The success of last year's wide receiver draft class shattered rookie receiving records and set the bar and expectations for future rookie wide receivers. Almost every first round drafted wide receiver selected in 2014 made some positive impact for their team with the exception of Brandin Cooks who showed some promise, but injuries prevented him from showcasing his complete skill set.
The New York Giants made the steal of the 2014 draft with the selection of Odell Beckham Jr. who put on a highlight tape in almost every game he played in last season. The Carolina Panthers look to have found Cam Newton a reliable target in the big bodied wide receiver, Kelvin Benjamin. Lastly, while not a lot went right for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers last season, Mike Evans was unstoppable in the red zone and finished the season with 12 touchdown receptions.
It wasn't that long ago that the wide receiver position was talked about as being devalued in today's age. In 2006, only one first round pick was used on a wide receiver. In 2008, there were no wide receivers selected in the first round. The perception and stigma of wide receivers has changed rather quickly in just a short period of time. In the last three drafts, there has been an average of nine wide receivers selected in the first two rounds.
With the depth and variety of wide receivers in this class, don't be surprised to see a couple of players who are selected in the later rounds or even go undrafted, end up making a significant mark in the NFL in the next couple of years.
The past two Super Bowl champions, the New England Patriots and the Seattle Seahawks, had a depth chart filled with late round and undrafted free-agent wide receivers. Danny Amendola, Julian Edelman, Doug Baldwin and Jermaine Kearse, for example, played an integral role in their team's success. While the spotlight might be on some of the first-round wide receivers this year, remember there is a lot of value in late-round or undrafted signees that just might be the key to a team's success.
Below are the top ten wide receivers projected to line up on the outside and the top ten slot receivers.
Outside Wide Receivers Rankings
1) DeVante Parker (Louisville): At 6'3” and 209 pounds, Parker has the frame and size to physically outmuscle smaller defensive backs. Using his size, he is almost always open, no matter if he is covered by one, two or three defensive backs. He is a matchup nightmare for opposing defenses and can outmuscle and push around most defensive backs while linebackers and safeties lack the speed to stay with him on deep passes.
In 43 career games, Parker had 156 receptions for 2,775 yards, a 17.8 YPC average, and 33 TD's. A big play threat, Parker had 41 receptions of 25 yards or more, giving him a deep threat rating of 26 percent, fourth highest amongst wide receivers this year.
A touchdown threat each time he touches the ball, Parker averaged a TD once every 4.7 times he touched the football. This is the third highest average amongst all wide receivers in this draft class.
Dealing with an injury sustained in training camp, Parker missed the first seven games this season. Even with the missed time, he still led the team in receiving yards and tied for the team's lead in receptions. He led the team in receiving yards per game (122.1) this season. Parker has produced consistently in each of his three seasons.
While some might chalk up his production to having a good quarterback (Teddy Bridgewater) during his first couple of years, the fact is that Parker was able to continue with his production this season shows that he is more than a byproduct of those around him.
A physical run-blocker, Parker can seal an edge and allow his tailback to get around the corner and up the field. Most receivers coming into the NFL don't know how to run block and are not willing to come down into the box. With his frame and strength, he should have a shorter period of time adjusting to blocking in the NFL.
Making his season debut against Florida State, Parker was matched up against future NFL Draft picks P.J. Williams and Ronald Darby throughout the game. Florida State rolled out a defensive game plan that brought multiple defenders to Parker's side and, in some cases, he even saw triple coverage. Even with three defenders Parker still was able to produce; he finished the game with eight receptions for 214 yards, a 26.8 YPC average. With his foot still healing from injury, Parker was able to pick up 49 yards after the catch against FSU.
While he played in a typical spread offense, Parker's receptions came on deep downfield throws as opposed to typical spreads that look to throw bubble or smoke screen routes to their wide receivers. Parker was targeted 13 times against FSU and his average distance of targeted pass was 16.8 yards past the line of scrimmage.
Parker still has a ways to go in terms of his route-running; he will need to work on his short-to-intermediate route running. He has a physical nature and got away with a few push-offs as he went up for the catch and he won't be able to do that in the NFL.
Parker was a first down recording machine during his college career. He produced 117 first downs, giving him a career first down rate of 75 percent, the fourth highest amongst wide receivers in this class.
He is a talented player who consistently dominated his opponents during the past three seasons. Parker is a dominant outside threat who is capable of taking over a game. Statistically and scouting wise, Parker is similar to A.J. Green. Draft Grade: First round selection.
2) Amari Cooper (Alabama): Some players just make it look too easy and Cooper is one of those players who make the impossible look possible. While he might not be the biggest at 6'1” and 205 pounds, he is one of the most fluid route runners that I have ever seen coming out of college.
Cooper's speed and quickness through his route allows him to get in and out of breaks with little to no wasted motion. Defensive backs, even the fastest ones in the SEC, have a difficult time keeping up with Cooper on deep downfield throws. With his long arms, he is able to just pluck the ball out of the air with ease. Cooper is a great hands catcher; he doesn't allow the ball into his body, which allows him to have a large catch radius.
In 40 career games, Cooper recorded 227 receptions for 3,462 yards, 15.3 YPC average, and 31 touchdowns. He finished third amongst all wide receivers in this draft class with 86.6 receiving yards per game for his career.
Opponents knew Cooper was central to the Crimson Tide's passing offense last season. He was responsible for 44 percent of their total receiving yards and 43 percent of their total receptions. Even with defensive coverages rolling to his side of the field, Cooper was still was capable of producing 124 receptions, 1,727 yards, 16 TD's, 74 first downs and a catch rate of 70 percent.
Early in his career Cooper struggled with catching the ball away from his frame, he allowed it into his body causing a number of drops. He improved his drop rate during each of the past two seasons and while he occasionally will have a few missed opportunities, Cooper's numbers don't reflect anything outside the norm for any first rounder.
Some wide receivers are blessed with more size, speed, and measurables, but Cooper is the complete package. His route-running and ability to dominate in all three phase areas of a passing attack help separate him from the rest of the wide receiver class. Cooper is listed as an outside wide receiver on my list, but I wouldn't be surprised to see him slide inside and play the slot position during his first couple of seasons. Draft Grade: First round selection
3) Rashad Greene (Florida State): Greene finished his career as the FSU's all-time leading receiver in receptions, receiving yards and receiving touchdowns. At 5'11” and 182 pounds, Greene doesn't offer the physically imposing size of a Calvin Johnson. What he does offer is some of the best route running abilities in college football and a set of hands that rarely drop a pass.
Last season Greene had a drop rate of 3.88 percent, giving him just five drops. In 2013, he had seven total drops. Odell Beckham Jr. had a drop rate of 6.45 percent in his final college season, and was widely considered to be one of the most sure-handed rookie receivers last season.
In 51 career games, Greene recorded 270 receptions, 3,830 yards, 14.2 YPC average, and 29 touchdowns.
Greene was, without a doubt, quarterback Jameis Winston's number one target and a player he looked to in critical situations. On third down last season, Greene hauled in 22 receptions, 20 of which were converted for a first down, a 91 percent conversion rate.
While lacking the measurables that most scouts look for in a true “number one” receiver, with a smaller and thinner frame, Greene plays to his strengths and is a smart player who understands defenses, finds the pocket in zone coverage and has the ability to improvise on the backend when called upon.
When talking to scouts and coaches around the league, they give nothing but glowing remarks about Greene's work ethic and study habits. He is a leader with a commanding voice in the locker room and a player who his teammates looked to during difficult stretches.
Greene isn't a big downfield threat. With only 36 receptions for 25 or more yards, he had a deep play rate of 13 percent for his career. He will work the short to intermediate zones of the field. With elite route running and consistent hands, Greene can shred a defense apart piece by piece.
Though a few receivers might get drafted ahead of Greene, don't be surprised if in a few years he is the leading receiver from this draft class. He is a consistent producer who maintains a strong work ethic, low drop rate, and has the ability to make the difficult catches look easy. Watch for Greene to make an instant impact this season on third down. Draft Grade: Second round selection.
4) Devin Smith (Ohio State): A durable starter and deep threat for the Buckeyes during the past four seasons, Smith is an exciting talent who might just be scratching the surface of his football abilities. A big play wide receiver, Smith is the classic example of a wideout who can take the top off a defense.
While he didn't perform as well at the NFL Combine as some scouts might have preferred, Smith measured in at 6'0” and 196 pounds and ran just a 4.42. Most scouts and coaches assumed that with his big play abilities, he would run a bit faster. One area of question that showed up at the combine was Smith's strength; he posted the lowest bench press number for all wide receivers with only 10 reps.
While the combine is a good test of an athlete's measurables, it can't measure all functional football abilities and Smith scores off the chart in those categories. In 54 career games, Smith had 121 receptions for 2,503 yards, 20.7 YPC average, and 30 TD. Smith's yards-per-catch average is third highest amongst all wide receivers in this class and tops for players with over 40 career games played.
Over the course of four seasons, Smith only dropped below the 20 yards-per-catch rate just once, even then he averaged 15 YPC in 2013. A big play threat, Smith had 38 receptions for 25 yards or more for his career, giving him a big play rate of 31 percent, third highest amongst in this year's draft.
Smith's speed and quickness make him such an intriguing prospect and he can run the deep to intermediate routes. Playing in a spread offense most would assume a large percentage of his targets were screens, but in reality, only eight percent of his intended targets last season came on screen passes.
The question marks on Smith's game come in terms of his ability to be more than a straight line speed wide receiver. He wasn't asked to run a lot of complex route combinations and few college corners came up to press him at the line of scrimmage. With his speed, opponents were afraid to get beat over the top, giving him a five to ten yard cushion on most plays. Smith will need to improve his overall strength, he was taken down by the first tackler over 65 percent of the time he touched the football.
Smith has showed consistent hands and has the ability to make the contested catches in traffic. Few college receivers enjoy going over the middle, but given some time to get to his highest gear, Smith was a dangerous weapon over the deep middle for the Buckeyes throughout his career.
With the fifth highest wide receiver rating score of 11.49 for this year's draft class, Smith has the makings of a player similar to current Miami Dolphins' Kenny Stills or last year's second round pick, Paul Richardson of the Seattle Seahawks. He might not be a true number one target, but he is a consistent playmaker capable of keeping defenses honest and is one of the most sure-handed receivers in the draft. Draft Grade: second round selection.
5) Jaelen Strong (Arizona State): Jalen Strong is a big-bodied, powerful wide receiver who is capable of going through traffic to snatch the football out of the air. At the NFL Combine, Strong measured in at a chiseled 6'2” and 217 pounds. A former JUCO transfer, Strong only has two-seasons of experience in major college football.
While he doesn't possess the quickness to separate, Strong's physical abilities allow him to fight through contact to come away with the catch. He does an excellent job of using his frame to shield off defenders similar to a power forward blocking out for a rebound.
With his size, Strong has a big catch radius and is able to go up high point the football.
In just 26 career games, Strong recorded 157 receptions, 2,287 receiving yards, a 14.6 YPC average, and 17 TD's. A big target in the red zone, this past season Strong had 11 receptions, 7 TD in the red zone.
Strong is a reliable pass catcher, even with opponents double-teaming him and adjusting their coverage to prevent him from making the big play. He was targeted 133 times this past season, recording 82 receptions and giving him a 61.7 percent catch rate. Of Strong's 157 career receptions, 104 resulted in first downs, equaling 66.6 percent of his total receptions.
With all his strengths and ability to be a reliable big-bodied target for any NFL team, Strong does have some weaknesses that must be improved upon if he is going to be successful in the NFL. With his route-running, Strong tends to take a misstep or two which allows a defender the time to recover and catch. Strong won't ever be a speed burner so running crisp, clean routes will minimize the number of times a defender can recover and knock down a pass.
Strong won't go down on initial contact and, in certain circumstances, this can be beneficial but he does have a history of minor injuries. He will need to learn that he can't fight through and run over every defender and that picking up the necessary yards and getting down will suit him well in the long run.
Strong ranks 7th amongst all wide receivers in this class with a wide receiver score of 9.52. Almost every NFL team is looking for that big-bodied target, especially in the red zone. With Strong's leaping ability and strength, most NFL corners will have a hard time defending the back shoulder to a player of his skill set. Statistically and scouting wise, Strong compares to Brandon Marshall. Draft
Grade: Second round.
Below are the rankings and a small review of the players who just missed making the top five in this year's draft class:
6) Kevin White (West Virginia): Some analysts believe that White is deserving of a top-10 pick, and while he is everything you want athletically out of a wide receiver, he is not without his flaws. White had a one-year wonder index rating of 76 percent, second highest amongst all receivers. He was a JUCO transfer whose first year at WVU was pedestrian.
While White might have posted impressive speed times at the Combine, his production numbers don't reflect the big play wideout one would expect. He had 21 career receptions of 25 yards or more, giving him a big play rate of just 15 percent.
White averaged more than seven yards after the catch this past season, which puts him in the same field as Marqise Lee and Allen Robinson, both second round picks last season for the Jacksonville Jaguars.
There is certainly a lot to like about White and he might have just begun his development into a perennial top flight wide receiver. With that said, he only produced at a high level for one season and in an offense centered around short, quick throws that puts receivers in advantageous situations. A number of wide receivers (Tavon Austin, Stedman Bailey) have come out of WVU during the past few seasons that have had a hard time adjusting to the NFL. White's production in college might be a byproduct of the system he played in versus his talent level. White is a classic boom or bust type of wide receiver; teams should reduce their risk and take him later on the second to third round.
7) Titus Davis (Central Michigan): With the second highest wide receiver score in this draft class at 14.91, Davis has been a consistent playmaker through his college career. He finished his career with 204 receptions for 3,700 yards, an 18.1 YPC average, and 37 TD's. He recorded 148 first downs, giving him a first down rate of 73 percent of the time.
Davis broke a number of school records that were recently set by current Steelers' wideout, Antonio Brown. He is a good short to intermediate route runner who does a good job of setting up his defender and getting in and out of his breaks. Davis has not been talked about as a one of the top wide receivers in this draft but he could be a steal. His production and consistency has shown him to be one of the better wide receivers in the draft.
8) Nelson Agholor (USC): With the loss of Marqise Lee to the NFL, Nelson Agholor stepped up as the team leader and primary weapon on offense. On average, Agholor was targeted 7.9 yards past the line of scrimmage. When he was able to run the intermediate and deep downfield routes, Agholor showed great separation ability. He possesses such a natural instinct to find the soft spot in zones and makes himself available to his quarterback.
In 40 career games, Agholor recorded 179 receptions for 2,571 yards, a 14.4 YPC average and 20 TD's. This past season, Agholor slid into the slot receiver position and worked a lot more short to intermediate routes. His YPC average dropped from 16.4 in 2013 to 12.6 in 2014.
Agholor has some ball security issues, he had three fumbles the past two seasons and his catching ability is a major weakness. He will double-catch the football and allows it to come into his body versus plucking the ball out of the air with his hands. Agholor is a versatile player who can slide inside and play outside and has played in a pro-style offense in college.
9) Devin Funchess (Michigan): Devin Funchess is a former tight-end who changed jersey numbers and positions this past season and became a wide receiver. At 6'4” and 232 pounds, Funchess' size and frame make him standout as a possible possession receiver and red zone target.
In 36 games playing with inconsistent quarterback play, Funchess recorded 126 receptions for 1,715 yards, a 13.6 YPC average, and 15 TD's. Not a deep-downfield threat, Funchess is more adept at working closer to the line of scrimmage. He had a deep play rate of 14 percent.
With his size, Funchess should be able to out-muscle most defensive backs. His lack of speed won't allow him to separate, but he knows how to use his size to shield defenders when going up for the ball. He does a good job at adjusting his body to the ball when it is in the air and has come away with a number of amazing one-handed catches.
One skill set that might be overlooked by a few scouts would be the additional blocking abilities that Funchess will bring on the outside. He has shown the ability to hold his ground and get to the second level against linebackers in the Big Ten. He should have no problem in the NFL.
I would like to see him improve his yards after contact, he averaged less than five yards after the catch during the 2014 season.
An agile athlete, Funchess has the ability to go low and back across his body to make the difficult catches, but has been plagued by drops this season. He does a good job of catching the ball away from his body and not allowing it into his chest.
Funchess is a mismatch wherever he lines up on the field and a consistent producer throughout his college career. It would not be a shock to see Funchess drafted in the first or second day of the draft.
10) Sammie Coates (Auburn): Coates is big player who scares the defense, but lacks consistency which hinders his progress as a receiver. At 6'1” and 212 pounds, Coates is blessed with a combination of speed and strength that reminds scouts of a young Michael Irvin. A downfield threat in a run heavy offense in college, Coates comes into the NFL as an unrefined and unpolished wide receiver.
In 35 career games, Coates has just 82 receptions for 1,757 yards, a 21.4 YPC average, and 13 TD's. His 27 receptions for 25 yards or more give him a big play rate of 33 percent, the highest rating amongst all wide receivers in this draft class. Martavis Bryant led all wide receivers last year with a big play rating of 38 percent, second place went to Mike Evans and Kelvin Benjamin at 23 percent.
While scouts and coaches can work on Coates' route running and ability to get in and out of his breaks, they do have major concerns over his ability to catch and hold onto the football. He had a drop rate of 19.1 percent for his career; he dropped one every nine passes targeted to him this past season.
Since it will take some time to develop and determine if he can be anything more than a deep-downfield threat similar to a Ted Ginn Jr., an NFL team's best option would be to hold off and select Coates late in the second day of the draft. He is a unique athlete who could develop into a solid number two wideout in the NFL.
Best of the rest:
11) Dorial Green-Beckham (Oklahoma)
12) Dezmin Lewis (Central Arkansas)
13) Vince Mayle (Washington State)
14) Breshad Perriman (UCF)
15) Kenny Bell (Nebraska)
16) Cam Worthy (East Carolina)
17) Stefon Diggs (Maryland)
18) Devante Davis (UNLV)
19) Tre McBride (William and Mary)
20) Ty Montgomery (Stanford)
Top NFL Draft prospects from the slot receiver position:
1) Tyler Lockett (Kansas State): Lockett, who was an All-American as a returner his freshman season, has developed into a dynamic wide receiver for the Wildcats. He has the speed to quickly get behind defenders and take the top off any defense. Lockett has the highest total of all-purpose yards of any wide receiver in this draft class with 6,591 yards; the second place finisher is Jamison Crowder with 5,600.
Lockett finished his career as the Kansas State all-time leader in career receptions, receiving yards, and touchdown receptions. In 47 career games, he had 249 receptions, 3.715 receiving yards, a 14.9 YPC average and 29 TD's.
At 5'10” and 182 pounds, Lockett is a classic short and quick wide receiver who is perfectly suited for the slot position in the NFL. An elite route runner capable of breaking a few defensive backs' ankles with his ability to cut and go, Lockett will thrive in today's NFL short and quick passing attack. With an average of 28.5 yards per kickoff return and recording six special team's touchdowns during his career, Lockett's ability as a returner will add instant value to any NFL roster.
Lockett never played with an accurate quarterback, yet he was still able to produce at a consistently high level throughout his career. If he is paired with a team that has stability and consistent play from the quarterback position, watch for Lockett to shine in the NFL.
2) Josh Harper (Fresno State): Fresno State lost a lot of weapons on offense after last season, most notably their starting quarterback and wide receiver, Derek Carr and Davante Adams who went to the NFL. They were still lucky enough to retain starting wide receiver, Josh Harper, who had over 1,000 receiving yards last season. At 6'1” and 191 pounds, Harper is the big-bodied, possession style receiver like Adams. Though he lacks the bulk, Harper is one of the most sure handed receivers in college football this season.
This season Harper has recorded 90 receptions for 1,097 yards, 12.2 YPC, seven TDs and was named first team all-conference. With defenses focusing on him, Harper's production on a per game basis stayed consistent throughout the season compared to last season when he teamed up with Adams and Carr.
Struggling with injuries during his first two seasons, Harper has been a consistent performer for the past two years. He is a bigger, more physical receiver in the slot than the traditional shorter and quicker type of player most are used to projecting. The Philadelphia Eagles used 6'4” rookie Jordan Matthews primarily out of the slot position, using his size to their advantage over smaller, nickel cornerbacks.
Harper is used to catching short passes close to the line of scrimmage; what scouts will like about Harper is his ability to catch the ball with his hands versus letting it into his body. He has a big catch radius and can snag a ball out in the air with one hand. With the early season success that Davante Adams had with the Packers, look for teams to give a second and possible third look at adding Harper a round earlier than expected.
3) Justin Hardy (East Carolina): Justin Hardy is a former walk-on wide receiver for East Carolina who went on to become not only the school's all-time leader in career receptions, but he is also the FBS all-time leader with 387 career receptions.
At 5'10” and 192 pounds, Hardy utilizes his ability to change direction at a high speed to gain separation; he is a good route-runner and is able to quickly get in and out of his breaks. Playing out of the slot, he does a good job of finding the holes in zone coverage and making himself available for his quarterback.
While Hardy had a difficult time catching passes at the Senior Bowl, scouts should refer back to his game tape where Hardy had a drop rate of just 3.1 percent last season.
In 50 career games played, Hardy recorded 387 receptions for 4.541 yards, 11.7 YPC average, 35 TD's and 233 first downs. Not a deep, downfield threat, he only recorded 24 receptions of 25 yards or more, giving him a big play rate of just 6 percent. He did have a 60 percent first down rate on all of his receptions.
Earlier this season Hardy was matched up against one of college football's top defensive backs, Virginia Tech's Kendall Fuller. Fuller bottled Hardy up after the first quarter. Fuller, who isn't draft eligible until the 2016 NFL Draft, was physically more dominant than Hardy at the line of scrimmage and routinely bumped him off his route.
Hardy is limited in terms of the number of routes he can run as he is mostly suited for a short to intermediate passing game and teams will be put off by his lack of size and strength. He can be a liability as a run blocker and has a hard time with more physical corners.
Hardy would do well in a creative offense that is able to get him into space, bring him in motion and understand his limitations. He is a reliable pass catcher capable of picking up a first down and helping his team move the chains.
4) Phillip Dorsett (Miami): There is an awful lot of talking about speed and quickness but sometimes all you need to do is just put on the tape of a player and you quickly realize that he is faster than everyone else on the field. Dorsett is one of those players, just give him an inch and he will take it a mile.
One of the NFL Combine stars this year, Dorsett posted one of the fastest 40-yard dash times of the year at an eye popping 4.33 seconds. At 5'10” and 185 pounds, he won't out-muscle a Richard Sherman or Patrick Peterson but he can run right by them if they don't get a hand on him.
Dorsett never really produced at an elite level. In 45 career games he had 121 receptions for 2,132 yards, a 17.6 YPC average and 17 TD's. He is ranked 8th amongst wide receivers in this draft with a big play rate of 24 percent, recording 29 receptions for 25 or more yards for his career.
Even with a smaller stature, Dorsett showed a willingness to work over the middle of the field and he is not opposed to contact. He will fight through contact and has the ability to shake a would-be tackler and pick up a few extra yards.
According to several scouts and coaches, they have compared Dorsett to a more team and teammate friendly Percy Harvin. Dorsett is a solid contributor who wants to help his team out in any capacity. His speed will get him drafted, but his abilities and work ethic are what will keep him in the league for a long time.
5) Jamison Crowder (Duke): The ACC all-time leader in receptions, Crowder is another small in stature receiver with a quick first step that gets him the separation that he needs to make the catch. It is no surprise to find out that Crowder is 5'8” and 185 pounds, but he is built from the same mold as Tavon Austin and Brandin Cooks, two former first round selections.
While Crowder is consistently looking to make the big play, in some cases he would be better suited to simply run straight versus looking to run east and west. Crowder is a good route runner who will have spent his entire college career playing in a pro-style offense for Duke Head Coach David Cutcliff, one of the better talent developers in college football.
In 52 career games, Crowder recorded 283 receptions for 3,641 yards, 23 TD's, 152 first downs, and four punt returns for touchdowns.
While Crowder won't be a first round selection as was Austin and Cooks, he can be a valuable impact player at the next level. He has tremendous value as a punt returner and a skilled possession receiver. Similar to an Andrew Hawkins, he can play the slot position and add tremendous depth to a receiving core. While he didn't turn any heads at the combine in terms of measurables, Crowder has dominated college football during the past couple of seasons and that should be enough to impress scouts.
Best of the rest:
6) Antwan Goodley (Baylor)
7) Mario Alford (West Virginia)
8) Donatella Lukett (Harding)
9) Chris Harper (Cal)
10) Tony Lippett (Michigan State)
|Bessire: WR Ranks and Projections|
|Bessire: RB Ranks and Projections|