2014 NFL Draft Rankings: Sammy Watkins and the Top Wide Receivers
Free Agency is over a week old and the 2014 NFL Draft is closing in, yet several NFL teams in desperate need of help for their passing games are still on the hunt for a go-to wide receiver. The New York Jets potentially removed themselves from the race in the first round this year after signing Eric Decker away from the Denver Broncos, but receiver-needy teams like the Carolina Panthers and St. Louis Rams could very well still spend a first round draft pick on a wide receiver.
Even the Detroit Lions addressed the position by adding on Golden Tate, while the Broncos filled the hole Decker left by snagging the speedy Emmanuel Sanders. The Baltimore Ravens, widely expected to make a splash for a big receiver in the first round, possibly silenced those rumors by signing Steve Smith, as well.
Free agency changes a lot, while most of the teams that added wide receiver help above will likely wait until later in the draft to add more youth to the position. Teams like the Panthers and Rams, however, may not be able to wait that long. The Panthers are specifically lacking in that department, as Ted Ginn, Brandon LaFell and Smith have all signed on to play elsewhere in 2014.
To get a better idea of which wide receivers Carolina and other teams could debate over once the draft rolls around, let’s rank and analyze this year’s crop of receiver talent:
1. Sammy Watkins – Clemson
Easily the most explosive and best pure athlete of all the wide receivers this year, Watkins is fully expected to be the first receiver off the board come May, and might even hear his name called within the top five picks. He did have a large amount of his passes come from screens at Clemson, but he still packages enough size, speed and upside to turn into a true go-to option at the next level. He could go as early as the St. Louis Rams at the two spot, or he could possibly slide to the Detroit Lions. He won’t be dropping outside of the top-10 picks, however.
2. Mike Evans – Texas A&M
Evans was slammed repeatedly this year for not having great long speed or explosiveness, and then proceeded to put down good times and timed well athletically across the board. It’s true that he’s not the most explosive athlete in this class, but he absolutely is a good athlete and has proven that he has enough speed to be an elite wide receiver at the next level. Despite solid timed speed, though, his strong suit is actually his size and ball skills. With great height and catch radius, Evans can make plays deep and be a terror in the red-zone. He’s arguably the most complete receiver right now in this draft class. Whoever lands him won’t be disappointed.
3. Marqise Lee – USC
Lee actually timed poorly in the 40-yard dash considering the wheels he put on tape over the course of his USC career. Everyone knows he’s a burner with solid versatility, though, so he should remain a legit threat to be selected inside the top-10. Free agency has curbed the need for teams to reach for a wide receiver high in the first round, though, so it’s actually starting to look like a real possibility that he could slide deep in round one. Expect to hear his name called somewhere in the top-25 picks, though.
4. Kelvin Benjamin – Florida State
We don’t have an awesome sample size from Benjamin to guage what he’ll do at the next level, but his size and speed should tell us enough. He was a ridiculous playmaker in 2013, hauling in 54 catches for over 1,000 receiving yards and a whopping 15 touchdowns. He’s still quite rough around the edges, but he should still be able to be an effective deep threat and red-zone presence for his new team as a rookie in 2014. The hope would be that whoever does take him will bring him along slowly and let him develop, rather than ask too much out of him out of the gates.
5. Odell Beckham – LSU
Beckham’s stock is rising a bit, as he packages solid size and build with good speed and play-making ability. He’s a tough receiver that will go over the middle and won’t drop easy passes, either. There is still a good amount of potential to be worked out of him, too, so whoever takes him will get a player with reasonable upside. At the moment he’s a fringe first rounder but will likely hear his name called sometime in round two.
6. Brandin Cooks – Oklahoma State
Cooks is a pure burner who was extremely productive in college, finishing his final season with an insane 128 receptions, 1,730 receiving yards and 16 scores. He wasn’t just a one-hit wonder, either, as he also put up solid numbers in the previous season. Cooks is a little under-sized and won’t be a consistent red-zone threat at the next level, but can get in and out of breaks cleanly and can separate at will. He would fit a team like the Philadelphia Eagles beautifully, but the Carolina Panthers might make the most sense as a likely destination in round two.
7. Davante Adams – Fresno State
Adams isn’t the best athlete at receiver in this group, but considering how so many are top-shelf speedsters, that certainly isn’t saying he’s a bad one, either. In fact, he’s actually a very fine athlete and also brings excellent size and hands to the table. He was extremely productive in college and has shown he is every bit of a possession receiver at the next level after posting back-to-back 100+ reception seasons. He did benefit from a favorable system and the play of potential first round pick Derek Carr, but he’s an exceptional talent himself and has a shot at being a second round pick in this year’s draft.
8. Jarvis Landry – LSU
Landry is just solid all across the board as a consistent chain mover who can make big plays with the ball and isn’t afraid to do the dirty work, either. LSU has two high-level wide receivers in this draft class and Landry really isn’t the far behind Beckham. He’s equally athletic and brings good size and build to the table, as well. He’ll be a second or third round pick this May.
9. Allen Robinson – Penn State
Robinson is another receiver with excellent size and solid speed. He’s really the complete package, as he’s displayed solid red-zone abilities and can also move the chains. He’s not the fastest guy out there, but he’s actually a very fluid athlete and can still make plays with the ball in his hands. He’ll get the job done as a possession receiver at the next level thanks to his ability to attack the ball and make plays despite tight coverage.
10. Jordan Matthews – Vanderbilt
Matthews has to be one of the most underrated prospects in this entire draft, but is absolutely looked over when it comes to the wide receiver position. He is extremely fundamentally sound when it comes to running his routes and securing passes, while he also has elite size and solid build. He didn’t prove to be an elite red-zone threat in college, but was a fantastic possession receiver, tallying over 200 total receptions over his final two seasons. He’s not the most explosive athlete, but he has better than advertised speed and is as safe of a prospect as they come. He might slide into the third round, but whoever gets him is getting a serious gem.
There are definitely several more wide receivers that are deserving to be considered in the top-10 this year, but these 10 guys for now appear to have locked down spots on the first two days of the draft.