NFL draft 2014 top 10 WRs: Mike Evans, Sammy Watkins, Allen Robinson, more
Important afternoon for teams hoping to add a receiver in 2014. A trio of talented players at that position declared for the upcoming draft: Texas A&M’s Mike Evans, Penn State’s Allen Robinson and Oregon State’s Brandin Cooks.
Here’s a look at where those players rank among the current 10 best WRs expected to be available in the 2014 NFL draft:
1. Mike Evans, Texas A&M: I keep going back and forth between Evans and Clemson’s Sammy Watkins as the top WR in this class. (Watkins has yet to declare for the draft but is expected to after Friday’s Orange Bowl versus Ohio State.) If I had to march to the podium to make a pick right now, it would be Evans. Though he’s not a straight-line burner, very few cornerbacks will be able to match up with him comfortably. Add in his ability to beat any coverage thrown his way and his potential to dominate in the red zone, and Evans could help any offense.
2. Sammy Watkins, Clemson: A flat-out playmaker, Watkins is four inches shorter than Evans (6-foot-1 to Evans’ 6-5) but appears to be further along in his development as a route-runner. There’s no questioning what he can do on deep balls or after the catch, either — 224 catches over three seasons don’t just happen.
3. Marqise Lee, USC: It took until USC’s bowl game for the Trojans to unleash a healthy Lee, and then he went off for a season-high 118 yards with two touchdowns. That it took him all year to recover from a nagging knee injury will force NFL teams to take a close look medically. Assuming all checks out there, Lee should be a high pick and an early producer.
4. Allen Robinson, Penn State: I mentioned on Twitter that Robinson reminds me some of star Chargers receiver Keenan Allen. Aside from possessing similar size (Robinson is listed at 6-3, 204; Allen at 6-2, 211), Robinson will arrive in the NFL with an advanced game. He runs sharp routes and has proven dangerous in the screen game. Plus, he uses every bit of that 6-2 frame to win balls consistently in the air.
5. Jordan Matthews, Vanderbilt: Honestly, there’s not a lot to separate two guys like Robinson and Matthews at this point. Matthews had 94 catches last season and 107 in 2013, without the help of an elite QB or a rapid-fire passing attack. At 6-3, he’s tough to deal with — as is Robinson — because he does a remarkable job finding the football and winning position for the catch. Drops have been few and far between.
6. Brandin Cooks, Oregon State: His 2013 numbers are staggering — 128 receptions for 1,730 yards and 16 touchdowns. He’s smaller than the two guys listed just above him here, at 5-10 and 186 pounds, but he’s also more of a threat in the open field than either Robinson or Matthews. He can survive as an outside receiver. Put him in the slot with a couple other guys drawing attention, though, and he might be unstoppable.
7. Kelvin Benjamin, Florida State: In case you haven’t noticed by now, the WR talent in this draft projects to be really deep. Benjamin also has yet to pull the trigger by entering the draft, but he turns 23 in February, so it makes sense that the redshirt sophomore would want to go. Benjamin almost plays like a TE lined up wide (he’s 6-5 and 230), except he also has enough speed to get deep.
8. Davante Adams, Fresno State: The “system” tag does not apply just to quarterbacks — NFL scouts will have to determine how much of Adams’ 131 catches and 24 touchdowns this season were generated by skills that translate to the next level, and how many were a result of the Bulldogs’ Derek Carr-led aerial attack. Odds are, they’ll find plenty to like. The 6-2 Adams can catch and run, but he also excels in one-on-one matchups, as he did multiple times during Fresno State’s bowl game.
9. Jared Abbrederis, Wisconsin: Arguably one of the most underrated prospects in college football, at least prior to a 78-catch season that included a 207-yard explosion versus Ohio State (and potential first-round CB Bradley Roby). Abbrederis can line up wherever a team might need him and find a way to get open. He doesn’t jump off the tape like, say, Evans or Watkins … and yet, the ball keeps finding its way into his hands, despite Wisconsin’s shaky QB play.
10. Odell Beckham Jr., LSU: The Paul Hornung Award winner as college football’s most versatile player, Beckham could climb the charts at the draft because of his return abilities. But he’s also not a Devin Hester-type — i.e. a player who will be very limited in offensive sets. Beckham caught 59 passes with a 19.5 per-catch average in 2013. He’s more raw than some of the other receivers on this list, yet may be among the most lethal players in the draft.