NFL Draft 2011: Power Ranking the Draft's Top 10 Slot Receivers
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The 2011 NFL Draft is loaded with players that are capable of impacting the game from the position of slot receiver. Past drafts show us that these guys won't necessarily be found in the first round.
In 2010, the Bengals grabbed Jordan Shipley in the third round and he was extremely productive as a slot receiver, putting up 52 catches for 600 yards and three touchdowns.
In 2009, the Patriots chose Julian Edelman, a wide receiver from Akron, in the seventh round. While he is buried on the depth chart behind guys like Wes Welker, Deion Branch and Brandon Tate, Edelman has shown a ton of promise and has been a dynamic force in the return game.
This year, none of the top slot receivers are likely to be first round picks, but that doesn't mean they should be considered also-rans. Here are the top ten slot receivers of the 2011 NFL Draft class.
10. Tyrod Taylor, Virginia Tech
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We'll start off the list a bit unconventionally, with quarterback Tyrod Taylor from Virginia Tech.
Taylor had a great career for the Hokies, but it's unlikely that he has a future at quarterback at the next level. His speed and agility have been well document, and they are traits that could serve him well as a slot receiver in the NFL.
He's extremely slippery and elusive in the open field, and the thought of him getting the ball on bubble screens and reverses surely has some NFL GMs thinking about drafting him as a multi-use weapon.
He may not go in the first five or even six rounds, but someone will certainly give him a shot to use his unparalleled athleticism in the NFL.
9. Dane Sanzenbacher, Ohio State
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When you think of combine freaks, guys who will blow you away in drills, Dane Sanzenbacher should be the last player that comes to mind.
He's not very tall at only 5'11" and he's not very fast, with a 40-time of 4.56. In spite of that, all this guy does is make plays.
His time at Ohio State was marked by his uncanny ability to make the tough grabs at times when they were needed most.
He had nearly 1,000 yards receiving and 11 touchdowns this past season in a competitive Big 10 and he was an unquestioned team leader.
Sanzenbacher is a crisp route runner with great hands and, while he won't make many defenders miss, he's good in one-on-one situations.
Like any good slot receiver, he has a great feel for where to go in order to get open when a play breaks down.
I see Sanzenbacher going in the late rounds of the draft where he will pay off huge for whoever selects him.
8. Aldrick Robinson, SMU
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In 2010, the Pittsburgh Steelers selected a 5'11", 186 lbs wide receiver from SMU named Emmanuel Sanders.
One of his good friends, Aldrick Robinson, is almost a carbon copy of the man that produced all season long for the Steelers.
Robinson was one of the most productive wide receivers in college football this past season, racking up 65 catches for 1,301 yards and 14 touchdowns.
He ran a blistering 4.35 40-yard dash at the 2011 NFL Combine that has teams salivating over his potential at the NFL level.
His size is a bit of a concern, but slot receivers thrive on being underestimated. Robinson is a fearless receiver in the middle of the field and, while out sized, he's not afraid to block linebackers and safeties.
Robinson could be valuable in screen games and I expect him to be taken in the middle to late rounds of the draft.
7. Jeremy Kerley, TCU
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Continuing the theme of undersized receivers is TCU's Jeremy Kerley. He was one of the most productive players on their roster, posting 56 catches for 575 yards and 10 touchdowns.
Much of those catches and many of those yards came on quick slants and screens, routes he will undoubtedly be asked to run the majority of the time as a slot receiver in the NFL.
With a pedestrian 40-time of 4.56, Kerley doesn't possess a distinct ability to stretch the field, but his elusiveness in open space is noteworthy.
Much like Aldrick Robinson, Kerley is a fearless and tough player who, while not a great blocker, is unafraid of contact.
Kerley also brings a return element to his game, as he is a capable kick and punt returner who could contribute in those areas at the next level.
He's another middle round pick who could pay dividends for whoever selects him.
6. Cecil Shorts, Mount Union
In my last 2011 NFL Draft piece on the top small school prospects, I left out Cecil Shorts of Mount Union. This time, he's made the cut as the No. 6 slot receiver prospect.
Like Pierre Garcon before him, Shorts is looking to be drafted out of Mount Union as a proven commodity in the passing game. Shorts possess the hands, elusiveness and flat-out speed to be worthy of a draft pick.
His productivity at the wide receiver position is unquestionable; Shorts amassed 63 catches for 1,106 yards and 17 touchdowns.
What may be even more impressive was his ability in the return game. Shorts had 22 punt returns with one for a touchdown and nine kick returns with two of those for touchdowns.
All of that productivity came despite missing three games.
His ability on the field is undeniable and it may even be insulting to him to be called just a "slot receiver" as he could very well prove to be a number one or number two option for a team.
In any case, he cracks the list as a player who will likely go no later than the fourth round.
5. Vincent Brown, San Diego State
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Vincent Brown, much like Dane Sanzenbacher, won't blow you away with his measurables. He's short and not overly fast, but when you put him on the gridiron he will work hard and produce.
This past season, Brown had 69 catches for 1352 yards and 10 touchdowns, proving his productivity.
You can say he did it against some lesser competition at San Diego State, but every time he stepped on the field all eyes were on him and he still showed up.
Despite his lack of speed, he's a handful in open space where he has the ability to make his man miss with tough running that allows him to shed arm tackles.
He's also a strong and tough blocker for his size.
Look for Brown to be drafted in the third or fourth round.
4. Edmond Gates, Abilene Christian
Edmond Gates can flat out fly on the football field.
At the 2011 NFL Combine, Gates ran a 4.37 in the 40-yard dash, one of the fastest at the wide receiver position.
He's a raw route runner, but he has skills in the open field that simply cannot be taught. Gates has great hands as well, and he's not afraid to mix it up in the middle of the field.
He has all the tools you look for in a quality slot receiver.
With the right coaching, Gates will develop into a force at the NFL level. He's almost certain to be drafted in the early rounds of the draft.
3. Jerrel Jernigan, Troy
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Despite going to Troy, Jernigan has scouts and analysts talking about him like he's a prospect from a top Division I program.
He ran a 4.46 40-yard dash at the 2011 NFL Combine, and though he may not have the speed of a guy like Edmond Gates, Jernigan is electric in the open field and he's a phenomenal pass catcher.
He's small, so don't look for him to be much of a blocker and physical corners will have their way with him, but he's used to being one of the more diminutive players on the field, so he knows how to take a hit and hang onto the ball.
Jerrel has all the necessary tools to be a top flight slot receiver in the NFL and I expect him to be taken in the first three rounds of the draft.
2. Titus Young, Boise State
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Titus Young's productivity has never been called into question. His last two seasons at Boise State have seen him grab 150 balls for 2,256 yards and 19 touchdowns.
Though undersized at 5'11", 174 lbs, Young proved himself as the number one option on one of the most explosive offenses in the country.
His diminutive size will force him to be a slot receiver at the next level, but he has the tools to do it. He's a solid route runner and he gets out of breaks with explosiveness.
There are questions surrounding his character, however, as he's been suspended multiple times in his career and has been guilty of multiple boneheaded plays that resulted in penalties.
Despite that, the NFL always has room for head case wide receivers, especially one as talented as Young. Look for him to go in the first three rounds.
1. Randall Cobb, Kentucky
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Perhaps the only player on this list that could sneak into the first round is Kentucky's Randall Cobb.
He's another prospect that's on the small side at 5'10", 191 lbs, but he's tough as nails and his size should be a non-issue in the NFL.
Unlike Young, Cobb has no character issues whatsoever. In fact, he's been a model teammate throughout his time in Lexington where he's been active in the community.
On the field, he's been even more impressive. Cobb produces nonstop, especially between the hashes where he's as fearless a blocker as he is a pass catcher.
He's been a game changer for almost all of his career, even when the ball isn't in his hands.
He won't burn a corner backs on a regular basis, but he's a nightmare for defensive players after the catch.
Essentially the only thing keeping him out of the first round is his size, but don't expect his stature to get in the way of what should be a productive NFL career.
Mike Osterberg is a student at Penn State University and Featured Columnist for the New York Giants. Follow him on twitter @Mike_Osterberg.