Richner: 2014 Top WR/TEs

Last Updated: 1/18/2015 8:58 PM ET
This year's class of wide receivers is probably the deepest and most diverse class that has come through in the last ten to fifteen years. Just take a look at the sheer size and physical abilities of the top end of this class. There are roughly 15 different players who are at least 6'2” or taller. If you wonder why teams are looking for taller defensive backs, just look across the line of scrimmage; the size of wide receivers seems to be growing as well.

With the depth and variety of wide receivers in this class, don't be shocked to see a couple of players go undrafted who end up making a significant mark in the NFL in the next couple of years. There has been an average of 30 wide receivers taken in each of the last three drafts. This year's class has well over 30 wide receivers with draftable grades.

The Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks had a depth chart filled with undrafted free-agent wide receivers. Doug Baldwin and Jermaine Kearse, for example, played an integral role in their team's success. While the spotlight might be on some of the first-round wide receivers this year, remember there is a lot of value in late-round or undrafted signees that just might be the key to a team's success.

Below are the top five wide receivers projected to line up on the outside and the top five slot receivers.

1) Sammy Watkins (Clemson): It is a rarity in college football to have a player who is able to step onto the field as a true freshman and be a productive, dominant player each and every season. Sammy Watkins is that rare player. He had 83 receptions, 1,225 receiving yards and 12 touchdowns his freshman season. Last season he had 101 receptions, 1,464 yards and 12 touchdowns.
At 6'1” and 225 pounds, Watkins has the size and matching blazing speed and acceleration to be a matchup problem for almost any defense. If you give him an inch he will take it to the house, as is evident by his 27 career touchdowns in just 36 career games played.

One issue for Watkins is his limited experience running routes. At Clemson, close to 50 percent of pass completions last season were screens. He will need to prove to scouts that he is able to run the full route tree. Watkins had a fair number of drops last year, partially because he is looking to get upfield without concentrating on following the ball all the way into his hands.

Teams will have to find any way they can to get the ball to Watkins, who averaged close to 10 yards after the catch this past season. A playmaker on special teams, he had over 1,300 kickoff return yards for his career.

While Watkins has more athletic ability, he compares to current Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Greg Jennings in terms of scouting and statistics.

2) Jordan Matthews (Vanderbilt): With little offense around him, Jordan Matthews had the attention of almost every defensive secondary on each snap. At 6'3” and 212 pounds, he is a big-framed wide receiver who is not afraid to go across the middle to make the difficult catch. He is deceptively fast; a long strider, he can create separation and be a down-field vertical threat.

Matthews played in 51 career games and finished his career as the single-season and career receiving record holder for receptions, receiving yards and receiving touchdowns for Vanderbilt and as the SEC all-time leader in career receptions and receiving yards. Matthews finished his career with 262 receptions; 3,759 yards, an average of 14.4YPC; 24 TDs and 146 first downs. A consistent scoring threat, Matthews averaged a touchdown once every 10.9 receptions.

Matthews never played with a first-round talent at quarterback, running back or at any of the other receiving positions. He was the lone playmaker for his team. Even with defenses focusing their attention on stopping him, he still made the most of his opportunities and was a consistent playmaker.

Matthews displayed the rare ability to play on the outside while occasionally sliding into the slot position in the red zone. He compares both statistically and scouting-wise to Torry Holt.

3) Mike Evans (Texas A&M): A third-year sophomore, Evans has been a dominant and sometimes unstoppable force for the Aggies on the outside. At 6'5” and 231 lbs, Evans has the frame of a tight end, similar to a Jimmy Graham of the New Orleans Saints. He set the Texas A&M single-season receiving record with 1,394 yards, this past season. He had over 100-yard receiving mark in eight games for his career, and has surpassed 200 yards twice last season, once each against Alabama and Auburn.

In 2013, Evans ranked in the top ten nationally in receiving TDs (12), receiving yards (1,394) and receiving yards per game (107.2). Using his size, he is almost always open, no matter if he is covered by one, two or three defensive backs. He is a matchup nightmare for opposing defenses, and he can outmuscle and push around most defensive backs, while linebackers and safeties lack the speed to stay with him on deep passes.

A former basketball player, Evans has great leaping ability, and Johnny Manziel would, on occasion, throw the ball high and let Evans outleap defenders for it. A physical run-blocker, Evans sealed an edge and allowed Manziel or a back to get around the corner and up the field. Most receivers coming into NFL don't know how to run block and are not willing to come down into the box. Evans is big enough to take on linebackers and open up holes for his teammates.

A deep downfield threat with his size and speed, over a quarter of Evan's receptions came fifteen yards or farther past the line of scrimmage last season. Once he gets ahold of the ball he is very difficult to take down, averaging 1.3 broken tackles per reception last season.

Playing alongside Johnny Manziel, a highly mobile quarterback and one who doesn't give up on a play, a large percent of Evans' receptions came from running comeback routes or plays that had broken down, and he was working himself back to the quarterback. Evans will need to work on his short–to-intermediate route running.

As noted earlier, he is similar to Jimmy Graham in his size, but he has the speed and quickness of a Vincent Jackson. With only two seasons of experience, he is still raw, but he might have just scratched the surface of his potential.

4) Jared Abbrederis (Wisconsin) While playing in the shadow of the quality running backs at Wisconsin, Abbrederis has been one of the most consistent and productive wide receivers in school history. In his career, he amassed 202 receptions for 3,140 receiving yards and an average of 15.5 yards per reception; and 23 receiving touchdowns. A contributor on special teams, he has 55 career punt returns for 587 yards and one touchdown.

Abbrederis is capable of lining up either outside or in the slot position, and as a top-tier route-runner, he can quickly gain separation from his defender. Against Ohio State this past season he was targeted 18 times, with 10 receptions, two drops and three passes that were uncatchable, for 207 receiving yards and a touchdown. Of the 207 receiving yards, only 15 of those came from yards after the catch. His most impressive play of the evening came on a 33-yard reception. Abbrederis ran an out-and-up route on a poorly thrown pass and had to come back to the football using his 6'1”, 195-pound frame to outleap All-American cornerback Bradley Roby for the ball. Abbrederis basically destroyed Roby all game long, and although Roby is talked about as a possible first-round pick, some scouts still question Abbrederis' ability to match up against top-tier defensive backs.

A former walk-on, all Abbrederis has done is improve multiple aspects of his game each and every season. A skilled route-runner and a playmaker, Abbrederis averaged a touchdown once every 8.8 receptions.

While he doesn't possess the speed typically seen by most elite wide receivers in the NFL, he is quick off the line and can battle through press coverage. He can be a threat in the red zone and a quarterback's best friend on third down. He was one of Russell Wilson's favorites while at Wisconsin. If he can be had in the second round or third round, some team will find themselves a steal of a player.

5) Marqise Lee (USC): In recent seasons, the USC offense was one of the most dynamic and exciting offenses to watch in college. Unfortunately last season, with inconsistent play from the quarterback, a mid-season changing of the head coaches and injuries, USC ranked 10th in their own conference in total offense.

Lee, who missed three games due to injuries–which happen to be the only three games missed during his career at USC–saw his production plummet this past season. In 2012, Lee caught 112 passes for 1,721 yards and 14 receiving touchdowns. In 2013, his production declined, and he caught 57 passes for 791 yards and only four touchdowns.

In 2013, USC went away from targeting Lee on deep downfield routes. Instead, over 50 percent of his receptions came either from screens or within the first five yards of the line of scrimmage. Only seven of his receptions went for longer than 25 yards last season.
While he is not the biggest wideout at just six feet tall and 192 pounds, he is not afraid to go across the middle, and he has excellent leaping ability. On a number of occasions, he has shown a tremendous ability to high point the football and come away with the tough catch in traffic.

With his speed and acceleration, he should be a dynamite weapon for any offense in the NFL. Teams will be worried about his drop rate, as last season he dropped over 10 percent of the passes thrown in his direction.

Lee will most likely be a first- or second-round pick. He might not turn out to be the superstar some are projecting him to be, but he should develop into a solid number-two receiver in the NFL.

Below are the rankings and a small review of the players who just missed making the top five in this year's draft class:

6) Allen Robinson (Penn State): A big bodied wide receiver with 177 career receptions and 17 career touchdowns. 65% of his receptions resulted in a first down during his career.

7) Kelvin Benjamin (Florida State): A deep threat with a ton of potential remains to be seen if he is just a big bodied wide receiver or a player who can overtake and dominate a defense. 70 percent of his receptions resulted in either a first down or touchdown. Benjamin who averaged 17.9 YPC, ranks fourth amongst all the wide receivers in this year's class.

8) Cody Hoffman (BYU): The BYU all-time leader in career in career touchdown catches with 33. He possesses strong hands and will win most 50/50 balls. Hoffman is a reliable receiver with great size and measurables and has consistently produced at a high level throughout college. While he might not have the best times at the combine, he has proven he can dominate on the field. 68 percent of his receptions resulted in a first down or touchdown during his career.

9) Tevin Reese (Baylor): With the recent success of Josh Gordon, Kendall Wright and Terrance Williams, teams would be wise to look at Baylor for the next great wideout. This year it just might be Tevin Reese, who is only 5'10 and 170 pounds, but the young man can fly around the football field. He is tied for second amongst all draft eligible wide receivers with 38 career receptions that gained 25 or more yards. He averaged 16.6 YPC throughout his career, his game speed will dismantle slower defensive backs.

10) Paul Richardson (Colorado): While is missed the entire 2012 season with a torn ACL, Richardson, came back strong playing in all 12 games with 83 reception, 1,343 yards and 10 touchdowns. He averaged a touchdown once every 7.9 receptions throughout his career.

Top NFL Draft prospects from the slot receiver position:

1) Brandin Cooks (Oregon State): Cooks sprang up draft boards with his play each week this last season, when he led the NCAA in receiving yards with 1,730 on 128 receptions and 16 touchdowns. While he was the primary target and main playmaker for the Beavers, he was still able to be a consistent threat on offense.

Cooks has world-class speed and quickness. Give him any space and he will burn a defender. One of the best route runners in this year's draft, he shows excellent footwork in coming in and out of his breaks.

He is perfectly suited for the slot position in the NFL; over 45 percent of his receptions came within the first five yards of the line of scrimmage. While Cooks is still progressing in terms of his development in beating press coverage, as a slot receiver teams could put him in motion and in the backfield to negate this weakness.

2) Bruce Ellington (South Carolina): The former running back-turned-wide receiver possesses a smaller stature at 5'9”, but a solid frame at close to 200 pounds. With a low center of gravity, he can take a hit and bounce right off. A natural athlete, he also played point guard at South Carolina, where he averaged 11.4 points a game for his career.

As a former tailback, Ellington brings another dimension to an offense; he can slide into the backfield and become a pass protector if needed. With only two seasons of experience as a wide receiver, Ellington led the Gamecocks in receptions both years.
For his career, Ellington had 106 receptions for 1,586 yards and 16 touchdowns. He amassed 66 first downs, and he recorded a touchdown or first down on 62 percent of his receptions.

It is hard to quantify football intelligence or football IQ, but in some cases you know it when you see it. Ellington has that special quality to make the big play on third down or to pick up the critical block downfield to help out a teammate. He is someone who will come in and do the little things that help a team win.

3) Davante Adams (Fresno State): In his strong freshman campaign, Adams hauled in 102 receptions for 1,312 yards and 14 TDs. This season, he has exceeded the highest of expectations, with 131 receptions for 1,719 yards and 24 TDs. His yards-per-game numbers have jumped from 100 receiving yards per game last season to 132.2 this year.

Adams was the driving force for the Bulldog offense. A key contributor on third and fourth downs, Adams had 25 receptions, and 19 ended up as either a first down or touchdown.

While Adam's size and ability to be a deep threat might give some scouts a reason to believe that he is better suited for an outside receiver spot, I believe that Adams is similar to a Michael Crabtree, who excels out of the slot position for the 49ers.

In just 26 career games Adams had 233 receptions for 3,031 yards and 38 touchdowns. He was able to record a touchdown once every 6.1 receptions. He wastes no time getting upfield once he has the ball in his hands; he will make one move, and if he has to, will use his strength to overpower small defensive backs.

While his numbers are inflated by playing in a high powered spread offense and in a weaker conference, Adams is a tough competitor who showed a fearless ability to work across the middle and make the tough catch in traffic.

4) Josh Huff (Oregon): A more compact and bigger-bodied slot receiver, Huff is an extremely athletic young man who has more quickness than natural top-end speed. He showed a consistent ability to find the holes in zone coverages and sit down, making himself open for his quarterback.

Huff led all Oregon receivers in receptions, yards and touchdowns this past season. He recorded 62 receptions for 1,140 yards and 12 touchdowns. He dramatically improved his YPC average this past season to 18.4.

One of the key areas of strength is Huff's ability as a run blocker; he showed the ability to hold his block and allow his teammates to get outside. He also has special teams experience, with 43 career kickoff returns for 988 yards.

Coming from a diverse and high-powered offense in college, he might be best suited for a similar style offense in the NFL, such as the Eagles, Patriots or 49ers. 66 percent of Huff's career receptions resulted in either a first down or touchdown.

5) Jalen Saunders (Oklahoma): Tough but tiny at only 5'8” and 164 pounds, Jalen Saunders is a pint-sized slot receiver with the ability to cut and accelerate past defenders. One of the better route-runners in this group, he showcased his ability to quickly gain separation and explode past defenders who were left flatfooted.

Though he isn't the biggest wideout, he has the speed to quickly get open. He does a great job at using his hands to catch passes, rather than using his body. Once he catches the ball, he does have a tendency to dance around and try to wiggle out of every tackle. He will need to learn how to catch and get down, in the mold of a Wes Welker.

For his career, he had 203 receptions for 3,085 yards and 26 touchdowns. He averaged a touchdown once every 7.8 receptions and recorded a first down or touchdown on 63 percent of his receptions.

Saunders will be an instant upgrade to NFL teams as a returner. For his college career, he had 33 kickoffs for 793 yards and 31 punt returns for 465 yards and three touchdowns.

2014 Top 5 Tight Ends

1) Austin Seferian-Jenkins (Washington): At 6'5” and 260 pounds, Austin Seferian-Jenkins (ASJ) has the physique and body of today's elite NFL tight ends. He understands how to use his size and stature to box out and shield away defenders as he is making the catch.
ASJ isn't just a former basketball player turned footballer; he is a natural athlete who excelled at both sports. A two-sport athlete in college, ASJ has exceptional footwork in both route running and in blocking. He is a reliable pass catcher who leads all tight ends in this year's draft class with 146 career receptions. With his speed, ASJ was able to gain 1,840 receiving yards for his career and 83 first downs, putting him second among all tight ends in this year's draft.

The most sure-handed tight end in the draft, ASJ had the lowest drop rate at just over five percent this past season. The average among tight ends in this draft is just over eight percent.

ASJ is a more traditional tight end. He played the in-line position roughly 50 percent of the snaps last season. He can be flexed out wide and can run a full arsenal of routes or stay inside block.

While he did run into some trouble in the off-season when he was convicted of a DUI, ASJ has no other off-the-field incidents. That being said, teams will still be wary of him keeping his nose clean off the field.

ASJ is a tremendous athlete who can make difficult catches with multiple defenders pressuring him.

2) Jace Amaro (Texas Tech): Going into the combine there was a lot of talk about who would be the most athletic players of the tight end group. A unanimous All-American last season, Amaro was in the running for the crown posting a 4.74 forty-yard dash and posting a 30” vertical leap. At 6'5” and 265 pounds, Amaro has the physical structure and athleticism most teams are looking for in a first round tight end.

In just 32 career games, Amaro leads all tight ends in this year's draft with 138 receptions for 1,818 yards, 13 touchdowns and 87 first downs. Fifty-four percent of his receptions resulted in either a first down or touchdown.

While Amaro didn't play the traditional in-line tight end role for Texas Tech, he is an athletic pass-catching tight end who is highly coveted in today's NFL. His drop rate was just under the average of eight percent.

Amaro's ability to be an effective blocker has some scouts worried, but if the bench press drill at the combine has any direct correlation, he did put up 28 reps which puts him in the 90th percentile among all tight ends.

3) Eric Ebron (North Carolina): Athletically similar to Vernon Davis, only bigger and stronger, Ebron is the next generation of tight end in the NFL. He is just as fast (if not faster) than most safeties, bigger and stronger than every corner, and just as strong as most linebackers. He is a matchup nightmare for any defense.

In 35 games, Ebron recorded 112 receptions for 1,805 yards, eight touchdowns, and 75 first downs. He has the fourth highest average among this year's tight ends with 16.1 YPC. 60 percent of his receptions resulted in a first down or touchdown.

The major worry among scouts is his ability to hold onto the football. He had a drop rate of 12.2 percent last season, which is one of the highest of this year's draft eligible tight ends. Ebron will need to work on his development as a blocker as he doesn't finish his blocks and rarely will he get his opponent into the second level.

Ebron has shown a consistent increase in his production each season, but it remains to be seen whether he can be the elite tight end most scouts are projecting him to be. If he can continue to develop all areas of his game, Ebron could turn out to be the best tight end of this group. While athletically he is often compared to Vernon Davis, in terms of scouting and statistical comparisons, he compares most favorably to Heath Miller of the Pittsburgh Steelers.

4) Troy Niklas (Notre Dame): Niklas played one season at outside linebacker for the Irish before he moved over to the offense where he has played at the tight end spot for the past two seasons. At close to 6'7” and a solid 270 pounds, he has been an instant weapon in the red-zone.

While most tight ends have limited exposure to blocking in today's college game, Niklas is one of the rare exceptions. He lined up as an in-line blocker for over 75 percent of the snaps last season.

Notre Dame played a more run-oriented offense during the past couple of seasons which could be the reason why Niklas' production doesn't match that of the other top tier tight ends in this year's draft class. In just 26 career games, he recorded 37 receptions for 573 yards and six touchdowns. He averaged 15.5 YPC, which ranks fifth among this year's draft class.

His lack of experience as a tight end shows up in his route running ability as he has limited experience running a complete route tree. Niklas is a physical runner who looks to lower his shoulder and pick up extra yards.

In his first year, Niklas can be used as a second tight end until he learns his team's complete passing game. He can be used as an instant target and playmaker in the red zone similar to the way the Lions used Joseph Fauria last season. With some seasoning and experience, Niklas should develop into a starting tight end within a couple of seasons.

5) Arthur Lynch (Georgia): A four-year player for Georgia, Lynch started all but one game last season. He is a tough, physical, blocking tight end who can lock up a defender and seal off an edge. Lynch is a solid possession type and a big target for any quarterback to find at 6'5” and 260 pounds.

In 37 career games he had 56 receptions for 907 yards, eight touchdowns and 41 first downs. He averaged 16.2 YPC, which ranks third among all draft eligible tight ends in this year's class. 59 percent of his receptions resulted in either a first down or touchdown.
Always looking to pick up extra yards after first contact, Lynch averaged over four yards after contact last season.

While he doesn't have the top end speed to run away from defenders, Lynch shows a tendency to round out his routes. He is more of a straight line runner who shows limited agility in the open field to evade potential tacklers.