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2014 NFL Draft: Updated Wide Receiver Draft Rankings with Grades

Southern California wide receiver Marqise Lee, right, dives for extra yards as UCLA cornerback Anthony Jefferson defends during the second half of an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Nov. 30, 2013, in Los Angeles. UCLA won 35-14. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)
Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press
Curt PopejoyContributor IFebruary 9, 2014

The NFL can’t decide if it wants to become a passing league or not. The rules appear to be skewed toward the passing game, with more and more protections for wide receivers and quarterbacks.

Teams have come to realize that it isn’t enough to just have two wide receivers they can trot out and run 21-personnel anymore. The role of a player like the slot receiver has escalated well beyond the stereotype that so many have become accustomed to. 

Butch Dill/Associated Press

What all this means for the 2014 NFL draft is this talented group of pass-catchers is going to be in great demand. And thankfully, this group dishes out variety like a 20-page Cheesecake Factory menu.

However, all that diversity has its problems. It makes ranking them subjectively a legitimate challenge. NFL teams all have their own personal big boards that contain their top prospects based on a mix of talent and system fit. These rankings look more at raw talent and NFL potential.

Obviously some teams will favor different styles of receiver. Perhaps a big, tall target who can work in traffic would be a better fit. Or maybe your team needs a deep threat with long speed to get behind the secondary.

When scouting wide receivers, regardless of anything else, there are a couple of things every wide receiver needs to do well.

 

Crisp Routes

Few things will keep a young wideout off the field more than lazy route running. Whether it is driving on a cornerback or simply sticking your foot in the dirt to make a cut, everything must be done with precision.

Butch Dill/Associated Press

 

Active Hands

Being able to catch the football is fantastic, but having active hands is a huge plus. This means the wideout goes out and gets the football, rather than letting it come to him. So many catches in the NFL are contested, having passive hands means that you will be allowing too many defensive backs get into you before you secure the catch.

 

Toughness

So much is made about being able to get separation from defensive backs, but the reality is that is an ideal, but not the norm. Most catches, especially downfield catches, are made while being contested.

Given the choice, having a wideout who can fight for the football and win is much more useful in the league over the guy who can get behind defensive backs on occasion.

 

The star of this class is Clemson wide receiver Sammy Watkins. Going back over the film, there is really very little Watkins cannot do on the field. The Clemson offense ran Watkins all over the field on routes, from quick throws to the outside, inside crossing routes and even to elusive go routes.

After the catch, Watkins displays impressive speed and tremendous power. In many cases, Watkins would rather deliver a blow than try to avoid it, which could be viewed as a negative. His lateral agility is less than some other wide receivers in this group, but his game compares favorably to that of a bigger, stronger Antonio Brown.

If your favorite team opts to wait until the middle rounds to find their wide receiver, there are lots of options available as well. Oregon wide receiver Josh Huff is a real sleeper pick who isn’t getting nearly enough national attention.

Huff is a contrast to Watkins in that quickness and agility are the hallmarks of his game. Huff struggles with physical play, instead opting to beat the defender off the line with quickness and running crisp, sharp routes. Huff’s route tree was far from complex at Oregon, but the fact that he executed well shows he can grow and expand that part of his game.

Huff is a little bit of a multi-tool in the NFL. Some teams could view him as a slot receiver who can work on the interiors of zone defenses. Others may want to line him up outside and work on larger, slower cornerbacks. Huff has also displayed an affinity as a return man and can even operate out of the backfield.

However, let’s say that your favorite team wants to dig a little deeper and take a shot on a player even later in the draft. This group will still have you covered.

Sometimes a player is a victim of their surrounding case. For UCLA wide receiver Shaquelle Evans, that is almost certainly the case. The Bruins had problems all along the offensive line, inconsistent quarterback play and a run-heavy style that left Evans in the lurch.

140 characters is not enough to describe this catch by UCLA's Shaq Evans. Just know it's #SCtop10 and watch » http://t.co/jNm0Y7SsxN

— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) October 13, 2013

However, if you watch him closely, what you see is a very intriguing mix of size and speed. At 6’1”, 211 pounds, Evans has the physical stature that screams NFL wide receiver. However, he doesn’t always play with the strength you would expect and gets very much caught up in the wash.

Any team that drafts Evans needs to understand that when he is on, he’s great. He’ll get open, display excellent body control and catch everything that comes his way. However, when he’s off, there is no telling where his shortcomings will show up.

Some plays he does a great job getting open and then dropping an easy catch. The next play he runs a sloppy route and can’t get open at all. Scouts talk about ceiling with prospects, and with Evans, there is little doubt it is high. Proper coaching and a commitment to improve by him will help with that a great deal.

Here’s a breakdown of the top wide receivers in the upcoming NFL draft. This list is fluid and could change depending on what happens with the scouting combine. Also, it is important to keep in mind that this list is based on success in the NFL, measured by talent, not a prediction of the selection order of these players.

Wide Receivers
RankNameSchoolHeightWeightGrade
1Sammy WatkinsClemson6'1"205lbs1st
2Marqise LeeUSC6'0"195lbs1st
3Jordan MatthewsVanderbilt6'3"205lbs1st
4Mike EvansTexas A&M6'5"225lbs1st
5Kelvin BenjaminFSU6'5"235lbs1st
6Odell Beckham Jr.LSU5'11"193lbs1st
7Jarvis LandryLSU6'0"195lbs1st
8Allen RobinsonPenn State6'3"210lbs2nd
9Davante AdamsFresno State6'2"216lbs2nd
10Brandin CooksOregon State5'10"186lbs2nd
11Shaquelle EvansUCLA6'1"211lbs3rd
12Josh HuffOregon5'11"211lbs3rd
13Paul RichardsonColorado6'1"172lbs3rd
14Robert HerronWyoming5'9"193lbs3rd
15Martavis BryantClemson6'4"200lbs4th
16Jared AbbrederisWisconsin6'1"189lbs4th
17Donte MoncriefOle Miss6'2"226lbs4th
18Brandon ColemanRutgers6'5"220lbs5th
19Jalen SaundersOklahoma5'9"164lbs5th
20Ryan GrantTulane6'0"197lbs5th
21Mike DavisTexas6'0"193lbs5th
22Devin StreetPittsburgh6'3"195lbs6th
23Kain ColterNorthwestern5'11"195lbs6th
24Bruce EllingtonSouth Carolina5'9"196lbs6th
25Cody HoffmanBYU6'4"218lbs6th
26Kevin NorwoodAlabama6'2"197lbs6th
27Matt HazelCoastal Carolina6'1"196bs7th
28Michael CampanaroWake Forest5'10"191lbs7th
29Dri ArcherKent State5'8"175lbs7th
30Marcus LucasMissouri6'4"220lbs7th
cbssports.com

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