It is early yet, but the 2001 class of wide receivers may end up being as good as the 1996 class, according to draft expert Frank Coyle.
Coyle, who covers the draft for Draft Insider's Digest, spoke at length about this year's crop of wide receivers on the Internet radio show "PFW In Progress" here on Patriots.com Wednesday. He said the crop of receivers available includes several playmakers with enough ability to eventually match the success of the 1996 draft.
Coyle said the consensus pick as the top wide receiver available this year is David Terrell out of Michigan. The 6-2, 200-pound junior has size, speed, strong hands and solid athleticism. That combination makes Terrell a sure bet to go in the top three picks.
Though Terrell will almost certainly be gone by the time New England picks, Coyle said there would be plenty of impact receivers who should be available after the first round. Santana Moss and Reggie Wayne of Miami, Rod Gardner of Clemson and Quincy Morgan of Kansas State have received plenty of attention throughout the college season and should be among the first receivers to go.
With Terry Glenn and Troy Brown as the only dependable receivers currently on the Patriots roster, New England will likely be looking for a big target to add to the mix. One player Coyle spoke about at length was Oregon State's Chad Johnson. Coyle said Johnson probably improved his stock more so than any other college player during the all-star bowl games earlier this month.
Johnson, a cousin of Tampa Bay's Keyshawn Johnson, made a splash at the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Ala. He had seven catches for 93 yards, and his work ethic made a strong impression on several NFL scouts. Other players fitting the big target mold would be North Carolina State's Koren Robinson (6-2, 203), Gardner (6-2, 215); Ed "Boo" Williams of Arkansas (6-4, 230) and UCLA's Brian Poli-Dixon (6-4, 210).
The 1996 draft produced several of the top wideouts in the game today. Glenn, Johnson, Indianapolis' Marvin Harrison, Buffalo's Eric Moulds and Chicago's Eddie Kennison all went in the first round. San Francisco's Terrell Owens, Chicago's Bobby Engram and the Giants Amani Toomer all came out of the 1996 draft as well. All but three of those players have already gone to the Pro Bowl.
Coyle will be a guest on "PFW In Progress" each Wednesday at noon leading up to the NFL Draft, which will be held April 21-22 this year.