Big Board: Wide Receivers

Julio Jones celebrates a 73-yard TD reception.
Julio Jones celebrates a 73-yard TD reception. /
Julio Jones celebrates a 73-yard TD reception.
Julio Jones celebrates a 73-yard TD reception. /

The Buccaneers really struck it big with receivers in last year’s draft, selecting Arrelious Benn in the 2nd round and Mike Williams in the 4th round. Williams, ended up leading all rookies in receiving and was arguably the steal of the entire draft. Receiver is not a need for the Buccaneers right now, they have a solid core of players for Josh Freeman to target, and even with Arrelious Benn rehabbing a knee injury and Kellen Winslow owning a second residence on the injury list, I doubt the Bucs look for a receiver until the mid-to-late rounds if at all. That’s not a problem though as this draft is exceptionally deep in regard to receivers and Mark Dominik has more than proven he can find the gems.

Here are the top receivers in the 2011 NFL Draft:

1.) Julio Jones, Alabama- The consensus top choice is AJ Green, and you really can’t go wrong with either, but in my book Jones is the superior receiver. It’s tough to compare these two statistically, Green was better in the same conference when you look at numbers but when you consider the caliber of the teams they played on and the offense each ran, it’s apples and oranges. Here’s why I like Jones, he’s a more complete receiver. He’s a better athlete (better measurables than Green with a stress fracture in his foot), he’s faster, he’s a little bigger and he is just as talented at hauling the ball in. What separates Jones is his experience in a pro-style offense and his willingness to block. Can AJ Green block? Yes, does he always? No. But Julio Jones at Alabama was a beast when it came to downfield blocking. He’s a kid looking to help his team out however he can. He’s willing to play through injuries (including a broken hand in 2010) and he’s got dynamic ability after the catch. The biggest knock on Jones is his route-running, he does tend to rely on athleticism instead of precision at times, but that will come and the rest of his game is NFL-ready. It’s really one and one-a, but Jones edges out Green for his intangibles.

AJ Green is truly elite, it's 1 and 1a in this draft.
AJ Green is truly elite, it's 1 and 1a in this draft. /

2.) AJ Green, Georgia- Green is really close to Julio Jones in terms of caliber. He came on at UGA as a freshman and was arguably the most prolific receiver in major college football over his career. Green combines tremendous size and speed with surprisingly good body control, but his long legs limit his agility and elusiveness after the catch. Green’s best assets are his hands, he has the best hands in the draft and knows how to use them, this isn’t a guy that’s going to catch the ball in on his pads and he can hold on to it when he gets leveled too. His route-running is also superior to that of Julio Jones, a factor many NFL scouts value highly. In terms of raw speed, Green is a tad slower in the 40 but in pads there’s really not much of a difference between the two. Green is a tremendous receiver and it’s extremely justifiable to put him on top of the list, but for NFL-purposes I feel like Jones’ game fits into that style of play a little better right now.

3.) Leonard Hankerson, Miami- Hankerson is a 6’2 209 lb. receiver out of the University of Miami and I’m not sure anyone had better coaching off the field and a worse supporting cast on it out of any of the other receivers in the 2011 draft. Hankerson was coached in high school by NFL Hall of Famer Cris Carter (at the time WR coach at St. Thomas Aquinas), before his junior year he worked exclusively with former Dolphins great Mark Duper. He’s got the pedigree. What he didn’t have in college was a quarterback. During his time at Miami, Hankerson caught passes from Robert Mavre, Jacory Harris and Stephen Morris. With the exception of Morris who may have a very bright future, the ‘Canes didn’t do Hankerson many favors with their QB play during his time there. Despite that though, Hankerson still broke Miami’s single season records for receiving and touchdown receptions his senior year. Don’t think that’s impressive, this is a school that has churned out Santana Moss, Reggie Wayne, Michael Irvin and Andre Johnson. Those guys caught passes from Heisman candidates and never had the type of year Hankerson did with Jacory Harris and a true freshman hurling it at him. Hankerson isn’t a complete receiver yet, he lacks explosiveness out of his cuts and he doesn’t always catch the balls out away from his body. But he’s got the tools to be a very good NFL receiver.

Torrey Smith has athleticism and integrity in droves.
Torrey Smith has athleticism and integrity in droves. /

4.) Torrey Smith, Maryland- Smith is an athletic marvel, he has tremendous speed, agility and all the potential you can imagine. What he doesn’t have is a polished game at receiver. Smith made his mark early in his career at Maryland as a big play specialist, mostly working in the return game. Smith will immediately find work in the NFL returning kicks. What needs work is fundamentals at receiver, but every knock on him is very coachable. Smith’s route-running has the potential to be fantastic. He is explosive out of his cuts and he has the speed to make corners and safeties respect the deep ball. Unfortunately Smith relies heavily on his athleticism and that typically results in some lax patterns. Same with catching the ball, Smith has the ability to catch it out on his hands but oftentimes invites the ball in on his pads where, as we all know, drops tend to happen. What Smith does have, are the things you can’t coach up. He has tremendous elusiveness and ability after the catch, he also has extremely strong character, he’s dedicated and very humble. After a rough up-bringing Smith helped raise his siblings while putting himself through school and playing football. His coach at Maryland, Ralph Friedgen raves about his integrity as a man saying, “God created a perfect person.” That’s high praise.

5.) Titus Young, Boise State- A lot of people don’t like Young because he’s cocky and a bit undersized. I see Titus Young and think of DeSean Jackson who we heard a lot of the same things about coming out of college. Young is fantastically quick, he has tremendous burst out of his routes, an impressive “extra gear” for out-running defenders and he absolutely destroys corners that give him too much of a cushion. Young should be able to come in and contribute in the return-game right off the bat, but he should also translate into a solid NFL receiver as well, most likely working out of the slot. What a lot of analysts take away from Young is his size, saying he doesn’t have the frame to hold up to the rigors of the NFL. I call BS on that, with all the new rule changes and the softening of the game, you really can’t level receivers that often anymore in the NFL. A few years ago I would buy that argument, but in today’s NFL a corner draws a flag if he just has an impure thought about a receiver. His size is less of a concern to me, what concerns me is his attitude. Titus Young is supremely talented, but he’s not the type of character-guy I would want to see come to Tampa.

Jerrel Jernigan put up big numbers at Troy.
Jerrel Jernigan put up big numbers at Troy. /

The Best of the Rest:

6.) Randall Cobb, Kentucky- Narrowly missed cracking the top five, very polished receiver with a great work ethic. A bit undersized compared to other receivers in the class and lacks good blocking skill.

7.) Edmond Gates, Abilene Christian- Gates is an absolute burner, running one of the fast 40’s at the combine and decimated sub-par competition at ACU. He will be turning 25 soon though and does have some questions about his character as well.

8.) Jerrel Jernigan, Troy- Many say his size and questions about his academic mind (which is a nice way for analysts to call a kid stupid) will limit him. But Jernigan was one of the nation’s best receivers statistically during his collegiate career and has all the ability necessary to be a solid receiver in the NFL too. Receiver is also one position where coming from a smaller school isn’t a knock. Jernigan may have the best chance to duplicate Mike Williams’ rookie year and surprise everyone. You can’t deny on-field production.

9.) Jon Baldwin, Pittsburgh- Off-the-field questions and concerns about commitment and dedication have plagued Baldwin, but his size and ability to go up high and bring down tough passes will keep him in the top half of the draft.

10.) Austin Pettis, Boise State- No one has Pettis this high but I think this kid is just a gamer. Always a high production player, makes a big target for his quarterback and is willing to do a lot of the little things to get better.

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