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2014 Draft Preview: Wide Receiver

Posted May 6, 2014

It wouldn’t be a great shock if close to a dozen wide receivers ended up being selected in the first two rounds.

The 2014 draft has been described in many circles as one of the deepest in years, even decades, and nowhere is that more evident than at the wide receiver position. It is, quite simply, loaded. There’s high-end talent in this class, with Sammy Watkins from Clemson, and there’s also a ridiculous amount of depth where wide receivers who normally could get drafted in the first round will drop down because of the abundance of talent at the position.

As it is, it wouldn’t be a great shock if close to a dozen wide receivers ended up being selected in the first two rounds. There are quality options for every kind of receiver, from oversized wideouts like Mike Evans and Kelvin Benjamin, to speedsters like Odell Beckham Jr. and Brandin Cooks, to small but effective receivers like Bruce Ellington and Robert Herron.

The Dolphins have taken a wide receiver in the first round four times — Ted Ginn Jr. in 2007, Yatil Green in 1997, O.J. McDuffie in 1993 and Randal Hill in 1991. Miami also has selected a wide receiver in the second round six times, but only one since 1987 (Chris Chambers in 2001). Miami drafted eight wide receivers in the past 10 years, taking two in 2006, 2009 and 2012, and one each in 2007 and 2009.

BREAKING DOWN THE TOP WIDE RECEIVER PROSPECTS (In Alphabetical Order)

Odell Beckham Jr. seemed destined to be an athlete at LSU after his father was a starting running back and his mother was a track All-American at the school. Beckham started 34 games in his three seasons at LSU and in 2013 earned the Paul Hornung Award as the most versatile player in college football after finishing with 2,315 all-purpose yards, the second-highest total in SEC history behind the 2010 total of current Green Bay Packers wide receiver Randall Cobb. Beckham teamed with another 2014 draft prospect, Jarvis Landry, to give LSU its first set of wide receivers each with 1,000 yards in the same season. Beckham, who averaged almost 20 yards a catch in 2013, averaged more than 25 yards per kickoff return at LSU and had two punt returns for touchdowns as a sophomore in 2012.

Brandin Cooks might not be the top wide receiver prospect in this year’s draft, but he was the one who was selected the winner of the 2013 Biletnikoff Award, given to the top wide receiver in college football. Cooks earned the honor after setting Pac-12 records with 128 catches and 1,730 receiving yards to go along with a school-record 16 receiving touchdowns. Cooks’ production shouldn’t have been all that surprising considering he gained 1,151 receiving yards as a sophomore in 2012 after starting three games as a true freshman. Cooks very well might have solidified his spot in the first round at the scouting combine when he ran a 4.33-yard dash, the fastest time among college wide receivers. Cooks is on the smallish side, so he’s somewhat limited in what he can bring to an offense, but his playmaking ability makes him an attractive prospect nonetheless.

For all the accolades Johnny Manziel earned during his two years as the starting quarterback at Texas A&M, he had to have someone on the receiving end of his passes, and his favorite target was Mike Evans. Built more like a tight end or a linebacker, Evans used his size and playmaking skills (he also played basketball in high school) to produce big numbers in his two seasons with Manziel. Evans didn’t just pick on weak opponents, either. As a redshirt sophomore last fall, he had seven catches for 279 yards against defending national champion Alabama and topped those numbers with 11 receptions for 287 yards and four scores a month later against an Auburn team that would go on to play for the national title. Evans isn’t particularly fast, but his ability to win one-on-one battles for the ball makes him a potential top 15 pick.

Marqise Lee decided to enter the 2014 as an underclassman despite having a down 2013 season caused by nagging injuries, shaky quarterback play at USC, not to mention a coaching change during the season. Two years ago, though, Lee was as good a wide receiver as there was in college football, evidenced by his winning the 2012 Biletnikoff Award after he caught 118 passes for 1,721 yards and 14 touchdowns. That came after a sensational true freshman year when he had 1,143 yards and 11 touchdowns. Lee, who averaged 28.5 yards per kickoff return each of his first two years at USC, is a dynamic playmaker with game-breaking ability, but his durability might be a concern given his rather light frame and what happened in 2013.

This is all you need about Sammy Watkins and why he’s been considered a top NFL prospect for a while now: When he was named a first-team All-American selection as an all-purpose player in 2011, he became only the fourth true freshman to garner that honor. The others: Herschel Walker, Marshall Faulk and Adrian Peterson. Watkins, who grew up in Fort Myers and whose brother Jaylen is considered a mid-round prospect after playing cornerback at the University of Florida, endured a disappointing sophomore season before he rebounded in style in 2013. Watkins battled minor injuries and served a two-game suspension at the start of the season as a sophomore, and ended up with only 57 catches after catching 82 passes as a freshman. Watkins was back to 101 catches as a junior and he wrapped up his collegiate career in style with 16 catches for 227 yards in an Orange Bowl Classic victory against Ohio State. Watkins is considered the best wide receiver prospect since Calvin Johnson was selected second overall in 2007.

THE BEST OF THE REST (In Alphabetical Order)

Davante Adams
6-1, 210
Fresno State

Kelvin Benjamin
6-5, 240
Florida State

Martavis Bryant
6-4, 210
Clemson

Cody Latimer
6-2, 215
Indiana

Jordan Matthews
6-3, 210
Vanderbilt

BREAKING DOWN THE WIDE RECEIVER CLASS

Small-school prospects to watch: John Brown, Pittsburg State; Matt Hazel, Coastal Carolina; Jeff Janis, Saginaw Valley State; Walt Powell, Murray State; Albert Wilson, Georgia State

NFL bloodlines: Murray State’s Walt Powell is the brother of Brandon Williams, a wide receiver who played two seasons in the NFL (2006-07) with the 49ers and Rams … Colorado’s Paul Richardson is the son of Paul Richardson, a former UCLA wide receiver who appeared in one game with the Philadelphia Eagles in 1993.

Long shot to watch: Jalen Saunders began his collegiate career at Fresno State before transferring to Oklahoma, where he not only led the team in receptions in 2013 but also averaged 15.8 yards per punt return with three touchdowns over the past two seasons. Saunders, the nephew of longtime NFL wide receiver Webster Slaughter, stands only 5-9, 165 pounds, but his speed and quickness could give him a shot as a slot receiver and punt returner.
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