With more and more NFL teams utilizing multiple receiver sets, no longer are rosters consisting of just four or five wideouts, as most teams have begun to carry at least six. In order to not have an overloaded roster, those organizations look for versatility, and a receiver with return skills easily will beat out another player limited to just a receiving role, especially if both are running neck-and-neck.
Just don't expect a flood of receivers on the first day of the draft. The consensus is that Justin Blackmon of Oklahoma State will be the first receiver off the board. Cleveland has shown the most interest in the Cowboys' receiver, but the Rams might try to trade back up into the fourth spot, as they feel Blackmon is the only receiver who fits their prime needs.
A few teams are a little leery of his off-field activities, but talk to anyone on staff or in the locker room, and they will tell you this is not the second coming of Dez Bryant. The Browns might get scared that Minnesota could scoop up Blackmon, but it appears the Vikings are trying to dangle the third pick in the draft as bait for a team wanting Texas A&M quarterback Ryan Tannehill.
If the Browns decide to pass on Blackmon (go for running back Trent Richardson instead), he does not get past the Rams with the sixth choice. Do not believe one "expert's" opinion that Blackmon will slide out of the top 10 and be there for Arizona with the 13th choice.
Once Blackmon is selected, Michael Floyd of Notre Dame is the next "belle of the ball" at this position. With three DUI charges, the Rams will pass on Floyd if Blackmon is gone. The kid tried all he could to show teams that on the field he can match up with anyone at this position, but Floyd, come on, you have to grow up off the field or you'll end up on MTV with Dr. Drew in "Celebrity Rehab."
That concerns quite a few teams, and while he will more than likely go in the first round, he could slide all the way down to Chicago (19th) or Cleveland (22nd). I still think that before that happens, Buffalo (10th), looking for a big receiver opposite Steve Johnson, or the Jets (16th) won't let him wait too long on draft day. The circus in Jets Land would not phase the coaches too much, especially since they have had experience dealing with problem children Santonio Holmes, Plaxico Burress and Braylon Edwards recently.
A lot of teams like Louisiana State's Rueben Randle, but he's more of a complementary receiver than a No. 1 type. If the Rams fail to get Blackmon in the first, they could find Randle there when they pick in Round 2. That is also where the Bears have him targeted, but he's Plan B for the Texans.
Plan A for Houston is a no-brainer: in-state product Kendall Wright of Baylor. Wright is the perfect complement for Andre Johnson and Kevin Walter, as Jacoby Jones has regressed, rather than improve, his play. Houston needs a game breaker to take pressure off Johnson, and Wright can handle return duties.
The only other receiver getting serious first-round consideration is Georgia Tech's Stephen Hill. San Francisco has done everything but get him a jersey, as the Niners have made it known he won't get out of the first round if he's there with the 30th pick. A player with his size and speed might help them disguise the lack of quality Alex Smith is at the quarterback position.
One player skyrocketing up draft boards is A.J. Jenkins of Illinois. Jenkins has blazing speed but has been limited by mediocre quarterbacks in Illini uniforms. Rumors have it that if he goes on the second day of the draft, he will have Blaine Gabbert tossing him the football in Jacksonville. Despite poor quarterbacking at Illinois, he worked his way up draft boards as the best player on the Illini offense this past season, racking up 90 catches for 1,276 yards and eight scores, averaging 14.2 yards per catch and shattering several school records along the way.
Draft analysts figure that if Buffalo passes on Floyd in Round 1, it will go for a receiver with its second pick. Tje Bills want a big receiver opposite Johnson, and are not comfortable with injury-prone Donald Jones as that option. He might not live up to his last name, but Appalachian State's Brian Quick is getting lots of film views from Bills general manager Buddy Nix. The team, and particularly Nix, seem to really like the ability to unearth small-college talent rather than load up on major-college types.
Before 2011, Alshon Jeffery of South Carolina was considered a sure-fire first-rounder. He's not worth the pick. He's a poor practice performer, has a history of going through the motions, drops too many balls and seems to play with an attitude that wants you to kick him in the pants before he will respond.
With his weight issues and indifference to the game, he needs to look back at recent South Carolina draft history (Troy Williamson) and look in the mirror. As for his battle with the bulge, no truth to the rumor that McDonalds restaurants in South Carolina have put his face on Happy Meals. Look for some foolish team to take him in Round 2 and regret the wasted pick.
Another so-called rising star before the season that is now residing as a third-day draft type is Texas A&M's Jeff Fuller. He is an efficient playmaker, when healthy, but has had to battle ankle, hamstring and leg issues throughout his career. While he pulled in 70-plus balls in each of his last two seasons, foot and hand problems prevented him from working out at the Combine, further convincing teams he might not be durable enough to compete regularly at the next level.
On the opposite spectrum, it is astounding that there is not more media buzz on Arizona's Juron Criner. He also battled injury woes in 2011, but he's a big, productive, physical receiver in the Terrell Owens mold, without the attitude issues. Teams that fail to latch on to Blackmon just might find the draft's bargain around in the mid-rounds. An open message TO Criner: Juron, I'll see you in Hawaii at the Pro Bowl in a few years!
Injuries took their toll on Arkansas' Greg Childs, who had to slowly work back into a lineup last year that featured Joe Adams and Jarius Wright getting much of the passes targeted their way, but keep in mind Hakeem Nicks. Childs, when healthy, is on par with that Giants game-breaker.
Two sleepers you won't hear much about are a former basketball player and a multitalented athlete whose numbers can make even Stevie Wonder see he has immense talent. After four seasons on the hard court, South Dakota State's Dale Moss put on the football helmet. He pulled in 60-plus passes, and during his recent pro day, the 6-foot-3, 220-pounder blazed a 4.39 clocking with a 42-inch vertical jump. The kid is just one patient coach away from developing, but might be more coveted as a priority free agent than a late-rounder.
Florida International's T.Y. Hilton has cat-like moves and not only can catch with the best of them, but he's productive running the ball out of the backfield and is a poor man's version of Devin Hester with his return skills. He gained 7,498 all-purpose yards, scoring 24 times on receptions, four more on kickoffs, two on punts, seven on carries and even threw for a score.
Other second-day type of receivers are big, physical Mohamad Sanu of Rutgers, oft-injured Chris Givens of Wake Forest and rising California flanker Marvin Jones. Early third-day targets could see banged-up Oklahoma receiver Ryan Broyles hear his name called. Others in the mid-rounds are Wright and Adams of Arkansas, Nick Toon of Wisconsin, Rishard Matthews of Nevada and, if he can assure teams his serious injury woes (concussions) are a thing of the past, look for Stanford's Chris Owusu to take his sub-4.4 speed to the slot receiver's position.
Some other potential late-round finds are Tommy Streeter of Miami, Devon Wylie of Fresno State, DeVier Posey of Ohio State, Virginia Tech's Danny Coale and Houston speedster Patrick Edwards. Michigan's Junior Hemingway, Iowa's Marvin McNutt and Michigan State's Keshawn Martin are Big Ten Conference late-round potential targets.
The Mid-American Conference has a pair of Greg Jennings do-hard types in Toledo junior Eric Page and Western Michigan's Jordan White. Speedy LaVonn Brazill of Ohio University also could hear his name called. Small-college players who could sneak into the tail-end of the draft are Tennessee Tech's Tim Benford, Julian Talley of Massachusettsa and Elvis Akpla of Montana State.
Dave-Te Thomas has more than 40 years of experience scouting for the NFL. With the NFL Draft Report, Thomas handles a staff that evaluates and tests college players before the draft and prepares the NFL's official Draft Packet, which is distributed to all 32 teams prior to the draft.
Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/PackerReport.