With the lack of depth at the offensive skill positions in the draft this year, NFL teams may find themselves reaching at the quarterback and running back positions. But for teams in need of pass-catching weapons, the 2013 draft will provide a silver lining.
Several top-receiver prospects merit legitimate first-round consideration. The NFL is a pass-happy league, and with so few quality quarterbacks available this year, teams may look to load up on offensive weapons for their current signal-callers.
In 2010, only two wide receivers were selected in the first round of the draft. In 2011, that number rose to three, and a total of four receivers were selected in the first round last year. This year’s draft class may match—or surpass—that total.
Keenan Allen: California
Allen doesn’t have elite speed, but he’s not lacking in many other areas. He has the frame and ball-catching ability to be a big-time X receiver in the NFL, and several teams will consider him in the top of the first round.
Allen’s most likely landing spot will be between picks eight and 12. The Buffalo Bills, New York Jets, San Diego Chargers and Miami Dolphins are all in need of another receiving threat, and it’s unlikely Allen will slide through that section of the first round.
Buffalo needs an option opposite Steve Johnson, but they need a quarterback even more. The Jets will get Santonio Holmes back from injury, but they are still lacking at receiver despite drafting Stephen Hill a year ago. Should New York decide to stick with Mark Sanchez for next season, the Jets will want to give him more weapons.
The most likely scenario is that Allen falls to the Dolphins, though. Miami selected quarterback Ryan Tannehill in the first round last year, but Brian Hartline and Davone Bess are not legitimate No. 1 options at receiver. Miami isn’t too far away from being a quality team in 2013, but they need to address the wide receiver position this offseason.
Tavon Austin: West Virginia
Austin has first-round talent, but his size is a cause for concern. Austin is just 5’9” and 175 pounds, and looks even smaller on the field.
Despite his size, Austin will get plenty of attention from NFL teams in need of a playmaker. He has elite speed and lateral agility, and his production at West Virginia was phenomenal.
Austin could potentially fill a hybrid role in the NFL. He was a former running back before switching to slot receiver at West Virginia, and a player with his electric open-field running style will find a fit in the NFL. The team to offer him that fit is yet to be determined.
Austin will probably come off the board after Allen, but both could potentially be snagged up in the middle of the first round. The St. Louis Rams have two picks in the first round (No. 16 and No. 22), and are in desperate need of offensive firepower. Steven Jackson won’t be a Ram in 2013, and Danny Amendola will be a free agent after the season.
The Rams have addressed defensive needs extensively in recent years, but they need another weapon for Sam Bradford and an offense that struggled to score points this year. Austin could be that weapon.
Cordarrelle Patterson: Tennessee
Both Patterson and teammate Justin Hunter have the potential to be first-round wide receiver selections in the 2013 draft, and for good cause. Both players possess ideal size and speed to be legitimate pass-catching weapons at the next level.
Patterson may be an even better option for the first receiver selected than Allen, but he only played one year, and teams may be worried about his limited time at wideout.
He has exceptional size and leaping ability, and his wiliness to fight for the football and venture into to traffic to catch it make him an intriguing NFL prospect. Given his limited game tape, offseason workout will be critical for Patterson.
The Seattle Seahawks, San Francisco 49ers and Houston Texans may all consider taking a flyer on Patterson should he fall in to the bottom of the first round. Houston is the most likely of the three, as Andre Johnson is in the back end of his career. Patterson would make an excellent replacement when Johnson’s time is up in Houston.
Justin Hunter: Tennessee
Some consider Hunter a better prospect than Patterson, due in part to his larger sample size. Hunter benefited greatly from the presence of Patterson opposite him on the field, though, and concerns about a surgically-repaired knee may scare some NFL teams.
He tore his ACL in his left knee last season, but rebounded to post a 1,083-yard, nine-touchdown campaign with the Volunteers. He has a similar frame to Patterson, but could stand to add a little more bulk.
Hunter is an impressive athlete, and his ability to pluck the ball out of the air will intrigue a lot of NFL scouts. With an impressive offseason of workouts, he has the potential to leapfrog Patterson in the draft.
As is the case with Patterson, Hunter should garner consideration from many teams in the back-end of the first round, including the Texans, Niners and Seahawks.