2012 NFL Draft Rankings: Wide Receivers
This draft could be known as the one that set defenses back many years. Aside from the quarterback class being loaded with top end talent and deep, the receiver class is the strongest group in the entire draft. It is deep enough where EVERY team can come away with up to two competent receiver prospects who then can be developed into starters. That’s 64 receiver prospects. They will not all be drafted. They will not all pan out. But if you don’t get a receiver in this draft somewhere, you either have way too many needs, or you’re not looking hard enough.
The depth of the class may also serve to hurt the stock of the top two guys in the class. But perhaps the demand for quality college receivers will hinder any potential fall from the top two guys.
1. Justin Blackmon, Oklahoma State, mid-first round grade
2. Michael Floyd, Notre Dame, mid-first round grade
3. Kendall Wright, Baylor, mid-first round grade
The top of the class offers big play ability, and the flexibility to line up anywhere in the formation to create those matchups. They do not necessarily offer consistent hands, size, or explosive speed, but these guys are the best athletes in the class, with a couple of notable exceptions. There are quality first-round type recievers who will be available beyond the top 20 picks, however.
4. Marvin Jones, California, late-first round grade
5. Rueben Randle, LSU, late-first round grade
6. Joe Adams, Arkansas, second round grade
7. Chris Givens, Wake Forest, second round grade
Even outside of the first tier, any of these four guys would end up being the top ranked guy in a lot of receiver classes that I have graded over the years. Rueben Randle has the ability (though it didn’t always show on tape) to find and get the football, and turn a typical play into a big gain. Joe Adams has the same skill set without the size or speed, but with the low center of gravity to break tackles with relative ease. Givens is a pure route runner with above average playing speed who can line up anywhere because running routes well and getting open is a skill that works anywhere on the field.
But Marvin Jones has long been my favorite of this second tier. He’s got slot receiver skills, but played the split end in college and played it incredibly well. He does a high percentage of the quarterbacks’ work for him in setting up the coverage and giving the QB a lot of space to throw the ball, and then he goes and gets it. He’s a joy to watch.
8. Mohammad Sanu, Rutgers, second round grade
9. Jairus Wright, Arkansas, second round grade
10. Keshawn Martin, Michigan State, second round grade
The group of mid-to-lower grade “twos” is complete with a trio of guys who would be intriguing slot receivers, but ultimately will find their niche on the multi-receiver side of the formation. Sanu can’t really be expected to win isolation routes or run away from corners in the NFL, but he is big, physical, and can highpoint the football. Wright and Martin played slot receiver in college and ran lots of routes over the middle. Wright typically ran his at a shorter depth than Martin, which caused Martin to be more erratic in terms of tracking and catching the football. Wright and Martin offer better slot receiver skills than the next tear of receivers (including Ryan Broyles) because even though both line up in the slot a lot, both can make plays down the field when they get one on ones. They’ll beat safeties.
11. Jeff Fuller, Texas A&M, second round grade
12. Stephen Hill, Georgia Tech, third round grade
These two are similar because they are two players who in college spent their entire careers being asked to run and win isolation routes on the edge. Hill has the higher grade from most draft analysts because he blew up the combine with speed and explosiveness in and out of his cuts. But Fuller is the guy who did it for four years at Texas A&M. He didn’t have the senior campaign most were expecting, and he doesn’t always create the separation for his quarterback that someone like Marvin Jones does. But the biggest thing that I think hurt Jeff Fuller is when he lost Ryan Tannehill on the opposite side of the formation as an explosive downfield receiver. Hill, I think is benefitting a bit from the success of Demaryius Thomas with the Broncos which 1) can’t necessarily be considered success by most definitions, and 2) there’s no guarantee it will work out.
I think Hill might be a better prospect, but I feel like I had Thomas overrated coming out, and that just being a hard worker doesn’t make a pro receiver. The upside is there, but Hill’s got further to go to achieve it than Fuller does. If he can merely win isolation routes in the pros — like Fuller — he’ll be considered a success.
13. Ryan Broyles, Oklahoma, third round grade
14. Alshon Jeffery, South Carolina, third round grade
15. Eric Page, Toledo, third round grade
Ryan Broyles has regained whatever draft stock he had unfairly been docked in the wake of last year’s knee injury. While he was a movable piece in the Oklahoma offense and the centerpiece of their passing game, Broyles always profiled nicely to the NFL as a slot receiver, and I was amazed at how long it took some analysts to pick up on that. Broyles is not vertically explosive but he doesn’t have to be Wes Welker either: he can win against corners and safeties alike. Like Broyles, I also think Eric Page is more than just a glorified small, tough receiver from the MAC. I think he has transferrable NFL route running skills and is quick enough to attack the teeth of the defense. Only 21, he made a great career move to leave Toledo as a junior.
Alshon Jeffery is one of the true potential high upside steals in the entire draft. He’ll need to be managed early in his career. He ran a very “college” route tree playing for Steve Spurrier. He wasn’t always an integral part of their gameplans to systematically attack defense. And with Connor Shaw at QB this year, he was largely just taking up space. But Jeffery can clearly play at the NFL level sooner rather than later, and there’s no reason to think that he can’t get deep against man and zone coverage alike — even though he’s never going to dominate defenses by running away from them. He profiles as a number two in a modern passing offense, and though he wouldn’t make it to the third round of most drafts, he could be available here. There’s more upside here than there is with the more reliable Sanu. I’d compare him to Randle, suggesting that he’s the poor man’s version of the LSU prospect, which is nice if you can get him in round 3.
16. T.Y. Hilton, FIU, third round grade
17. Devon Wylie, Fresno State, fourth round grade
18. A.J. Jenkins, Illinois, fourth round grade
19. Danny Coale, Virginia Tech, fourth round grade
20. Marvin McNutt, Iowa, fourth round grade
Hilton and Jenkins might be the last remaining of the vertically/horizontally explosive group, and although I think Hilton projects as well as a late-third round pick can project, I’m not as much of a fan of Jenkins. His upside dictates a fourth round grade, but I’ve never seen tape of him that would give me the impression that he’s worth that high of a pick. Wylie is another one of the slot receiver types, albeit with health issues. He’s not quite Ryan Broyles in terms of on field play, and the injury list is a bit longer. Danny Coale is an interesting projection into the slot because of his length and ability to possess the football, but if you wanted to argue that I’m overrating a possession receiver based on the abstraction of versatility, I wouldn’t fuss too much with that. Finally, Marvin McNutt was recruited to Iowa as a quarterback and ended up playing receiver where I get the sense there is still plenty of room to grow into a better pro receiver than he was in college. He enters the league as a possession target best cut out for the ‘Z’ role. I like him over the more accomplished Nick Toon, but just by a bit.
We’re now entering 2/3/4 type backup category, but with starter upside (of course).
21. Nick Toon, Wisconsin, fourth round grade
22. Brian Quick, Appalachian State, fourth round grade
23. Jermaine Kearse, Washington, fourth round grade
24. Chris Owusu, Stanford, fourth round grade
25. Gerrell Robinson, Arizona State, fifth round grade
I really want to love Brian Quick after a long four year career at Appalachian State, but when he was put against tougher competition in the senior bowl, the skills he possessed on his game tape didn’t immediately translate and it would be hard to recommend a day two pick on him in this draft class. Kearse struggled to beat press coverage at Washington and was shut down too often, but he was too talented a target when he played and unfortunately took the brunt of the blame for Jake Locker’s senior struggles when at some point, some of that blame should have hit locker. He’s a coaching projection to the NFL at this point. Owusu is a burner who might have gotten a second round grade if not for his concussion history. I downgraded Jahvid Best to the second round two years ago based on nothing but his concussion history and perhaps that wasn’t enough of a downgrade. Owusu is docked two rounds, but is worth a value-based selection by the fifth round.
Gerrell Robinson is a tough-as-nails possession type who will fight for his quarterback. When you’re talking about a backup receiver who only plays a couple of snaps per game, that skill goes a long way. If he improves as a blocker, he could grow into a number three role in a modern passing offense.
26. DeVier Posey, Ohio State, fifth round grade
27. Dwight Jones, North Carolina, fifth round grade
28. Jordan White, Western Michigan, sixth round grade
29. Rishard Matthews, Nevada, sixth round grade
30. Juron Criner, Arizona, sixth round grade
DeVier Posey type receivers are easy to get in the NFL, and are a lot tougher to get in college, which means that bigger programs (such as Ohio State) are going to create an inflated opinion of the players because of the winning environment. That also means that very minor decisions that young kids make will get overblown. The college environment is give and take in that manner. Speaking of which, look: it’s Dwight Jones!
Jordan White and Rishard Matthews didn’t play football in power conferences, but we’re talking about two of the very best receivers in the country last year who will attempt to carve a niche out as experienced third receiver types in the NFL. Then there’s Juron Criner, who was at Arizona back when Rob Gronkowski was the greatest receiver target ever! He’s developed a lot over the years, and might have regressed somewhat in 2011, despite his teammates’ best efforts to make him look good in spite of taking a step back as a pro prospect. He’s still worth a pick because he proved his talent in 2009 and 2010, but the 2011 version of Criner would not have been draftable, in my opinion.
31. Travis Benjamin, Miami (FL), seventh round grade
32. Tim Benford, Tennessee Tech, seventh round grade
33. Greg Childs, Arkansas, seventh round grade
34. Lance Lewis, East Carolina, Priority UDFA
35. Pat Edwards, Houston, Priority UDFA
I love everything about Lance Lewis as a player except his blocking: he might be so poor at blocking opposing corners that he makes himself unplayable.
36. B.J. Cunningham, Michigan State, Priority UDFA
37. Marquise Maze, Alabama, Priority UDFA
38. T.J. Graham, North Carolina State, Priority UDFA
39. Tommy Streeter, Miami (FL), UDFA
40. James Rodgers, Oregon State, UDFA
41. Junior Hemingway, Michigan, UDFA
42. Devin Goda, Slippery Rock, UDFA
43. Sam Kirkland, Kent State, UDFA
44. Aaron Pflugrad, Arizona State, UDFA
45. Kashif Moore, Connecticut, UDFA
46. Thomas Mayo, California (PA), UDFA
47. Dorian Graham, Syracuse, UDFA
48. Dale Moss, South Dakota State, UDFA
49. Toney Clemons, Colorado, UDFA