This is actually turning into a pretty interesting receiver class. John Schneider admitted he wasn’t too enamoured with 2012’s group, but I wonder what he’ll make of this one? There’s a lot of range, a lot of different body types and skill sets. You would think there’d be a player or two of interest.
In 2008 no receivers were taken in round one, but when Donnie Avery was selected at #33 overall it created a scramble. Ten wide outs were taken in the second round, including the easily forgettable Devin Thomas, James Hardy, Dexter Jackson and Limas Sweed. Also among the group were Jordy Nelson and DeSean Jackson. I suspect something similar will happen next April, perhaps just a little earlier.
There’s unlikely to be a receiver drafted in the top ten, unless of course Brandon Coleman turns pro and puts in a star turn at the combine. I’ve been including Coleman in my mocks through sheer hope rather than expectation – because he really should go back to Rutgers for another season of college football. Even if he does turn pro, he’s still no lock for the top ten. He does have the size (6-6), speed and catching ability to generate major interest as a high pick, but he’s only a redshirt sophomore and plays to his level of experience at times.
Assuming Coleman stays at Rutgers, you could be looking at the first receiver leaving the board in the 20-25 range. The teams that list a receiver among their greatest needs (Miami, St. Louis) will pick in the top ten and will probably wait until round two or use free agency. Those currently projected to pick in the middle of the first round (Cincinnati, New Orleans, Arizona) will prioritise other positions. There are exceptions, such as the New York Jets, who could make light work of this suggestion. However, value meets need best for the receivers at around the #20 overall mark as things stand.
One player who could yet change things is California’s Keenan Allen. He didn’t have an amazing year for Cal, but then he was severely limited playing within a mediocre passing game. Jeff Tedford has been fired as a consequence and a player like Allen hasn’t been able to max out his potential during college. It’s easy to forget he had offers from all the big schools – including Alabama – but chose Cal to play with his quarterback brother. It’s a nice family story, but unfortunately the working relationship hasn’t paid off. Allen had just one 100+ yard receiving game this year before getting injured – against struggling Washington State.
Nobody can deny Allen looks the part. He’s a prototypical big receiver at 6-3 and 210lbs. He looks fluid running routes and isn’t heavy on his feet despite a filled out frame. He looks primed to deal with the physical approach of the NFL. But is he special enough? We didn’t see many explosive plays this year, just a lot of coming back on a route to bail out the quarterback. He fits, he chips away. Allen has that rare intensity and spirit in a receiver that has certainly helped A.J. Green make a quick impact in the league. Yet he’s going to need to prove he also has athletic potential to match the size. A great combine and Allen could be a top-20 pick. If he runs a slow 4.5 – you’re talking second round.
Whenever the first receiver is drafted next April, there could be a mad rush. Like 2008, I think we might see as many as ten receivers quickly leave the board. Admittedly it’s still very early in the process and difficult to make a completely accurate projection when draft order hasn’t even been decided. However, we are approaching the end of the college season and have a good idea of the talent level available.
For example, teams looking for a dynamic playmaker will monitor a guy like Tavon Austin. He’s shown he does have the speed and range to warrant comparisons to Percy Harvin. On Saturday he rushed for 344 yards from 21 carries out of the pistol formation, flashing the ability to out-run the fastest Oklahoma defensive backs and break off huge gains. He’s going to be a first round pick, mainly due to his speed and range as a multi-faceted playmaker. Cordarrelle Patterson also has that home run-hitting ability and has scored touchdowns on kick and punt returns, receptions and rushes. As soon as either leaves the board, don’t be surprised if another team gets impatient about making sure they don’t miss out on the other. They could leave the board shortly after each other.
Markus Wheaton and Robert Woods aren’t anywhere near as ‘flashy’ and won’t score quite as many cheap points, but both should leave the board no later than the early second round. They have enough speed to create separation, but may struggle against physical cornerbacks. Woods is a little sturdier and has better production at USC, but Wheaton is quicker and a more important fixture for his team. Both a superior players to A.J. Jenkins, who was drafted at the end of the first round last April.
Justin Hunter could still have an impact if he declares – he’s rated by many as a potential high pick. It’s hard not to appreciate his controlled routes and likeness to A.J. Green physically, but the truth is he’s had a poor year with bad drops and not enough explosion after recovering from a bad knee injury. I’ve never been truly sold on Terrance Williams at Baylor – he looks like a product of his environment without stand out physical tools. Da’Rick Rogers remains an interesting case after being kicked out of Tennessee and being forced to play at Tenn. Tech. Keep an eye on DeAndre Hopkins who could go much earlier than most people expect, while Coby Hamilton has enjoyed some big performance for Arkansas and certainly looks the part even if he lacks consistency.
How (I think) I’d rate the receivers today:
#1 Brandon Coleman (WR, Rutgers)
#2 Markus Wheaton (WR, Oregon State)
#3 DeAndre Hopkins (WR, Clemson)
#4 Robert Woods (WR, USC)
#5 Tavon Austin (WR, West Virginia)
#6 Cordarrelle Patterson (WR, Tennessee)
#7 Keenan Allen (WR, California)
#8 Justin Hunter (WR, Tennessee)
#9 Coby Hamilton (WR, Arkansas)
#10 Terrance Williams (WR, Baylor)
Of course, if you want a player who can make 1-2 huge plays in a game and can be used in many different ways, you’d push Patterson and Austin nearer to the top. And if Keenan Allen runs a 4.4, you become a little bit more excited about his potential. So there’s still a lot to be decided between now and April. But you knew that already.