At 6 foot nothing and 185 pounds soaking wet, Will Fuller V was one of the smaller wide receivers taken in the 2016 NFL draft. Despite his physical limitations and major knack for dropping passes, he was the second receiver selected in the first round of that draft and one of only four to go in the first round. So what did the Houston Texans see in Will Fuller V to make him their first round pick?
In a week filled with botched trades and season ending injuries, some fans may have missed a truly amazing receiving statistic. Will Fuller V is tied for the league lead in touchdown receptions through the first 8 weeks of the 2017 season even though he has only actually played in 4 games. His explosive big play ability may have snuck up on some fans this season but many scouts were well aware that Fuller’s major strength coming out of college was his speed and ability to take the top off of defenses.
In his first two games as a rookie Fuller had back to back 100 yard games against the Bears and Chiefs with Brock Osweiler at quarterback. A hamstring injury slowed him down and forced him to miss two games that year. When he returned the greatest of his pre-draft weaknesses reared it’s ugly head throughout the remainder of the regular season and in the Texan’s playoff loss against New England which ended their 2016 season.
At the conclusion of his rookie year which he described as “tough”, Will Fuller V could have accepted his role as another deep threat wide receiver with bad hands and the second fiddle behind All-Pro fellow Texan DeAndre Hopkins. After a preseason collarbone injury threatened to sideline him for half of the 2017 regular season, he could have tempered his expectations and return to a reduced role in the offense.
Perhaps what separated Will Fuller V from many wide receivers in the 2016 class and what led him to be the Texan’s first round pick that year was not just his physical gifts (he ran the second fastest 40 yard dash of anybody at the combine that year) but his mental toughness. His inconsistency in regards to catching the ball is something he reportedly took very seriously this off season. After his collarbone injury he could have been sidelined for six weeks, but managed to return to the field in four. Head Coach Bill O’Brien was quoted as saying, “You can line him up anywhere. He knows what to do at every position.”
The above are all signs that Will Fuller is more mature and ready for the pro game then many of the wide receivers from his draft class. While all of the former first round wide receivers from the 2016 draft have missed time due to injury, Will Fuller V is the only one with more than four career touchdowns, he has nine. The other three receivers drafted in the first round that year were: Corey Coleman who has four career touchdowns to ten career missed games, Josh Doctson who has three career touchdowns and fourteen missed games, and Laquon Treadwell who has zero career touchdowns and has missed seven games.
Fuller’s early career seems most comparable with 2016 fifth rounder Tyreek Hill of the Kansas City Chiefs. They both have nine career receiving touchdowns and when healthy they give their teams a deep threat option which opposing defenses must prepare and stay alert for at all times. Hill became a sensation last season when it seemed nobody could stop him from making at least one big play every game.
The ability of an offense to stretch the field vertically creates opportunities underneath that otherwise would not be there. Given how much of a threat Tyreek Hill was last season, one could argue he is a major reason Alex Smith, the quarterback of the Chiefs, has seen a career revival in Kansas City. The same might be said then for Houston’s rookie quarterback sensation Deshaun Watson. Without Fuller stretching the field vertically it is arguable that Watson would not have the room to make many of the plays he has this season. That is not meant to disrespect Watson, who was in the midst of having an excellent Rookie of the Year caliber season before tragically tearing his ACL during Thursday’s practice.
While the injury to Deshaun Watson may derail Will Fuller V’s incredible 2017 season. When taking everything we know about Will Fuller into consideration, I would be surprised to see his impact reduced by much. He will still stretch defenses, which will open up the running game and passing lanes underneath. The difference now will be whether or not Tom Savage can get him the ball deep. Don’t blink or you’ll miss him.