The 2014 Draft class (like all Draft classes) is deep at some positions, while relatively weak at others. The good news for the Carolina Panthers (and any other team who needs a play maker) though, is one of the 2014 classes deepest positions is Wide Receiver. There is no shortage of quality pass catchers in this Draft class, and in my opinion there are eight to ten potential number one Wide Receivers in this class. So with that said, lets look at the five who stand out among the rest.
1. Mike Evans, Texas A&M: 6’5 225 lbs projected 4.55 40 yard dash
Evans entered the season as my fourth WR, but his consistent dominating performances have shot him up my big board. Evans is a gigantic athlete at 6’5 and 225 pounds. Not only does Evans have the size to be an almost impossible WR to defend, he also possesses a competitive desire to win the ball that intrigues me. While Johnny Manziel may get most of the recognition for the Aggies success, Manziel has benefited on numerous occasions from Evans’ ability. Evans in my opinion, is the best WR in the nation in jump ball situations. He locates the football well, and times his leap to catch the ball at the highest point possible. This makes it extremely difficult for defenders to win a 50-50 ball from Evans. Also, Evans excels at coming back to the ball when Manziel scrambles. One of the most important things for a WR to do is keep working to get open, and Evans is tireless in this regard. He keeps fighting throughout a play for position, and uses his body well to shield a defender from the ball. Finally, Evans has great body control to make highlight reel catches, and has made significant improvements as a hands catcher since his first game last season.
Perhaps the biggest concern, with Evans is his speed. Evans doesn’t display overwhelming vertical speed in games, and he seems to lack the extra gear a home run threat at the position possesses. I would like to see him continue to improve his route running, and route tree in general. Still, with his overwhelming size, and desire to win the ball, Evans shouldn’t have much trouble becoming an impact player in the NFL in my opinion. Whether you play him at WR, or try to use him as a hybrid Tight End, I still see Evans giving opposition headaches at the next level, and have him as a solid top 15 selection.
2. Sammy Watkins, Clemson: 6’1 200 lbs projected 4.40 40 yard dash
The next player on my list has stayed right where he was on my big board entering the 2013 season. Watkins is a gifted athlete, who uses a great skill set, excellent tools, and track speed to win match ups. A player who two short years ago was nothing more than an unrefined freak athlete, Watkins has matured and turned into one of the best pass catchers in the nation. Watkins biggest asset is his explosive ability. He’s lightning quick off the line, and can blow by defenders in an instant if they let him. Also unlike Evans, Watkins does possess that extra gear to squeeze through the smallest of lanes and take any play the distance. Watkins also has become an exceptional route runner since his Freshman year. He not only has good foot/hand work on his routes, but his route tree has been expanded from just the fly and post routes he used to run.
If there’s one huge area that Watkins needs to continue to work on, it’s competing for contested balls on a consistent basis. At times he can be excellent in jump ball, and contested situations. He will outwork his defender, and go up to reach the ball at its highest point. However, he will also play too passive other times, and give up far too easily. He will need to become reliable in these situations to maximize his potential, and reach his ceiling. Watkins will have to become a more physical WR to become the dominant player I think he can be. He will need to use his body better to shield defenders, and fight through jams at the line more consistently if he wants to live up to the top 25 selection I currently have him slated as.
3. Marqise Lee, University of Southern California: 6′ 190 lbs projected 4.45 40 yard dash
Marqise is probably my most interesting (not to mention controversial) name on my big board. After dominating from the position last year, Lee has been invisible in multiple games, and battled knee and ankle injuries throughout the year. Still, Lee has to be on my list for several reasons. First, when he gets the ball in space, he can be absolutely deadly. He has great acceleration which allows him to stop and go in an instant, and change directions constantly. You never quite know where Marqise is going, and sometimes it works against him. Lee is an improved route runner since entering USC as a raw athlete. Like Watkins, Lee has not only improved route technique, but has extended his route tree to include the digs, curls, comebacks, slants and double moves. Lee has also improved as a pass catcher, showing the ability to be a natural hands catcher, as well as technique to fight through physical press coverage. While he still needs to continue in these areas, the signs of progress are encouraging for a WR who’s only been playing the position since his Senior year of High School. Finally, while he lacks the deadly extra gear that Watkins has, Lee does have ability as an explosive play maker. Lee shows the ability to not only run away from players, but also to be a great yards after the catch player.
Lee’s biggest flaw in my opinion, is that he tries to do too much on any given play. Lee to me, is an all or nothing type of guy, and he will need to adjust in the next level where big gains are few and far between. At times he can get caught going East to West too much resulting in negative plays, or minimal gains. He has shown that he will cut back and go behind the sticks even after picking up the first down, to try to pick up an even bigger gain. While this has resulted in several big plays for Lee, it’s resulted in just as many negative plays, or critical third down failures for the team. Also, Lee needs to make improvements in his concentration during games. He will at times drop easy passes, which speaks to concentration issues. I believe these issues come from Lee’s lack of inclusion in the offense this season, but he will still need to show NFL Scouts it wont be a regular problem. Lee will have to show the injuries that have plagued him this season, won’t linger in the future. Still, I have him with Watkins as a top 25 selection, with a small chance of sliding early into round two.
4. Brandon Coleman, Rutgers: 6’6 220 lbs projected 4.6 40 yard dash
Right now Coleman is the fifth best Receiver on my board, but he could see a huge rise/or fall in his stock in late February. His draft stock (maybe more than most Receivers this year) will be greatly impacted by his measurables at the Combine. If Coleman goes to the Combine and runs a sub 4.5 time in the 40 yard dash he could end up battling Watkins/Evans and Lee for a spot in the top 25 picks. It goes without saying that Coleman is a massive prospect at the Receiver position. At 6’6 he’s got an absurd catch radius, which he extends even more with his ability to pluck the ball as a natural hands catcher. His 40 time is so important though because he doesn’t look like a burner on tape. That’s not to say he’s slow by any means though. He shows good acceleration, and when he gets up to speed he’s like a runaway train with his size. One other thing I love about Coleman is he’s big and he knows it. He’s a physical Receiver who doesn’t shy away from contact, staying in bounds to pick up every yard possible. He also doesn’t let physicality from Corners impact his game, showing that he can make the tough contested catches. But for a big Receiver, he’s also deceptively elusive, showing potential as a yards after the catch guy.
Like other players on my board, one of Coleman’s biggest knocks is consistency. This mainly shows up as a pass catcher. Coleman shows you that he can pluck the ball before it gets to his pads, but too many times you’ll see the ball get into his pads still. He also has consistency issues with locating the football at times. He’s generally good in this respect, but there are times where he doesn’t put himself in the best position to make a catch. Finally, he’s a raw player still who will need some time to develop better technique. His feet can get choppy a little too often, and he doesn’t always use his hands as well as you would like him too. His route is also somewhat limited right now, and his cuts can be a little too rounded and prolonged instead of sharp and sudden. Even with him being a raw talent, the physical gifts are undeniable. Like I said before, Coleman’s Draft stock will be greatly impacted by his 40 time. A sub 4.5 time and he’s a top 15 selection, a time in the 4.55-4.6 range and he’s a top 35 selection.
5. Odell Beckham Jr, Louisiana State: 5’11 185 lbs projected 4.40 40 yard dash
Beckham is a player who definitely wasn’t in my top five at the beginning of the season, but he shot up my rankings quickly. He’s an explosive WR who can absolutely take the top off the defense. He also is an experienced Special Teams player who shows ability both as a kick and punt returner. He’s more than just a one trick pony though, showing he can be much more than just a vertical threat. He’s a good route runner showing quick and fluid feet. He flashes the ability to extend his catch radius, whether he does it by diving for passes, or by out leaping defenders in jump ball situations. He has incredibly strong hands for a smaller Receiver, that he uses to pluck the ball out of the air, or win from the defender. Finally, Beckham shows a great willingness as a blocker, and utilizes above average technique to create opportunities for his teammates.
The biggest question for Beckham not surprisingly, is consistency. Beckham possesses all the physical ability to be a special play maker at the position, but he has lapses in his game that are concerning. As a route runner, he can become choppy at times. This increases the time it takes for him to run his routes, and makes it easy for Corners to stay with him. Above I said he flashes the ability to extend his catch radius because it’s just that. Flashes. He shows he can do it, but there are times where he needs to use that ability and it doesn’t happen. Beckham also flashes ability to be a natural hands catcher, and at times shows great technique for catching the football. However other times, he lets the ball get into his pads, and drops easy passes. That said, Beckham Jr. is still one of the best Receiver’s in this class to me. Even though he’s a smaller Receiver with consistency issues, he still shows all the physical tools to be a potential number one target, which is why I have him slated as a top 25-40 selection.
So there you have it, my top five Wide Receivers for the 2014 Draft. What do you think of my rankings, was there someone you expected to see that wasn’t there? Did I have someone too high? Let me know on twitter @danny_g13 and thanks for reading!