DK note: In addition to contributing here, Derek also runs ScoutTheDraft.com - an NFL Draft analysis hub that you should head to immediately after reading this article, which was submitted with impeccable timing as it relates to my post on the Seahawks and their options at receiver.
With the majority of pre-draft media focus directed at Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III and the Indianapolis Colts, a solid class of receivers has gone relatively un-talked about. This isn't the year of the explosive, big-play, vertical burner in terms of the wideouts, however, one thing this class does boast a lot of is size. This is a group loaded with big, physical pass-catchers, a few of whom I consider to be legit No. 1 candidates at the next level. That's No. 1 receivers. Not No. 1 overall picks (just to be clear). Here are a few to keep your eye on at each stage of the draft (early, mid and late).
I've purposely excluded the outliers here - Kendall Wright, Chris Givens, Ryan Broyles, A.J. Jenkins, T.Y. Hilton, Joe Adams, etc. and a few others, as the focus of the article is to emphasize the load of "big" receivers in the crop.
Early (Rounds 1 & 2):
1. Michael Floyd - Notre Dame - 6'3, 228lbs - Floyd is not only an imposing physical specimen, but he possesses elite instincts when going up for the ball, great body control and a deceptive 2nd gear to separate. Nevermind the absolute suction cups he owns for hands, and the good use of size and length to beat press consistently on the edge. He has all the tools to be one of the league's best within 3 years. If I were a GM in need of a receiver, I'd take Floyd over anyone else in this draft, hands down.
2. Justin Blackmon - Okla St. - 6'1, 218lbs - Blackmon is actually one of the smaller "big" receivers in the crop, but he plays extremely physical, possesses strong hands, and is tough to bring down after the catch. He's a clean route runner and is particularly good at separating over the middle. He tracks the ball well and consistently plucks off his frame. Should be a guy who threatens 70+ catches right away.
3. Alshon Jeffrey - S. Carolina - 6'4, 230lbs - Jeffrey has been knocked for lack of speed, but that's really a pretty common resort when people rely more on physical appearance than actual game performance. Basically, if you look at him standing still, it's easy to think "he must be slow." He's actually not slow. He's fast for his size, and uses his length extremely well to access balls that are at the high-point. He'll extend plays with his toughness after the catch, and uses his body well to shield defenders when extending for the ball. He could clean up the routes a bit as he lacks suddenness coming back on the hitch or sticking in on the dig, but his size and ball skills, combined with better-than-expected speed make him a threat in several places on the field.
4. Rueben Randle - LSU - 6'3, 208lbs - Randle has crept up boards and for good reason. He's a really good route runner, catches the ball with his hands, is physical after the catch and blocks well in the running game. He attacks the ball in the air at it's high point and possesses good body control when forced to adjust. Long arms and strong hands to consistently pluck the ball. Could end up the 3rd receiver taken after Blackmon and Floyd (or vise-versa).
5. Mohamed Sanu - Rutgers - 6'2, 218lbs - Sanu isn't fast. No denying that. Although he can pull away once he gets up to speed, he's not a guy who will beat you with foot speed right off the line. He's quick though, and flashes good, consistent hands and concentration to secure the catch. He understands routes and can run the entire tree relatively well. Where he's most effective though is after the catch. He evades laterally really well for his size, and will extend plays by lowering the shoulder and flat running through tackles. He's tough, consistent and fundamentally sound despite not possessing the raw speed you'd hope for. Probably more of a slot guy at the next level, but one who could catch a lot of passes and convert a lot of first downs in crucial situations.
6. Nick Toon - Wisconsin - 6'2, 220lbs - Toon runs clean routes, knows how to defeat press, has good speed and displays strong hands to make the tough catch away from his body. He's not as physical as he could be after the catch, but flashes the toughness and balance to run through tacklers. He's not extremely explosive, and suffers from the occasional drop but he's a well rounded receiver with no major glaring weeknesses. I see him as a solid possession guy at the next level who needs to grow in his consistency, but I still have a 2nd round grade on him.
Mid (Rounds 3 to 5)
1. Dwight Jones - North Carolina - 6'4, 225lbs - Jones is a tall, long, powerful athlete with a knack for making tough catches in traffic. He's inconsistent though, and his effort has been questioned from time to time. He's fast for his size and could be a legit vertical threat at the next level if he could become more consistent at using his hands to fight off press at the snap, as he lacks initial burst and lateral quickness to win with his feet right off the line. Has been projected by some to go as high as in the bottom of round one, but the inconsistency should drop him to the mid rounds where he could be a potential steal.
2. Jeff Fuller - Texas A&M - 6'3, 225lbs - Much like Jones, Fuller is a guy with massive size and strength for the position, but he too has been inconsistent, particularly when it comes to dropping easy balls. The concentration lapses were far too frequent in '11, and his stock has suffered as a result. There's no doubt surrounding his knack for attacking the ball in the air and securing some tough passes thrown off the body, and he's surprisingly sudden for his size when asked to dig and come back to the ball. He can be an absolute beast to bring down after the catch and he'll fight for extra yards. He's not a burner and will need to rely more on size, body control and hand activity to create separation at the next level. Another guy with early round talent who will probably fall to the mid, if not late rounds due to lack of consistency.
3. Juron Criner - Arizona - 6'3, 228lbs - Criner is a big, tough kid with soft hands and good acceleration to pull away for his size. He's not among the quickest of the receivers in the crop and he lacks top instincts when asked to go up for the jump ball, but he uses hands and strength well to get off press and extends his long arms to secure passes off his frame. He didn't line up a ton against press in college and his route-running was a bit limited, but his willingness to go over the middle combined with extremely consistent hands should give NFL teams options in terms of where to line him up. A possession guy who provide the most value operating from the slot. He'll drag defenders after the catch to move the sticks as well.
4. Marvin Jones - Cal - 6'2, 195lbs - Jones is one of the more underrated receivers in the class this season, in my view. A smooth, precise route runner with good sideline awareness and soft hands, Jones is deceptively fast and displays the ability to adjust his body on throws off stride. He'll need to improve his strength to get better at beating press, but he is a guy who could come in and challenge for a 3rd or 4th receiver role on a team right away. Could even end up starting for a receiver-starved team like Cleveland.
5. Brian Quick - App. State - 6'4, 222lbs - The size/speed combo that Quick presents is intriguing to say the least. But that's not all he posesses. He sinks his hips well into breaks, possesses strong hands to secure the ball away from the body and locates the ball early on hot, timing throws. Granted, a lot of the evaluation on Quick has been generated while viewing him against a lower level of competition than most, and he won't have as easy of a time breaking press or separating at the NFL level, so the jury is out on how well his game will transition. Another tough guy to bring down after the catch, though. He's a gamble in the first two rounds, but there's enough there to grab him in the late 3rd or early 4th and feel good about the pick. Could be a big time star if the game does transition.
Late (Rounds 6 & 7):
1. B.J. Cunningham - Michigan State - 6'2, 220lbs - Cunningham is a guy I've liked all along and continue to tout as a sleeper pick in the later rounds. Is he a blazer? No. Does he possess elite quickness? No. He does run clean, precise routes, understands how to beat his man in a short area, displays good concentration to pull in the tough catch in traffic, and can locate and adjust to poorly thrown balls. He won't run away from anyone in the open field, but he'll secure the rock and break tackles to extend plays. A sure-handed, highly underrated receiver who could make a living in a west-coast, timing-based passing system. Runs the corner fade well and displays good leaping ability and timing at the high-point. I have a high 4th round grade on him, but he'll probably be around in the late 5th.
2. Marvin McNutt - Iowa - 6'2, 219lbs - McNutt is another tough, physical receiver who will punish defenders after the grab. He's been red-flagged for injuries and lack of overall quickness/explosiveness, but there's no denying the guy can go up and get the ball. He'll drap your jaw with the occasional acrobatic catch, and he displays incredible radius to pull the ball in from various angles. Not a blazer, but possesses good acceleration to separate once he's up to speed. A guy who can play inside or out, in my view and has legit No. 1 capability down the road if he can improve his route running. Possesses a good pop at the point of attack to defeat press get into his route quickly. Another 3rd round talent who will fall somewhere between 4 and 6.
3. Tommy Streeter - Miami - 6'4, 218lbs - If you're looking for a raw athlete with tons of potential, Streeter is your guy. At Miami, he lived on vertical routes and high-pointing the ball. He possesses a great vertical leap and impeccable timing on the jumper, and reaches top gear quickly for his size. He's not afraid to take a hit over the middle and will hold on after the thump. He lacks route precision on pretty much anything other than a fly, post or deep slant, and will have a lot of work to do if he's going to be more than a vertical jump-ball specialist (which I'm not sure there's really room on any NFL roster for), so he'll need to make scouts believe that he's teachable. But the physical tools are there, and he's worth taking a chance on in the last two rounds.
4. Greg Childs - Arkansas - 6'3, 215lbs - If it weren't for injury concerns, we might be talking about Childs as a late 2nd or early 3rd round prospect. Aside from the injuries, Childs is one of the more refined receivers in the group. He's not a blazer and won't out-quick or shake defenders off the line with his feet, but he's extremely effective at using his body and length to box out for the pass. He's particularly good in the timing game, when asked to slant in a 5 yard box, or hit the sideline on the short out. Downfield, he'll go up in traffic and win the high-point battle, but for the most part he's a strong possession prospect who could be a legit #2 or #3 at the next level if he can shake the injury bug.
5. Junior Hemingway - Michigan - 6'1, 225lbs - Hemingway is a thick, powerful receiver who is at his best after the catch. He displays good use of leverage and lower body power to beat press at the line, is highly competitive when the ball is in the air and is a hands-first catcher. After the grab, he possesses a nice combination of strength and shiftiness, and can make would-be tacklers miss in a variety of ways. Isn't an A+ route runner at this point and is still developing, but if you find a way to get the ball in his hands, he'll extend plays and ove the sticks. A good value anywhere between the mid 5th and 7th rounds.
Others worth a mention:
Stephen Hill - Georgia Tech - 6'4, 221lbs (projected round: 2nd)
Rishard Matthews - Nevada - 6'0, 220lbs (projected round: 3rd-4th)
DeVier Posey - Ohio State - 6'2, 212lbs (projected round: 6th - UDFA)
Gerell Robinson - ASU - 6'3, 227lbs (projected round: 6th - UDFA)