A number of WRs that will comprise the 2014 draft class could accurately be characterized as imposing, both in terms of the potential that they deliver toward generating immense success for their new teams, and the mammoth challenge that they will present for opposing teams who must now contend with their ongoing presence. The most enticing wideouts who will be selected during this year’s draft process possess the highly coveted combination of formidable size and explosive speed that teams will crave, while their division rivals will simultaneously be confronted with the arduous task of attempting to neutralize.
The top five WRs from the 2014 class could all be chosen in Round 1, and it is a virtual certainly that a minimum of four will achieve that distinction. The NFL combine is rapidly approaching, and will represent the first of multiple factors that could modify the thinking for the collective decision makers from NFL franchises. But that should not prohibit these five WRs from making an early departure from this year’s draft board.
Even if you are the a fan of a team that needs to address other positions beyond WR with its initial selection, the mixture of exceptional capabilities that he can deliver to a passing attack might compel you to hope that Watkins will don your favorite uniform. He established himself as a dynamic playmaker during his collegiate career, by combining outstanding acceleration with instinctive qualities that enabled him to consistently gain separation, seize passes, and accumulate massive yardage. Plus, his improving proficiency as a route runner has also combined with his agility and competitive nature to overwhelm frustrated defenders even further. The 6’1”, 205 pound Watkins established 23 school records during his three-year tenure at Clemson, and departs as the school’s all-time leader in receptions (240), receiving yards (3,391), 100-yard receiving games (15), and also tied the mark for TDs (27). In 2013 alone, he finished fifth among all Division 1-A wideouts with 1,464 yards, while averaging just under 113 YPG. Watkins attained those numbers by surpassing 100 yards in eight different contests, including his career high of 227 against Ohio State in the Orange Bowl. He also amassed 101 receptions last season, and produced 12 TDs. While he does not possess extreme speed or remarkable size, Watkins is an eye-opening talent, with boundless potential to generate tremendous results at the NFL level. That will entice a team to choose him very quickly, when the draft process begins on May 8.
While Watkins appears destined to be the first WR chosen on May 8, Evans could ultimately become the next wideout selected. And that should occur during the initial half of Round 1. At 6'5", 225 pounds, Evans provides a formidable challenge to defensive backs strictly as a result of his size alone. But his physicality, penchant for defeating press coverage, and his willingness to battle for passes further entrenches him as a potent and persistent downfield threat. In two years at Texas A&M, he collected 151 receptions for 2,499 yards, while exceeding 1,110 yards in both seasons. That includes the 1,394 that he generated in 2013, which placed him seventh among all Division 1-A WRs. He accomplished that total in part by surpassing 100 yards in five contests, and amassing 279+ on two different occasions. The 20.2 YPC that he attained was also the nation’s seventh best average. His most productive outing occurred against Auburn, when he exploded for 287 yards and a whopping four TDs. Evans also produced 17 TDs during his collegiate career, including 12 in 2013. The propensity to score should continue at the NFL level, as Evans’ height should blend favorably with his ability to win jump balls. That should keep Evans as a frequent red zone target, and further enhance his appeal to team officials. The primary note of caution would be that Evans will find it more difficult to beat NFL CBs with the same success that he experienced as an Aggie. And will likely undergo a learning curve in comprehending how to do so.
After emerging as a highly productive receiver during his freshman year in 2011, Lee generated an exceptional 2012 season in which he won the Biletnikoff Award, was a unanimous first team All-American, and finished fourth in the voting for the Heisman Trophy. All of which occurred after he led all Division 1-A receivers with 118 receptions, finished second by stockpiling 1,721 yards, and tied for third with 14 TDs. However, his 2013 numbers degenerated significantly, as he only garnered 57 catches for 791 yards, while scoring just four times. Lee’s output declined as a result of multiple factors, including a troublesome knee that forced him to miss two games. Plus, the entire USC passing offense degenerated during a season of transition that included Lane Kiffin’s dismissal. The Trojans had amassed 3,670 yards and 39 TDs through the air in 2012, while averaging 282.3 YPG. But last season, they could only produce 3,179 yards, score 20 TDs, and manage 227 YPG. But despite his disappointing junior year, he could easily be selected within the initial half of Round 1. Because the elusive Lee still possesses the attributes that helped him achieve those excellent results in 2012. He can employ his blazing speed and superior route running ability to blow by defenders, thereby exhibiting his impressive big play ability. At 6’0” and 190 pounds, his size is hardly immense. Nevertheless, it is highly possible that Lee will be the third WR chosen.
Once the evaluation progresses beyond Watkins, Evans and Lee, there is a small collection of candidates from which the next two WRs will be drafted. That includes Kelvin Benjamin, Allen Robinson, Odell Beckham Jr., Brandin Cooks and Davante Adams. For the purpose of this discussion, Benjamin and Beckham Jr. will be the receivers who will complete the top five. And it would not be shocking for them to ultimately be selected within the first round. Particularly Benjamin, who concluded his collegiate career after two seasons at Florida State, where his output improved sizably as a redshirt sophomore. He garnered 54 receptions and amassed 1,011 yards, but was most proficient as a scoring threat. He tied for third among all WRs with 15 TDs in 2013, by penetrating the end zone in 10 of the Seminoles’ final 12 games. Seven of those TDs occurred from throws within the red zone, where Benjamin is fully capable of finding more success in the NFL. At 6’ 6” and 235 pounds, he provides the degree of size that is highly coveted. Blend that with his excellent speed, and the result is a combination of attributes that will persuade a team to quickly secure him. Benjamin has several growth areas in which he will need to improve, as he is still raw. But he is a big bodied burner, whose willingness to play physically should only further torment defensive backs.
As mentioned previously, the combine could certainly jostle the specific order of WRs selected after Watkins and Evans, but Beckham has demonstrated sufficient ability as a game changer to keep him within the mix of the initial receivers who will be chosen. In three seasons at LSU, he collected 143 receptions while amassing 2,340 yards and 12 TDs. His numbers steadily improved during his time with the Tigers, although a sizable percentage of that output was manufactured in 2013. That is when Beckham accumulated career bests in catches (59) and yards (1,152), which included five contests in which he produced at least 118 yards. He also scored eight TDs, and his 19.5 YPC average was the nation’s 11th highest. He possesses excellent speed and athleticism, and the degree to which he can accelerate not only enables him to explode beyond defenders, but results in big plays. At 6’ 0”, 185 pounds, his size will not be considered among his strengths. But he is a dynamic talent, with outstanding vision. The combination of his skills makes it is easy to comprehend why he also was an effective returner for the Tigers, averaging 26.9 yards on kickoffs in 2013. That should only enhance his stock with team officials, which could ultimately keep Beckham among the first round selections.