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Northwestern NFL Draft capsules: Kain Colter

Over the next week, we will be breaking down the draft prospects of some of  Northwestern’s outgoing seniors. Will any of them hear their names called at the podium between May 8 and 10?

Previous capsules: Jeff Budzien
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There’s a reason we have not spent more time discussing Kain Colter’s preparation for the NFL Draft. He has – to put it simply – been busy handling other matters. Colter’s involvement in college sports’ first unionization movement no doubt cut into the amount of time he could devote to working out this offseason. A bigger hindrance is the ankle injury he played through during his senior season that required microfracture surgery and forced him to drop out of the Senior Bowl, where he was reportedly impressing scouts with his quickness and ability to make defenders miss.

At that point, at least a few talent evaluators believed Colter was deserving of a mid-round selection.

https://twitter.com/BTNBrentYarina/statuses/425769168474894336

After the surgery, Colter worked out in front of a reported 18 NFL teams at his pro day, which was held at Northwestern and closed to the media. He caught passes from former Notre Dame quarterback Tommy Rees and threw some passes. Colter was clocked at 4.71 in the 40-yd dash, 4.20 in the short shuttle, 6.68 in the three-cone drill and repped 225 pounds on the bench press 11 times, according to NFL.com’s Gil Brandt (to gauge where Colter’s numbers stand among those of other receivers in this year’s class, check out the combine results database). A source familiar with the workout told the Chicago Tribune that Colter “is still developing as a route runner,” while another mentioned that he looked quick running routes.

That 40-time won’t do Colter any favors on draft day, but it’s worth pointing out that he was only four weeks removed from surgery and wasn’t medically cleared to partake in the vertical jump or broad jump. It stands to reason Colter would have been able to knock at least a tenth of a second off that time, were he afforded a few more weeks to rehabilitate his injury. NFL front office executives who saw him on tape and at the Senior Bowl will take this into consideration. Colter was invited to the Combine and did not participate in drills, but he was assessed a grade of 5.32 on a 10-point scale, which translates to “NFL backup or special teams potential.”

Colter is projected to play slot receiver and, with his unique skillset, could contribute on trick plays, in Wildcat formations and as a punt returner. Colter played plenty of wideout while at Northwestern; over four seasons, he caught 63 passes for 683 yards and one touchdown. His best receiving game was against Indiana in 2012, when Colter reeled in nine passes for 131 yards. Here is a scouting report on Colter, from NFL.com’s Nolan Nawrocki (you may have heard of him)

STRENGTHS

 Well-defined body with big, soft hands. Good short-area burst, quickness, agility and balance. Can work his way through zones and uncover underneath. Can stop on a dime and string some moves together. Good run vision and creativity to navigate through traffic. Extremely competitive. Highly intelligent and football smart. Articulate communicator. Adds intriguing versatility as a triggerman. Good pedigree -- coach's son. 

WEAKNESSES

 Has short arms. Adequate run strength -- does not power through tackles. Can improve using his hands to beat the jam. Lacks elite top-end speed to separate vertically. Has a lot of room to improve as a perimeter blocker.

BOTTOM LINE

 An athletic, undersized, multi-threat, option college quarterback who shared time in the slot, Colter displayed the playmaking ability, short-area burst, creativity and hands to become a Danny Amendola-type slot receiver and should be able to factor readily in the pros once he commits full-time to the position. Offers situational Wildcat quarterbacking capability and return ability with traits that project very well as a punt returner. Postseason ankle surgery will limit his spring workouts and could dip his draft standing.

So, where is Colter projected to be drafted? Will he be drafted at all? There is an extremely deep crop of receivers in this year’s draft, which could cause Colter to slide a bit. Colter is rated No. 41 by ESPN and No. 58 by CBS among receivers. Those projections don’t necessarily reflect what teams think of Colter, but they do attest to the fact that there are a lot of good wideouts available. That said, Colter has a unique skill set that will appeal to certain teams. Plus, before he had surgery, Colter was clearly impressing certain scouts and seemed to have solidified himself as a mid-to-late-round pick.

And while he may not be as athletic as other players at his position, Colter has been praised for his high football IQ and extensive knowledge of schemes. "After playing quarterback, I feel like I can be the smartest receiver in the draft," Colter told the Tribune in January. "Teams nowadays love having a guy who can run those option routes and read a defense. That's what I bring to the table. Now it's all about learning the tricks of the trade, how to run routes."

Whether Colter’s effort to unionize college athletes will affect his draft stock is hard to say. Perhaps some teams will see it as a distraction. Others may not think too much of it. Maybe some will view him more favorably for being at the forefront of an outwardly noble cause. I don’t know. The bigger issue is the ankle ankle injury – namely, whether teams are enamored enough with Colter’s skill set and game tape to see past the lousy 40 he ran at his pro day.

In any case, if Colter is drafted, expect to hear his name called on the third day. Although he could be taken as high as the fourth round, the fifth, sixth or seventh seems more likely.