“There is always a next step.”
With these words, University of Toledo’s Eric Page ended his decorated college career and entered the 2012 NFL Draft. It was a career littered with accomplishments and awards. With 306 receptions in 3 seasons (and the NCAA record in sight), Page was not only a finalist for this year’s Paul Hornung Award, given to the game’s most versatile player, but also a 2010 first team All American kickoff returner, who also returned punts, was used in the running game, and threw 4 TDs. Page is the definition of ultra-productive, saving his best season for last, being named 1st team All MAC at 3 positions, recording 125 receptions, and ripping through Ohio State’s defense for 12 catches, 145 yards, and 2 TDs.
As for the next step, Page projects as a versatile slot receiver and dynamic return man. At 5’ 10” 180 lbs, he’s small by NFL standards, but is similar in size and build to fellow Toledo Rocket, Saints’ WR Lance Moore, and should have a similar but better pro career. Though short, Page is solidly put together and has demonstrated sustained toughness and durability. He’s a quick twitch athlete with elite quickness and developed agility and balance. Though he lacks the elite speed to consistently stretch the field vertically, he exhibits explosiveness and a top level short area burst that lets him reach top gear rapidly and turn short passes into big plays on a consistent basis. Keeping a low pad level, he accelerates out of breaks, displaying a fluid, sudden change of direction that allows him to separate from defenders both pre and post-catch.
Page showcases good hands, and will make the tough catch, hanging on after absorbing a hit, though in heavy traffic his catching is inconsistent. He looks the ball all the way in, generally plucking it away from his body, with few careless drops. A small wingspan minimizes his catching radius, but he tracks the ball well in the air and will make catches outside his frame. He isn’t a natural leaper but demonstrates plus body control and effectively uses his body to shield defenders on slants or ins in the 3 step game. Page is fearless in going over the middle, and has no problem concentrating on the ball with a LB or SS lurking for the Sportscenter hit.
As a WR, he displays little wasted motion coming off the line, then sinks his hips well to make sharp, precise cuts. His ability to change direction without slowing down helps him gain separation from DBs coming out of breaks. He does struggle at times against press coverage, not utilizing a variety of moves to disengage from physical CBs and can be jammed or rerouted if the D-Back gets his hands into Page’s chest. Toledo coaches lined him up all over the formation, helping him get a free release by slotting him or often running him in motion. Similar strategies, as well as improved skills, will allow him to be successful at the NFL level.
In route, Page maneuvers well through traffic, working the shallow and intermediate zones, and has an instinctive understanding of coverages, knowing how to settle in the soft spots. For a small WR, he’s an effective red zone target, with a genuine nose for the endzone. He struggles against a double team, at times isn’t patient enough on double moves, and has limited route tree experience. He primarily runs slants, swings, quick outs and crossing routes, and may well be college football’s “King of the Bubble Screen.”
After the catch, Page is explosive and elusive in the open field, utilizing first rate burst and change of direction to make tacklers miss in space. He sees the whole field and takes advantage of cutback lanes, making him a legitimate big play threat. He’s not a punishing, powerful runner, but he will run through some arm tackles, and when you’re not expecting it, will jack someone right in the grill with a stiff arm. In addition, he is an elite return man, who uses those open-field running skills to terrorize opponents’ special teams coordinators. As a blocker, he doesn’t shy from contact, but size limits his effectiveness here. He’s not strong enough to physically control DBs, and sometimes get his pad level too high, but generally is a sound shield blocker who doesn’t take plays off.
Overall, I really like Eric Page as a highly productive slot receiver and explosive kick returner. Others have compared him to Wes Welker or Steve Smith, but he’s not as strong or as polished a route runner as Welker, and he doesn’t possess Smith’s raw speed, but like these receivers, he is a dynamic playmaker with the potential to flip field position or rip off a big gainer every time the rock is in his hands. Look for Page to fly off the draft board in the late 3rd to early 4th round.
The NFL team that snags Page will get not only a talented playmaker, but also a team leader, with the respect of opposing players and coaches, and a genuine sense of humor. When asked why he chose to forgo his senior season at Toledo and enter the draft, he replied “I’m not going to get any taller.” There may not be any inches in his future, but for Eric Page, there is always a next step. He’s come a long way, having only started playing WR full time in 2009. Now, 3 years, 300+ receptions, and 35 TDs later, it’s going to be a long, long time before anyone in college football catches this rocket man.