Elite playmakers like Calvin Johnson and Vernon Davis don't grow on trees.
Game-breaking offensive weapons are a treasured commodity in the NFL, but there are a few elite prospects entering the 2014 draft who fit this description.
As such, you can be sure they'll be selected early when the draft kicks off in May, likely in the top half of Round 1. Whether or not they succeed in the NFL remains to be seen, but these upcoming college stars have all the physical tools to become monsters of the gridiron in short order.
Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson
It's not often that a receiver is hyped as much as Sammy Watkins has been this spring.
Mock drafts all over the Internet have Watkins being selected anywhere from No. 2 (St. Louis Rams) to No. 7 (Tampa Bay Buccaneers). However, there are many, including Bleacher Report's Matt Miller, who believe the Bucs would have to trade up to land the talented playmaker:
Mike Williams' problems in Tampa make Sammy Watkins all the more attractive there, but team would need to move up to get him.— Matt Miller (@nfldraftscout) March 24, 2014
Watkins' production in 2011 and 2013 at Clemson shows he's capable of producing at an extremely high level, and his physical attributes are off the charts.
Draft guru Mike Mayock of NFL Network recently gushed about the young man's abilities before his pro day, as relayed by Michael David Smith of Pro Football Talk:
He’s one of the best wide receivers I’ve seen on tape in the last 10 years. Because his Combine was so good a couple weeks ago, I think all he’s going to do is catch the football, and if he doesn’t get hurt he’s a Top 10 pick.
Then, Watkins blew the hinges off his pro-day workouts. According to DraftInsider.net's Tony Pauline, one scout called it the "best pro-day workout I've ever seen from a receiver":
Scouts raving about Sammy Watkins pro-day...one claiming "best pro-day workout I've ever seen from a receiver": http://t.co/1CoWP5b8Zr— Tony Pauline (@TonyPauline) March 6, 2014
Simply put, Watkins is ready to play at an extremely high level from the opening day of training camp. He possesses the size, strength, speed, agility, quickness and hands to make an easy transition into the pro game, and the team that lands him will have an instant-impact playmaker at its disposal.
Eric Ebron, TE, North Carolina
As such, any time an elite prospect like Eric Ebron comes along, there is no shortage of drooling over his potential to become a cornerstone player. ESPN's Chris Sprow thinks he'll be picked up somewhere in the top 10:
Eric Ebron tacks on 4.60 to his profile. Could double as the GPA for his stock. Will be surprised if he's around past 10. #NFLCombine— Chris Sprow (@SprowESPN) February 22, 2014
Ebron didn't put up jaw-dropping touchdown numbers at North Carolina because the Tar Heels weren't exactly blowing up opposing defenses on a regular basis through the air. Still, he managed to catch 62 passes for 973 yards (an ACC record for tight ends) and three touchdowns in his final season.
But that's kind of beside the point.
It's Ebron's potential to take the top off defenses up the seams that makes him such an attractive prospect for NFL teams—not to mention his raw speed and quickness. Linebackers and safeties will have a difficult time covering him one-on-one, making him a matchup nightmare for opposing defensive coordinators.
Former NFL scout Russ Lande recently made a stunning comment about Ebron's pro potential, via Daniel Kim of NFL.com:
He is the best tight-end prospect I have evaluated since Kellen Winslow Jr. Although many are projecting that teams like the Ravens and Jets will be interested in him, a number of NFL people I've spoken with recently believe he will be selected in the top 12, because he is a rare talent who could be better than Jimmy Graham.
No pressure, kid.
In all seriousness, though, Ebron will quickly become a go-to receiving threat for the lucky team that lands him, and nobody should be surprised if he ends up becoming one of the league's best within his first couple of seasons.
Mike Evans, WR, Texas A&M
There are some analysts and scouts who are convinced Mike Evans will have an even bigger immediate impact in the NFL than Watkins will as rookies in 2014.
Daniel Jeremiah of NFL Network is one of them, as relayed by Bryan Fischer of NFL.com:
I do love Sammy Watkins, but I think Year 1 we're going to be talking more about Mike Evans just because the touchdown numbers will be higher. If you come into the NFL, you're going to have to learn an NFL offense and he'll need to continue to develop as a route runner. But I think immediately he'll be a red zone presence and you will see touchdowns.
Not surprisingly, Evans agrees with the sentiment, but he's also a "fan" of many of the other talented receivers in this year's class.
“There are a lot of great receivers in this draft, don't get me wrong, but I feel I'm the best one,” Evans said recently, via Garrett Downing of BaltimoreRavens.com. “I'm a fan of a lot of the other receivers in this draft. I haven't seen a draft stacked like this with receivers in a long time.”
Which rookie receiver will have the biggest impact in 2014?
Whether he ends up outperforming Watkins in 2014 remains to be seen, but there's no doubt Evans has the physical tools to become an immediate starter for a new team in need of one.
The 6'5", 231-pound freak of nature was phenomenally productive in college playing with Johnny Manziel at Texas A&M, catching 151 passes for 2,499 yards and 17 touchdowns. And the best part is that he's only 20 years young, meaning his best days are still ahead of him.
While there's certainly room for improvement when it comes to route running, Evans already possesses a few qualities that cannot be taught: Elite size, hands and darn-good speed.
He's going to be a pivotal player for one lucky team this year, and nobody should be surprised if he ends up winning the NFL's Offensive Rookie of the Year award when the 2014 season is said and done.
Follow me on Twitter @JesseReed78