It’s a good year to need a wide receiver and not want to spend a high pick on one. It’s a bad year to need a tight end, period.
That’s the consensus of draftniks on the receivers available in this year’s NFL draft. Georgia’s A.J. Green and Alabama’s Julio Jones are in a class by themselves, but by the time the draft reaches the bottom of the first round, wide receivers should start coming off the board in rapid order over the next couple of rounds.
Green and Jones are thought to belong to the category of special wide receivers. They could go high in the first round, as both are big, explosive, game-changing talents. They are sure-fire number one receivers that compare favorably to Michael Crabtree (drafted 10th overall in 2009) and Dez Bryant (24th overall in 2010).
Who’s next? That’s the unknown among this year’s pass-catchers. Will it be Pitt’s Jonathan Baldwin? Miami’s Leonard Hankerson? Kentucky’s Randall Cobb? Maryland’s Torrey Smith?
Baldwin has freakish size and speed for a man his size. The knock on Baldwin is his performance in 2010, which sagged dramatically from the knockout season he had in ’09. His effort was questioned. He disappeared for long stretches. At times, he appeared disinterested and pouted that he didn’t have the quarterback he needed to get him the ball. Nonetheless, his measurables are undeniable.
Hankerson is big and strong and runs faster than his time. Cobb is versatile and energized; he has a classic slot-receiver look to him. Smith is the fast-rising guy. He has explosive speed and big-play potential.
Troy’s Jerrel Jernigan is also a likely second-round pick, which means as many as five, maybe six, wide receivers could go in the second round, but there’s no fall-off in the third round.
Keep an eye on Hawaii’s Greg Salas, who is moving up boards. Boise State’s Titus Young is explosive as a receiver and as a returner.
Auburn’s Darvin Adams has big-play ability and Cincinnati’s Armon Binns has some of the best hands in the draft. They could be plum picks in the third or fourth rounds.
The wide receiver crop should remain deep through the late rounds of the draft. Meanwhile, none of the tight end prospects are thought to fit in the first round.
Notre Dame’s Kyle Rudolph and Arkansas’ D.J. Williams are thought to be at the top of the tight end class. Rudolph is a strong in-line blocker and deep-seam receiver. Williams isn’t an in-line blocker and may fit more as an H-back in the NFL.
Half the crop of tight ends may not even carry a draftable grade. In contrast, 40 or more wide receivers could be drafted, and depth at wide receiver is always preferable to a top-heavy class because you’d like to get your pass-catchers late in the draft and use your high picks on big guys. If that’s your approach, then this is a good year to need a wide receiver.
Vic Ketchman is a veteran of 39 NFL seasons and has covered the Steelers and Jaguars prior to coming to Green Bay.