Through the years, the NFL has evolved into a passing league with rule changes and intricate playbooks that have made passing the football more advantageous for the offense. That, in turn, has made it more important to draft capable wide receivers over the talented workhorse running backs that have started to slip from the first two rounds of the NFL Draft.
In the 2014 NFL draft, two highly coveted receivers, Sammy Watkins (Clemson) and Mike Evans (Texas A&M), have garnered most of the attention at the position leading up to the draft. Since most teams are constantly in need of depth at the receiver position, due to multiple receiver sets and injuries, there will be other receivers who certainly have the potential to be selected within the first three rounds of the draft.
Although many of these receivers have been getting very little attention leading up to the draft, that is not indicative of the talent level of any of the following 10 receivers who could easily make it onto an NFL playing field in 2014.
10. Jared Abbrederis, Wisconsin / 6’1″, 195 pounds
Something about this kid makes him a worthy consideration for playing at the next level. Despite his relative lack of speed, strength and size, he simply gets open and makes critical plays. He catches balls in traffic, makes big plays for first-downs, knows how to get open and knows how to compete for the ball. He does all those little things whether it’s coming back to the ball, setting up faster defenders, knowing where the first-down sticks are, finding the opening in the zone or catching the ball in tight windows.
Abbrederis caught 78 passes for 1,081 yards and 7 touchdowns in 2013. He has been a first-team All Big 10 selection for two consecutive seasons.
The former quarterback will have to get stronger and use his quarterback intelligence to get free from defenders at the next level.
9. Davante Adams, Fresno State / 6’2″, 215 pounds
Another receiver who lacks elite speed, but simply knows how to catch the ball. Adams might have difficulties getting open at the next level, but has proven he can catch the ball in traffic and jump-ball situations. He fights for the ball as well as yardage once he makes a catch. He plays with a passion that will earn him respect at the next level and knows a thing or two about running routes and playing in a passing set. He also has excellent hands and can adjust to poorly thrown passes quite well.
Adams won the Paul Warfield trophy in 2013 for his spectacular 131 catch, 1,718 yard and 24 touchdown season. He played in a pass happy offense with Derek Carr at Fresno State, giving him plenty of experience to draw upon at the next level.
Adams will need to do his best to set up defenders and use his deceptive football speed when necessary. He reminds one of Cris Carter with his ability to take to the air to make big catches.
8. Kelvin Benjamin, Florida State / 6’5″, 240 pounds
It would be hard to leave this young man’s name off this list for his raw potential alone. His speed will not make any scouts turn their heads, but his size and smooth almost effortless acceleration will make him a tantalizing draft prospect. He has average hands and is not going to trick defenders with his hips, but he can explode out of cuts and gallop in the open field making him a potential terror for opposing secondaries. He has plenty to learn with running routes and concentrating on securing catches with his hands, but he could be a steal with a year or two under his belt.
Benjamin only had 54 receptions in 2013, but did manage to gain 1,011 yards while scoring 15 touchdowns. He averaged 18.7 yards per reception which is impressive for a receiver with a perceived lack of speed.
7. Cody Latimer, Indiana / 6’3″, 215 pounds
There is plenty to like about this big and relatively speedy receiver. He has the physical tools the NFL teams covet and appears to have good hands and make good adjustments to poorly thrown balls. Latimer can run good routes and has good explosiveness and hip movement for a receiver of his size. He has the size, strength and quickness to beat man coverage and enough speed to create separation after getting jammed at the line of scrimmage. He is a pretty complete receiver who needs to maintain his concentration on balls and running routes at the next level.
Latimer caught 72 passes for 1,096 yards and 9 touchdowns in 2013 earning him second-team All-Big 10 honors.
Latimer will need to step up his game mentally to succeed at the next level and realize that things will not come as easily as they did in college.
6. Donte Moncrief, Ole Miss / 6’2″, 220 pounds
Packed with tons of potential, Donte Moncrief has the athletic skills to become the steal of the 2014 NFL draft. Exceptional size and speed give Moncrief an edge in raw talent over many receivers in this draft. He is not explosive and quick, but his speed will need to be respected and his size makes it hard to jam him at the line of scrimmage. He adjusts well to any balls thrown his way and has above-average hands. He makes good cuts and has nice acceleration out of cuts, despite some questions about his downfield speed.
Moncrief caught 59 passes for 938 yards and 6 touchdowns for the Bulldogs in 2013. Either he didn’t get the opportunity to put up big numbers in the Ole Miss offensive scheme or he failed to make his presence felt on every play.
Moncrief will have to be able to do the little things on the football field and learn how to work harder for the ball at the next level.
5. Jordan Matthews, Vanderbilt / 6’3″, 212 pounds
Jordan Matthews has the desirable size for a wide receiver and the good speed to match. He is an accomplished route runner who was used to working the whole field at Vanderbilt, enabling him to learn slot routes in addition to outside routes. This will ultimately help him adapt to the NFL playbooks and the transition to the next level. His speed is not eye-popping, but he can adjust to less than perfect passes and make tough catches over the middle with great ease. Matthews is a fluid athlete, but might find it harder to find open space at the next level.
Matthews has plenty of experience catching the ball with two consecutive 90 plus reception and 1,000 plus yard seasons. In 2013, he caught 112 passes for 1,477 yards and 7 touchdowns earning him a first-team All-SEC selection and Biletnikoff Award semi-finalist recognition.
Matthews will need to continue to get stronger, prove he can use his hands at the line of scrimmage and continue to run precise routes in the NFL.
4. Odell Beckham Jr., LSU / 5’11”, 200 pounds
Odell Beckham Jr. is not just a big receiver, but is a hard-nosed football player who will go across the middle, make yardage after the catch and pluck balls out of the air. He makes great adjustments to the ball and has plenty of speed and quickness to make himself a threat at the receiver position or on special teams. Although his size might be a question, he is not afraid to mix it up at the line of scrimmage and can create separation from man coverage while being no slouch with the ball in his hands. He is also coming off his best season in 2013.
Beckham has improved each season with the Tigers and despite playing in the defensive minded SEC, he came out of 2013 with some nice numbers. He caught 59 passes for 1,152 yards and 8 touchdowns, averaging 19.5 yards per catch in the process. He also returned punts and kickoffs, racking up just over 1,000 return yards.
Beckham will make a great addition to any football team with his speed, skills and coachable attitude. He might need to return kicks while he develops his skills as a receiver in the NFL.
3. Brandin Cooks, Oregon State / 5’10”, 190 pounds
Brandin Cooks has plenty of speed and quickness, having been clocked at 4.33 seconds in the 40-yard dash at the 2014 NFL Combine. He is a gifted and fluid athlete who happens to be a good football player as well. Despite questions about his size, Cooks simply amazes on the field of play running any type of route, taking on tacklers and playing much bigger than his size. He has excellent vision and is silky smooth at the line of scrimmage as well as downfield. He can avoid contact by fooling defenders and can also take a hit, having never missed a game at any level. What he lacks in size, he makes up for in quick hands, feet and hips that Barry Sanders would be proud of.
Cooks is used to catching the ball, tallying 128 receptions for 1,730 yards and 16 touchdowns in 2013 for the Beavers. This type of production goes a long way to proving he can last in the NFL.
Brandin Cooks can be a force in the NFL. He is more compact than people realize and has the potential to be like Steve Smith at the next level.
2. Allen Robinson, Penn State / 6’3″, 225 pounds
Allen Robinson is a good athlete who happens to have above average size and speed. Although he doesn’t have elite downfield speed, he enjoys contact which can lead to more separation following cuts along with deceptive acceleration that can help him earn a little more of a cushion in man situations. He is better at using his hands to fight off defenders than plucking balls out of the air, but he does not shy away from going up in jump-ball situations involving contact. His size, willingness to accept contact at the position and ability to finish plays with yards after the catch, make him a valuable asset at the wide receiver position in the NFL.
Robinson is no stranger to making catches. He led the Big-10 by grabbing 97 receptions last season for 1,432 yards and 6 touchdowns. He was a first-team All-Big 10 selection as well as a first-team All-American selection in 2013.
Robinson has the qualities that you can’t teach, but needs to learn how to run better routes, be more deceptive and use his hands to make every catch.
1. Marqise Lee, USC / 6’0″, 195 pounds
Marquise Lee had a sensational sophomore season in 2012 and lost a little of his luster by following it up with a disappointing junior season in 2013. Last season, the USC Trojans had their fill of problems, losing their head coach and failing to establish any consistency, so many of Lee’s problems could be attributable to the program’s lack of consistency. Lee has proven he can take over games with his ability to get open against any type of defense, his great explosiveness and excellent downfield speed. He also has excellent hands that will pluck even errant passes out of the air. He is not afraid to go over the middle, can make plays in the open field and only needs to stay healthy to make an impact at the next level. He could be a steal in the 2014 NFL draft.
In 2013, Lee had injury problems and didn’t seem to play up to his potential. However, in 2012, he caught 118 passes for 1,721 yards and 14 touchdowns and earned the Biltenikoff Award in the process.
Lee is an extremely talented receiver who only needs to stay healthy and show he is still willing to contribute to and perform on a team that might have quarterback issues or a losing record.