The 2014 NFL Draft offers a deep wide receiver class with a range of skill sets. No one is truly a lock for professional stardom, but Clemson's Sammy Watkins is at least in that conversation. His collegiate teammate, Martavis Bryant, could carve out a productive career, too, when all is said and done.
You will see several names come off the board in the second half of the first round and first half of the second, while the middle rounds should be loaded with quality receiver picks. This draft class also provides a few really nice gambles in the later rounds.
Sammy Watkins, Clemson: In a class all by himself ... Watkins is the best receiver in the class, hands down, and no one else is close. He should be an immediate contributor in the NFL and has a bright future among the league's best at the position. He has quality size (6-foot-1, 211 pounds), speed (4.43 40 time), explosion (34-inch vert, 10-foot-6 broad jump), and the on-field results to back it up. Watkins has a knack for finding the end zone and can play all over the field. His route tree is extensive. A smooth runner, he plays faster than he times, and glides effortlessly through traffic. While he isn't the strongest of receivers, Watkins should not have any problem gaining separation at the line in the NFL. He is a capable blocker and has special teams return game experience. I'd be surprised if he fell out of the top 10 picks.
Odell Beckham, LSU: An exciting athlete, Beckham is explosive and dangerous. Few receivers are as dynamic with the ball in their hands. Every team in the NFL has a spot for someone like Beckham. His open-field moves, stemming from amazing vision and balance, afford him a role in every form of NFL offense. He plays taller than his 5-foot-11 frame suggests, which is apparent in the way he attacks the ball and extends his catching radius to that of a much larger receiver. Even though he isn't an exceptionally fast player (4.43 40 time), Beckham's game speed is excellent because of his nifty footwork. He has return man experience on special teams. He is a willing but unrefined blocker and occasionally allows the ball to get into his body. Expect him to come off the board somewhere in the second half of the opening stanza.
Mike Evans, Texas A&M: Evans has a doppelganger in the NFL who goes by the name of Vincent Jackson. Like V-Jax, Evans is a long strider with excellent body control, enough speed (4.53 40 time) to get deep, tremendous size (6-foot-5, 231 pounds), and the ability to create separation in tight spaces. Few NFL cornerbacks come close to matching up with Evans' size and high-point skills. He tracks the ball well and makes for a scary threat in the red zone. While the former Aggies standout lacks burst, he is an extremely tough guy to bring down in the open field. Evans is a first-round luck in the draft but likely will go in the second half of it.
Brandin Cooks, Oregon State: Any adjective synonymous with "electric" that comes to mind can be applied to Cooks. He is lightning fast out of his breaks and has impressive footwork. Cooks, who is tough as nails, moves through traffic like he is a character on a video game and has experience returning the ball on special teams. Every offense in the NFL has a spot for a player like this, but he is also likely limited to the slot. He is smaller than you'd like (5-foot-10, 189 pounds) and lacks the strength to play a role as a blocker. Cooks is exciting, sure, but I see a player who could struggle to beat press-man coverage and become one-dimensional in the NFL. While he doesn't have poor hands, the former Beaver has his share of concentration lapses. Cooks has late first-round draftability.
Marqise Lee, USC: Lee's tape shows a very mixed bag. Most of his big plays came with exceptional offensive line play, which allowed him to shake defenders. He could struggle to create separation at the next level. In college, he was able to get away with body fakes to work in tight quarters. Lee's strength comes from his ability to outmaneuver defenders when he has the ball in his possession. All too often he allows the rock to come into his body, and he tends to drift on many routes. There is a lot of at potential here, don't get me wrong, but Lee is not quite as polished as some pundits make him out to be. Durability also is a concern. Nevertheless, Lee is a first-round talent because of his hands, athleticism and playmaking ability.
Davante Adams, Fresno State: Following two monster years with the Bulldogs, Adams enters the NFL after posting eye-popping stats, albeit versus inferior completion. He led the nation in receptions in 2013 (131-1,718-24) on the heels of a 102-1,312-14 line as a freshman. Derek Carr's go-to target put himself on the national map, and it made sense for him to go pro as a sophomore. Adams is a glorified possession receiver in the NFL. He stands a well-built 6-foot-1, 212 pounds, with an explosive lower body. A willing blocker, Adams has very good hands. He is somewhat raw as a route runner, though, and doesn't have the speed to take the top off a defense. Adams can get lackadaisical with ball security, at times. He is a borderline first-rounder who could go in the final stages of the draft's opener.
Kelvin Benjamin, Florida State: Physically imposing, size that automatically creates mismatches, Benjamin is a nightmare to guard around the stripe. Standing 6-foot-5, 235 pounds, the junior receiver also is a load to tackle in the open field. He has enough wiggle in space to make defenders miss and can glide downfield, despite running just 4.61 second in the 40-yard dash at the NFL Scouting Combine. Benjamin doesn't have the skill set of a WR1 in the NFL. He can play out of the slot, which is helpful and improves his worth, but he isn't dynamic enough to take over games with regularity. A dedicated blocker, Benjamin is a pure upside pick. His major areas of concern include questionable maturity, dedication, lapses in concentration when securing a reception, stiff hips, and a lack of diversity in his route-running repertoire. Benjamin has the potential to play like a first-rounder, but he probably will remain in the selection pool well into the second round.
Martavis Bryant, Clemson: An impressive combination of size and speed, Bryant is an explosive playmaker. The 6-foot-4, 211-pounder gives quarterbacks a wide catching radius to work with and has quite a few highlight-reel receptions on his resume. He can create separation in a hurry and shows plenty of burst. He has just one year of starting experience, and playing opposite Sammy Watkins, so he saw a lot of single coverage. Bryant needs to improve his route-running ability and the number of routes he knows. His hands could be better, too, but Bryant's upside is seemingly limitless. He should come off the board in the second round.
Allen Robinson, Penn State: Robinson isn't particularly athletic -- certainly not a burner -- and doesn't consistently catch the ball with this hands. He had a minor off-field dust-up in early 2013 that cost him a suspension for two quarters in the season opener. His footwork needs to become more consistent. Robinson has a big frame (6-foot-3, 210 pounds) and is deceptively quick in the open field. He has pretty good body control and employs nuances to create separation to make up for his pedestrian speed. He has borderline Round 1 draftability as a strong WR2 in the pros.
Cory is KFFL's General Manager. In late 2002, he joined the KFFL staff as a research analyst and has been involved in fantasy sports since 1996. A member of the Fantasy Sports Trade Association, as well as Fantasy Sports Writers Association, Bonini has been featured in print, on radio and on scores of websites. Bonini co-hosted Big Lead Sports on SiriusXM Fantasy Sports Radio from 2011 to 2012.
Bonini was recognized with the 2010 Best Article in Print Award from the FSWA and was a finalist for the same award in 2011. In '11, he finished first overall in the FSWA NFL experts challenge that featured 60 of the industry's best competitors.