2014 NFL Draft: Sammy Watkins Atop Loaded Receiver Class

Sammy WatkinsWhile the influx of underclassmen certainly aided to it, the 2014 receiver class is one of the best in recent memory. With as many as nine first-round-worthy options and plenty of depth after them, teams will be able to wait on taking the top-end talents until the mid-rounds, and instead opt for other positions early on.

Sammy Watkins is the prize of the class, but he won’t leave the top ten pick overall. After him, there are plenty of options for teams to shore up their receiving corps throughout the early rounds of the 2014 draft.

1. Sammy Watkins, Clemson
in a loaded receiver class, Sammy Watkins is a cut above the rest of the class. A dynamic weapon in the Clemson offense, Watkins was used across the field in a variety of designed plays and route combinations. In an offense orchestrated by fellow 2014 prospect Tajh Boyd, Watkins consistently showcased his big-play ability after catch and his vertical presence that few in the NFL possess.

Comparing to a thicker, more physical version of Jeremy Maclin, Watkins is one of the elite receivers of the past few drafts and is a worthwhile top ten pick in a draft class loaded with top end talent.

Draft Projection: Top 10 Overall

2. Marqise Lee, USC
Marqise Lee became a bit of the forgotten man this season at USC, especially after Lane Kiffin was fired and the focus of the team shifted to their talented defense to get the program back in order. But Lee is a strong-handed, reliable mid-field receiver who can be an instant starter in a West Coast system, with the upside to be an upper echelon receiver in the NFL.

By comparison, former USC receiver Robert Woods finished his rookie season with 40 catches and three touchdowns on 86 targets for the Bills, and he’ll play an even more influential role in the Bills offense next year. Marqise Lee is a superior prospecting and has much more upside long-term.

Draft Projection: Mid-Late 1st  Round

3. Allen Robinson, Penn State
Opting to leave Penn State like his former head coach Bill O’Brien, Allen Robinson chose to leave Penn State on a high note. Finishing his junior season with eight 100+ yard receiving games and being the feature weapon for future NFL prospect Christian Hackenberg, Robinson utilized his reliability at the catch-point, fluidity as a route runner down the field, and plus ability after catch.

Reminding quite a bit of Keenan Allen, the rookie standout for the Chargers this season, thanks to his ability after catch and the potential impact he can bring as a rookie. He’ll probably go lower than some of the bigger bodied receivers in the class, but he’s one of the more NFL ready outside threats in this draft class.

Draft Projection: Late 1st-Early 2nd Round

4. Odell Beckham Jr, LSU
One of two LSU Tigers that are worthy of top-40 selections, Odell Beckham Jr. is arguably the most impressive overall athlete in this receiver class. According to CBS Sports’ Bruce Feldman, Beckham could have been an elite soccer player along with playing baseball and basketball growing up. On-the-field at LSU, Beckham routinely won as a vertical threat, both in jump ball situations and on deep-breaking routes after the catch.

Still very raw as a route runner and in overall body positioning to give his quarterback an ideal throwing window as he works to gain separation, Beckham is a work-in-progress, and the team that drafts him shouldn’t expect immediate starter-level impact. But he has the highest ceiling of any receiver in this class.

Draft Projection: Late 1st-Early 2nd Round

5. Jarvis Landry, LSU
As opposed to his now former LSU teammate, Jarvis Landry is a polished, NFL-ready short-area receiver who finishes catches and accelerates in West Coast-type routes. With reliable hands and plus timing as he works as a route runner, Landry can step in right away to an NFL offense and provide a solid option for teams in need of 3rd down help.

Despite Beckham Jr. being more highly touted now (and he’ll blow up at the Combine), Landry may not be far behind in what his NFL impact may be thanks to his consistency and physicality when working in the middle of the field. He’ll remind some teams of a young Anquan Boldin.

Draft Projection: Late 1st-Early 2nd Round

6. Brandin Cooks, Oregon State
Production-wise and based on his on-field impact, there may not have been a more feared receiver in college football last season. With five multi-touchdown games and his six 40+ yard catches last season, Cooks displayed not only his vertical speed to stretch defenses, but also his vision and ball tracking skills to finish catches down the field.

His lack of ideal size (listed at 5’10, but likely smaller) and potential slot-only impact for some team’s may push him below the big-bodied receivers that follow him here, but Brandin Cooks could be the second coming of Steve Smith, and is worth an early second round pick.

Draft Projection: Late 1st-Early 2nd Round

7. Mike Evans, Texas A&M
The feature weapon for Johnny Manziel over the past two years, Evans is a tremendously gifted, tight-end built receiver prospect that likely has NFL teams excited about the potential match-up nightmares he’ll cause NFL defensive backs. Attacking the ball with rare physicality and proving to be a difficult takedown as an open field runner, Evans’s impact at and through the catch-point should provide immediate NFL value.

Evans isn’t higher on this list thanks to his need for far more route development and his lack of short-area quickness to get NFL-level separation. He may never develop into an elite receiver, and would be best used as a Jimmy Graham-type interior receiving weapon

Draft Projection: Late 1st-Early 2nd Round

8. Kelvin Benjamin, Florida State
With an ideal NFL body type for the modern NFL, Benjamin’s sheer size and body type will certainly have teams salivating. A smooth athlete who attacks the ball in air smoothly and with plus extension away from his frame, NFL teams may view him as a potential “second chance” at Alshon Jeffery after he fell to Day 2 of the draft in 2012 NFL draft.

However, Benjamin has persistent concentration lapses, didn’t always attack with the necessary physicality at the catch-point, and is overall a very raw receiver prospect. He may have teams thinking Alshon Jeffery, but they very well could be drafting current Jets receiver Stephen Hill, if not worse.

Draft Projection: 2nd Round

9. Davante Adams, Fresno State
Derek Carr’s feature weapon at Fresno State this year, the 6’2 explosive and athletic receiver routinely impressed during his junior season, including three 200+ yard receiving games. Adams possesses the jump ball ability and hand strength to finish catches in the red-zone as well as be a reliable NFL first down target.

Thanks to the depth of this receiver class, a fringe first round talent like Adams may be there for the taking in the third round. But regardless of where he ends up, he’ll be able to contribute early as a jump ball receiver, with the upside to be a feature receiver in an offense.

Draft Projection: 2nd-3rd Round

10. Jared Abbrederis, Wisconsin
Despite playing in the lackluster Big Ten and dealing with barely adequate quarterback play this season, Jared Abbrederis got the chance to thrive in-season (especially in his battle with Ohio State’s Bradley Roby) and then thoroughly impressed during the Senior Bowl week against the physical cornerbacks in attendance.

Limited in terms of quickness and elusiveness after the catch, Abbrederis is likely destined to be a long-term number two receiver for an NFL team thanks to his strength throughout his route tree, physicality at the catch-point, and plus straight-line speed.

Draft Projection: 3rd Round

Just Missed: Robert Herron, Wyoming; Brandon Coleman, Rutgers; Jordan Matthews, Vanderbilt; Bruce Ellington, South Carolina