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2014 NFL Draft: Wide Receivers

By: Robert Davis

Game breakers are always put at a premium, and last year's drafted saw a 5'8 WR land in the top ten. Tavon Austin is the definition of explosive despite his diminutive stature, but this year has some more traditional wide receivers that could be selected just as high. The wide receiver class may be the deepest position in this years draft, and is one of the deepest at the position in recent memory.

Clemson's Sammy Watkins has a tremendous package of skills. He had a huge freshman season but the emergence of DeAndre Hopkins last year caused a dip in his numbers. He's back to his big play self this year, showing off his varied skill set. Watkins' body control and ball skills are special, and he can go up and make the difficult grab look easy. He has tremendous speed and can get down the field vertically, but also has the quickness to get open underneath and turn it into a big play. Watkins is susceptible to bigger, more physical corners and he will have to learn to elude defenders that try to press him. The biggest question facing Watkins will be off the field. He had some drug related issues between his freshman and sophomore year, and teams will definitely investigate those thoroughly. Those do not appear to be a pressing issue, and Watkins is poised to be a top ten pick, possibly landing in the top five.

WR RANKINGS
  1. Sammy Watkins, Clemson
  2. Mike Evans, Texas AM
  3. Marqise Lee, USC
  4. Brandin Cooks, Oregon St
  5. Odell Beckham, LSU
  6. Kelvin Benjamin, Florida St
  7. Jordan Matthews, Vanderbilt
  8. Davante Adams, Fresno St.
  9. Cody Latimer, Indiana
  10. Paul Richardson, Colorado

USC's Marqise Lee is another gamebreaker at the position this year. Lee has decent size, but he plays much bigger than his 6' 195lb frame suggests. He is willing to cross the middle of the field, and he can really go up and get the football while it's in the air. Lee's leaping ability and body control are up there with Watson's. He also shows tremendous quickness, acceleration, and breakaway speed to score any time he touches the ball. USC runs a lot of screens and quick routes to try and get him the ball in space. The biggest issue with Lee is his concentration at times. He has dropped a lot of easy passes over his career, and must become more focused on the simple ones. Not every play is going to get you a touchdown, and the sooner he learns that, the better. His numbers may be down this year because of the Lane Kiffin disaster and some minor injuries, but the talent is there to become a premier wide receiver in the NFL. Lee should be a first rounder, but with the depth at the position this year, there is no guarantee where he lands.

Mike Evans of Texas AM is a totally different wideout from the previous players. His game is all about the physical mismatch he represents. Evans isn't the fastest receiver out there and struggles a bit in and out of his breaks. But he's 6'5 231lbs and is a great athlete. He towers over defensive backs and can really go up and get the football at its highest point. His wingspan along with his height, will make him a nightmare matchup in jumpball situations. He bailed out Johnny Manziel on a lot of plays with his overall size and athleticism. He could be a dominant red zone weapon, as long as a dependable target on third downs. He likely will not be a big yard after the catch guy, but he's so big and strong, he can break some tackles and pick up extra yards. Evans had a very good showing at the combine, clocking a 4.53 40, and looking fluid in drills. He is the favorite to be the second wideout selected, but definitely will hear his name called in the first at some point.

Brandin Cooks of Oregon State is one of the more explosive players at the position available this year. He has tremendous elusiveness in the open field and can make even the best cover men look lost. His ability to start and stop, change direction, and accelerate is up there with anyone in this draft. Not only does it allow him to get open and create separation, but it allows him to make small gains into big plays. Cooks isn't the biggest receiver, and he will have some limitations at the next level because of his size, but his playmaking ability definitely has a home in the NFL. He can line up outside or in the slot, and his explosiveness and ability after the catch will have him in high demand in May. Cooks used the combine to vault himself into the first round, where he looks like a safe bet to come off the board.

LSU's Odell Beckham is another player who used the combine to establish himself as a first round talent. He has been very productive throughout his career, but needed the workouts to showcase his natural gifts. Beckham had one of the better 40 times at the combine, clocking a 4.43 at 5'11 198lbs. He also was impressive, showing off his fluidity and athleticism in drills. Beckham isn't going to overpower anyone, but get him in space and he'll make big plays. He is shifty and can make defenders miss, while also showing the speed to get behind the defense. He has the skills to flourish in the slot but could line up out wide as well, while also providing help on special teams. Beckham could hear his name called near the end of the first, but would provide excellent value in the second, should he slide.

Fresno State's Davante Adams was a great high school basketball player and you can see it on the football field. His athleticism is obvious, and he knows how to use his body well. He has a huge catch radius and can box out defenders, while also having a knack for going up in the air and coming down with the football despite the defender contesting the action. He is also willing to go across the middle of the field and put his body on the line to make a catch. Adams has good quickness and speed, and has shown the ability to turn short passes into big gains. He is just a redshirt sophomore, but was a big play threat from the time he stepped on to the field. As with most receivers, Adams does need some work refining his route running skills. He's a bit raw and will need to refine his game a bit, but the talent and ability to produce is there, and he could be a great pickup in the second round.

Kelvin Benjamin of Florida State has become a big name thanks to his big play ability. Like Adams, he's another player that is a walking mismatch. He stands 6'5 240lbs and is a nightmare to cover one on one. He's a great athlete with great ball skills, and is impossible to guard in jump ball situations. Benjamin actually has very good speed once he gets going in a straightline and could emerge as a vertical threat because of the speed, size, and leaping ability. As with most bigger receivers, he does lack the start and stop ability to create separation in his breaks, and isn't going to make many big plays underneath. While not carrying bad weight, Benjamin might be even better if he were to play in the 225-230 range to maximize his athleticism against defensive backs. Hes another guy that could crack the end of round one, but is a very good second round selection.

Jordan Matthews of Vanderbilt is the most polished receiver in this class. He will remind you quite a bit of Keenan Allen, a third rounder from Cal last year. He has good size, standing 6'3 212lbs, and knows how to use it. He thrives over the middle of the field, providing his QB a big target, and one willing to take a hit to make the grab. His athleticism, size, and ball skills should also make him a threat in the red zone at the next level. He does profile more in the possession mold, because he lacks blazing speed, and he isn't going to run away from many defenders. His ability to get open, hands, and toughness to go along with his size make him a very attractive option for teams in need of an intermediate threat.

Ole Miss has a big time weapon in Donte Moncrief, even if they can't utilize him to his full ability. Moncrief has an excellent frame, and can really push defensive backs around. He can beat the jam with ease, and once he gets a step, he has surprising speed to pull away from the defender. He can use his size, toughness, and hands to make plays over the middle of the field, and covers ground quickly in a straight line. Moncrief lacks the quickness in and out of his breaks to get a ton of separation, but he is a big target over the middle of the field that has more downfield ability than most possession receivers.

Other names to watch: Paul Richardson(Colorado), Allen Robinson(Penn St), Martavis Bryant(Clemson), Brandon Coleman(Rutgers), Robert Herron(Wyoming), Jarvis Landry(LSU), and Jalen Saunders(Oklahoma)

The tight end position has become a big weapon in the NFL this year, with a number of players off to tremendous starts. Teams are will to overlook deficiencies as blockers if you can make plays as a receiver.

North Carolina's Eric Ebron is emerging as a big play threat at the TE position, which will definitely gain attention as the draft approaches. He is tall, a good athlete, and brings some versatility to the position. He can be lined up just about anywhere and put in motion, to allow his team to create mismatches. He is a smoot athlete in space, and can pick up yardage in a hurry when moving forward. He needs to bulk up and may always have trouble blocking, but he has the skills to be a real weapon in the passing game. He is a game breaker at the position and could possibly sneak into the top ten on draft day.

Jace Amaro of Texas Tech is another big time playmaker at the TE spot. He's part of the growing trend of being a glorified wide receiver at the position, and not a true tight end. He has great size for the position at 6'5 265lbs, but really hasn't spent much time playing in line or developing his blocking skills. That might limit him for some teams, but many teams are finding ways to utilize one dimensional tight ends. Amaro does excel at that one dimension though. He is a solid athlete to go with his size, and often lines up in the slot and off the line. While he didn't blow people away at the combine, he does show the ability to get separation and shows some run after the catch ability as a receiver. He really should be a big weapon in the passing game and should come off the board in the second round.

Washington's Austin Seferian-Jenkins is actually a complete tight end, which makes him an attractive prospect. He has a massive frame at 6'6 262lbs, giving his QB a huge target over the middle of the field and in the red zone, while providing big time blocking as well. He does not possess great speed, but he is a good athlete and knows how to get open and make a lot of plays as a receiver. Seferian-Jenkins needs to show some more aggressiveness and fire, but his all around skills set him apart from most tight end prospects. A stress fracture in his foot was discovered at the combine, preventing him from working out, but teams will likely trust the film on him, and he'll hear his name called on day two.

Oregon's Colt Lyerla may emerge as one of the drafts bigger enigmas. He is as talented as any tight end in this class, which a great frame(6'4 245), athleticism, speed, and toughness. He can be a major weapon in the receiving game and has the skills to get down the field vertically. He's not an accomplished blocker, although he has the size and toughness to do so. The questions with Lyerla stem from the fact that he has left Oregon mid season and has stated his goal is to play in the NFL. He claims it is on good terms, but there are definite questions to be answered for a player to leave his team mid season. There were already some questions about his maturity as a recruit and early on in his career, and this definitely has more shadows over what's going on between the ears. The talent is there to be the next Rob Gronkowski with some more growth and development, but there's also the chance he never makes an impact in the NFL. Big talent, but a lot of questions also bring about some big risk.

Troy Niklas is the latest Notre Dame TE to be a coveted prospect on draft day. Niklas has a phenomenal frame, standing 6'7 270lbs, while still looking like there is room for more bulk. He also has extremely long arms, and shows tremendous strength. While he still needs to work on his technique, he shows a lot of upside as a dominant blocker at the next level. His size also makes him tough to cover in the red zone. Niklas is a solid athlete and can go up and get the ball in jump ball situations really well. In the middle of the field though, Niklas does not show much speed, and there are questions about his ability to consistently get separation. He also needs to learn how to use his body better, as defenders consistently were able to break up passes in his direction. Niklas only has two years of experience as a tight end, and there is potential there to be a solid all around tight end. He lacks the foot speed to be a real playmaker in the passing game but he could be a dependable receiving option with some work. He has been unable to workout in the post season due to a core muscle injury, but that may have worked to his advantage. A poor 40 time could have hurt his draft stock. As it stands, his impressive size and strength could get him taken on the drafts second day.

Other names to watch: CJ Fiedorowicz(Iowa), Arthur Lynch(Georgia), AC Leonard(Tennessee St.)

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