Speed is important at this position, but the ability to run routes (Steve Largent), have a burst (Jerry Rice) and catch in a crowd also are important.
Wide receiver is a position in which players selected after the first round have a chance to play and excel at a high level -- Deion Branch (NE, Super Bowl XXXIX MVP), second round; Anquan Boldin (ARI), second round; Chad Johnson (CIN), second round; Jimmy Smith (JAC), second round; Laveranues Coles (NYJ), third round; Hines Ward (PIT) third round; Terrell Owens (PHI), third round; Darrell Jackson (SEA), third round; Joe Horn (NO), fifth round; Donald Driver (GB), seventh round; Rod Smith (DEN), undrafted free agent -- just to name a handful.
Over the past 10 years, 42 wide receivers have been selected in the first round (including a record seven in 2004). Most likely, we will see five taken this year and seven in the top 40 picks. Over the past 10 years, 81 were taken in Rounds 2 and 3.
If you are a fantasy football fanatic, you will love to have someone from this draft class as your wide receiver. In 2004, four of the seven wide receivers drafted in Round 1 caught 48 or more passes and scored a combined 32 touchdowns. I think the 2005 group will put up some big numbers.
Since 1998, 309 wide receiver have been invited to the combine. The next highest position over this period of time is cornerbacks (207).
Over the past three drafts, wide receivers drafted in Rounds 1-4 have measured up this way:
The shortest: 5-81/2
The tallest: 6-41/2
The lightest: 169
The heaviest: 247
The slowest: 4.68
The fastest: 4.26
Here are my rankings for wide receivers (The first seven all have a chance to be very good, and there is not a lot of difference among them ability-wise. The Nos. 8-17 players are just a notch behind the first group.):
1. Braylon Edwards, Michigan (6-2 7/8, 211)
He did not work out at the combine, but did so at Michigan's Pro Day. He ran his 40s in 4.50 and 4.54. He also ran the short shuttle in 4.38 seconds and the three-cone drill in 6.87. He had a 371/2-inch vertical jump and a 10-foot-6 broad jump. He set a state record in high school for most positions started in one year -- 11. He caught 28 passes as a senior for 470 yards and four touchdowns, rushed 11 times for 205 yards and one touchdown, and had five interceptions and seven sacks. At Michigan, he played in six games in 2001 (six catches), then started 12 games each in 2002 and 2003. He started every game in 2004 and had 87 catches for 1,221 yards and 12 touchdowns. He won the Biletnikoff Award as the nation's top receiver. He also ran track for Michigan (60 and 200 meters; jumps). He's a playmaker with great body control who will make catches in a crowd. He's strong; he did over 20 bench presses at the combine without being asked to do so. He will drop some catchable balls and low throws can give him problems. He's a big, physical receiver who has Pro Bowl potential.
2. Mark Clayton, Oklahoma (5-10 3/8, 193)
He had a full workout at the combine. He ran his 40s in 4.40 and 4.45. He also ran the short shuttle in 4.07 seconds, the three-cone drill in 6.95 and the long shuttle in 11.08. He had a 361/2-inch vertical jump and a 9-foot-10 broad jump. He played high school football in the Dallas area. He played wide receiver and also was a standout in track. At Oklahoma, he redshirted in 2000, then set Sooners freshman records in 2001. He started eight games in 2002 and had five touchdown catches. He had 15 touchdown catches in 2003, including one in eight consecutive games. He also returned punts and was on the kickoff coverage squad. He's a very athletic player with great quickness and speed. He's strong with very good hands. He's a tough, outstanding competitor who will block. He does not have great height, but will be a very good player. If he plays with the Colts, he will have 10 or more touchdown catches as a rookie. He has great character. I hope you can tell I really like this player both off and on the field.
3. Troy Williamson, South Carolina (6-1 3/8, 203)
He had a limited workout at the combine. He ran his 40s in 4.32 and 4.32. He also ran the short shuttle in 4.03 seconds, the three-cone drill in 6.99 and the long shuttle in 11.19. He had a 411/2-inch vertical jump and a 9-foot-9 broad jump. In high school, he was a two-time 100- and 200-meter state champion and led his track team to back-to-back state titles. At South Carolina, he played as a true freshman; he started five games and gained 28.9 yards per catch. He started 10 games in 2003 and 11 in 2004. He also returned kickoffs. He's a very good athlete with the size and speed you want at the position. He's fluid, has very good hands and can get separation. He has never played in a pro-style offense. He needs to get stronger to get off the bump. He might not play as well as you would like right away. He needs to learn the game, but has outstanding upside.
4. Mike Williams, Southern California (6-4 5/8, 229)
He had a limited workout at the combine. He ran his 40s in 4.56 and 4.56. He also ran the short shuttle in 4.23 seconds and the three-cone drill in 6.98. He had a 381/2-inch vertical jump and a 10-foot-3 broad jump. At his high school in Florida, he played wide receiver and had 38 catches, a 20.8-yard average and 12 touchdowns. He also helped lead the basketball team to the state semifinals. In two seasons at USC, he caught 176 passes and scored 30 touchdowns. He started two of 13 games in 2002 and all 13 games in 2003, when he had 6.1 receptions per touchdown. He has playmaking ability and great body control. He's a long strider with deceptive speed. He has outstanding hands but will body catch at times. He's an outstanding person who will be a very good player for many years.
5. Reggie Brown, Georgia (6-1 5/8, 196)
He had a full workout at the combine. He ran his 40s in 4.45 and 4.55. He also ran the short shuttle in 3.94 seconds, the three-cone drill in 6.99 and the long shuttle in 11.34. He had a 411/2-inch vertical jump and a 10-foot-8 broad jump. At Georgia's Pro Day, he ran 4.3 with nubs on and a 4.4 with regular shoes. As a senior in high school, he had 62 catches and 10 touchdowns. He also was an outstanding basketball player and set a Georgia high school record with a long jump of 24 feet 9 inches. At Georgia, he played as a true freshman in 2000, but a torn right ACL limited him to four games in 2001. He was a part-time starter in 2002, then started 22 games over the next two seasons. He has unbelievable athletic ability; he can run and jump and is strong. He has good hands but will drop some catchable balls; he needs better concentration. He gets separation from defensive backs, but he needs to work on improving his route-running. He has a chance to be really good in the NFL.
6. Roddy White, Alabama-Birmingham (6-11/4, 207)
He did not work out at the combine, but he ran at UAB's Pro Day. He ran his 40s in 4.43 and 4.49. He also ran the short shuttle in 4.12 seconds, the three-cone drill in 7.22 and the long shuttle in 11.59. He had a 41-inch vertical jump and a 10-foot-6 broad jump. He played high school football in South Carolina, where he was a wide receiver and a two-time all-state player. He also won two state titles in wrestling and played baseball. At UAB, he played as a true freshman in 2001, started 11 games in 2002 and started every game in 2003. In 2004, he scored 14 touchdowns and set a Conference USA record with 1,452 receiving yards. He has very good athletic ability with very good hands. He left the Senior Bowl with a hamstring problem, which is why he didn't work out in Indianapolis. He has a good burst. He will compete and go across the middle. He needs to improve his blocking and his work habits. He should be very good; he's getting better every day.
7. Terrence Murphy, Texas A&M (6-0 7/8, 202)
He only ran at the combine, but had a full workout March 10 at A&M's Pro Day. He ran his 40s in 4.39 and 4.42. He also ran the short shuttle in 3.93 seconds, the three-cone drill in 7.20 and the long shuttle in 11.41. He had a 411/2-inch vertical jump, a 10-foot-8 broad jump and 19 bench presses. He was a high school quarterback who earned many honors at the position. At A&M, he started seven games as a freshman wide receiver and set Aggies freshman records with 36 catches and three touchdowns. He started three games in 2002 (against Oklahoma that season, he had five catches for 138 yards). He started in 2003 and led the Big 12 in kickoff returns (27.2 yards per return). He was a team captain in 2004; he had 11 starts and 51 catches. He has very good athletic ability. He can catch in a crowd, but at times will body catch. He runs good routes and can get separation from defensive backs. He has toughness and good work habits, but he needs to do a better job of protecting the football.
8. Courtney Roby, Indiana (6-0 1/8, 189)
He had a complete workout at the combine. He ran his 40s in 4.41 and 4.43. He also ran the short shuttle in 3.94 seconds, the three-cone drill in 6.60 and the long shuttle in 11.18. He had a 361/2-inch vertical jump and a 10-foot-6 broad jump. He played running back in high school and returned kickoffs. At Indiana, he played as a true freshman in 2001. In 2002, he started 10 games and gained 18.5 yards per catch. He started the next two seasons and became the most prolific receiver in Indiana history (170 catches for 2,524 yards). He ran on the Indiana track team in Spring 2003. He has very good athletic skills with excellent speed and very good quickness. He needs to cut down his stride and learn to block better. He needs to catch more with his hands than his body. He caught the ball well at Indiana's Pro Day. He has a chance to be a good player.
9. Vincent Jackson, Northern Colorado (6-43/4, 241)
He worked out at the combine, but did the shuttles and jumps at his Pro Day. He ran his 40s in 4.46 and 4.52. He also ran the short shuttle in 4.08 seconds, the three-cone drill in 6.84 and the long shuttle in 11.49. He had a 39-inch vertical jump and a 10-foot-6 broad jump. In high school, he was a wide receiver and a basketball player. At UNC, he played as a true freshman in 2001 and wound up second in the nation in punt-return average (18.0) thanks to 79- and 85-yard touchdowns. He started one game in 2002, then became a full-time starter the next two years. He had 15 receptions against Division I-AA power Montana in 2004. He wound up with 37 career touchdown receptions. He also played on the basketball team for two years. He's somewhat of a long strider and somewhat of a straight-line runner. He has very good hands and great size for the position; he could create mismatches in the red zone. He needs work as a route runner; he might be more of an H-back prospect.
10. Mark Bradley, Oklahoma (6-1 3/8, 201)
He had a complete workout at the combine. He ran his 40s in 4.37 and 4.42. He also ran the short shuttle in 3.98 seconds, the three-cone drill in 6.96 and the long shuttle in 10.88. He had a 391/2-inch vertical jump and a 10-foot-8 broad jump. He played receiver, quarterback and defensive back in high school, and also returned kicks. He was also a state decathlon champ who high-jumped 7 feet 4 inches and long-jumped 24-71/2. He spent his first two years of college ball at Arkansas-Pine Bluff. He played wide receiver and returned kicks, but tore his ACL in the fifth game of the 2001 season. He transferred to Oklahoma in 2002 and served as the quarterback on the scout team. In 2003, he played cornerback in spring ball, but moved to wide receiver in the fall. That season, he returned seven kickoffs for a 35.3-yard average. In 2004, he had 23 catches for 491 yards and seven touchdowns. He's very athletic but he needs work on catching the ball (you can improve this area with work). It will take him a little longer to become a good player. He is a good special-teams candidate.
11. Fred Gibson, Georgia (6-4, 196)
He had a complete workout at the combine. He ran his 40s in 4.55 and 4.56. He also ran the short shuttle in 4.10 seconds, the three-cone drill in 7.03 and the long shuttle in 11.33. He had a 381/2-inch vertical jump and a 10-foot-6 broad jump. In his junior and senior years in high school, he caught 113 passes and scored 25 touchdowns. He also was a standout basketball player who played guard for Georgia and helped the Bulldogs win an SEC title. On Georgia's football team, he played as a true freshman in 2001 and had five games with 100 or more yards receiving. He also averaged 26.8 yards on kickoffs. He started eight games in 2002, 11 in 2003 and 12 in 2004, when he had 49 catches and scored seven touchdowns. He has height and athletic ability, and very good quickness for the position. He has a thin frame. He has good hands but will drop some (lack of concentration). He needs to work harder at football. He had hamstring problems in 2004 and missed two games. He played well at the Senior Bowl.
12. Roydell Williams, Tulane (6-03/4, 188)
He was not invited to the combine. He worked out March 8 at Tulane's Pro Day. He ran his 40s in 4.51 and 4.48. He also ran the short shuttle in 4.29 seconds, the three-cone drill in 7.09 and the long shuttle in 11.88. He had a 38-inch vertical jump, a 9-foot-11 broad jump and 17 lifts. In high school, he played wide receiver. He was so good at baseball the Cincinnati Reds selected him in the fifth round of the draft. At Tulane, he played as a true freshman and started one game. He started 12 games in 2001 and caught 11 touchdown passes. He was given a medical redshirt in 2002, then started 12 games in 2003 and wound up with 66 catches and nine touchdowns. He started nine games in 2004 and finished with 52 catches and 12 touchdowns. He has very good athletic ability and long arms (321/4 inches). He has very good hands but will body catch at times. He has strength to defeat the bump, but there is some question about his durability. He made a group of scouts unhappy because, on the advice of his agent, he would not run again. He has some talent.
13. Dante Ridgeway, Ball State (5-11 1/8, 212)
He ran his 40s in 4.57 and 4.62. He also ran the short shuttle in 4.39 seconds, the three-cone drill in 7.25 and the long shuttle in 11.60. He had a 33-inch vertical jump and a 9-foot-9 broad jump. At Ball State's Pro Day, he weighed six pounds less and ran 4.62 and 4.63, plus a 6.80 in the three-cone drill. In high school, he played wide receiver and defensive back. At Ball State, he played as a true freshman in 2002 and wound up with 44 catches. He started and returned punts in 2003 and had 89 catches and 10 touchdowns. In 11 starts in 2004, he caught 105 passes and scored eight touchdowns. He should get his weight down to 200, which would help his speed. He's more quick than fast, and he has a good burst. He's a tough player with very good hands. He reminds me of former Dallas Cowboys receiver Butch Johnson. He seems to get open, and will make the catch across the middle. He's a solid player and looked good at the combine. He will make a lot of tough catches.
14. Craig Bragg, UCLA (6-0 5/8, 196)
He ran two 40s on a high school field in 4.46 and 4.51. He also ran the short shuttle in 4.40 seconds, the three-cone drill in 7.50 and the long shuttle in 11.87. He had a 36-inch vertical jump and a 10-foot-2 broad jump. He pulled his right hamstring at the combine and could not finish his workout. In high school, he was a wide receiver, and a good punt and kickoff return man. He also played baseball. At UCLA, he redshirted in 2000. He played but did not start in 2001. In 2002, he had 55 catches and scored eight touchdowns. In 2003, he had 73 catches and five touchdowns. He missed three games with an injury in 2004. He was a very good punt returner who made some big plays. He has the size and speed you want at the position. He has good hands and will block. He can return punts, but he's not a real physical player. He worked out well at the Senior Bowl.
15. Brandon Jones, Oklahoma (6-1 3/8, 210)
He had a complete workout at the combine. He ran his 40s in 4.42 and 4.48. He also ran the three-cone drill in 7.03 seconds and the long shuttle in 11.18. He had a 37-inch vertical jump and a 9-foot-6 broad jump. At Oklahoma, he played as a true freshman in 2001 mostly on special teams and returning punts. He played as a backup in 2002, then started 12 games in 2003 and 14 in 2004. He caught 46 passes in 2003, but only 27 in 2004 because the Sooners ran the ball a lot more. He's a very good athlete with long arms (33 inches). He makes a lot of big plays after catching the ball and has very good skills. He makes good adjustments to bad throws. He needs to focus and prevent drops, and to compete on every play.
16. Roscoe Parrish, Miami (Fla.) (5-93/4, 168)
He only ran at the combine; he did two 40s in 4.37 each. At Miami's Pro Day March 3, he ran two 40s in 4.45 and 4.38. He also ran the short shuttle in 4.08 seconds, the three-cone drill in 6.69 and the long shuttle in 11.13. He had a 36-inch vertical jump and a 10-foot-5 broad jump. He played quarterback and defensive back in high school. At Miami, he redshirted in 2001. In 2002, he started three games as a wide receiver and returned punts. He became a full-time starter in 2004 and wound up with 43 catches and eight touchdowns. Hurricanes head coach Larry Coker called him the most exciting player he had ever coached. He's undersized with great speed and quickness. He has a very good burst and good hands. He does not have very long arms (28 5/8 inches); he might have a tough time against the bump in the NFL.
17. Craphonso Thorpe, Florida State (6-0 7/8, 188)
At FSU's Pro Day, he ran two 40s in 4.37 and 4.50. He also ran the short shuttle in 4.31 seconds and the three-cone drill in 7.15. He had a 351/2-inch vertical jump, a 9-foot-101/2 broad jump and 15 lifts. He played wide receiver and defensive back in high school. At FSU, he played as a true freshman in 2001 and did a good job of returning kickoffs. He played but did not start in 2002. He started 11 games in 2003 but broke his leg in the North Carolina game and missed the final two games of the season. He started 11 games in 2004, but wasn't fully recovered from the broken leg. In the spring of 2003, he was the ACC champion in the 100 and 200 meters. He has good athletic ability. Before his injury, he had the speed to stretch the field, and it seemed to be coming back late last season. He has good concentration, but there is some question of his ability to make catches across the middle of the field.
OTHERS TO WATCH
These players have some positive attributes -- speed, production, height, quickness -- but aren't quite as good as the top 17.
Larry Backins, Pearl River C.C. (6-4 3/8, 205)
35-inch vertical jump; 9-foot-4 broad jump
Airese Currie, Clemson (5-101/2, 186)
38-inch vertical jump; 10-foot-5 broad jump
Josh Davis, Marshall (6-0 3/8, 191)
371/2-inch vertical jump; 9-foot-10 broad jump
Reggie Harrell, TCU (6-23/4, 214)
35-inch vertical jump; 9-foot-7 broad jump
Chase Lyman, California (6-2 5/8, 217)
361/2-inch vertical jump; 9-foot-7 broad jump
Jerome Mathis, Hampton (5-111/4, 181)
37-inch vertical jump; 10-foot-3 broad jump
J.R. Russell, Louisville (6-3, 206)
341/2-inch vertical jump; 10-foot broad jump
Steven Savoy, Utah (5-10 7/8, 192)
32-inch vertical jump; 9-foot-1 broad jump
Isaac West, Furman (5-113/4, 187)
37-inch vertical jump; 10-foot-4 broad jump