In a pass-happy NFL, there is not much that beats adding a talented wideout in the early goings of a draft to provide a boost to an offense.
Big names such as Tavon Austin (40 catches, 418 yards and four touchdowns through Week 14) and DeAndre Hopkins (44 for 707 and two) have provided nice boosts to their teams after being taken in the first round last year.
Three names will undoubtedly join the long list of first-round receivers in the 2014 draft. Their impressive bodies of work at the collegiate level combined with other positive factors equate to lengthy, impactful professional careers.
Sammy Watkins, Clemson
It is hard to find a more explosive player in the 2014 draft class.
Standing at 6'1" and 205 pounds, Watkins does not lack for size or any other intangible as it translates to the NFL level. He has also put together quite the body of work with gaudy statistics:
But forget statistics, Watkins has it where scouts will look—intangibles. NFL.com's Bucky Brooks levels some lofty praise in Watkins' direction for his elite skill set:
Watkins is one of the best "catch and run" playmakers I've seen in the college game. He excels at maneuvering through traffic with the ball in his hands, but also displays the toughness to run through arm tackles on the perimeter.
Bleacher Report's Matt Miller concurs and goes as far as saying Watkins is one of the top players available:
Updated 2014 Top 5: QB Teddy Bridgewater, DE Jadeveon Clowney, OT Jake Matthews, LB Anthony Barr, WR Sammy Watkins— Matt Miller (@nfldraftscout) December 3, 2013
Versatility is the name of the game. Not only does Watkins make his quarterback and offense better, he contributes explosive traits to special teams. Watkins is set to take the NFL by storm should he declare.
Projection: Top-10 Pick
Mike Evans, Texas A&M
Mike Evans may receive a lot of flak from the casual crowd for his playing with a Heisman-winning quarterback at Texas A&M, but Evans has a game that oozes elite pro potential.
Let Jeff Duncan of The Times-Picayune put it best:
Texas A&M's Mike Evans is college football's version of Jimmy Graham.— Jeff Duncan (@JeffDuncan_) November 24, 2013
Duncan says this for a few reasons. For one, Evans blurs the line between receiver and tight end at 6'5" and 225 pounds. Two, he routinely makes highlight-worthy grabs, catching the ball at its highest point after positioning his body in such a way that only he can make the reception.
But Evans is perhaps most dangerous with the ball in his hands. Not only does his big frame allow him to box out defenders like a tight end, it allows him to brutalize smaller defenders—he averaged a ridiculous 8.53 yards after the catch in 2013 per Second Round Stats.
Of course, Evans has the other stats for those who want him to pass the eye test:
All that is left is for Evans to declare. From there the sky is the limit.
Projection: Top-15 Pick
Marqise Lee, USC
Much of the criticism leveled at USC's Marqise Lee is his down year statistically in 2013:
But Lee has battled nagging injuries, and it is hard to ignore his stunning numbers the years prior.
Weighing in at 6'0" and 195 pounds, his frame has created some cause for concern. One NFC executive told Albert Breer of NFL.com that "He can fly and make every play a touchdown, but he's not strong and durability is a question."
Others have gone another route with Lee's potential. UCLA head coach Jim Mora went as far as to compare Lee to former Indianapolis receiver Marvin Harrison per Dan Greenspan of NFL.com:
I'm not talking about the personality, I'm talking about the ability. Marqise is a little bit bigger than Marvin, but smooth, athletic, fluid guys that have very sure hands, run excellent routes, can get in and out of their breaks. With Marvin, when he used to run that speed cut in there was never a change in momentum. (Lee) can run the entire route tree, can take you deep, can run a slant, can take a hitch and turn it into an 80-yard touchdown. That's why I think Marqise Lee is like Marvin Harrison. He is very polished for a junior in college.
Numbers are nice, but when a name like Mora sees these types of intangibles for a pro prospect, eyebrows should be raised. A combination of explosive plays with the polish comparable to an NFL great is hard to find.
Lee may not be the biggest name, and a certain stigma may be attached to USC receivers at this point, but Lee is a gamble one team will be greatly rewarded for when all is said and done.
Projection: Top-20 Pick