Despite being the deepest position in the 2012 draft, the wide receiver class lacks elite prospects at the top. We have been spoiled with truly outstanding receiver talents in the last few years, and despite public perception claiming otherwise, I expect the prospects below to be selected later than expected. With that said, there is a wide variety of skill sets that will fit terrifically into certain schemes and roles. There are a number of quick-twitch athletes that operate best in the slot.
Because of the lack of elite, top-end talent, I expect many wide receiver surprises throughout next week's selections, except for one: the draft's second day will be loaded with wideout selections.
For the rest of my positional grades and rankings, click here.
1. Kendall Wright, Baylor
College Experience: Fourth-year senior
Combine #s: 4.61 forty, 1.69 10-yd split, 38.5" vertical, 10'1" broad jump, 4.18 ss
Style Comparison: Santonio Holmes
2011 Stats: 108 - 1663 (15.4) - 14 TDs
Draft Prediction: Panthers, No. 40 overall.
Positives: Gifted with an outstanding get-off, quickness, and straight-line speed that is maintained throughout routes, Wright is very difficult to contain in man coverage. Many receivers with his kind of speed do not play at top gear consistently. Wright does. The way he seamlessly cuts off his inside or outside foot in one step forces corners to play catch up. No player in this class creates separation as regularly from multiple receiver positions at every level of the field. Wright makes acrobatic catches look easy, adjusting to off-target throws or laying out in the end zone. Wright's fluid patterns in an experienced, diverse route tree will pay dividends early in his career. Pinpoint, accelerated footwork with little wasted movement means Wright's game will translate to the next level with similar separation skills. For a smaller frame, Wright handled occasional press coverage very well and creates slivers of separation at the catch point against physical defensive backs. Even Wright's run-after-catch ability is impressive, repeatedly breaking ankle tackles while tight-roping the sideline. Wright naturally works back toward the quarterback in trash with reliable hands in tight spaces.
Negatives: Wright measures in under six-feet tall. He consistently faced standard Big 12 off coverage that allowed plenty of cushion, giving Wright room to reach full speed quickly after the snap. Some of Wright's shorter routes are rounded at their peak versus cushion. Wright could improve his high pointing of underthrows in traffic, a weakness that prevents a reasonable comparison to Steve Smith. The Baylor product ran poorly on his electronic-timed forties at the Combine, which were clocked a full tenth of a second slower than the team-used stopwatch times. Finally, it was revealed that Wright measured in with 16 percent body fat while completing only four bench-press reps at his Pro Day.
Outlook: Wright usually lands quite a bit lower in pre-draft receiver ratings. His size limitations don't prevent me from naming him this year's top wideout, though. In previous years, how many larger targets drafted before "complementary" receivers turned out to produce far less than their smaller, devalued, counterparts? Also, news that Wright is receiving third-round grades from some teams is a non-story. Fans would be shocked by the discrepancy of team-by-team player grades due to scheme and value placed on specific skills. Outside of a handful of this year's most elite prospects, I would surmise that most clubs have at least a two-round variance if taking the highest and lowest grades assigned. But the tape doesn't lie on Wright. He is the top playmaker in this draft with an ability to win from multiple receiver positions at every level.
2. Michael Floyd, Notre Dame
College Experience: Fourth-year senior
Combine #s: 4.47 forty, 1.59 10-yd split, 16 x 225, 38.5" vertical, 10'2" broad jump
Style Comparison: Brandon Marshall
2011 Stats: 100 - 1,147 (11.5) - 9 TDs
Draft Prediction: Jacksonville, No. 7 overall.
Positives: Floyd is a nimble route runner for his size. He beats press coverage with quick footwork at the line and active hands to disengage. Floyd sells his routes, routinely forcing defenders to guard the vertical pattern, which Floyd then breaks off in two steps back toward his quarterback. Possibly this draft's most natural hands catcher, Floyd is reliable on simple connections, using his natural ability to come down with contested catches in traffic and along the sideline. Floyd is a real leaper. If his catch is made in stride, he offers a run-after-catch threat with underrated straight-line speed. On multiple occasions per game, Floyd utilizes his full frame to make body catches in traffic while shielding defenders or high-pointing back-shoulder throws. Though not a major factor in his evaluation, Floyd is the best run blocker in this receiver group, showing more killer instinct than many offensive linemen. Floyd is also not locked into one side of the field pre-snap, lining up in the slot or out wide to create mismatches.
Negatives: Floyd wastes some movements in his routes, taking extra steps on cuts. This comes into play once his momentum is stopped after the catch, unable to sharply turn upfield with explosion while hesitating to make an initial move. Floyd is fluid, but lacks an overall burst to his game, taking time to reach a second gear after his first couple of steps. There are some concerning off-field issues with Floyd. He was arrested for DUI early in his college career, and missed most of his final game and the Senior Bowl due to a rib injury.
Outlook: Floyd has gained postseason momentum with solid workouts and buzz from NFL circles. The way he consistently adjusted to poor throws at Notre Dame with glue-like hands in traffic is a coveted skill. Floyd takes extra steps when breaking off routes, but creates necessary space when the catch point is contested. If he lowers his center of gravity on breaks to decrease the amount of wasted movement, Floyd will be a mismatch at all areas of the field.
3. Justin Blackmon, Oklahoma State
College Experience: Fourth-year junior
Pro Day #s: 4.45 forty, 14 x 225, 35" vertical, 10'4" broad jump, 4.43 ss
Style Comparison: Anquan Boldin
2011 Stats: 121 - 1522 (12.6) - 18 TDs
Draft Prediction: Arizona, No. 13 overall.
Positives: Blackmon's production in Oklahoma State's quick-hitting, fast-paced offense is staggering. Most of it came after the catch, where he is very strong while breaking arm tackles and using adequate straight-line speed. This all begins with Blackmon's willingness to use his body as a shield on inside routes, physically outmatching defenders at the catch point. He is comfortable along the sideline, working toward the quarterback on back-shoulder throws or toe-tapping the sideline on crossers. With extremely strong hands, Blackmon has a wide catch radius with plenty of acrobatic catches on his highlight reel. He eats up zones, patiently hesitating over the middle to reliably collect difficult receptions. Few receivers run intermediate patterns better than Blackmon.
Negatives: Blackmon consistently dominated off coverage against less physical Big 12 defensive backs. The vast majority of his receptions came within seven yards of the line, and turned into long gains after breaking the first tackle. This can be viewed two ways; the offense just took what the defense gave them, or Blackmon's coaches understood he lacked field-stretching vertical tools. To be fair, it is a mix of both. Blackmon's downfield skills are not elite, failing to high point the ball with arms extended and rarely creating deep separation. Blackmon has some straight-line speed, but lacks crispness in his cuts or a burst to run by DBs beyond intermediate routes. Blackmon rarely faced press coverage in college, but when you look closely at his matchup versus short-armed Iowa State CB Leonard Johnson, Blackmon was absent from many plays due to Johnson's physicality at the line of scrimmage. Drops are bound to accumulate considering Blackmon's high volume of targets, but he was prone to knucklehead plays, mishandling routine catches or fumbling after carrying the ball in the wrong arm.
Outlook: Common perception would lead you to believe otherwise, but Blackmon is hardly a given as this class' top receiving talent. He surely is not an elite prospect. Blackmon will be an effective short-to-intermediate weapon, but I find it difficult to believe he has downfield route-running skills. It takes more than straight-line speed to be a vertical threat. Despite these negatives, I certainly do like Blackmon as a consistent target, especially when needing to convert on third downs. However, I doubt Blackmon will post top-15 receiver numbers in the pros.