Usually I like recapping some of the top players from the previous years draft before looking at those in the current one. However, there just isn’t enough time to discuss this for the 2014 class of receivers. By now you know all about Odell Beckham Jr., Mike Evans, Sammy Watkins and Kelvin Benjamin. That doesn’t even include the second group of guys who either were immediate contributors or could be huge factors in years to come.
For an encore, we as fans somehow got another extremely talented receiver class. Of the 12 players mentioned, seven of them in my opinion would classify as talents worthy of first round selections. The others should all still be selected relatively high and this isn’t even including the other options available at the position. Regardless, this group of receivers will be interesting to follow closely in the draft and throughout their playing careers.
1. Amari Cooper, Alabama: Entering his junior year, Cooper was asked to take on a huge role for the Crimson Tide in 2014 and boy did he deliver. Cooper recorded 124 catches for over 1,700 yards and 16 touchdowns while showing he has the potential to be a big-time threat for years to come. In a more pro-style offense, he was asked to run routes that would be found in an NFL route-tree which will help his learning curve early on.
While he may not be known for it, Cooper has big play threat capabilities as he showed the burst to get by defenders and sell routes to create openings. One route where he showed particular skill at doing this was on the deep post (for an example of this, watch his game against Auburn this past year). Cooper also catches naturally with his hands and is willing to go into traffic if necessary.
Like many young receivers, Cooper will need to continue refining his route running. There were instances where it appeared he either broke off or adjusted his route. While that may not be a huge deal at the college level, it would lead a quarterback targeting Cooper vulnerable to interceptions in those cases. Even with that being said, he’s the safest receiver in this very deep class and figures to be at least a top ten pick.
2. Kevin White, West Virginia: The battle of Cooper vs. White for the billing of top receiving prospect is one of the tougher debates in this draft for me. What isn’t up for debate is that White offers the most upside of any receiver in this class. At 6’3” 215 pounds with 4.3 speed not many prospects come along with White’s physical gifts. It’s even rarer for them to have spent two years in the junior college ranks. While it took time adjusting to West Virginia in 2013, White broke onto the national scene in 2014.
Despite West Virginia in recent years producing some players that may have been products of their spread system, White looks like the real deal. He high points balls in the air, will fight in traffic and is also very tough to bring down in the open field. The giant improvements he made from 2013 to 2014 also show a willingness to put the work in to continue improving his craft.
Aside from the polish and possible “one year wonder” stigmas, there isn’t much of a difference between White and Cooper as receiver prospects. For ranking purposes, I sided with Cooper as I feel he is more of a “sure thing” in what turned into a 1A and 1B scenario. But whoever takes White (most likely in the top ten) should end up with a heck of a player.
3. DeVante Parker, Louisville: While he isn’t getting the hype of Cooper or White, Parker is a very good receiving prospect in his own right. He has good size, can find openings in the middle, shows great body control on deep passes and also was extremely sure-handed plucking balls out of the air.
Teams may be scared off by the foot surgery that caused Parker to miss the first half of his senior year. Along with that, he will also never probably be mistaken for a great run blocker during his career. But if a team focuses on the positive, they’ll see Parker is a player that figures to come in and be a big contributor right away.
4. Breshad Perriman, UCF: No receiver in this class may have been a bigger beneficiary of hype leading up to the draft than Perriman. Teams and analysts alike seemed to be buying in on him, but it took a pro day where he was clocked anywhere from the 4.1-4.2 range to really pick up steam. For a receiver of his stature (6’2” 212), Perriman gets out of his breaks very quickly and it results in him consistently getting separation against corners. The ability to track deep balls along with creating after the catch is also there. While some have questioned Perriman’s hands due to some drops, he has shown an ability to consistently make difficult catches. That aspect is something that could be worked on at the next level with coaches and work in the offseason as it may just be a concentration issue.
He could become a more complete route runner and at times hurt his quarterback by waiting for the ball rather than coming back. If I had to compare Perriman to a current receiver in the league, it would be Torrey Smith. The players are similar in size and both display unique speed to take the top off of a defense. While the talk of drops could be something that’s looked on in a “don’t say you weren’t warned” way, Perriman should be a contributor almost right away and will likely hear his name called on the draft’s first day.
5. Jaelen Strong, Arizona State: Despite two very productive years at Arizona State, Strong is still learning the receiver position. A former high school basketball player, Strong has good size at 6’2” 217 pounds and had an impressive combine clocking a 4.44 forty time and a 42” vertical. In what could be a result of the basketball background, Strong showed a strong ability to track the ball in the air. He displayed physicality as he was frequently asked to go over the middle or create after the catch.
Due to being on the rawer side, Strong still could use some work on creating separation from defensive backs, and his route running. While his timed speed impressed at the combine, he appears to be more of a long strider so defenders don’t really fear him beating them in that regard. Strong should be able to contribute to a team rather quickly, but if he goes to a team where he can refine the nuances of the position, he should be a very good starting receiver at the next level.
6. Phillip Dorsett, Miami (FL): If you only looked at the 36 receptions, you’d be hard pressed to believe why Dorsett is getting potential first round buzz. But when you see he averaged 24 yards per catch to go with ten touchdowns, the picture is a little clearer as Dorsett has the speed and separation skills to be a very valuable player. He has the ability to play both on the outside and the slot, and his speed isn’t just used for deep balls either. Dorsett showed a knack for creating after the catch due to his ability to stop and start at top speed almost instantly, which also helps him find openings in coverage such as zones.
At this time, Dorsett is still raw as a route runner mainly due to relying so much on his speed (but who would blame him?). Due to being on the smaller side, some will also have questions about if he could sustain playing in the slot at the next level. In the end though, with defenses having less and less they can do to stop a receiver, Dorsett has two of the main traits you could want. Those traits would be speed and separation. If he can improve his route running, Dorsett should be a treat to watch for some time.
7. Dorial Green-Beckham, Oklahoma: Green-Beckham is one of if not the toughest prospect to evaluate in this entire draft. The skill is certainly there, but multiple off the field issues (leading to him not even playing in 2014) means that a fall into day two or day three wouldn’t be too surprising. For that reason alone, I have him more in the middle of my rankings as a way to neutralize both the positive and negative.
At 6’5” and 237 pounds, Green-Beckham has received comparisons to Calvin Johnson. If you don’t factor in that Johnson as a prospect ran over a tenth of a second faster in the 40, had an eight inch advantage in the vertical and didn’t come into the league with an alleged case of shoving a woman down stairs, you could see some similar traits. He’s a physically imposing receiver with fantastic body control on jump balls, but also can win in traffic going over the middle. Green-Beckham is also a natural hands catcher who can also take it into a second gear when he needs to on his routes or running from defenders.
Like so many entering the league, Green-Beckham will need to improve as a route runner. At times when playing at Missouri he could get sloppy on his routes, and didn’t always maximize the chances to find openings in coverages. The rest of Green-Beckham’s negatives really come down to him. The top 15 talent is very apparent, but it all comes down to what team feels comfortable taking a chance and if Green-Beckham is willing to dedicate himself to be the player he’s capable of becoming.
8. Tyler Lockett, Kansas State: In a deep class of receivers, it is inevitable that at least a player or two will be drafted later than they should. There is a chance that Lockett could be one of those guys. At 5’10” 182 pounds, Lockett isn’t the biggest option but he is shifty in space and just kept on finding ways to get open at Kansas State. For a receiver at this stage, he appears to be an advanced route runner and also has shown tendencies to make huge plays in both the passing and return games.
Lockett could have difficulty up against more physical corners and there are also questions about if his frame could be an issue going over the middle. As we’ve seen over the years, teams tend to nitpick at things like that and it could end up proving costly. We’re also in an era where receivers of similar stature to Lockett such as Antonio Brown have become dominant players. With the likelihood of being selected on the draft’s second day, Lockett has the chance to be a very good value as someone who figures to contribute immediately.
9. Nelson Agholor, USC: If the last two drafts with Robert Woods and Marqise Lee showed us anything, we basically know the components of the USC receiver starter pack. They’re going to be polished route runners, in the 6’0” to 6’1” range while being quicker than they are fast. Not surprisingly, Agholor checks off all those boxes. But despite the previous two both going in the second round and playing in the league to this point with mixed results, Agholor is getting some late talk as a first round pick.
Agholor does show natural hands and the ability to create after the catch which might be attributed to having played running back in high school. That after the catch ability is why some view him as a potential standout as a punt returner He does have trouble at times separating from more physical corners and should improve more as a slot receiver to increase his versatility. Agholor has the foundation to be a solid pro, but if taken in the first round it might be hard for him to live up to that billing.
10. Devin Smith, Ohio State: Smith is yet another receiver who fits the mold of the speed/separation combo that I mentioned when discussing Phillip Dorsett. Like Dorsett, Smith has game-changing speed as he averaged a ridiculous 28.2 yards a catch this past season. For that alone, he is worth a selection in day two of the draft. At this time though, he could still use seasoning in terms of becoming more of a hands catcher and expanding his route tree.
Regardless of where he ends up, Smith has the potential to swing games with his big play ability. It is just up to that team and Smith if they want to develop into more complete receivers. If he does expand his route running, he could become one of the better values at the receiver position in this draft.
11. Devin Funchess, Michigan: The main question with Funchess is over whether he is a receiver or a tight end. Regardless, if used correctly he could be a matchup nightmare. At 6’4” and 232 pounds, Funchess has experience at both positions and could end up being utilized how I felt Kelvin Benjamin would. That would be in the slot matched up either against smaller corners or linebackers who can’t run with him.
Ironically, Funchess has a lot of similar traits to Benjamin. They’re both physical players who can go over the middle or get the ball at the highest point. But like Benjamin, Funchess’ flaws as a prospect are also similar. There are concerns with drops and also faces questions about his speed. Regardless, someone will take a shot on him in day two. Chances are that where Funchess lands will be a big determining factor in how his career turns out.
12. Rashad Greene, Florida State: It seems odd that the most reliable receiver for the likely number one pick in the draft flies under the radar, but Greene has managed to do it. At Florida State he showed the ability to play both outside and in the slot, constantly coming up big at crucial moments. Greene shows very good awareness of where he is on the field whether it is to find openings or to get his feet down in bounds for a catch. It is also worth noting that Greene displayed great hands his senior year dropping only one ball thrown his way, which is a big decrease from his junior season.
His slender build could have teams concerned about his ability to play the slot, but Greene figures to be a very good value later in day two or early day three for whatever team choses him.
2015 Class Grade: A