Texas A&M star wide receiver Christian Kirk will look to impress scouts this weekend in a matchup against the top-ranked Alabama Crimson Tide.
If you’re looking to scout draft prospects, one of the best ways to determine a player’s value is to look at their production against top-level competition. It can be tough to gauge a player’s ability against FCS opponents, for instance, as the simple fact is the level of competition is lesser than that of the FBS. If you’re scouting a SEC player, however, the first opponent you typically look for is none other than the Alabama Crimson Tide.
This weekend, Texas A&M’s do-it-all playmaker, Christian Kirk, gets his shot at the Alabama defense and looks to convince scouts that he is the best wide receiver prospect in this class.
Ever since Kirk arrived on campus in 2015, he has solidified himself as one of the most dynamic playmakers in the entire country. As a true freshman in a loaded Aggies offense in 2015, Kirk posted 1,009 yards receiving and seven touchdowns. Not only was the Arizona native a threat in the passing game, he also returned two punts for touchdowns en route to a first-team Freshman All-America Team selection.
What makes Kirk such an exciting prospect at the next level? Let’s turn on the tape to find out.
Screen game wizard
Because of Christian Kirk’s agility and quickness, much of his work as a member of the Aggies’ receiving corps has come out of the slot, which is more than likely where he’ll spend the bulk of his time at the NFL level. Texas A&M loves to utilize the 5-foot-11, 200-pound speedster on bubble screens and sweeps, as illustrated earlier this season against Arkansas.
The Aggies take the “get your playmaker in space” mantra to heart and it’s been a staple of their offensive scheme ever since Kirk arrived on campus. Kirk’s quickness and burst make every defensive coordinator hold their breath once the ball is in his hands.
Special teams star
Perhaps the area of Kirk’s game that is most electrifying is in the return game, as he has served as the chief punt and kick return specialist for Texas A&M since his true freshman season. He is averaging over 20 yards per return (both kick and punt) and already posted six return touchdowns (one kick, five punts) in his two and a half seasons with the Aggies. It’s easy to tell from these plays why he will be coveted on special teams at the NFL level.
Kirk’s vision and decisiveness as a runner are his two best qualities as a return specialist, not to mention having the speed to outrun the angles of potential tacklers with ease. His fluid hips allow him to quickly change direction quickly and he does an excellent job of planting his foot and getting upfield as soon as he sees a lane open up. Field position is a huge factor at the NFL level and having an explosive playmaker in the return game like Kirk will keep him on a roster even if he doesn’t become as big of a factor in the passing game. One more positive? Kirk has yet to fumble in his Aggies career, something that is crucial if one wants to keep getting opportunities on special teams.
A limited NFL role?
If there’s a cause for concern with Kirk’s game at the NFL level, it’s that he could be too limited as a slot receiver. While the league is always looking for dynamic players in the slot, I’m not sure if it’s worth investing a high pick, as some feel that Kirk is destined for the first round to come next April.
Kirk is averaging just 11.8 yards per reception in his Aggies career, which would be the lowest among first-round wide receivers since Laquon Treadwell (2016, No. 23 overall to Minnesota), who has totaled just six receptions in his professional career so far.
Kirk has shown the ability to play in the screen game, but will he be able to beat defenders in physical press coverage or find the soft spots in zones down the field? Can he win 50-50 balls against bigger defensive backs in one-on-one scenarios? Playing at 200 pounds makes him a bit more durable than your typical slot receiver but he’ll have to prove that he doesn’t need to be at the line of scrimmage to make plays if he wants to be a productive member of an NFL offense. Kirk’s agility will be matched far easier at the next level, so being able to beat coverages with precise route-running, especially down the field, is much more important to having success.
Big plays against Bama?
Kirk’s toughest test of the season will undoubtedly be this Saturday against an Alabama secondary loaded with NFL prospects, including cornerback Minkah Fitzpatrick and safety Ronnie Harrison. The Aggies will need to have a number of big plays to have a chance to upset and Kirk will have to be the guy to provide that spark. Last season, the Tide limited Kirk to just 6.4 yards per reception, his third-lowest of the season. For scouts, they’ll be keying into his battles with the Alabama secondary, particularly when matched up in tight coverages.
As dynamic of a playmaker as Christian Kirk is, I’m not quite sure he belongs in the first round conversation at wide receiver just yet, mainly due to not being as versatile as some of the other players in this class. I do believe, however, that Kirk will be an excellent return specialist at the NFL level and just how much a team values that will likely decide his draft position.