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Nebraska's Paul leads list of intriguing WRs poised to enter draft

Editor's note: This is the third in a weekly series detailing the top senior prospects, by position, for the 2011 NFL Draft.

Did you know?

   » Since the common draft began in 1967, only two WRs have been selected first overall: 
  Irving Fryar ( 
  1984) and 
  Keyshawn Johnson ( 
  1996). Both caught over 800 passes and recorded over 10,000 receiving yards. 

» Don Hutson, charter member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, led the NFL in receiving for eight seasons and in 1942 was the first receiver to have over 1,000 receiving yards in a single season (1,211). Hutson also led the league in scoring in for five consecutive seasons.

» Former Colts WR Marvin Harrison holds the record for the most receptions in one season with 143 in 2002.

Speed is important at the wide receiver position, but the ability to run routes (Steve Largent and Wes Welker for example), have a burst (Jerry Rice) and catch the quick slant for a first down to keep a drive alive (Michael Irvin and Cris Carter) are all important as well. Speed is an important trait for success because it makes it possible to stretch the field. very seldom can can you find a receiver that can run a sub-4.4 40-yard dash after the third round of the draft.

Wide receiver is a position in which players selected after the first round have a chance to play at a high level. Chad Ochocinco, Anquan Boldin, Sidney Rice and DeSean Jackson were all second-round picks while Steve Smith (Carolina), Hines Ward and Mike Wallace went in the third round. Brandon Marshall went in the fourth round, Donald Driver in the seventh while Miles Austin and Welker weren't even drafted.

This list only includes players who will have exhausted their eligibility after the 2010 season. For that reason, A.J. Green (Georgia), Julio Jones (Alabama), Joe Baldwin (Pittsburgh) and DeAndre Brown (Southern Mississippi) are not included on this list, even though they would likely be top prospects if they chose to enter the 2011 draft.

Here are the top 15 senior wide receivers that scouts will be keeping a close eye on this fall.

Top senior wide receivers

College: Nebraska
Height/Weight: 6-1 1/8, 220

Paul is a fourth-year player who has improved every year. He finished the 2009 season with 237 total yards (receiving, rushing and returns) in the Huskers' Holiday Bowl victory over Arizona to be come the game's MVP. Playing on a team without a top-notch quarterback, Paul was the team's leading receiver in 2009 with 40 catches. He is a very explosive player with above average speed and hands who is very good in the return game, where he avergaed 27.9 yards on kickoff returns.

College: North Carolina
Height/Weight: 6-2, 205

Little started his career at UNC as a running back and moved to wide receiver midway through the 2008 season, later leading the team with 62 catches in 2009. Little is a very good athlete who can play several positions. He is an exciting player who looks a lot like Keyshawn Johnson in college.

College: Troy
Height/Weight: 5-9, 181

One of the fastest players in the 2011 draft, Jernigan will run a sub 4.4 40-yard dash at the combine. He is a very good athlete who played quarterback in high school and led his team to a state championship. Jernigan can pass and run from the "Wildcat" formation and has great quickness along with good hands. He will be a matchup problem. If he were taller, Jernigan would be a potential first-rounder.

College: East Carolina
Height/Weight: 5-10 1/4, 195

A former high school quarterback, Harris is an outstanding athlete coming off a season in which he caught 83 passes and seven touchdowns. New offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley -- formerly Texas Tech's wide receivers coach -- should help Harris' numbers. Harris is not without his flaws, though. He needs to improve his hands before he can take the next step.

College: San Diego State
Height/Weight: 5-11 1/2, 195

Brown, a fourth-year starter this year, has caught 140 passes and 14 touchdowns in three years. He is a good kick returner with good speed and quickness for his position. The Aztecs are a passing team and Brown may be the best receiver in the Mountain West Conference.

6. Terrance Toliver

College: LSU
Height/Weight: 6-3 3/4, 210

2010 will be Toliver's third year as a starter at LSU. One of the top high school players in Texas, Toliver is a former state long jump champion. He has the size and speed needed to play the wide receiver position in the NFL. He needs to improve as a route-runner if he intends to change the recent history of LSU receivers at the next level. His predecessors have been relatively quiet in the NFL.

7. Detron Lewis

College: Texas Tech
Height/Weight: 5-11 1/2, 205

Lewis will be starting for the third year at wide receiver for the Raiders. Texas Tech has a new coach in Tommy Tuberville, and the question will be if the Raiders pass as much as they have in previous years. Lewis caught 141 passes over the last two years. He has very good quickness, but good -- not great -- speed for his position and can make the tough catch.

College: Boise State
Height/Weight: 5-11 1/2, 170

The 2009 season was Young's first as a starter and he led the team with 79 catches and 10 touchdowns. He has 4.45-type speed but lacks bulk. Young will need to get stronger. Despite his size, Young is a very solid kickoff return man with good quickness, hands and route-running ability.

College: Miami
Height/Weight: 6-2 1/2, 205

Hankerson was Miami's leading receiver in 2009 with 45 receptions and six touchdowns. He played as a true freshman and has improved every year as a player. An outstanding high school player, Hankerson has good traits for his postion.

College: Boise State
Height/Weight: 6-2 1/2, 205

Pettis played in 2007 as a true freshman and has caught 112 passes and 23 touchdowns in the past two years. He has very good hands with good quickness (he ran a 4.6 40-yard dash this spring at Boise State's pro day. Pettis is a big target who has the ability to run after the catch. I just wish he was a little faster.

11. Matthew Szczur

College: Villanova
Height/Weight: 5-11, 203

Szczur may be the most interesting player in college football. He does everything. He plays wide receiver (63 catches, eight touchdowns the last two years), running back and returns kicks. He is an outstanding special teams player with 4.5-type speed. Szczur was drafted by the Los Angeles Dodgers.

12. Marshall Williams

College: Wake Forest
Height/Weight: 6-foot 3/4, 186

Williams had a breakout year in 2009 with 60 catches and six touchdowns. He has the right speed for the positions and the ability to make big plays. Williams is a good athlete (he was a running back and basketball player in high school) with a lot of upside.

College: USC
Height/Weight: 6-1, 190

Johnson is a fourth-year player who missed five games in 2009 with a broken collarbone. He makes a lot of big plays, as evidenced by his 26.3-yard average on 12 touchdown catches over the last three years. Johnson is a good kickoff return man with speed to go along with good hands.

College: West Texas A&M
Height/Weight: 6-1, 190

Burton is a junior college transfer who caught 62 passes for 888 yards in his first year at West Texas A&M. He has speed and size for his position and has the hands to make the tough catches.

College: Stanford
Height/Weight: 6-1, 205

Stanford's leading receiver the past two years (98 catches), Whalen is a very good athlete with good hands to go with 4.55 speed. Whalen is a very good college football player.

Some small-school wide receivers NFL scouts will be keeping an eye on this fall:

» Marcus Harris
College: Murray State
Height/Weight: 6-1, 177

» Cecil Shorts
College: Mount Union
Height/Weight: 6-foot, 195

» Ricardo Lockette
College: Fort Valley State
Height/Weight: 6-2, 200

» Edmund Gates
College: Abilene Christian
Height/Weight: 6-foot, 190

What about the tight ends?

To play the tight end position in the NFL, you need to be able to block in the running game and catch in the passing game. Tight ends will line up outside to try and create matchup problems in pass coverage. They will also line up in the backfield and force coverage by linebackers or to help block blitzers.

College: Tennessee
Height/Weight: 6-5, 249

A fifth-year senior who will be starting for the third consecutive year at the tight end position, Stocker has improved a great deal over the last three seasons. He is more of a blocker than a receiver, but he has athletic ability. A former defensive lineman in high school, Stocker is tough and smart; very smart.

College: Arkansas
Height/Weight: 6-2 1/4, 241

Williams is more of an H-back than a tight end. He's not the type of blocker you need to be successful in the running game. Much like Colts TE Dallas Clark, Williams lines up all over the field and uses his speed (4.55 40-yard dash) and hands to create matchup problems for the defense.

College: South Carolina
Height/Weight: 6-5, 270

Saunders played as a true freshman in 2007 and has started 13 games going into the 2010 season. He is a very difficult matchup in the passing game because of his size and speed. Saunders has the toughness needed to be a good blocker in the running game.

College: Nebraska
Height/Weight: 6-4, 230

McNeill is a fifth-year player going into his third season as a tight end for Nebraska. He is more of an H-back type of player. I don't think he will ever be big enough to play on the line of scrimmage as an every-down blocker. He is very smart with athletic ability. He can play wide receiver in college, but not in the NFL.

5. Charles Gantt

College: Michigan State
Height/Weight: 6-5, 260

Gantt is more of a blocking tight end than a receiver, but he does a good job catching short passes. He is not a great athlete, but he will be a solid NFL player.

College: Wisconsin
Height/Weight: 6-2 3/4, 240

Kendricks is a fifth-year player who started at wide receiver before being moved to tight end. He broke his leg vs. Michigan State in 2008. He came back to start nine games in 2009, recording 29 receptions as well as a great performance vs. Miami in the Champs Sports Bowl. A member of the Badgers' track team, Kendricks is a very good athlete as well as a solid special teams player.

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