2012 NFL Draft: 5 Wide Receivers the Cleveland Browns Must Consider

Brian Stepanek@@StepanekButtonCorrespondent IIMarch 26, 2012

Stephen Hill: matchup nightmare.
Stephen Hill: matchup nightmare.Scott Cunningham/Getty Images

"Speed kills. First down." -John Madden, Madden NFL Football '96

Toward the end of the 2011 season, Greg Little appeared to shake off the twenty months of rust accumulated between his final college and first professional football games. Jordan Norwood generated enough interest for the Browns to retain the practice squad-signee for the 2012 season at $465,000.

Do-it-all professional Josh Cribbs fulfilled his role as the team's gadget receiver, but the slot opposite Little attracts a great deal of chatter from Browns Backers approaching next month's draft.

2009 second-rounders Brian Robiskie and Mohamed Massaquoi fell far short of expectations, leading to Robiskie's mid-season departure last year.

Last spring Browns fans from Lakewood to Painesville moaned as Cleveland traded away an opportunity to draft the electrifying Julio Jones or A.J. Green at seventh overall, instead solidifying the defensive front seven with DT Phil Taylor at 21st.

This year the Browns have four selections in the top 68, one of which almost certainly will bolster the receiving corps. 

GM Tom Heckert expressed to the Plain Dealer today that the Browns were comfortable with Colt McCoy as their quarterback. Heckert has performed magnificently in the first two rounds of the draft in recent years, should that trend continue on the offensive side of the ball, McCoy will reap the benefits.

1. Justin Blackmon— Oklahoma State

Ht. Wt. 40 Vert. Broad YPC TDs Yards Catches
6'1" 215 4.46 35 10'3" 14.1 41 3,564 252

Can Blackmon match the breakout debuts of Green and Jones?
Can Blackmon match the breakout debuts of Green and Jones?Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

Projected availability: 4th overall
After watching Julio Jones and A.J. Green grace the lineup on SportsCenter all season in 2011, Browns Backers eagerly await their own rookie playmaker. But Greg Little quietly ranked second of all NFL rookies in catches last season and figures to improve tremendously as his quarterback enjoys more time and a full offseason. If the Browns draft Blackmon, fans expecting an athlete on the level of Jones or Green will be disappointed:

Julio Jones— Alabama

Ht. Wt. 40 Vert. Broad YPC TDs Yards Catches
6'3" 220 4.39 38.5 11'3" 14.8 17 2,653 179 

A.J. Green— Georgia

Ht. Wt. 40 Vert. Broad YPC TDs Yards Catches
6'4" 211 4.48 34.5 10'2" 15.8 23 2,619 166

For those keeping score at home, Blackmon projects as the top receiver in 2012 despite being shorter than both and unequivocally less athletic than Jones. Jones and Green also averaged a higher YPC against better college competition.

Blackmon's size compares more favorably with Baltimore's Torrey Smith, but Smith's 4.37 40 time and 40 inch broad jump frankly would have bumped Blackmon out of the top three receivers in the 2011 draft class.

If the Browns select Blackmon, it will ring as a clear declaration of prioritizing the passing game and stack a tremendous amount of pressure on Colt McCoy. Blackmon could also be the missing piece of the puzzle that turns the offense around.

Notre Dame's Michael Floyd will likely be selected between 4th and 22nd.

2. Stephen Hill— Georgia Tech

Ht. Wt. 40 Vert. Broad YPC TDs Yards Catches
6'4" 215 4.36 39.5 11'1" 26 10 1,248 49

Projected availability: 22nd overall
While Blackmon featured highly on draft gurus' Ouija boards from the beginning of the 2011 season, athletic specimen Stephen Hill burst onto the scene with a gaudy 29.3 yards per catch his junior season–twice that of Blackmon's. Hill's 40 time and broad jump launched him into first round contention, and the Browns 22nd pick could acquire the potential All-Pro out of Georgia Tech.

3. Kendall Wright— Baylor

Ht. Wt. 40 Vert. Broad YPC TDs Yards Catches
5'10" 196 4.4 38.5 10'1" 13 32 4,004 302

Projected availability: 22nd overall
GM Tom Heckert's track record with wide receivers revolves around speed exemplified in the 40-yard-dash: DeSean Jackson—4.29, Jeremy Maclin— 4.31, Greg Little— 4.45.

For this reason, the Browns may opt to build an offensive line or linebacker if the right candidates go before their 22nd overall pick. Heckert has selected a receiver in the 4.6 range, Jason Avant in 2006—but it was not until the 4th round.

Wright's experience and college statistics merit a high selection and he recovered with a 4.4 at his pro day, but his 4.6 at the combine could hurt the Baylor product's stock with speed-enthusiast Heckert. 

4. T.Y. Hilton— Florida International

Ht. Wt. Broad YPC TDs Yards Catches
5'10" 183 4.34 15 31 3,531


Projected availability: 68th overall 
T.Y. Hilton could emerge as the best receiver in the draft, but out of 10-year-old program Florida International Hilton, he will fall to the third round. Hilton's 74 and 83 yard touchdown scores against Louisville caught the eye of draft wonks everywhere, leading the Golden Panthers to an upset over the Cardinals in week two.

Hilton's speed alone merits Heckert's attention as the third round approaches.

Does Kendall Wright have enough speed for Heckert?
Does Kendall Wright have enough speed for Heckert?Sarah Glenn/Getty Images

5. A.J. Jenkins— Illinois

Ht. Wt. 40 Vert. Broad YPC TDs Yards Catches
6'0" 190 4.39 33 10'4" 15 19 2,432 167

Projected availability: 68th overall
A.J. Jenkins impressed with respectable numbers in 2011: 1,276 yards and eight TD's. Even more impressive, Jenkins accounted for over half of sophomore quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase's 2,110 passing yards, demonstrating that Jenkins could carry his offense in college. Jenkins' 40 time and college statistics combine to make him a potential steal in the third round.

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