2007 NFL Draft/Positional analysis: WRs

Last week, SFI reviewed the 49ers' current situation at WR and analyzed what the team should and will be looking for at arguably its highest area of need in the upcoming draft. Today, we take a detailed look at more than a dozen of the best college prospects available - all of them expected to be first-day picks - with one or more of these top dogs almost certain to become a 49er on draft weekend.

POSITION ANALYSIS: The 49ers would gladly use their first-round pick on a wide receiver if they feel there is a prospect available that is worthy of the No. 11 overall pick when they go on the clock, and they will concentrate a lot of their effort in the draft - and that might mean packaging some of their other selections to move up in the picking order - to find at least one playmaker at the position. Since this is a bumper crop of wideouts, the 49ers very well could make multiple selections at this position - even on the first day of the draft. It all begins with Georgia Tech phenom Calvin Johnson, who could go anywhere from the first to fourth overall pick, and a case easily could be made that he deserves to be the top pick as the best prospect available in the draft. After him, the talent drops off, but from the 50 picks between Nos. 10-60, there could be as many as eight or nine wide receivers that go off the board - making it a position of dominance over the first two rounds. The talent pool runs deep and there could be more than the 33 wide receivers taken last year, including four in the second round, five in the third and nine in the fourth.

THE CREAM OF THE CROP

Calvin Johnson, Georgia Tech, 6-5, 239: A third-year junior…A three-year starter who caught 178 passes for 2,927 yards and 15 touchdowns, including 76-1,202-15 in 2006…Named ACC Freshman of the Year in 2004, First-Team All-America the last two seasons, ACC Player of the Year in 2006 and won the 2006 Biletnikoff Award, given annually to the country's top college wide receiver…Holds the GT records for receiving yards and touchdowns and is second on the all-time school list for receptions…Freakish combination of size, speed and strength…Has been compared physically to a bigger, faster version of Randy Moss - and without the emotional baggage…Can reach top speed in only a couple of steps…Excellent leaper who times the ball at its highest point…Very good hands—he makes the highlight film catch look easy…Excellent route runner who can set up corners…Hard for D-backs to bring down one on one…Has never missed a game due to injury…Willing to go over the middle and take hard hits…Posted huge numbers in '06 despite being double covered on almost every play…Doesn't have a great burst off the snap and will struggle against big, physical corners to beat the jam…Gets frustrated when he's underused…Will get careless on some easy catches by taking his eyes off the ball to look upfield and makes some needless drops…Solidified his place as the top wide receiver at the Combine, posting the third best time in the 40 for his position (4.35 seconds), and posting the best vertical jump (42½ inches) and broad jump (11-7).
Projection: A strong case can be made that he should go with the No. 1 pick. If the Raiders and Lions go quarterback, as some believe they will, Johnson will get a lot of attention from the Browns and Bucs, especially if teams are willing to offer a lot in trade. He won't last past the fourth pick and many believe he deserves to go No. 1 overall.

THE NEXT LEVEL

Ted Ginn Jr., Ohio State, 5-11¼, 178: Third-year junior…The son of a coach who was named USA Today Defensive Player of the Year as a safety/cornerback…Also played quarterback, running back and wide receiver in high school…Scored 10 touchdowns as a high school senior as a defensive and special teams player, bringing five interceptions back for touchdowns, four punts and a kickoff…A two-time national champion in the high hurdles…A two-year full-time starter who caught 110 passes for 1,584 yards and 13 touchdowns in that span, including 59-781-9 numbers last year…As a junior, averaged 11.1 yards on 24 punt returns and 24.4 yards on 18 kickoff returns…Has seldom-seen speed and looks like he's running in a different gear than everyone else…Is dangerous in the open field and can take a short slant route to the house…Chases down deep passes and adjusts extremely well to the deep ball…Dangerous as a runner on gadget plays…One of the top return men coming into the league…Isn't a physical player—he's not prone to going over the middle, shies away from taking a shot and isn't much of a blocker…Has trouble beating the jam with big corners…Not a top route runner—he tends to freelance instead of running a designed route…Drops a lot of catchable balls and muffs too many punts…Will need a lot of work to refine his game and become a complete receiver…Didn't work out at the Combine while rehabbing a foot injury suffered during the celebration following his opening kickoff return for a touchdown in the National Championship Game.
Projection: A player with legit 4.3 speed is hard to find and Ginn will be one of the most explosive players coming out of this year's draft. His lack of experience and concerns that he will be a receiver who only plays outside the hashmarks will scare away some teams, and may make him a reach for the 49ers as high as No. 11. He could slide off the board as early as No. 9 to Miami, but more likely he'll fall in the middle third of the first round before being picked.

Dwayne Bowe, LSU, 6-2¼, 221: Fourth-year senior…Didn't start playing football until his junior year of high school…A three-year starter who caught 145 passes for 2,297 yards and 26 touchdowns in that span…Numbers increased every year as a starter—from 39-597-5 as a sophomore to 65-990-12 as a senior…His 26 touchdowns are an LSU school record…Very big and strong…Consistently beats jams by physical corners by using his burst and strength…Has very big hands for a receiver and rarely drops a jump ball when he touches it first…A willing blocker who seems to enjoy dishing out hits…Solid route runner…Has a second gear to get separation on deep routes…Doesn't mind going over the middle—even if it means taking a big hit…Has good body control…Despite his speed, doesn't get nearly as many yards after the catch as other elite receivers…Lets too many passes get into his body, which is a much bigger issue with the speed of the NFL than at college…Has to use his hands more consistently to catch balls…Doesn't have a great feel for timing his jumps on contested passes…Turned some heads in a bad way with his cocky attitude at the Combine, where he impressed with a 4.40 40 and a 10-5 broad jump, but his vertical jump of just 33 inches was the third-worst among wide receivers who are expected to be drafted.
Projection: Of the wideouts expected to be taken in the first couple of rounds, Bowe is the best combination of size, strength and speed after Johnson. Because of his cocky attitude and coming from a system that would make him a slot receiver and not an every-down guy, his value may slip somewhat. But even if it does, he looks to go in the final third of the first round.

Robert Meachem, Tennessee, 6-2, 217: Fourth-year junior…Didn't become a starter until last year…In his first two seasons as a part-time player, he caught 54 passes for 842 yards and six touchdowns; in 13 games last year, he caught 71 balls for 1,298 yards and 11 touchdowns…Averaged a whopping 18.3 yards a catch in 2006 and set a school record for single-season receiving yards…Has good size and can beat bump-and-run coverage…Very quick coming off the snap…Has become adept at reading defenses and finding soft spots to cut off his routes…Good hands, especially when it comes to hauling down jump balls…Doesn't slow up to catch passes…Can play any receiver position on the field…Is a willing blocker on running plays his way…His speed at the Combine (see below) made him a lot of money…Doesn't sustain his speed downfield and allows defensive backs with top-end speed to catch up on deep passes and knock them away…Is victim of too many drops…Is not afraid of going over the middle, but looks a lot more tentative than when he's locked up with cornerbacks…Ran an impressive 4.39 40 at the Combine, along with a 37½ inch vertical jump and 10-8 broad jump—the third best broad jump by a wide receiver at the Combine.
Projection: Like former Vol Donte Stallworth, Meacham has been steadily rising on a lot of draft boards since the Combine. He only has one full season at the college level and, had he stayed another year, he likely would have been a top 10 pick next year. But, despite leaving early, he should still go off the board late in the first round - although the 49ers and their fans would love to see him still on the board at No. 42 in the second round, which seems very unlikely to happen.

Dwayne Jarrett, USC, 6-4, 214: Third-year junior who became a starter midway through his freshman season…In three years, he caught 216 passes for 3,138 yards and 41 touchdowns…He's never had less than 12 TDs in a season…Was caught up in the Matt Leinart condo scandal and suspended for a game in 2006…Very tall and has long arms that create mismatches with smaller corners…Makes the acrobatic catch look routine…Doesn't let the ball get into his body…Is not afraid to go over the middle and catch a ball in a crowd…Takes a big hit and rarely loses the ball…Always seems to save his best for crunch time and in big games against top opponents…Will get stuffed by physical corners at the line…His lack of deep speed (see below) was on display at the Combine…Takes three or four strides to hit top speed…Doesn't spend a lot of time studying the game and gets sloppy…Doesn't seem to love the game with the same passion many other wideouts coming into the draft do…Doesn't block much and when he does, he often looks like he doesn't want to get his uniform dirty…Hurt his stock at the Combine with a 4.62 40—the second slowest time from the position, but had a solid 36½ inch vertical jump and a 10-1 broad jump.
Projection: Although he has many of the same qualities as Keyshawn Johnson, a USC wideout taken with the first pick in the draft, he's more like the Keyshawn of earlier in this decade—a possession receiver with good size who can make catches but isn't going to take a slant 80 yards by outrunning defenders. He's NFL ready, but a lot of scouts feel he's reached his peak and doesn't have a lot of upside to be better. Because of his production and playing at a big-time program, he could be drafted higher than we have him ranked, but he's not a lock to go in the first round. The 49ers would love to see him slip down to No. 42, where they'd be hard-pressed to pass on this kind of prospect if they haven't already selected a receiver by then.

Sidney Rice, South Carolina, 6-3½, 197: Third-year sophomore…Became an immediate starter after redshirting in 2004 and caught 142 passes for 2,333 yards and 23 touchdowns in two years as a starter…Two-time All-SEC and joined Sterling Sharpe (1985-86) as a Gamecock receiver to post back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons…Despite playing just two years, left South Carolina as the school's all-time leader in touchdowns and 100-yard games…Good height with long arms and big hands…A good leaper who wins most jump ball battles…Excels at running sharp post and corner routes and can lose defenders in the process…Gets up to top speed quickly…Picks up a lot of yards after the catch and can make defenders miss…Is very thin and doesn't have much upper body strength…Isn't explosive off the line and will get caught by physical CBs with a jam…Is not often seen trying to make plays over the middle…Cocky, bordering on arrogant…Had an interesting Combine, running a 4.51 40 with a vertical jump (39½) inches that was second best among wide receivers, but a broad jump (9-11) that tied for the worst.
Projection: One of the tallest receivers in the draft, his biggest downfall may be his attitude. He's drawn comparisons to some of the bad boys of the NFL and, despite having two great years at SC, he might be a player whose red flags drop him into the second round, where the 49ers might have to make a choice whether personality outweighs ability.

Jason Hill, Washington State, 6-0½, 204: Fourth-year senior…Was recruited as a basketball player out of high school…Three-year starter who caught 148 passes for 2,704 yards and 32 touchdowns…Had his best seasons as a sophomore and junior—topping 1,000 yards and 12 touchdowns in both—before an injury-riddled senior season dropped his numbers to 41-600-7…Excellent coordination and body control…Lightning-fast speed that was evidenced at the Combine (see below)…Got used a lot in the red zone because he can make the tough catch…Special teams contributor…Has the strength to be a solid blocker on running plays…Runs precise routes and makes sharp cuts…Adept at reading defenses and finding soft spots…While he has great speed, it takes him a while to dial it up to full throttle…Is not a student of the game…Will get lazy at times with his blocking and route running and needs to be ridden to stay focused…Will get slowed up by jams, which, combined with his requiring time to get to top speed, will likely happen often at the next level…Ran a 4.36 40 at the Combine with a 37-inch vertical jump and a 10-3 broad jump.
Projection: Prior to his senior season, he averaged almost 20 yards per reception, so he clearly has the big-play ability in him. However, he doesn't always seem to have the playing speed to match his timed speed, which should drop him well into the second round before selection.

Craig Davis, LSU, 6-1½, 202: Fourth-year senior…Three-year starter who caught 134 passes for 2,054 yards and seven touchdowns in that span…Returned punts…Missed time with injuries that included a foot injury, a broken elbow and a concussion…Has a very good first step off the snap and can create some mismatches if not jammed…Has after-the-catch moves that make defenders miss…Will go over the middle and not hear footsteps to make tough catches…Has multiple gears to set up corners in man coverage…Has home run ability…Will block when called upon and can lay down a big shot…Praised by coaches as a hard worker who leads by example…Played as part of a system and didn't have the kind of individual numbers that jump off the page…Lets too many passes get into his body instead of plucking passes with his hands…Doesn't get a lot of yards after the catch when passes are contested…Doesn't always give top effort on passing that are either high or low…Durability might be a question since he has missed some time every year with injury and didn't work out at the Combine.
Projection: He has a ton of upside that will intrigue a lot of teams, and his kick return ability is a check mark in his favor. But, while he does a lot of things well, he doesn't do anything extraordinarily well, which should have him on the board when the 49ers pick in the second round or even later.

THE BEST OF THE REST

Steve Smith, USC, 5-11¾, 197: Fourth-year senior…Three-year starter who had his sophomore season cut short after eight games with a broken leg…Started the last two seasons and caught 131 passes for 2,040 yards and 14 touchdowns…Got into a little hot water in 2005 when he got in a fight with teammate Dominique Byrd and broke his jaw with a punch…A very hard worker who has playing speed to make cuts and change direction well…Catches just about everything thrown his way, even if the pass is awkward and requires a major adjustment…Excellent route runner…Intelligent player who always knows where he is in relation to defenders and the sidelines…Will catch passes over the middle and take the big hit…Seems to make big plays at big times in big games…Works hard as a blocker when his number isn't called…Will never be a home run threat…Is undersized…Doesn't have the speed to take defenders deep and warrant safety help…Doesn't catch passes away from his body with his hands…Will struggle in press coverage…Improved his stock at the Combine and school Pro Day, running a 4.44 40 at the Combine with a 38-inch vertical jump, but his 10-0 broad jump tied for third-worst among wideouts at the Combine.
Projection: Viewed as a No. 2 option in the Trojan passing attack, Smith just does everything well. He doesn't have great deep speed or lightning acceleration, but he has all the tools to be a solid pro, especially in systems that employ a lot from the slot receiver position.

Anthony Gonzalez, Ohio State, 6-0, 195: Fourth-year junior…Played in the shadow of Santonio Holmes and Ten Ginn until last year…In his only season as a starter, he caught 51 passes for 734 yards and eight touchdowns…Has some return experience…Excellent route runner who can get separation consistently…Excellent at reading defenses and finding cracks in zones…Will go over the middle and take a huge hit in order to make a catch…Is respected by coaches and teammates…Gets a surprising amount of yardage after the catch…Consistently takes out his guy when called upon to block…Gets chipped off of his routes much too easily and struggles against physical corners…Doesn't have a good burst off the snap…Primarily asked to only run shorter zone routes in college and will need to refine his route running at the next level…Needs space to be effective and will get shut down by big corners who can shadow…Is not an adept hands catcher and allows passes to get to his body and get dropped…Ran a 4.4 40 at the Combine with 19 reps of 225 pounds (third among wide receivers), a 38-inch vertical jump and 10-3 broad jump.
Projection: This is a player with skills and character that looks like an good fit for a team such as the 49ers if he's still available later on the first day. He likely could have used his senior season to polish his game and get well into the first round, but some say Gonzalez is a better pro receiving prospect than Ginn, his more-heralded teammate at Ohio State.

Aundrae Allison, East Carolina, 6-0¼, 198: Fourth-year senior who spent a year at Coffeyville (Kan.) Community College and another year at Georgia Military Academy…A two-year starter who caught 145 passes for 1,732 yards and 11 touchdowns…His 1,024 yards as a junior set a school record…Has very good playing speed…Rarely drops a pass…Sharp in and out of his cuts…Can get to top speed quickly and doesn't slow down to catch timing passes…Has punt return experience…Rarely gets caught from behind when he has the ball in open areas…A willing blocker…Biggest drawback is his lack of competition and inexperience in the pro system…Will need a lot of work on perfecting his route running…Lets far too many passes get to his body instead of catching them with his hands and will jump to body catch any high pass…Doesn't go over the middle well and looks to avoid big hits…Doesn't use his hands very well to beat jams at the line…A bit undersized and might have to add a little bulk…Ran a 4.39 40 at the Combine with a 37-inch vertical jump and a 10-7 broad jump.
Projection: In an average year, Allison might be the type someone would take a chance on late in the first round or early in the second round. But with the other wideouts available and his limited experience at a non-dominant school, he'll likely be around well into the second round and maybe even fall into the third. That bodes well for the 49ers, who will take a serious look at this guy if he does fall into that area.

David Clowney, Virginia Tech, 6-0½, 188: Fourth-year senior…Competed on the Hokies track team for two years…A two-year starter in a wide receiver platoon that caught 68 passes for 1,043 yards and three touchdowns in that span…Missed time in 2006 after having an emergency appendectomy…Has excellent deep speed and can get quick separation with multiple gears…Sets up D-backs by changing speeds…Can make the tough catches look easy…Good burst off the snap to avoid jams…Can take a short pass all the way and finds seams in the defense to get as many yards after the catch as possible…Extremely thin, and some scouts are convinced he'll never stay healthy if asked to be a full-time receiver…Is not a great route runner or reader of defenses…Will get knocked off his routes by big physical corners…Is a liability in the blocking game…His history is to stay outside the numbers and rarely does crossing routes…Doesn't time his jumps well on deep, contested passes…Ran a 4.4 40 at the Combine with a 10-3 broad jump and a 32½ inch vertical jump—which tied for the worst vertical among wide receivers who tested at the Combine.
Projection: A player who is capable of making big plays, but is so skinny, some teams likely will devalue him to the point that he might be in danger of not going on the first day of the draft. But his upside is such that he'll likely land on the third round somewhere to a team with bigger veteran receivers, where his Smurfian speed will be a change-of-pace weapon.

Jacoby Jones, Lane College, 6-2¾, 210: Fifth-year senior who initially enrolled at Southeastern Louisiana on a track scholarship…Transferred to Lane in 2003…Was a four-year starter who caught 200 passes for 2,750 yards and 21 touchdowns…Was also used extensively as a kickoff and punt returner…Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference Player of the Year in 2006…Also competed in track and the basketball team at Lane…Had a top 100-meter dash time of 10.28 seconds and 21.3 seconds in the 200 meters…Has good speed, despite poor showing at the Combine (see below) and turned a lot of heads against top competition at the North-South Game and Hula Bowl…Much faster than timed speed and doesn't lose any speed when he puts pads on…Very quick off the ball and can make quick moves to avoid press coverage…Hard worker who is a willing blocker…Catches balls with his hands and rarely lets them get to his body…Sees the field very well and picks his spots…Having played at the Division II level, remains very raw…Extremely small hands—something that is enough to scare away some teams…Has a propensity for looking upfield before securing the ball and drops some very easy passes as well as fumbling…Needs to work on his game as it pertains to running the short and intermediate routes...Will likely need to add some muscle to his frame...Ran a disappointing 4.59 40 at the Combine (third-worst among wide receivers), but had a 34-inch vertical jump and his 10-9 broad jump was second only to Calvin Johnson.
Projection: A project to be sure, Jones may have moved himself into Day One of the draft thanks to an extremely good week at the North-South Classic practice sessions. He made a lot of highly touted cornerbacks look bad. But, as a D-II prospect, he has a long learning curve ahead of him and the team that drafts him will need to be patient and it will likely take two or three years before the team knows if it made the right decision.

Paul Williams, Fresno State, 6-1, 205: Fifth-year senior…One of four brothers to play college football, but his family suffered a tragedy when his brother Curtis, playing for Washington, was paralyzed from the neck down making a tackle and had to be on a respirator before dying in 2002 of what was termed natural causes…A full-time starter in 2005 when he caught 43 passes for 729 yards and seven touchdowns, but left the team after seven games in 2006 (21-229-1) after being diagnosed with clinical depression…Is very quick off the line and has the deep speed to stretch the field…Has long arms for someone of his height…Was a true standout at the Senior Bowl and East-West Shrine Game practices…Can make things happen after the catch—he averaged 17 yards per reception in his only full season…Is a solid route runner…Hits top-end speed quickly…Needs to refine his game due to game inexperience…His depression is an enormous red flag for some teams…Inconsistent…Doesn't like to go over the middle (but, after having a brother being paralyzed as the result of contact can you blame him?)…Gets stuck at the line too easily and must use better hand work to keep corners off of him…Ran a 4.45 40 at the Combine with a 38½ inch vertical jump and a 10-5 broad jump.
Projection: Has the skills to be a an early-round pick, but the combination of emotional baggage and lack of playing time make him a risk-reward pick most coaches and general managers likely won't be willing to take until the second day of the draft. But, with the impression he made on scouts at the all-star games earlier this year, don't be surprised if someone takes a flier late on the first day.

Johnnie Lee Higgins, UTEP, 5-11½, 186: Fifth-year senior…Cousin of former first-round pick and San Diego CB Quentin Jammer…Three-year starter who finished his college career with 190 catches for 3,218 yards and 32 touchdowns…Exploded in his senior year with 82 receptions for 1,319 yards and 13 TDs…Left UTEP as the career leader in receiving yards and touchdowns…Excellent leaper…Gets to top speed very quickly and can beat press coverage if not jammed solidly…One of the better deep threats in the draft who can go for the home run on any playGets a lot of yards after the catch…Averaged 17 yards per reception in his college career…Used as a kick and punt returner…Has a mean streak and isn't shy about going over the middle and taking a hit to make a catch…Has a history of back injuries that have caused him to miss time throughout his career…Is thin and gets pushed around at the line by aggressive big corners…Needs to improve route running to get separation from corners in man coverage…Did not make a big impression during the Senior Bowl practices…Catches too many passes close to his body…Ran a 4.48 40 at the Combine with a 36½ inch vertical jump and a 10-2 broad jump.
Projection: A player whose numbers have gotten better every year and with the added bonus of being an experienced return man, he has qualities that some teams like. But most scouts believe he will be a slot receiver at best, which should be enough to drop him into the second day of the draft or very late on Day One.

OTHERS TO WATCH
Laurent Robinson, Illinois State, 6-2, 199
Steve Breaston, Michigan, 6-0½, 193
Yamon Figurs, Kansas State, 5-11½, 174
Courtney Taylor, Auburn, 6-1¾, 205
Rhema McKnight, Notre Dame, 6-1¼, 211
Chansi Stuckey, Clemson, 5-10¾, 191


Niners Digest Top Stories