The NFL draft still may be months away, but prospect rankings are starting to become clearer as each week passes. Yet there is still plenty of time for players to make their mark before the season ends and make a lasting impression on scouts.
One of the NFL's most important positions is wide receiver. Without a top flight wideout who can catch the ball, a quarterback is left hung out to dry. Just look at Sam Bradford for instance. Prior to the arrival of Brandon Lloyd, he was without a threat at the receiver position, and it showed as St. Louis's passing attacking suffered.
Having a dynamic threat lined up on the outside is vital for any team to have long-term success. Let's take a look at the top receiver prospects and which players will be called upon to reinvigorate some teams' passing attacks.
Jeff Fuller hasn't lit the college football world on fire by any means this season, but he does project well in the NFL. At 6'4", 215 pounds, he has the body to fend off opposing cornerbacks and has the potential to be a nightmare in the red zone.
Still, Fuller is far from the perfect prospect. At times, he struggles to get off the line of scrimmage against press coverage and his route running needs to improve.
Stats aren't the most important thing in evaluating a prospect, but it is important to note that he hasn't topped the 100-yard mark once this season in an offense that ranks 15th in the nation in passing yards. Inconsistency has plagued Fuller throughout his career as an Aggie.
If there's a player who could benefit from a strong finish more than anyone on this list, it's Fuller.
Right now he figures to be a No. 2 receiver at the NFL who can move the chains. What you won't get with him is a receiver who can stretch the field or do much damage after the catch.
Projection: 3rd round
Playing in an offense that is so run heavy has hindered Nick Toon's opportunities this season. Once the Badgers got into Big 10 play, the Wisconsin receiver's production really took a hit. But like I said a lot of that is due to the run-first mentality Wisconsin employs.
Think of Toon as a better version of Fuller. He has the size, ball skills and ability to move the chains at the next level. And Toon is a more refined route-runner at this stage of his career.
Yet his lack of athleticism is an issue that will hurt his stock when it comes to the combine. It also doesn't help that there isn't as much game film as him running routes as there are with other receivers on this list due to the Badgers' offense.
Projection: 3rd round
Whoever drafts Michael Floyd may end up with the best receiver in the draft five years from now, or an absolute bust. Floyd has all the physical tools to be a force in the NFL, but there are questions about his character and work ethic.
That's a problem.
The NFL is all about working hard, and although Floyd is physically talented, he isn't good enough to the point where he can slack at the next level and still be productive.
Notre Dame may not be having a successful season, but the same can't be said for Floyd. He has surpassed the 1,000-yard mark and has tallied 87 receptions.
Floyd has a chance to be more than just a possession receiver in the NFL. He does a good job of using his strength and size against press coverage to get open, and he has long arms and good hands that make him a viable deep threat.
What Floyd doesn't possess is elite speed, but there isn't a top prospect in this draft that does. If the Notre Dame product can keep his head on straight, he should have a nice career.
Projection: 1st round
Alshon Jeffery was my top receiver all season long up until now. There's a great possibility that I may be making a mistake by bumping Jeffery down, but I can no longer ignore what Justin Blackmon is doing on the field week in and week out.
To be fair, the South Carolina receiver's numbers are down due to poor quarterback play. Yet there are some concerns about Jeffery. Leading up to the draft you are likely to hear a lot about the 6'4", 233-pound receiver's terrific size but also about his lack of top-end speed.
Speed may be an issue, although his ball skills and leaping ability should make up for it. Jeffery could make a similar impact to what AJ Green has done for Cincinnati. Green doesn't have elite speed either, but he uses his body well and can go up and win a jump ball.
There aren't any character concerns for Jeffery and that is a major plus. Despite poor production for South Carolina this season, he still has a chance to be the first wide receiver taken on draft day.
Projection: Top 10
The top wide receiver in this year's draft class as of now has to be Blackmon. He is tearing up college football defenses with ease and has the look of an elite receiver.
Creating separation in the NFL is a question mark by some but not for me. The way that he uses his body to shield off defenders and attack the ball is impressive. Like every receiver on this list, Blackmon doesn't have great top-end speed but he does a nice job of confusing defensive backs to get behind them.
At 6'1", he doesn't have the height as some of the other top prospects. Yet Blackmon does a great job of attacking the ball in the air when it's thrown his way.
When I see Blackmon play, he reminds me a lot of Terrell Owens. Owens was a beast in his heyday and used his brute strength to punish defensive backs. He never was the fastest receiver in the NFL, but he was one of the hardest working.
If Blackmon has a similar work ethic to Owens, he should tear apart opposing defenses like the future Hall of Famer once did.
Projection: Top 5