Share this article

print logo

THIS RECEIVER GROUP GOES DEEP
EDWARDS THE TOP CATCH, WILLIAMS BACK IN MIX

This is the fourth in a seven-part series previewing the NFL draft. Today's installment looks at wide receivers.

With pass defense rules favoring them and offenses featuring them, playmaking wide receivers are in greater demand than ever.

Michigan's Braylon Edwards and Southern California's Mike Williams are considered the best in another talent-rich draft class, which also includes South Carolina's Troy Williamson, Oklahoma's Mark Clayton and Alabama-Birmingham's Roddy White.

"I think the wide receiver group is going to be deep," said Tennessee Titans General Manager Floyd Reese. "I think there is a good-looking group of guys that have size and can catch the ball."

Edwards combines great size (6-foot-3, 211 pounds), speed (4.45 in the 40-yard dash) and ball skills to make difficult catches. He won the Biletnikoff Award in 2004 as the nation's top receiver after catching 97 passes for 1,330 yards (both school records) and 15 touchdowns. He's the first Big Ten player with three straight 1,000-yard receiving seasons.

"I believe the NFL will be another stomping ground for me to showcase my talents and move among the elite," said Edwards, whose father, former Michigan running back Stan Edwards, was drafted by the Houston Oilers in 1982 and also played for Detroit during a six-year career.

"The thing about it is, even though you're in the NFL now, you can't get caught up in the hype. You have to still prepare like you were that guy in college. That's how I'm going to approach it. I believe that guys who are successful look at it that way. They look at it as a business. They look at it as a chance to be great."

Williams tried turning pro last year when Ohio State's Maurice Clarett challenged the NFL's ban on true freshmen and sophomores. But a federal judge overturned a lower court ruling that put them in the draft. Then the NCAA refused to restore Williams' college eligibility.

Williams may lack experience, but he was arguably the dominant receiver in college football with 176 receptions (95 in 2003) for 2,579 yards and 30 touchdowns in two seasons at USC.

While lacking top-end speed (4.58 seconds in the 40), Williams is a matchup nightmare at 6-5 and 229 pounds. He's blessed with great hands, body control and separates from defenders by getting in and out of his breaks quickly.

"In college, he was really unique," said first-year Titans offensive coordinator Norm Chow, who held the same role at USC. "The college game was really too easy for him. It really was. I think he'll be very successful (in the NFL). He's big, he's strong, he's talented. He likes to play, he likes to win and he understands how to play the game."

Williams has been compared athletically to Randy Moss. Minnesota could make Williams the seventh overall pick to replace Moss, who was traded to Oakland.

"When I met with (Minnesota) coach (Mike) Tice (at the combine), he brought that up," Williams said. "I told him I wouldn't be trying to fill Randy Moss' shoes. Those shoes are cut to his feet. I'll bring my own pair, my own attitude, my own playing style and my own demeanor.

"The comparisons are inevitable. You're going to get them regardless of what team you go to and what you do. But you've still got to put in your work and establish yourself on a team."

Williamson and White are big-play threats with size and explosive speed. Clayton (5-10, 193) is a bit undersized, but he's a gifted runner after the catch.

Scouts aren't sure if former Arkansas quarterback Matt Jones is a better fit at wide receiver or tight end/H-back. But the 6-6, 242-pounder's remarkable display of physical skills (4.4-second 40, soft hands, 39-inch vertical leap) in postseason workouts has made him a likely first-round selection.

Another ex-quarterback, West Virginia's Rasheed Marshall, would be an intriguing late-round possibility for the Buffalo Bills. Marshall has the athleticism to be the slash-type player coach Mike Mularkey worked with in Pittsburgh.

Virginia All-American Heath Miller is the best tight end in the draft. The 6-5, 256-pound junior has soft hands and a feel for beating coverages. A sports hernia has prevented him from working out for teams this spring.
NEXT: Defensive line.

e-mail: awilson@buffnews.com