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Draft's top WRs: Teams looking for size, athleticism are in luck

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If imitation is the highest form of flattery, then Pro Bowl wide receivers Andre Johnson and Larry Fitzgerald should be honored by the events set to take place on draft day.

Fueled by Johnson and Fitzgerald's success and the notable achievements of other big receivers in the NFL, teams are looking to stock their rosters with pass catchers who have the requisite size and athleticism to dominate on the edge.

Of the eight receivers on Pro Bowl rosters, six measured more than 6 feet in height (Steve Smith and Wes Welker were the exceptions), including all four starters (Fitzgerald, Johnson, Brandon Marshall and Anquan Boldin).

Draft series: Receivers

NFL.com's 10-part series looks at each position in the draft.

Receivers package
» Video: Mayock's top five
» Photos: Top prospects

A glance at the top 10 receivers in terms of yards last season reflects the same trend. Seven of the 10 players could be classified as big receivers, and their success has scouts looking for the next "big" thing in this year's draft.

Fortunately, the 2009 draft class is loaded with "big" receivers. Led by first-round probables Michael Crabtree, Jeremy Maclin, Darrius Heyward-Bey, Hakeem Nicks and Kenny Britt, this year's class features several receivers who can control the game with their size and athleticism.

Crabtree, who measured in at 6-foot-2 and 215 pounds at the NFL Scouting Combine in February, has evoked comparisons to Fitzgerald with his play at Texas Tech. The two-time Biletnikoff Award winner seemingly made impossible catches look routine during his two seasons in Lubbock. Taking advantage of his superior size and athleticism, Crabtree frequently won jump balls over smaller defenders down the field, alleviating the pressure on quarterbacks to make perfect throws. That's important in a league with only a handful of franchise quarterbacks.

Nicks and Britt are other first-round prospects with the size and athleticism to make life easier for their respective quarterbacks.

Nicks, a 6-1, 212-pound playmaker from North Carolina, has mastered the art of using his body to create space while tracking balls down the field. His brilliant performance against West Virginia in the Meineke Car Care Bowl showcased that ability as he came down with numerous circus catches despite having defenders draped over him.

Britt, a 6-4, 218-pound talent from Rutgers, torched the Big East Conference by using his superior size advantage over smaller defenders. The first-team all-conference selection tallied 14 100-yard games during his Scarlet Knights career and has several NFL scouts envisioning him blossoming into a Plaxico Burress-type playmaker on the edge. The luxury of having a towering receiver on the outside gives creative offensive coordinators another option in critical red-zone situations.

However, the fastest-rising prospect on the draft board provides the best illustration of how scouts are looking for the next athletic phenom to impact the game. Heyward-Bey has risen up the charts based on his outstanding combination of height, weight and speed.

The former Maryland standout went from an unheralded second- or third-round prospect to a possible top-15 selection on the heels of an outstanding performance at the combine. The 6-2, 210-pound speedster clocked a stunning 4.30 seconds in the 40-yard dash and blew away the rest of the performance-testing drills in Indianapolis.

Though Heyward-Bey averaged more than 15 yards per catch in his college career and scored 13 touchdowns, he is regarded as an inconsistent pass catcher and lacks some of the key traits often associated with No. 1 receivers. But his superior size and athleticism has teams willing to take a major gamble on a player who looks like another "boom or bust" prospect from afar.

General managers and scouts often appear overly enamored with measurables, but the receivers in this year's draft class will provide another opportunity to see if the old adage that "bigger is better" still holds true when identifying pass catchers.

Top 10 wide receivers
Rank
Player
School
Height
Weight
Projected round
1.
Texas Tech
6-2
215
1

Analysis: An outstanding athlete with exceptional hands, Crabtree was the most dominant receiver in college football the past two seasons, and NFL scouts envision the former Red Raider making an instant impact as a rookie. Although his foot surgery prevented him from answering questions about his speed this spring, Crabtree's superior ability and big-play potential make him the undisputed top receiver in the draft.

NFL landing spot: Crabtree would be a terrific fit in Cleveland (No. 5) to provide insurance against Donte' Stallworth's legal predicament and Braylon Edwards' imminent free-agent departure. If Crabtree slips past the Browns, he would give David Garrard the No. 1 receiver that the Jacksonville Jaguars (No. 8) have desperately been looking for since the retirement of Jimmy Smith.

  Video: Michael Crabtree

Rank
Player
School
Height
Weight
Projected round
2.
Missouri
6-0
198
1

Analysis: The most explosive all-purpose playmaker in the draft has the ability to score from anywhere on the field. Maclin averaged nearly 11 yards per touch during his college career and scored 28 touchdowns in two seasons. Furthermore, Maclin is a phenomenal kick returner (five career TDs on kick and punt returns) who is capable of flipping the field with his breathtaking ability. With such an impressive array of skills, Maclin is a highly coveted prospect who is poised to impact the game in multiple phases.

NFL landing spot: The do-it-all playmaker would be a great pick for the Oakland Raiders at No. 7 or the Jaguars at No. 8. If both teams pass on Maclin, he could land with the San Francisco 49ers at No. 10 or drop all the way to the New York Jets at No. 17.

  Video: Jeremy Maclin

Rank
Player
School
Height
Weight
Projected round
3.
Florida
5-11
192
1

Analysis: Harvin is an electrifying multi-purpose threat capable of scoring from anywhere on the field. Blessed with exceptional speed and quickness, Harvin is a dynamic weapon with the ball in his hands. Though he is unrefined as a receiver, he displayed better-than-advertised route-running ability during his workouts and has the potential to develop into an all-star-caliber slot receiver.

NFL landing spot: Harvin would give the Minnesota Vikings (No. 22) another offensive weapon and allow coach Brad Childress to tap into his creative side. If Harvin slips past the Vikings, the Baltimore Ravens could be a possibility at No. 26.

  Video: Percy Harvin

Rank
Player
School
Height
Weight
Projected round
4.
Maryland
6-2
210
1

Analysis: Heyward-Bey has shot up draft boards because of his impressive showing at the combine and pro-day workouts. A phenomenal athlete with sprinter's speed, Heyward-Bey is a legitimate deep threat who averaged more than 15 yards per catch during his Maryland career. Although he is still regarded as a raw and unrefined route runner, Heyward-Bey's potential as a vertical playmaker makes him a likely pick in the middle of the first round.

NFL landing spot: Heyward-Bey recorded the position's fastest 40 time (4.30) and could parlay that into a top-10 selection. The Raiders could be players at No. 7, with the Jaguars (No. 8), Jets
(No. 17), Vikings (No. 22) and Ravens (No. 26) also in the mix.

  Video: Darrius Heyward-Bey

Rank
Player
School
Height
Weight
Projected round
5.
North Carolina
6-1
212
1-2

Analysis: The Atlantic Coast Conference's leading receiver is an exceptional talent in the mold of a young Michael Irvin. A big, physical receiver with extraordinary pass-catching skills, Nicks has a keen understanding of how to use his body to create separation. Despite the fact that he lacks elite speed, Nicks has all of the requisite skills to be a productive No. 1 receiver as a pro. Other receivers might be drafted higher because of superior measurables, but few can match Nicks' overall ability.

NFL landing spot: Nicks grades out as a late first-round pick, with the Miami Dolphins (No. 25) and New York Giants (No. 29) as likely destinations.

  Video: Hakeem Nicks

Rank
Player
School
Height
Weight
Projected round
6.
Rutgers
6-3
218
1-2

Analysis: Britt overwhelms defenders with his rare combination of size and athleticism. He also shows outstanding ball skills and awareness and is an extraordinary weapon in the red zone. While he lacks the speed to stretch the defense, Britt possesses the skills to develop into a dangerous playmaker in the mold of Plaxico Burress.

NFL landing spot: Britt could slide into Burress' spot with the Giants (No. 29) or give the Tennessee Titans (No. 30) and QB Kerry Collins a big target over the middle of the field.

  Video: Kenny Britt

Rank
Player
School
Height
Weight
Projected round
7.
Ohio State
6-3
209
2

Analysis: The son of longtime NFL receivers coach Terry Robiskie is a polished pass catcher with outstanding skills and savvy. Though he didn't enjoy a productive senior season at Ohio State, Brian Robiskie's stock has been on the rise since the end of the season because of his impressive showings at the Senior Bowl and the combine. With a football IQ that rivals some coaches and better-than-advertised athleticism, Robiskie enters the NFL as the most "pro-ready" prospect at the position.

NFL landing spot: If the Browns go for defense with their first pick (No. 5), Robiskie could be their guy in the second round (No. 36).

  Video: Brian Robiskie

Rank
Player
School
Height
Weight
Projected round
8.
Mississippi
6-0
199
2

Analysis: The speedster has skyrocketed up several draft boards after dazzling scouts with his explosiveness at the Senior Bowl and the combine. Though he has been labeled as a track guy in pads, his improved pass-catching skills and sub-4.3 speed have some envisioning Wallace blossoming into a big-play threat as a pro.

NFL landing spot: The second round is typically when the run on receivers starts, and Wallace will garner strong consideration near the top of the round. Teams such as the Jaguars (No. 39), Raiders (No. 40) and Dolphins (No. 44) could make a play for Wallace if they opt for defense with their first-round picks.

  Video: Mike Wallace

Rank
Player
School
Height
Weight
Projected round
9.
Oklahoma
6-1
210
2

Analysis: The All-Big 12 Conference selection is an exceptional possession receiver with good hands and route-running ability. Though he lacks explosive straight-line speed, Iglesias possesses outstanding quickness and is capable of separating from defenders on intermediate routes. In addition, Iglesias also excels as a returner in the kicking game. With such an impressive array of skills, Iglesias should thrive in the NFL as a slot receiver.

NFL landing spot: Iglesias' game has West Coast offense written all over it, and he should hear his name called in the middle of the second round.

  Video: Juaquin Iglesias

Rank
Player
School
Height
Weight
Projected round
10.
North Carolina
6-0
183
2-3

Analysis: The all-purpose weapon was considered a possible first-round pick prior to suffering a season-ending knee injury during the middle of the season. Still, Tate improved dramatically as a receiver during his senior season and was such a force as a returner that scouts were beginning to view him as a potential impact player in two phases. With his recovery from anterior cruciate ligament surgery appearing ahead of schedule, it's not surprising that some teams are privately viewing Tate as a potential first-day pick.

NFL landing spot: The talented Tate would be a luxury selection by a team with a wealth of picks and the patience to let him fully recover from his injury. Therefore, keep an eye on the New England Patriots and Dolphins in the second or third round.


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