NFL Combine Edition: Top 10 Wide Receivers and Tight Ends in NFL Draft
Deep Class of Wide Receiver Prospects, Little Star Power
The NFL has evolved into a passing league over the past few seasons and this year’s draft class offers up some intriguing options.
Those in need for a wide receiver will find some highly productive college receivers available, but if you’re looking for a potential number one option on the perimeter, you may be out of luck this year and may have to look to free agency to fill that void, because there is no AJ Green or Julio Jones in this draft class.
Evaluating college receivers and translating their skills to the NFL has become a challenge with so many spread offensive attacks at that level and the prolific numbers that are being posted often inflate the profile of that player, but doesn’t necessarily translate to success at the next level. During my evaluations I have identified a large number of dynamic slot receivers in this draft that will provide real value on day two and beyond in the draft.
Two tight ends in my rankings should be the safest to draft and have very little chances of being a bust. Anytime you can find a player that comes from a pro-style system like Zach Ertz at Stanford you can have an easier time translating his skill-set to the pro game, and he is my top tight end this year.
I also have a wildcard option in these rankings and this player is going to have to make the switch from quarterback to wide receiver in the NFL and his ability to make things happen with the ball in his hands should give him an advantage in making that transition.
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10b. Denard Robinson-Michigan
The Michigan quarterback has virtually no chance of playing quarterback in the NFL outside of wildcat formations, and will have to make a position change to receiver to make it at the next level. He can follow in the footsteps of the guy whose rushing record he’s broke in the Big Ten, former Indiana quarterback and long-time NFL receiver and returner, Antwaan Randle El as a player to emulate. If Robinson can even add return duties to his resume at the Senior Bowl, then he can sneak into the third round mix for a team that needs a dynamic playmaker.
10a. Marquess Wilson-Washington State
Suspended and then ultimately quit the football team before week 11 game, but has enough of a track record to show scouts that he is a big play receiver. The off field transgressions will likely drop him in the draft, but he has a big frame at 6-4 and has produced at a high level. A 2nd team All-American selection a year ago will need to prove to scouts he is a competitor and will not quit when things get rocky. Hopefully he learns from Mike Williams, a 1st round talent who quit during his final year at Syracuse then dropped to the 4th round, and is enjoying a solid career in the NFL. Wilson finished his career with 189 receptions, 3207 yards and 23 touchdowns.
9. Markus Wheaton-Oregon State
Coming on strong in his senior season for the surprising Beavers and has vaulted into the conversation as a possible 2nd round pick. Highly productive player and extremely competitive and displaying good character is a player that’s easy to root for. His separation skills are average at best and at 5-11 will be limited to a slot receiver role in the NFL, but will need to improve his ability to weave in and out of congestion in the defense to have a high volume of receptions. Flashes big-play ability, but at his size will never be a consistent homerun threat. Has career numbers of 227 receptions, 2994 yards and 16 touchdowns.
8. Tavon Austin-West Virginia
Exploding on the scene the last two years in a high-powered passing attack and is a very productive player who has shown the ability to make big plays in the passing game and can take a 4-yard hitch and turn it into an 80-yard touchdown. Great with the ball in his hands and will rack up yards after the catch. His ability to separate and get in and out of his cuts makes him an ideal slot receiver that can weave in and out of traffic in the defense. And at a shade under 5-9, that is likely where Austin will have to produce. His elite speed also makes him a dynamic threat on special teams. Austin has posted back-to-back 100-catch and 1000 yard seasons catching passes from Geno Smith.
7. Cordarrelle Patterson-Tennessee
The junior college transfer only has one season of FBS competition on his resume, but he did make the most of that one season. Patterson finished his lone season at Tennessee with some great games like the game vs. Troy where he had nine catches for 219 yards and a touchdown. The 6-3 205-pound Patterson also disappeared for long stretches--during a five-week stretch from late September to October combined for 10 catches for 127 yards. He did have an impact when he ran the ball out of the backfield on reverses and endarounds having 25 carries for 308 yards and three touchdowns exhibiting the playmaking ability he has when he has the ball in his hands. He can be a future number one receiver or a colossal bust, which is why I don’t think he should be a first round pick, even though he probably will be come April.
6. Keenan Allen-California
At 6’3’’ and 205 pounds he looks the part of a #1 receiver, but questions about his top-end speed may limit his upside to being a #2 at the next level. He is an intense competitor who returned to school for his senior year is a savvy route runner who finds the soft spots in the defense. Has above average separation skills, and his ball skills are good enough to make difficult catches look ordinary. Had 98 catches and 1343 yards as a sophomore, but only 61 and 636 as a junior and missed the final three games with injury.
5. Robert Woods-USC
Exceptional hands that may be the best of any receiver in the nation, but is more of a possession receiver at 6’1’’ and 190 pounds and lacks elite top end speed. Has lined up on the perimeter and in the slot during his three years at USC and has developed quite the rapport with Matt Barkley racking up over 100 receptions a year ago for the Trojans. Overshadowed this season by teammate Marqise Lee, but very good in his own right and is the school’s all-time receptions leader. Woods leaves USC with career marks of 252 receptions, 2930 yards and 32 touchdowns.
4. Terrance Williams-Baylor
Caught the eyes of scouts last year when he was catching passes from Heisman winner Robert Griffin III, but has improved this season as the No. 1 target in the Baylor passing game. Williams is a better prospect to me than Kendall Wright, who was the 20th pick last season. He has excellent size at 6-3 and dominates one-on-one matchups vs. smaller defensive backs. Can make the big play and run all the routes in the route tree. Put up ridiculous numbers this season with 97 catches, 1832 yards and 12 touchdowns.
3. Tyler Eifert-TE-Notre Dame
Prototypical frame for a tight end at 6-6 and 250, but has just adequate speed which limits his ability to separate from the defense. Can win jump balls vs. linebackers and safeties in the red zone, but isn’t much of a threat to do much after the catch. A bit of an overrated prospect who benefits by playing for Notre Dame, but produced for national runner-ups and has very strong hands, but needs to improve as a blocker. Eifert finished his junior season with 50 grabs, 685 yards and four touchdowns.
2. Zach Ertz-TE-Stanford
This year’s best tight end is following in the mold of his former teammate Coby Fleener and could sneak into the bottom of the first round with a great combine workout. Has shown he is a fine in-line blocker and can make catches down the field and can stretch the seam and beat linebackers and safeties. Ertz is a hard worker that loves the game of football and has experience playing in a pro style offense. Ertz led Stanford in receiving by far this season and finished with 69 receptions, 898 yards and six touchdowns.
1. Justin Hunter-Tennessee
6’4’’ target has impressive ball skills demonstrating great body control and adjustment to the ball in the air. An above average route runner who has solid separation skills and fluidity to his movements for such a big receiver. Has the ability to stretch defenses and make the big play and can make the acrobatic catch look easy. Former long jump champ has recovered nicely from an ACL injury in 2011 and should be a top-15 pick. Hunter finished his junior season with 73 receptions, 1083 yards and nine touchdowns.