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2011 NFL Draft: Wide Receivers

By: Robert Davis

This years wide receiver crop isn’t as deep as it could have been had a couple more underclassmen chosen to enter the professional ranks, but there is still some talent to be had at the position. Last year saw 21 picks come off the board before Demaryius Thomas went to the Broncos with the 22nd pick. Dez Bryant made it two receivers selected in the first frame last year, while six of them were first round picks in 2009. This year’s class is much more similar to last year’s crop, but do not expect as many picks to come off the board before the first player is selected. Georgia’s AJ Green should be a top ten pick, while Julio Jones may not be around much long after that.

AJ Green is the complete package at the receiver position. Standing about 6’4 and weighing around 210lbs, he has the ideal frame for a receiver today. His size allows him to be a real threat in the red zone, and he presents a big target over the middle of the field. Green is an excellent athlete that can adjust to poorly thrown balls, and has the ability to go up and get the football in one on one situations. He also has good speed for such a big wideout, having the ability to outrun defenders once he gets a step. Green has excellent hands and should be his quarterback’s best friend very early in his pro career. He is arguably the top overall talent in the draft, but will likely go a few spots lower. Green should start getting use to the idea of playing football in the state of Ohio: Cincinnati and Cleveland make the most sense for him near the top of the draft.

WR RANKINGS
  1. AJ Green, Georgia
  2. Julio Jones, Alabama
  3. Torrey Smith, Maryland
  4. Jonathan Baldwin, Pitt
  5. Titus Young, Boise St.
  6. Jerrel Jernigan, Troy
  7. Randall Cobb, Kentucky
  8. Leonard Hankerson, Miami
  9. Greg Little, North Carolina
  10. Vincent Brown, San Diego St.

Julio Jones is another underclassmen that should hear his name called in the first round in April. Much like Green, Jones has a great blend of size, athleticism and playmaking ability. He also stands about 6’4 210, and provides a big target for his QB, but also brings playmaking ability not often seen in a big receiver. Jones may actually be a bit faster than Green, but he isn’t as polished or consistent. Jones’ hands have been inconsistent over his career. He can make the difficult grab look easy, but will drop an easy one. Green will go first, but Jones shouldn’t be waiting much longer. While he isn’t likely to crack the top ten, he could be gone within the next five after that.

After Green and Jones, the next few receivers could go in any order. Depending on what type of receiver a team is looking will help dictate who comes first. Pitt’s Jonathan Baldwin will rank as the number three receiver on most boards. Yet another jumbo receiver, Baldwin is probably the biggest in the draft at 6’5 225. His best trait is using his size and athleticism to go up and get the football. He is going to be a force on fades once inside the red zone with his ball skills. Baldwin can cover a lot of ground with his long legs and long strides, but has some trouble coming in and out of his breaks while running routes. He is going to need refine these skills to reach his potential and be more than a possession receiver. Baldwin could crack the end of the first round, but is more likely a very solid second round pick.

Torrey Smith of Maryland is the first receiver that fits the playmaker role, and one that can provide an impact on special teams as well. He too has good size at about 6’1 200, with excellent speed, and the ability to make defenders miss in the open field. Smith is a legitimate threat to score whenever he touches the ball because of his open field ability. He does have some things in common with former Terp receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey, but Smith will not bring along the responsibility of living up to the hype of a top ten selection. Like Heyward-Bey, he is a bit raw and will need to work on refining his skills to maximize his playmaking ability. He changes directions well, but doesn’t run sharp routes and will need to put in work in this area to see more action on the field. Smith also could be more consistent catching the football, though he does show good hands. The trait that Smith brings to the table that none of the three players mentioned above bring is that he can make an impact on special teams. He should be able to return kicks in the NFL while he develops his receiving skills. Like Baldwin, there is an outside chance he finds his way into the first, but carries a second round grade.

Jerrel Jernigan is completely different than any of the four players mentioned above. He has a glaring weakness right off the bat: he stands just 5’9. That lack of size could limit him in terms of being a true #1 option, but he does bring a lot of versatility to still be a major threat on the field. His speed and ability in the open field are tremendous, and he is a big play waiting to happen. He likely profiles as a slot receiver, but has the skills to be lined up in different formations to create a mismatch. Jernigan should also be a factor in the return game. He has returned both punts and kicks for scores in college, and his speed and elusiveness should allow him to be a threat at the next level in both areas. His lack of size will keep him out of the first round, but he will be an attractive option in the second round for a team needing a playmaking boost to its receiving corp and special teams units.

Three receivers used this year’s Senior Bowl to help their draft stock. Titus Young, Leonard Hankerson, and Vincent Brown all had very good weeks in Mobile, helping their cause. Boise State’s Titus Young should have locked in a second day selection with his performance. Like Jernigan, he is very explosive with the ball in his hands. He is quick, has great acceleration, and can pull away from defenders with a small crease. He’s also a threat on special teams, and will provide a spark in this area at the next level. The big issue with Young’s game is his very thin frame. He has decent height at 5’11, but he only packs 174lbs on his frame. He isn’t afraid to cross the middle of the field, but his body may not be able to take the type of his he’ll take crossing the middle on a regular basis. The concerns about his lack of bulk have pushed him down boards, but at some point on the second day, the upside of adding an explosive playmaker to the offense and special teams will make someone pull the trigger.

Leonard Hankerson of Miami had arguably the best week of anyone at the game, let alone the best among receivers. He showed up, checking in at 6’2 205lbs, with very long arms. He has the look of a good possession receiver at the next level. He has very good hands, and his height and long arms allow him to go get the football. He is a good athlete that can adjust to the football and make plays. He was a lot more consistent this week, and showed the ability consistently get open enough to go get the football. His speed is still an issue, and he won’t make many big plays in the NFL, but he will be a dependable intermediate threat for whoever drafts him.

Vincent Brown of San Diego St was one of the bigger surprises of the week. He had great stats for SDSU with over 1,300 yards and 10 TD’s, but his physical tools do not jump out at you. When you get a chance to see him work consistently, he begins to grow on you. He is built thicker than his 185lbs indicate, and he isn’t afraid to work over the middle of the field. He has good hands, is athletic, and very quick. Brown knows how to get open, catch the football and get up the field to pick up yardage. He isn’t going to out run defenders or make plays on sheer talent, but he is a player that will get the most out of his talent and will be a consistent receiving threat in the NFL.

A few underclassmen declared this year that still have some things to prove. Their status will ultimately be decided in workouts leading up to the draft, but, on varying levels, have the talent to move up in the draft.

North Carolina’s Greg Little missed the entire season because he was suspended along with more highly touted teammates, Robert Quinn and Marvin Austin for receiving improper benefits. He has very good size, is a tremendous natural athlete, and has shown good hands during his career. He really could’ve used his junior season to develop his game and prove he’s worth a second day pick. As it stands now, he needs to prove that he has worked on his skills during the layoff and show teams how well he can run. There is definite upside in his game and workouts could push him into the second day, but the questions about his development and off the field concerns could keep him around on day three.

Indiana’s Tandon Doss has very good size, athleticism, and natural receiving skills. He has excellent hands and will catch anything near him. He profiles as a possession receiver because he does not have great speed or agility, but he doesn’t play as physical as the role may require. A good showing in workouts in terms of speed and agility drills could go a long way in proving how much upside he has in the NFL.

Randall Cobb of Kentucky was one of the nation’s most productive players last season. He set an SEC record for all purpose yardage, and has tremendous versatility. He has made plays at WR, QB, and on special teams. Cobb does not possess any standout physical tools, but he just finds a way to make plays. He is a smooth athlete with the ability to elude to defenders to pick up chunks of yardage. Moving around the field has limited his development as a receiver and he will need to show he can impact the game at the next level without great physical traits. He has the resume and versatility to be a second day pick, but has some questions to answer in workouts.

There are always a few players drafted on the draft’s final day that lands in a great situation and far exceeds their draft position. Here are a few day three guys to keep an eye on:

USC’s Ronald Johnson is a very good athlete that can do everything well, but does not have any standout trait or skill. He has decent size, runs good routes, has solid hands, and has good speed. He just isn’t a game breaker and doesn’t have the great size to make plays on sheer talent. His consistency and work ethic should make him a productive reserve receiver at the very least.

Austin Pettis of Boise State may not have as much hype as Titus Young as a draft prospect, but he was just as important to their success. At 6’3 205, he has the size, athleticism, ball skills, and toughness to be a solid possession and red zone target. His lack of speed may limit him as a big play threat, but his other skills could allow him to be a productive NFL receiver.

Southern Mississippi’s DeAndre Brown is the ultimate wild card. He was the highest rated recruit the school ever got on campus, and he had a huge freshman season with over 1,100 yards receiving and 12 scores. Things went downhill from there, and his numbers declined dramatically. He declared after his junior year, electing to give the professional ranks a try. Injuries have been a big reason for his drop in play, but as far as making an impact at the next level, he also lacks quite a bit of polish because of the time he missed. At 6’6 235 with tremendous athleticism and deceptive speed however, he is the type of guy who has all the tools to succeed at the next level. He has a lot of work ahead and workouts can only do so much, but his talent level is tremendous and will be given a chance because of it.

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