As with most draft classes, followers of the draft want to instantly compare it to previous years. In short, there is no AJ Green or Julio Jones or Calvin Johnson in this year’s draft class. There are no clear-cut, feature receivers that can make an impact because they can consistently out-match double teams and are nearly impossible to cover one on one.
Despite not having any of these clear, Top 10 worthy receivers in this class, it does feature three (and maybe a few more) top first round targets that could have a significant impact on a team’s offense. Here is the case for each one of the “big three” to be the top receiver in this class.
Justin Blackmon, Oklahoma State
Why He’s #1: Blackmon’s ability to take over a game in the Oklahoma State offense has made his draft stock soar, but it’s the little things he does to dominate the way he has that make him so unique. Maybe Blackmon’s two best qualities as a receiver are his outstanding body positioning in short routes as well as in the redzone, and his ability to keep stride with explosion, speed, and vision after the catch. That ability makes him a threat in the slot as well as the outside receiver position.
Why He’s Not: Blackmon had most of his success in the offense when he was moved around in different positions and sets. When he has kept outside and forced to consistently beat double teams as well as more feisty cornerbacks, he struggled. He needs to His lack of consistent ability to win match-ups on the outside against NFL-like cornerbacks (see Iowa State’s Leonard Johnson) is a main reason why some teams that don’t have the receiver depth and creative offensive weapons around him to ensure that Blackmon can be used as more of a position-switching match-up receiver.
Best First Round Fits: Miami, Arizona, Cincinnati, Houston, New England
Michael Floyd, Notre Dame
Why He’s #1: Michael Floyd likely would have been an early first or late round pick had he come out a year ago, and now stands to be taken somewhere in the middle of round one. First off, his character concerns from the past, from all reports and what I’ve heard, are completely gone and he had absolutely turned a corner in becoming mature off the field. Along with the lack of character concerns, Floyd is a fantastic short and mid area route runner, grabs the ball out of the air extremely well, and attacks the ball in air with great concentration and body control. He has the size, focus, ball skills, and body type to be a great middle of the field threat in the NFL.
Why He’s Not: At times downfield, Floyd doesn’t jostle as well as you’d like for a downfield receiver, and sometimes tries to out finesse defensive backs, something that will be much harder to do against NFL cornerbacks. While he’s a good athlete and has downfield speed, I’m not sure he has the elite quickness in his breaks downfield to gain consistent separation as a deep receiver, limiting his abilities as a complete, top receiver option. He’s an ideal fit as a short-mid range consistent, reliable target, with solid run after catch ability, but his limitations downfield along with his occasional over-finesse are somewhat of a concern.
Best First Round Fits: Jacksonville, Buffalo, Cleveland, Baltimore
Kendall Wright, Baylor
Why He’s #1: Few players were as difficult to consistently contain as Kendall Wright this year. While the (unfair) question of who helped who more, Wright or Griffin, has come up, it’s safe to say that both made an impact on the other’s success. What makes Wright so unique and difficult to cover is his burst after the catch, his elite quickness with the ball, and his ability to catch away from his body with balance and control. He’s not quite the in-air athlete Steve Smith (Carolina) in my opinion, but has similar screen and short route run after catch abilities, and is sudden at every level of the route tree. He could play a slot position, but he’s got a chance to be among the best “z” receivers in the NFL.
Why He’s Not: The biggest knock on Kendall Wright is obvious: he lacks ideal size. He’s around 5’10 and under 200 pounds, and will struggle to be a short-route receiver in traffic in the NFL with consistency. Also, he does and will continue to struggle to win jump balls and shed more physical defensive backs, especially in man coverage. He’ll need a complementing receiver who can play physically and open up the deep middle of the field to be successful, again limiting his potential as a consistent, impact receiver.
Best First Round Fits: Miami, Carolina, Chicago, Detroit, San Francisco
Other Top Receivers
Those three receivers are tops on most boards, but some prospects with unique skill sets may crash that party as a first round receiver as well. Alshon Jeffery of South Carolina dominated as a sophomore and has that rare, number one receiver ability, but concerns about staying in shape and consistent separation may still keep him out of round one. Joe Adams of Arkansas is an ideal slot receiver with great recognition in his routes and big play ability. Brian Quick of Appalachian State is raw and has obvious concerns coming from a small school, but he has great ball skills, basketball type receiver ability, and lots of upside. And finally, Stephen Hill of Georgia Tech, who blew up at the Combine and has elite receiver tools to work with, but lacks great explosiveness in his cuts, a developed route tree, and overall receiver techniques that could take some time to develop.