Jack Murray-Brinckman > DEEP POSTS
Our football writers give their unconventional – and occasionally obsessively detailed – take on recent happenings in the pigskin world.
Ranking and Reviewing the Wide Receivers of the 2014 NFL Draft.
EDITOR’S NOTE: We’re happy to introduce Jack Murray-Brinckman, a huge NFL aficionado, who, like TFQ’s Blair Miller considers the NFL draft an obsessive passion-hobby… a pobsessby, if you will. (We won’t.) Jack offered to give our readers a look at this year’s wider receiver class of the 2014 Draft, arguably the deepest WR class the league has seen in many years. In this new up-tempo, passing oriented NFL, the position gathers new importance with every passing draft, so this is a must-read for all you pigskin geeks.
The 2014 NFL draft is widely regarded as one of the strongest drafts in years, and a big reason for that is the tremendous group of wide receivers. While there might not be a Calvin Johnson type at the top, what makes this such a strong class is its excellent depth and the variety and quality of wide receivers available that will go in the first 3 rounds. After an offseason of information-gathering and tape study, here are my rankings of the top 15 players at the position, along with a write-up that reviews the receivers that make up each grouping.
(Height and weight taken from each player’s combine profile page.)
1. Mike Evans, Texas A&M (6’5”, 231lbs)
2. Sammy Watkins, Clemson (6’1”, 211lbs)
Mike Evans and Sammy Watkins are 1A and 1B at the top of the class. Both players rate a little lower than Julio Jones and AJ Green did a couple of years ago, but both guys should go in the top 10 and develop into Pro Bowlers.
Evans is a physical beast. He possesses elite size, has a 7-foot wingspan, and showed off a 40” vertical jump during his sports science taping with ESPN (39” at the combine). That gives him a ridiculous catch radius only slightly less than the freak that is Calvin Johnson. Along with his fantastic catch radius, he plays the game with elite toughness, never gives up on a play, and has some of the best hands in the draft. While he doesn’t possess elite speed, his 4.53 in the 40 was still great for a man of his size. He’s a tremendous deep threat thanks to his ability to just go up and get the football. He’s also able to dominate on jump balls in the red zone and should be a touchdown machine. His size, toughness and hands make him a great target over the middle as well, and his surprising elusiveness and strength makes him a great run after the catch threat. However, he did not run a full route tree at Texas A&M and some question whether he’ll be able to gain separation on defensive backs in the NFL due to his raw route running. But looking at the complete package, he’s the best wide receiver prospect in this draft given that route running is the one thing that a receiver can develop after turning pro.
Sammy Watkins is a completely different type of player. One of my concerns with him as a top 10 pick is that he doesn’t really have a comparison with a pro, though a bigger Percy Harvin might be the best description. He’s got solid size, has legitimate 4.4 speed, and is an absolutely electric player in the open field who’s a dynamic run after the catch threat. He’s going to need a creative offensive mind to get him the ball in the open field though, and that’s why I have him rated second to Mike Evans. The majority of his catches in college came on screens – that’s not going to happen in most NFL offences – and he doesn’t have the size or leaping ability to be much of a jump ball threat. But in the right situation he can be a star, and he probably has the most upside of any wide receiver in the draft.
3. Cody Latimer, Indiana (6’2”, 215lbs)
Cody Latimer might have the most helium of any prospect in this draft. He didn’t get the attention that a lot of the other guys on this list did during his college career, but when you break down his physical talents, and then go back and watch his tape, it’s pretty clear that he might have the most all-around ability of any receiver in this draft. He’s got good size at 6’2”, 215lbs, has very good speed being timed in the 4.4s at his pro day (he didn’t run at the combine due to injury), is a fantastic all-around athlete and has the combination of great hands, polished route running and toughness that perhaps no other prospect in this draft can claim. He can really do it all so don’t be surprised if he’s drafted ahead of some of the more well known receivers rated below.
4. Marqise Lee, USC (6’ 192lbs)
Heading into the season Lee was rated by most as the top wide receiver in the draft. Mel Kiper even had him as the 3rd-best prospect in college after DE Jadaveon Clowney and QB Terry Bridgewater. During his dominant year in 2012 he looked like the second coming of Jerry Rice, but everything fell apart for him in 2013 when injuries, poor chemistry with his QB, and dropped passes caused his stock to sink. He then measured a little smaller than expected at the combine, and he failed to bust out the 4.4/40 many expected (he officially clocked 4.52), but Lee is a dynamic player with the ball; he’s electric after the catch, and he knows how to get open with tremendous route running, body control, and savvy. The dropped passes last year are troubling, but just looking at what he did in 2012 should be enough to make him a first round pick.
4. Brandin Cooks, Oregon State (5’10”, 189lbs)
5. Odell Beckham Jr., LSU (5’11”, 198lbs)
6. Martavis Bryant, Clemson (6’4”, 211lbs)
Beckham Jr. and Brandin Cooks are both undersized guys who are electric with the ball and have the speed to beat NFL cornerbacks deep. Beckham Jr. has a bit more size and strength, while Cooks could be the fastest player at his position in the entire NFL the moment he is drafted. While both guys lack size, they both display the toughness and desire to be more than the #3 slot guys their physique would suggest. As a great testament to the strength of this draft, both guys are likely mid- to late 1st round picks despite grading as better prospects than last years #8 overall pick Tavon Austin.
Bryant is a different breed. While overshadowed at Clemson by Sammy Watkins, and victimized by being a misfit in an offense that revolved around an inaccurate QB in Tajh Boyd, Bryant has as much raw talent as any player in this draft. Despite his outstanding size, Bryant actually timed faster than his electric teammate Watkins with an official 4.42/40 at the combine. He’s a rare athlete for his size, showing the fluidity and leaping ability to be a force in every aspect of the passing game. He needs some refinement, but he looks to be a high 2nd rounder with the upside to be a major steal.
THE #2 RECEIVERS
8. Allen Robinson, Penn State (6’2”, 220lbs)
9. Paul Richardson, Colorado (6”, 175lbs)
10. Davante Adams, Fresno State (6’1”, 212lbs)
Robinson, Richardson, and Adams all bring something a little different to the table, but all appear to be safe bets to be starters at the next level. Robinson has great size, and is a smooth athlete who runs crisp routes and catches the ball well. He doesn’t like to give up his body to make the catch, doesn’t block, and lacks the elite speed to beat NFL cornerbacks deep, but he should step in as a starter right away and provide solid production. Richardson is an electric athlete with great hands whose only real downside is a serious knee injury in 2012, and the lack of bulk to be more than a secondary weapon. Adams may lack some of the elite qualities of the other two guys in this grouping, but he knows how to get open, catch the ball and make a play. All 3 guys should go in round 2.
11. Donte Moncrief, Mississippi (6’2”, 221lbs)
12. Jordan Matthews, Vanderbilt (6’3”, 212lbs)
13. Kelvin Benjamin, FSU (6’5”, 240lbs)
Moncrief, Matthews, and Benjamin all possess elite combinations of size and athleticism, but all have major issues catching the ball. These guys are the real wild cards of the draft; any of them could sneak into the first round if a team falls in love with their potential, but any of them could also slide to the 3rd round if teams are scared away by their issues and choose to go with some of the safer bets of the grouping above.
THE 3RD ROUND STEALS
14. Bruce Ellington, South Carolina (5’9”, 197lbs)
15. Jarvis Landry, LSU (5’11”, 205lbs)
Ellington and Landry are 2 guys I really like as third round steals. Ellington is an elite athlete whose only real drawback is lack of height. He might end up being more of a slot guy and returner, but he appears to have a lot of the same traits that Steve Smith had as a prospect and plays much bigger than his size. Landry is a guy who has a flair for making the spectacular grab. He has pedestrian size and athleticism, but has the savvy and route running to get open, and the hands, body control, and toughness to lay his body on the line to make the highlight catch. They might never be stars, but both guys have a good chance at developing into solid top 3 wide receivers in the NFL.
Keep an eye out later today for TGQ’s Jerkules NFL Mock Draft Podcast – here at TFQ!