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Georgia Tech's Johnson should be quite the catch

This is the third in a series of stories on players eligible for the April 28 NFL draft. Today's story deals with wide receivers.

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Georgia Tech wide receiver Calvin Johnson has been described as a cross between Terrell Owens and Randy Moss.

At 6-foot-5 and 239 pounds, he has the size of Owens, Dallas' dominating receiver. Yet he runs a time of 4.35 seconds in the 40-yard dash, which is every bit as fast as Oakland's Moss.

Even better news for NFL scouts: He's not even close to being as much of a diva as Owens or Moss. He was known at Georgia Tech as a hard-working, no-nonsense player who did not complain.

"Obviously, this year a lot has been made of Randy Moss and T.O.," Johnson told reporters at the scouting combine workouts in Indianapolis. "But my character on the field is more like Marvin Harrison. I'm just trying to get the job done. I'm more like Marvin Harrison with the attitude."

One of the top four teams in the NFL draft is expected to take this sounds-too-good-to-be-true package.

Johnson might be the best overall player available in the draft, and he's definitely the best of a strong class of receivers.

"The talent level is exceptional at the position," Tennessee coach Jeff Fisher said. "That's one position, as we've seen over the last few years, where you can get immediate contributions."

Only one receiver was drafted in the first round last year. That was an aberration. The average over the past 10 years is four first-round wideouts a year. This year, four or five receivers are expected to be taken in the first round.

Johnson's status was solidified at the combine in late February. He had been planning to wait until his on-campus workout to run for NFL scouts, but he changed his mind at the last minute. Using a pair of borrowed running shoes, he blazed a time just a shade faster than that of the Bills' Lee Evans, who weighs 40 pounds less.

The other probable first-round receivers include Tennessee's Robert Meachem, Southern Cal's Dwayne Jarrett, Louisiana State's Dwayne Bowe and Ohio State's Ted Ginn Jr.

Meachem is another big receiver who ran 4.39 in the 40. He had a breakout year as a junior for the Vols and looks like a great fit in a West Coast offense.

Jarrett, at 6-4 and 219, is an interesting prospect. He set a Pacific 10 Conference career record with 41 touchdown catches. He averaged a TD every 5.2 receptions over three seasons. He killed Michigan in the Rose Bowl with 205 yards and two TDs. But pure speed is not his strength, which prompts unpleasant comparisons with Southern Cal grad Mike Williams, a big college star who has bombed so far in Detroit. Jarrett ran only 4.62 and 4.67 in the 40 in his on-campus workout. Jarrett, however, doesn't carry as much weight as Williams (235).

Bowe didn't run that well at the combine (he was timed between 4.5 and 4.61) but did better on campus (4.49 and 4.40 in two tries). He's a long strider who's not as quick as Meachem. He became a more consistent pass catcher last fall and had a strong Senior Bowl.

Some teams may have Ginn No. 2 on their list, depending on what they need. He had six returns for TDs in his three-year career, including on the opening kickoff of the national title game against Florida. Some teams, however, will view Ginn as a luxury pick because he's a slot receiver, not an outside guy. He has not shown willingness to go over the middle. On the plus side, his hands measure 10 inches across, one-quarter inch bigger than Johnson's, even though Ginn is only 5-11.

South Carolina's Sidney Rice is turning pro as a redshirt sophomore. He's got great size, great hands and athleticism. With a time of 4.51, he doesn't have the explosive deep speed but some have compared him with a raw Plaxico Burress.

Steve Smith was in Jarrett's shadow as Southern Cal's possession receiver but helped himself with a 40 time of 4.45. He's good after the catch and could creep into the first round. Washington State's Jason Hill averaged 18.3 yards a catch and ran 4.32. Fresno State's Paul Williams, the youngest brother of former Bills cornerback J.D. Williams, should be a mid-round pick.

This is a poor year for tight ends. After Miami's Greg Olsen, a sure first-rounder, there's a big drop in talent.

NEXT: Offensive line.

e-mail: mgaughan@buffnews.com

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