There are currently 53 wide receivers that are free agents and 33 prospects slated to be taken in this year’s draft. The Pittsburgh Steelers and other receiver-needy teams will probably pick up a free agent like Eric Decker or select a receiver like Vanderbilt’s Jordan Matthews in the second or third round of the draft. However, there are a few teams that may want to fill their void at receiver using a first-round pick.
By releasing Nate Burleson, the Detroit Lions have signaled that they are looking to find a talented partner for receiver Calvin Johnson. After seeing how veteran Bears receiver Brandon Marshall and sophomore Bears receiver Alshon Jeffrey were able to shred defenses last year, it is reasonable to assume that the Lions would like to complement Johnson with a young star. Texas A&M product Mike Evans is the perfect pick. Evans is 6’5’’, 225 lbs., and not afraid to make contact with defenders. He is hard to bring down and never fumbles. Despite his size, he is also very fast and could develop into a real deep threat. His reach is amazing, so he usually gets the jump ball. It can be in single or double coverage; it doesn’t matter. As for blocking, he is great at that as well. He does make the rookie mistake of looking downfield before having possession of ball, but he’ll learn not to do that after enough one-handed push-ups in practice. So, a little improvement in the area of concentration, and maybe a little bit of work on getting that initial separation, and Evans will be ready to start. If I were the Lions management, I would grab Evans with the 10th overall pick.
Clemson wideout Sammy Watkins, who is ranked above Evans by many sources, will probably be the second receiver taken in the draft. Watkins is comparable to New York Giants receiver Victor Cruz in talent. He is considerably smaller than Evans, but is also faster. His initial burst of speed is spectacular and his acceleration is just as great. He can use his agility to get separation off the line and shake defensive backs downfield. However, he has fumbled seven times in three years, so he needs to work on ball security. His leaping ability could be better as well. The only other thing I have to say about Watkins is that though he is labeled a deep threat, only nine percent of his catches are beyond 20 yards, while 25 percent of Evans’ catches are beyond 20 yards. In my opinion, Watkins is more consistent than Evans, but Evans has more potential and raw athleticism. Watkins is still a great receiver and the New York Jets are in dire need of a healthy wideout that is able to make big plays, so if he isn’t taken by another team earlier in the draft, the Jets should select him with the 18th overall pick.
The third best receiver in the draft is Florida State’s Kelvin Benjamin. Weighing in at 235 pounds and measuring 6’5’’, Benjamin’s highlight reel looks like a plyometrics video. He is agile, can stay inbounds when catching the ball along the sidelines, has astounding leaping ability, and runs crisp routes. He beats backs off the line and has above average speed and acceleration. He does, however, need to be more careful with ball security – though he isn’t known for putting it on the ground, he could have more reliable hands. He could also be more aggressive in man-to-man and jump ball situations, especially with his size. This isn’t to say he doesn’t have toughness, because he has taken some big hits and held onto the ball, and has bulldozed his share of defenders. His size also makes him a decent blocker. He needs to improve his concentration, though, as his drop rate hovers around 10, while Evans’ and Watkins’ are around five. San Francisco is the clear destination for Benjamin, as the 49ers don’t have a viable second receiver to play opposite starting wideout Michael Crabtree.
Ondo is a member of the class of 2014.