On the heels of a very good—and immediately impactful—wide receiver class, the 2015 NFL Draft is set to produce another talented and extremely deep collection of NFL-ready pass catchers. Here’s a quick pre-draft look at the top end of the 2015 wide receiver class, with selected quotes from both the “Pros” and “Cons” sections of the player profiles in the USA Today Sports 2015 NFL Draft Preview.
AMANI COOPER, WR, ALABAMA – 6-1, 211
Ultra productive receiver for one of the nation’s elite college programs in the toughest college conference, Cooper is a complete receiver who understands the position like a veteran. He’s a polished route runner who gets in and out of breaks quickly, catches everything, and is a playmaker with the ball in his hands. While the only quibble on Cooper is that he lacks the elite physical traits NFL clubs want in a WR1, he plays taller than he measures and has sneaky speed that allows him to gain separation against any type of coverage. He’ll be an immediate impact player in the NFL.
NFL Comparisons: Scouts see a slightly smaller version of Julio Jones, with traits of Hall of Fame-caliber pass catchers like Torry Holt and Marvin Harrison. That’s pretty good company.
From the USA Today Sports NFL Draft Preview: “Shows the ability to be a No. 1 option at the NFL level with his natural ability to get open and catch the ball, while also showing impressive playmaking ability after the catch. Doesn’t have elite size or build.”
KEVIN WHITE, WR, WEST VIRGINIA – 6-3, 215
After two unexceptional seasons of junior college and a nondescript junior season, White blew up last year. Then he topped that production with a blazing 4.35 40 and 23 reps on the bench press at the Combine, elevating himself to the upper echelon of this receiver class. He has ideal size and excellent hands, creates separation and wins contested balls, and is a play-maker after the catch. His route-running lacks polish, but the hope is that he is just scratching the surface of his considerable talent.
NFL Comparisons: White has all the physical traits of Larry Fitzgerald, Julio Jones, or DeAndre Hopkins, which is why he’s being considered alongside Amari Cooper to be the first wide receiver off the board.
From the USA Today Sports NFL Draft Preview: “Has a large catching radius, reliable hands, and the ability to make the difficult catch. Route running will need polish for the next level.”
DeVANTE PARKER, WR, LOUISVILLE – 6-3, 209
Parker is consistently running third in the race to the top of the WR draft board, but he’s hardly a consolation prize. He has the same elite size as Kevin White, though he needs to get stronger. He has soft hands, great concentration, and long arms that allow him to play even bigger than he is—consistently high-pointing the ball. Parker isn’t a pure burner, taking time to ramp up to top speed, and he’s not a particularly effective or willing downfield blocker. The biggest concern for NFL teams might be the broken foot that cost him half of his final college season.
NFL Comparisons: His ability to create separation vertically when unable to do so elsewhere and win battles for contested balls sounds a lot like Alshon Jeffery. Other scouts have drawn comparisons to A.J. Green and Jordy Nelson, though he doesn’t adjust to the ball on deep routes as well as either of those Pro Bowlers. Another common comparison is Hakeem Nicks—presumably the early-career Nicks.
From the USA Today Sports NFL Draft Preview: “Excellent ball tracking and ability to catch contested passes make up for lack of elite separation. Good, not great against man coverage.”
DORIAL GREEN-BECKHAM, WR, OKLAHOMA/MISSOURI – 6-5, 237
If the NFL draft were all about sheer talent and raw ability, DGB would be the first overall pick. He has a rare height/weight/speed combination for the position, excellent hands and body control, and when he’s been on the field he’s been a playmaker. Unfortunately for Green-Beckham, he hasn’t actually played a football game since 2013 and has a checkered past that includes two suspensions, an arrest, and an array of sticky situations the league won’t look kindly on should they happen again when DGB is in their employ. In part because he was ineligible to play last season after leaving Missouri for Oklahoma, DGB remains a raw route runner; worse, he hasn’t demonstrated particularly good instincts nor has he taken well to coaching. He has the pure physical ability to succeed at the NFL level, but more often than not that trick doesn’t work nearly as well as it did in college. Bottom line, Green-Beckham is the quintessential boom or bust pick.
NFL Comparisons: Initially the DGB comparison was to Randy Moss, on multiple levels. Then there were some Calvin Johnson comparisons given Green-Beckham’s freakish size and speed. And of course there were Josh Gordon comparisons, perhaps more for his off-the-field work than his on-the-field gameUltimately, the most common comparison among scouts is Justin Hunter, another athletic standout but one who has yet to consistently tap into his skills
From the USA Today Sports NFL Draft Preview: “Talent wise, may be near or even at the top of the list among receivers. Has had a series of issues off the field. Has not played in a game since the 2013 season.”
JAELEN STRONG, WR, ARIZONA STATE – 6-2, 217
Another top-tier receiver with good size, Strong is a physical pass-catcher with long arms and strong hands. The former basketball player uses his body effectively to seal off defenders, and his 42-inch vertical helps him win contested balls. Strong doesn’t have elite wheels and takes time to ramp up to top speed, and he needs to improve his route-running to consistently separate at the NFL level. But the tools are all there, a somewhat overlooked gem buried in a deep wide receiver draft class.
NFL Comparisons: There is plenty of Anquan Boldin in Strong’s makeup; he’s also drawn comparisons to Dwayne Bowe, Marques Colston, Rueben Randle and Michael Crabtree—in essence, any receiver with good size who’s dinged for a lack of top-end speed.
From the USA Today Sports NFL Draft Preview: “Has elite upside with his combination of size, strength, speed, and ball skills. Doesn’t show the elusive ability to miss tacklers with the ball in his hands.”
BRESHAD PERRIMAN, WR, CENTRAL FLORIDA – 6-2, 212
Prior to blowing up on his pro day Perriman was considered a raw developmental prospect likely to go in the third or fourth round. After Perriman clocked a reported 4.22 40, it became a whole lot easier to overlook just how raw Perriman still is; he’s now being mentioned as a potential late first-rounder. No question Permian is a physical specimen, with a mouthwatering size/speed combo, quick acceleration, explosive hops, and a second gear that leaves defenders in the dust. But he still has work to do on his routes, lacks ball skills, and is prone to concentration lapses. If it all comes together Perriman has the tools to be a star, but it may take a couple seasons before that happens—if at all.
NFL Comparisons: At his best, Perriman resembles Dez Bryant; he also resembles Kenny Britt and Stephen Hill, who have yet to live up to their considerable potential. And we’d be remiss if we didn’t also compare him to former Lions wideout Brett Perriman, who happens to be Breshad’s dad.
From the USA Today Sports NFL Draft Preview: “Tall, thick and physical with big hands and long arms. His mind doesn’t play as fast as his body.”
DEVIN FUNCHESS, WR/TE, MICHIGAN – 6-4, 232
After two seasons as a tight end, including 2013 when he was shaping up to be the next Jimmy Graham, Funchess moved to wide receiver and was mostly disappointing last year. He’s a physical mismatch for most defenders regardless of where he’s lining up as well as an explosive athlete for his size. However, he’s a raw route runner without a true position—not fast enough to separate from defensive backs, not big or strong enough to be a typical in-line tight end. Despite enormous strong hands Funchess has been prone to drops, indicating a lack of focus. Fantasy-wise his upside is as a tight end, but he’ll need the right situation—not to mention a league management software that qualifies him at TE—to make an impact.
NFL Comparisons: As a tight end his game resembles Gavin Escobar, presumably without Jason Witten blocking his path to playing time. As a wide receiver the frequent comparison is Greg Little, which hardly bodes well for his upside at that position.
From the USA Today Sports NFL Draft Preview: “Huge target who can make plays after the catch. Lacks the ability to quickly create separation on his own. Does the minimal amount of blocking required.”
NELSON AGHOLOR, WR, USC – 6-0, 198
The latest in a seemingly endless line of Trojan receivers, Agholor improved each of his seasons at USC and enters the league with an innate understanding of the position. He’s an excellent athlete with good body control and natural hands, explosive off the line and an intelligent and instinctive route runner. Agholor plays bigger than his listed size, which could save him from being pigeonholed as “just” a slot receiver. He does get dinged for average top-end speed and being slightly undersized for the prototypical NFL outside receiver. Agholor has the ability to make an immediate NFL impact in the return game.
NFL Comparisons: Agholor fits the mold of many USC receivers, ranging from Steve Smith to Robert Woods to Marqise Lee. Trojan receivers always tend to come out of college polished, and Algholor is no exception, but he’ll need to outperform many of his fellow alums to be a true fantasy factor.
From the USA Today Sports NFL Draft Preview: “Explosive route runner, gets in and out of breaks with speed. Lacks the size and length you want out of an outside receiver.”
SAMMIE COATES, WR, AUBURN – 6-1, 212
Throw Coates into the same pile as Dorial Green-Beckham and Breshad Perriman: guys with all the physical tools to be elite NFL receivers but limited evidence that they’ll ever reach that point. Coates has that mouthwatering size/speed combo platter, packaged with good acceleration and the elite speed to take the top off a defense. However, he’s not a natural pass catcher and worse is prone to concentration drops. He’s also an inexperienced route runner with limited ball skills. In short, his production has yet to match his speed and athleticism. If and when the two intersect, Coates has tremendous upside; until then, he’s just another “what if”.
NFL Comparisons: The upside to Coates is a big target who learns to play the receiver position at the NFL level, a la Martavis Bryant or Demaryius Thomas. The other side of the equation is just another size/speed guy who never translated that skill set to the NFL, like Darius Hayward-Bey or Stephen Hill.
From the USA Today Sports NFL Draft Preview: “Rare blend of size and speed, a threat to score every time he touches the ball. Very raw and undeveloped. Inconsistent hands and drops too many balls.”
DEVIN SMITH, WR, OHIO STATE – 6-0, 196
Smith only does one thing, but he does that one thing—goes deep—extremely well. Check out the 28 yards per catch Smith averaged last season as the nation’s top deep threat. He has elite speed, accelerates quickly, and engages a top gear that leaves defenders in the dust. Smith also put his speed to excellent use as one of the top punt coverage gunners in the country. As far as the rest of his game… hey, did we mention Smith is really fast? Despite having good size and the aforementioned wheels Smith is not a particularly adept route runner, and he lacks natural hands. Nonetheless, even if all he does in the NFL is goes deep he could still carve out value.
NFL Comparisons: The league is full of fast receivers—DeSean Jackson, Torrey Smith, Santonio Holmes, Mike Wallace—whose games are similar to Smith’s, but it remains to be seen if he can develop enough of a complementary game to produce at the level of the top guys in that group.
From the USA Today Sports NFL Draft Preview: “One of the fastest players in the country and should be considered a top-tier deep threat. Doesn’t make much of an impact other than running deep routes.”
CHRIS CONLEY, WR, GEORGIA – 6-2, 213
Your 2015 Workout Warrior award winner, you can’t even find Conley in some receiver rankings that were published without fully digesting the NFL Scouting Combine. But something about flashing outstanding athleticism—including some marks that weren’t just position toppers but among the best ever recorded at the Combine—pushed Conley onto the radar after a college career of average production in a run-first offense. He’s a smooth route runner with good size and hands (though he looked a bit shaky catching the ball at the Combine), but he’s more of a possession guy than a deep threat and not much of a run-after-catch guy either. What Conley does have, in addition to the aforementioned athleticism, is a boatload of intangibles like toughness, drive, and locker room presence.
NFL Comparisons: Conley’s resume bears more than a passing resemblance to those of Cody Latimer, Donte Moncrief, and (going back a few years) Chris Chambers. The latter was a contributor, the former are still looking for an opportunity, and the expectation is that Conley will find himself in a similar boat this season.
From the USA Today Sports NFL Draft Preview: Conley was not ranked among the top 30 wide receiver prospects and did not receive a writeup.
TYLER LOCKETT, WR, KANSAS STATE – 5-9, 180
The only sub-six foot receiver on this list, Lockett represents the undersized segment of this draft class—a group that also includes Phillip Dorsett, Jamison Crowder, and Antwan Goodley. Yes, Lockett’s size or lack thereof likely limits him to slot duties, but he’s an intelligent, nuanced route runner with speed, quickness, and ball skills who can take that role where the likes of Wes Welker and Julian Edelman have taken it. Lockett also plays larger than his size and was surprisingly effective in outmuscling defensive backs for contested balls in college… so we’re sayin’ there’s a chance. Even if Lockett does get stuck as a third/slot receiver, his top-tier return skills will get him on the field sooner immediately.
NFL Comparisons: Lockett’s skill set is reminiscent of John Brown or Jarius Wright, with the upside of a TY Hilton or Randall Cobb. Add in some special teams scores and you’ve got yourself a quality football player.
From the USA Today Sports NFL Draft Preview: “Explosive athlete who can change direction and reach elite level of speed in a blink. Lacks the size and strength to mix it up with NFL defenders.”