In today's pass-happy NFL, it's imperative for general managers and coaches to stockpile multiple receiving threats on the perimeter. League rules restricting contact on pass catchers down the field make it nearly impossible for defenses to stop explosive aerial attacks, especially if the opposing offense has two or more playmakers in the lineup.
Last season, we watched the Denver Broncos run roughshod over the league behind a dynamic passing game that featured four legitimate playmakers (Demaryius Thomas, Eric Decker, Wes Welker and Julius Thomas). The offense averaged an NFL-best 37.9 points per game and featured a pair of 1,000-yard receivers (Thomas and Decker), while all four of the aforementioned pass catchers logged at least 65 receptions and 10 touchdowns.
While those raw numbers are astounding, I was most impressed with the diversity of Denver's receiving corps -- and how the coaching staff cleverly placed each guy in an ideal role to shine. Demaryius Thomas served as the anchor and No. 1 receiver, while Decker provided stability as the complementary playmaker on the back side. Welker thrived as a trusty slot receiver between the hashes, with Julius Thomas acting as the deep-middle threat from his tight end spot. This well-rounded personnel group made the 2013 Broncos the highest-scoring team in NFL history.
Consequently, I'm convinced many coaches and scouts around the league will attempt to assemble a "superpower" receiving corps to take advantage of favorable rules in the passing game. While some have used free agency to upgrade the position, many are looking at the deep and talented 2014 receiver class as fertile ground from which to pluck a missing puzzle piece on draft day.
Given the importance of scheme and personnel fit when it comes to the success of young players, I'm assuming the role of matchmaker, placing top receiver prospects in ideal environments for individual and team success. I'm sure my pairings will create a stir among some fan bases, and I'm more than willing to continue the conversation on Twitter (@BuckyBrooks).
Without further ado, I present six dream marriages between NFL teams and receiver prospects. I list each team's current first-round draft position for contextual purposes, but obviously, movement could come before or during May's event.
St. Louis Rams (picks No. 2 and No. 13 overall)
Perfect match:Clemson's Sammy Watkins.
Scouting report: Explosive playmaker with outstanding speed, quickness and burst.
Why it makes sense: The Rams have an intriguing set of young receivers in Tavon Austin, Chris Givens and Stedman Bailey, but the team needs a No. 1 target to anchor the passing game. Watkins is a do-it-all playmaker with the ability to terrorize opponents as a deep threat or as a deadly weapon on short and intermediate routes. His insertion into the lineup would allow Austin to continue to thrive in the slot, while Givens could work against weaker defenders on the back side. With offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer utilizing a West Coast system that places a premium on YAC (yards after catch), the addition of Watkins would place each receiver in an ideal role to shine. Ultimately, this could allow Sam Bradford to finally reach his potential as a franchise quarterback.
Baltimore Ravens (No. 17)
Perfect match:Texas A&M's Mike Evans.
Scouting report: Big-bodied pass catcher with outstanding ball skills and leaping ability.
Why it makes sense:The Anquan Boldin trade prior to last season robbed quarterback Joe Flacco of his favorite red-zone/third-down weapon. Boldin excelled at doing the dirty work between the hashes in critical situations. Although Torrey Smith played at a high level as the Ravens' No. 1 receiver in 2013, recording 65 catches for 1,128 yards and four touchdowns, he isn't the kind of imposing physical presence that strikes fear in the hearts of opponents in one-on-one situations. Evans has the size (6-foot-5), length and leaping ability to dominate opponents on the perimeter while also giving Flacco a safety blanket to rely on in key downs. The Texas A&M standout would augment a receiving corps that recently added a gritty veteran receiver in Steve Smith and re-signed an established tight end in Dennis Pitta. If the Ravens were able to secure Evans on draft day, coach John Harbaugh's squad would boast the top receiving corps in the AFC North and re-emerge as a title contender behind a more explosive and dynamic aerial attack.
New York Jets (No. 18)
Perfect match:USC's Marqise Lee.
Scouting report: Dynamic receiver with exceptional athleticism and running skills.
Why it makes sense: After nearly securing a postseason berth with an offense that lacked dependable weapons on the perimeter, the Jets have made a concerted effort to improve the passing game by adding a sure-handed receiver in Eric Decker. Although he is not a true No. 1 receiver by any stretch of the imagination, Decker can anchor the passing game if he's surrounded by explosive players on the perimeter. Lee is not only an explosive pass catcher capable of blowing the top off a defense with his speed, but he is a superb athlete with home-run potential. He routinely turned short passes into big gains throughout his career at USC, and he would shine in that role opposite Decker in the Jets' revamped aerial attack. With Jeremy Kerley also steadily improving as a slot receiver, the Jets' offense would have the potential to take off with improved quarterback play, from either Geno Smith or free-agent acquisition Michael Vick.
Philadelphia Eagles (No. 22)
Perfect match:Oregon State's Brandin Cooks.
Scouting report: Polished receiver with extraordinary speed, quickness and short-area explosion.
Why it makes sense: Coach Chip Kelly's offense lived up to the hype during his first season at the helm. The Eagles led the league in explosive plays (20-plus yards) and pummeled opponents unable to adjust to the frenetic pace of the spread attack. Given an offseason to study the nuances of Philadelphia's scheme, opponents should be better prepared to deal with Nick Foles and Co., especially without an explosive weapon like DeSean Jackson on the perimeter. Teams will condense the field with blanket coverage on Jeremy Maclin and Riley Cooper -- unless the Eagles add another weapon with home-run potential to the mix. Cooks certainly fits the bill, as the fastest and most polished receiver in the draft. He capably runs every route on the tree with precision while also displaying the kind of stop-start quickness that makes it nearly impossible to contain him in isolated matchups. If Kelly is able to pair Cooks with trade acquisition Darren Sproles in the middle of the field in wide-open formation, opponents could have a tougher time defending Philly's 2.0 version of the spread.
Kansas City Chiefs (No. 23)
Brooks: Best fits for top prospects
In advance of the 2014 NFL Draft, Bucky Brooks is examining potential landing spots for high-profile players in this class. READ
Perfect match:LSU's Odell Beckham Jr.
Scouting report: Electrifying catch-and-run playmaker with exceptional speed, quickness and route-running skills.
Why it makes sense: Coach Andy Reid guided the Chiefs into the postseason despite having an offense devoid of potent playmakers on the perimeter. Dwayne Bowe is at his best when working the intermediate areas of the field as a big-bodied pass catcher. Thus, Kansas City desperately needs a big-play threat on the opposite side to alleviate some of the pressure on Bowe. Beckham is the ideal candidate for the job, with legit 4.4 speed and outstanding running skills. He can blow past defenders on vertical routes or elude would-be tacklers in space on short crossing routes designed to take advantage of the tremendous playmaking skills he displays while returning kicks. This is a key component to the Chiefs' offensive philosophy under Reid, which is why a marriage between Beckham and Kansas City looks ideal on paper.
Seattle Seahawks (No. 32)
Perfect match:Florida State's Kelvin Benjamin.
Scouting report: Big, athletic receiver with imposing physical dimensions and an unpolished game.
Why it makes sense: Coach Pete Carroll and general manager John Schneider have assembled a roster loaded with young talent at every position. The franchise's collegiate approach to team building already yielded a Super Bowl title -- and it has the 'Hawks on the cusp of establishing a dynasty in the Pacific Northwest. Looking at the Seahawks' offense, the unit needs a big-bodied pass catcher in the lineup to complement Percy Harvin and Doug Baldwin. The presence of a massive, explosive athlete like Benjamin would give Russell Wilson a jump-ball specialist to target in the red zone. With Benjamin, who is adept at wrestling the ball away from defenders on alley-oops, Wilson could take more chances down the field without increasing his turnover percentage. Thus, the Seahawks become more dangerous, while remaining the conservative offensive outfit that just captured a Lombardi Trophy in old-school fashion.