When we examined the top 5 running backs entering the 2014 draft last week it was a bleak picture. There was a lack of elite talent at the top and every prospect had serious flaws. This combined with the decreased demand for a true featured running back means there is a high probability that a running back won’t be select in the 1st round for a second straight year.
The 2014 wide receiver class couldn’t be more different. There are potentially six 1st round wide receivers entering this year’s draft, two of whom are predicted to go in the top 10 picks. With a diverse group of receivers featuring big vertical receivers, smaller shiftier slot receivers and some well rounded wide outs, the 2014 draft is completely loaded at the receiver position.
Let’s look at the top 5 prospect’s strengths and weaknesses.
A three year starter at Clemson, Watkins has long been on NFL scouts’ radars. A dynamic play maker that reminds some of Percy Harvin, Watkins will mostly likely be the first wide receiver selected in the NFL Draft. He is simply too dangerous with the ball and has very few holes in his game.
Strengths: Play making ability, special athlete with explosive speed and multiple gears, makes decisive cuts, isn’t afraid of contact, has good hands and has shown improvement in his route running/footwork.
Weaknesses: Ran a limited route tree, played in a spread offense where most of his receptions were on bubble screens and go routes.
Overall: As the NFL continues its push toward wide open offenses with spread principals, players like Watkins are becoming a necessity for elite offenses. With his incredible athleticism, Watkins is a threat to take any play to the house and should be able to thrive anywhere on the field.
As the favorite target of Johnny Football, Mike Evans was called upon a lot in his two seasons at Texas A&M. Evans was more than able to handle the burden — often bullying his way onto the end of some truly desperate throws — and hauled in an impressive 151 catches for 2,400 yards and 22 touchdowns over his two years at College Station. With his impressive physicality and size Evans has shades of Vincent Jackson in him and should be a beast in the red zone at the next level.
Strengths: A potential mismatch due to his 6’5” frame, good vertical speed, dominates at the catch point, imposes his will in the open field, attacks the football at its highest point and is a true red zone threat.
Weaknesses: Limited experience as a wide receiver, raw route runner, most of his catches came on go routes, comebacks or broken plays, struggles to drop his hips and explode off his breaks, can’t make defenders miss in the open field.
Overall: A big physical receiver Mike Evans is perfectly suited to battle with the new larger cornerbacks of the NFL. With his huge frame, ability to consistently come down with 50/50 balls and deep speed Evans is the premier vertical threat in the 2014 draft. With that skill set Evans will be selected in the first 15 picks and will provide his new team with a true physical presence on the outside.
A Los Angeles native, Marqise Lee decided to stay home and play his college ball at USC. As a Trojan, Lee had an up and down career peaking in 2012 with a Biletnikoff Award — the award of the nation’s top receiver — only to struggle in 2013 due to a knee injury and a poor surrounding cast. An explosive play maker, Lee has the raw athleticism to be an impactful wide receiver in the NFL. However, he does have some potential pit falls, namely ball security. Still, some teams will gamble betting that Lee can maximize his potential and regain his 2012 form.
Strengths: Elite speed and burst, seemingly has a turbo button that other players don’t have, able to create separation with his speed, true deep threat, dynamic in the open field and not afraid to go get the football.
Weaknesses: Small receiver at 6’, 190 pounds, struggled with a nagging knee injury in 2013, indecisive with the football and dropped too many footballs.
Overall: Lee was a truly special player in 2012 – he had a ridiculous 118 catches for 1,700 yards – that dropped off last season due to a difficult situation at USC. He seemed to regain his mojo in the Trojan’s bowl game posting a 7 catch 108 yard 2 touchdown performance but will likely fall into the late teens/early twenties in this year’s stacked receiver class. At that point Lee will be a steal for any team as he is a dynamic player capable of a providing a spark to any NFL offense.
A massive wide receiver – he measures in at 6’5” and 240 pounds at the combine – Benjamin is a unique prospect. His size makes him a matchup nightmare similar to Mike Evans, but Benjamin isn’t nearly as polished as the Texas A&M receiver. Still some team will fall in love with his incredible size and measureables and select him near the end of the 1st round.
Strengths: Powerful player that can physically dominate smaller DBs, great jump ball receiver, uses his body well to shield defenders on inside breaking routes, good vertical speed due to his long stride, came up clutch when FSU needed him.
Weaknesses: Raw in every sense, size/height presents problems for dropping his hips and changing directions quickly, dropped a bunch of easy passes.
Overall: Benjamin is a true boom or bust prospect, he could easily be the next Alshon Jeffery or the next Steven Hill. His size makes him a mismatch on the outside but also limits his agility and lateral quickness. Because of that Benjamin will likely be unable to consistently separate from defenders and will instead have to rely on winning at the catch point. While that is a risky thing to rely on, Benjamin’s size and power make him more than capable of doing so and some team will bet a late 1st round pick on him.
On the other side of the wide receiver spectrum there is Brandin Cooks. A true speedster, Cooks stands 5’10” and 190 pounds – a full 7 inches shorter and 50 pounds lighter than Benjamin – whose game is built around his quickness. With his 4.3 speed and lightning quick moves Cooks has understandably earned Tavon Austin comparisons and looks to become a weapon out of the slot. His small frame limits his upside but Cooks will fit perfectly in a wide open spread style offense like the Eagles or the Bills.
Strengths: Lightening quick, human joystick that is lethal in the open field, great top end speed, dynamic in space, bursts off line of scrimmage, great route runner that can create separation with his precision and tough kid willing to run across the middle.
Weaknesses: Slight frame, will struggle against press coverage, will likely be limited to a slot receiver role, not a great punt returner and will get pushed around in the run game.
Overall: Cooks is the prototypical new era slot receiver. His elite quickness allows him to beat defenders from the snap. He will terrorize teams on quick break underneath routes. While that is impressive it doesn’t necessarily warrant a 1st round draft pick. What makes Cooks special is his ability to beat teams deep with his elite top end speed. Yet another dynamic weapon at the receiver position in the 2014 class Cooks is simply too dangerous to fall out of the 1st round.
As we see the 2014 wide receiver class is loaded. Not only does it feature the elite top end prospect in Watkins and Evans, there is talent throughout the class. Players like Odell Beckham, Allen Robinson, Davante Adams and Jordan Matthews didn’t even make this list but could easily find themselves drafted in the first 50 picks.
Add in the ever increasing role of the wide receiver in today’s NFL and this year’s draft could be the perfect storm for wide receivers. There is simply a huge demand for wide outs currently in the NFL and this year’s draft has a wide receiver for every flavor; Benjamin and Evans are massive, Cooks and Lee are as shifty as anyone currently in the NFL and Watkins is an explosive playmaker.
Every once in a while a draft becomes synonymous with a certain position. Think of the 1983 quarterback class — featuring John Elway, Jim Kelly and Dan Marion — or even the more recent 2012 draft where Andrew Luck, RGIII and Russell Wilson were all selected. 2014 could be similar, remembering this years draft as the draft of the wide out.