(A series looking at the top players at various positions leading up to the 2012 NFL Draft, set for April 26-28.)
In the field of philosophy/animal husbandry, the question is: which came first, the chicken or the egg. On a field where NFL football is played, the question has become: what makes for a great passing attack, the quarterback or the wide receivers?
It would seem that the answer should always trend toward the quarterback, but using the 2011 NFL Draft as a guideline, the gap is narrowing.
Last season, there were four quarterbacks picked in the first round and three wide receivers, with two of those three being among the top six picks overall. This year, all of the top prospects at this position come with at least one question mark, but there again will be multiple receivers picked on the first round.
The best of the bunch is Oklahoma State's Justin Blackmon (6-foot-1, 205 pounds), but others with a shot at being first-round picks are Baylor's Kendall Wright (5-10, 195) and Notre Dame's Michael Floyd (6-3, 220).
In 2010, Blackmon became the first receiver to be named Big 12 Offensive Player of the Year after he caught 111 passes, and he topped that total with 113 last season. A physical, sure-handed receiver in the mold of an Anquan Boldin, Blackmon is not the caliber of game-breaker that Dez Bryant was, and there are concerns among some teams in the NFL that he shares a few of Bryant's less-attractive qualities. A two-time winner of the
Biletnikoff Award as the top college wide receiver, Blackmon was at his best in big games, with five catches for 157 and two touchdowns in the 2011 Alamo Bowl against Nebraska's Prince Amukamara (a No. 1 pick of the New York Giants) and then finishing his college career with eight catches for 182 yards and touchdowns of 43, 67 and 17 yards in a 41-38 overtime win over Stanford in the 2012 Fiesta Bowl.
Wright was a four-year starter who holds a share of 10 Baylor career receiving records and set a single-season mark last year with 108 catches for 1,663 yards, 14 touchdown receptions and nine games with more than 100 yards. His career total of 4,004 yards receiving is 1,300 more than anyone else in Baylor history. A good enough athlete also to have played basketball in college, Wright can squat 550 pounds and has a vertical jump of 42 inches. At the combine, his 40 time was reported to be 4.61, but at his pro day he turned in times between 4.41 and 4.46.
Floyd's size and some prolific on-field performances are tantalizing, but that is tempered somewhat by his three arrests for alcohol-related issues at Notre Dame. He was cited for underage drinking twice and driving under the influence once and was suspended from the team last spring. Although he was allowed back on the team, he lost his role as captain. Floyd has everything – size, speed, hands, toughness – to be a Pro Bowl receiver in the NFL, and if not for the arrests he would be a sure-fire No. 1 pick, maybe even competing with Blackmon to be the first receiver drafted.
There were seven receivers picked in the first two rounds last year, and there is a group of players who could help this class match that number. Included are LSU's Rueben Randle (6-3, 210), Rutgers' Mohamed Sanu (6-2, 210), South Carolina's Alson Jeffrey (6-3, 215) and Georgia Tech's Stephen Hill (6-4, 215).
After catching only 44 passes in his first two college seasons, Randle had 53 catches for 917 yards and eight touchdowns in 2011. He has size and helped himself by running a 4.42 at his pro day.
Hill was dazzling at the combine, with a 4.36 in the 40 and a 39.5-inch vertical jump. Hill finished his three-year college career with 49 catches for 1,248 yards, and his 25.5 average would have set a school record but he was one catch shy of qualifying.
Jeffery had a decent college career, with 179 receptions for 2,894 yards (16.2 average) and 22 touchdowns, but there are questions about whether he has the speed and explosion to be a difference-maker in the NFL.
Sanu started 37 games at Rutgers and finished with 210 catches, 2,263 yards and 12 touchdowns. In 2011, he caught 115 passes for 1,206 yards and seven scores, but he was bigger and stronger than almost all the defenders he faced in college. He ran a 4.62 at the combine, but he countered that with 19 repetitions in the bench press.
THE 2011 NFL DRAFT, WR STATISTICS
Number drafted: 28
Picks by round: 3 in the first; 4 in the second; 4 in the third; 5 in the fourth; 4 in the fifth; 4 in the sixth; 4 in the seventh
Highest pick: A.J. Green, Georgia, Round 1, 4th overall, by Cincinnati
Biggest impact: A.J. Green started 15 games and finished with 65 catches for 1,057 yards and seven touchdowns to earn a berth in the Pro Bowl