The annual NFL draft is drawing closer and while butterflies are fluttering in the stomachs of potential draftees, opinions are fluttering in the heart of social media and ESPN. With all the analysts focusing on the quarterbacks in the draft, the abundance of talent might be with the ones catching the ball instead of throwing it. In many of the experts mock drafts, there is an average of seven wide receivers taken in the first round. When there is a large number of first round talent at the same position, and many teams have need of an offensive weapon, the draft can help to fix key weaknesses, and turn them into instance strengths.
The number one choice for many experts and fans is Clemson’s Sammy Watkins. The young receiver made his presence known early in his first year as he caught 82 passes for 1,219 yards, becoming only the fourth true freshman to be voted into the AP first-team All-American. While having his name included among former NFL greats Herschel Walker, Marshall Faulk, and Adrian Peterson shows Watkins is ready for the pros, issues off the field might deter a few teams from drafting the record breaking receiver. It is uncertain if Watkins past trouble will catch up to him, but once he is drafted, the only trouble associated to Watkins will be defenses trying to catch up to the fast and agile former Clemson Tiger. The Tiger might become a Jaguar if Jacksonville does not take a quarterback with the third overall pick.
Watkins might be the most NFL ready receiver, but he was not the fastest player in the combine. That honor goes to Kent State player Dri Archer. The MAC Special Teams Player of the Year award winner broke a combine record for fastest time ran in a 40 yard run with a 4.16. Although Archer is a running back, he had his share of catches with over 1,000 receiving yards in his college career. The young draft hopeful has a similar skill set that resembles NFL’s Darren Sproles, but standing at 5’8 may have a few teams think twice. However if a coach is looking for a dual threat player to add a new element to their playbook, Dri Archer more than fits the bill.
Mike Evans of Texas A&M was the number one option for top quarterback prospect Johnny Manziel. Both players lit up the Alabama defense, with Evans breaking a school record with his performance of seven catches for 279 yards. Evans is arguably the most pro-ready receiver in the draft, with a physical build that reminds coaches of Calvin Johnson. While basketball was Evans’ original sport, the skill he possesses on the court transitions very well on the field. With great leaping and catching abilities, he has the potential to become a playmaker in the league.
LSU has had a dynamic offense all due to second generation athlete Odell Beckham Jr. With a tremendous athletic history at LSU created by both parents, Beckham Jr kept his family legacy alive with his athletic collegiate career. While standing at 5’11 might be considered a disadvantage, Beckham uses his natural athleticism and agility to create elusiveness that keeps corners and safeties on their toes. Odell will have to rely on genetics as well as his athletic ability to perform at a high level in the NFL.
The Biletnikoff Award winner, Brandin Cooks, is determined to make a splash as an explosive offensive weapon. Cooks not only led the FBS with 1.730 receiving yards this past season, but also led many track and field races, as Brandin was also a star sprinter for the school’s track team. With explosive speed, the best quality about Cooks is his work ethics, having never missed a game in his entire life. Coaches and GMs will be attracted to Cook’s attitude and overall hustle that can hopefully inspire many players in the locker room.
Marqise Lee of Southern California had a breakout freshman season that had Lee in contention for the Heisman award. While the final two years has been less publicized, the consistency of talent and unique skill he displays cannot be learned or developed. They are instinctual, and this helps to set Lee apart from other drafts picks.
With an SEC record of 3,759 receiving yards and 262 receptions, Jordan Matthews has been a match-up nightmare for defensive coordinators. Cousin of legendary NFL great Jerry Rice, the young Matthews is a bigger and faster version of the Hall of Famer. With an average of 19 yards per catch, Matthews will be a sleeper in the draft for ateam with the right scheme and patience.
It will be no surprise if all seven receivers or more will be drafted in the first round. What will be a surprise is if many teams with offensive needs will trade their picks ahead to try to draft one of these receivers. Time will tell as Thursday looms closer and the NFL draft will soon begin.
Commentary by Hector Carrion