An Early Look at the Top Wide Receivers in the 2015 NFL Draft
Over the past few weeks, we've been breaking down the top draft-eligible prospects at each position in the 2015 NFL draft.
This week, it’s time for the wide receivers.
The 2014 class received a lot of hype for the depth and playmakers at the position, but next year’s class could be as good if not better.
The ranking for each prospect is determined by their physical attributes (size, build), their fit in a pro scheme, their athleticism and how well-rounded their skills are.
The players with scouting reports are the prospects who, in my opinion, have the best shot of going within the first two rounds of the 2015 draft.
Dorial Green-Beckham, Junior, Oklahoma
When you see Dorial Green-Beckham, the first thing that jumps out is his size. He is listed at 6’6”, 225 pounds (looks to be pretty accurate), creating matchup nightmares for defensive backs, especially in the red zone (four red-zone touchdowns against Kentucky in 2013.)
He also has the speed to get a quick burst off the line of scrimmage and create separation with defenders.
Another noticeable attribute is a reliable pair of hands. Green-Beckham has a massive catch radius and hauls in passes from anywhere in his area.
Although he played just two college seasons, Green-Beckham is also a fairly polished route-runner.
At Missouri he ran a pretty full route tree, excelling on go, post, fade and comeback routes toward the sidelines. When he is eligible at Oklahoma, he should be exposed to a larger variation of routes due to Oklahoma’s pro-style offensive tendencies.
To see an example of his solid route-running, take a look at the following play.
At the snap, he does a quick fake five yards past the line of scrimmage, looking as if he is running a curl route. After the safety bites on the fake, Green-Beckham takes off up the field, hauling in a tough catch in the end zone.
Green-Beckham’s only real on-field weakness is his blocking.
His strong hands allow him to latch onto receivers, but he often shows a lack of interest on running plays and throwing blocks upfield.
And then there are the off-the-field issues, which led him to be dismissed from Missouri shortly after his second arrest for drug use at the conclusion of the 2013-2014 season. If not for his exceptional physical gifts, Green-Beckham wouldn’t be on a lot of team’s draft boards.
Physically, Green-Beckham is as good of a prospect that you can find.
Despite only playing two full years at Missouri, Green-Beckham is a polished route-runner who is a big play waiting to happen.
The biggest question is his off-field behavior.
Green-Beckham is set to enroll at Oklahoma and is looking into gaining immediate eligibility, per Tom Fornelli of CBS Sports.
If he can tone it down and convince NFL executives that he has changed, Green-Beckham has a real possibility at being a top-10 pick in the 2015 or 2016 NFL draft.
Amari Cooper, Junior, Alabama
When it comes to overall ball skills, Amari Cooper is one of the most skilled prospects in this class.
He has reliable hands and a good catch radius for someone his size (6’1”).
Cooper has exceptional body control (allowing him to adjust to passes in his area) and tracks the ball well. He also has good straight-line speed, and when he gets a chance to build up speed in the open field he’s a threat to cross the pylon every time he has the ball.
Ball skills aside, Cooper is also a very polished route-runner. At Alabama, he is asked to run the full route tree but excels on crossing routes and making plays at all levels of the field.
The following is just one of many examples of his fluid route-running.
Cooper bursts off the line of scrimmage and sells the “stick” towards the sideline. After the defenders bites on the fake, he takes off down the sideline and hauls in the catch between the cornerback and safety.
He makes the catch, sheds an arm tackle (more of a whiff) and takes off down the sideline (he shows off his speed before the trailing defensive back lets up, allowing him to walk into the end zone.)
Against Virginia Tech, Cooper was forced to deal with a lot of press coverage (thanks largely to 2014 first-round pick Kyle Fuller.)
When pressed at the line of scrimmage, Cooper struggles to recover and separate from his cover man, allowing the defensive back to gain leverage on the inside in the process.
This is a very fixable issue. Putting on strength during the offseason will help with this deficiency.
Cooper is another (far from the only) well-rounded receiver in this class.
His combination of speed, physicality, polished route-running and experience playing in the SEC all are going to put him in contention to be the first receiver drafted next year.
Nelson Agholor, Junior, USC
While watching USC’s Nelson Agholor, there is one trait that shows up time and time again: He is a playmaker.
Whether he is lined up in the slot, the outside of the formation or even in the return game, Agholor’s speed, agility and vision make him a defense’s worst nightmare.
He tracks the ball well in the air, adjusts his body to throws and makes big catches at all levels of the field, running a variety of routes in the process (USC ran a pro-style system with Kiffin, so he gained experience running a large variety of routes.)
His previously mentioned speed and quickness allow him to run his routes clean and fluidly, as well as to gain separation from defensive backs at the snap.
When pressed at the line of scrimmage, Agholor has trouble recovering and breaking away from defenders (similarly to Cooper).
He disappeared in a few games last season, posting under 50 receiving yards in five games last year, including zero receptions against Washington State (which could partially be attributed to instability under center).
Another question is if his listed size (6’0”, 185 pounds) is accurate. He looks a little smaller than those marks.
Agholor performed well at USC in his first two seasons despite instability at head coach and quarterback.
With at least one of those issues solved (not to mention his getting to play in an uptempo scheme), he could be in for his first 1,000-yard season after falling just 82 yards short of the mark in 2013.
He has a lot of upside and will be a first-round pick next season.
Rashad Greene, Senior, Florida State
Rashad Greene was one of the biggest weapons in Florida State’s potent offense last season.
Standing at 6’0”, Green spent most of his time outside in the Seminole’s pro-style attack, although he did line up in the slot at some times.
He has strong hands and knows how to adjust to the ball (although there aren’t many underthrows thanks to Jameis Winston).
As a blocker, Greene is always looking to throw a block to spring a big play.
Having experience running a full route tree, Greene runs extremely crisp routes and also isn’t afraid to make plays over the middle.
The following is an example of his route running that sticks out to me.
Without a cornerback on top of him, Greene spots that he is going to have a matchup with a linebacker. As the linebacker drops to cover him, Greene sticks towards the sidelines before making a quick break back to the middle of the field, hauling in a long touchdown in the process.
When it comes to Greene, the only knock on his game is his speed and size.
His skill set fits best as an outside receiver, but with a slight frame, durability could be a concern. In addition, he lacks the elite speed needed to separate from defensive backs at the next level.
Greene is a polished receiver with a skill set that might be best suited to be utilized at the Y-receiver or slot.
His former teammate, Kelvin Benjamin, was selected in the first round of the 2014 draft based solely on his upside, even though Greene was the better overall receiver.
He should warrant a selection within the first two days of the draft.
Ty Montgomery, Senior, Stanford
Ty Montgomery rivals Louisville’s DeVante Parker for the best ball instincts of any player in this class. His ability to locate the ball and position himself quickly helps create opportunities in both the run and pass games for Stanford.
Montgomery also has game-breaking speed. He gets a quick burst off the line of scrimmage and runs most of the full route tree in Stanford’s power-run offense.
His strongest attribute, however, is his ability to gain yardage after the catch, like this play against Cal last season.
Running a quick bubble screen, Montgomery hauls in the reception and surveys the field in front of him. After waiting a second to let his blocks develop, he bursts through the “hole” (if you call it that).
With a receiver closing in to take out the high safety, Montgomery quickly changes directions to find 60 yards of open field for the touchdown.
Montgomery is listed at 6’2” but looks to be at least two inches under that mark.
Also, it is hard to gauge his upside. He is agile and has decent speed, but his game is already pretty polished, and he doesn’t have much more that he can improve on at the next level.
Montgomery could end up only being a third or fourth option on a solid offense but also has the skills in the return game to warrant a moderately early selection.
Levi Norwood, Senior, Baylor
When I tuned into the high-powered Baylor offense, I did so specifically to see how Bryce Petty and Antwan Goodley performed.
Instead, another player jumped out at me (who is forgotten when you talk to college football fans): Levi Norwood.
Norwood, who is heading into his senior season, has one of the best combinations of athleticism and size of anyone in the nation. Utilized mainly in the slot, he is an extremely physical receiver who has a quick initial burst off the line.
Using an intriguing combination of size and power, Norwood is a force after the catch.
A prime example is the following play against Texas Tech.
Norwood runs a quick bubble screen. After the catch, he quickly surveys the field in front of him and takes off towards the boundary. With a defender in front of him, Norwood uses a quick misdirection to shake him.
After the missed tackle, another defensive back pursues him. As they are about to make contact, Norwood lowers his shoulder, dishing out a devastating blow before being brought down from behind.
His physicality and agility after the catch is going to make scouts absolutely drool over his upside.
A concern, not really a weakness, is that Norwood doesn’t see a lot of press coverage, mainly because he is utilized mostly in the slot.
In fact, he rarely lines up outside. With his size and athleticism, he could be a very good outside receiver with experience but has been limited to the slot in Baylor’s spread attack.
Also, like every other receiver on Baylor’s roster, he doesn’t run a full route tree. Most of the time he runs quick slants and bubble screens with a vertical route mixed in here and there.
Norwood isn’t a finished product but has a lot of upside. His size, production and athleticism will surely lead to an NFL team taking a flier on him within the first two days of the draft.
His stock will ascend with a big season.
Stefon Diggs, Junior, Maryland
A former 5-star recruit who has drawn comparisons to Washington’s DeSean Jackson, Maryland wide receiver Stefon Diggs is as electrifying as they make them.
Diggs’s speed allows him to get a quick burst off the line of scrimmage and also allows him to stretch the field and get to throws in a hurry.
Diggs, like other speedsters with a small frame, has the potential to make a living in the NFL as a slot receiver, making plays down the seams and running quick crossing patterns across the middle of the field, which he has done well during his two seasons as Maryland.
His speed isn’t the only thing to love about Diggs’s game, though. He has good vision in the open field. And for a small player, he's a good blocker. He has strong hands, and once he latches onto a defender he doesn’t let go.
As mentioned earlier, Diggs is pretty small, as he's listed at 6’0” but looks a little smaller than that. Given his skill set, he will have to play in the slot to be an impact player at the next level.
Another small concern is that he doesn’t run the full route tree at Maryland. A majority of the time, Diggs runs bubble screens, vertical routes, quick slants and short comebacks.
It will be interesting to see if they use a little more variation with him as they move to the Big Ten for the upcoming season.
The final knock on his game is that although he is shifty and can make effortless cuts to make defenders miss, he sometimes tries to do too much, running east and west and getting caught up by defenders while doing so, like here against Florida International.
Diggs is a productive receiver who fits best as a slot receiver/kick returner at the next level.
He has sticky hands and could be a big play threat every time the ball is in his hands.
DeVante Parker, Senior, Louisville
When it comes to players who know how to make tough catches no matter the circumstance, Louisville’s DeVante Parker is one of the best, if not the best, in this group of receivers.
Parker has a large catch radius, and even if faced with tight coverage he finds a way to make catches thrown high, low, outside or behind him. When the ball is in the air, Parker has fantastic body control and adjusts to throws to make impressive catches.
On the following play against Miami, Parker is running a go route down the left sideline.
With his man draped all over him, Teddy Bridgewater delivers a ball just behind Parker in stride. Parker, keeping his eye on the ball, adjusts just enough to get behind the defender and haul in the catch for a big gain.
Playing his first three years in a pro-style offense has given Parker the advantage of running a full route tree at all levels of the field.
Parker doesn’t have blazing speed, which could be a concern when he is lined up against NFL defensive backs.
His lack of speed could lead to him struggling to create separation at the line of scrimmage, virtually keeping him locked down if matched up against a competent cornerback. However, the lack of pace doesn’t really affect him after the catch, as he has good vision and makes smart cuts through defenders.
The last concern is how Parker fares against press coverage. Although, as I mentioned before, he finds ways to make impressive catches against defenders at the college level (including times when he hasn’t released well after being pressed), he needs to work on his release.
Far too often he will allow cornerbacks to gain inside leverage, yet he somehow finds ways to reel in catches. He won’t be able to get away with this at the next level.
Parker is a possession receiver with a knack for making difficult receptions all over the field.
His speed is a concern, but he is a polished receiver who should be able to hang around the league as a second or third option for a long time.
Others to Watch
Quinshad Davis, Junior, North Carolina
Antwan Goodley, Senior, Baylor
Jaelen Strong, RS Junior, Arizona State
Deontay Greenberry, Junior, Houston
DaVaris Daniels, RS Junior, Notre Dame
Bryce Treggs, Junior, California
Austin Hill, RS Junior, Arizona
Davante Davis, Senior, UNLV
Sammie Coates, RS Junior, Auburn
Christion Jones, Senior, Alabama
Kasen Williams, Senior, Washington
Jamison Crowder, Senior, Duke
Tyler Lockett, Senior, Kansas State
Justin Hardy, Senior, ECU
Kenny Bell, Senior, Nebraska
Sam Ajala, Senior, Fordham
Kyle Prater, RS Senior, Northwestern
Shaq Roland, Junior, South Carolina
Demitri Knowles, RS Junior, Virginia Tech
Breshad Perriman, RS Junior, UCF
Kenny Cook, Senior, Gardner-Webb
Trevor Harman, Senior, Shippensburg