For St. Louis general manager Les Snead, evaluating wide receivers is like looking at that proverbial box of chocolates.
“I would say offensive playmakers and weapons come in all shapes and sizes,” Snead said. “They can be 5-foot-8. They can be 6-foot-5. They can come in and help you block and score points that way. … So I think you always look for weapons. … Nowadays on offense you are throwing the ball around to a lot of shapes and sizes.”
The top two receivers in the NFL draft, which is set for April 25-27, are distinctively different in stature.
Tennessee’s Cordarrelle Patterson, who’s 6-foot-2 and 216 pounds, is a big receiving target. On the opposite end of the playmaking spectrum is West Virginia’s pocket rocket, Tavon Austin, who’s 5-8, 174.
Alabama cornerback Dee Milliner, who’s considered the top player at his position in the draft, said Patterson was one of the tougher receivers he faced while winning back-to-back BCS national titles.
“When he gets the ball in his hands, you’ve got to be right on him because when he gets it rolling, it’s hard to catch him and make the tackle on him,” Milliner said. “He’s a great player.”
Austin ran for 7,962 yards as a tailback in high school.
“I’ve seen him be magnificent after the catch, all-purpose yardage; look, he’s tough,” ESPN analyst Jon Gruden said. “Tremendous stop and start quickness and flat-out finishing speed. I’ve seen quick guys, fast players, but I’ve never seen very many that have the combination of speed and quickness like Austin has.”
Austin is an electrifying player.
He had 572 all-purpose yards against Oklahoma last season. He caught four passes for 82 yards, rushed for 344 yards on 21 carries and had 146 yards on kickoff returns. Last season, he finished with 1,932 yards from scrimmage (1,289 receiving and 643 rushing). He also had 978 yards on kickoff returns.
“I think Tavon is going to have a heck of a career,” ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. said. “I think he’s just an electrifying, dynamic player. … He’s a guaranteed first-round draft choice and probably no later than pick 16.”
Tennessee’s Justin Hunter, California’s Keenan Allen and Clemson’s DeAndre Hopkins could also be selected in the first round.
“They are big and fast,” Kansas City general manager John Dorsey said. “It was amazing. I was at the weigh-ins (at the combine) and I was looking at the receivers. I was just thinking to myself how much bigger these guys really are, I mean bigger in terms of weight.
“There were a lot of guys between the 210 and 220 range this year, and you normally don’t see that. That shows you how big that position is getting.”
Tennessee Tech’s Da’ Rick Rodgers, of Calhoun, is another big receiver (6-2, 217). He tested well at the combine, but was dismissed from Tennessee for repeatedly failing drug tests.
“He’s a talented kid,” Kiper said. “He showed that in the SEC at Tennessee. Certainly this year at Tennessee Tech, he had his moments where he looked like an early-round pick.”
Another fast and smallish receiver is Texas’ Marquise Goodwin, who’s 5-9, 183 pounds.
“I felt really good about Marquise,” said Oakland coach Dennis Allen, who coached Goodwin in the Senior Bowl. “We all know what type of explosive athlete he is and how fast he is. But I was really impressed with him as a route-runner.”
The Vikings, who traded wide receiver Percy Harvin, have heavily scouted the wide receivers in this draft.
“You’re always looking for speed at the receiver position,” Minnesota coach Leslie Frazier said. “So that’s a criteria. … We need an all-encompassing guy, a guy who can run by some people, who can make the hard catch for us if he’s in a contested situation, but hopefully also can get us some yards after catch.”
Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson struggled making the conversion to wide receiver in the pre-draft process.
“He’s a really talented guy, very skilled athlete,” Detroit general manager Martin Mayhew said. “He has a lot of things he can do whether it’s running the ball, catching the ball, or as a returner.”