Ranking the top junior wideouts

The 2011 wide receiver class could be in store for a major boost in talent if some of the junior standouts have anything to say about it. The junior wideout class is loaded with big-time NFL-caliber talent that could end up forcing the senior wide receiver group down draft boards next April. Today, the National Football Post breaks down and ranks this year’s top four potential blue-chip junior receivers.

1. Michael Floyd, Notre Dame (6-3, 220)
When this guy is 100-percent healthy, look out because he possesses the kind of athletic and physical skill set needed to consistently win on the outside at the next level. Blessed with a thick, well-built frame, Floyd does an excellent job using his quickness and strength to slip/shrug cornerbacks off the line vs. press and gets into his routes quickly. He showcases impressive overall body control and balance as a route runner and knows how to set up defenders and cleanly change directions out of his breaks. Displays a real suddenness to his game for such a physical specimen and really impressed me with his overall lateral coordination on all levels of the field. Plus, he’s a load to bring down after the catch and runs with great power, accelerating quickly into daylight. However, he’s at his best when asked to make plays vertically. Eats up the cushion quickly off the line for his size and has a bit of a second gear once he gets into his stride. The further he gets down the field, the harder he is to cover, as he does a great job locating the football quickly, high-pointing the throw and coming down with the catch. He lacks elite straight-line speed, but because of his power and overall acceleration for his size, he’s still tough to stay with when asked to get vertical. If he can stay healthy for the entire season, there’s no reason to think this guy can’t put up massive numbers and make a run at the top wide receiver spot in the 2011 draft.

2. A.J. Green, Georgia (6-4, 205)
A tall, long-armed wideout with a lean-looking frame who lacks ideal overall girth at this stage. And although he plays stronger than his weight would indicate, he doesn’t showcase the type of power to consistently shrug off defenders and cleanly get into his routes vs. press man, which is why he’s rated a bit below Floyd. However, much like Floyd, Green displays excellent body control and balance as a route runner and has the suddenness to his game to cleanly get out of his breaks and separate from man coverage on all levels of the field. I love his overall flexibility and watching him contort his long, lean body in all directions to come down with the football. Displays great hands, consistently plucking the ball away from his frame, and rarely lets a throw get into his body. Does a nice job setting up defenders off the line when asked to beat press coverage and has the lateral shiftiness to slip the bump cleanly and get into his routes. His concentration is second to none as he has the ability to remain focused through the play and comes down with some impressive catches when asked to go up and get the ball. Honestly, there isn’t much separating Green from Floyd at this point, and I feel both have the ability to be playmaking-type No. 1 wideouts at the next level. But I think the overall physical element of Floyd’s game will serve him better.

3. Julio Jones, Alabama (6-4, 212)
A massive physical specimen who really seems to intimidate opposing cornerbacks off the line. Does a nice job using his power and length to fight his way through any kind of press, quickly shrugging off opposing defenders, dropping his shoulder and accelerating into his routes. However, what stands out most about Jones is the balance he displays as a route runner and his ability to accelerate quickly once he gets the ball into his hands. Possesses a real polish to his game as an underneath route runner and does a nice job setting up corners, cleanly getting out of his breaks and working after the catch. Exhibits a real feel for reading zone overages and knows where to sit down underneath. Plus, he gets up to speed quickly when asked to get down the field and does a nice job fighting his way through coverage and tracking the ball vertically. Knows how to extend his long arms and make a play on the football in jump-ball situations, and I love the grit and power he displays as a blocker in the run game. However, there are two reasons I have Jones rated behind Green and Floyd: One, he doesn’t generate the same kind of burst/separation as an intermediate route runner, and two, he has too many lapses in concentration and puts the ball on the ground too often, especially over the middle of the field.

4. Jonathan Baldwin, Pittsburgh (6-5, 225)
Another tall, good-looking wideout who possesses a well-built upper body with the strength to consistently fend off defenders in the pass game. Is at his best when asked to get down the field, locate the ball and go up and make a play. Looks like a power forward the way he attacks the throw and consistently is able to come down with the catch. Baldwin is more of a strider when asked to get vertical, but he exhibits some shiftiness to his game with the ball in his hands and is able to sidestep defenders and accelerate into daylight. Does a really nice job plucking the football over the middle of the field and isn’t afraid to put his body in harm’s way in order to make a play. However, the deciding factor between Baldwin and the top three wideouts on the list is, first and foremost, his overall polish and lack of ideal balance/footwork as a route runner. He’s consistently forced to gear down and gather himself when asked to change directions, and he isn’t real sudden when asked to beat press coverage. Although he does a good job gaining a step and dropping his shoulder, he isn’t nearly as impressive in that aspect of the game as Jones, Green or Floyd. Again, he’s only a junior to be and has the skill set needed to mature into a playmaker at the next level. Nevertheless, at this stage, he still ranks as the fourth best prospect in the group.

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