NFL draft profile — No. 30: Texas A and M WR Christian Kirk

Prolific playmaker lacks great size, testing numbers but finds way to change games regularly

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Photo: USA TODAY Sports

Each day leading up to the 2018 NFL draft, I’ll break down one of my top 50 prospects. In some cases, we had to make tough omissions because of injuries, poor pre-draft workouts or incomplete information. For more complete scouting reports on all the prospects, check out the Pro Football Weekly 2018 Draft Guide, which is available for order now.

30. Texas A&M WR Christian Kirk
5-foot-10, 201 pounds

Key stats: Kirk became the first Aggies player to return a pair of punts for touchdowns in the same game (New Mexico State in 2016) and also the first to register back-to-back 80-catch seasons (2015 and 2016).

The skinny: Arizona native was a five-star prospect who chose Texas A&M over Arizona State, Auburn, USC, UCLA and other schools. Kirk wasted no time contributing to the Aggies as a true freshman, leading them with 80 receptions, 1,009 receiving yards and nine touchdowns (seven as a receiver, two as a punt returner).

As a sophomore in 2016, Kirk was named third-team Associated Press All-America and landed on the first-team All-SEC team in three places — receiver, return specialist and all-purpose. He started 12 (of 13) games that year, leading the SEC with 83 catches for 928 yards and nine scores and led all of FBS with three punt-return touchdowns. (He also ran eight times for 35 yards; averaged 28.8 yards on kickoffs; averaged 21.7 on punt returns; and was 0-for-2 passing in 2016.)

Kirk was a team captain and was named second-team All-SEC in 2017, leading the team with 71 receptions for 919 yards and 10 TDs in 13 starts. He was named first-team All-America as a returner — eight punt returns for 175 yards and one touchdown and 21 kick returns for 480 yards and a score.

After declaring early for the draft, Kirk turned in up-and-down testing numbers at the scouting combine and chose to stand on them at his pro day, where he opted only to participate in WR and special-teams drills.

Upside: Nicely put-together frame — almost a running back’s build — but with some of the bigger hands in this year’s WR class. Surprising pop and strength (20 bench press reps, which is a high total regardless of his arm length). Consistently productive despite playing with six different QBs (who completed about 56 percent of their passes) in three years — caught two or more passes in every college game and scored 33 TDs in 39 contests. Can be a changeup runner (five games with two or more rush attempts).

Excellent, natural hands — catches just about everything in sight and has the body control and concentration to adjust to poorly thrown passes in his area. Strong, NFL-caliber footwork and route precision. Open-field playmaking ability is clear. Has some magic — watch here as Kirk catches a little bubble screen, looks hemmed in by Wake Forest along the sideline but makes one man miss, uses a stiff-arm, tiptoes the sideline and still beats two other defenders to the end zone in a dominant Belk Bowl performance:

Fearless in traffic and willing to take a pop. When asked who the toughest player they ever faced in a game was, Alabama DBs Minkah Fitzpatrick and Ronnie Harrison both said it was Kirk. Mentally tough and driven. Acts and plays like he’s 6-foot-3 and 220 pounds, but with the on-field quickness of a player his actual size.

Ability to take over a game — 10 contests with 100-plus receiving yards, plus special-teams impact. Return-game ability should make him an instant-impact player, even if he starts out as a third or fourth receiver. Ran back six punt returns for TDs and averaged a whopping 22 yards a pop, as well as logging one kick-return TD in his three college seasons.

Downside: Lack of length, explosiveness and pure speed are concerning. Might never be a true downfield target in the NFL. Combine testing numbers — especially 3-cone drill, 20- and 60-yard shuttles, all in 20th percentile or lower — were very disappointing. Opted not to try to improve numbers at his pro day.

Is he strictly a slot receiver at the next level? Played outside in college and took all his snaps at pro day outside, but lack of true burst and size could restrict his role on offense. Might need a quarterback with great precision on his intermediate and downfield passes because of lack of great length, leaping ability or elite separation vs. taller and faster NFL DBs.

Here’s an example — Kirk tries to go deep against Wake Forest’s zone but can’t get behind the safeties and has the ball knocked down by 6-foot-1 Deacons S Cameron Glenn:

Must get his head turned around faster in NFL and anticipate the ball a little better — appeared surprised by a few passes that were right on top of him in college. Ran a lot of bubble screens and quick hitters and will need to expand his route tree a bit.

Best-suited destination: Look for teams that are not as enamored with finding the biggest, fastest receivers to give Kirk a long look, especially those looking for a solution in the slot and one needing a boost to their return units. Among the teams that could be interested in Kirk’s services include the Dallas Cowboys, New England Patriots, Atlanta Falcons, Indianapolis Colts, New York Giants, Oakland Raiders, Carolina Panthers, Kansas City Chiefs, Buffalo Bills, Los Angeles Chargers, Baltimore Ravens, Arizona Cardinals, Green Bay Packers, Denver Broncos, Tennessee Titans and New York Jets.

Quotable: “If you’re hung up on the [combine testing] numbers, you’re missing out on a tough son of a [gun]. He’s a really good football player.” — Southwest area scout

Player comp: Randall Cobb

Expected draft range: Top-40 pick

Previous profiles

50. Oregon RB Royce Freeman
49. South Dakota State TE Dallas Goedert
48. LSU DE-LB Arden Key
47. Ohio State C Billy Price
46. Alabama S Ronnie Harrison
45. Oklahoma State QB Mason Rudolph
44. Texas A&M S Armani Watts
43. South Carolina TE Hayden Hurst
42. UCF CB Mike Hughes
41. USC RB Ronald Jones II
40. Maryland WR D.J. Moore
39. UTEP OG Will Hernandez
38. Stanford DT Harrison Phillips
37. Ohio State DE Sam Hubbard
36. Stanford S Justin Reid
35. Oregon OT Tyrell Crosby
34. SMU WR Courtland Sutton
33. Penn State TE Mike Gesicki
32. Colorado CB Isaiah Oliver
31. Georgia OL Isaiah Wynn