Last year's rookie wide receiver class was tremendous. One NFL analyst said this year's class will be even better.
NFL Network analyst Brian Baldinger touted this year's group Monday on NFL Network's "Path to the Draft" wrap-up show.
"I believe this draft class is going to be better than what we saw last year," Baldinger said. "You've got every shape and size. I think the wild card here is (second-round pick) Dorial Green-Beckham in Tennessee because he's Plaxico Burress with speed. The talent is undeniable. Now, we don't know how quickly he (can learn) the playbook and all that because he hasn't played in a year. But he could be a wild card in this whole thing."
Five wide receivers went in the first round last year, and all five -- the New York Giants' Odell Beckham Jr., Carolina's Kelvin Benjamin, Oregon State's Brandin Cooks, Tampa Bay's Mike Evans and Buffalo's Sammy Watkins -- were productive as rookies. Each had at least 53 receptions and 550 yards. Beckham, Benjamin and Evans had 1,000-yard seasons, and Beckham also had 12 TD receptions. In addition, two second-rounders (Miami's Jarvis Landry and Philadelphia's Jordan Matthews) had at least 67 receptions and at least 758 receiving yards apiece.
Watkins (fourth) and Evans (seventh) went in the top 10, while Beckham went 12th, Cooks 20th and Benjamin 28th.
There actually were six first-round receivers this year. Coincidentally, the top two this year were picked in the same draft slots as the top two last year -- Amari Cooper (fourth to Oakland) and Kevin White (seventh to Chicago). DeVante Parker went 14th to Miami, Nelson Agholor 20th to Philadelphia, Breshad Perriman 26th to Baltimore and Phillip Dorsett 29th to Indianapolis.
This is the first time at least five wide receivers went in the first round in back-to-back drafts since 2004 and '05 (there were seven in '04 and six in '05).
In all, 15 receivers went in the first three rounds last year; there were 14 in the first three rounds this year.
Cooper, Parker and Agholor are going to teams that would seem to be in the hunt for a No. 1 receiver: Oakland's leading receiver last year was James Jones, who is expected to be released. Landry was Miami's leading receiver, but he averaged just 9.0 yards per catch and seems best-suited to be a No. 2 receiver. Jeremy Maclin was the Eagles' leading receiver last season, but he left in free agency.
White joins a Bears team that already has Alshon Jeffery, but the Bears are looking to replace Brandon Marshall, who was traded. And as talented as Jeffery is, White is faster and has more of an upside.
Steve Smith led the Ravens in receiving last season, but he'll be 36 next week. In addition, Torrey Smith -- who was Baltimore's No. 2 receiver and its top deep threat last season -- left for San Francisco. That means the door is wide open for Perriman, who, if everything works out for the Ravens, would be a big-time deep threat this season as he eventually works his way into the go-to receiver role.
Dorsett is the outlier of sorts, as he is going to a Colts squad that has leading receiver T.Y. Hilton back and also acquired Andre Johnson in free agency. But Dorsett is an undeniable deep threat who can play outside and in the slot; he gives Colts offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton and quarterback Andrew Luck another shiny toy, as it were.
And as Baldinger pointed out, Green-Beckham will be one of the more intriguing rookies this fall. He had numerous off-field issues at Missouri, to the point that he was kicked off the team, and he did not play in 2014 after transferring to Oklahoma. But he is 6-foot-5 and 237 pounds and runs the 40 in under 4.5 seconds. In addition, the Titans don't have a true No. 1 receiver. Kendall Wright led Tennessee with 57 receptions last season, but the Titans did sign free agent Hakeem Nicks recently. Green-Beckham played just two years of college football and needs a lot of technique work, but his physical gifts are rare.
Two other early-round picks to watch are Devin Smith, chosen in the second round by the New York Jets, and Jaelen Strong, taken in the third round by the Houston Texans. The Jets were the only NFL team not to pass for at least 3,000 yards last season, and while Smith has some work to do on his route-running, he was a lethal deep threat at Ohio State. Houston lost Johnson to the Colts in free agency and needs someone to pair with DeAndre Hopkins; the hope is Strong eventually can be that guy. If that duo works out, it will be one of the biggest and most physical tandems in the league -- Hopkins is 6-1 and 218 pounds, while Strong is 6-2 and 217. Cecil Shorts, who led Jacksonville in receiving last season, was a free-agent addition this offseason.
Mike Huguenin can be reached at email@example.com. You also can follow him on Twitter @MikeHuguenin.