Many Hokie faithful were surprised that Cam Phillips, the prolific Hokie wide receiver, went undrafted during the 2018 NFL Draft. While Phillips’s production at Virginia Tech was truly fantastic and he currently holds several major program receiving records there are several reasons that contributed to his fall out of the draft. Let’s look at some of the realities that faced Cam Phillips during the draft process.
God, I thank you for going undrafted and unsigned... because it taught me something valuable.— Cam Phillips (@camphil5) April 29, 2018
1. The WR draft class was surprisingly deep.
While there was not much depth at the elite level the middle / developmental players were extremely deep, leading Luke Easterling of USA Today’s Draft Wire to opine, “…This class is stocked with talented prospects of every size, shape and skill set, many of whom are ready to make an immediate and sizable impact at the next level. There should be tons of value in the middle rounds for teams who are patient.” This sentiment coalesces when one looks at when wideouts were drafted. The first WR off the board wasn’t until pick 24 (Maryland’s D.J. Moore) and two picks later the Atlanta Falcons drafted Alabama’s Calvin Ridley. Those two were the only WRs taken in the first round. In the second round six more were taken off the board. The third round only saw two drafted. Fourth round? Five. Fifth round? One. Meanwhile round six saw seven drafted and round seven had six. In my opinion this is indicative of teams that were surprised when talent fell and then snatched up what was available. In total 29 WRs were drafted. Many draft boards had Cam well below the top 30. For example, Mel Kiper rated him at 44th in his position. Below, let’s look at what contributed to such an assessment.
2. He’s undersized.
Physical realities carry weight at all levels, but at the highest levels they become major indicators for scouts. At 6’0” and 199 pounds Cam Phillips is a small wide receiver. Before you throw shade my way, I grasp that many slot receivers are much smaller, but Phillips didn’t cut his teeth as a slot. I also recognize that Ridley and Moore, the first two WRs off the board, are of similar stature, but they had other tools that set them apart. Ridley has an inalienable ability to get open. Moore has demonstrated a fantastic ability to get yards after catch. Phillips’ size means there will be questions about his ability to fight for jump balls, get yards after catch, durability, etc. That isn’t to say that he doesn’t have other attributes that he can bring into the fold, but these are potential deficiencies that are going to be recognized and discussed. The questions associated with his size, which were answered by players like Ridley via other abilities, were not answered by Cam.
3. He received sports hernia surgery during the off season.
Cam Phillips didn’t play in Virginia Tech’s bowl game because immediately after the Virginia game he received surgery for a sports hernia. Cam does not have a history of major injuries but rolling into draft season with an injury is not ideal. More importantly the surgery directly contributed to some complications that are detailed below.
4. He didn’t participate in the Combine.
Mr. Phillips was invited to the NFL Scouting Combine but was relegated to the sidelines because he was still recovering from the sports hernia surgery. This becomes an exponential problem for Cam when one considers the aforementioned size issues. While players like Ridley and Moore were able to showcase their athleticism at the combine and demonstrate their other strengths Phillips was not able to do so.
5. His pro-day was unimpressive.
In March of 2017 Cam participated in Virginia Tech’s pro day. After months of rehab it is no surprise that his numbers were lackluster. Cam’s 40-yard dash time of 4.79 seconds is well above the average for his position. WRs and CBs traditionally lay down the fastest 40-yard dash times, and the average 40 yard time, for both positions, is 4.55 seconds. Do I think that 40-yard time is indicative of Cam’s actual game speed? No. Do I think that once in pads Cam Phillips is fast enough to compete in the NFL? Yes. Do I think that too much credence is paid to the scouting combine? Yes. Unfortunately, Cam laid a time down that was a quarter second slower than the average for his position. Such a performance coupled with his size issues will absolutely give teams pause.
6. He’s unlikely to provide immediate impact.
While Cam is a standout WR in VT’s history he is a developmental project at the professional level. It is reasonable that, when one considers all the variables, teams would surmise that Cam would be unlikely to provide an immediate impact. This reality plays directly into the next point.
7. No special team’s contribution
Developmental players generally find themselves drafted in the later rounds when they demonstrate some ability to provide immediate impact. That immediate impact is normally associated with special teams’ contributions, of which Cam Phillips has little. He wasn’t a returner and he wasn’t a coverage guy. If there were any ST contributions they were few, far between, and way too difficult for me to look up! My point is, players on the bubble might fall into the draft when they have a special teams role. Cam does not have that.
While Cam had a hard draft season, I do think that the young man’s value and ability was not correctly communicated to team scouts. I think the Buffalo Bills got a steal grabbing Phillips as an Undrafted Rookie Free Agent. He still has a lot of work in front of him, but a successful professional career is within Phillips’ reach. Best of luck to Mr. Phillips as he pursues his NFL dream!
What do you guys and gals think? Am I full of it?! Let us know if the comments below!