Conner Vernon would be a small guard in Duke's acclaimed basketball program, but he was a big-time producer at wide receiver for their forgotten football program. Can he become one of the few Blue Devils to make a name for the university in the NFL?
Vernon has turned his decent size and athleticism into very good production in a losing program. He is a creative and tough runner after the catch, enough so that Duke called his number a lot on bubble screens. Vernon is also a good receiver in the air who understands how to get his body between the defender and the ball in flight. He is also a sharp route runner, and can also contribute as an effective kick and punt returner.
Since he lacks outstanding quickness, speed, size or athleticism, Vernon is not much of a big-play receiver. He can be re-routed by a well-executed jam, and is not a very effective blocker. He also isn't that fast and lacks a second gear to create separation.
At 6'0" 196 lbs, Vernon has the size to remain outside in the pros. He isn't as slow as his 4.68 40 time indicates, but is a one-speed receiver. He does get up to that speed quickly, eating up the cushion when the cornerback gives him one. His quickness (4.22 short shuttle, 6.93 three-cone), and explosion (32.5" vertical, 10'5" broad jump) are average on paper and on film.
Vernon is widely considered a high character player with a high football IQ and grit. He was a starter as a true freshman and finished his career with his best season at Duke. Vernon's cousin, Al Del Greco, was a longtime kicker in the NFL.
Vernon lined up as an outside receiver most of the time, but was often targeted on wide receiver screens to get his run-after-catch ability into play. He was also an excellent receiver on intermediate and deep routes along the sidelines.
Even though he doesn't explode out of his stance, Vernon gets up to his top speed almost immediately. He has trouble beating the jam, which could relegate him to more slot-receiver duty in the pros.
The whole route tree doesn't show up on Vernon's film, but that is more about how he was used at Duke than his abilities. His crisp breaks create separation, and he disguises his intentions until the last moment. Vernon is also skilled at finding openings in zone coverage and understanding exactly where the sidelines are when going up for a ball.
Vernon has very reliable hands and he can catch well outside of his frame. He is used to absorbing hits and weaving through traffic after the catch and on returns, so the importance of ball security is not lost on him. He should be a favorite target on third downs.
Much bigger wide receivers in this class fail to consistently use their body to block out the cornerback the way that Vernon does. He seems to be very comfortable going up for passes when he knows a hit is coming. He can pogo stick for the high pass and generally plays bigger than his size in the air.
Run After Catch
He's not a supreme athlete, but Vernon can still make things happen after the catch. He swerves through traffic without hesitation and runs stronger than his average-sized frame would lead you to believe. Vernon knows how to make the first man miss with an efficient move, and he can also maintain balance when a tackle attempt fails to bring him down.
The film here is a mixed bag, as sometimes Vernon barely attempts to fulfill his blocking assignment. When he does, he is marginally effective, although he does get chippy and combative at times and will throw his body into a defender. Most of the time, Vernon simply tries to get in the way as a blocker.
Scheme Versatility/Future Role
Vernon will contribute on special teams, and he can fit in as a slot receiver, even though he doesn't have the typical small/quick game you usually see in the slot. Vernon will need to work on beating the jam to get more time as a outside receiver, but he'll be a very good fourth or fifth receiver in a West Coast offense.
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