With offenses changing the way they have the last 10 years, the wide receiver position has become one of the marquee positions in every draft. Receivers can become difference makers and the more good ones a club has, the more difficult it is to defend that offense. With that being said, here are my top five receivers in this year’s draft class.
1) Sammy Watkins – Clemson
I don’t think you will find anyone to argue with Watkins being my top receiver. At 6006 – 211, he isn’t a jumbo receiver like a Calvin Johnson or Alshon Jeffery, but he still is big and strong to go along with excellent play speed (4.42).
Coming from the Clemson offense, Johnson still needs to develop his route running, but he consistently gets separation both short and deep. He has very good hands, will catch in traffic and just may be the best after-the-catch runner in this class. When he gets the ball in his hands, he shows, speed, power, and elusiveness.
I like that he is so physical. He can block and is powerful runner. If he has to compete for the ball in traffic, he wins the battle. He has very strong hands.
Look for Johnson to be one of the first five players selected in this draft.
2) Mike Evans – Texas A&M
While Watkins might not be in the mold of the current jumbo receivers in the NFL, Mike Evans surely is. Evans stand 6046 – 231 and runs 4.51. His play speed is faster, and he is one of the more physical receivers in this class.
With his size and length, he is best at winning jump balls. He is excellent at high-pointing the ball. He has very good hands and does an excellent job adjusting to the ball. As a route runner, he is very good with vertical-type routes. While he can make a quick cut, he has some tightness in his hips, and this hurt his ability to separate on shorter routes. Still, with his size, he is open even when covered. After the catch, he is a strong runner and consistently gets yardage.
Evans is well thought of around the league and could easily go in the top 10.
3) Marqise Lee – USC
Look at 2012 tape and you very well could have figured that Lee would be the first receiver off the board in this draft. That season, Lee caught 118 passes for 1721 yards and 14 touchdowns. USC had quarterback and coaching problems and Lee missed three games with a knee injury. Because of all of that, his production dropped to 57 catches for 791 yards and 4 touchdowns.
Lee is quick, fast, and very athletic. He has outstanding body control and a quick burst. He is a top route runner who is consistently able to gain separation. While he can makes a number of acrobatic catches, he also has some concentration drops. After the catch, he shows outstanding run instincts. He has been a top returner in the past and has NFL return skills.
As my third receiver, Lee will probably get drafted somewhere in the middle of the first round.
4) Odell Beckham Jr. - LSU
LSU probably had the best receiving corps in the SEC this past season. Few clubs had receivers like Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry. While Landry is a top receiver in his own right, he doesn’t have the natural traits of Beckham Jr.
Beckham Jr. has adequate size at 5112 – 198, but he is an exceptional athlete with speed (4.43), quickness and body control. He is a loose-hipped guy with excellent change of direction and a burst.
He runs good routes, and with his body control, is consistently able to get separation. He has very good hands and adjusts well to the ball in the air. After the catch, he consistently shows the skills to turn a short pass into a long gain. His run skills are outstanding, and he is an accomplished returner.
Beckham can play outside or in the slot and will be drafted somewhere between the 20th and 30th pick in the first round.
5) Brandin Cooks – Oregon State
If there is a receiver in this draft that is similar to DeSean Jackson, it’s Brandin Cooks from Oregon State. Cooks has a slightly thicker build than Jackson at 5096 – 189, but he is a similar athlete with excellent speed (4.33). On the field, Cooks is quick, fast, and explosive. He is an excellent route runner who is consistently is able to get separation.
He has very good hands, can adjust to the ball, and is an excellent runner after the catch. He also has NFL return skills. Despite lacking some size, he is a fearless competitor and competes for the ball in traffic.
Cooks can play lined up either outside or in the slot, but will probably play early in his career as a slot. Cooks should easily go in the bottom part of the opening round on May 8th.
Follow Greg on Twitter @greggabe
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