With the recent announcement from Clemson Tigers wide receiver Sammy Watkins that he would be skipping his final year of college and heading to the NFL, the class of wide receivers in the 2014 NFL Draft is officially loaded. Watkins leads a class of high-end talent at the wide receiver position that could become a prominent part of the first round of the draft and then make immediate impacts as rookies.
Last year’s class of wide receivers had quality depth, but outside of Tavon Austin, there were few elite talents at wide receiver. There were quality options, but little difference in the caliber of player between the early part of the second round and the middle of the fourth round. However, this year’s class will be different.
It starts with Watkins, who could be the most talented wide receiver to come out in the last several years. Unless the early part of the draft becomes littered with quarterbacks as desperate teams search in vain for a new franchise quarterback, Watkins is bound to be a top-10 pick.
But the brigade of talented wide receivers doesn’t stop there. Mike Evans of Texas A&M is not far behind Watkins as the top receiver available, as he’s essentially a wide receiver trapped in a tight end’s body. He doesn’t have high-end speed, but he is a beast going across the middle and will catch every 50-50 ball that heads his way, which will pay big dividends in the red zone.
When he gets to the pros, Evans will give cornerbacks and defensive coordinators nightmares all week leading up to Sunday as he’ll be a QB’s best friend.
Marquis Lee of USC and Allen Robinson of Penn State aren’t far behind Watkins and Evans on draft boards. Lee’s production dipped in 2013 because of injuries and inexperience at quarterback for the Trojans, but there’s no doubt that he has first-round talent. Robinson will enter the NFL with good size and plenty of polish, which will allow him to make an immediate impact as a rookie and give him the chance to become a team’s no. 1 wide receiver.
The lone senior that could work his way into the first round and quickly become a feared receiver is Jordan Matthews of Vanderbilt. He didn’t always get the recognition he deserved, but Matthews has been arguably the best receiver in the SEC over the pas two seasons and should have no problem becoming a difference-maker in the NFL.
This class could have even more first-round talent if a couple more underclassmen declare for the draft: Kelvin Benjamin of Florida State and Odell Beckham of LSU. Benjamin could wait and be the top wide receiver in next year’s draft, but he has ideal size at 6-foot-5 which allows him to leap over cornerbacks, as well as the speed to challenge cornerbacks deep.
Meanwhile, Beckham is lightning-quick, and while he could be an impact player as a kick returner, there’s little doubt that he’ll also be a dangerous wide receiver in the NFL, making him a dual-threat much like Austin.
Last year, there were only six wide receivers taken in the first two rounds. However, there could be six wide receivers, possibly more, drafted in the first round alone this year. It should be fascinating to watch where the 2014 class of WRs get drafted and the impact they’ll make as rookies.