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NFL draft preview: Embarrassment of riches at receiver

This is the first in a series of stories previewing the NFL draft from the Bills' perspective. Today, we look at wide receivers.

One word has been commonly used to describe the crop of wide receivers eligible for this year’s NFL draft: historic.

There will be receivers to be found in every round when the draft kicks off April 23.

“It’s the depth,” ESPN draft guru Mel Kiper Jr. said on a conference call last week about what makes this year’s class so special. “We have 30 to 35 receivers with second- or third-round grades. There are going to be some fifth-round receivers out of this group, and you’re going to see some really good players drop to points you never thought was possible. … You’re going to get guys coming in that aren’t even drafted that will make teams at wide receiver this year.”

Kiper has seven wide receivers being taken in the first round in his most recent mock draft. If that happens, that would match the record set in 2004 for receivers chosen in the first round. Last year, just two receivers were chosen in the first 32 picks.

Of course, with so much talent at the position, it’s possible that teams elect to wait, with the thinking being that they’ll be able to find a receiver later in the draft.

“I've got 27 wide receivers with top 3-round grades in this draft,” NFL Network draft analyst Daniel Jeremiah said. “Consider (an) average 31 are taken. … So this is a really phenomenal group of wideouts. Not all those guys are going to go early. They'll end up spreading throughout the draft. But it's really a good group."

The most recent comparison for this year’s class of receivers is the 2014 draft. That year, five wide receivers went in the first round, headlined by the Bills trading up to draft Clemson’s Sammy Watkins fourth overall. Mike Evans, Odell Beckham Jr., Brandin Cooks and Kelvin Benjamin followed as first-round picks, while Davante Adams, Allen Robinson, Jarvis Landry and John Brown were notable second- or third-round selections.

In 1996, future Pro Football Hall of Fame selections Terrell Owens and Marvin Harrison were first-round picks. Before that, Michael Irvin and Tim Brown were taken in 1988. Whether any of the wide receivers taken this year end up in Canton won’t be known for a while, but even making those comparisons show the hype this year’s group of receivers has generated.

Overall position ranking: 10 of 10.

Bills view: One trade drastically altered the positional outlook for the Bills. By sending the team’s first-round draft pick to the Minnesota Vikings in exchange for wide receiver Stefon Diggs, Bills General Manager Brandon Beane opted to go for the sure thing. Before the trade, wide receiver had been arguably the Bills’ biggest need. Instead of taking a player with the No. 22 overall pick in hopes that player would develop into someone like Diggs, Beane opted to … simply go get Diggs. Even so, a receiver shouldn’t be entirely out of the question for the Bills.

Beane acknowledged the depth of the position at the NFL scouting combine, telling reporters “this is a deep receiver draft. I think I can say that now. I feel more comfortable about that now. I was asked about it at the Senior Bowl and still was doing some recon on these guys. One of the last things left is the medical on some of these guys and make sure they medically check out. If that happens, I think it will be a very deep position – probably the deepest in the draft.”

Diggs, John Brown and Cole Beasley make up a solid top three receivers for the Bills. Isaiah McKenzie, Duke Williams, Robert Foster and Andre Roberts all return from last year’s 53-man roster as well. Ray-Ray McCloud and Nick Easley, both of whom ended last season on the practice squad, also are on the offseason roster.

The Bills didn’t draft a receiver last year. That should change next month. Beane can wait until the third day of the draft and still find a player capable of making the active roster.

Bills’ need ranking: 4 of 10.

The best: Jerry Jeudy, Alabama. It’s been a three-man race between Jeudy, his Crimson Tide teammate Henry Ruggs III and Oklahoma’s CeeDee Lamb for the top spot among receivers. Jeudy, 6-foot-1 and 190 pounds, had 77 catches for 1,163 yards and 10 touchdowns in 2019 – and that was considered a bit of a down season after he had 68 catches for 1,315 yards and 14 touchdowns as a sophomore in 2019. Jeudy isn’t the biggest or fastest receiver in the class, but he’s got one trait in particular that sets him apart from the rest.

“Jerry Jeudy’s a lot of fun to watch. I think he’s the best wide receiver in the country. I think he should be the first wide receiver taken and I think he’s one of the best five players in the entire draft,” ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay said. “He’s the best route runner that I’ve ever evaluated in 20 years of doing this. He’s the best college route runner I’ve ever seen.”

The sleeper: Malcolm Perry, Navy. It would take a good bit of projection by a team, but Perry had massive production in college. He’s making a position switch after winning the American Athletic Conference Offensive Player of the Year award. Perry started 13 games at quarterback in 2019, but went just 48 of 86 passing for 1,084 yards, seven touchdowns and three interceptions. Most of his damage was done on the ground, as he rushed 295 times for 2,017 yards (second in the nation) and 21 touchdowns (tied for third in the nation).

All in the family: It would be unusual enough for one wide receiver from Rhode Island to be considered a draft prospect. This year there are two of them. They just so happen to be from the same family.

Rams receivers Isaiah Coulter and Aaron Parker are cousins. They grew up together in Maryland and attended the same high school. Coulter, who is a year behind Parker, followed his older cousin to Rhode Island.

Hall of Fame executive Gil Brandt had high praise for Coulter following the scouting combine.

“He’s a guy we’re gonna be asking about a year from now, ‘Where’d he come from? Why’d we miss on him?’ ... I like these guys who come from a school like Rhode Island with something to prove,” Brandt said.

Rhode Island hasn’t had a player drafted into the NFL since center Bob White was a seventh-round pick of the New York Jets in 1986.

NFL DRAFT TOP 10 WIDE RECEIVERS

Jerry Jeudy*, Alabama, 6-1, 193.
CeeDee Lamb*, Oklahoma, 6-2, 198.
Henry Ruggs III*, Alabama, 5-11, 188.
Justin Jefferson*, LSU, 6-1, 202.
Tee Higgins*,  Clemson, 6-4, 216.
Laviska Shenault Jr.*, Colorado, 6-1, 227.
Denzel Mims, Baylor, 6-3, 207.
Brandon Aiyuk, Arizona State, 6-0, 205.
Jalen Reagor*, TCU, 5-11, 206.
KJ Hamler*, Penn State, 5-9, 178.

*-underclassman

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