This is the seventh in a nine-part series previewing the NFL Draft on April 30-May 2. Today’s installment: Wide receivers
News Sports reporter
The influx of talented wide receivers entering the NFL shows no signs of slowing down.
A year after 33 receivers were selected in the 2014 NFL Draft, at least that many could hear their names called next weekend.
“Elite” is how NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock described the talent available this year. “Really good at the top end and depth throughout. ... It’s the deepest position in the draft.”
There were five wide receivers taken in the first round in 2014, and that number could be matched or exceeded this year. Alabama’s Amari Cooper and West Virginia’s Kevin White are competing to be the top wideout taken, and both should be gone within the top 10 picks.
“I still have Cooper as the higher-rated player,” ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. said recently on a conference call. “It doesn’t mean Kevin White won’t be a great player. I do think Cooper has a better chance to come in right away because he’s a great route runner ... but I think White’s going to have a great career.”
Cooper finished with 228 catches for 3,463 yards and 31 touchdowns in three years with the Crimson Tide, setting a Southeastern Conference record with 124 catches, 1,727 yards and 16 touchdowns in 2014. White, meanwhile, made 109 catches for 1,447 yards and 10 touchdowns with the Mountaineers last season.
While draft analysts make a living comparing players, Cooper said he’s never done that.
“I don’t really watch much of those other guys, but from what I’ve heard, they’re really great receivers,” he said of the 2015 class. “I just go out there and try to work as hard as I can to be the best that I can.”
White is a 6-foot-3, 214-pound junior college transfer who exploded in 2014. He started the year with a school-record seven consecutive 100-yard games. That came after a junior season in which he had just 35 catches.
“My junior year I put bad film out there,” White said. “That’s not the kind of receiver, the kind of player I am. Going into my senior year, I just put everything on the line and did what I had to do.”
“You don’t have to love one and not like the other. Love them both,” Kiper said. “It’s just that I would separate the two by: Cooper’s had three years of production, not one like Kevin White. ... They’re both going to go high.”
Scouts Inc. also gives Louisville’s DeVante Parker, Central Florida’s Breshad Perriman, Arizona State’s Jaelen Strong and Southern California’s Nelson Agholor top-30 grades, which would land them in the first round.
“You could really say there’s nine or 10 that could be considered in the first round,” said ESPN Monday Night Football analyst Jon Gruden. “Phillip Dorsett at Miami has T.Y. Hilton-like qualities. Devin Smith at Ohio State. ... I think Devin Funchess at Michigan is going to be a real gem for some creative offensive coach. There’s just so many that are in this draft. ... You can get a really good receiver this year in the second or third round, no question.”
Perriman didn’t run the 40-yard dash at the NFL Scouting Combine because of a hamstring injury, but turned heads late last month when he clocked a time in the range of 4.2 seconds at UCF’s pro day. One scout even had it at 4.15 seconds.
“I’ve said all along he would be a first-round pick,” Kiper said.
Perriman’s time made Dorsett’s 4.33, which was the second fastest at the combine, look pedestrian.
“And Dorsett, the wide receiver – is there a faster, more dynamic player in the draft?” Gruden asked. “I mean, this kid can fly.”
Parker missed the first seven games of his senior season but still finished with 855 yards and five touchdowns in just six games. He tied the Louisville program record with 33 career touchdown receptions.
“I’m a big, physical kind of player,” Parker said. “I go up and get the ball. I go in the middle.”
The knock on Strong – if it is one – is that he doesn’t have any elite traits. But at 6-2, 217 and a 4.44 40, he’s got the size-and-speed combination necessary to play in the NFL.
“I knew I had the chance to play at this level if I just put my mind to it and worked hard enough,” he said. “I’m going to work hard every day. The thing about me is I haven’t reached my peak yet. I know I have a lot of coaching left in me. I’m going to bring it every day. I’m a quick learner, eager to get out there and compete.”
The wild card in the receiver class is Oklahoma’s Dorial Green-Beckham. He didn’t play a down for the Sooners after transferring from Missouri. He was kicked out of Mizzou for a series of off-field issues, including one allegation of domestic abuse.
On physical ability alone, Green-Beckham may be the most talented receiver in the class, but his character concerns are likely to drop him out of the first round.
“All the decisions I’ve made, I wish I could take it back,” Green-Beckham said. “It happened. I was young. I made mistakes. I understand that. I just want to focus on one thing and just look forward to just this draft and being the best I can be.”
Notable day-three receivers include Maryland’s Stefon Diggs, Central Michigan’s Titus Davis and Notre Dame’s DaVaris Daniels. In its pre-draft rankings, CBS Sports has 43 receivers with draftable grades.
“There’s not a doubt in our minds that we can do the same thing as last year’s draft class,” White said.