• Overall: Not a great class for big-time game changers at receiver, but strong for second- and third-round type players.
• Best prospect: Oklahoma State receiver Justin Blackmon looks like a top-10 pick.
• Packers outlook: Receiver and tight end are the two positions the Packers probably are least likely to draft this year, aside from kicker and punter.
• Rising star: Louisiana-Lafayette tight end Ladarius Green has moved up boards this offseason and might go as early as the late second round because of his playmaking potential downfield.
• Falling star: Stanford’s Chris Owusu has decent size (6-0 1/8, 196) and big-time speed (4.33 seconds in the 40 at the combine) but a long injury history that could drop him to the fourth round or later.
• Sleeper: Cincinnati tight end Adrien Robinson (6-4, 264) wasn’t invited to the scouting combine but showed surprising athleticism at his campus workout (between 4.53 seconds and 4.59 seconds in the 40, 39½-inch vertical) that could help him become a threat in the middle seam in the NFL.
Calvin Johnson, Demaryius Thomas and now Stephen Hill.
All are physical studs as wide receivers: they range from 6-feet-3½ to 6-5, weigh 215 pounds to 239 pounds and run the 40 in less than 4.4 seconds. And all played in college at Georgia Tech.
At least on the surface, it’s a strange twist in the NFL draft the last few years, because two of them are top NFL receiver prospects despite playing in Georgia Tech’s flexbone offense, which is an offshoot of the wishbone.
“How do you go to a (receiver’s) house and recruit him and say, ‘You’re going to be a really good blocker?’” one scout cracked this week.
Johnson is the one of the three who didn’t play in the flexbone. He finished his career in 2006, and Georgia Tech didn’t hire current coach Paul Johnson until December 2007.
Though Paul Johnson’s staff inherited Thomas, the receiver stayed for two years before entering the draft, and Johnson’s staff recruited Hill despite its run-oriented scheme.
Both are the same mold as Calvin Johnson, though not quite as big and explosive as the NFL’s premier receiver, who is a physical freak. Calvin Johnson earned the nickname Megatron because of his exceptional physical makeup and talent: 6-5, 239 pounds, 4.35 seconds in the 40 and a 42 ½-inch vertical jump.
Thomas and Hill don’t match up to that, but they’re not that far behind.
Thomas (6-3 1/8 and 224 pounds) wasn’t able to run a timed 40 for scouts before the ’10 draft because he was recovering from a broken foot, but he had run a 4.38-second 40 that was videotaped while training before the foot injury that offseason. He ended up the No. 22 pick overall by Denver even though he caught only 46 passes his final season, which is about half as many as most top receiving prospects.
Hill (6-4, 215), who is coming out in this draft as a junior, scorched the 40 in 4.31 seconds and figures to be drafted in the second round, at the latest, after catching only 28 passes last season.
So somehow, an offense that runs a wishbone-type scheme has produced at least two unusually tall and fast receivers even though there’s a long list of college teams that deploy far more receiver-friendly spread offenses.
“A little luck,” said Buzz Preston, Georgia Tech’s receivers coach, of Georgia Tech’s producing these two players. “And they know when they come here they’re going to get a lot of chances to make big plays. They’re going to get a lot of chances downfield. With the way we play, defenses have to bring a safety up. That means a lot of one-on-one coverage, and they’re going to get a lot of catches in (space).”
Preston said that NFL scouts seem to appreciate two other traits of Georgia Tech receivers: A willingness to block and relatively in-check egos at a position that’s notoriously high maintenance.
When the current coaching staff took over in the 2008 season, Thomas had just finished his redshirt freshman season. He could have transferred but didn’t, and Preston said the receiver never came to him to ask how much he’d get the ball in the new, run-oriented scheme.
“They’re unselfish,” Preston said of the receivers the offense produces. “They’re not prima donnas.”
The current staff recruited Hill but probably landed him in part because he wasn’t as highly regarded a football player in high school as he was a basketball player and track athlete. As a senior, he broke the Georgia high school record with a long jump of 25-8 ¾.
He’s not as polished as his predecessors coming out of college, but his size and combine workout moved him up draft boards this spring. Besides having the second-best average of all players at the combine on his two 40-yard dashes, Hill also had a 39½-inch vertical leap.
Hill caught only 49 passes in his career, which is half a season for many top college receivers, but he averaged an incredible 25.5 yards per catch. That includes 29.3 yards on his 28 receptions last year.
“He’s a first-round athlete,” one NFL scout said, “and I’m not sure where he is as a football player. He’s still extremely raw.”
Top wide receiver prospects
Justin Blackmon, Oklahoma State, 6-07/8, 207, Round 1
Redshirt junior probably will be a top-10 pick. “He’s got deceptive speed,” one scout said. “I watched a couple tapes where he turned the corner and outran the angle four or five times in one game. I was like, ‘Holy (expletive), this guy can run.’ He’s a hands catcher, he can run inside, can run outside, effective in the red zone. I like everything about the guy.” In the last two years caught 232 passes with a 14.2-yard average and 40 touchdowns. “Has good size, plays hard, it’s more competitive speed than it is track speed,” a second scout said. “Guys like that have a chance to be good because they always compete for the ball.” Didn’t do anything at the combine except the bench press (14 reps). At his pro day reportedly ran the 40 in the upper 4.4s. Rates higher in character than former teammate Dez Bryant, who was the No. 24 pick in 2010. “Dez is a better athlete, but both are very good receivers,” a third scout said. “Dez has a little bit better yards after contact.”
Michael Floyd, Notre Dame, 6-25/8, 220, Rounds 1-2
Caught 271 career passes with a 13.6-yard average and 37 touchdowns. “I like his length, I like his speed and red zone production,” a scout said. “It bothers me that he’s always catching balls in a crowd. I went back, is it the routes they have him running? I think he slows down to catch the ball and then tries to speed up, and that’s not going to be good at the next level. He’s the best at high-pointing the ball of all the receivers. Good route runner, he’ll get better.” Ran the 40 in 4.47 seconds and had a 361/2-inch vertical at the combine. “I know he has size and can catch the ball,” a second scout said, “but he seemed a little bit stiff and a little bit tight to me. He’s talented in a different kind of way. Big, more size and ball skills, but I thought he was a little tight in the lower body and think he’ll struggle getting off the jam.” Cited for DUI a year ago on campus and had two underage drinking tickets before that in his home state of Minnesota, which raises red flags about possible serious alcohol issues. “I can’t answer (if he’s going to drink excessively) and I don’t know anybody at all 32 teams that can answer that one,” a third scout said. “That’s really scary, especially if you talk about drafting him in the top 10.”
Kendall Wright, Baylor, 5-10¼, 196, Rounds 1-2
Isn’t as big as the players above him, but one scout rated him the second-best receiver in the draft and likened him to the Packers’ Greg Jennings. “This guy is going to run routes just like (Jennings),” the scout said. “His burst and acceleration is probably even better than Jennings. He can climb the ladder and get the ball, very competitive. He can return, he’s a strong hands catcher. He’s going to get better at running routes and coverage recognition coming out of his stance. He’s going to have to learn how to defeat bump and press at the next level, but I really like this guy. He’s not a slot guy, he’s like Jennings, he’s an outside guy.” Recruited out of high school as a quarterback, running back or defensive back, immediately adapted when moved to receiver and became pass-catching machine. Had 302 receptions in four seasons, including 108 for a 15.4-yard average last year. “I love him,” a second scout said. “Remember I told you I loved (Randall) Cobb last year? That’s what I see in this kid. A returner, a receiver, a guy who can take a reverse to the house.” Some scouts wondered what was wrong when Wright averaged a sluggish 4.54 seconds in the 40 at the combine, but in his campus workout he improved to 4.44 seconds. He didn’t run like you’d think on a track,” a third scout said. “He played faster. Competitive for the ball. He’s going to be a system guy, has to be in the right system and he’ll get his catches that way. I don’t think he could play for any team and be as productive. His numbers, he was productive, but when you watched him athletically, I don’t think he’s a first-round talent.”
Rueben Randle, LSU, 6-27/8, 210, Rounds 1-2
Junior entry with great size. “I do like him, more of a vertical guy,” a scout said. “Love his size. They run a lot of vertical posts, post-corners, draft routes and arrows across the field. You never see him catch the ball in traffic, they always have him entering or exiting zone sectors, so he’s on the move the whole time, not a lot of gear-down. When a defender is close this guy likes to trap and cradle balls, that bothers me a little bit. You should always be a hands catcher. (Former LSU receiver) Dwayne Bowe did it, a lot of guys when they come out of LSU, when they’re in traffic they cradle and catch it, and at this level these guys are going to be in traffic a lot.” Caught 53 passes for a 17.3-yard average last season. Ran the 40 in a slow 4.56 seconds at the combine, then improved to the 4.45-second range at his campus workout. His vertical jump of 311/2 inches is low for a player of his apparent talent. “I’m not a big fan,” another scout said. “He’s got potential, but I don’t know if the speed – I didn’t see him separate from coverages a lot, I saw him beat blown coverages. When it was time to compete for the ball he’d go up and try, but I didn’t always see him pulling the ball down.”
Stephen Hill, Georgia Tech, 6-4, 215, Round 2
Third big, fast Georgia Tech receiver to hit the draft since 2007, shot up draft boards with a fantastic combine workout. Similar but not quite as built as former teammate Demaryius Thomas, the No. 22 pick by Denver in 2010. “He has great ability,” a scout said. “The thing that’s hard to evaluate on them — I watched him in pregame, his hands are real inconsistent. How much does he work on catching the ball? They don’t throw it. He can run, he’s a big guy, great looking guy. The thing I watched in pregame, he probably dropped a third of the balls throw to him. They’re not exactly on the money because they don’t throw it very well. He’s got great tools.” Junior entry blazed the 40 in 4.31 seconds and had a 39½-inch vertical at the combine. When he finished high school he held the Georgia record in the long jump at
25-feet-8. “This kid here scares me because he looks better at the combine workout and his pro day than he does on film,” another scout said. “Naturally catching the ball, plucking it, jumping, doing all that (in work outs), but you don’t see that on film. I think he’s more of a workout guy than he is a football player.” Caught only 49 passes in his three-year career playing in an option-oriented offense, but his average per catch was an off-the-charts 25.5 yards. “I wouldn’t take him at the second or first,” a third scout said. “Just send him deep. If Al (Davis)was alive, he’d go in the first round, I promise you that.”
Alshon Jeffery, S. Carolina, 6-27/8, 216, Round 2
Junior entry’s weight was as high as the upper 230s during the season but was down to 216 for the combine. “I loved Jeffery,” a scout said. “Loved him better in 2010. His weight thing, who’s going to show up at camp, 237 or 216? Athletic talent and everything, somebody’s going to take a flyer on him probably in the bottom of the second, top of the third.” Ranks No. 1 in school history and No. 2 in SEC history in receiving yards (3,042). Had 183 career catches and 23 touchdowns. “Big, physical guy that will push off,” a second scout said. “I don’t think he was exceptionally fast even though he timed well. Two years ago I thought the guy was a good player. Teams tried to press him a couple times, he just (expletive) slapped them. He ran the kid over one time. I like the kid. Big, physical guys are hard to come by. Because of the rules you have to press at the line of scrimmage, and if you’re not strong enough — (Houston’s) Andre Johnson, that’s what he does, and (defensive backs) struggle. You can’t put a (small) cornerback up against these big receivers.” Saw his reception total plummet from 88 as a sophomore to 49 last season, though South Carolina’s problems at quarterback probably were the major factor. Didn’t run at the combine, then ran 4.49 seconds in the 40 and had a 36½-inch vertical at his campus workout. “My college coach used to say, ‘If (a player) is a fat (butt) or he has problems with weight, he’s going to come to us and be a fat (butt) and have problems with his weight,’” a third scout said. “He’s got the caution sign, glaring yellow, for me. Here’s a guy who fell out of the first for me.”
Mohamed Sanu, Rutgers, 6-1½ , 211, Round 2
Highly productive, raised red flags when he averaged only 4.66 seconds on his two 40s at the scouting combine but then reportedly lowered that to between 4.41 seconds to 4.46 seconds at his campus workout. “I laughed when I saw 4.66 at the combine, same with Wright’s 4.61,” a scout said. “I was like, no way, because I know what I saw on tape. This guy, they did a lot with him, they put him in the Wildcat, he can play slot, he can play multiple positions. Strong hands, very good run after catch skills. He can collision and get some extra yards.” Set a Big East Conference record last season with 115 catches, though his career average of 10.8 yards a catch is low. “You see that (campus) speed on film,” a scout said. “He’s the best blocker of all the wide receivers, this guy will nail your (butt). Like his size. He’s tough, he’s cut high, he reminds me of (the Packers’ Donald) Driver. Driver isn’t this tall, but he’s built like Driver and he plays like that, and he’s tough.” Said a third scout: “Big, athletic guy, but something was missing with him, maybe feel.”
Chris Givens, Wake Forest, 5-111/8, 198, Rounds 2-3
Junior entry had 88 receptions for a 16.0-yard average and eight touchdowns last season. Ran the 40 in 4.39 seconds at the scouting combine and had 331/2-inch vertical even though he twice sustained a torn ACL in high school. “He’ll beat you on a lot of underneath routes and he’ll catch it,” a scout said. “He’s a tough guy, he’s physical. They ran him on crossing routes and got him isolated on ‘backers and he turned an eight-yard completion into 22 by making guys miss. I like the guy, I think he’s a pretty good player.”
Brian Quick, Appalachian State, 6-3½, 220, Rounds 2-3
Division II standout is his school’s all-time leader in catches (202), receiving yards (3,418) and touchdown catches (31). “I like everything about him,” a scout said. “Size, speed. Extremely raw, but it’s not going to take long to get him up to speed I have him up high, top of the third, but somebody will probably take him in the bottom of the second just because of the tools and the skill set. He’s 6-3, 222, he’s going to run 4.5, those guys don’t just grow on trees. And he’s very athletic. You can still see the rawness in skills and everything, but he dominated at that level.” Last year caught 71 passes for 15.4-yard average. Ran the 40 in 4.54 seconds and had a 34-inch vertical jump at the combine. “Possession-type receiver,” a second scout said. “He can run the slants and outs and curls, more strength than speed. A move-the-chains receiver.”
Joe Adams, Arkansas, 5-105/8, 179, Round 3
Small, quick receiver and return man. “He’s only 180 pounds, but very tough, very competitive, intense,” a scout said. “Good route runner, probably more of a slot guy for the next level. Also liked his return ability. I liked his route running skills to set up a corner and put moves on the safety that was over the top to make him adjust as well. This guy’s a very savvy route runner, that’s what really stuck out to me at the Senior Bowl” In his last two years caught 104 passes for a 14.1-yard average and nine touchdowns. Returned five punts for touchdowns and averaged 15.8 yards on 36 returns, plus 17.7 yards (no touchdowns) on 124 kickoff returns. Ran the 40 in 4.54 seconds at the combine. “I like this guy,” another scout said. “I thought he was faster than that on game tape. I think he’s good. I don’t think he’s going to be a blue player, I think he’s going to be that red player, a starter and heavy contributor.”
Top tight end prospects
Coby Fleener, Stanford, 6-6, 247, Rounds 1-2
Didn’t work out at the scouting combine because of an ankle injury, then at his campus workout showed receiver-like athletic ability by running the 40 in 4.51 seconds and vertical jumping 37 inches. “I think he’s a very skilled receiver,” a scout said. “He has some attributes, he’s got some suddenness to him and can get open. He obviously paired up very well with his quarterback this year. They didn’t run very complicated stuff but it takes a guy that can get himself open, and he has a real knack for that.” Had back surgery after his redshirt sophomore season, then in his final two years caught 62 passes for an excellent 17.8-yard average and 17 touchdowns. “I don’t think he’s a complete tight end, those guys are hard to find,” another scout said. “But he’s a very skilled guy and could come in and help a team right away.”
Dwayne Allen, Clemson, 6-3 1/8, 255, Rounds 2-3
Entering the draft after his redshirt junior season, is rare for tight end prospects these days because he’s a good blocker and receiver. “You talk about a complete tight end, he might be as close as there is,” a scout said. “He’s really strapped together, he plays physical, I think he’s really tough. When I watched him I thought this guy’s going to have a tough time getting open, but he has a knack, especially in the red zone, for getting open and making plays. He made a ton of plays for Clemson. As he did it, I was like, I don’t know how he’s doing it. But he kinda has a knack for it. And when the ball got near him he got it.” In his final two years caught 88 passes for an 11.0-yard average and nine touchdowns, including 50 receptions and eight touchdowns last year. Ran the 40 in 4.85 seconds, had a 32-inch vertical and did 27 bench reps at the scouting combine. “He can really do something on the edge of the defense (as a blocker),” another scout said. “Then he does some things in the passing game and you’re like, ‘That’s a pretty nice play.’ He has a little bit of stiffness to him because he is so strapped together, he’s not as fluid as what you’d like in a real pass-catching tight end. But sometimes that’s part of the deal.”
Ladarius Green, Louisiana-Lafayette, 6-5¾, 238, Rounds 2-3
A prototypical 21st century tight end in that he’s basically a big receiver. “Oh man, I love him,” a scout said. “He can motor, he can change direction, he’s a smooth athlete. The only negative thing about the kid physically is his lower body is not as strong as it needs to be, so he’s going to get knocked around a little bit coming off the ball. I don’t think he’ll be able to hang in there and block anybody. But in terms of being a pass catcher, he’s a real weapon.” Caught 149 passes for a 14.8-yard average in four seasons. Ran the 40 in 4.46 seconds, had 34½-inch vertical and did 16 bench reps at the combine. “I think he could be a (Jermichael) Finley,” another scout said. “It may take him a year or two to get strong enough to hang in there with some of the things they’re going to ask him to do, but I think he’ll end up being an outstanding receiving tight end. He’s got such upside that somebody in need of a tight end that can run down the field may get on him in the second round. I talked to a dozen people (on the campus), and I couldn’t get one person to say something negative about the kid. He’s been a fantastic player and a great person for that program.”
Michael Egnew, Missouri, 6-5 1/8, 252, Rounds 3-4
A converted receiver. “He didn’t have a great grade coming into the combine,” a scout said, “but he’s a big-bodied guy. I think he’s going to be a movement-type tight end in the NFL, and I was very impressed with his change of direction athletic ability. Great attitude, I really liked him.” Two-year starter, was team MVP as a junior with 90 catches for an 8.5-yard average and five touchdowns. Last season, though, without quarterback Blaine Gabbert, Egnew caught 50 passes for a 10.3-yard average and three touchdowns. Ran the 40 in 4.54 seconds, had a 36-inch vertical jump and did 21 bench reps. “That (spread) offense they run, it’s hard to evaluate tight ends,” another scout said. “The last Missouri tight end (i.e., Chase Coffman) that came out, he couldn’t hang in there and play regular football. So that’s kind of been a check mark next to this kid’s name, make sure he can play, but he played in (the Senior Bowl), and I thought looked pretty good.”
Orson Charles, Georgia, 6-2 ½, 251, Rounds 3-4
True junior entering the draft, finished his career with 94 receptions for a 14.6-yard average and 10 touchdowns. Didn’t do any run testing at the combine by his choice, then at his campus workout ran the 40 in 4.71 seconds with a strong wind at his back. Had the most bench reps (35) of the tight ends at the combine. Was a team captain last season. Was arrested for a DUI in March. “I really liked the way Orson blocked,” a scout said. “He’s a tough guy, really plays hard. He gets the most out of his blocking ability. I was a little disappointed in how he runs routes and his change of direction ability. There’s some limits there.”
— email@example.com and follow him on Twitter @petedougherty.