WR draft prospects: Not a deep class

BY foxsports • January 20, 2009

As I've said in previous previews, there is much more talent on the defensive side of the ball than there is on the offense.

Unfortunately, of that little talent on offense, wide receiver may have the least depth of any offensive position from which teams can choose. There really is no gamechanger in the mold of a Larry Fitzgerald or Calvin Johnson who is a sure-fire lock to go in the top five and become an instant producer at the NFL level.

There may be one player who could work himself into such a position if he blows everyone away at the combine and his pro day. Let's start in Stillwater.

1. Dez Bryant, Oklahoma St., 6-2, 220 lbs

2009 receiving stats: None

NFL comparison: Terrell Owens

Projected draft position: Top 15 overall

Jan. 20 analysis: The best we can go on for Bryant is his 2008 season when he had 87 catches for 1,480 yards and 19 touchdowns. Not bad, is it? Sort of sounds like the stuff top wideouts are made of. Bryant plays taller than he really is and knows how to use his body to shield defenders from the ball. Just about every one of his characteristics matches what you'd want in a prototypical receiver. So why aren't we talking about him as a top-five overall pick?

Bryant was suspended for the entire 2009 season after "failing to fully disclose the extent of his conversation with Deion Sanders." Translation: he may have had some improper and premature dealings with an "agent." I don't know what PrimeTime could have said that would constitute something illegal, but that's the NCAA for you. However, none of that changes the fact that Bryant is a highly dangerous receiver who could really develop into an elite talent at the pro level. The fact that he's been out of action for some time is probably the only thing that'll lower his draft stock. But if he somehow slips down to a team with an already solid passing attack in the draft, he could be someone to keep an eye on for fantasy purposes.

2. Golden Tate, Notre Dame, 5-11, 195 lbs

2009 receiving stats: 93 catches, 1,496 yards, 15 TDs

NFL comparison: Roddy White

Projected draft position: Late first round

Jan. 20 analysis: Tate may not have the largest frame, but he made an impact on a weekly basis. Not many defensive backs at the college level could contain him one-on-one. Tate was held out of the end zone only twice all season long. He finished the year by catching at least one touchdown pass in each of his last eight games (culminating with a 201-yard, three-TD game against Stanford). If Tate somehow slips to the second round, whichever team lands him may have struck gold (no pun intended). The problem is if he does, he's likely to get taken high in the second round, meaning he's going to go to a lousy team. But he certainly has the physical tools to make an immediate impact at the NFL level. It's just a question of which team selects him.

3. Brandon LaFell, LSU, 6-3, 206 lbs

2009 receiving stats: 57 catches, 792 yards, 11 TDs

NFL comparison: Santana Moss

Projected draft position: Second round

Jan. 20 analysis: LaFell isn't the type of receiver who is going to wow you with stats on a weekly basis, but he also finds a way to make an impact each week. He is a fearless wideout who doesn't mind throwing everything he has into making an acrobatic catch. The good news is LaFell had at least 48 yards in every game last season, which means he's not the type of guy who will disappear every so often and leave you enraged. That kind of consistency will go a long way in the eyes of GMs and scouts who are on the fence about whether to draft him. He'll need to add a little bulk, but that can be done during his first training camp.

4. Arrelious Benn, Illinois, 6-2, 220 lbs

2009 receiving stats: 38 catches, 490 yards, 2 TDs

NFL comparison: Anquan Boldin

Projected draft position
: Second round

Jan. 20 analysis
: If you've watched Benn play, you can see the talent is there. The problem is Illinois ran a goofy version of a spread offense, and Juice Williams didn't look anything like the quarterback he once was. His passing was highly erratic all season long, which obviously limits Benn's ablility to post numbers.

But Benn has good size and blocking ability. You'll see everything he can do a lot more clearly at the pro level when he'll have a QB who can get him the ball. Here's a classic example of a player who will make more of an impact at the pro level than he did in college.

5. Danario Alexander, Missouri, 6-5, 215 lbs

2009 receiving stats
: 113 catches, 1,781 yards, 14 TDs

NFL comparison: Calvin Johnson

Projected draft position: Late third/Early Fourth round

Jan. 20 analysis: Well, he compares to Megatron's frame, anyway. As for the rest of his game?

Looking purely at his numbers, it's clear Alexander can play. You don't post that kind of production in the Big 12 without the ability to make big plays from start to finish. The problem is Alexander's speed, or lack thereof. He can outrun defenders in space, but he looks like the kind of wideout who can get caught from behind by a defensive back with even mediocre speed. He's just too tall and lanky to ever become a true WR1 at the NFL level. That doesn't mean he won't be a nice red zone target for whoever drafts him, though. Let's see how good of a 40-time he posts at the combine. My personal over/under is set at 4.6.

6. Mardy Gilyard, Cincinnati, 6-1, 187 lbs

2009 receiving stats: 87 catches, 1,191 yards, 11 TDs

NFL comparison: Josh Cribbs

Projected draft position: Late second/Early third round

Jan. 20 analysis
: Gilyard is the kind of guy who you love to have on your team and hate going against. He's a little too light to become a prototypical WR1, but give him the ball in space and he can make things happen - think Percy Harvin. The majority of his yardage came after he caught the ball, and he is also a terror to defend on special teams. Look at how much of an impact Josh Cribbs made for the Browns. Gilyard is the type of player who can do exactly the same thing.

If only he could find a pill that would increase the length of his legs.

7. Damian Williams, USC, 6-1, 190 lbs

2009 receiving stats: 70 catches, 1,010 yards, 6 TDs

NFL comparison: Mike Sims-Walker

Projected draft position: Second round

Jan. 20 analysis: Williams has nice speed and good mechanics in general. This may sound a little simplistic, but one of his best characteristics is he's always looking to head upfield the instant the ball is in his bread basket. He rarely drops passes he shouldn't and has a neat knack for timing his runs well so he's able to catch the ball perfectly in stride. Williams probably won't be more than a possession receiver in the NFL, but he has the potential to be a reliable set of hands who might amass 50-plus yards per game.

8. Demaryius Thomas, Georgia Tech, 6-3, 230 lbs

2009 receiving stats: 46 catches, 1,154 yards, 8 TDs

NFL comparison: Roy Williams

Projected draft position
: Third round

Jan. 20 analysis: A wide receiver in a triple-option offense? Not always easy to judge since he doesn't get the ball thrown to him, and when he does, he usually has single coverage since most defenders are selling out to stop the run.

However, Thomas is a big and physical wide receiver who has speed. He knows how to make catches in traffic, then stiff-arm defenders away from him. Just imagine what kinds of numbers he would have posted in a more conventional offense. He seems to win more competitions for jump ball passes than he loses. He's definitely someone who could improve his draft stock a great deal between now and the combine.

9. Jordan Shipley, Texas, 6-0, 190 lbs

2009 receiving stats
: 116 catches, 1,485 yards, 13 TDs

NFL comparison: Wes Welker

Projected draft position: Third round

Jan. 20 analysis
: Shipley's big performance in the BCS title game may have caught your attention, but scouts and GMs are already well aware of what this guy can do. How many NFL coaches wouldn't want a guy on their offense who has a reliable set of hands and isn't afraid to go over the middle and make every catch? Shipley's huge game (with a backup QB, mind you) against Alabama may have set the stage for him to improve his draft stock a little.

10. Riley Cooper, Florida, 6-3, 215 lbs

2009 receiving stats: 51 catches, 961 yards, 9 TDs

NFL comparison: Malcolm Floyd

Projected draft position: Late third/Early Fourth round

Jan. 20 analysis
: Cooper is one of those industrious, physical wide receivers who plays more like a tight end than a wideout. But he's another player whose stats are a bit more difficult to judge since he played in such a non-conventional offense. Riley's speed is a little better than that of an average tight end, so he might line up in the slot in the NFL, then go over the middle to try and create mismatches with linebackers in coverage. Chances are he's not going to be a gamebreaker, though, and you shouldn't really have him on your fantasy radar next year.

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