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No shortage of top-notch receivers in this year's draft class

INDIANAPOLIS -- Michael Crabtree won't do the one thing league talent-evaluators want to see him do at the NFL Scouting Combine -- run the 40-yard dash.

The fact the former Texas Tech star is saving that for an individual workout might, for the time being, take at least a tiny bit of the luster out of a group of wide receivers that otherwise has scouts and coaches excited about their potential for significant impact. As one NFL general manager, who requested anonymity, said, "I think it'll have people back on their heels a little bit. I think some people are wondering about his speed."

There's no wondering about his height, not after Friday's measurements were taken. Crabtree had been listed at 6-3 but came in nearly 2 inches under that.

They'll keep wondering about his speed until March 26, when Crabtree stages his own NFL audition in Dallas. Still, his new height and lingering questions about his speed are not likely enough to knock him out of his presumptive top spot among receivers in the April 25-26 draft. And being No. 1 this year is saying plenty, considering the exceptional talent of other highly regarded members of this receiving class: Jeremy Maclin of Missouri, Percy Harvin of Florida, Kenny Britt of Rutgers, Darrius Heyward-Bey of Maryland, and Hakeem Nicks of North Carolina.

If you want receivers who combine size, speed and athleticism, or if you're just looking for an outside burner, this group has it all -- including good depth.

A year ago, no receivers were selected in the first round, while 10 were picked in the second. This year, as many as a half-dozen could be taken in the first 32 picks.

"I think it's a good year for the receiver position," New York Jets general manager Mike Tannenbaum said. "I think they all bring something a little different to the table."

At 6-1 3/8 and 215 pounds, Crabtree brings decent size, along with athleticism and strength. He also has exceptionally good hands, catching nearly 95 percent of the balls thrown his way. He is tough and has outstanding body control.

Crabtree comes up short

When the official combine measurements came in on Friday of the running backs, quarterbacks and wide receivers, there was one height that stood out from the rest. More ...

Crabtree also is extremely agile. He shows good short-area burst, but in Texas Tech's offense, which emphasizes quick throws, he didn't have to rely too heavily on speed.

After suffering an ankle injury in last month's Cotton Bowl, Crabtree decided it was best to avoid taking part in any combine drills, particularly the 40-yard dash, because he wanted to avoid the possibility of running slower than he would when fully recovered. Crabtree knew the decision would raise suspicions among some NFL scouts and coaches, but, after consulting with family members, was confident it was the best way to go.

"(My speed) is always going to be questioned, and I'm looking forward to answering that question," he said. Crabtree put his ankle at "95 percent" and expected it to be fully healed in about three weeks.

Teams will put a good deal of stock in his 40 time, although it won't be the only gauge they use to determine his speed.

"I think, when he does time eventually, you match it to the tape, to his competition, and you try to project it against NFL corners," new Cleveland Browns general manager George Kokinis said. "I'm not too concerned about Michael's speed because right now, on tape, I see him running pretty (well)."

If Crabtree isn't the first receiver off the board, Maclin could be. He, too, has tremendous hands. He, too, is an outstanding athlete.

What Maclin has that Crabtree doesn't is considerable speed, which is due in part because he carries a smaller frame at 6-0 and 198 pounds. He excels at running deep routes. His goal at the combine is to improve on his personal best in the 40 of 4.31 seconds. Maclin is hoping to run a 4.29 on Saturday.

"He possesses the skills across the board -- the body control, the fluidity to run routes and separate, the ability to track the ball -- and he's fast," Atlanta Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff said. "He's a competitor. He's a passionate football player."

At 5-11 and 195 pounds, Harvin is another of the smallish receivers in this year's group. He also figures to be among the fastest. In college, he not only could run past most defenders trying to cover him, but he also showed a great deal of elusiveness.

Talent-evaluators say that, unlike last year's draft, the greatest strength of this year's receiver crop is at the top. They also say that good receivers are available in the latter rounds.

"Last year, as far as the top-tier guys, was a little bit down," San Francisco 49ers general manager Scot McCloughan said. "I think this year's better up there. I think maybe it's a little bit thinner in the middle than it was last year. But I think it's a position where you can do damage throughout the draft, there's no doubt about it."

Of the receivers drafted in the second round last year, the two that had the greatest impact were Eddie Royal, selected by Denver, and DeSean Jackson, chosen by Philadelphia. Royal finished sixth in the AFC and led all rookie wide receivers with 91 receptions for 980 yards and five touchdowns. Jackson was second among rookie wideouts with 62 catches and two scores.

Neither Royal nor Jackson has the large, Larry Fitzgerald-like frame that many teams prefer. Yet they have a quality that most clubs want, regardless of the size of the receiver -- the ability to separate from coverage, whether it's on deep pattern or a shorter route.

"Separation is key," Dimitroff said. "Now, obviously, the bigger guys aren't going to separate as well. But you see a lot of teams that are really interested in the ability to separate while they're running routes. That's why (New England's) Wes Welker does such a nice job. He's not that fast, but he has the ability to separate."

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