With the league becoming so pass oriented, receivers more than ever are expected to come in and contribute. Last year had many instances of that. No rookie receiver last year had more impact on his team than Keenan Allen. With a surprising 1,000 yard season, right out the gate, Allen figures to be a focal point of the Chargers offense for years to come. Tavon Austin was the first receiver off the board and came in with ridiculous expectations. While the Rams offense wasn’t as creative utilizing him as they could, Austin still showed on multiple occasions the game breaking ability he has. Cordarrelle Patterson showed electrifying playmaking ability in the return game and figures to grow as a receiver in year two. Others such as DeAndre Hopkins, Terrence Williams and Aaron Dobson also showed numerous flashes in their rookie seasons.
As impressive as that class was right away, it’s scary to think that this one has even more depth. It is possible that there could be as many as six receivers selected in the first round with plenty of talent remaining in the remaining rounds. For that reason, I differed from my usual rankings of ten adding two more players. All 12 players mentioned could end up be selected by the end of day two. While teams all have their individual preferences for prospects, chances are they’ll likely reap the benefits of whoever they choose having an immediate impact.
1. Sammy Watkins, Clemson: Watkins is the best receiver prospect to enter the draft since 2011 which featured both A.J. Green and Julio Jones. Not only does he have track speed, but it translates into his play and unlike so many young receivers, Watkins already catches naturally with his hands. One thing that he truly excels at his creating after the catch. Many times at Clemson, Watkins was on the receiving end of screens and would turn a two yard gain into one for 15 or 20.
Like many young receivers, Watkins could expand on his route tree as he did not have to run very sophisticated routes at Clemson. Overall, Watkins has the playmaking ability that only comes around once every few drafts. He comes into the NFL as a hybrid between Torrey Smith and Cordarrelle Patterson but is still far from a finished product. Despite this being a very deep receiver class, Watkins will most certainly be (and deservingly so) a top ten if not top five pick this draft.
2. Mike Evans, Texas A&M: Checking in at 6’5 231 pounds, you would probably think that Evans was a basketball player at first guess. Well, that’s because he was playing only one year of varsity high school football before becoming Johnny Manziel’s favorite target the past two years. Evans is not only capable of just going up and getting balls over defensive backs, he is also physical in terms of yards after the catch. Evans is far from a finished product as he is still very raw in terms of route running and other elements essential to a receivers long term success. The scary thing is that despite still being very raw, Evans is already this good. Like Watkins, he should be a top ten pick in this draft and if he’s completely dedicated to perfecting his craft, the sky is the limit on his potential.
3. Odell Beckham, LSU: If you were to watch highlights of all the receivers in this draft class, there isn’t a receiver that makes more “wow” plays than Beckham. Despite being 5’11, Beckham excels at climbing up to get the ball at its highest point over defenders. Along with that, he is very impressive in terms of after the catch ability. For that and his experience at LSU, he will help be a huge boost in the return game for whichever team selects him. Like many young receivers, Beckham could improve as a route runner and become more consistent, but is one of if not the most advanced route runner in this class. With that being said, his talent will just be too much for a team to pass up in the first round.
4. Brandin Cooks, Oregon State: Despite being the only dynamic weapon in Oregon State’s offense and at times facing double and triple teams, Cooks had a monster 2013. For the season he had video game numbers along the lines of 128 catches for 1,730 yards and 16 touchdowns. Checking in at 5’10 189 pounds, Cooks mainly thrived on his elusiveness after the catch at Oregon State. On many occasions, he would take shorter screen passes and turn them into much bigger gains.
With his size, one major concern will be how he plays if he is jammed at the line of scrimmage. While teams cannot have enough players with Cooks’ game breaking ability, defenses are now trying to find bigger and physical corners along the lines of a Richard Sherman. Cooks has some Antonio Brown traits in his game, and should have an immediate impact as a slot receiver. After a few years of that, he has the potential in which he blossoms into a legitimate option on the outside similar to the way Brown did.
5. Kelvin Benjamin, Florida State: Benjamin is one of the more intriguing talents in this entire draft. At 6’5 240 pounds, he is the size of Calvin Johnson but does not possess the same speed. For that reason, I think there is a very good chance a team that takes Benjamin would use him in a manner similar to how the Saints use Jimmy Graham. He possesses very good jump ball ability but could use improvement in terms of getting in and out of his breaks.
Another negative I noticed was that he tended to have concentration drops. There were multiple drops Benjamin had (see his game this past year against Florida) in which he started thinking of turning up field before securing the ball. While the highlights and physical traits would make many think Benjamin could be a number one receiver, that will come with time. For the first few years of his career, he would be best served as a matchup nightmare in the slot while continuing to develop the finer points of the receiver position.
6. Marqise Lee, USC: Entering the year, Lee looked like a top 15 pick but the rise of other receivers, nagging injuries and inconsistent quarterback play can change things. Despite the negatives, Lee still has the same skills that had so many high on him in the first place. He is one of the better route runners in this class, has shown the ability to create after the catch and has also shown off big play ability in the return game. Lee also plays faster than he has been timed, but the main thing that could hurt his draft stock is durability questions. This past year, Lee dealt with shoulder, knee and leg injuries and the physical toll only gets tougher at the next level. Despite all this, he should still be selected either in the late first round or early round two in what’s an extremely deep receiver class.
7. Cody Latimer, Indiana: Unable to work out at the combine, Latimer has been a huge beneficiary of the individual workouts and the time leading up to the draft. Due to wowing at workouts and draftniks going back to review tape, Latimer has been receiving a ton of buzz these last few months. At 6’2 215 pounds, with 4.4 wheels, Latimer displays the ideal build of what teams are looking for in a receiver. For a receiver, he has very good strength (which translates well after the catch) and his basketball past is evident in his play. There are many occasions in which he will “box out” a defensive back to get the ball. While he is still a raw prospect, Latimer has enough physical gifts and has shown enough on tape that he could develop into a very good starting receiver in the league. Look for him to be drafted as early as late in the first round or somewhere in the second.
8. Jordan Matthews, Vanderbilt: Every draft has players with NFL bloodlines, but it’s not every year that we come across a receiver whose cousin is Jerry Rice. Matthews was a four year starter at Vanderbilt and left the school as the SEC’s career leader in both receptions and receiving yards. At 6’3 212 pounds, Matthews may be the most polished receiver in terms of getting in and out of his breaks. He is willing to go over the middle and has deceptive speed. Of all these prospects, it’s possible that Matthews has the highest floor out of all them as at the worst he should be a solid number two option in a West Coast scheme. It speaks to the depth of this receiver class as Matthews would probably figure to be one of the first three or four receivers off the board in most years. Instead, he will most likely be selected at some point on day two.
9. Allen Robinson, Penn State: Like a Jordan Matthews, Robinson would be one of the first receivers off the board in a normal draft year. At 6’2 220 pounds, Robinson has experience running pro style routes and is excellent at creating after the catch (his touchdown against Ohio State this past year is a thing of beauty). Robinson played basketball in high school and it shows in his game. He is very good at making adjustments to the ball and has fantastic body control when he’s in the air. Looking at what he has to offer, Robinson may be one of the most underrated receivers in this class. When needed, he can be used as a possession receiver or as a threat vertically or in the red-zone along with the ability to create after the catch. Considering he’s likely to be selected at some point on day two, Robinson has the potential to be one of the bigger steals in this entire draft.
10. Donte Moncrief, Mississippi: If you’re into evaluating receivers based on their size/speed ratio, than Moncrief is the prospect for you. At 6’2 221 pounds with 4.40 speed and a 39.5 inch vertical, Moncrief has all the physical attributes to become a number one receiver at the next level. While he is established an ability to create after the catch, Moncrief and his rare skill set is far from a finished product.
He could improve as a route runner and also become more of a natural hands catcher as there are times he would often catch with his body. For someone of Moncrief’s size, he did not play as physical as one would hope but that is something that could develop with time. Overall, Moncrief has a set of gifts that is only seen every three or four drafts. It shows how talented he is that in this deep a class many analysts despite being so raw have him ranked as a top five receiver in this draft. If Moncrief goes to a team that can use him as a vertical threat while also teaching the nuances of that would turn him into a complete receiver, the potential is limitless.
11. Jarvis Landry, LSU: Entering the draft process, there were a good amount of analysts who had Landry as their preferred LSU wide receiver over Odell Beckham. So what dropped Landry down this far? A lot of it has to do with the 4.77 40 yard dash time he ran at the combine and got hurt in the process. However, each year there are always players who fall in the draft for little reasons even though the talent is evident (Andre Ellington is an example from last year), and Landry could be that guy.
He is already a solid route runner, catches cleanly with his hands and is willing to go over the middle. Along with that, Landry has experience lining up outside or in the slot and has the ability to go up and get the ball at the highest point and make spectacular catches. While the lack of top-end speed could lead him to struggle against corners at the next level, Landry has the ability to excel right away as a sure handed possession receiver with the ability to also be effective in the slot.
12. Davante Adams, Fresno State: The stats from the two seasons Adams played at Fresno State look like something out of a video game. In those two years, Adams accumulated a ridiculous 233 receptions for 3,030 yards and 38 touchdowns. Yet another prospect with a basketball background, Adams uses his frame to pluck balls out of the air and has very good anticipation when it comes to jump balls. During his time at Fresno State, he was used often on screens and short passes where he displayed an ability to create after the catch as well. There are some similar attributes to players such as Michael Crabtree and Hakeem Nicks in Adams’ game. For that reason, it wouldn’t be surprising if the team that takes him on day two gets a player who will contribute immediately.
2014 class grade: A