Smith, Baldwin offer intrigue behind draft's top two WRs

As a former NFL receiver and scout, I have a tendency to scrutinize prospective pass-catchers even more.

The transition from college to the pros is difficult, and the successful players possess a core set of traits that translate well to the next level.

When studying receivers, it is important to differentiate the types.

No. 1 receivers have a varied skill set that allows them to master most of the route tree. Although they typically aren't the swiftest, they are polished route runners with outstanding quickness in and out of their breaks. They also understand how to create space from defenders by using their size and strength. Most importantly, they are dependable and find a way to impact the game, despite facing double coverage on a consistent basis.

No doubt, the best examples are Andre Johnson, Larry Fitzgerald and Roddy White.

Complementary receivers, or No. 2 options, have at least one blue-chip characteristic. These traits allow them to thrive in a limited role but not enough to propel them to consistently be a lead receiver. Speed is often a critical component in their repertoire, and it allows them to make big plays despite their flaws.

Mike Wallace, Devin Hester and DeSean Jackson fit that mold because they are explosive receivers, but aren't necessarily finished products. Although they are tremendously talented and impact players, they don't excel at all facets of the route tree, which limits their ability to anchor a passing game.

This year's top prospects, A.J. Green and Julio Jones, are viable candidates to serve as lead receivers. However, the majority of the talent pool is littered with wideouts destined to serve complementary roles.

A.J. Green, Georgia

As one of the most dominant receivers to play in the SEC, he enters the league as a polished product. He has the skills to thrive as a No. 1 receiver in any system, and scouts love his combination of hands, route-running ability and explosiveness.

Even though he has a lean frame, he shows the ability to play with finesse or force. He slips past aggressive defenders at the line and has the athleticism and leaping ability to go get the ball. As a runner, he doesn't posses overwhelming speed, but he is crafty with the ball and has a knack for moving the chains in critical situations.

Scouts will point to his lack of elite top-end speed as a possible concern, but his long history of production against top competition makes it a moot point. While it's unlikely Green will be the first player taken in the draft, teams at the top should strongly consider ranking him as the No. 1 prospect.

Julio Jones, Alabama

Jones was the star of the NFL Scouting Combine and flourished as the No. 1 receiver for the Crimson Tide. He projects as a prototypical lead receiver in a West Coast offense that places a premium on athleticism and running after the catch. While he lacks polish as a route runner, his natural talent allows him to get open against elite corners. He routinely uses his size and strength to overpower defenders at the top of his routes, and he provides the quarterback with a big target over the middle. He also shows a tenacity blocking that will endear him to scouts and coaches.

Scouts have cited Jones' inconsistent hands and playing speed as issues. While his high number of drops can be attributed to mental lapses and lingering issues with a broken hand, his timed speed (4.39) doesn't translate on tape. He doesn't consistently run past defenders on deep routes, and his inability to gain separation from tight coverage indicates he doesn't play to his measurables. Still, he is a strong candidate to thrive as a No. 1 receiver regardless of whether his speed is real or imagined.

Torrey Smith, Maryland

He quietly emerged as a playmaker during a sensational three-year career at Maryland. He is a speedster who routinely runs past defenders on vertical routes. While he isn't a refined route runner, he is effective on short and intermediate routes due to his running skills.

Smith possesses tremendous short-area quickness, and can run away from defenders. He shows natural hands and pass-catching ability. He tracks and adjusts well to errant throws, and is able to come up with the circus catch.

Scouts will talk about his unpolished routes as a reason to worry. He doesn't have a full grasp of the route tree, which could limit his initial impact. If he can continue to show improvement in private workouts, his value on draft boards could rise.

Jonathan Baldwin, Pittsburgh

His flair for making dramatic catches in a crowd has made him a favorite of scouts and coaches. His size (6-foot-4, 228 pounds) and athleticism make him a potential impact player. As a route runner, he shows good body control and burst getting in and out of his breaks. Although he separates from tight coverage when he plays with his pads down, he needs to play with ideal leverage to win consistently. His height and leaping ability make him a tremendous weapon in the red zone. He comes down with his fair share of jump balls and is a playmaker when focused.

Baldwin's inconsistent production is the biggest hurdle scouts have when projecting his potential. He disappears too often to be a legitimate No. 1, and scouts wonder if the switch will turn on in the NFL.

Follow Bucky Brooks on Twitter @BuckyBrooks.

This article has been reproduced in a new format and may be missing content or contain faulty links. Please use the Contact Us link in our site footer to report an issue.