NFL teams will be in good hands with this year's receiver class
ADVANCE FOR WEEKEND EDITIONS, MAY 3-4 - FILE - In this Nov. 14, 2013, file photo, Clemson wide receiver Sammy Watkins races in for a 44-yard touchdown while being pursued by Georgia Tech's Jemea Thomas during the second half of an NCAA college football game in Clemson, S.C. Watkins is Clemson's career leader in receptions (240) and yards receiving (3,391). He is a top prospect in the upcoming NFL draft. (AP Photo/Richard Shiro, File)
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Scouting the wide receivers
1. Sammy Watkins
Clemson, 6-0 1 ⁄ 2 , 211
Nearly 3,400 career yards (1,464 in 2013) and 27 TDs. Best catch-and-go receiver in college football. Ohio State couldn't stop him (16 catches) in Orange Bowl. Still needs to improve route running, but he's one of most exciting receivers to enter the NFL in years.
2. Mike Evans
Texas A&M, 6-4 1 ⁄ 2 , 231
Some coaches would rather have Evans, his size, exceptional hands and physicality, than they would the shorter Watkins. Aggressive; must eliminate shove-offs from game. Great leaping ability that will be asset against sub-6-foot NFL corners. Big games: 279 yards vs. Alabama, 287 vs. Auburn.
3. Odell Beckham Jr.
LSU, 5-11, 198
40-yard dash time: 4.43 seconds. Father was LSU running back; mother was All-American sprinter. Vertical jump: 38.5 inches. 2013 stats: 59 catches, 1,152 yards, eight TDs. Elusive, fast and also returns kicks.
4. Marqise Lee
USC, 5-11 1 ⁄ 2 , 192
Might have been No. 1 in other seasons. Unreal freshman year: 73 catches, 1,143 yards, 11 TDs followed by 118/1,721/14 in 2012. As Trojans offense dropped off in ‘13, he slipped to four TDs. 40 time: 44.46. Exciting athlete who shifts gears with ease and might be the steal of the first round.
5. Brandin Cooks
Oregon State, 5-9 1 ⁄ 2 , 189
Huge 2013 season (Pac-12 record 128 catches 1,730 yards, plus 16 TDs) after teaming with Steelers WR Markus Wheaton in ‘12. Smallish but great speed (4.32 in 40) with good moves. Hard worker and good route-runner.
6. Donte Moncrief
Mississippi, 6-2, 231
Nice size and production (125 catches, 1,917 yards, 16 TDs in 2012 and '13). Athletic (4.40 in 40, 391⁄2-inch vertical jump). Not precise in routes. Tends to improvise. Raw talent.
7. Kelvin Benjamin
Florida State, 6-5, 240
Megatron-like size but not as polished as Evans. Not exceptionally quick (4.61 in 40) and will drop some passes. But he should benefit from NFL coaching, and his size and strength will create mismatches.
8. Allen Robinson
Penn State, 6-2 1 ⁄ 2 , 220
Not the fastest (4.60 in 40). He can get in the air (39-inch vertical jump) and is physical. Last two seasons: 174 catches, 2,445 yards, 17 TDs). Size is a plus but needs refining.
9. Davante Adams
Fresno State, 6 -0 1 ⁄ 2 , 212
What Evans was to Johnny Manziel, Adams was to Derek Carr. He had 131 catches, 1,719 yards and 24 TDs in '13. Two-year totals: 233/3,030/38. The former basketball player knows how to outduel defensive backs for passes but lacks top-end speed.
10. Martavis Bryant
Clemson, 6-3 1 ⁄ 2 , 211
Yes, there was another top receiver in Clemson's offense. He had 17 catches of 20 yards-plus in '13. 40 time: 4.45. He needs bulking up. Will make the did-you-see-that catch but also drops some passes that should be caught.
Best fit for Steelers
Sammy Watkins and Mike Evans will be off the board when they choose No. 15, but the rest of the group should be there. Do they go for a receiver right away or take a defensive back and wait until the second round for Kelvin Benjamin, Donte Moncrief or Martavis Bryant? Or wait yet another round given the draft depth at receiver?
One to watch
Dri Archer, Kent State, 5-8, 173
Ran the 40 in hand-timed 4.16 at combine, the fastest ever. Official time was 4.26. He's a combo WR/RB who ran for 1,429 yards (9.0 average) in '12, yet had 888 yards receiving and eight TDs receiving the last two seasons.
Devin Street, Pitt, 6-2 1 ⁄ 2 , 198
Making a sharp rise on draft boards and could be a Day 2 pick. Made 124 catches with 12 TDs the past two seasons. Will make friends with NFL QBs because he catches everything.
It's rapidly becoming one of football's most-used cliches: Wide receivers so fast and talented they can take a top off a defense.
Well, this wide receiver group is about to take the top off the NFL Draft. There are guesstimates that as many as a half-dozen receivers could go in the first round, and a dozen in the first two rounds.
The two best-in-class — Sammy Watkins of Clemson and Mike Evans of Texas A&M — might have been the No. 1 overall player in past drafts, including last year's.
If there's any sure prediction in advance of the Thursday-Saturday draft, it's that Steelers will take a wide receiver, almost certainly early on.
But given the vagaries of every draft, and the players who rise and fall without explanation, part of the pre-draft intrigue is by which round the Steelers will decide they can't wait any longer.
“This is a draft that the receiver position ... if you're a team in need, you'll be very pleased at some of the players you're going to get,” NFL Network analyst Daniel Jeremiah said.
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