Thursday, July 24, 2008

Early Looks: WR Sammie Stroughter (Oregon State)

Regardless of where your allegiances lie, it's hard not to root for a guy like Oregon State WR Sammie Stroughter. After coming off a brilliant Junior season in 2006, one in which Stroughter earned second team All-Pac-10 honors both as a wide receiver and punt returner, 2007 was supposed to be a banner year for the multi-faceted pass-catcher out of Sacramento. Instead, '07 was marked by excruciating personal tragedy and a bizarre injury that ended up sidelining him for the rest of the year after only four games into the Beavers' season. Over a 6-month period prior to the beginning of the '07 season, Stroughter lost three family members--all of which were uncles--and missed most of fall camp and the season opener vs. Utah as he dealt with the emotional anguish. He returned for the Beavers' second game at Cincinnati and played in the following two before he went down with a season-ending kidney injury suffered in a loss at Arizona State. Upon Stroughter's injury, he was displaying flashes of his old self, exploding for 262 receiving yards and 2 touchdowns in only three appearances.

At 6'0'' and 186 lbs., Stroughter isn't the most physically imposing receiver in the country, but he just may be the most explosive. Beginning his career as a true freshman returning punts, Stroughter staked his claim in 2006 as successor to the throne of Oregon State WR Mike Hass, who was the '05 recipient of the Fred Biletnikoff Award, given to the nation's best wide receiver. In '06, Stroughter shredded the Pac-10 like a chef at Benihana, slicing and dicing the competition to the tune of 1,741 all-purpose yards (1,293 of which were receiving yards) and 8 total touchdowns (3 of which came on punt returns), averaging 15.7 yards per punt return, ranking him third in the country. Endowed with ridiculous initial burst, it's Stroughter's speed and agility which sets him apart from most receivers. His ability to start and stop, change direction, then reach top speed is second to none. A breathtaking athlete who can gash an opponent in a myriad of different ways, Stroughter is a legitimate threat to take it the distance everytime he touches the ball. Is at his best when he can run short and intermediate routes and use his speed and quickness to gain big yards after the catch, possessing good hands and a solid understanding of coverage in order to efficiently exploit the defense. He's also a high character guy who earned the respect of the coaching staff and his teammates early in his career; an unquestioned leader in the Beaver locker room.

The biggest knock on Stroughter is his lack of size. Listed at 6'0'', Stroughter is probably closer to 5'10'' or 5'11'', making it difficult for him to be a consistent deep threat at the NFL level. While no one will argue with his speed to get behind a defense, his ability to go up over defenders and reel in jump balls is severely marginalized by his size. He's not necessarily a technician as far as route-running goes either. No, he isn't an atrocious route-runner by any means, but he doesn't maintain the same kind of consistent crispness going in and coming out of his routes as some of the other wide receiver prospects heading into the '09 Draft.

Outlook: Despite enduring a treacherous 2007, which was supposed to be his final season in Corvallis, the NCAA granted Stroughter a redshirt based on medical hardship that allowed him to return to the team for the 2008 season. With that, one should expect Stroughter to be primed and ready for another outstanding season. When projecting him to the NFL, he reminds me a lot of WR Steve Smith (Panthers). A lofty comparison to be sure, but he's undersized like Smith, maintains a similar build, and has the same effect on special teams coaches who go to DEFCON 5 alert levels when they see him back fielding punts. At first glance, Stroughter appears to fill the role as a quality slot receiver who will specialize in the return game at the next level, though I would not be surprised to see him exceed these expectations. While we don't project him to go during the first day of the draft, it's reasonable to assume at this point that he could be selected as early as the fourth round come April '09.

Noteworthy games: Sept 6th at Penn State; Sept 25th vs. USC; Nov 29th vs. Oregon

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