With offenses turning more into an aerial assault, teams are looking for playmakers at wide receiver as much as they ever have. There have been some elite prospects in recent years like AJ Green and Julio Jones last season, but there may not be a player in that category this season. Still, there are many talented prospects, including as many as five that could go in the first round.
Oklahoma State's Justin Blackmon is the headliner this year. He may lack the imposing size or blistering speed to rank as a true elite prospect, but he does everything else at a very high level and will be an immediate contributor in the NFL. He has good size and speed, but what jumps out at you once you start watching him on the field, is his athleticism. He is a great athlete with tremendous body control. He can make the impossible catch with ease, and plays much bigger than his 6'1 200lb frame suggests. He is as good as they come at adjusting to the ball in the air, and will be a threat vertically and in the red zone because of that skill. He's also a refined route runner, with great hands, and has the toughness to go across the middle of the field. Blackmon would be a great weapon for the Rams to consider with the sixth overall pick, to get Sam Bradford a go to weapon in the passing game.
Michael Floyd of Notre Dame may be the next wide out of the board. Whereas Blackmon may not standout when you see him standing on the sideline, Floyd definitely does. He has fantastic size at 6'3 220lbs, and brings standout athleticism and speed to the position as well. From a physical standpoint, he definitely has an edge on Blackmon. Floyd's combination of size and ball skills will make him a mismatch in the red zone, and provides a huge target over the middle of the field. Floyd's size does give him some issues coming in and out of breaks on his routes, which is something he will have to fine tune at the next level. The biggest questions facing Floyd are of the off the field variety, as he has had multiple alcohol related issues while at Notre Dame. He does not appear to be a head case but he will still need to see how serious a problem it is. The Dolphins or Bills could be potential destinations in the top ten, but he may slide a bit further than that on draft day.
Baylor's Kendall Wright is the complete opposite of Blackmon and Floyd. He is a big play waiting to happen. His speed and quickness are top notch. Wright is as explosive as any wideout in the draft, and a threat to score any time he touches the ball. He has the speed to simply run by corners, but also the elusiveness and acceleration to make people miss in the open field. He lacks the size to be a consistent threat over the middle of the field, but he is a big play threat on the outside. Wright ran a disappointing 40 time at the combine(4.61), but bounced back with a more appropriate(mid 4.4) at his pro day. Regardless of his timed speed, there is no question about his ability on the field. He should come off the board at some point in the final third of round one.
Alshon Jeffery of South Carolina has been one of the bigger names at the receiver position since his freshman season. His size and natural athleticism has made him a complete mismatch at the college level, and had him on NFL radars for years. That combination should make him a tremendous possession threat in the NFL, both as an intermediate weapon and in the red zone. He shows the athleticism and leaping ability to go up and get the ball in the air at its highest point, and there aren't many corners in college or the NFL that will be able to match up with that. The obvious questions with Jeffery stem from his actual speed and quickness. He doesn't show a burst in and out of his breaks, which raises questions about his ability get separation in the NFL. Jeffery did have an impressive showing at his pro day to ease some of those concerns, but game tape speaks more loudly. Those questions have pushed him down to the end of the first round, possibly even the early second round. He is still a very good prospect however, because of his ability as a possession receiver and red zone target.
Georgia Tech's Stephen Hill has unfairly been drawing comparisons to former Jacket WR Calvin Johnson since his stepped on campus. While arguably the most talented wide receiver in this draft class, he pales in comparison to Johnson on every level. Hill has fantastic size(6'4 215) and speed(4.36), and it's obvious on film. He is a great weapon vertically down the field with his ability to quickly cover ground to get down field, but also the ability to go up and get the football. All the physical tools are there to be a standout in the NFL. As you would expect in a run heavy offense, Hill lacks a lot of polish. He needs to refine his route running skills, he doesn't have much experience finding open spaces, and his hands need work. Hill is a big time project, but has the skills that few receivers possess, and because of that, he will be drafted very highly on draft day. Don't be surprised to see him crack the end of the first round, but he's better value in the early second.
LSU's Reuben Randle is another talented receiver in the possession mold. He has a sturdy frame at 6'3 210, and good enough speed(4.55) to get down field on occasion to make plays. Randle has very good hands, and is willing to go over the middle to make the grab while receiving a hit. That ability along with his size, will make him a very good intermediate weapon at the next level. He really doesn't have the quickness to be much of a threat with the ball in his hands, but he shown the ability to get down the field and make some plays. Randle lacks the upside of the guys above him, but he is a dependable receiver who can definitely have an impact in the NFL.
Brian Quick of Appalachian State is the top small school receiver available this year. His blend of physical tools would stand out anywhere, but are clearly a cut above at the FCS level. He has excellent size at almost 6'4 and 220lbs. Quick's athleticism also jumps out at you after you see a few snaps, and he has the ability to make some really difficult catches with ease. He also shows decent speed for a player his size, but takes a bit to reach top speed. He will need to work on his footwork and quickness in and out of his cuts, as well as adjusting to the huge jump in talent but the physical tools are there to play in the NFL. Someone that falls in love with his potential could call his name in the second round.
Illinois' AJ Jenkins has been a steady riser throughout the season and post season. Jenkins had a huge season this year, establishing himself as a legitimate prospect for the 2012 draft. His height and all around skills were attractive, but there were some questions about his speed. After blazing a sub 4.4 at the combine, many have been left wondering if he's an even bigger playmaker than they thought. Jenkins does have solid height, but is on the lean side and will have to bulk up to better handle the physical demands of the NFL. But he shows the hands, quickness, and toughness to make plays all over the field. Jenkins has the quickness to get off the line the speed to get down the field and be a vertical threat. He's shown quick feet and smooth route running skills to get open over the middle of the field. His hands are top notch, and he's not afraid to take a hit. He probably will not be a real explosive playmaker in the NFL, but he will be able to make plays while still providing a solid, dependable target for his QB. He could hear his name called in the second round on draft day.
North Carolina's Dwight Jones could emerge as one of the surprises in this draft. His combination of physical tools rivals many of the bigger receivers that will be selected ahead of him. He stands 6'3 230lbs, and ran a 4.55 at the combine. His size makes you think of strictly a possession receiver, but he is gifted as a vertical threat. He has better speed than most players his size, and shows the ability to locate the ball in the air and the athleticism to go up and get it. Jones has shown the ability to go over the middle and take a hit, but will need more work on refining his route running skills because he's been used as more of a playmaker than a possession guy. Jones appears to be flying under the radar, but part of that is his own doing. He ran into some trouble based on a party that was being thrown with him advertising it. That ultimately resulted in him being banned from UNC's pro day, which left him to conduct his own workout. Only one scout showed up. Jones has the tools to be a playmaker and possession receiver in the NFL, and could really surprise once in the league. He has the skills of a second rounder, but will most likely be selected in the middle rounds on draft day.
Mohamed Sanu of Rutgers is yet another bigger wide receiver that profiles best as a possession type receiver. Sanu simply does not have great speed and that is going to hinder his upside at the next level. But he does have some skills that do project well to the next level. Sanu is 6'2 210lbs, and is an impressive athlete. He has surprisingly quick feet and some elusiveness for a player his size, and has even lined up as a wildcat QB for Rutgers. He also has the natural athleticism, leaping ability, and ball skills to go up and get the football, which will make him a threat in the red zone. Sanu is an intelligent kid that works hard as well. He may lack the explosive speed to ever be a big playmaker at the NFL level, but he has the skills to be a dependable receiving weapon, with the ability to make some plays underneath and in the red zone.
Oklahoma's Ryan Broyles could be another steal in the middle rounds of the draft. Broyles was one of the college football's best players until an ACL injury ended his career prematurely. While he was not considered an elite pro prospect before the draft, he was the prototypical slot man that would've been a great second round selection. He plays a lot like Wes Welker, with his fearlessness over the middle, his hands, and his playmaking ability despite ideal straightline speed. If he's healthy and regains his quickness, Broyles will be a factor for his team in the NFL. Definitely a name to watch on the third day of the draft.
The wideout position is a spot where teams can find great value later in the draft. Florida International's T.Y. Hilton, NC St.'s TJ Graham, and the Arkansas duo of Joe Adams and Jarius Wright are all big time players with speed to burn, but their lack of ideal size may limit them at the next level. Nick Toon(Wisconsin), Marvin McNutt(Iowa), Tommie Streeter(Miami), DeVier Posey(Ohio St) and Marvin Jones(Cal) are guys that have the size and some all around skills to develop in the NFL, but don't stand out in one area. Juron Criner(Arizona), Jeff Fuller(Texas AM), and Gerrell Robinson(Arizona St.) are big guys that have some potential as possession receivers, but have speed questions that limited their upside.