NFL teams in need of wide receivers are in luck during this offseason.
In the same way that the 2012 draft will be remembered for the quarterbacks, the 2014 edition will be talked about for years to come because of the receivers it features.
All of the following receivers will likely be off the board within the first two rounds of the draft. The biggest factors in the rankings are the good, old-fashioned eye test as well as the receiver’s upside in the NFL.
No. 12: Martavis Bryant, Clemson
(Jr., 6’4″, 211 pounds)
Martavis Bryant’s most eye-popping statistic is his 19.7 yards per reception, which ranked second in the ACC and ninth in the nation in 2013.
He’s a decent blocker, but he has to add bulk and doesn’t have the surest hands. He frequently catches with his body and dropped four passes against Georgia.
No. 11: Jarvis Landry, LSU
(Jr., 6’0″, 205 pounds)
Jarvis Landry’s 77 catches and 10 touchdowns is more than teammate Odell Beckham Jr. hauled in, who ranks high on the list. However, he ran a 4.77-second 40-yard dash at the combine, which was tied for last among receivers. His 28 1/2-inch vertical leap was second from the bottom among wideouts.
Landry improved on his 40 time at his pro day, running 4.51, according to the Shreveport Times. Still, that’s nothing spectacular.
No. 10: Davante Adams, Fresno State
(So., 6’1″, 212 pounds)
Davante Adams would top this list statistically. He led the nation with 131 receptions and 24 touchdown catches in 2013. He caught 233 passes for 3,031 yards in two years at Fresno State.
Half of Adams’ touchdowns came in the red zone, partly because of his prowess on fade routes. He’d be ranked higher on this list if he gained more yards after the catch. He goes down too easily and averaged an ordinary 13.1 yards per reception.
Instead of hitting the ground, a lot of Adams’ tipped passes go into the air and can be intercepted. He ran a sluggish 4.56 in the 40 at the combine but jumped 39 1/2 inches in the vertical leap—tied for third among receivers. He’ll be drafted within the first two rounds.
No. 9: Kelvin Benjamin, Florida State
(So., 6’5″, 240 pounds)
Kelvin Benjamin is an intriguing prospect because of his size and his game-winning touchdown catch in the national championship game against Auburn.
Benjamin led the SEC in 2013 with 15 touchdown catches. His 2-yard TD reception against Auburn was one of seven he caught in the red zone. He doesn’t have elite speed, but he can mix it up as a blocker and break tackles with the ball in his hand.
A lot of teams will pass on Benjamin because of his drops, including three against Florida. Another caveat surfaced Thursday when NFL.com’s senior draft analyst Gil Brandt reported on Twitter that Benjamin skipped a workout with an NFL coach.
Kelvin Benjamin 30th in my new rankings. Was told KB recently blew off workout w NFL coach who had made special trip, said he was too tired
— Gil Brandt (@Gil_Brandt) April 10, 2014
Benjamin was a lock to be among the top 50 picks. Depending on how this story develops, he could fall into the late second round.
No. 8: Donte Moncrief, Mississippi
(Jr., 6’2″, 221 pounds)
Donte Moncrief was more productive at Mississippi than Mike Wallace with 156 career receptions, 2,371 receiving yards and 20 touchdowns. He’s third in school history in all those categories.
After catching 59 passes for 938 yards and six touchdowns as a junior, Moncrief turned some heads at the combine. His 11-foot broad jump tied for the best among wide receivers. He also tied for third at his position with a 4.4-second 40-yard dash and a 39 1/2-inch vertical leap.
Moncrief can adjust his body to make difficult catches. He really likes hitch-and-go routes and is always looking for someone to block. He has the size that’s becoming increasingly important at the next level and can turn short passes into big plays.
No. 7: Jordan Matthews, Vanderbilt
(Sr., 6’3″, 212 pounds)
Easily the top senior in this wide receiver class, Jordan Matthews is the SEC’s all-time record holder in receptions (262) and receiving yards (3,759).
A cousin of Jerry Rice, Matthews was fourth in the nation with 112 catches in 2013 and led the SEC with 1,477 receiving yards.
Matthews doesn’t have the speed to take the top off a defense, but he has the look of a solid, reliable receiver who can be productive in the NFL. He caught at least five passes in all 13 games last season, with some one-handed catches showing up on his highlight reel.
It doesn’t hurt that Matthews bench pressed 21 reps at the combine, tied for second among receivers. Rice’s bloodlines can’t hurt, either.
No. 6: Allen Robinson, Penn State
(Jr., 6’3″, 220 pounds)
Allen Robinson led the Big Ten in receptions and receiving yards in both 2012 (77, 1,018) and 2013 (97, 1,432). His stock dipped after he ran a 4.6 40 at the combine, but he cleared 39 inches in the vertical leap, tied for sixth among receivers, and improved on that 40 time at his pro day according to PennLive.com.
Penn State’s single-season record holder in receptions and receiving yards, Robinson can scoop balls inches off the ground and is dangerous after the catch. He stands around a lot, however, and doesn’t always go all-out on routes when he’s not the intended receiver.
Still, he’s been underrated in the pre-draft buildup
No. 5: Marqise Lee, USC
(Jr., 6″0″, 192 pounds)
Marqise Lee would have ranked a lot higher on this list just a year ago.
Lee led the country in 2012 with 118 catches, was second with 1,721 receiving yards and third with 14 receiving touchdowns. He won the Biletnikoff Award as the nation’s top receiver, was named a first-team All-American and the Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Year.
Lee was dogged by injuries in 2013 and caught just 57 passes. He hobbled his way to one of those receptions on 4th-and-2 to move the chains with the score tied on the final drive against then No. 5-ranked Stanford. The Trojans went on to kick a field goal to upset the visiting Cardinals.
The guts Lee showed on that play doesn’t hide his durability concerns. He’s tough to bring down, can block and shows good foot awareness near the sideline. But his injury history will be in the back of coaches’ and general managers’ minds when they’re on the clock.
No. 4, Brandin Cooks, Oregon State
(Jr., 5’10”, 189 pounds)
Brandin Cooks succeeded Marqise Lee as the Biletnikoff Award winner.
Cooks led the nation with 1,730 receiving yards and broke single-season Pac-12 records with 128 receptions and 16 touchdown catches in 2013. He was named a first-team All-American.
Despite his size, Cooks catches the ball well in traffic and can turn screens into big plays. He uses his rugged frame to break tackles, but not so much as a blocker.
Cooks was second overall at the Scouting Combine with 4.33 40-yard dash time and gets the edge on Lee because of his iron man streak. Cooks never has missed a game at any level of football, according to NFL Draft Scout.
No. 3: Mike Evans, Texas A&M
(So., 6-4 3/4″, 231 pounds)
In the passing-oriented NFL, more and more emphasis is being placed on wide receiver height. Eight of the league’s top 10 in receiving yards last season were at least six-feet tall.
That’s one reason why Mike Evans will be one of the first 10 prospects to hear his phone ring on draft day.
Evans uses his body to beat double- and triple-teams and is especially dangerous along the sideline. His 12 receiving touchdowns led the SEC in 2013 and he was second in the conference in receiving yards (1,394) and yards per reception (20.2).
A physical receiver and solid blocker, Evans sometimes gets away with illegal contact. He won’t get star treatment from the officials at the next level. It also remains to be seen how much Evans benefited from having Johnny Manziel as his quarterback. He’s not likely to have as many opportunities to get open on busted plays in the NFL.
No. 2: Odell Beckham Jr., LSU
(Jr., 5’11”, 198 pounds)
Odell Beckham Jr. isn’t a lock to be drafted in the top five, the top 10 or even the top 15. But teams will be kicking themselves for passing on him. He’s a more complete receiver than Mike Evans.
Beckham was only 10th in the SEC with 57 receptions in 2013, but he was third in the conference with 19.6 yards per reception and caught just about everything thrown his way. He showed an ability to catch balls with defenders draped all over him and drops were few and far between. He also gets the job done as a blocker.
Furthermore, Beckham is the most dynamic returner in this class. He was third in the SEC in both yards per kickoff return (26.9) and punt return (10.1). He led the SEC with a total of 806 kickoff return yards and often gets the ball past the 20.
Beckham isn’t the biggest receiver, but he looks longer on tape because of his leaping ability. He cleared 38.5 inches in the vertical leap at the combine, ninth among receivers.
LSU’s single-season record holder with 2,315 all-purpose yards according to NFL.com, Beckham is also consistent as a receiver. He caught five passes in six games and six passes in two games. So in eight of LSU’s 12 games he caught either five or six passes.
No. 1: Sammy Watkins, Clemson
(Jr., 6’1″, 211 pounds)
Sammy Watkins saved his best for last, catching 16 passes for 227 yards and two touchdowns in Clemson’s 40-35 win over Ohio State at the Orange Bowl.
He’s an elite player who can run the entire route tree, and is a surefire top 5 draft pick.
It’s hard to ignore the numbers. He was second in the ACC in 2013 with 101 catches and led the conference with 1,464 receiving yards and 12 touchdown receptions. His receiving yardage also was fifth in the nation.
Watkins makes his living on intermediate routes. In the pros he’ll help his team methodically move up the field with high-percentage passes. No matter how much traffic surrounded him in college, Watkins was always a threat to take it all the way.
He also can use his 4.43 speed to go deep. Half of his 12 touchdown catches were for 40 or more yards.
Watkins can adjust his frame to make difficult catches and uses his bulk well for blocking. He’ll drop a pass every now and then, and a red flag came up when he was arrested on drug-related charges in the spring of 2012. Watkins was suspended for the first two games of 2012 in the wake of his arrest and had a subpar season, but he appears to have stayed out of trouble since then and rebounded in 2013 to become the top receiver in the 2014 draft class.