In the lead-up to the 2014 NFL Draft, a team's opinion on a highly regarded player tends to change. As scouts dive into a player's film, background, physical attributes and more, the groundwork is being laid to draft some promising prospects coming out of college.
While much of the focus this week has been on dissecting the top four quarterbacks on NFL Media analyst Mike Mayock's position rankings, the folks these quarterbacks are going to throw to at the next level -- the wide receivers -- have gone a bit under the radar.
This week's College Football 24/7 podcast put a stop to that, with NFL Media analysts Bucky Brooks and Daniel Jeremiah breaking down the draft's top receivers. Brooks took the position that while there's been plenty of talk of Clemson's Sammy Watkins being the top wideout in the draft, USC's Marqise Lee is right there with him.
"I still believe a healthy Marqise Lee can rival Sammy Watkins for what he's able to do," Brooks said. "They just flipped years. Sammy Watkins had a bad sophomore year, and Marqise Lee had a great sophomore year. Sammy Watkins had an outstanding junior year, Marqise Lee had an injury-plagued year.
"When you really look at these two guys, I think they're closer in terms of separation," he said. "These guys are talented enough that they should be in the same conversation."
If you're going by the numbers, Watkins and Lee certainly seem to be neck-and-neck with each other. During his career with the Tigers, Watkins had 240 catches for 3,391 yards and 27 touchdowns. Lee had 248 catches for 3,655 yards and 29 touchdowns.
NFL scouts deal in nuances when scouting players, but we'll go ahead and say the production of each guy is within the margin of error.
One of the biggest reasons why Watkins has drawn the top spot on the wide receiver big board is due to his impressive junior season in leading Clemson to a BCS bowl victory over Ohio State and finishing as a finalist for the Biletnikoff Award as the nation's best receiver. Lee, meanwhile, dealt with numerous injuries and a first-time starter at quarterback to throw his way at USC.
Clearly the memories of this past season are fresh on everybody's mind but it's important to consider each player's entire body of work in college.
"I don't believe it's Sammy Watkins and then, eight or nine notches down, it's the rest of the receivers," Brooks added. "He's the number one receiver but the other guys are nipping at his heels. They have the same kind of talent."
Lee isn't the only receiver in the conversation with Watkins either. Texas A&M's Mike Evanstold NFL.com that he was, not surprisingly, the top guy coming out this year. If teams can look past his height, reigning Biletnikoff winner Brandin Cooks is polished, fast and just what teams are looking for, too.
But Brooks wasn't necessarily knocking Watkins down a peg. In fact, he agreed with the comparison that Watkins gave himself on the podcast.
"When I look at him, I've always compared him to Torrey Smith," Brooks said. "I think his playing style reminds me of the Baltimore Ravens receiver on the perimeter. He's a vertical guy who's super explosive with the ball in his hands. I just don't know how much he'll be able to dominate at the next level in terms of being that explosive playmaker putting up phenomenal plays."
So don't fret if you're a team in need of some receiver help but sitting outside the top five in the first round. There should be plenty of options, from Watkins to Lee and beyond.