TEAM NEED – While Mike Wallace wasn’t a significant contributor in his only season with the Vikings, his absence from this list highlights that something is missing. Diggs had a solid rookie season, but once he was essentially promoted to the spot of No. 1 target, his numbers struggled badly. Wright is a solid slot receiver. Johnson (injury) and Patterson (inconsistency) were largely nonexistent in the offense last season and the other three are viewed more as special-teams players than potential contributors to the offense. If any position screams of being a target for a first-round pick, it’s this one.
POSITION ANALYSIS – As always, wide receiver is a deep draft position because there are so many colleges that virtually ignore the running game and there is a ton of tape out there on dozens of players that could make an impact on a roster and, in a typical season, just about every team drafts at least one wide receiver. This year’s class doesn’t have a Julio Jones or a Calvin Johnson in it, but there are three or four wide receivers that could come off the board in both the first and second rounds. It wouldn’t be surprising to see nine or 10 players drafted in the first two rounds, but there may not be one taken until the middle of the first round or later, with names like Laquon Treadwell, Josh Doctson, Corey Coleman and Will Fuller leading the way.
CREAM OF THE CROP
Laquon Treadwell, Ole Miss, 6-2, 221 – Third-year junior…Started 30 of 35 career games, catching 202 passes for 2,393 yards and 21 TDs…Suffered a devastating knee injury against Alabama in 2014, but returned last season to catch an SEC-leading 82 passes for 1,153 yards and 11 touchdowns, earning first-team All-SEC honors…Physical player with great size , strength, physicality and athleticism…Has long arms, big hands and the strength to win just about every jump-ball opportunity…Has good body control and adjusts well to poorly thrown passes…Has excellent strength and keeps defenders off of him, rarely getting jammed at the line or brought down one-on-one by smaller defenders…Ran a very limited route tree and will need to refine his game…Plays faster than his timed speed, but isn’t a burner who will take a slant pass 80 yards for a score because he doesn’t have a second or third gear…Plays out of control at times and reportedly can be temperamental and moody…Did not run at the Combine by choice, but had 12 reps of 225 pounds with a 33-inch vertical jump and a 9-9 broad jump.
PROJECTION: He didn’t help his cause at the Combine and ran a disappointing 40 time (4.65) at his pro day, but he has all the looks of a slightly less athletic Dez Bryant and should be the first wide receiver drafted with the potential to be a Pro Bowler.
Josh Doctson, TCU, 6-2, 202 – Fifth-year senior who initially played for Wyoming in 2011 but sat out the 2012 season when he transferred to TCU…Consensus All-American as a senior…Two-year starter who caught 143 passes for 2,344 yards and 25 touchdowns in that span…Has good size, length and wingspan to pluck the ball with ease and get upfield quickly…Has a second gear to get separation and is at his most dangerous on the deep ball…Has excellent body control and shields/boxes out defenders consistently…Very coachable and viewed as a strong team leader who leads by example…Hasn’t run an elaborate route tree and lined up almost exclusively on the right side of the offense…At times gets taken out of his game because he is emotional and gets into in-game wars with physical cornerbacks…Isn’t fearless over the middle and seems to keep an eye on safeties barreling down on him and, as a result, drops some passes he should catch…Ran a 4.50 40 at the Combine with 14 reps, a position-best 41-inch vertical jump and 10-11 broad jump.
PROJECTION: A talented player who came from an offense that didn’t ask him to run a full route tree, he will have a learning curve at the next level but makes so many big plays on deep plays and in the red zone that he will come off the board somewhere in the second half of the first round.
Corey Coleman, Baylor, 5-10¾, 194 – Fourth-year junior…Started 28 of 35 career games…In 22 games over his last two seasons, he caught 138 passes for 2,482 yards and 31 touchdowns…Consensus All-American in 2015 and winner of the Biletnikoff Award, given to the top wide receiver in college football…Has sprinter’s speed and leaping ability to turn short passes into long gains…Very strong and fights defenders for the ball…Is explosive and gets separation quickly – both vertically and laterally…Is the best big-play threat in the class, averaging 17.4 yards per reception for his career…Is far from a polished route runner and will have to deal with the stigma of being a product of the Art Briles system that creates college stars but not pro stars…Is a little shorter and smaller than most big-time NFL receivers…Takes way too many plays off when the ball isn’t coming his way and can tip off defenders…Did not run at the Combine, but had 17 reps of 225 pounds, a 40½-inch vertical jump and a 10-9 broad jump.
PROJECTION: An explosive athlete who came from an offense that didn’t require receivers to do a variety of things. He will have a learning curve, but, if he harnesses his talent and is willing to learn, he could end up being the best receiver in this draft class.
Will Fuller, Notre Dame, 6-0¼, 186 – Third-year junior…Two-year starter who caught 138 passes for 2,252 yards and 29 touchdowns in that span…Has elite deep speed and has been highly productive, averaging 17.4 yards per catch in his college career…Has very good ball skills, body control and balance while running full speed or competing for a ball…Can reach top speed very quickly and can get almost immediate separation…Is a solid technician who knows how to shield defenders and use leverage…Drops far too many passes and has small hands…Is thin and often times appear to try to avoid contact and shies away from safeties over the middle…Does not have ideal functional player strength and can get tossed around…Ran a blazing 4.32 40 at the Combine with 10 reps, a 33½-inch vertical jump and a 10-6 broad jump.
PROJECTION: A very productive college receiver who could become a big-play threat in the NFL, but his slender build and lack of a body that can add bulk or muscle will likely hurt his draft stock. He’s a first-round talent but still may be on the board at the start of Day 2.
Michael Thomas, Ohio State, 6-2¾, 212 – Fourth year junior who was redshirted as a sophomore to focus on academics…Two-year starter who caught 110 passes for 1,780 yards and 18 touchdowns…The nephew of former NFL receiver Keyshawn Johnson…A solid route runner who can get separation with sharp cuts…Will make the tough catch over the middle in traffic and has strong hands to rip away contested balls…Has prototypical size and has good upper body strength and muscular development to take the beating receivers get in the NFL…Does not have a second gear in the open field to blow away defenders…Didn’t run a full route tree and his assignments were often the same from one series to the next…Loses a lot of time when forced to stop and start on his route and is often blanketed by defenders who can catch up to him relatively easily…Ran a 4.57 40 at the Combine with 18 reps of 225 pounds, a 35-inch vertical jump and a 10-6 broad jump.
PROJECTION: A solid receiver who does a lot of things right, but his lack of top-end speed, inconsistent production and limited experience in several routes run by NFL receivers should drop him into Day 2 – not too deep into it, but into it nonetheless.
Sterling Shepard, Oklahoma, 5-10½, 194 – Fourth-year senior who started 41 of 50 career games, catching 233 passes for 3,482 yards and 26 touchdowns…Blew up as a senior with 86 receptions for 1,288 yards and 11 touchdowns…Has very good body control and changes direction very quickly and efficiently…Has good burst in and out of his cuts and is hard to catch when he’s in the open field…Has good straight-line speed and can dial up to top speed quickly…Is undersized and has put about as much weight on his body as he can handle…Has small hands and lets too many passes get into his body…Doesn’t bring much to the table as a blocker…Had an impressive Combine performance, running a 4.48 40 with 20 reps, a 41-inch vertical jump and a 10-3 broad jump.
PROJECTION: His lack of size will hurt his draft stock, but he has the combination of speed and upper body strength to get noticed and likely come off the draft board in the middle to end of Round 2, but smaller receivers tend to stay on the board longer than they should.
Tyler Boyd, Pittsburgh, 6-1¼, 197 – Third-year junior…Started 33 of 38 career games, catching 254 passes for 3,361 yards and 21 touchdowns and rushing 63 times for 520 yards and another TD…Played with three different starting quarterbacks in his three years at Pitt…Broke most of Larry Fitzgerald’s freshman team records…The only unanimous All-ACC selection last season…A versatile player who has lined up at wide receiver, running back and as a return man…A very strong route runner who is smooth technician and seemingly is effortless in many of his movements…Is a solid hands catcher who keeps the ball away from his body and wins most contested passes…Does not have elite speed and needs his mechanics to shed defenders…Has been questioned for his work ethic, passion for the game and decision-making – was suspended for a game in 2015 after being arrested for DUI…Is thin and doesn’t have the type of body that can add the needed bulk and muscle to deal with physical NFL cornerbacks…Ran a 4.58 40 at the Combine with just 11 reps of 225 pounds, a 34-inch vertical jump and a 9-11 broad jump.
PROJECTION: Of all the wide receiver prospects, the divergence of opinion on Boyd is as wide as anyone in the draft class. His production would make you think he’s a first- or second-round prospect, but his limitations may well push him into the third round.
Pharoh Cooper, South Carolina, 5-11¼, 203 – Third-year junior…A two-year starter who caught 135 passes for 2,109 yards and 17 touchdowns and rushed 51 times for 311 yards and three TDs in that span…A two-time All-SEC selection…A versatile athlete who played wide receiver, running back, quarterback and return man at times in his career…Has the speed and explosiveness to be a threat to score every time he touches the ball…Has quick acceleration and gains a lot of yards after the catch…Is very raw and hasn’t run a full route tree, being labeled a jack of all trades and the master of none…Is undersized and, while capable making big plays, he freelances a little too much and plays out of control, which will likely lead to fumbles in the NFL…Is not a good blocker and can get overwhelmed at times when ask to lead the way for runners or get a push off the line…Did not participate in running drills at the Combine, but had 15 reps, a 31-inch vertical jump and a 9-7 broad jump.
PROJECTION: Didn’t do himself any favors at the Combine with a limited performance and nothing that stood out. Coming from an offense that basically dumped the ball to him near the line and let him do his thing after that, he will need time to adjust to the NFL route tree and, while he has the chance to be a very good pro, he’s going to have to go to a team that won’t ask too much too quickly.
BEST OF THE REST
Braxton Miller, Ohio State, 6-1½, 201 – Fifth-year senior who redshirted in 2014 due to injury…In three seasons at quarterback from 2011-13, he completed 396 of 667 passes for 5,295 yards with 52 touchdowns and 17 interceptions while rushing 557 times for 3,054 yards and 32 TDs…Made the switch to wide receiver as a senior, catching 25 passes for 340 yards and three touchdowns and rushing 43 times for 261 yards and one TD…Two-time Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year in 2012-13 and finished fifth in the 2012 Heisman voting…After being replaced by Cardale Jones when he was injured in 2014, Miller unselfishly volunteered to move to wide receiver…Has excellent size and good functional game strength…Explosive speed and agility, which translate better for him at the pro level than as a quarterback…Explosive cutting into and out of his breaks and he put that on full display at the Senior Bowl…Very raw as a receiver and will have a pretty significant learning curve…Gets knocked off his position too easily and will take himself out of plays, which explains his pedestrian production as a receiver last year…Spends too much time running laterally with the ball instead of getting north-south immediately after catches…Ran a 4.50 40 at the Combine with 17 reps of 225 pounds, a 35-inch vertical jump and a 10-3 broad jump.
PROJECTION: An intriguing prospect who likely would have been moved to wide receiver even if he had regained his starting job at quarterback, he will be drafted as project with great upside. That will likely take time, so he could slip out of the second round unless a team is willing to roll the dice earlier than that.
Leonte Carroo, Rutgers, 6-0, 211 – Fourth-year senior…Two-year starter who caught 94 passes for 1,895 yards and 20 touchdowns in that span after scoring nine TDs on just 28 catches as a sophomore in part-time duty…Was on the field for just eight games in 2015, missing three games due to an ankle injury and being suspended for two games after being charged with assault…Has big-play ability written all over him, averaging 19.5 yards a catch for his career and scoring 29 touchdowns…Is an excellent route runner and has multiple gears to set up defenders and blow past them…Is a strong and willing blocker who helps spring plays when his number isn’t called…Has short arms and will have some trouble on contested downfield passes…His off-field issues may put up some red flags for some teams…Does not have an explosive burst off the line and needs a little time to gear up to full speed…Suffered an ankle injury at the Combine which limited his workouts, but he ran a 4.50 40 with 14 reps, a 35½-inch vertical jump and 10-0 broad jump.
PROJECTION: A player with some background issues that will need examining, his touchdown production is hard to deny. He has maxed out physically, but his route running will likely lead him to be a decent No. 2 receiver in time, which should have him selected sometime in the second half of Day 2.
Kenny Lawler, Cal, 6-2½, 203 – Fourth-year junior…Started 19 of 36 career games, catching 143 passes for 1,706 yards and 27 touchdowns, with 22 TDs in his last 23 games…An accomplished route runner who can set up defenders to get open in space…Touchdown production jumps out at you because he is at his most dangerous in the red zone…Has good height, length and wingspan and uses those attributes to his advantage…Does not have good speed and will never be a consistent deep threat…Has trouble getting separation when he is jammed at the line…Has a narrow frame that doesn’t have the ability to add much bulk or muscle mass and some teams will view that as a durability concern…Did not lift at the Combine because of a left shoulder injury but ran a 4.64 40 with a 31-inch vertical jump and a 9-3 broad jump.
PROJECTION: Is not an elite athlete, but has been very productive in his career. His lackluster showing at the Combine will likely drop him into the third round.
De'Runnya Wilson, Mississippi State, 6-4¾, 224 – Third-year junior…Two-year starter who caught 106 passes for 1,585 yards and 19 touchdowns in that span…A huge receiver with a giant wingspan…Attacks the ball in flight, wins most contested battles and is a good hands catcher…Has good shield-off techniques and is a significant red zone threat…Does not have a great burst off the line and allows defenders into his body too quickly…Does not have natural balance and doesn’t have ideal body control…Doesn’t have sustained speed and is a long strider who needs three or four steps to get there…Didn’t lift at the Combine with a right shoulder injury, but ran a woeful 4.85 40 with a 28-inch vertical jump and a 9-5 broad jump.
PROJECTION: A huge receiver, but not an athlete – his 40 times was pathetic – but he makes plays on the field because of his massive size and is a dangerous red zone threat, which may be enough for a team to take a chance on him at the end of Day 2 or early on Day 3.
OTHERS TO WATCH
Bralon Addison, Oregon, 5-9¼, 197
Geronimo Allison, Illinois, 6-3¼, 196
Aaron Burbridge, Michigan State, 6-0, 206
Keyarris Garrett, Tulsa, 6-3½, 220
Rashard Higgins, Colorado State, 6-1½, 196
Cayleb Jones, Arizona, 6-3¾, 209
Byron Marshall, Oregon, 5-9½, 201
Malcolm Mitchell, Georgia, 5-11¾, 198
Charone Peake, Clemson, 6-2½, 209
Demarcus Robinson, Florida, 6-1½, 203
Tajae Sharpe, U-Mass, 6-2, 194