by Russ Bliss (4/25/11)

2011 NFL Draft Preview: Wide Receivers

There are a clear top 2 WR prospects in this class. Both A.J. Green and Julio Jones will be gone in the first half of round 1. After that, there may not be another WR taken in round 1. Opinions vary greatly as to who should be the 3rd ranked WR and while it's possible a 3rd WR may be taken in the first round, it's much more likely that we see almost every one of these 10 gone on the second day of the draft. While this is a good WR class, it's not a great class. However there are some potential gems that could become prime fantasy football sleepers in dynasty leagues and maybe even a few who will creep up the fantasy football draft analyzer rankings by August.

1) A.J. Green, Georgia, 6'4", 211 lbs

An incredible athlete with great hands, Green is the top WR on many boards. He rarely lets the pass get into his body and has great leaping ability going up to get the ball. While not a true speedster, he does have plenty of quickness and his body control is exceptional. The only downside to Green is his poor score on the Wonderlic (reportedly only a 10) which has some concerned he may not adapt quickly to the intricacies of a NFL playbook. But no question the physical skills are there.

Draft Projection: 1st Round. Top 10 Pick

2) Julio Jones, Alabama, 6'3", 220 lbs

No player created a bigger buzz at the NFL Scouting combine than Jones. He unexpectedly dominated all the drills putting up big numbers and did it with a fracture in his left foot. Before his tremendous combine, it was thought Jones was more in line to be a strong possession style WR who lacked big time vertical ability, but now it's believed he could turn out to be a dominant WR at the NFL level. His combination of size, speed, athleticism, and work ethic bode well for the next level. If there is one downside to Jones, it's that he sometimes drops passes he should catch.

Draft Projection: 1st Round. Top 15 pick.

3) Greg Little, North Carolina, 6'3", 225 lbs

Was suspended the entire 2010 season for having contact with an agent and therefore some NFL teams won't consider Little, but supposedly he has owned up to his mistake and checks in as the 3rd WR on my rankings. Little has excellent size and a physical style of play which is probably the byproduct of him originally being a RB. Although not blazing fast, he possesses enough speed to be a vertical threat and has excellent body control to make acrobatic catches. The two primary knocks on Little are that he is still developing at the WR position so he needs to work on route running and he drops some easy catches. But in terms of physical ability, all the tools are there for him become a #1 WR in the NFL. His character issues though are likely to make him slide down in the draft.

Draft Projection: Mid 2nd/Early 3rd round

4) Leonard Hankerson, Miami, 6'2", 209 lbs

Good sized WR coming off a solid senior season. Hankerson is a good route runner who lacks elite talent, but gives top effort. His hands are inconsistent though and while he timed at 4.43 in the 40, he doesn't play to it and has more built up speed than quickness off the line.

Draft Projection: Mid 2nd/Early 3rd round.

5) Torrey Smith, Maryland, 6'1", 204 lbs

Explosive speed and excellent character are the strengths of Smith. He can blow by defenders and has a tremendous work ethic. The weakness for him though is inconsistent hands and while productive in college, he ran simple routes. He'll need time to develop into a complete WR, but he has the physical skills and the classroom ethic to make it in the NFL and be a #1 WR.

Draft Projection: Early/Mid 2nd round

6) Randall Cobb, Kentucky, 5'10", 191 lbs

While Cobb lacks the prototypical size desired in a WR, he is a multidimensional threat who has also lined up at QB and RB in college. An excellent athlete and candidate to be a wildcat QB in the NFL ala New York Jets WR Brad Smith. Cobb is quick off the line and isn't afraid of contact. While not blazing fast, he is elusive after the catch and teams will like his versatility.

Draft Projection: Mid 2nd/Early 3rd round

7) Titus Young, Boise State, 5'11", 174 lbs

Smaller and lighter than desired, one thing that Young possesses that can't be taught is speed. His 4.43 40 time wasn't as fast as expected but on the field he flies. Problem is his lack of bulk and strength makes him easy to knock off routes and he doesn't win the fight for the ball with many DB's when crowded. Likely to be a slot WR and deep threat, but not a full time starting WR.

Draft Projection: Late 2nd/Mid 3rd round

8) Jerrel Jernigan, Troy, 5'9", 185 lbs

Another smaller WR with great speed, Jernigan is a major threat when he gets the ball in his hands as a WR or in the return game. Very elusive and creative running after the catch. Some even think he may be able to be a starting WR in the NFL ala Carolina Panthers WR Steve Smith. I think that comparison is generous, but you never know. Biggest difference between Jernigan and Smith though is that Smith doesn't play like a small WR and isn't afraid to get physical. Jernigan needs to improve his strength and focus on catching the ball in traffic.

Draft Projection: Late 2nd/Mid 3rd round

9) Jon Baldwin, Pittsburgh, 6'4", 224 lbs

With exceptional size, speed, and strength, Baldwin is a great athlete who can be dominant if he puts in the work. He needs to become a better route runner, and develop consistency catching the ball away from his body. Also, for as strong and fast as he is, he doesn't explode on the field like he should. The problem is his work ethic and maturity are questionable, as is his character after several off-field incidents. He has a sense of entitlement doesn't take criticism well. His exceptional measurables are hard to look past though and a patient coaching staff may believe they can get him to perform the way a man of his talent level should.

Draft Projection: Anywhere in rounds 2 or 3.  

10) Edmond Gates, Abilene Christian, 6'0", 193 lbs

With outstanding speed, long arms and leaping ability this former basketball player shows good hands and athleticism. However, he lacks ideal size, isn't much of a blocker, and is still learning how to properly run routes. He may take some time to develop into a complete WR, but he immediately will contribute as a vertical threat and could really surprise.

Draft Projection: Anywhere in rounds 2 or 3.

Check out Russ's 2011 NFL Draft Quarterbacks Preview

Check out Russ's 2011 NFL Draft Running Backs Preview