2010 NFL Draft Rankings: Wide Receivers and Tight Ends
More and more these days, it makes sense to combine wide receivers and tight ends into a single category. While teams need to be mindful of where players are most effective, passing offenses no longer appear to value tight end production any differently than wide receiver production.
The most valuable players are the ones who add downfield ability to their strong route running, blocking, and open field running skills, but ultimately, teams will take any combination of theses skills over one-dimensional deep-threat receivers, as defenses can’t scheme to stop an offense that can go to a different primary target in any given game. With that in mind, receivers are generally more valuable at the top of the draft than tight ends, although we shall never forget the year that Vernon Davis went in the top ten and Santonio Holmes went 25th overall. WHO’S THE PROBOWLER NOW FOOLS!!!!
Positional rankings after the jump.
Class Strength: Above Average
[picapp align=”right” wrap=”true” link=”term=dez+bryant&iid=3332370″ src=”b/b/3/b/2b.JPG?adImageId=12033814&imageId=3332370″ width=”234″ height=”155″ /]1. Dez Bryant, WR, Oklahoma State Bryant is about as polished as a receiver his age can be from an on-the-field perspective, but lacks maturity off of it. Bryant’s not stupid or evil, he’s just not apparently ready to be a professional athlete, and of course, if you want to get the on-field goods, you’re going to have to deal with the rigors of training the guy to lead a lifestyle in which a bunch of ill-willed people are going to try to exploit the fact that he has money. That along makes Bryant a risky investment, even if his on-field skills are rarely developed. Bryant will likely be better than Dwayne Bowe, Calvin Johnson, or Michael Crabtree were as rookies, and could be better than Brandon Marshall as a player, but he’s got to stay out of trouble and out of the doghouse of his coaches.
[picapp align=”right” wrap=”true” link=”term=golden+tate&iid=2788927″ src=”7/b/b/c/9c.JPG?adImageId=12033836&imageId=2788927″ width=”234″ height=”156″ /]2. Golden Tate, WR, Notre Dame Tate is really a once-in-a-lifetime receiver prospect who, unfortunately, could easily be marginalized in the pros by conventional usage patterns. He’s a slot receiver extraordinaire who can line up in the backfield and make plays in the running game. He can line up at H-Back and block someone, or he can line up on a shorter corner and outleap him for the ball with strong hands. So much of Tate’s value in college came from run after the catch that the worst thing an NFL offensive coordinator can do with him is to line him up outside exclusively and ask him to run a traditional route tree. That would be a great way to take an elite prospect and create a nice middle of the pack career for him. A darkhorse candidate to select him: Philadelphia Eagles.
[picapp align=”right” wrap=”true” link=”term=arrelious+benn&iid=974905″ src=”8/b/e/1/University_of_Illinois_d97c.jpg?adImageId=12033862&imageId=974905″ width=”234″ height=”156″ /]3. Arrelious Benn, WR, Illinois Built in the mold of Dez Bryant, Benn isn’t quite a polished route runner just yet, nor does he have explosive straight line speed, but he’s agile, strong, tall, and will catch pretty much anything thrown to him. He’s sort of a poor man’s Calvin Johnson coming out of college because he’s a physical marvel, but his production was held back by poor play at the QB position. When I was going through the conference last year trying to find the best offensive player in the Big Ten, there were only a few names that could even be considered for the “honor” and they are all on this list, not-so-coincidentally. Benn is the biggest name of the bunch.
[picapp align=”right” wrap=”true” link=”term=aaron+hernandez&iid=7154240″ src=”c/a/8/0/Gator_tight_end_447a.JPG?adImageId=12033894&imageId=7154240″ width=”234″ height=”164″ /]4. Aaron Hernandez, TE, Florida Think Chris Cooley, but if he could run. Run well. Tight end blocking is anything but overrated, but it is usually projected poorly, which leads me to believe it’s a teachable skill. With Hernandez, the strength is not an issue, the hands are not an issue, he’s good after the catch, and he not only played last year, but posted really great numbers for a tight end. Is he projectable? Maybe not as projectable as Todd Heap, Kellen Winslow, or Heath Miller, but you probably won’t have to draft him quite as highly as those guys either. Tight ends are supposed to be match-up nightmares, and that’s exactly what Hernandez is. I look for the Colts to select him with their 31st overall pick.
[picapp align=”right” wrap=”true” link=”term=demaryius+thomas&iid=7047210″ src=”d/a/2/3/Georgia_Tech_v_50d5.jpg?adImageId=12033920&imageId=7047210″ width=”234″ height=”156″ /]5. Demaryius Thomas, WR, Georgia Tech Skills-wise, Thomas is easily a top ten draft choice, but his production doesn’t match this assessment, and this is because in two years under Paul Johnson, he was used exclusively as a vertical receiving threat in an offense that forced defenses to bring an extra guy into the box to defend the QB on the option. That doesn’t exactly prepare him for NFL coverages. Thomas isn’t just some obscure one year wonder who is making a name for himself in the draft based off one big year (no matter what his last name leads you to believe). He’s actually trying to make it off of no production and pure athleticism. So when’s a good time to take the plunge on a guy like Thomas? My take is: as soon as the big money spots pass. That could be as high as no. 10 with Jacksonville, or mid-way through the second round based on the risk-tolerance of certain teams, and they’d all be justified. Now, above pick no. 10, he’s a bad, bad reach. Still, keep one eye on Oakland, because, well Javon Walker didn’t quite work out, now did he?
[picapp align=”right” wrap=”true” link=”term=anthony+mccoy&iid=7116110″ src=”4/a/7/6/USC_v_Notre_5221.jpg?adImageId=12033979&imageId=7116110″ width=”234″ height=”152″ /]6. Anthony McCoy, TE, USC As far as in-line tight ends go, both Jermaine Gresham and Rob Gronkowski are getting discounted for not playing in 2009, and if I was going to take a TE in the first round, I’d shoot for Anthony McCoy or Hernandez. McCoy is much more of a traditional tight end than is Hernandez, meaning a majority of his work is done from right beside the right tackle, most of his catches are made between the numbers, and he gets the heck up the field after the catch. There’s nothing incredibly flashy about McCoy he’s just very, very good at what he does, and what he does has caused me to rate him as a first round talent.
[picapp align=”right” wrap=”true” link=”term=jermaine+gresham&iid=2936053″ src=”2/a/c/9/Oklahoma_v_Oklahoma_4f0e.jpg?adImageId=12034033&imageId=2936053″ width=”234″ height=”152″ /]7. Jermaine Gresham, TE, Oklahoma Another physical specimen in a strong draft class, but he was injured and missed all of 2009, and really, that just leaves 2008 as his lone season as a starter. Gresham might not be the big match-up nightmare he sometimes gets billed as, but if you throw him the football, he’s going to catch it, and if he can get into a foot race with a linebacker, he’s not going to lose. He looks like the prototype for a tight end, and he plays like you would expect that prototype to play. Of course, in today’s game, that’s not a luxury and thusly, Gresham really is more of a need pick for a team looking to replace an aging tight end. He could end up being a steal, but only by virtue of falling to the second round. A Zach Miller (Oak) type of player.
[picapp align=”right” wrap=”true” link=”term=eric+decker&iid=2694843″ src=”d/1/d/5/Wisconsin_v_Minnesota_62af.jpg?adImageId=12034052&imageId=2694843″ width=”234″ height=”155″ /]8. Eric Decker, WR, Minnesota If Arrelious Benn was the most recognizable offensive talent in the Big Ten, Decker was the conferences best player last season. He’s an unquestioned number one college receiver who projects as a very effective number two receiver in the NFL: think Ike Hilliard. He’s a second round talent in the body of a third or fourth rounder, and I don’t believe his ultimate upside is going to be affected in any way by the fact that he plays above the level his skills should produce at. Decker has downfield ability, although his ultimate value is going to be as an intermediate target at the next level.
[picapp align=”right” wrap=”true” link=”term=rob+gronkowski&iid=2335402″ src=”e/1/2/5/Washington_v_Arizona_52c7.jpg?adImageId=12034087&imageId=2335402″ width=”234″ height=”163″ /]9. Rob Gronkowski, TE, Arizona There’s no medical test that can clear a team from taking a risk on a guy who missed an entire year of football for a herniated disk in his back that required surgery, and then left his senior year on the table to declare for the draft with just 75 college receptions at Arizona. Gronkowski’s talent, when healthy, is undeniable. I don’t know if any player at the position in this draft class is consistently stronger at the point of attack than Rob Gronkowski, but with that back ailment, medically cleared or not, he’s my fourth rated TE, and dangerously close to falling to 5th. I do not not if I would be able to throw a second round pick at him, but I’d be getting great value if he remains healthy.
[picapp align=”right” wrap=”true” link=”term=dennis+pitta&iid=6338662″ src=”9/2/8/5/BYU_v_Oklahoma_14e0.jpg?adImageId=12034088&imageId=6338662″ width=”234″ height=”151″ /]10. Dennis Pitta, TE, BYU He will be a 24 year old rookie, which isn’t uncommon for a three year starter at Brigham Young. At an advanced age, Pitta is by far the most accomplished player in the draft, and in the middle of the second round he’s a great value, but his college production could be as simple as having an age advantage over the college athletes that are covering him. Many players in this mold have gone into the pros, done a year or two of special teams work, and then have been quietly dropped from the one team that offered a chance. With that in mind, remember that there’s no guarantee a player like Pitta gets drafted, but if I need a tight end and he’s around in the third round, he’s going to be one of the first guys at the top of my board. In all reality, he will probably be one of the first guys taken on the third day: he’s already a steal at that point.
[picapp align=”right” wrap=”true” link=”term=mardy+gilyard&iid=7480183″ src=”1/b/7/5/Allstate_Sugar_Bowl_cfa8.jpg?adImageId=12034094&imageId=7480183″ width=”234″ height=”156″ /]11. Mardy Gilyard, WR, Cincinnati When you reference the annals of college football history, Mardy Gilyard isn’t exactly a no-name, but his career isn’t going to withstand the test of time without assistance from his days as a professional. I suppose it’s good for him that he sports a very projectable skill set as a special teams’ gunner, return man, and potential number two receiver. It’s his receiving skills that are particularly underrated. When Brian Kelly came over from CMU to coach the Bearcats, he was only going to enjoy as much success as his passing game allowed him to. Well, 20 wins and 4 losses later, I’d say Gilyard was a pretty effective anchor for that passing attack. I know a few Bengal fans that would be quite happy to see Gilyard stay in town as he takes his game to the next level, and that’s as safe a spot to project him as any.
[picapp align=”right” wrap=”true” link=”term=dexter+mccluster&iid=2785238″ src=”c/c/6/8/19.jpg?adImageId=12063849&imageId=2785238″ width=”234″ height=”156″ /]12. Dexter McCluster, Ole Miss Some teams feel the Ole Miss scatterback projects as a running back, but most are of the opinion that I share: he’s a reciever/returner at the next level. McCluster’s size is always going to be a limiting factor on what he can accomplish but his agility and explosiveness in and out of his cuts makes him the most dynamic weapon to come out of the college ranks since the Bears took Devin Hester in the second round of the 2006 draft. McCluster projects similarly: he’ll start as a punt returner, and then he’ll end up on the offensive side of the football, likely as a slot receiver.
[picapp align=”right” wrap=”true” link=”term=ed+dickson&iid=7447766″ src=”7/e/4/e/Rose_Bowl_8e54.jpg?adImageId=12034097&imageId=7447766″ width=”234″ height=”156″ /]13. Ed Dickson, TE, Oregon Dickson is the 6th rated TE on my draft board, but he’s the last guy I would project as a full-time starter at the next level. Since there are only about 36 or 37 starting TEs in the league, it would be very disproportional if 6 starters actually emerged from this draft, but the class is strong enough to pull that off if enough teams are dissatisfied with the production from the tight end position. As a player, he combines strong blocking skills with big-play ability down the field. His hands are a bit suspect, and he’s more of a project than the TEs I have ranked ahead of him as he has to prove he can catch the ball in traffic. Would translate best to an offense that doesn’t often throw the ball into traffic often. That’s Jacksonville, in case you were wondering.
[picapp align=”right” wrap=”true” link=”term=damian+williams&iid=7155656″ src=”d/6/2/8/UCLA_v_USC_33fb.jpg?adImageId=12034108&imageId=7155656″ width=”234″ height=”156″ /]14. Damian Williams, WR, USC I, like most people, am skeptical of the impact that USC receivers will have at the next level, but Damian Williams is closer to Steve Smith than he is to Mike Williams or Dwayne Jarrett. On the back side of the second round, there’s a lot of value in his selection, and it speaks to the quality of the class that Williams is probably going to slip through the first 45 picks. He’s a number two receiver who, like Decker and Steve Smith (NYG), wouldn’t be an awful no. 1 in spot duty or as an injury replacement. He’s shifter after the catch than most guys.
[picapp align=”right” wrap=”true” link=”term=jeremy+williams&iid=6996405″ src=”5/2/4/7/UTEP_v_Tulane_604f.jpg?adImageId=12034213&imageId=6996405″ width=”234″ height=”156″ /]15. Jeremy Williams, WR, Tulane This Green Wave receiver is one of my favorite players in the entire draft. He doesn’t offer much by way of downfield ability, but he’s a hard worker, an excellent safety blanket, a third receiver at worst, and I’d take him in the second round regardless because he knows how to work coverages and get open. He’s probably not as skilled physically as Eric Decker, but I would argue that he’s even better after the catch. Prior to the catch, few are better working inside the numbers, in front of the safeties.
[picapp align=”right” wrap=”true” link=”term=dorin+dickerson&iid=6828238″ src=”f/5/9/c/University_of_Pittsburgh_9694.jpg?adImageId=12034132&imageId=6828238″ width=”234″ height=”155″ /]16. Dorin Dickerson, TE, Pitt Dickerson is a WR/TE tweener who has the body of a slot receiver, but plays the position with a fullback’s mentality. Surprisingly, he was used as a blocker at Pitt, primarily. And if you want to talk about a red zone threat, more than 20% of his catches as a senior and just under 20% for his career were for scores. This absolves him from a declining yd/catch statistic as a senior: it’s difficult to rack up the big yardage if the goal line is cramping your style.
[picapp align=”right” wrap=”true” link=”term=blair+white&iid=6549426″ src=”a/3/a/3/Michigan_State_v_f48f.jpg?adImageId=12034138&imageId=6549426″ width=”234″ height=”136″ /]17. Blair White, WR, Michigan State We’re now in the realm of complementary receivers from the Big Ten, so while you’re not looking at a first or second round pick with Blair White, he’s a guy who combines sharp, well-rehearsed route running with the ability to make spectacular catches well outside his frame, and he’s done everything he could to maximize his draft stock, short of jumping into the Notre Dame band.
[picapp align=”right” wrap=”true” link=”term=briscoe&iid=7667269″ src=”6/8/3/c/Missouri_v_Kansas_3e51.jpg?adImageId=12034157&imageId=7667269″ width=”234″ height=”164″ /]18. Dezmon Briscoe, WR, Kansas Put simply, Briscoe is deceptively productive. His skill set: highly athletic with little speed or ability to separate makes him something of a boom or bust prospect. His college career was all about finding ways to haul in more than 200 receptions knowing full well that the other team was going to attempt to blanket him. He’s worth a gamble in the third round, but in spite of everything he’s accomplished to this point, covered in the NFL is covered, and it’s uncertain just how many tricks Briscoe can work at the professional level to get open. Still, if I draft him, I’m throwing him the football often.
[picapp align=”right” wrap=”true” link=”term=mike+williams+syracuse&iid=8288697″ src=”9/f/c/4/2010_NFL_Combine_356b.jpg?adImageId=12034169&imageId=8288697″ width=”234″ height=”164″ /]19. Mike Williams, WR Syracuse His talent is rare: equivalent to someone who would be picked in the first round, and he’s more of a complete receiver coming out of college at Syracuse than Demaryius Thomas was at GT, but academic ineligibility and team-rules related infractions cut short his career, and oh yeah, he quit the team. I wouldn’t blame you if that’s the kind of player you want to avoid, but if you’re in the fourth round, all you need is one quality year to justify a draft choice, so someone is going to pull the trigger, perhaps as early as the third. Watch the Bengals, for all the obvious reasons.
[picapp align=”right” wrap=”true” link=”term=riley+cooper&iid=7448259″ src=”2/e/9/2/Dominique_Battle_Riley_8095.JPG?adImageId=12034182&imageId=7448259″ width=”234″ height=”178″ /]20. Riley Cooper, WR, Florida Cooper is speedy for what ultimately boils down to being a slot receiver type, but he ranks this high because he plays with a mean streak. Having him as a slot receiver is like having a second tight end on the field, but one who can run. Cooper can certainly be a playmaker at the next level, but the advantage to taking him over the next guy on this list is that he’s younger with explosive upside for a slot receiver, he’s actually pretty raw as a receiving prospect, and probably will not contribute much as a rookie.
[picapp align=”right” wrap=”true” link=”term=jordan+shipley&iid=7483461″ src=”2/e/7/9/BCS_National_Championship_40bb.jpg?adImageId=12034316&imageId=7483461″ width=”234″ height=”156″ /]21. Jordan Shipley, WR, Texas Shipley has a nearly identical projection to Riley Cooper, but his means to that end couldn’t be more different. Shipley is a 24-year old rookie who doesn’t have much time to develop as a player, so all the caveats that apply to Dennis Pitta are also an issue here with Shipley. The difference is that Pitta’s skill set projects as a starting TE, and Shipley’s as a slot receiver. He’s about as polished coming out as anyone in this class, and figures to be close to as developed as he will get by 2011. After his release from the line of scrimmage, Shipley is basically uncoverable, so putting him in the slot makes him a matchup nightmare. He could get blanketed on the outside by bigger, more physical corners, so the team that drafts him should keep him in the slot and try to dictate match-ups.
[picapp align=”right” wrap=”true” link=”term=antonio+brown&iid=3266818″ src=”9/e/5/7/e4.JPG?adImageId=12034206&imageId=3266818″ width=”234″ height=”156″ /]22. Antonio Brown, WR, Central Michigan Brown is ultimately another unpolished third down/slot receiver/kick and punt returner, but it’s just so rare to get a guy who leaves a MAC school early to go pro. When you look at Brown’s numbers for the first three years of his career, you see why he did. Leaving now separates him from the pack of MAC players who are labeled productive college players with limited professional upside. Brown needs NFL seasoning, but his numbers prove that: short of going to play his final year at a big time school (eating up a transfer year), there’s little that the college ranks can do for him.
[picapp align=”right” wrap=”true” link=”term=marcus+easley&iid=7385575″ src=”b/f/9/9/Connecticut_v_Notre_9d73.jpg?adImageId=12034121&imageId=7385575″ width=”234″ height=”156″ /]23. Marcus Easley, WR, Connecticut A rarely used deep threat prior to the 2009 season, Easley flashed the ability to be a go-to target last year, but unfortunately, he flashed just a bit of potential spread over 48 receptions as a senior and then graduated. A team that takes him in the 4th round is receiving little more than a nominal deep threat with run-after-catch ability, and that’s just not that valuable. But if a team likes him for his deep abilities, and also thinks they can incorporate him into the rest of their offense, they can take the risk on Easley as early as the third round. A positive comparable would be Devery Henderson.
[picapp align=”right” wrap=”true” link=”term=brandon+lafell&iid=7039684″ src=”8/f/2/3/LSU_v_Alabama_2782.jpg?adImageId=12034219&imageId=7039684″ width=”234″ height=”147″ /]24. Brandon Lafell, WR, LSU Lafell was the first senior receiver on many board coming into the year, and he still might be the top senior on a bunch of boards, just not mine. His frame and build supports the dreaded possession receiver mold, but so do most of the guys at the top of the draft. Lafell is a polished route runner with little upside to improve, but lacks the explosiveness in and out of cuts to get open at the NFL level. He was a three year starter at LSU, but his production doesn’t jump off the charts, even at the college level. He’s not exactly a bust, rather, he’s a value choice in the middle rounds, whos projection is ultimately a big-time third down target on the outside. Keenan McCardell is probably his positive comparable.
[picapp align=”right” wrap=”true” link=”term=garrett+graham&iid=2694844″ src=”0/d/4/f/Wisconsin_v_Minnesota_049e.jpg?adImageId=12034226&imageId=2694844″ width=”234″ height=”146″ /]25. Garrett Graham, TE, Wisconsin Graham isn’t special, he’s just the next TE in a long line of them to come out of Wisconsin as a blocker and an underrated receiver and make an impact in the NFL. Nominally, he’s a second tight end because he blocks first and runs routes second, but he averaged more than 12 yards a catch in the Big Ten, so he’s not just some immobile dude. He’s the most polished “Graham” in this tight end class, and I think that makes him a better pick than Jimmy Graham, from the University of Miami.
[picapp align=”right” wrap=”true” link=”term=harbor&iid=8337920″ src=”c/7/8/9/7_Ton_Replica_8af7.JPG?adImageId=12034278&imageId=8337920″ width=”234″ height=”153″ /]26. Clay Harbor, TE, Missouri State Harbor is a small-school athlete with ideal size-speed for an offensive football player. Projects as a special teamer for a year or two, then could progress to the starting lineup at tight end. He features a lot of skills reminiscent of Brent Celek of the Eagles and Ben Patrick of the Cardinals. Probably won’t ever be a great blocker, but Harbor has tons of room to improve there, and while his usage in college was inconsistent at best, that doesn’t mean a goal-oriented NFL team can’t be better at it than Missouri State was.
[picapp align=”right” wrap=”true” link=”term=mitchell+usf&iid=1619646″ src=”b/4/c/5/University_of_Central_cca9.jpg?adImageId=12034299&imageId=1619646″ width=”234″ height=”164″ /]27. Carlton Mitchell, WR, USF NFL teams need players who can make plays in the deep field, and Mitchell’s 15 yards per catch pops right off the page at USF. Thing is, there just might not be much here, beyond explosive foot speed. Every few games, Mitchell got open behind the coverage and made a play, but those plays were few and far between. He’s on this list because a team like the Ravens could sit back and draft him later to fill a specific need in the starting lineup (in this case, not being Mark Clayton is a skill), but beyond that, Mitchell doesn’t project as a starter, and probably would have been better off with one more season at USF trying to be a 1,000 yard receiver for the first time in his career.
[picapp align=”right” wrap=”true” link=”term=roberts+citadel&iid=8288672″ src=”5/1/2/8/2010_NFL_Combine_f46b.jpg?adImageId=12034310&imageId=8288672″ width=”234″ height=”164″ /]28. Andre Roberts, WR, The Citadel Roberts is the late-round sleeper type that might just end up having a complete game that translates well to the NFL. His senior year at The Citadel was very much out of line with what he accomplished the rest of his career, which could be deflating his value, and makes him an incredibly intriguing prospect in the middle of the fourth round. I don’t believe he will be an 80+ reception/year guy, only that he’s got the physical ability, if not the size, to be a go to player in an NFL offense.
[picapp align=”right” wrap=”true” link=”term=tony+moeaki&iid=7064660″ src=”c/b/2/a/Iowa_v_Ohio_bc72.jpg?adImageId=12034201&imageId=7064660″ width=”234″ height=”156″ /]29. Tony Moeaki, TE, Iowa Moeaki was Iowa’s best receiving and blocking TE last year, and while I think his team’s success may have inflated his NFL value just a bit, I do like him as a second TE at the next level, if only for a team that doesn’t rely on the tight end in the offense.