Last year’s wide receiver class was a tad underwhelming and it showed, as no receiver was selected in the first round—the first time since 1990 that’s happened. Then the levee broke and Round Two was almost one-third wideouts, with 10 going off the board between picks 33 and 58.
Receivers—and their agents—needn’t worry about a repeat this season, as thanks to an influx of underclassmen there are several talented pass-catchers expected to crack the opening stanza. Not that the senior class is woeful, as there are at least a handful of upperclassmen in the group of wideouts who should hear their name before Saturday’s two rounds have completed. After all, every team needs a playmaker in the passing game.
Day One Candidates
Even casual fans of the college game were aware of Michael Crabtree heading into this season, and the Texas Tech redshirt sophomore did not disappoint. You may remember him from such catches as the game-winner against Texas, just one of 231 grabs (and 41 touchdowns) in his two Biletnikoff Award-winning seasons with the Red Raiders. But Crabtree’s productive isn’t simply a product of Tech’s high-octane offense; at 6-3, 214 he’s plenty big and while he won’t run at the Combine due to an ankle injury he has plenty of speed and is working with former Olympian Michael Johnson to improve in that area as well.
It would be a mild upset if Crabtree isn’t the first wideout off the board in the 2009 draft—and if he’s not, it will most likely be Jeremy Maclin stealing that honor. Another redshirt sophomore, Maclin recovered from a serious knee injury to rack up two of the six best all-purpose yardage totals in NCAA history in two seasons at Missouri—a total of 5,609 all-purpose yards and 33 touchdowns split between receiving, rushing, kickoff returns, and punt returns. There’s no question about his productivity, and if Maclin—who lists at 6-0 and 200 pounds and claims a 40 in the 4.3 range—lives up to those measurables at the Combine he could leapfrog the idle Crabtree on some draft boards.
If it’s speed you seek—and last year that was certainly the hot commodity on draft day—than Percy Harvin may be just the ticket. Favored to best Maclin in the Combine’s 40-yard dash (yes, degenerative gamblers, there’s a line on Combine events), Harvin was last seen sparking Florida to a national championship despite being hobbled by an ankle injury. Durability is the only knock on Harvin; when he’s healthy he’s the definition of a home run hitter, a big play waiting to happen every time he touches the ball. Some NFL teams may look at Harvin as a running back in the Reggie Bush mode, thanks to a 9.4 yards-per-carry average on 70 collegiate carries. Regardless of where pro teams think he’ll line up, Harvin is sure to undergo every medical test under the sun in Indy as clubs make sure he can hold up to the rigors of the NFL game.
The production of the top three receivers is unquestioned; the same cannot be said for Darrius Heyward-Bey, whose 609 yards and five touchdowns at Maryland last season pales in comparison to the gaudy stats posted by Crabtree, Maclin, and Harvin. However, at 6-2 and 205 pounds and with a 40 time in the 4.3 neighborhood Heyward-Bey offers that mouthwatering size/speed combo platter that sets scouts to drooling. He’s a bit more of a project than the other first-round candidates, but rest assured his athleticism and potential will make sure Heyward-Bey has an NFL home before the end of the draft’s first day.
Two more underclassmen wideouts should crack Day One as well. North Carolina’s Hakeem Nicks enters the draft fresh off a monster 8-217-3 performance in the Meineke Car Care Bowl. He doesn’t have the same blazing speed as Harvin or Maclin, but he has good size (6-0, 210 pounds) and has drawn comparisons to similarly lead-footed wideouts like Anquan Boldin and Chad Johnson. A decent showing at the Combine could earn him a spot in the first round. Rutgers’ Kenny Britt is another wideout with more size than speed who’ll need to prove that he can win matchups with NFL corners on more than just physicality. Britt established a Big East record for career receiving yards in his three seasons with the Scarlet Knights but must answer questions about his speed, strength, and hands to ensure his place on the Day One draft board.
While it’s likely senior wide receivers will be shut out of the first round, a few could sneak into the second round. Florida’s Louis Murphy has as much speed as his teammate Harvin and at 6-2 and 205 is a little bigger—plus he’s an Eagle Scout (seriously). However, he wasn’t nearly as productive as Harvin and will need to show he’s recovered from minor knee surgery at the Combine if he’s to convince a team his potential is worthy of Day One. Juaquin Iglesias may have flown a bit under the radar in Oklahoma’s high-powered offense, as he’s more steady than noteworthy across the board (size, speed, hands). But he also brings some kick return duty to the table and could be the complementary target an NFL passing game is looking for with a late Day One selection. Brandon Tate had already set ACC kick return records before blowing out his knee six games into his senior season at North Carolina; if he runs well at the combine and answers questions about his right knee he could regain the first-day rating he held prior to the injury. Ohio State’s Brian Robiskie certainly has the NFL pedigree—his dad, Terry, played in the league and is currently the Falcons’ wide receivers coach—and there’s no question he’s been well-schooled in the position’s fundamentals. Robiskie also has good size and hands, lacking only top-end speed on the wideout wish list; still, teams need possession receivers, too. Finally, Rice’s Jarrett Dillard hopes to hear his name called on Day One after a college career in which he scored 60 touchdowns and caught 257 passes. He’s a bit on the small side and may wind up in the slot at the NFL level, but his hands and route-running should punch his ticket to Sundays—maybe even with a first-day selection.
Be Very Afraid
Both Penn State’s Derrick Williams and Georgia’s Mohamed Massaquoi have NFL receiver body types but neither put up dominant numbers in college. Massaquoi’s 58-920-8 as a senior at least earned him All-SEC accolades, but the drops that plagued his Georgia career showed up during Senior Bowl practices before an ankle sprain cut short his participation. Williams caught the ball well during his Senior Bowl sessions, but his punt return ability seemingly abandoned him. Williams’ production as a wide receiver never lived up to his potential at Penn State, and if he isn’t bringing return skills to the table he may struggle to carve out a niche on an NFL roster. Ultimately, both players will be drafted early because of their upside, but there are enough questions to make dynasty owners wary that they’ll ever contribute enough to warrant a roster spot.
Take A Chance On…
Washington State’s Brandon Gibson led the Pac-10 in receiving as a junior, but his senior season numbers were blunted by a subpar supporting cast and he’s fallen off the radar a bit. He has good size, speed, hands and football smarts and impressed during Senior Bowl practices; a strong showing at the Combine might jog scouts’ memories and send them scurrying for some 2007 film.
Those seeking the “next Marques Colston”—not every draft has one, but that doesn’t stop folks from looking—will likely turn to Dominique Edison, whose 18 touchdowns for Stephen F. Austin probably don’t mean as much to pro scouts as do his measurables—6-2 and 200 pounds, with the potential for a sub-4.4 40.
Who Needs One?
With several big-name receivers potentially finding new homes for the 2009 season—T.J. Houshmandzadeh and Antonio Bryant are free agents and Torry Holt, Terrell Owens, Plaxico Burress, Anquan Boldin, Marvin Harrison, and Chad Johnson have all been attached to trade or outright release rumors—the “need” landscape for wideouts could change dramatically between now and Draft Day.
That said, there are still some teams with obvious needs. While in most mocks the Seahawks are the first team to address the position, the Chiefs could use a running mate for Dwayne Bowe. Further down the top ten, the Raiders and Jaguars are both in dire need of downfield playmakers and would surprise no one by using a first-round pick to scratch that itch. The Buccaneers could look to a receiver as well, especially if they fail to resign Bryant, while at No. 21 the Eagles get their first of two first-round cracks at that No. 1 receiver they’ve been seeking for years (TO’s run in Philly notwithstanding). The Dolphins are still looking to add playmakers, and the Colts may feel the need to reload their receiving corps if they deem Harrison too pricey. Rounding out the opening frame are the Giants, who could be down both Burress and Amani Toomer, and the Titans, who have taken heat for not taking a receiver in round one each of the past three drafts.
After the initial rush teams will look to fill gaps on their roster with specifically skilled receivers. Speed was the key factor last year, and a wideout with kick return skills is always a valuable commodity. However, don’t overlook the need for possession types who may have been a step slow in the 40 but whose route-running acumen lends itself well to early insertion into an NFL club’s receiving rotation. Few if any teams are so stocked at the position that they couldn’t use a mid-draft pick to challenge for a third or fourth receiver role.