and Avery totaled a Conference USA-record 1,456 receiving yards on 91 catches for seven touchdowns. His reception total ranks third all time in the conference for a single season. Seventeen of his receptions went for 20-plus yards, and he led the Cougars with 10 catches for 120 receiving yards in a losing effort in the Texas Bowl against Texas Christian University. Avery finished with 1,880 all-purpose yards in his final year at Houston.
The 5-foot-11, 192-pound Avery has made a name for himself as one of the faster options in a class heavy in midrange wideouts. His draft stock has improved slightly since Houston's Pro Day March 14 and his private workout March 31, which was attended by representatives from 18 NFL teams. Avery quelled doubts about his agility with a time of 6.30 seconds in the three-cone drill with a bum hamstring, trumping the best overall time (6.57) posted at the combine. He also impressed scouts with a 37 1/2-inch vertical jump along with 40 times of 4.34 and 4.35 at Houston's Pro Day.
Avery's big-play ability is augmented by fluid body control and ball protection after making a catch, while his blazing speed makes him able to stretch the field. He is a zone-breaker who can easily find soft spots in coverage. Avery should also be able to help his future squad on special teams; he averaged 22.4 yards in his 40 kickoff returns. He has been compared to Buffalo Bills wideout Lee Evans due to the suddenness with which he enters his routes; he has also received comparisons to Tampa Bay Buccaneers wideout Joey Galloway, Philadelphia Eagles wideout Kevin Curtis and Washington Redskins receiver Santana Moss.
One knock on Avery was that the statistical spike in his junior season was facilitated by former Houston quarterback Kevin Kolb (Philadelphia Eagles); Avery disproved that notion with his record-setting performance the following year. Avery also showed some grit when he started his senior season on time despite suffering from a hyperextended left knee and a sprained medial collateral ligament in late August. He has also demonstrated that he can be a leader by working overtime in the weight room and in positional training.
Avery's recent injuries could be a bit disconcerting despite his ability to play through them, especially since he's a speed wideout with prior leg injuries.
Avery's big-play ability hasn't been a result of yards after the catch because he has trouble avoiding low tackles. The speedster sometimes runs to spots instead of following blockers after the catch, and he seems to be better at running long routes instead of gaining yards after the catch in short patterns. Like many young receivers, Avery has trouble re-establishing his routes when facing press coverage at the line of scrimmage.
Avery often hears footsteps from oncoming defenders, causing him to lose concentration on the ball. His size is not ideal for a wideout; he often seems physically overmatched when blocking and trying to make a catch in a crowd. He has not been an effective red zone threat, which could limit his role in his future team's playbook.
Expected Draft Placement
The home run threat's draft placement could fluctuate given the amount of relatively similar wideouts available in the middle rounds. Avery is one of the quickest in a long line of wideouts with the ability to immediately contribute on special teams. With Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver Chad Johnson demanding a trade and wideout Chris Henry released, the Bengals could pick Avery with either the No. 77 or No. 97 pick in the third round. The San Francisco 49ers need a playmaker at receiver, where they lack a true breakout threat. Some NFL general managers have told reporters they could see Avery going within the top 40 picks, but he would be an optimal choice in either the late second or third round.
About Tim Heaney
Tim's work has been featured by USA Today/Sports Weekly, among numerous outlets, and recognized as a finalist in the Fantasy Sports Writers Association awards. The Boston University alum competes in Tout Wars and LABR and has won several industry leagues in both baseball and football.
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