Cream of the Crop
Justin Blackmon, Oklahoma State
Blackmon is a highly competitive pass catcher who might not have blazing speed, but he knows how to take full advantage of his size, strength and array of moves to easily get behind safeties when challenging the deep secondary. That athleticism has seen him develop into an elite red zone threat, as he found the end zone 38 times in his last 25 games.
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Compares to: Cincinnati's A.J. Green — Blackmon is the best receiver in this draft, hands down. The junior closed out his career ranked eighth among active NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision performers with 253 receptions, fifth with 3,564 yards and second with 40 touchdowns. His average of 6.6 receptions (sixth) and 93.79 yards receiving (fourth) also rank with the nation's active leaders. Other numbers to impress — he caught 76.25 percent of the passes targeted to him last year, more than any other receiver earning a first- or second-round grade, and 21.31 percent of his grabs came on third- or fourth-down plays. He was responsible for 40.13 percent of the team's points, whether scoring them himself or setting up the touchdown with a key grab. One area of concern — he had 11 passes knocked away from him, fumbled three times and failed to gain yardage on seven of his catches.
Best of the Rest
Michael Floyd, Notre Dame
Floyd has drawn favorable comparisons to former NFL standout Keyshawn Johnson, especially with his exceptional body control and balance coming out of his breaks. He is very good at using his power to break arm tackles, and his performance in the speed drills at the 2012 NFL Scouting Combine (4.43-second 40-yard dash) certified that he has the ability to stretch a defense. He plays the game like a savvy veteran, possessing the vision and field awareness to know when to come back for the ball when his quarterback is pressured.
Floyd got himself into trouble during his time at Notre Dame with his latest arrest coming in early 2011 on a drunken driving charge, his third alcohol-related offense since 2009. He was arrested and charged with operating while intoxicated in March 2010. That came after an underage drinking charge just 15 months prior in Minneapolis. He eventually was suspended from the team and missed all of the 2011 spring practice. It was not until the end of June 2011 that he was cleared to participate with the team during summer workouts, but coach Brian Kelly stripped him of his captaincy.
Compares to: Kansas City's Dwayne Bowe — Like Bowe, when Floyd's head is in the game, he's a physically dominant route runner. He needs to grow up off the field, but since his arrest last summer, he's done everything he could to try an erase those red flags in the character department. Floyd set out to make up for that transgression, putting forth a tremendous effort during his final campaign. Starting all 13 games, he set the school season-record with 100 receptions, ranking ninth in the nation with an average of 7.69 catches per game. His 1,147 receiving yards placed fourth on the school season-record chart and he found the end zone nine times via the passing game, scoring once more while picking up 13 yards on a pair of reverses. The Biletnikoff Award semifinalist received All-American second-team honors. For a guy who pulled in 100 passes, he pulled in just five of those inside the red zone, a strange total for a player his size. Six times he was tackled for a loss and he was brought down once at the line of scrimmage after catches, leading me to feel he's not exactly a tackle-breaker.
Alshon Jeffery, South Carolina
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Yes, he is a load to bring down after the catch, but as physical as he is as a route runner, Jeffery is equally passive as a blocker. He's a master at hauling in the one-handed catch, but he likes to let the ball into his body too much, leading to more than a handful of catchable balls ending up on the ground. He has a concentration issue, and while he can run over most cornerbacks, he won't scare anyone with his lack of speed. He needs to develop better moves, as he is not going to explode past NFL types and rounds his cuts often.
Compares to: Seattle's Mike Williams — Like Williams, Jeffery had to deal with the "battle of the bulge." Just look how long it took Williams to get back into the league after his poor training habits and penchant for fast food kept him on the outside looking in for several years. The coaches can deny it all they want in South Carolina, but Jeffery was vastly overweight last year, playing at least at 240-plus pounds. At 217 pounds in 2010, he had 88 receptions. Last year, looking like a roly-poly doll, he snared 49, leaving lots of money on the negotiation table.
Juron Criner, Arizona
I know, you are scratching your head over this selection and how high I have him rated, but remember Terrell Owens going in the third round, or Marques Colston lasting until the late rounds for the Saints, or Steve Johnson coming out of the late rounds to turn it around for Buffalo? Welcome to this year's "best kept wide receiver" candidate. The success of quarterback Nick Foles is directly linked to the chemistry that he developed the last two years with Criner, as the split end went on to produce two of the school's most productive seasons since the receiver became a full-time starter as a junior.
Just seeing the receiver on the field during 2011 was a great benefit for the team, as the staff was fearful he would miss his final campaign when he was hospitalized after undergoing neurological testing during the offseason. With his size and strength working over the middle of the field, Criner is a perfect fit as an imposing target for the West Coast offense. He is aggressive going for the ball in a crowd, as he knows how to work and settle into the soft areas of the zone. He is more of a possession-type receiver who can move the chains rather than being utilized as a deep threat, but he does show good acceleration and a long stride to generate good real estate after the catch.
Compares to: Terrell Owens — Criner is not going to out-race speedy cornerbacks, but Criner and Foles developed a natural feel for each other over their time as starters. The receiver accounted for 157 of his career 209 catches during their two seasons together, as Foles utilized Criner's size, strength and leaping ability to perfection, showing tremendous confidence in his wideout's ability to outmuscle opponents and get to the ball at its highest point in jump-ball situations. Some other numbers that are certain to impress: He accounted for or set up 44.41 percent of the team's points, best among any receiver targeted as a first- or second-round selection. He pulled in 70.09 percent of the passes targeted to him and averaged a touchdown catch per game. In the red zone, only Blackmon had better success that Criner among receivers projected to go in the first two rounds.
T.Y. Hilton, Florida International
This kid did everything but sell popcorn in the stands at FIU. Hilton began the 2011 season nursing a hamstring injury and closed his career with a deep thigh contusion. In between, he ranked eighth nationally with a 30.44-yard kickoff return average and 19th with 145.85 all-purpose yards per game. He set school season records with 72 receptions for 1,038 yards (14.42 ypc), finding the end zone with seven of those grabs. He returned a punt 97 yards for a touchdown and scored on a reverse in 12 starting assignments at split end.
Given clearance from the team's trainers to participate Golden Panthers' pro Day in late March, Hilton showed NFL talent evaluators why he has rewritten numerous school and Sun Belt Conference receiving, punt return and kickoff return records. In his first opportunity to run for pro scouts, the school's all-time leading receiver was clocked at 4.37 seconds in the 40-yard dash while running into the wind.
Hilton's leaping ability was on display next, as he measured 9 feet, 11 inches in the broad jump with a 39 1/2-inch vertical jump. He then performed in the shuttle drills, as he was timed at 4.36 seconds in the 20-yard shuttle and 7.03 in the three-cone drill, easing any concerns anybody might have had in regards to his lateral agility.
Compares to: Chicago's Devin Hester — He's not uber-fast like Hester, but is a much better receiving option. Look at what he's done on the field: In 50 games, he scored 24 touchdowns on 229 receptions. As a returner, he scored four times behind a 27.19-yard kickoff average, averaged 12.53 yards with two touchdowns as a punt returner, ran for seven scores on 69 carries and even threw for a touchdown, all while he was amassing 7,498 yards.
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 email@example.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/PackerReport.