At the so called skill positions like cornerback and wide receiver, the elite speed prospects often get all the hype. NFL scouts maintain that it's game tape that carries the most weight, but even they can get enamored with sub 4.3 40-times. North Carolina's Hakeem Nicks might be the best example in this year's class for why talent evaluators should pay more attention to the video and less to their stopwatches.
Nicks clocked a respectable 4.51 at the combine in late February, but the Tar Heels wideout is more about making difficult catches and creating separation on a consistent basis. At 6'1" and 212 pounds, Nicks has solid upper body strength which allows him to get off the jam at the line effectively. Despite being long and lanky he's also adept at getting in and out of his breaks without any wasted motion.
Those assets along with polished route running usually have Nicks turning in the big play. He gives credit to his high school coach for getting him ready for the demands of the receiver position at the higher levels of football.
"The program we were in, we had a great wide receivers coach," said Nicks who never lost a game in his high school career. "He played at the University of Florida, Steve Shipp. He coached me coming up early. It kind of just stuck with me in high school and college."
Nicks, who owns 14 North Carolina receiving records, had a breakout junior season in which he set marks for single season receiving yards (1,222) and touchdowns (12). He also set the single season reception mark as a sophomore (74). And after his record-setting performance against West Virginia in the Meineke Car Care Bowl it was clear to the junior that the NFL was the next logical step.
"I think it influenced (my decision) a lot because it was national TV and a lot of people didn't really know about me," said Nicks. "That was the chance for me to finally do what I had to do in front of the national attention."
All Nicks did was pull in eight passes for 217 yards and three touchdowns. His third gave the Tar Heels a 23-21 lead, but they ultimately fell to the Mountaineers 31-30. His first touchdown showed his focus as he caught a ball on a deep post that was mishandled by a West Virginia defensive back. He snatched it out of the air and then dragged the cornerback the last eight yards to the end zone on a 73-yard score.
In the game he also had a ridiculous reception over the middle in which he caught the ball on his left hip coming across the field, and with a defender trying to wrap him up moved the ball behind his back to his right hand and ran for an extra four yards and a first down.
"I catch a lot of crazy passes all the time, but I don't think I've ever topped that one," said Nicks. "I just kind of caught it with my left hand and took it around my back, just off of instinct. I watched it a couple of times. It kind of shocked me, but I'm a receiver and that's my job to catch the ball."
Nicks compares his skill set to that of Arizona receiver Anquan Boldin.
"My game is similar to his, in my opinion," Nicks said. "He's physical and (is good with) the run after catch and is physical off the line of scrimmage."
With some experience as a kick returner Nicks has something more to offer as a rookie wideout in the NFL, but most draft experts peg him as a second-round pick.
If you ask Nicks however, about Texas Tech's Michael Crabtree and Missouri's Jeremy Maclin, two wideouts that figure to be gone in the top half of the first round, he'll tell you something different.
"I want to show everybody I'm every bit as good as the first two," he said.