The 2012 Draft features a crop of highly talented receivers, with two getting sure fire top-half of the first round grades and a couple others capable of jumping in at the back half of round one. The Bucs will not be one of the teams looking to add one of those talented young wide-outs early though, if they look to add receivers at all.
After signing Vincent Jackson in the off-season, Mike Williams will now compete with Arrelious Benn and Dezmon Briscoe for the second spot with Preston Parker likely residing in the slot. The point is, the Bucs have a little bit of depth to spare right now at receiver and outside of something absurd happening, aren’t likely to add much to that position group during the draft.
The doesn’t mean there won’t be some stars in this class though, as I mentioned, there are two guys in this class with top-tier grades and two others who grade out as first rounders. There are also a few notable gems and sleepers who could be worth a look for a team later on. As much as any other position, receiver is a crap shoot. You see great guys selected in all rounds, Marques Colston regularly irritates the Bucs secondary and he was had for a seventh rounder. This draft may have enough depth to feature a player or two like that from this position group too.
1.) Justin Blackmon, Oklahoma State, Jr.
Blackmon entered 2011 as the top receiver in the country and did little to change anyone’s mind about that. Not one, but two Biletnikoff awards have come his way, quite an encore to Dez Bryant at Oklahoma State. Blackmon is an elite prospect, bar none the best receiver in the draft, and that showed during his explosive college career. Blackmon is quick, strong and has great hands. He scored 38 touchdowns over the past couple seasons for the Cowboys and those skills will translate well into the NFL. Blackmon doesn’t possess elite top speed but he’s explosive in space and can make guys miss. He’s one of those players whose hands you want to try and get the ball into as often as possible, in any way possible. There are a few concerns with Blackmon, one being a college arrest, but on the field there aren’t a ton of flaws in Blackmon’s game. He played outside more at Oklahoma State but in the NFL I think he’ll likely need to transition inside and learn to play in the slot more than he was used to in college. He should be great there though, he’s extremely physical and has the strength and hands to make tough catches in traffic. He should be gone top six, but if he’s not don’t be shocked when some team jumps up for him.
2.) Michael Floyd, Notre Dame, Sr.
I really like Floyd, but for a Notre Dame kid he sure does tote a little bit of baggage. Whereas with one arrest I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt, three constitutes a pattern… at least that’s conventional NFL thinking (I’m not here to judge). That aside though, Floyd’s a fantastic player and despite some of his previous run-ins, a genuinely bright guy. I lead off with that because for many players that is worth a round or two off their draft stock, Floyd is still graded out by many as a top 10 player. Floyd is an exceptional combination of size, speed and hands. At 6-3, 220 he’s a big physical presence that can take apart a secondary. If you look at the majority of the alpha receivers in the NFL, they’re all 6-3+, all 210-230 and with the exception of Andre Johnson most of them aren’t winning by running past defenders. With a 4.47-40 and a very physical style of play Floyd more than fits that mold. He’s got the speed to extend plays and he can haul in a deep ball if you toss him one, but he’s not the kind of guy whose going to floor you with his speed. What he will floor you with are his hands and concentration, perhaps the best of any receiver in this draft. I got to see Floyd play in person when I covered the Champs Bowl this year and he was damn good, along the way hauling in the best catch I saw all season. Somebody is going to get Floyd and be very happy with the returns, he may not have the high-end college production or raw athleticism of Justin Blackmon, but he may be a safer bet in the NFL.
3.) Stephen Hill, Georgia Tech, Jr.
Somebody please explain to me just how the hell the Yellow Jackets continue to get these mega-receivers to come to Atlanta. Paul Johnson runs an offense that doesn’t throw the ball. Literally. They run a triple option and toss it up maybe 15 times in a good game, yet these guys keep coming. Big 6-4+ guys with speed and surprising agility. Calvin Johnson never played under Paul Johnson, but Demarius Thomas sure did, and now here comes Stephen Hill, another first round grade 6-4 receiver from a school famous for not throwing the ball. Seriously, the Jackets tossed the ball a whopping 162 times this year, yet Hill still managed to rangle 820 yards and five touchdowns. When Georgia Tech passes Hill is literally the only guy worth covering on that team, often he’s the only receiver on the field (it’s all tight ends and fullbacks) and he still dominates secondaries. He’s 6-4, 215 and runs a 4.37, has off-the-chart leaping ability, great agility and flexibility on his routes and the guy can catch too. At almost any other school he challenges for the Biletnikoff, at Georgia Tech he has to settle for a 29.3 yards per catch average and learn to block. Now that will pay dividends for him though as his considerable skills will find more use in the NFL and his experience in college blocking will make some offense very happy. Still, I wish I could hear the pitch Paul Johnson uses on these receivers to get them to forego 80 catch seasons in favor of blocking and 15 total passing attempts per game. It must be unreal.
4.) Kendall Wright, Baylor, Sr.
Here’s the thing about Kendall Wright, if Robert Griffin doesn’t come along and blow up Baylor I don’t think Wright still finds himself this high on the list. Lately though Wright has begun to move on lists for another dumb reason, this time sliding down for 40-times. I think all of that is bunko, Kendall Wright is a future NFL slot receiver in the making, he’s more quick than fast but he’s got the moves in the open field to more than make up for his lack of elite top-speed. That’s a misnomer in the NFL, you don’t have to be Usain Bolt, you have to be quick to be successful. Look at two of the better slot guys in the NFL, Wes Welker and Davone Bess are both in the 4.65-4.75 range, but they have few issues making plays in the NFL because they’re quick and shifty. Wright finds himself in a slightly better place with a 4.49 and a 4.55, but as we just said that’s all overrated. In very few instances does an NFL player have to run in a straight line, cutting and changing direction are part of the game and that’s something Wright, as much as any receiver in the draft, excels at. Wright has great hands (a theme amongst top receivers) and a fearlessness about going over the middle. He does most of his damage between the hash-marks and takes pride in his physicality and route-running. I look for Wright to get picked in the 20′s where he’ll make an impact in the slot this year.
5.) Alshon Jeffrey, South Carolina, Jr.
I was actually a lot higher on Jeffrey right after the season, then he got on this speed kick where he lost a bunch of weight and didn’t add a whole lot of burst, while also losing strength. That’s a bad recipe. Jeffrey is best about 230 to go along with his 6-3 frame and good arm length. He’s never going to be a burner, he fits more into the same mold as Michael Floyd and some of the bigger receivers in the league. Jeffrey’s game is best with the ball in his hands after the catch where he can take advantage of his quickness, strength and balance. He’s got good hands and leaping ability and can go up over most corners and safeties to haul in tough catches and if he ends up in the open field, it’s a nightmare for secondaries. The one place Jeffrey can improve is with his technique and route running. He needs some coaching to iron out some of the flaws off the line of scrimmage and during the breaks in his routes (he tends to round off a lot of his routes, which will not fly in the NFL). But aside from that, once the ball is in the air he’s as good as there is in this class. I think Jeffrey goes in the second round, but wouldn’t be shocked if he ends up at the end of round one either.
Best of the Rest
6.) Rueben Randle, LSU, Jr.
Randle likely decided to come out early because of questions facing the LSU passing game next season (not to mention the ones that faced it this year) but he could use more work before he’s ready to be a great NFL receiver. Randle seems to have the foundation to be solid, but needs to refine parts of his game. He lacks elite speed but has the size to be successful and the quickness and agility to play well at his size.
7.) Chris Givens, Wake Forest, Jr.
I really like Chris Givens, he’s extremely athletic and he’s a smart player who has refined his craft in his time at Wake. A 4.35-40 is only the tip of the iceberg with Givens, who contributed as a receiver, tailback and returner at Wake. Givens will likely be a natural at the slot in most NFL offenses and should find a home on day two of the draft.
8.) Juron Criney, Arizona, Sr.
If Criney came out last year he may have been top five on this list, then a medical condition almost cost him his 2011 season and threw a lot of his future into question. Criney seems to be fine, but there’s still trepidation from the NFL over the mysterious neurological ailment that hospitalized Criney prior to his senior season. That aside, Criney is as good a receiver as anyone in the draft and that includes Floyd and Blackmon. He’s a big (6-3, 225), fast receiver with great hands.
9.) Mohamed Sanu, Rutgers, Jr.
Sanu is a solid guy, but likely not elite. He’s a big, physical receiver who is tough to jam at the line and finds success with the ball in his hands in the open field, but his 4.62-40 time has hurt his stock and another year at Rutgers likely could have helped him refine his technique and route running a bit more.
10.) TY Hilton, Florida International, Sr.
Hilton is one of the more underrated prospects in this year’s draft and one of my favorites. At 5-10, 183 some scouts will say Hilton is slight of stature, but his 4.3 speed and his eye-popping college reel are indicative of the kind of explosive player he can be. Hilton will likely go on day three of the draft, but don’t be shocked if he makes an impact early.