2014 NFL Draft Positional Preview (Wide Receivers)

By Nick Paulenich

Special to Pro Football Guru

Courtesy of NFL draft writer Nick Paulenich, here is the 12th in our series of positional previews for the 2014 NFL Draft. Nick’s rankings will include the Top 5 players at each position. So far, Nick has previewed the top defensive tackles, defensive ends, the inside linebackers and outside linebackers, safeties and cornerbacks available in this year’s upcoming draft. He has also taken a look at the top kicking and punting prospects. On offense, there’s a look at the top centers, guards and tackles, as well as the tight ends.

Part 12: Wide Receivers

Overview: This year’s wide receiver class is loaded. There could be anywhere between six to eight receivers drafted on the first day. Clemson’s Sammy Watkins and Texas A&M’s Mike Evans are expected to be gone after the first ten picks. While LSU’s Odell Beckham Jr. and Oregon State’s Brandin Cooks could be off the board in the middle of the first round.

In the latter half of the first round, players like USC’s Marqise Lee should come off the board as well as Indiana’s Cody Latimer, who has rocketed up draft boards this offseason. Fresno State’s Davante Adams, Vanderbilt’s Jordan Matthews and Florida State’s Kelvin Benjamin all have the potential to hear their names called on the first night of the 2014 NFL Draft. The breakdown:

1. Sammy Watkins, 6-0 3/4, 211 lbs., Clemson

Watkins burst onto the scene in 2011, earning national freshman of the year honors from multiple outlets. He also became the Tigers first freshman First-team All-American. Watkins was named First-team All-American all three seasons at Clemson. He capped his career by catching a school-record 16 balls for a school-record 227 yards and two touchdowns against Ohio State in the Orange Bowl.

Strengths: Possesses the ability to separate from corners, break tackles, split defenders and extend for ball in traffic. Has top-level speed and quickness.

Weaknesses: Needs to continue to improve on route running. Used heavily on screen plays in college.

Projection: Top-five pick

2. Mike Evans, 6-4 3/4, 231 lbs., Texas A&M

In 2013, Evans was named a finalist for the Biletnikoff Award (given to the nation’s top receiver). Evans was also a First-team All-American and First-team All-SEC selection. Evans 1,322 receiving yards set a new Aggie record. He averaged 20.3 yards per catch and had 12 touchdown receptions in 2013. Evans had a school single-game record of 279 receiving yards against Alabama last season.

Strengths: Can out physical and seal off defensive backs when going for the ball. Tracks down deep balls and make catches in traffic. Has big hands and great body control.

Weaknesses: Doesn’t have the top-line speed to create separation from defensive backs. Needs to improve focus and route running skills.

Projection: Top-ten pick

3. Odell Beckham Jr., 5-11 1/4, 198 lbs., LSU

In 2013, Beckham Jr. set the LSU single-season record for all-purpose yards with 2,315. For his efforts, Beckham Jr. picked up the Paul Hornung Award Winner (given to the nation’s most versatile player). He earned First-team All-American honors from multiple outlets either as a kick returner or return specialist. Father (Odell Sr.) was a running back at LSU (1989-92) while his mother, Heather Van Norman, was an LSU All-American and national champion in track (1991-93).

Strengths: Plays physical, aggressively goes after ball and will lay out to make a catch. Runs routes well. Can lose a defender in the open field. Blocks downfield.

Weaknesses: Has average height for outside receiver. Needs to fine-tune overall game. Can have trouble tracking ball. Does not have elite speed.

Projection: Mid-first round pick

4. Brandin Cooks, 5-9 3/4, 189 lbs., Oregon State

Cooks capped off a record-breaking 2013 season by being named the Biletnikoff Award winner. Cooks caught 128 passes for 1,730 yards—both Pac-12 single-season records. He also earned consensus All-American status for his efforts. At the combine, Cooks was the fastest wide receiver, registering a time of 4.33 seconds in the 40.

Strengths: Compares to the Ravens’ Steve Smith. Has good hands and is a good route runner. Can explode out of screens. Does not fear catching the ball in traffic.

Weaknesses: Has less than ideal height for an outside receiver. Doesn’t make an impact as a blocker.

Projection: Mid-first round pick

5. Marqise Lee, 5-11 3/4, 192 lbs., USC

Lee’s production dipped in 2013 due to injury and inconsistent quarterback play. Last season, Lee earned Honorable Mention All-Pac-12. He missed three games due to a knee injury. In 2012, Lee was a First-team All-American and the winner of the Bilentnikoff Award.

Strengths: Possesses elite speed and quickness. Will not get held up in press coverage. Can be a dynamic kickoff returner.

Weaknesses: Has a tendency to drop the ball or make double catches at times. Lacks injury history, slender build

Projection: Late-first round pick

Others to Watch: Davante Adams; Fresno State; Kelvin Benjamin, Florida State; Jarvis Landry; LSU; Cody Latimer, Indiana; Jordan Matthews, Vanderbilt; Allen Robinson, Penn State

Small-School Sleeper: Jeff Janis, Saginaw Valley

Next up: Running Backs

Nick Paulenich is an experienced NFL writer and researcher and the founder of The Sports Savant. You can find Nick on Twitter at @npaulenich.