2013 NFL Draft Preview: Wide Receivers

It used to be that rookie WR's rarely made an instant impact either in the NFL or in fantasy football. But recent history suggests that is no longer the case. The can come in right away and be good, and challenge for elite status fairly quick. There is a lot of hype on some guys, but when I look at WR's, I look for those who not just have the ability to step in and be steady NFL wide receivers, but also have a greater chance to have a fantasy impact. This is why I will rank guys with the physical skills to be a true #1 NFL WR over those who are possibly surer things, but have a lower ceiling to appear in fantasy football rankings in the future. I try to balance those things when looking at WR's. This year we have some excellent WR prospects, but the draft community is split on who is the top WR. Not me. Tie goes to the bigger guy with the greater potential to be a legitimate #1.

1) Cordarrelle Patterson, Tennessee: Patterson is easily my top WR in this draft for both the NFL and immediate fantasy production. He has the size (6'2", 216 lbs), speed (4.42 in the 40), and leaping ability that are trademarks of the best WR's in the game. While his needs refinement running routes, he has natural skills for the position. Besides the route running, Patterson has a tendency to body catch instead of snatching the ball cleanly with his hands. Despite that, he dropped very few passes in 2012. While there are some reports that Patterson may not be that smart after scoring just 11 on the Wonderlic test, I think it needs to be noted that catching a football isn't Jeopardy and the Bengals A.J. Green reportedly only scored a 10 on his.
Projected round: 1

2) Tavon Austin, West Virginia: Speaking of low Wonderlic scores, Austin only scored a 7, but I fully expect him to be an impact type of WR in the NFL. Superior speed (4.34 in the 40) makes up for a lack of size (5'9", 174 lbs). While he may not be able to handle physical DB's, he certainly can blow by them with his quick acceleration off the line of scrimmage. His smallish size will always be a concern for greater risk of injury, but he hasn't suffered any major injuries despite catching 215 passes for 2,475 yards and 20 TD's the last two seasons combined. Austin will also likely be a contributor as a returner, giving him extra value for NFL teams and fantasy leagues that use special teams production.
Projected round: 1

3) Da'Rick Rogers, Tennessee Tech: I am much higher on Rogers than the draft experts. Maybe it's because I look with the potential "fantasy angle" just as much as anything. Rogers gets knocked by most draft analysts because of maturity and off-field issues stemming from a reported 3 failed drug tests that got him kicked off the Tennessee Volunteers football team before the 2012 college season began (thus the switch to Tennessee Tech). Possessing size (6'2", 217 lbs) and speed (plays faster than his timed 4.52 in the 40), Rogers is strong and has great athleticism. The only knocks on him besides his off-field issues (which Rogers was very honest about in interviews and says he has cleaned up his act since) are a tendency to run before he secures the football and an appearance of disinterest when he knows he's not getting the ball. But otherwise, he goes over the middle, wins jump balls, breaks thru arm tackles, and would possibly be the first WR taken in this draft if not for his personal issues scaring teams away from him.
Projected round: 2 (I doubt teams will be scared enough to let him slip into round 3)

4) Justin Hunter, Tennessee: Hunter has a lot to like. Tall (6'4") with great leaping ability and speed (4.44 in the 40) to get deep, Hunter has a chance to be drafted before teammate Cordarrelle Patterson. Has long arms and a huge catch radius making him hard to cover. But he comes with more questions than his teammate. Hunter drops too many easy catches. He's lanky (only 196 lbs) and could stand to put on some weight so he isn't as easily redirected by physical CB's. There are times when Hunter appears to get frustrated when he isn't getting the ball, and there is talk he sometimes short arm's grabs over the middle when he thinks a hit is coming. I wonder a bit about his desire and maturity, but there physical tools are all there and with the right coaching, Hunter could make an immediate impact both in the NFL and in fantasy football.
Projected round: 1

5) DeAndre Hopkins, Clemson: An outstanding 2012 season (82 catches, 1,405 yards, 18 TD's) catapulted Hopkins into first round consideration in the 2013 NFL Draft. While he lacks the elite height preferred in today's game (Hopkins is "only" 6'1"), he has enough bulk at 214 lbs and while his 40 time (4.57) wasn't as good as expected, he plays faster and bigger than his measurables indicate. He runs good routes and isn't afraid to go up and get the ball in traffic. The biggest drawback is a recent report that surfaced about his hotel room at the scouting combine (which he shared with another WR) being absolutely trashed. While Hopkins and his agent vehemently deny he had anything to do with it, it could be enough of a character concern to drop him from the first round. We'll know for sure later this week. But in terms of NFL skills, Hopkins could be a solid NFL starter and a productive fantasy WR in coming years.
Projected round: 1-2

6) Aaron Dobson, Marshall: Dobson is one of those players that has created a wide array of opinions. He has the size (6'3", 210 lbs) and speed (4.42 in the 40) that is coveted in WR's, and got praised for his route running and body control at the Senior Bowl. Despite having small hands, he rarely drops passes and has a knack for making the acrobatic catch. His detractors will point out that he had a tendency to disappear in actual game situations in college and that he didn't face a lot of top notch DB's in college so he may struggle against savvy NFL CB's. But I think Dobson has all the skills necessary to become a #1 WR in the NFL and become fantasy relevant with the right team and the right coaching.
Projected round: 2

7) Quinton Patton, Louisiana Tech: Smaller than desired (6'0", 204 lbs) in a #1 WR, Patton makes up for it with a physical style, good route running ability, and character. While not a true burner, his speed is good enough (4.53 in the 40) for the NFL level and he shows creativity running after the catch. While he projects more as a possession style WR, he could thrive and be very productive both for NFL and fantasy purposes opposite a true #1. He also provides punt return capabilities.
Projected round: 2-3

8) Keenan Allen, California: Allen was considered among the top 3 WR's in this draft before a disappointing pro day workout where he ran the 40 yard dash in the 4.7's. How much of that can be attributed to his recovery from an October knee injury (torn PCL) that prevented him from working out at all in the scouting combine is unknown. Allen wasn't considered to be a speed guy to begin with, but is noted for his size (6'2", 206 lbs) and strength once he secures the ball. He doesn't drop many passes and will fight for the ball in traffic. There have been unconfirmed reports of Allen being flagged for a suspicious drug test (reportedly a higher than normal amount of water in his urine, usually attributable to masking agents), but there has been no definitive report that he actually failed a drug test. But between that and pedestrian speed for the position, it's likely Allen falls on draft day.
Projected round: 3

9) Terrance Williams, Baylor: Despite leading college football in receiving yards in 2012 (1,832), Williams isn't a complete WR. He has size (6'2", 208 lbs) and good speed (4.52 in the 40), but is purely an outside WR who was used as a deep threat. His speed won't translate into that in the NFL and since he is not polished running routes over the middle or underneath, he must be considered a bit of a project for teaching the route running tree the non-elite WR's must be able to do to succeed at the NFL level. On the plus side, he is known for being a willing and able blocker, making him an asset there. But he'll need coaching and patience to become a starting WR that produces the way his skills and physicality indicate he has the potential to.
Projected round: 3

10) Robert Woods, USC: Woods gets a lot of acclaim for his polished route running and willingness to go over the middle, but he lacks ideal size (6'0", 201 lbs) to be a legitimate #1 NFL WR. Maybe I'm just jaded because of so many over-hyped USC WR's over the years coming into the NFL. Woods has the look and feel of a possession style #2 NFL WR who could excel as long as he has a strong #1 WR opposite him. He certainly could excel as a slot WR with his crisp routes and fearlessness underneath though. But few of those types of WR's are big time NFL or fantasy WR's.
Projected round: 3

Others to keep an eye on:

Markus Wheaton, Oregon State: Speedy smallish WR who has the size of a slot WR, but is more of a deep threat and isn't physical in traffic.

Marquise Goodwin, Texas: An Olympic track athlete with elite speed (4.27 in the 40), but small stature and one dimensional as a vertical threat. Can return kickoffs and if he gets better running routes, could be deadly in the slot.

Ryan Swope, Texas A&M: Former high school RB plays with physical style and has sure hands. Showed a lot more speed (4.34 in the 40) at the combine than was expected and could be solid slot WR at NFL level.

Cobi Hamilton, Arkansas: Good size, but lacks deep speed. Strong running after the catch and works hard to get better. Could be a late round steal.

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