(A series looking at the top players at various positions leading up to the 2013 NFL Draft, set for April 25-27.)
There is no Calvin Johnson, no Larry Fitzgerald, no A.J. Green or Julio Jones to be fought over in the same draft. There is no wide receiver in this particular draft class who is sufficiently off-the-charts special to entice a general manager to trade multiple picks to get into position to draft him – as the Falcons did with Jones – or to convince him to overlook other glaring needs – as the Cardinals did back when they selected Fitzgerald.
But that doesn't mean there aren't quality players to be had, either.
Three of the guys who figure to be close to the top of every team's list at this position are West Virginia's Tavon Austin (5-foot-9, 174 pounds), California's Keenan Allen (6-2, 206) and Tennessee's Cordarelle Patterson (6-2, 216). But even with these three, their abilities don't necessarily transcend scheme.
In other words, the team picking Allen should be expecting to get a receiver who is better suited to a West Coast offensive philosophy than a down-the-field passing attack. The team picking Austin better understand the limitations his size can impose in certain situations. The team opting for Patterson should realize he is raw and prone to mental mistakes.
Allen originally was recruited to Alabama by Nick Saban, but he opted for California instead in order to play with his brother – quarterback Zach Maynard – after Maynard transferred there from the University of Buffalo. In 2011, Allen caught 98 passes for 1,343 yards and six touchdowns, and as a team captain he added 737 receiving yards in 2012 after missing three games with a knee injury. Allen caught at least one pass in each of his 33 career college games.
Austin scored touchdowns four different ways for the Mountaineers – rushing, receiving, punt return, and kickoff return – and in 2012 he finished second in the nation in all-purpose yards with an average of 223.9 per game. During his three seasons at Dunbar High School in Maryland, Austin set state records with 7.962 yards rushing and 123 touchdowns; as a high school senior he rushed for 2,660 yards and scored 34 touchdowns. Even though his 40-time at the Combine was adjusted from a 4.25 to a 4.34, Austin's speed is dynamic.
Patterson spent two years at Hutchinson Community College in Kansas and played only one season for the Volunteers, but, like Austin, he also scored touchdowns four different ways in 2012. In his lone SEC season, Patterson was second on his team in receiving with 46 catches for 778 yards and five touchdowns, and he led the conference with 1,858 all-purpose yards.
Included in the next batch of wide receivers are Clemson's DeAndre Hopkins (6-1, 214), USC's Robert Woods (6-0, 201), Louisiana Tech's Quinton Patton (6-0, 204), Baylor's Terrance Williams (6-2, 208), and Patterson's Tennessee teammate Justin Hunter (6-4, 196).
Hopkins was a three-year starter who had 82 catches for 1,405 yards and 18 touchdowns in 13 games in 2012 even though he began the season as the apparent No. 2 to teammate Sammy Watkins. Hopkins capped his college career with 13 catches for 191 yards and two touchdowns in a bowl game vs. LSU.
It was Hunter and not Patterson who led Tennessee in receiving last season, and it wasn't close. Hunter finished 2012 with 73 catches for 1,083 yards and nine touchdowns, and his 4.44 in the 40-yard dash at the Combine was enough to raise his draft stock with some teams. In 2011, Hunter tore the ACL in his left knee three games into the season.
After redshirting for a year at Coffeyville Community College, Patton played for two years there and caught 73 passes while also handling the punting chores with a 39.0 average. During his two seasons at Louisiana Tech, Patton caught 183 passes for 2,594 yards and 24 touchdowns, with 21 catches for 223 yards and four touchdowns in a 59-57 loss to Texas A&M in 2012.
Woods became the first freshman to start at wide receiver at USC in the post-World War II era, and then during his sophomore season of 2011 he led the team with 111 catches for 1,292 yards and 15 touchdowns. Even though his numbers dropped to 76 catches for 846 yards and 11 touchdowns in 2012, Woods left USC as the school's all-time leading receiver with 252 receptions.
After redshirting at Baylor in 2008, Williams initially made his mark returning kickoffs, but in his next two seasons he combined for 102 receptions for 1,441 yards and 15 touchdowns. Then as a fifth-year senior, Williams led the nation with 1,832 receiving yards – on 97 catches for an 18.9 average – and he scored 12 touchdowns. Williams graduated from Baylor in December 2012.
THE 2012 NFL DRAFT, WR STATISTICS
Number drafted: 33
Picks by round: 4 in the first; 5 in the second; 4 in the third; 8 in the fourth; 3 in the fifth; 4 in the sixth; 5 in the seventh
Highest pick: Justin Blackmon, Oklahoma State, Round 1, 5th overall, by Jacksonville
Biggest impact: Blackmon started 14 games as a rookie for the Jaguars, and he finished with 64 catches for 865 yards (13.5 average) and five touchdowns.