Best of the Bunch
Calvin Johnson, Georgia Tech (6-5, 239)
I don't think it's necessary to get too in depth on Johnson because most people already know how great he is. In my seven years covering the NFL Draft, he's the biggest can't-miss prospect I've seen. Johnson has uncanny physical ability, was a great student at Georgia Tech and is a class act off the field as well. What else could a team want? Johnson only had one weakness in college but fortunately for him, quarterback Reggie Ball won't be following him to the NFL. Johnson is the real deal both on and off the field. Any team that passes him up in the draft better hope they get a great player in his place, or its fans will never forgive them for not selecting Johnson.
Draft Projection: High-first round
Ted Ginn, Jr., Ohio State (5-11, 178)
Strengths: His speed is out of this world. Ginn has the kind of world-class speed where he's usually toying with defenders and then if they get close, he really turns it on and starts running. He has football speed similar to Deion Sanders and Darrell Green where no one can really catch Ginn once he breaks free and he knows it. Because he's so fast, Ginn is an explosive return man, as we saw on the opening kickoff of the National Championship Game. As a receiver, Ginn does a good job of coming back to the ball when corners are playing off him. He has soft hands and is effective catching the ball on the run. Ginn makes everything look easy on the football field and needless to say he's one of the top deep threats to come out in years.
Weaknesses: At 178 pounds, Ginn still needs to add some weight and get stronger. He didn't get pressed much in college because defenses were scared of his speed but in the NFL, strong, physical corners could have their way with Ginn. He has unbelievable upside but right now Ginn is still raw and needs to work on his route running. He's not that physical and will need to get better as a downfield blocker at the pro level. Ginn hurt his ankle in the National Championship Game and has been slow to recover. Because of that, some people believe his stock may be dropping. I'm not one of those people.
Overall: I could care less what Ginn runs the 40-yard dash in. He's one of the fastest football players to enter the draft in years. At worst, Ginn will instantly become one of the most dangerous return men in the NFL. Just ask the Bears how important that can be. However, he's also a darn good receiver. Ginn isn't a finished product and still needs work on his route running but he has the kind of physical skills you just can't teach. As long as Ginn can get stronger and refine his game a little, he'll be a dangerous weapon in the NFL, regardless of where he lines up.
Draft Projection: First round
Jason Hill, Washington State (6-0, 204)
Strengths: Hill has great football speed, which allows him to produce a lot of big plays. His 32 touchdown receptions in college ranks second in Pac 10 history, so he knows how to find the end zone. Hill is very elusive in the open field and has a knack for making defenders miss. He has great hands and can make any kind of catch. Hill goes up and gets the ball at its highest point and does a good job of using his body to shield defenders from breaking up the pass. He has a scorer's mentality. Hill is looking for the end zone every time he touches the ball. He shows great concentration and makes a lot of difficult catches. Hill is a good route runner and explodes after making a catch over the middle. He's is definitely one of the most underrated prospects in this draft at any position.
Weaknesses: Hill's production fell off a little bit as a senior but it should be pointed out that Washington State wasn't a great passing team last year. He scored 25 touchdowns the previous two seasons, but only seven last year. He needs to get more physical and become a better blocker. Hill can get tied up sometimes at the line but once he gets free, look out.
Overall: Hill is one of the most productive, polished receivers available in this draft. He doesn't get a lot of publicity because Hill played at Washington State and his production dropped off last year – mostly due to erratic quarterback play. However, the three of us at PFW watched film on the receivers and we all thought Hill was one of the best overall prospects out of the group. He does virtually everything well. Hill catches the ball over the middle, has good hands and the speed to get deep. He has a nose for the end zone and does a lot of damage in the open field. Hill is a name you will hear called sooner than a lot of people expect on draft day. He has the skills to come right in and play a big role as a rookie.
Draft Projection: Second round
Dwayne Bowe, LSU (6-2, 221)
Strengths: Bowe is a big, strong receiver who bounces off tackles and picks up extra yards. He's elusive and tough to bring down in the open field. For a guy his size, Bowe creates good separation against quicker corners. He makes a lot of tough catches in traffic and Bowe is fearless going over the middle. Because he uses his size so well to shield off defenders, Bowe is probably the best receiver at working across the middle in this draft. He's a great athlete who uses his leaping ability to make catches over smaller cornerbacks. Bowe has strong hands and will outfight most defenders for the ball.
Weaknesses: He doesn't have great timed speed, although Bowe plays faster in pads. Bowe needs to do a better job of catching with his hands. He lets the ball get to his chest sometimes and that causes Bowe to drop some easy catches. He didn't start playing football until his junior year of high school, so Bowe is still learning the game. He's raw and needs work on becoming a better route runner but Bowe has a ton of upside with all his physical tools.
Overall: I thought Bowe was a bit overrated after the Notre Dame game but now he's projecting in the late-first round area where he should be. The team that drafts Bowe has to be patient. He has amazing physical skills but he's raw and still needs work on his technique. Plus, at LSU JaMarcus Russell ran around a lot and just aired the ball out, so Bowe has to become a better route runner. I don't think Bowe is going to come in and set the world on fire right away but if he keeps working hard, he has the talent to be a premier NFL receiver two years down the road.
Draft Projection: Late-first round
Dwayne Jarrett, USC (6-4, 219)
Strengths: Jarrett is a tall receiver who really knows how to use his big frame against smaller defensive backs. He's an excellent route runner who comes out of his breaks crisply. Jarrett is one of the most physical receivers in this class. He'll outmuscle cornerbacks for the ball and is tough to guard over the middle. Jarrett has great hands and rarely drops a pass. He does a good job of getting both feet in bounds near the sidelines. Jarrett has good body control and is tough to deal with in the red zone because of his size. He scored 42 touchdowns in three years at USC, setting a Pac 10 record.
Weaknesses: Jarrett gets off jams well but doesn't create a lot of separation from corners. He really struggled getting open against Arkansas' Chris Houston – my top rated cornerback in this draft. Jarrett knows how to find the soft spot in a zone but he'll have trouble getting deep in the NFL. Jarrett has an impressive overall game, although his lack of speed at the next level is the one major worry teams have about him and it's certainly justified.
Overall: I think Jarrett is a phenomenal player. However, like a lot of other people, his inability to separate from faster cornerbacks concerns me. Physically, Jarrett's game is very similar to that of former Cowboy star Michael Irvin. Like Jarrett, Irvin wasn't that fast but he had an uncanny knack of going up and getting the ball on deep routes, despite having a corner draped all over him. Jarrett has the same kind of ball skills and he's already a great route runner, which helps make up for his lack of speed. Some compare Jarrett to Mike Williams but I'm not buying that. I would liken him more to Anquan Boldin – who slipped in the draft because people thought he was too slow to be a No. 1 receiver in the NFL. I think Jarrett will have a very productive pro career. If he lasts until the late-first/early-second round area, Jarrett will be a steal for some team. Other than not having great speed, Jarrett has virtually no holes in his game.
Draft Projection: Late-first round
Robert Meachem, Tennessee (6-2, 214) – Meachem is known as a speed receiver but the only problem with that is he's not nearly as fast on the football field as he is on a track. On tape, Meachem caught a number of passes deep down the field but was caught from behind by defensive backs that had to make up ground. You hear the term, "Track star playing football" a lot and that certainly applies to Meachem. Unlike Hill, Meachem took very few short passes and turned them into long gains. He isn't elusive in the open field and doesn't break many tackles. Even bigger receivers like Bowe and Jarrett were more impressive in space than Meachem.
The other really big negative with Meachem is he lets the ball get to his body way too much. He rarely extends and plucks the ball out of the air with his hands, instead letting it get to his chest. That caused him to drop some passes in college and it will continue in the NFL if he doesn't break that habit. Meachem also struggles to get off the line against physical corners. Chris Houston absolutely abused him with his aggressive style of play.
There may not be a more overrated player as the draft approaches than Meachem. He only had one good year at Tennessee and while he'll make some plays down the field, he doesn't have the blazing speed in pads that he does on a track. Meachem doesn't get a lot of separation on deep routes and even when he beats his man, they usually catch up to him before he reaches the end zone. That's not good for a receiver who is known for his speed and doesn't produce much over the middle. Meachem isn't a first round prospect and any team that selects him that high will most likely pay for it down the road.
Rhema McKnight, Notre Dame (6-1, 211) – He just drops way too many passes, plain and simple. I couldn't believe how many balls McKnight was dropping during the year so I kept count over his last four games and I tallied 11 drops. Bill Belichick always says he likes receivers who can get open and catch the football. Well, McKnight struggles to do both. He really fights the ball and does something I can't stand. McKnight will make an acrobatic catch on one play and then a few snaps later drop a huge third-and-8 when the ball hits him right in the hands. That kind of inconsistency makes a quarterback lose trust in a receiver. If McKnight doesn't learn how to hang onto the football, his NFL career will be a short one.
Courtney Taylor (6-1, 204) – Taylor is flying under the radar a little bit but he has the tools to be a very good pro receiver. Taylor is one of the best route runners in this draft. He's quick coming out of his breaks, which allows Taylor to turn cornerbacks around a lot and get them out of position. He's a big, physical receiver who has absolutely no fear going across the middle. Taylor is a very good blocker and manhandles smaller defensive backs in the open field.
Taylor doesn't have great speed but is elusive for his size. He does most of his damage over the middle and gets a lot of yards after the catch. Despite being a big target, Taylor can go down and get the ball. He caught a lot of poorly thrown passes on tape. Taylor will outfight corners for the ball and usually catches anything he gets his hands on.
Taylor had to wait his turn at Auburn and is kind of a late bloomer. Because of that, I believe his best days are ahead of him. At the Combine, cornerbacks constantly praised Taylor as an excellent route runner and said he was one of the toughest receivers they faced in college. Taylor should go on to have a productive career as a possession receiver in the NFL.
David Clowney, Virginia Tech (6-0, 188) – Clowney isn't a big guy but he's physical and breaks a lot of tackles for size. Clowney always catches the ball with his hands and isn't afraid to go over the middle and take a hit. He played with some bad quarterbacks at Virginia Tech, so Clowney is used to making the difficult catches.
Clowney has good speed and is a dangerous deep threat. However, he also does a good job of driving corners down the field and coming back for the football. Clowney is quick in space and tough to bring down in the open field. He needs to add some weight but Clowney is already pretty strong for being only 188 pounds.
He may not have had great numbers at Virginia Tech but in his defense, the Hokies weren't known for their passing game while Clowney was there. Because of his quickness and fearlessness going over the middle, Clowney has a chance to be a productive slot receiver in the NFL. He's a little raw but Clowney has good overall skills and a lot of upside for a mid-round selection.
Ryne Robinson, Miami, Ohio (5-9, 180) - Robinson is a late-round receiver I really like. He's coming into the draft under the radar but Robinson was very productive in college and has impressive physical skills. As a junior, Robinson caught 75 passes for 1,119 yards and eight touchdowns. He had an even better senior season, finishing with 91 receptions for 1,178 yards and eight scores. He finished his career at Miami, Ohio averaging 14.3 yards per catch.
On tape, Robinson showed he had no problem going over the middle and racked up a lot of yards after the catch. He has great hands and is also a crisp route runner. He's not very big but Robinson is a tough guy who breaks a lot of tackles for his size. He's a dangerous deep threat, although he turned a lot of short receptions into long gains as well. Robinson is also an explosive kick returner because he gets upfield so quickly. In my opinion, Robinson is a big-time sleeper and would be a great selection in the later rounds of the draft.
Hill– Hill will probably be long gone by the time the Patriots select in Round 3. However, if he were still on the board that late, Hill would be a great selection and add even more depth to a suddenly deep New England receiving corps.
Anthony Gonzalez, Ohio State (6-0, 193) – Gonzalez would be a reach in the first round but could be a possibility for the Patriots if they trade down into Round 2. Gonzalez is an excellent route runner who is intelligent and works well in space. He's being a little overvalued right now but the Patriots seem to like him and Gonzalez would be a nice fit for their system, especially working out of the slot.
Taylor – An excellent route runner who is polished enough to come in and contribute as a rookie. Taylor's stock is on the rise and he should be an effective possession receiver in the NFL. A very good all-around player.
Clowney – Clowney would be an excellent mid-round selection for the Patriots. He's a guy who will be much more productive in the pros than he was in college. Like Gonzalez, Clowney can do a lot of damage from the slot and he's dynamite in the open field. Clowney is an underrated player heading into the draft.
Chansi Stuckey, Clemson (5-10, 197) – Stuckey is a smooth, sure-handed receiver. He makes a lot of catches over the middle but also has the speed to get deep. On tape, Stuckey showed explosiveness and good moves in the open field. He can also return punts and play on special teams. Stuckey reminded me a lot of Deion Branch when I was watching him and it seems like he would fit nicely in the Patriots offense.
Robinson – An extremely productive college player, Robinson is a late-round prospect who isn't being talked about much. With his blazing speed and versatility to play receiver and return kicks, Robinson would be a nice pick in the sixth or seventh round.
Overall Position Analysis
Receiver is the deepest position in this year's draft. Most teams have Johnson atop their draft boards and he'll certainly be gone within the first couple of selections. Ginn, Bowe, Jarrett, Meachem, Gonzalez and South Carolina's Sidney Rice could also hear their names called in Round 1. There's a good chance that at least five receivers will be selected in the first round.
The depth at the receiver position is very impressive this year. Hill, Taylor, Steve Smith (USC), Craig Davis (LSU), Aundrae Allison (East Carolina), Johnnie Lee Higgins (UTEP) and Paul Williams (Fresno State) are all potential first-day picks with upside. Smith and Davis in particular could wind up being immediate contributors as second round selections.
On Day 2, Clowney, Stuckey, Robinson, Brandon Myles (West Virginia), Laurent Robinson (Illinois State), Mike Walker (Central Florida), Chris Davis (Florida State) and David Ball (New Hampshire) are players who have the ability to be gems later on in the draft. Overall, this class of receivers is loaded. While teams can certainly get talent in the first two rounds, there's also an abundance of guys who will get selected later on and make a splash in the NFL.
Note: PFW will be doing a draft blog, starting on Wednesday, April 25. On the days leading up to the draft we'll have updated rankings and mock drafts in the blog. On draft day, we'll be posting our thoughts on everything draft related, including all the bad picks made by the Oakland Raiders. Fans are welcome to participate by posting their opinions as well. The blog will be updated non-stop during the draft, so be sure to check it out. A link to the blog will be on Patriots.com, so everyone will be able to access it easily.
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