NFL scouts are going to have to earn their money ranking the wide receivers on their draft boards this year.
There is a long line of big receivers ready to enter the NFL. Most of them, however, have incomplete resumes.
"There are a lot of question marks after the first four wide receivers," said NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock. "There are a lot of big wide receivers who will need to run well to help their status."
The Buffalo Bills could be in the market for a rookie wideout in the second to fifth rounds, even if they can close a deal to re-sign impending free agent Stevie Johnson.
Last year's draft class was filled with big wideouts. Twelve of the 16 receivers picked in the first four rounds were 6-foot or better. This year there could be 15 wideouts 6-foot or better taken in the first four rounds, and 13 of those 15 are 6-2 or taller.
"They get prettier every year, bigger and faster and long arms," said Bills General Manager Buddy Nix. "The wide receiver group is deep."
The top four are Oklahoma State's Justin Blackmon, Baylor's Kendall Wright, Notre Dame's Michael Floyd and Louisiana State's Rueben Randle.
Check out the sizes of receivers who rate as potential second- and third-rounders: South Carolina's Alshon Jeffery (6-3, 216), Georgia Tech's Stephen Hill (6-4, 215), Wisconsin's Nick Toon (6-2, 220), Rutgers' Mohamed Sanu (6-2, 215), Arizona's Juron Criner (6-3, 224), North Carolina's Dwight Jones (6-3, 226), Appalachian State's Brian Quick (6-4, 222), and Miami of Florida's Tommy Streeter (6-4, 215).
Jeffrey is a perfect example of how the big wideouts come with some reservations. After he put up a huge sophomore season in 2010 (88 catches, 1,517 yards), he was viewed as a sure-fire first-rounder. He had a good but not great junior season last fall (49 catches, 762 yards).
"Alshon Jeffrey does not separate," said NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock. "He struggles getting off the line of scrimmage against quality press corners. Same with Mohammed Sanu. He needs to run somewhere in the mid 4.5s. You start seeing in the 4.6s and that's a problem. Big and fast is good. Big and slow is bad."
Giants General Manager Jerry Reese offers the upside on guys like Jeffery: "There are some receivers in this draft who are big and I don't think they'll run that great, but they can still take balls off people because they're so big and long."
So it goes with a lot of them. Toon is big, smart and has great bloodlines (he's the son of former Jets star Al Toon). But his durability is a question. Hill ran a blazing 4.36 time in the 40-yard dash Sunday. But he caught only 28 passes as a junior last fall. Criner had 209 catches and 35 touchdowns in four years at Arizona, but he played in a pass-happy spread offense. Quick has it all as an athlete but played against marginal competition. Streeter is a one-year wonder.
Underwhelming 40 times were run Sunday by Wright (4.61), Sanu (4.67) and Criner (4.68). Blackmon and Jeffrey did not run.
The 40 times get a ton of publicity in February and March but can easily be overrated.
"If you look at the most productive receivers in the NFL, they're guys that run somewhere between 4.48 and 4.55, in that range," Nix said. "They're not guys that are 4.32. Every now and then there's a Mike Wallace (Pittsburgh's Pro Bowl speedster). But you've got to have guys that know how to run routes and get open. Look at Steve (Johnson). He's just got a knack for separating from a defender."
"We put a little bit of stock into it; we're not going to say we don't," said San Francisco General Manager Trent Baalke. "But we're not going to over-evaluate the 40 time. There are going to be those guys who come here and run in the upper 4.3s and lower 4.4s, and you're going to turn on the film and you don't see it. They're going to be 4.6 guys all day long in pads. Once again, there's the mentality of do you buy into the watch or do you buy into the film? I hope that we continue to buy into the film."
Here were the other times of the big wideouts: Floyd 4.47, Randle 4.55, Jones 4.55, Streeter 4.40, Toon, 4.54, Jones 4.55, Iowa's Marvin McNutt 4.42, Ohio State's Devier Posey 4.50.