On the heels of an elite crop of receivers coming out of the 2014 NFL Draft, last year’s class was largely disappointing from an initial productivity perspective. The current group presents an opportunity for a bounce-back—no Megatron-level franchise targets but a deep group of highly skilled pass catchers ready to make their mark. Here’s a pre-draft rundown of the upper echelon of this year’s wide receiver draft class.
As an added bonus, we’ve included a quote for each player from DraftWire, extended NFL draft coverage from our parent company, USA Today Sports.
LAQUON TREADWELL, WR, OLE MISS - 6-2, 221
Generally considered the top receiver in this class, Treadwell has everything you want in an NFL wide receiver. He has the requisite size, strong hands, wins contested catches, and is a threat after the catch as well. Scouts also praise his strong work ethic and high football IQ. However, a 40 time in the 4.6 range drops him down some draft boards; moreover, his lack of elite speed is evident not only on the deep ball but also in and out of his cuts. Like most collegiate receivers his route-running needs some polish, but aside from the lack of deep speed Treadwell fills in every box on the WR1 checklist
NFL Comparisons: The least favorable comparison among Treadwell’s many scouting reports is Kenny Britt, who has flashed at times but mostly been plagued by injury and bad quarterbacking. The most common comparisons are Dez Bryant and Brandon Marshall, competitive receivers who won’t necessarily take the top off a defense but use their body to get open and have posted wildly productive NFL careers.
From USA Today DraftWire: “The rare blend of size, speed, strength, and aggression that so few NFL receivers possess. Even more impressive is how BIG he plays the game.”
JOSH DOCTSON, WR, TCU - 6-2, 202
The biggest selling point for Doctson is his ability to win the contested catch. With an elite catch radius, outstanding athleticism (the top SPARQ score at this year’s NFL Combine) and strong, reliable hands, Doctson is a quarterback’s dream with the ability to go up and get off-target throws and separate himself vertically in the red zone. He’ll need to bulk up without losing quickness to have similar success at the NFL level, and analysts ding him for being old (23) for a rookie and for failing to progress as a receiver over his time at TCU. But his rare ability to get open—via football IQ if not necessarily route running, and vertically if necessary—and come down with the ball put him at or near the top of this year’s crop of wideouts.
NFL Comparisons: Perhaps the most enticing pro comparison for Doctson is Allen Robinson, last year’s breakout receiver in Jacksonville. Doctson’s game has also drawn comparisons to the likes of Brandin Cooks, Terrance Williams, Marvin Jones and Miles Austin—not necessarily franchise receivers, but pro pass catchers who have flashed the ability to be productive NFL wide receivers.
From USA Today DraftWire: “Great focus, catch radius, and hand strength to make high degree of difficulty plays for his quarterback. Question marks surrounding his route-running, deep speed, and explosiveness could easily drop the talented receiver into the second round.”
MICHAEL THOMAS, WR, OHIO STATE - 6-3, 212
Thomas has the size, speed, and bloodlines—he’s the nephew of former NFL wideout Keyshawn Johnson—that makes NFL scouts drool. He’s also an elite route-runner, a craft he’s worked hard to develop after initially struggling to pick up the Ohio State offense. Thomas’ smoothness masks his speed, and he’s as good after the catch as he is running his routes. Despite his frame and athleticism he has not yet demonstrated the expected catch radius, nor does he adjust well to off-target throws; as a result, he doesn’t win many contested balls. Somewhat underused in the Buckeye’s run-first offense, Thomas is still developing—and his best football may lie ahead of him.
NFL Comparisons: The common comparison for Thomas is Michael Crabtree, who was equally smooth coming out of college and, when healthy, has translated those skills to the NFL. Thomas’ game also resembles that of Keenan Allen and, in a slightly less favorable vein, Mohamed Sanu and Charles Johnson.
From USA Today DraftWire: “An abundance of physical gifts, as well as the positional refinement to consistently defeat man and zone coverage. There just aren’t many weaknesses to Thomas’ well-oiled skill set.”
STERLING SHEPARD, WR, OKLAHOMA - 5-10, 194
There is virtually nothing not to love about Shepard’s game. He augments his athleticism, quickness and agility with football smarts and crisp routes, then seals the deal with outstanding hands. He reads defenses well and despite his lack of stature isn’t afraid to mix it up, be it run blocking or going across the middle. However, he’s about four inches shorter and 20 pounds lighter than the prototypical NFL wideout, meaning he may be limited to working out of the slot. Then again, in today’s NFL being one of the best slot receivers in the league means he’d be on the field more than enough to make a significant impact.
NFL Comparisons: Some scouts view Shepard along the same lines as Seattle’s Tyler Lockett, noting he’s not as good in the return game but already a better receiver. Derrick Mason was also mentioned, and while “little man playing big” sounds a lot like Steve Smith (Carolina/Baltimore version), scouts peg his game as more akin to that of Steve Smith (USC/New York Giants version).
From USA Today DraftWire: “Shows all the traits and tendencies to overcome his physical deficiencies. Don’t want him as the only anchor in a passing game, but in a balanced attack Shepard’s production can reach Pro Bowl levels early on in his career.”
COREY COLEMAN, WR, BAYLOR - 5-11, 194
Coleman’s 4.37 40 at his Pro Day confirmed his speed, not that there was much question. He also brings solid hands, YAC ability, and an impressive college resume to the table. Like fellow Big 12 standout Sterling Shepard, the League’s biggest concern with Coleman is his lack of size. In Coleman’s case his stature also translates into half-hearted blocking and an inability—some scouts view it as unwillingness—to go across the middle and battle for the contested catch. He’ll also need to get up to speed with the NFL route tree after running a limited number of simple routes at Baylor. Coleman has more than enough speed to take the top off of defenses; the key to his NFL success will be what skills he augments that ability with.
NFL Comparisons: The popular comparison for Coleman is John Brown, who has thrived as a complementary deep target in Arizona. There are elements of DeSean Jackson to his game as well. And there’s the obligatory comparison to another Baylor alum, Kendall Wright.
From USA Today DraftWire: “An explosive element for a team that needs a big play element in their offense, but he can be so much more than that with a little time and development.”
TYLER BOYD, WR, PITT - 6-1, 197
Boyd has made his name with elite hands; couple that with his ability to track the ball and adjust to off-target throws and he’s a quarterback’s dream. However, prior to the catch scouts are concerned about his speed in and out of breaks and his lack of ability to gain separation. He’s also on the slight side for a possession receiver in the NFL. Boyd has return experience on his resume, but despite his strong hands he has some surprising issues with ball security.
NFL Comparisons: The top-end comparison for Boyd is Keenan Allen, though his game may be more akin to that of Jarvis Landry. A couple other names likened to Boyd—neither of which will set fantasy owners’ toes a-tappin’—are Brandon Lloyd and Antonio Bryant.
From USA Today DraftWire: “Technically proficient enough to gain separation against man coverage despite his lack of elite physical tools, but can’t carry a passing game in the NFL. An adept number two receiver who can thrive in the right offense.”
LEONTE CARROO, WR, RUTGERS - 6-0, 211
There’s plenty to like about Carroo on the field. He has enough size, good hands, excellent ball skills and his a smart route-runner—a full skill set that translates well to the NFL. He also plays with a chip on his shoulder, enabling him to succeed as a both a blocker in the ground game and a runner after the catch. Carroo doesn’t have elite size or speed, however, and his spot on NFL draft boards will be impacted as much by some off-the-field incidents that resulted in a pair of suspensions as it is by his struggles to gain separation. He’s projected to top out as a WR2 at the next level, but one with all the attributes for success.
NFL Comparisons: The obvious comparison is Steve Smith (Carolina/Baltimore version), and Carroo’s game has also been likened to that of Anquan Boldin and Roddy White.
From USA Today DraftWire: “Somewhat limited, but his strengths are impressive. Won’t ever be a true No. 1 receiver, but the Rutgers product has attractive red zone traits that should make him a highly sought-after mid-round pick.”
WILL FULLER, WR, NOTRE DAME - 6-0, 186
Fuller is pure and simple a home-run hitter with elite deep speed, supported by his 4.32 40 at the NFL Scouting Combine. He also accelerates quickly, makes sharp cuts at full speed, and is a game-breaker in the open field. Fuller’s lack of strength and bulk may limit him to outside routes, and at times his hands were absolutely dreadful. He may wind up as a one-trick pony in the NFL, but the speed of his pony should open plenty of doors for him.
NFL Comparisons: The obvious comparison is Ted Ginn, who has elite speed and questionable hands. Other scouts mentioned DeSean Jackson, and more than one likened him to Marvin Harrison—with the caveat that, much like Harrison, Fuller’s lack of bulk could limit the way a team uses him. And the additional caveat that, if Fuller is truly as explosive as Harrison, he could still carve out a productive career.
From USA Today DraftWire: “A valuable commodity to a team as a deep threat who has the athletic upside to become a better route runner, but he’s never going to be well-rounded enough to be an offense’s feature weapon.”
MALCOLM MITCHELL, WR, GEORGIA - 6-0, 198
Athletic with strong hands and smooth athleticism, Mitchell flashed strong hands and elite route-running at Georgia—when he was on the field. A torn ACL in 2013 interrupted his collegiate career, and his school’s preference for the ground game limited his stats. He only possesses average size and was inconsistently productive, but his athleticism and flashes have raised his draft profile.
NFL Comparisons: Multiple scouts likened Mitchell’s abilities to that of Jeremy Maclin as well as Maclin clone Nelson Agholor. There’s also some Santonio Holmes to Mitchell’s game.
From USA Today DraftWire: “Why aren’t more people talking about this kid? 4.4 speed and plays like he wants to embarrass the defender across from him. There are injury concerns, but he just makes plays all the time on tape.”
BRAXTON MILLER, WR, OHIO STATE - 6-1, 201
The former two-time Big 10 MVP returned from a 2014 shoulder injury to find himself third on the quarterback depth chart—so he switched positions and is looking to carve out a career as an NFL wide receiver. He has the size and speed to succeed, and the same athleticism and elusiveness that made him so difficult to defend as a running quarterback serve him well after the catch. Of course, with only one year at wide receiver under his belt Miller is still learning the position and is extremely raw, from instincts to route-running.
NFL Comparisons: TCompare Miller to all the converted quarterbacks who have come before him, and the upside is Matt Jones. An uber-athlete with limited true wide receiver skills smacks of Cordarrelle Patterson. Additional scouting reports like Miller to Andre Roberts, Austin Collie and Cecil Shorts. In short, if he’s a wildly successful NFL wide receiver he’ll be the exception rather than the rule.
From USA Today DraftWire: “Currently an explosive gadget player who teams will have to manufacture touches for until he can develop as a route runner and a technician.”
PHAROH COOPER, WR, SOUTH CAROLINA - 5-11, 203
Cooper lacks any standout physical traits; he’s a tad undersized and doesn’t have elite speed. However, he plays with passion and physicality and couples his quick feet, burst and lateral agility with reliable hands and an excellent football IQ to consistently make plays. He wore many hats at South Carolina, including wildcat quarterback. His route running needs polish and he doesn’t win the contested catch, but he’ll do enough to stick around on a roster until a suitable role opens.
NFL Comparisons: Cooper’s versatility likens him to Randal Cobb, but other stand-alone comparisons to his ability—Quincy Morgan, Robert Ferguson—aren’t particularly favorable.
From USA Today DraftWire: "Quick, dangerous after the catch, and rarely drops the football. Isn’t going to light the league on fire, win contested catches, or torch defenses deep, but has a balanced skill set that can be very useful in the right offense."
KENNY LAWLER, WR, CALIFORNIA - 6-2, 203
Lawler has average physical tools, lacking play strength and top-end speed. Historically that’s not a recipe for NFL success, meaning teams could overlook his strong ball skills, outstanding body control and feel for finding the open area in a zone.
NFL Comparisons: Both Michael Crabtree and Keenan Allen were likened to Lawler as receivers who weren’t elite athletically yet carved out NFL success. That would be the top end for Lawler.
From USA Today DraftWire: “Isn’t able to create the separation you’d like to see in the small game, but for an NFL offense that likes to open things up Lawler can be an excellent red zone, vertical weapon with the quickness to develop into a more efficient route runner over time.”
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