Thanks to teams like the Atlanta Falcons, New York Giants, and Green Bay Packers, teams and fans are clamoring to add more talent to their wide receiver position to create more mismatches, have more big plays, and ultimately score more points. Playmaking receivers are coming in all shapes and sizes from a thoroughbred like Julio Jones to a joker type talent like Percy Harvin and everything in between. More and more teams seem to want to have two Pro Bowl level receivers and three or even four starting caliber receivers to attack all areas of the field. And since these trends have been heavily influenced by the college level, there are a ton of talented prospects to pick from, especially this year that should have excellent depth all the way through the draft, but here are the Top 10 in the upcoming draft:
1) Keenan Allen, California
Allen is the premier wide receiver in this class. His route running and ability to catch the ball seamlessly as he transitions to a ball carrier are head and shoulder s above the rest of the class. Allen’s ability to set his body up to run as he catches the ball is something many NFL receivers would envy. While Allen is still rehabbing from a knee injury, it is nothing that should hold him back in the NFL and even without official times, it is clear Allen has plenty of speed for the NFL and his foot work and body control make him play that much faster. Allen also brings great size to the position and should be a #1 receiver almost immediately. He is a better prospect than Justin Blackmon was last year.
2) Justin Hunter, Tennessee
After last year when every expert out there said Hunter had the ability to be a #1 receiver and an early 1st round pick, Hunter suffered an ACL injury. He rehabbed and proceeded to have a tremendous junior season while still not being completely healthy, yet people seem to be down on Hunter. He has prototypical size and speed for the position and is more fluid than many 6’4” receivers. Hunter is a good route runner who has shown incredible hands and spectacular catches throughout his career. The biggest issue Hunter needs to improve is his concentration and watching the ball all the way into his hands, because while he has made dozens of phenomenal catches during his career in Knoxville, he also dropped far too many catchable passes.
3) DeAndre Hopkins, Clemson
Hopkins is a run after the catch nightmare who is a tremendous west coast style receiver. He has above average height and bulk for the position with enough speed to be a threat to take receptions to the end zone. Hopkins has great feet and body control for the position allowing him to be precise in his route running and create separation from opponents. Hopkins has the potential to be a top receiver but will likely end up as a #2 receiver to begin his career. The biggest issue Hopkins needs to continue working on his ability to focus on the football to be a more consistent pass catcher.
4) Tavon Austin, West Virginia
Perhaps the most explosive player in the draft, Austin is always a threat to score. The only thing that is more impressive than Austin’s straight line speed might be his lateral quickness and body control. Austin can never be counted out until the whistle is blown. He can contribute as a receiver in the slot, from the running back position and as a returner. Austin might be the most talented 174lb player when he gets to the NFL, but there is a good reason there are not many of them. Austin has been durable and shown incredible toughness to this point in his career; but that fear is always there that he will get hurt with so many athletic 300lbers. Austin could be the favorite to win offensive rookie of the year and have a great run for a few years in the league before flaming out due to the nature of the game. Austin also needs to improve at catching the ball more cleanly, but will be an immediate impact player as long as he is matched with a creative offensive mind that can make the most of him.
5) Cordarelle Patterson, Tennessee
Patterson is a tremendous athlete who has a fantastic combination of size and speed. He is one of the best athletes in the entire draft and makes magic happens with the ball in his hands. The problem is getting the ball to him as he is basically at square one with his technical understanding of the wide receiver position. From stance to route running to how to catch the football to blocking, Patterson is functioned almost entirely off of instinct in his one year at Tennessee and he is a significant project to this point. If he goes to a team willing to take the team to teach and develop him, he could become a true #1 receiver and a dynamic threat in the league, but he comes with a significant bust factor and he will have his share of struggles early, especially if a team insists on trying to put too much on him too early.
6) Markus Wheaton, Oregon State
Wheaton is a fantastic speed threat that can play on the outside and stretch the field deep. He has the speed to work as a deep receiver and take the top off of a defense, but his ability to run routes and contribute and run with shorter passes is underappreciated. He also has a natural set of hands and catches the ball cleanly. In a less talented field, Wheaton might find himself going in the first round and it is still possible he might, but for teams that want a receiver in the mold of Mike Wallace, Wheaton is their guy. He also put in effort during his senior year to be a more effective red zone threat. Wheaton does need to make an effort as a blocker because at this point, if he is not running the defender off, he is not doing anything.
7) Quinton Patton, Louisiana Tech
Patton is the most well rounded receiver in the entire draft. From his hands to his ability to run routes to the effort he puts into blocking, Patton is proficient and looks professional. Patton is the best possible example of a perfectionist as far as the NFL is concerned as he has spent so much time working on the little things and brings a tremendous work ethic to whoever drafts him. At a position that is obsessed with measurables, Patton is not the prototype really in any area, but he continues to be one of the most productive players at his position as well as one of the best. The only area that Patton needs to work on is creating more separation from defenders, because while he has great hands and concentration that allow him to catch the ball in traffic, this is the only real ‘weakness’ in his game and that is nitpicking. Patton might just outlast everyone ahead of him and could be special just due to his polish and grit.
8) Robert Woods, USC
Woods goes down as one of the most productive receivers in USC history because while he has elite feet which make him one of the best route runners in the draft. Woods has exceptional body control that allows him to stop and cut with virtually no wasted movement, giving defensive backs fits trying to respond. Woods has good hands and is able to create plays after the catch. Woods profiles as a #2 receiver at the next level, but he could end up becoming a #1 because of his ability to get open. The offense he played in for the Trojans has given him a ton of experience and prepared him to step in and be an immediate contributor in the NFL.
9) Steadman Bailey, West Virginia
Bailey’s listing at 9th is not to suggest he is not a fantastic talent, because he is, but is simply a victim of being in an incredibly deep class. The only thing that really holds Bailey back is his size. He has tremendous feet, has exceptional quickness and runs crisp routes, creating separation from even the best corner prospects in all of college football. While he is smaller than teams would hope, he has long arms and takes full advantage. He does a great job of using his body to box out opponents and he has shown he can be a red zone threat. Bailey has extremely natural hands and rarely drops the football. While Tavon Austin was the bigger play threat, Bailey was no slouch in his own right and when Geno Smith needed a play, he seemed to be his quarterback’s best friend much like a tight end would be. Bailey profiles as a natural slot receiver but shows that he can contribute on the outside as well.
10) Terrance Williams, Baylor
Williams has tremendous athletic gifts, specifically his speed that allows him to be a dynamic player at wide receiver. As good as Williams has been, he has significant potential in the NFL, because to this point, he is playing with terrible technique. He has a number of bad habits that are making him play slower, so as fast as he is already, he could end up playing faster in the NFL. From his stance to his route running to how he catches the football, Williams can make big strides at the next level with good coaching and hard work. Williams can contribute from the slot or the outside as a #2 receiver and deep threat as well as someone who can contribute after the catch, but he is still raw in a lot of areas.
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