It’s time to take a gander at an oft-overlooked and underestimated wideout by the name of Eric Weems.
Pros: Has good speed and quickness. As a return man does a good job accelerating and getting to top speed. Fairly sure-handed returner that isn’t prone to fumbles or muffs. As a punt returner, does a good job making the first guy miss. Uses his ability as a returner to pick up yardage after the catch. Is a good runner and can be effective on screens and reverses. Shows good hands and can adjust to a high throw. Is a good blocker for his size, and willing to throw what little weight he does have around.
Cons: Lacks elite long speed to really be a gamebreaker as a return threat. Needs to polish up his route-running. Without it, he has yet to prove he can get open against starting-caliber cornerbacks. Lack of size makes him susceptible to the jam.
2010 Outlook: It’s interesting to note that the very first offensive snap Eric Weems ever took in a regular season game, he threw a touchdown-resulting block for Harry Douglas in 2008. Weems physical attributes favor him as a slot receiver or flanker where his lack of size isn’t as big an issue. Last season he got quite a bit of work that likely would have gone to Harry Douglas had he been available. This year, he is being pushed for his role as incumbent return specialist, but also looking to make more of an impact on offense.
As a returner, Weems is not what would classify as a game-breaker due to his lack of top-end track speed. But he is a fairly reliable guy that will consistent pick up good yardage, not great yardage. Many of his good returns last year set up the Falcons on good scoring drives, leading to scores, particularly at key moments in 2009. His record wasn’t perfect in the fumble department but he was a lot more reliable than recent options the Falcons have had.
As a receiver, he is not going to be a go-to option for the team. His main use offensively in 2009 was on reverses and end-arounds. But he did add some value as a receiver, and he will likely work to increase that value this season. With the injury to Michael Jenkins, he will have an opportunity to garner stronger consideration from the coaching staff.
A major key for Weems will be improving his route-running. His lack of size means that he won’t be able to outmuscle most corners that he faces. That means he’ll have to rely more on his ability to separate to present himself as the best possible target for the quarterback. As he develops there, potentially the best way to utilize him is probably on short, quick routes designed to get him the ball and try to use his speed and quickness after the catch to try and make plays in space.
In Summary… Weems doesn’t have the upside of other undersized receivers to be a serious factor in the Falcons passing game. He essentially is a niche player that his biggest value is as a reliable returner on special teams. But he’s a hard-worker that has all the basic skills that he can contribute offensively, and occasionally provide a big play as a runner, receiver, and occasionally blocker.