NFL Prospects: Wide Receivers and Tight Ends

The top prospects for the upcoming NFL Draft

April 19, 2007

By Rob Rang

Special to CSTV.com from NFLDraftScout.com

 

The last time a wide receiver grabbed as much pre-draft attention as junior Calvin Johnson has, the New York Jets selected Keyshawn Johnson with the first overall pick of the 1996 draft.

 

Long-time scouts are referring to the former Georgia Tech star as a "can't-miss" prospect. Even with such high acclaim, LSU quarterback JaMarcus Russell, a considerably riskier commodity, remains the favorite to be the first overall pick.

 

Why is Johnson unlikely to be the first pick? Part of the explanation is that the relative strength of the receiver position in 2007 adds value to picks not only later in the first round, but the middle rounds as well. Wide receiver is the deepest and most talented position in the 2007 draft. As many as six could be selected in the first round, and scouts feel that immediate contributors could be found on the draft's second day.

 

The quality at the tight end position is quite a different story. Only juniors Greg Olsen (Miami, Fla.) and Zach Miller (Arizona State) are considered worthy of being selected in the top two rounds. And they alone are not enough to save a tight end class considered among the worst of the past 10 years.

 

An in-depth look at best wide receivers and tight ends:

 

WIDE RECEIVERS:

 

1. Calvin Johnson, Georgia Tech, 6-5, 239, Jr.:

 

The elite prospect of the 2007 draft, Johnson is considered by some veteran scouts to be a once-in-a-generation talent. He measured in as the biggest receiver at the Scouting Combine, and then jumped the highest (42 1/2-inch vertical) and farthest (11'7" broad jump). He was also among the fastest (4.35-second 40-yard dash).

 

A starter since arriving at Georgia Tech, Johnson ranks fifth in school history in receiving yards (2,927) and receptions (178) and third in touchdown catches (28) in just 38 career games. Had he enjoyed the luxury of a more refined quarterback, Johnson's numbers could have been truly historic. Regardless, he has a chance to be the first receiver selected with the top overall pick since Keyshawn Johnson, and only the third taken first overall (Irving Fryar to Patriots, 1984).

 

2. Robert Meachem, Tennessee, 6-2, 214, Jr.:

 

Despite only starting 15 games in his college career, Meachem is likely to parlay a spectacular junior season into a spot in the draft's first round. While the 2007 class of receivers is deep, the perception among scouts is that most of the prospects are likely to be No. 2 receivers at the NFL level.

 

With Meachem's combination of size and 4.39 speed, he has the upside to warrant being selected over bigger names like Dwayne Bowe, Ted Ginn, Jr. and Dwayne Jarrett. Critics will point to the fact that Meachem only starred for the Vols for one season. That said, he made the most of his opportunity, earning All-American and All-Southeastern Conference first-team honors. Meachem ranked fourth in the nation with an average of 99.85 receiving yards per game and ranked 24th nationally with 5.46 receptions per game. He caught 71 passes for a school single-season record 1,298 yards (18.3-yard average), including 11 touchdowns. And Meachem's season wasn't defined by hollow production against average talent. He put up his best numbers against this draft's premier cornerback prospects: Chris Houston, Daymeion Hughes, Fred Bennett and highly regarded 2008 prospect Paul Oliver (Georgia). Meachem registered 100 receiving yards, a touchdown, or both against each of the four.

 

3. Dwayne Bowe, LSU, 6-2, 221, Sr.:

 

Possessing the prototype combination of size, physicality and hands, Bowe is regarded as the top senior among the 2007 wide receiver prospects. Despite not playing football until his junior season of high school, Bowe signed with LSU as one of the nation's elite prep prospects. Once with the program, Bowe's talent was obvious and, despite the talent ahead of him, Bowe played in 13 games as a true freshman.

 

Scouts love the fact that Bowe showed steady improvement in his production, which grew each season, culminating in a senior year that saw him post 65 receptions for 990 yards and a school record 12 touchdowns. Some questioned why Bowe would risk his status as the top senior receiver by playing in the Senior Bowl. But he used the stage to solidify himself as an elite pass-catcher in the draft, exhibiting refined route-running skills, soft hands and aggressively competing for every pass.

 

All that remained was for Bowe to prove his speed. While a 40 time of 4.51 at the Scouting Combine was considered solid for a receiver of his size, Bowe elected to run again at his Pro Day, where he posted a sparkling 4.40 time.

 

4. Ted Ginn, Jr., Ohio State, 5-11, 178, Jr.:

 

The most explosive player on this list, Ginn has to shake the notion held by some that he is more of a returner who can help at receiver than a receiver who can help as a returner. Lacking prototype size for the position, Ginn was able to get by on pure speed and electric open-field quickness at the college level, where his less-than reliable route-running and questionable hands weren't as evident.

 

For all the attention Ginn received, his production with the Buckeyes was hardly jaw-dropping as a receiver. Over 31 career starts, Ginn caught 125 passes for 1,943 yards and 15 touchdowns. His impact as a return specialist cannot be overstated. He set the Big Ten record with six career touchdowns on 64 punt returns for 900 yards (14.1-yard average), and gained 1,012 yards with two scores on 38 kickoff returns (26.6-yard average).

 

Ginn could have a Devin Hester-like impact if allowed to focus on this area as a rookie.

 

5. Dwayne Jarrett, USC, 6-4, 219, Jr.:

 

In terms of statistics against quality competition, there isn't a better receiver in the draft than Jarrett. Despite leaving USC after his junior season, Jarrett set the school career record with 216 receptions and the Pac-10 Conference all-time mark with 41 touchdown catches. His combination of size, leaping ability, strong hands and underrated route-running skills make him a prototypical possession receiver at the next level. With that type of production, the expectation of many is that Jarrett is a future star in the NFL.  

 

However, with his lack of great speed (4.65 at Pro Day) and explosiveness coming out of his breaks, Jarrett lacks the physical tools to be a dominant NFL wide receiver. He is better prepared to acclimate to the NFL than former Trojan and current Detroit Lions disappointment Mike Williams, but Jarrett doesn't project to being the top prospect his statistics might suggest.

 

6. Steve Smith, USC, 6-0, 197, Sr.:

 

With Jarrett getting most of the attention, fans might be surprised to see just how close the Trojans' tandem is being ranked by NFL scouts. There is quiet speculation that Smith could actually be drafted ahead of Jarrett despite the disparity in their collegiate production. Jarrett left as a junior with a Pac-10-record 41 touchdown catches. Smith, a senior, leaves with roughly half (22 career touchdowns) that, but is a considerably smoother route-runner and has better speed than Jarrett. While he lacks Jarrett's rare height, Smith is a legitimate 6-0, 197 pounds, and was quietly viewed by those close to the USC program as the more reliable of the two.

 

7. Craig Davis, LSU, 6-1, 200, SR:

 

Like Smith to Jarrett, Davis is a quality NFL prospect in his own right after playing in the shadow of a more hyped receiver.

 

Because Davis has very good speed and vision, some believe he will eventually be one of the more productive receivers in this draft class.

 

Consider that in 44 games at LSU (starting 25 times), Davis caught only seven touchdowns. He still became the seventh player in school history to gain more than 2,000 yards receiving in a career, catching 141 passes for 2,117 yards. Scouts view his combination of size, 4.42 speed and open-field running skills as a perfect fit in the West Coast Offense. 

  

8. Anthony Gonzalez, Ohio State, 6-0, 193, Jr.:

 

Another college receiver who played second fiddle at his position, Gonzalez rarely was placed in the bright spotlight at Ohio State, where the attention went to Ginn and quarterback Troy Smith.

 

Hyperbole aside, Gonzalez finished with surprisingly similar numbers to Ginn (87 receptions for 1,287 yards and 13 touchdowns) despite starting roughly half as many games as the ballyhooed speedster. In terms of pure speed, Gonzalez is no slouch. He timed at a 4.44 at the Scouting Combine and is a refined route-runner. With so much attention heaped upon the character concerns of players, Gonzalez is one player scouts don't worry about. A Rhodes Scholar candidate, he recently announced that he will donate a portion of his off-field income from autograph shows and endorsements to two charities -- the American Cancer Society and the Arrupe Neighborhood Partnership Program at St. Ignatius High School.

 

9. Sidney Rice, South Carolina, 6-4, 200, rSoph.:

 

Rice left South Carolina with two years of eligibility remaining. Many believe he has the size and hands to reverse the trend of Steve Spurrier-coached receivers struggling at the NFL level. Though Spurrier is credited with his development, Rice was recruited by Lou Holtz and, in signing with the Gamecocks, spurned offers from Miami (Fla.), Florida, Tennessee and Georgia.

 

Since redshirting in 2004, there hasn't been a more consistent receiver in the country -- including Calvin Johnson.

 

Rice started 23 of 24 games at South Carolina, and finished his career with 142 catches for 2,233 yards (15.7-yard average) and 23 touchdowns. Rice has great height and posted a 39-inch vertical at the Scouting Combine. His downfield speed is a question mark, though Rice performed better than expected in workouts (4.51). Of concern to scouts is that despite his size, Rice lacks physicality and too often loses battles for the ball. The reputation of Spurrier-coached receivers struggling in their transition to the NFL is another significant knock Rice must overcome. Even Rice's greatest detractors, however, agree on one key thing -- he has spectacular hands. In fact, there may not be a more reliable pair of hands in the draft.

 

10. Jason Hill, Washington State, 6-1, 204, Sr.:

 

The Jarrett-Smith duo and California junior DeSean Jackson drew most of the attention from Pac-10 observers last season, but Washington State's Jason Hill should not be overlooked. All he did for the Cougars was catch 148 passes for 2,704 yards (18.3-yard average) and a school-record 32 career touchdown catches.

 

With so many highly drafted Pac-10 receivers struggling to make the transition to the NFL, the Senior Bowl and Scouting Combine were especially important stages for Hill. He proved up to the challenge in Mobile, establishing himself as one of the more reliable receivers in that all-star game. Hill didn't look particularly explosive in Senior Bowl workouts, but certainly did at the Scouting Combine, running a 4.32 40-yard dash that likely boosted his stock at least a full round.

 

11. Johnnie Lee Higgins, UTEP, 6-0, 186, Sr.:

 

Higgins is an underrated senior who hasn't received the national attention given to underclassmen with considerably less production. In 49 games at Texas-El Paso, Higgins started 32 times. He ranks second in UTEP history with 190 receptions and set school records with career marks of 3,218 receiving yards (16.9-yard average) and 32 touchdowns.

 

Higgins has good height but is lighter than scouts would prefer. He is a spectacular athlete, showing true three-tier speed. His quickness, explosion and deep speed make him not only a dangerous receiver, but a standout return specialist. Used more often as a kick returner (1,033 yards on 52 kickoff returns), Higgins added punt returns to his impressive resume in 2006, setting the conference single-season record with a 23.4-yard average on 12 returns, including two touchdowns.

 

12. Aundrae Allison, East Carolina, 6-0, 198, Sr.:

 

Not since the days of Keyshawn Johnson (1994-95), who attended West Los Angeles College (1992-93) before joining the Trojans, has a junior college transfer made the impact that Allison did for East Carolina in 2005. In becoming the first player in ECU history to gain more than 1,000 receiving yards in a season, Allison was a unanimous first-team All-CUSA choice with 83 receptions for 1,024 yards and seven touchdowns. He missed the first two games of the year with an ankle injury, but produced another 68 receptions for 708 yards and four touchdowns as a senior.

 

With only two years of D-I experience, Allison is raw compared to the other prominent receivers in this draft. But he has the upside to warrant mention, and will be considered with players on this list on draft day.

 

Allison helped himself with a strong showing at the Senior Bowl and was quietly among the Scouting Combine's most impressive performers, posting a 4.39 40-yard dash and registering a 37-inch vertical.

 

Other Potential Impact Wide Receivers:

   -- David Clowney, Virginia Tech, 6-0, 188, Sr.: Classic speedster is among the draft's best deep threats.

   -- Mike Walker, UCF, 6-2, 209, Sr.: Savvy receiver who turned heads with an eye-popping 4.35 at the Scouting Combine.

   -- Paul Williams, Fresno State, 6-1, 205, Sr.: Struggled through his senior season, but was one of the most impressive receivers at the East-West Shrine Game.

   -- Jacoby Jones, Lane, 6-3, 210, Sr.: While Williams was expected to light up the Shrine Game, Jones was not. But he did just that, and went from an afterthought to probable mid-round pick.

   -- Courtney Taylor, Auburn, 6-2, 204, Sr.: Productive collegiate receiver who lacks the speed NFL teams crave.

   -- Chris Davis, Florida State, 5-10, 181, Sr.: Lacks size and pure speed, but has excellent agility and is a savvy route-runner and reliable receiver.

   -- Rhema McKnight, Notre Dame, 6-1, 211, Sr.: Has the physical tools to earn high-round consideration, but has struggled with drops throughout his career.

   -- Chansi Stuckey, Clemson, 5-11, 197, Sr.: Versatile athlete capable of helping teams as a receiver and special-teamer.

   -- James Jones, San Jose State 6-1, 207, Sr.: Thick, strong possession receiver who could prove to be a better NFL player than he was in college.

   -- Brandon Myles, West Virginia, 6-1, 189, Sr.: Speedy and tougher than his thin frame would indicate, Myles will compete to be the first player not invited to the 2007 Scouting Combine to be drafted.

   -- David Ball, New Hampshire, 6-1, 196, Sr.: Slow in workouts (4.65), but can't argue with his production -- Ball broke Jerry Rice's career touchdown record (50) with 58 in 50 career games.

 

 

TIGHT ENDS:

 

1. Greg Olsen, Miami, 6-6, 254, Jr.:

 

Entering the Scouting Combine, Olsen and fellow junior Zach Miller were in a virtual dead heat to be the first tight end selected in the draft. After a superb workout, Olsen pulled ahead and ever since has considered the unquestioned top prospect at the position. Olsen measured in at 6-foot-6, 254 pounds and was clocked at 4.51 in the 40 (fastest among tight ends at the Scouting Combine) and registered a 35 1/2-inch vertical jump while pumping up 23 reps of 225 pounds (both ranking second among tight ends tested).

 

Olsen is more than just a workout warrior. After originally signing with Notre Dame out of high school, Olsen transferred to Miami (Fla.), where he started 26 of the 33 games in which he played for the Hurricanes. He totaled 87 receptions for 1,215 yards (14-yard average) and six touchdowns. Though his statistics are hardly jaw-dropping, Olsen was Miami's most consistent receiving threat in 2006 and appears well on his way toward continuing the Hurricanes' recent history of highly drafted tight ends. Scouts love Olsen's ability as a down-the-seam threat in the passing game, though he remains a work in progress as a blocker.

 

2. Zach Miller, Arizona State, 6-5, 256, Jr.:

 

Miller's Scouting Combine numbers pale in comparison to those posted by Olsen. But in terms of on-field production, the tale of the tape is quite lopsided in Miller's favor.

 

Nicknamed "The Truth" by his teammates because he proved to be every bit the star his elite prep status forecast, Miller caught at least one pass in 33 of his 35 career contests. He ranks sixth overall on the school's career list with 144 receptions, eclipsing the mark previously held by Todd Heap. He gained 1,512 yards (10.5-yard average) with 14 touchdowns.

 

But it wasn't just that Olsen was more impressive than Miller at the Scouting Combine -- he was infinitely more impressive. A moment after Miller was timed at a disappointing 4.87 in the 40, Olsen timed at 4.51. Normally sure-handed, Miller also struggled in receiving drills in Indianapolis. Though he improved his speed significantly at his Pro Day (4.72), he only lifted 225 pounds on the bench press 16 times, a surprisingly low number considering Miller is generally viewed as a better blocker than Olsen.

 

3. Ben Patrick, Delaware, 6-3, 252, Sr.:

 

Originally a standout at Duke, Patrick elected to transfer to I-AA Delaware for his senior season and posted career-high totals in receptions, receiving yards and touchdowns. For his career, Patrick caught 143 passes for 1,420 yards (10.3-yard average), including eight touchdowns, though his senior season at Delaware -- 64 catches for 639 yards (10-yard average) and six touchdowns -- greatly contributed to these numbers.

 

Recognized as one of the better senior tight end prospects in a weak class, Patrick's success at Delaware was no surprise. Though his numbers at Duke are far from staggering, he led the Blue Devils in receptions in 2004 and 2005.

 

Patrick began to move up the charts with consecutive strong weeks of practice at the East-West Shrine Game and the Senior Bowl. Patrick, who was originally not invited to the Senior Bowl, was "called up" to replace Rutgers' Clark Harris. Harris was sidelined early in the week with turf toe. Patrick lacks great measurables for the position at only 6-3, 252 pounds and running in the mid 4.7s. He knows how to get open, however, and has strong, secure hands. Patrick isn't a dominant blocker, but he's more refined than either of the highly ranked junior prospects.

 

Other Potential Impact Tight Ends:

   -- Scott Chandler, Iowa, 6-7, 270, Sr.: A former wide receiver who has the hands and agility you'd expect along with the blocking ability.

   -- Kevin Boss, Western Oregon, 6-7, 252, Sr.: Small-school prospect who pops off the film, but a torn labrum ended his senior season after only six games and eliminated any chance of Boss playing in all-star games.

   -- Martrez Milner, Georgia, 6-4, 252, Sr.: He has the size and athleticism teams want, but Milner has struggled with drops throughout his career.

   -- Joe Newton, Oregon State, 6-7, 257, Sr.: Great size and big, soft mitts for hands, but he has little in terms of speed.

   -- Michael Allan, Whitworth, 6-6, 255, Sr.: The only Division III player invited to the Scouting Combine, Allan has good size and athleticism, but is very raw.

   -- Clark Harris, Rutgers, 6-6, 261, Sr.: Good short-area target, but lacks speed and is barely even a pest as a blocker.

   -- Matt Spaeth, Minnesota, 6-7, 270, Sr.: Huge, but lacks speed and is surprisingly limited as a blocker. Shoulder surgery in December hasn't allowed him to complete a full workout for scouts.

 

Rob Rang is a Senior Analyst for NFLDraftScout.com, distributed by The Sports Xchange. Email him at rrang@nfldraftscout.com.