Evan Silva

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Draft '08: The Wideouts

Thursday, March 13, 2008

The 2008 receiver class doesn't have dominators like last year's version, but there's a lot of size at the top and some nice developmental athleticism to be had in later rounds. The puzzler is Mario Manningham. If Manningham had run even in the high 4.4s, he would've topped this list. Super Mario possesses rare second-gear explosiveness and still has a very good chance to be a starting caliber NFL player, but that lack of raw speed from Point A to Point B sends up a red flag. Will he be able to get free from better tackling cornerbacks with better technique?

Manningham took too many steps while running the forty. He looked like Fred Flinstone. It was almost as if he hadn't prepared and was all along just assuming he'd do well. Manningham should still go in the top three rounds, but would've had a much better chance to be a first-round draft choice if he had skipped the event altogether. No one could have guessed he'd run in the 4.60 range.

1. Limas Sweed, Texas

Height/Weight: 6'4/212
College Experience: Fifth-year senior
Combine Results: 4.46 forty, 35" vertical
Comparison: Herman Moore
Draft Projection: Late first to early second round
2007 Statistics: 19-306-16.1-3 Tds

Positives: Sweed does not drop passes he should catch, especially over his shoulder. He is a remarkably fluid athlete with near ideal top-end speed for his size. Sweed has an outstanding work ethic, on-field demeanor, and the confident swagger often found in "No. 1" receivers. He is not dominant over the middle, but understands how to avoid big hits. Sweed's arms measured the second longest at the Senior Bowl, behind only Adarius Bowman.

Negatives: Sweed's senior year ended after seven games due to wrist surgery. He also battled an ankle sprain during the season. Sweed aggravated the wrist injury at the Senior Bowl. He is considered a strong route runner, but could be more sudden out of his breaks. Sweed needs to improve his upper-body strength.

Verdict: Sweed's injury will likely keep him out of the top-15 picks in April, but he has the potential to be a Pro Bowl-caliber split end by year three. If Sweed can get his wrist straightened out, he should have no trouble being an above average to good rookie starter.

2. Malcolm Kelly, Oklahoma

Height/Weight: 6'4/218
College Experience: Third-year junior
Combine Results: Did not participate (quadriceps/leg contusion)
Comparison: Taller T.J. Houshmandzadeh
Draft Projection: Late first to early second round
2007 Statistics: 49-821-16.8-9 Tds

Positives: Like Sweed, Kelly is a smooth athlete with sure hands and vertical ability. He is just as good as Sweed in the red zone, if not better. Kelly has big, strong hands and will win most jump balls. He's flashed being a power player and is difficult to bring down after the catch. Kelly was highly productive all three seasons at OU.

Negatives: Having played almost strictly split end in coach Bob Stoops' run-heavy attack, Kelly is somewhat inexperienced as a route runner. He was injured in both of the Sooners' last two Bowl games, raising questions about his big-game drive. Kelly needed surgery to repair a torn meniscus following OU's 2006 Fiesta Bowl loss to Boise State. His numbers dropped from his sophomore to junior year, though that was mostly due to his increased focus on downfield routes.

Verdict: Kelly's game will change as he makes the NFL leap. He will not be able to run away or separate from pro defensive backs as easily as he did in the Big 12. Kelly's combination of size and athleticism is similar to Sweed's, but he is less likely to make an immediate impact. In the long run, however, he could become a more complete player. Kelly is better suited for a West Coast offense.

3. James Hardy, Indiana

Height/Weight: 6'6/218
College Experience: Fourth-year junior
Combine Results: 4.47 forty, 18 X 225 lbs, 10.05' broad jump, 4.20 short shuttle
Comparison: Plaxico Burress
Draft Projection: Late first to early second round
2007 Statistics: 79-1125-14.2-16 Tds

Positives: From a scoring standpoint, Hardy is in a league of his own. He caught 191 balls, scored 36 touchdowns, and never averaged fewer than 14.2 yards per catch in three years at IU. He has adequate explosiveness and long speed for his size. Hardy started three games for the Hoosiers' hoops team as a redshirt in 2004, was runner-up Mr. Basketball in Indiana as a prep senior, and is a natural athlete. He is fearless over the middle and took games over as a collegiate.

Negatives: Hardy was suspended two games as a sophomore after being accused of battery by his girlfriend. While his speed numbers look good on paper, the vertical game isn't his bread and butter. Hardy isn't much of an after-the-catch threat and is considered an inconsistent route runner. He needs to polish the "little things" in his game, including his blocking.

Verdict: Speed and off-the-line explosion are always question marks for freakishly tall wideouts, and Hardy did his best to answer them with an impressive Combine. However, his weaknesses in two crucial areas for rookies (blocking and route running) could lead to his first season resembling Dwayne Jarrett's. Hardy is an excellent prospect for the future, but teams in need of immediate receiver help should look elsewhere.

4. Devin Thomas, Michigan State

Height/Weight: 6'2/217
College Experience: Fourth-year junior
Combine Results: 4.40 forty, 28" vertical, 10.06' broad jump
Comparison: Anquan Boldin
Draft Projection: Early to late second round
2007 Statistics: 79-1260-15.9-8 Tds, 27-177-6.6-0 Tds

Positives: While his timed speed is superior, Thomas is devastating after the catch like Anquan Boldin. He has an excellent build and strong, soft hands. Thomas is a gifted special teamer, having blocked punts at MSU and averaged 29.1 yards per kick return as a junior. He was the Spartans' only legitimate passing game weapon in 2007 and often carried the offense. Thomas is an instinctive wideout and plays with swagger.

Negatives: He had only one big season in the Big Ten and is raw as route runner, particularly in the downfield department. There is limited game film on Thomas and several of his big plays came after underneath throws. He'll need to refine the "little things" in his game to help a pro team as a rookie.

Verdict: While he may have been a first-round lock for the 2009 draft had he stayed in East Lansing another year, it's hard to knock Thomas for leaving early after a marvelous junior campaign. His postseason workouts have been phenomenal. Thomas is raw with kinks to work out, but won't have to be the focal point of his next offense. If an NFL team can take full advantage of Thomas' after-the-catch ability, he could emerge as the best receiver in the class when we re-evaluate in 2011.

5. Mario Manningham, Michigan

Height/Weight: 6'0/182
College Experience: Third-year junior
Combine Results: 4.59 forty, 16 X 225 lbs, 32" vertical
Comparison: Bernard Berrian
Draft Projection: Mid-second round to mid-third round
2007 Statistics: 72-1174-16.3-12 Tds, 19-120-6.3-0 Tds

Positives: Manningham consistently beat elite defensive backs down the field in college. He scored 27 times in three seasons at Michigan and plays taller than his size would indicate. Manningham runs sharp, sudden routes and delivers in big games. His ability to track balls thrown deep, turn on the jets, and "go get it" is unrivaled among receivers in the 2008 class.

Negatives: Manningham is small and isn't a physical, over-the-middle threat. He is considered a poor blocker despite three years of experience in coach Lloyd Carr's run-first offense. After proving himself one of the nation's top vertical weapons, Manningham ran a disturbingly slow forty at the Combine. He was suspended one game in 2007 for violating a team rule. Manningham underwent arthroscopic knee surgery in fall of 2006.

Verdict: Despite the sup-par forty, "Super Mario" is not a slow player. Bernard Berrian (see comparison) ran a 4.58 at the 2004 Combine and is one of the NFL's premier deep threats. However, that time combined with some off-field baggage and Manningham's reputation as a prima donna will likely cost him a spot in the first round. It doesn't mean he won't evolve into one of the league's better No. 2 receivers, of course.

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Evan Silva is a senior football editor for Rotoworld.com. He can be found on Twitter .
Email :Evan Silva

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