The wide receiver position is the deepest in a 2014 NFL Draft class that is pretty deep overall, and the amount of talent at the position makes some believe that teams will simply hold off on drafting wide receiver until later on in the draft due to their belief that they could find a talented player in the middle rounds. It’s a testament to his ability that Sammy Watkins is the consensus No. 1 prospect in the draft class, because it’s difficult to be the No. 1 wide receiver when the draft also includes the likes of Mike Evans and Odell Beckham Jr. There isn’t much separating wide receiver prospects ranked next to eachother, so that’s something to keep in mind as you read through this list.
1. Sammy Watkins Clemson Tigers
Watkins has the total package at the wide receiver position, and he’s a true blue-chip prospect in this year’s draft. It’s one thing to be an explosive athlete who can make defenses play on deep routes or after the catch on short routes, but it’s another thing entirely to combine top-notch physical tools with top-notch route-running and above-average hands. The Clemson product has very few weaknesses in his game, and he flashed everything last season while bailing out Tajh Boyd on numerous occasions. Unlike most smaller receivers, Watkins can high-point the ball downfield, and he’s a more polished, well-rounded version of Torrey Smith.
2. Odell Beckham Jr. LSU Tigers
Choosing between Odell Beckham Jr. and Mike Evans at No. 2 was extremely difficult, but I decided to go with the more versatile prospect. OBJ won the Paul Hornung award for being college football’s most versatile player, and it goes beyond his ability to make things happen as a returner or his WR sweeps. In the league today, it’s becoming more important for wide receivers to be able to win in the slot or on the outside, as well as at different levels of the field (short, intermediate, deep). I have yet to find a glaring weakness in Beckham Jr.’s game, and it’s clear to me that he can win at any level of the field. Not only does he possess plenty of speed and quickness, but he also has very good hands and runs clean routes due to his technique and cutting ability. For an in-depth film breakdown on an excellent consolation prize for a team missing out on Watkins (hint: Detroit Lions), check out this piece right here.
3. Mike Evans Texas A&M Aggies
Evans is a pretty unique talent, and his two best pro comparisons are Vincent Jackson and Alshon Jeffery. A long strider, Evans lacks short-area quickness, but he has the ability to go over the middle of the field on crossing routes and drag routes. There isn’t a better prospect at winning jump balls, and Evans has some of the safest mitts in the draft class. He has all of the physical tools that Kelvin Benjamin has (size, strength, and speed), but he has much better hands and is a more polished route-runner. Both he and OBJ are essentially ties at No. 2, and their value is clearly in the eye of the beholder. For example, OBJ would make more sense for the Buccaneers since they already have V-Jax, but Evans is a better fit for teams that need a big receiver on the outside. In fact, Evans could be a better fit for the St. Louis Rams than Watkins.
4. Marqise Lee USC Trojans
Lee had a Watkins-like year in 2012, and some people, including Lee himself, believe that his drop-off last season was due to factors out of his control. In 2013, Lee struggled through injuries and worse quarterback play, but his main struggles were with drops- and those struggles were totally his fault. Lee might have the worst hands in the entire draft class, and it has everything to do with technique. This is a guy who is either trying to attack the ball in the air instead of making a triangle shape to catch it, or he’s busy pressing the ball to his body.
So why is Lee a top wide receiver prospect? Well, because he has all the potential in the world, and he has as much potential as Watkins does. Not only is Lee incredibly agile, but he’s a smooth route-runner who can cut on a dime. He wins at all levels, and he has some ridiculous athleticism. It’s too bad his hands are horrible, because he makes some acrobatic plays in tight spaces either near the sideline or in the end zone. Lee is a pretty big risk, but he has plenty of upside.
5. Brandin Cooks Oregon State Beavers
Cooks had an incredibly productive 2013 season, but I think Steve Smith comparisons are far-fetched and don’t do justice to one of the best wide receivers of the past decade. I also don’t like the Tavon Austin comparisons, though, because I think Cooks has more dimensions to his game than Austin. He’s better at winning downfield than the Rams WR, but there are also questions regarding Cooks. He struggles against physical cornerbacks, but his playmaking ability makes him worth it.
6. Allen Robinson Penn State Nittany Lions
It’s amazing to think that Robinson was one of the best wide receivers in the draft class last season at getting yards after the catch, because he puts himself at a disadvantage by leaving his feet too readily. There are plenty of people who would state that I am ranking Robinson too high, and I’ve seen a few draft experts place him in the third-round range. I would disagree with that, and it isn’t just about his ridiculous measurables either. Robinson has an excellent combination of size and speed, and he’s also a fluid pass-catcher who knows how to get open. Solid on jump balls, Robinson works the sideline well, can cut inside with relative ease, and he has all the tools to be a No. 1 receiver.
7. Jarvis Landry LSU Tigers
Beckham Jr.’s partner in crime, Jarvis Landry is another big reason why Zach Mettenberger actually has a shot at going in the second round of the draft. Landry tests poorly in drills because he isn’t fast, but his tape looks superb, and I’ll take that tape any day. His game is reminiscent of Anquan Boldin‘s, and one thing that stands out to me the most is his ability to catch the ball. He almost never drops a pass, and he displays perfect technique. Landry has the ability to win inside or outside, and he’s the quintessential slot receiver. While he isn’t a WR1, Landry has the makings of a very good No .2 receiver in this league, and I think he would fit in perfectly as a “Z”.
8. Cody Latimer Indiana Hoosiers
I wouldn’t take him in the first round of the draft, but I would definitely take a flier on him in the second. Latimer is the best of the “upside” wide receivers (a list that includes Kelvin Benjamin and Clemson’s Martavis Bryant), because he’s actually more polished than people think. Although he could stand to do a better job of beating physical DBs and gaining more separation, Latimer has a tantalizing size-speed mix. He’s almost as good as Mike Evans at boxing out defenders, and Latimer will immediately be a high-end weapon in the red zone. While he needs some work, I think he’s more polished than Benjamin.
9. Kelvin Benjamin Florida State Seminoles
A lot of people will state that I have Benjamin ranked way too low, but he’s just not polished enough for my liking. Remember how I said that Lee might have the worst hands in the draft? Benjamin is his top competition, and there’s something far more worrisome about his drops. While Lee mostly drops difficult passes, Benjamin will commit frustrating drops that are due to lack of concentration, and his drops are of the blatant, wide-open variety. I wrestle with whether or not this is worse than Lee’s drops, because while concentration drops seem to be more coachable, they are more detrimental. Beyond that, not everything is “coachable” either.
Benjamin has more of a chance at going in the first round than the three prospects I ranked in front of him, but I think he’s too risky to take in the first. What are the positives for Benjamin? Well, he is one of the most explosive athletes in this year’s draft class, and that gives him a huge amount of upside. That said, I see him as a poor man’s Mike Evans; he’s Evans with bad hands, below-average route-running, and less speed.
10. Jared Abbrederis
This list isn’t without controversy already, but I may have outdone myself with this ranking. Davante Adams and Jordan Matthews received plenty of consideration, but I’d take Abbrederis over both of them. He’s my biggest sleeper at the position in this year’s draft class, and I’ve fallen in love with Abbrederis’s route-running. The guy simply knows how to get open in any way possible, and he’s as smooth of a route-runner as anyone in this class, including Lee. While he lacks excellent athleticism and high-octane speed, he makes up for it in smarts, quickness, and amazing hands. Abbrederis is the kind of wide receiver who will be a solid player in this league for quite some time, and I think any contender or elite quarterback would love to have someone as dependable as him on their roster.
Tags: Allen Robinson Brandin Cooks Clemson Tigers Cody Latimer Florida State Seminoles Football Indiana Hoosiers Jared Abbrederis Jarvis Landry Kelvin Benjamin Lsu Tigers Marqise Lee Mike Evans NFL Draft Notes And Analysis Odell Beckham Jr. Oregon State Beavers Penn State Nittany Lions Sammy Watkins Texas A&M Aggies Usc Trojans Wisconsin Badgers