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Packers draft preview: Top wide receivers

May 3, 2014
 
Clemson wide receiver Sammy Watkins is a likely top-five pick overall.
Clemson wide receiver Sammy Watkins is a likely top-five pick overall. / Getty Images

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1. Sammy Watkins, Clemson 6-0¾, 211, Round 1

A likely top-five pick overall. “He’s special, just a little bit,” a scout said. “He’s so explosive. Behind (South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon) Clowney, he’s the next-best athlete in this draft. Just his explosiveness, how he can take a hitch pass and take it the distance. He’s a big-play guy, he’s a blue player, a playmaker, a difference maker.” True junior entry is Clemson’s all-time leader in receptions (240), receiving yards (3,391) and touchdown catches (tied at 27). Last season had 101 catches, a 14.5-yard average and 12 touchdowns. “Extremely talented,” another scout said. “He can run, big and strong. He can beat press coverage, just throws guys out of the way. Physically very gifted. Has very strong hands, good football IQ. He’s a big-time playmaker.” Ran the 40 in 4.42 seconds, had a 34-inch vertical and 10-6 broad jump. Arrested for possessing marijuana in 2012 and suspended for the first two games that season. “Not as good as Calvin Johnson, but he reminds me of (Terrell Owens),” a third scout said. “He’s big, he’s strong, runs good routes, really solid hands. I don’t think he’ll have as many drops as Owens, and he has the potential to be a really big presence.”

2. Mike Evans, Texas A&M 6-4¾, 231, Round 1

Redshirt sophomore entry is a former high school basketball standout. “Size, speed, vertical threat receiver,” one scout said. “I thought he’d be a little faster than he ran at the combine, but not bad. I like the way he attacks the ball. He’s a big-play guy as well. But there’s a difference between Watkins and everybody else.” Was a likely Division I basketball recruit in Galveston, Texas, and didn’t go out for football until his senior year in high school. Redshirted as a freshman at Texas A&M, then in two seasons caught 151 passes for a 16.5-yard average and 17 touchdowns. “He caught 13 passes against Alabama, and they kept pressing him and he kept running by them and throwin’ ’em on the ground,” a second scout said. “Based on that day, the guy is as good as there was. Against LSU he wasn’t as good, there were some inconsistencies. But the guy is big and strong. He’s not real fast but he can get behind you. He’s kind of silky.” Has long arms (3518) and a good vertical (37 inches) that help him play even taller. Ran the 40 in 4.51 seconds. Averaged 20.2 yards a catch last season. “He’s a tough kid, competitive,” a third scout said. “He goes and gets the ball, doesn’t mind blocking, good run after catch. He’s fearless across the middle. He’s a good player.”

3. Odell Beckham Jr., LSU 5-11¼, 198, Round 1

Last season won the Paul Hornung Award as college football’s most versatile player after averaging 19.6 yards on 57 receptions, 26.9 yards on 30 kickoff returns and 9.3 yards on 14 punt returns. “Big-time guy that can catch it, stretch you vertically,” a scout said. “Odell is an extremely talented returner, kicks, punts. He won some games for them in the returns. Very talented and tough.” For his career, the true junior entry had 141 receptions and a 16.3-yard average. As a return man averaged 9.3 yards on punts, including two touchdowns, and 25.1 yards on kickoffs. Tested well for explosiveness at the combine with a 4.40-second 40, 38½-inch vertical and 3.94 seconds in the three-cone, which tied for third fastest of receivers at the combine. “I’ll tell you why I have him sixth (among the receivers),” one scout said. “He’s a toy. He’s not a receiver you line up on the outside and go get him. He’s going to be that slot receiver, the toy guy, reverses, hitches, bubble screens, returner, that kind of stuff.”

4. Brandin Cooks, Oregon State 5-9¾, 189, Round 1

Won the Biletnikoff Award as the nation’s top receiver and had 128 catches, 1,730 yards and 16 touchdowns. One scout likened him to former Carolina and current Baltimore receiver Steve Smith. “He’s not nasty and punch you in the (groin) like Smith would,” the scout said, “but as far as movement skills and toughness and competes for the ball and route running, that’s who he reminds me of. And the size, too, he’s thick like Smith. He might be moving up the media boards, (but) he’s been at the top of a lot of teams’ boards for a long time.” At the combine the junior draft entry had the second-fastest 40 (4.33 seconds) of all participants and the fastest short shuttle (3.81 seconds). Also had a 36-inch vertical. “You can see that 20(-yard) shuttle in the way he plays,” a second scout said. “He’s good on those option routes where they can get him the ball quickly in space. His hands are better than the (Tavon) Austin kid that the Rams took last season, but he doesn’t make the long plays that Austin made. I believe he needs to play (in the slot) as a mismatch player.” Didn’t miss a game in his three-year career and finished with 226 receptions for a 14.5-yard average and 24 touchdowns.

5. Marqise Lee, USC 5-11¾, 192, Round 1

True junior entry. “The best indication of this guy is go back and look at 2012,” a scout said. “When you turn on the film in the Pac-12 he was killing those guys. As a receiver, as a returner. They knew he was getting the ball and they still couldn’t stop him.” With Matt Barkley at quarterback in ’12 he had 118 receptions, a 14.6-yard average and 14 touchdowns. Last season with Barkley in the NFL those numbers dropped to 57, 13.9 and four. He also missed three games because of knee and shin injuries. “He’s got a good combination of quickness and speed,” a second scout said. “A little bit of a long strider. They did a good job of getting him in space one-on-one, and then he’d do the rest. He’s a playmaker.” Ran the 40 in 4.46 seconds and had a 38-inch vertical. Grew up in an impoverished neighborhood in Southern California, where his two older brothers were gang members, though they wouldn’t allow him to join. One brother was killed and another is in prison for murder. Split time living with his mother, grandmother and foster care before moving in with the family of an AAU basketball teammate. “He might be the most polished route runner in the group,” a third scout said. “But I don’t think he’s explosive enough to be a (No.) 1 (receiver). I didn’t see him separating from the people chasing him.”

6. Jordan Matthews, Vanderbilt 6-318, 212, Rounds 1/2

The highest-rated senior receiver on most draft boards and cousin of Pro Football Hall of Famer Jerry Rice — his mother and Rice are first cousins. One scout compared him favorably with Keenan Allen, last year’s Pro Football Writers Association offensive rookie of the year. “That’s who this kid is, only (Matthews) is faster,” the scout said. Four-year starter is the Southeastern Conference’s all-time leader in catches (262) and receiving yards (3,759). Had big senior season (112 receptions, 13.2-yard average and seven touchdowns). “That kid’s a strong route runner, and what he really has is good hands,” a second scout said. “He looks like he has natural catcher when he’s running and he throws his hands up. I don’t know what his hands measured (1038 inches), but he’s competitive and definitely has soft hands.” At the combine ran the 40 in 4.46 seconds and had 35½-inch vertical. “Has sneaky, deceptive speed,” a third scout said. “Looks like he’s dipping outside, he’s going in and he’s got the DB going the other way. Just that natural, instinctive route runner.”

7. Cody Latimer, Indiana 6-2½, 215, Rounds 1/2

True junior entry chose big-time college football over lower-level Division I basketball. “Natural receiving skills,” a scout said. “His career averaged 15.1 (yards a catch), that’s pretty good. I saw him live against Purdue, and I’ll tell you what, the guy was explosive. You talk about people chattering about a receiver, this is the guy.” Moved up draft boards in the offseason when he ran the 40 in 4.45 seconds and had a 39-inch vertical at his campus workout coming off foot surgery. In his last two seasons combined, caught 123 passes for a 15.4-yard average and 15 touchdowns. Missed the final three games last year because of hernia surgery and had foot surgery in January that kept him from working out at the combine except for the bench, where he did 23 reps. “This guy has some juice, the way he attacks defenses,” another scout said. “He’s a hard player to get the ball from because of his size, he just goes inside to grab it. Outstanding after the catch. He needs to be in the discussion with the other top receivers in this draft. He’s a playmaker with toughness.”

8. Kelvin Benjamin, Florida State 6-5, 240, Round 2

Redshirt sophomore entry is a potential matchup problem because of his size. “He’s a big-bodied kid with potential, but potential is always a coach-killer,” one scout said. “I think he’s immature, needs to grow up a bit, but on the field he’s got potential.” Broke out last season with 54 catches for an 18.7-yard average and 15 touchdowns, including the game-winning touchdown in the national championship game against Auburn. “I think he’s stiff,” a second scout said. “He’s cut high. A vertical receiver that doesn’t have a lot of speed. He’s good if you have him running slants, verticals, crossing routes, stuff like that. But if you’re trying to run out routes or digs or deep comebacks, you can’t do it. He’s cut too high and he’s a thick, slow guy. Somebody will take a shot on him up high because of his size and arm length, and when it’s time to catch a slant, boom, you can throw that to him, he’s a big guy and he’ll go get it.” Slow (4.66-second 40) and not explosive (32½-inch vertical) in physical testing. “He’s very hit or miss,” a third scout said. “When he’s on, he can be special. He missed some easy chances but made some great catches, too. He’s not as physical as you’d like for a man his size.”

9. Davante Adams, Fresno State 6-078, 212, Rounds 2/3

Junior draft entry led the FBS last year in receptions (131) and touchdown catches (24) playing with possible first-round quarterback Derek Carr. “Production and size,” a scout said. “He’s a go-up-and-get-it guy. Carr, that was his go-to guy. I loved everything about him. Size, speed, production. Catches the ball in traffic, outside his frame, has great hands. Has that thick frame, too.” Lacks stopwatch speed (4.59-second 40) but showed explosion by tying for the third-best vertical (39 ½ inches) among receivers. “I question whether he’s willing to go get the ball over the middle,” a second scout said. “He tends to struggle there, doesn’t look comfortable at all and doesn’t play like he has the stomach for it. He doesn’t play with burst on the stutter-go. He’s a lot better when he can work on the outside and along the sideline. His best trait is he’s shifty ball carrier. He runs a lot of run and shoot type routes, screens and quick stuff. He doesn’t play like a very tough guy.”

10. Bruce Ellington, South Carolina 5-938, 197, Rounds 2/3

Short slot receiver. “He doesn’t have a lot of production, about 1,500 yards for his career,” one scout said. “But he can go. This guy — I don’t think they utilized his quickness and his ability. They could have really stepped it up and used it on this guy. He’ll be a returner at the next level.” Averaged 15.8 yards on 49 catches last season, and 22.7 yards on kickoff returns for his career. Played only basketball at South Carolina as a freshman, then both sports through early last season. Averaged 11.2 points a game for his career but dropped basketball to prepare for the NFL draft. Ran the 40 in 4.55 seconds, had a 39½-inch vertical. “Just a natural player,” one scout said. “He can adjust to the high ball, he caught the ball in traffic and he’s explosive with the ball in his hands.”

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