Profiling the Wide Receiver Class

At the beginning of the college season, it’s fair to say most of us viewed the 2013 wide receiver class with a certain amount of trepidation. At first glance, this was a group of largely underwhelming prospects and the overall impression was that any team looking to address the position during the early stages of April’s draft was likely to be left somewhat dissatisfied with the talent on offer.

Keen observers will know all too well however that, when it comes to the draft, things are never set in stone and attitudes and opinions can often shift rapidly as the season progresses. In the case of the wide receiver class this year, that has most certainly been evident and, since September, a number of prospects at the position have stepped up in a big way, to establish themselves as legitimate early-round candidates.

In contrast to how most foresaw the situation playing out, going back as recently as September, the 2013 draft will have a plethora of talent on offer for those wide receiver-needy teams across the NFL and the following are just a few of the choice names that are sure to be on everyone’s lips come April.

Kennan Allen, California, 6-3/210 lbs
The 2013 draft may lack an ‘elite’ wide receiver prospect but Keenan Allen may just be the next best thing. Seemingly the consensus number one prospect at the position, California’s highly productive star receiver was touted as a possible top 10 pick going into this season but poor quarterback play, as well as a knee injury which ended his season prematurely, put paid to his draft stock.

The injury itself should not be so much of a concern, although it has prevented Allen from distancing himself from the rest of the pack. Currently projected to go around the middle of the first round (the Dolphins are predictably a popular landing spot), Allen’s lack of outstanding physical traits have led some to suggest that he may be set for a slide down draft boards as we get closer to April, though the makeup of a potential number one receiver is plainly evident in his game.

Allen is a strong, physical receiver, with good size, toughness and decent hands. He is an experienced route runner, who has lined up both outside and in the slot during his college career, and is also a willing blocker downfield. He may lack elite speed and elusiveness, but Allen is certainly no slouch getting downfield and is much quicker and more agile than his size would suggest.

In a timing-based West Coast offense, that puts a premium on gaining yards after the catch, Allen could certainly thrive, though if his knee prevents him from testing fully in the lead up to April than he could well find himself overtaken by his rival receivers.

NFL Comparison: Jordy Nelson
Projected Round: Mid-first

Tavon Austin, West Virginia, 5-9/ 172 lbs

Don’t be fooled by Austin’s size; he plays much stronger than his measurables would ever suggest. A versatile matchup nightmare, Austin is undoubtedly the most dynamic receiver in college football and averaged 230 all-purpose yards per game this season, lining up at running back on multiple occasions and proving to be one of the nation’s best return men. The way the NFL is developing, Austin is exactly the type of weapon which teams around the league are craving and in the right offensive system, such as that of the Patriots or the Redskins, he has the potential to make a significant impact. His size may cause him to slide somewhat on draft day but make no mistake, the West Virginia receiver is one of the most exciting players in this class and a genuine game-changer.

NFL Comparison: Percy Harvin
Projected Round: Late-first to mid-second

Cordarrelle Patterson, Tennessee, 6-3/ 205 lbs

A relative unknown before this year, Patterson transferred to Tennessee prior to the 2012 season from Hutchinson (Kan.) Community College and proceeded to put together a stellar campaign, catching 46 passes for 778 yards and five touchdowns. The six-foot-three, 205-pound receiver also had three rushing touchdowns and two further scores on special teams, setting an SEC single-season record with a combined kickoff and punt return average of 27.6 yards, as well as a Tennessee record of 1,858 all-purpose yards, earning first team all-conference honours in the process.

With just one-year of experience at the FBS-level, Patterson is still very raw and inconsistent at times but most believe he’s a superior prospect to highly touted teammate, Justin Hunter, albeit one with boom or bust potential. Unpolished as a route runner, the junior receiver is nevertheless a versatile, explosive playmaker, with the frame and talent to eventually grow into a number one target at the next level, if he applies himself to his craft and is given time to develop. In the interim, he should bring big-time return skills to the team fortunate enough to draft him.

NFL Comparison: Braylon Edwards (with Jacoby Jones-like return skills)
Projected Round: Late-first to mid-second

DeAndre Hopkins, Clemson, 6-1/200 lbs
Hopkins may not possess elite physical tools or blazing speed but he quite simply makes plays. A consistent receiver, with the right attitude, the Clemson prospect is a smooth route runner and has excellent body control for making those tricky catches look fairly routine. As previously stated, he may not be a true deep threat but Hopkins shows plenty of quickness getting into and out of his breaks and has demonstrated he can beat corners for speed when running downfield.

Having played in freshman Sammy Watkins’ shadow the previous year, Hopkins really grew into the team’s number one receiving option this season, catching 82 passes for 1,450 yards and 18 touchdowns, his level of performance leaving many convinced he can now go on to become an elite pass-catcher in the NFL. It’s wholly conceivable that Hopkins could be the first wide receiver off the board come April 25th but for that to come to pass he’ll likely need to put on an impressive display at the Combine, in order to prove to teams that he’s a better option than those currently placed ahead of him in the majority of rankings.

NFL Comparison: Reggie Wayne
Projected Round: Late-first to mid-second

Justin Hunter, Tennessee, 6-4/200 lbs

Hunter tore his ACL early in the 2011 season and only just seemed to be working his way back to full fitness towards the end of this year. Nevertheless, the talented junior did start all 12 of Tennessee’s games this season, finishing 2012 as the Vols’ leading receiver, hauling in 73 catches for 1,083 yards and nine touchdowns.

Considered at one point a prospect in the same league as the likes of A. J. Green and Julio Jones, Hunter has been notoriously inconsistent during his college career and his habit for untimely drops, as well as concerns about his durability, will likely keep him out of the first round picture when all is said and done. However, he is without question a fine athlete, with an enticing skillset and the experience of having lined up at every receiver position on Tennessee’s offense. That in mind, it wouldn’t be a surprise if a team took a chance on his upside on the first day of the draft.

NFL Comparison: Sidney Rice
Projected Round: Second

Terrance Williams, Baylor, 6-2/205 lbs

After the recent success of rookies Kendall Wright and Josh Gordon, Terrance Williams could be the next Baylor receiver set to make an impact at the NFL level. Competing with Tavon Austin to be the first senior wideout taken in the 2013 draft, Williams has always been regarded as a talented deep threat but he also added a much needed physical side to his play this past season, which has duly resulted in his stock soaring from that of a late round prospect to one who could well be picked on the first day.
It may even be an understatement to say his game needs a lot of work but Williams simply thrives at taking the top of the defense, with 22 catches longer than 25 yards this season, and a blazing 40 time at the Combine will likely see him solidify his place as one of the draft’s premiere receiving talents in the eyes of NFL scouts. As they say, you can’t teach speed, and that’s something Williams has displayed in abundance this year, while he isn’t nearly as one dimensional as some reports would have you believe.

NFL Comparison: Torrey Smith
Projected Round: Second

Robert Woods, USC, 6-1/190 lbs
Much like his quarterback, Matt Barkley, Robert Woods’ draft stock has taken a big hit in 2012. An outstanding sophomore season had many christening the USC receiver as a potential top 5 pick but this past year has not been quite so kind. Ankle issues, as well as struggles on offense, saw Woods’ production dip this year, while sophomore Marqise Lee took up the mantle of the team’s number one receiver at the flanker spot. In addition, there were already question marks over the former track star’s size and strength, which have led many to believe he may be restricted to the slot at the next level.

In many ways though, the hate on Woods has simply gone too far – perhaps predictable after the eye-popping numbers he put up in 2011 (112 catches for 1,292 yards and 15 touchdowns). That production wasn’t simply a function of USC’s offense however; Woods is an extremely reliable receiver, who especially thrives on intermediate routes, creating separation with quick and precise cuts which make defenders miss.

Woods’ size and inability to consistently challenge on the outside will likely turn some teams off, while it remains to be seen what they will make of his somewhat controversial comments in the wake of his declaration. He is however a smart and efficient route runner, with good hands and toughness and, given his level of play in the past, it would be a surprise to see him slip out of the top 50 in April.

NFL Comparison: Keenan McCardell
Projected Round: Second

Markus Wheaton, Oregon State, 6-0/182 lbs
If any receiver’s draft stock was to receive a timely boost during the offseason, you can likely bet it’ll be Oregon State’s Markus Wheaton. The senior wideout had 88 receptions for 1,207 yards and 11 touchdowns this year, as well as 116 rushing yards on 16 carries for two scores, but still has not received the same amount of headlines as some of the other highly touted receivers in this class. Playing up at OSU no doubt has something to do with that but things could soon change when Wheaton has a chance to showcase his skills at the Senior Bowl and Combine.

Wheaton’s number one asset is speed and he just may be the most explosive receiver available in the 2013 draft, having been timed at 10.58 in the 100m whilst competing at Oregon Twilight track and field meet last year, beating none other than De’Anthony Thomas in the process. As soon as he flashes some of that downfield ability in the coming weeks, you can bet he won’t be flying under-the-radar for much longer.

Speed isn’t Wheaton’s only strength however; he’s shown versatility, smart route running and even a willingness to block downfield. Despite his size, those are the kind of attributes which will endear him to NFL coaches and furthermore, having been labelled a humble, team player by those at OSU, ‘diva receiver’ issues should certainly not be a problem.

NFL Comparison: Mike Wallace
Projected Round: Second

Stedman Bailey, West Virginia, 5-10/195 lbs

While Tavon Austin may just have been college football’s most exciting player in 2012, Bailey was in fact West Virginia’s most reliable and productive receiver. The junior wideout finished the year with 106 catches, averaging 120.8 receiving yards a game and catching a nation-leading 23 touchdowns, all the while playing on a sprained ankle for a stretch of games.

Though lacking ideal height, Bailey has a strong build, which helps him pick up valuable yards after the catch, and his quick feet and agility in the field made multiple defenders miss throughout last season. Also a smart route-runner, with adequate hands, Bailey’s size will likely mean some see him as purely a slot receiver, though that would be a gross oversight, as he most certainly possesses the strength and explosiveness to start on the outside. There are one or two character concerns which teams will want to investigate but the West Virginia receiver undoubtedly possess the tools to develop into a quality starter in the NFL.

NFL Comparison: Antonio Brown
Projected Round: Second

Da’Rick Rogers, Tennessee Tech, 6-3/206 lbs
One of the top small school prospects in the draft, Rogers’ off-field problems have been well documented by this stage. A string of failed drugs test forced the wide receiver’s departure from Tennessee in August last year and he’ll need to prove to NFL teams that he has worked on his discipline and maturity since if he hopes to be drafted within the first few rounds.

In terms of physical talent however, you’d be hard pressed to find another receiver with same tantalising combination of size, strength and speed and, what’s more, one who has shown solid production in the SEC. Rogers led the conference with 67 receptions and 1,040 yards in 2011, catching nine touchdowns and earning AP first team all-SEC honours. The then-Vols receiver destroyed most cornerbacks who attempted to press him in coverage, lining up outside as well as in the slot over the course of the year and proving a formidable force when fighting for yards after the catch.

Because of his character red flags, it’s unlikely that Rogers stands a chance of being drafted ahead of his two former Tennessee teammates, Patterson and Hunter, but the he arguably possess the most upside of the three receivers. All things considered, you certainly wouldn’t bet against making the biggest impact in the pros – IF he can keep himself in check that is.

NFL Comparison: Kenny Britt
Projected Round: Mid-second to early-third

Quinton Patton, Louisiana Tech, 6-2/195 lbs
Another senior who’s been flying somewhat under-the-radar, Louisiana Tech’s explosive offense helped Patton to finish the year averaging 13.4 yards per catch and 116 yards per game. In addition, the former junior college prospect caught 104 passes for 1,392 yards and 13 touchdowns, emerging as one of the top senior receiver prospects for the 2013 draft.

There’s no denying that Patton’s production was inflated by then-head coach Sonny Dykes’ pass-happy offense but he is an excellent receiver in his own right. He shows sound hands, is elusive after the catch, can get off the line of scrimmage and also gives good effort as a blocker. Furthermore, Patton has solid intangibles and, though he lacks top speed and definitely needs to bulk up and get stronger for the NFL, there’s certainly nothing to stop him becoming a solid number two option at the next level.

NFL Comparison: Laurent Robinson
Projected Round: Mid-second to early-third

Cobi Hamilton, Arkansas, 6-2/209 lbs
After Arkansas lost Greg Childs, Jarius Wright and Joe Adams to the NFL last year, 2012 was supposed to be the year Hamilton broke out in a big way. Despite the Razorback’s offensive struggles, the senior receiver proceeded to put up great numbers (90 receptions for 1,335 yards and 5 touchdowns) but will still need a strong performance at the Senior Bowl and to run faster for scouts than his tape would indicate, in order to cement a place in first three rounds.

It may seem odd to say such a thing about a player who just put together the greatest season by a receiver in Arkansas history and one of the best ever by an SEC pass-catcher but Hamilton doesn’t especially stand out in any one area and the perception that he lacks a nose for the end-zone will weigh heavily on minds.

Still, he has good size, sure hands and does a nice job off picking up yards after the catch, while his route running and ability to get off the line of scrimmage have also much improved this year. Like Patton, Hamilton will likely be a solid number two option in the NFL but he’ll need to show something more if he hopes to become a genuine game-changer.
NFL Comparison: Robert Meachem
Projected Round: Third

Kenny Stills, Oklahoma, 6-0/190 lbs

After a strong freshman campaign in 2010, Kenny Stills was set for big things but, much like his quarterback, Landry Jones, the junior receiver’s star has faded somewhat since and he failed to put up the dominant performances many expected from him.

Fundamentally, the former five-star recruit is a less polished version of USC’s Robert Woods. He’s a smooth athlete, with good acceleration and the shiftiness needed for making those quick cuts on short and intermediate routes, but he’s also inconsistent and drops far too many simple passes. Furthermore, there are some maturity questions surrounding Stills (not least, what on earth he was doing wearing this) and a few off-field issues which will certainly be a concern to teams. Nevertheless, Stills has proven he’s capable of breaking off the big plays and his potential will likely merit a second-day selection by the time April rolls around.

NFL Comparison: Mario Manningham
Projected Round: Third

Ryan Swope, Texas A&M, 6-0/206 lbs
As a pigmentally-challenged receiver, prepare to hear countless Wes Welker references whenever Swope’s name is brought up. The Aggies product does however certainly live up to that infamous stereotype; he’s not a flashy athlete by any means but Swope is an intelligent player, with fantastic hands and the nous to run precise routes.

Much of his production at Texas A&M came from working short underneath routes and, as a receiver who clearly lacks that elite speed to get away from defenders, it does appear that the slot will be is likely destination in the pros. Swope undoubtedly possesses the size, toughness and consistency to thrive in that role and you can quite easily picture him becoming an NFL quarterback’s ‘best friend’.
Scouts tend to fall in love with prospects with the intangibles which Swope boasts and it wouldn’t at all be surprising to hear his named called towards the end of the second-day of the draft.

NFL Comparison: Brandon Stokley
Projected Round: Late-third to early-fourth

Denard Robinson, Michigan, 5-11/197 lbs
The joker in the pack, Robinson thankfully doesn’t appear to be taking a leaf Pat White’s book and looks set to try his hand at becoming a multi-purpose weapon at the next level. Though relatively inexperienced in such a role, despite playing time at running back and wide receiver last year, ‘Shoelace’ clearly has the physical tools and playmaking-skills necessary to make the switch.

One of the most gifted athletes in college football, Robinson could well break the 4.3 barrier at the Combine and you could certainly argue that, outside of Tavon Austin perhaps, he has the potential to be the best space player in this draft class. His main obstacle to success will of course be that steep learning curve but teams will no doubt be salivating over the game-changing versatility and explosiveness and if Armanti Edwards can be a second round pick then there’s certainly no reason why Robinson couldn’t be too.

Robinson isn’t going to be a Jamaal Charles-type running back in the NFL, or a regular starting wide receiver, but he could be one of the most dangerous open-field runners in the draft and a Swiss-army knife-like weapon for some team willing to take a chance on such a clear developmental project.

NFL Comparison: Antwaan Randle El
Projected Round: Late-third to early-fourth

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