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NFL Draft 2013 positional rankings: Wide receivers

Kevin C. Cox

Editor's note: Here are Derek's WR rankings as they were published last week on April 18th. I will make a note of it if any of them change prior to Thursday's start to the NFL Draft.

1 *Cordarrelle Patterson WR Tennessee Jr 6'2 216

Patterson possesses a rare combination of size and athleticism that enable him to beat you with quickness, speed or strength. He's still learning how to use his frame, but he exhibits suddenness as a route runner, explosiveness in and out of breaks, timing to the high-point, and make-you-miss ability after the catch. He's pretty much the total package. He'll get lazy as a route-runner at times, and needs to secure the ball off his frame more frequently, but the potential is there for a Pro Bowl-caliber WR.

2 *Keenan Allen WR California Jr 6'2 206

Allen has been dropping on some boards, but at last glance, the tape hasn't changed on him. He's big, fluid, quick and can line up at any of the WR spots and present mismatches. The ACL sprain from the '12 season limited his workout ability, and although he ran a 4.71 at his Pro Day, he plays much faster than that on tape. His body control and hands are "plus", and he'll extend plays both with his physicality and his agility. He could very well drop into the 2nd round, but wind up being the most productive WR in the class when all is said and done.

3 *DeAndre Hopkins WR Clemson Jr 6'1 214

"Nuke" Hopkins may be the best of any in the class and getting separation early off the line. He exhibits flexibility and burst to sink and explode out of his cuts with precision, and consistently attacks the ball in the air. Combine that with "plus" length, extremely soft hands and deceptive 2nd-level acceleration, and you have a guy who can line up outside at the next level and become a favored target year one.

4 Tavon Austin WR West Virginia Sr 5'9 174

Austin is one of the more unique WRs to come along in a while. He's probably the most versatile in the group, and although limited in size, he possesses seemingly unprecedented quickness and change of direction ability in the open field, and can break a game wide open with the ball in his hands. He can line up in the backfield and present almost as many challenges to a defense as a tailback, as he does at WR. He chest traps the ball more than he should, and isn't a guy who'll consistently win on the outside against the bigger, physical press corners, so the key will be to get him into space or put him in the slot and let him out-quick LBs and Safeties down the seam.

5 *Robert Woods WR Southern California Jr 6'1 201

Woods has been up and down on a lot of boards, but to me he's remained right there in the late-1st round/mid-2nd round pick range. He's fluid as a route runner, boasts more-than-capable hands to make the tough, off-body catch, and exhibits a large catch radius that could make him a primary target at the next level.

He's not the elite burner, but has sneaky speed and displays good acceleration to separate vertically, and can shift in the open field to make defenders miss and extend plays. He'll need to become more physical against press, and needs to be more consistent at securing the ball before turning up field.

6a Markus Wheaton WR Oregon State Sr 5'11 189

Wheaton is one of my favorite WRs in the class and one who I feel is underrated. He's fast, quick, runs good routes and can stretch the field from any of the WR spots. He's surprisingly strong in his upper half and exhibits nice aggression versus press, to separate early and explode. He doesn't always come back to the ball like he should, and tends to chest-trap when squared up with his QB, but there's no denying the big-play potential he'll bring an offense from day one.

6b *Justin Hunter WR Tennessee Jr 6'4 196

Hunter has been a bit of an underachiever in that he poses one of the most unique blends of size and athleticism in the class, but has struggled to consistently finish plays. He can run routes, he can separate and he can pull away after the catch. He simply blows too many opportunities with drops and concentration lapses, and many would say that his '12 season was a disappointment. That said, with some polish, Hunter has Pro Bowl-caliber ability and could end up a steal for a team in the 2nd or 3rd round if he's able to put it all together.

7 *Da'Rick Rogers WR Tennessee Tech Jr 6'3 217

Had Rogers remained at Tennessee, he may be a top-20 consideration this year. He's big, agile, has strong hands, plays a physical brand of ball, and is fluid as a route-runner. Personal issues and inconsistencies have plagued him in his career, but there's no denying the upside, and I don't see him slipping past the 3rd round.

8 Quinton Patton WR Louisiana Tech rSr 6'1 204

Patton has a lot of very strong traits, though none you would consider "elite." Where he's best is after the catch. He's shifty and explosive in a short area and will make defenders miss in the open field. He does a good job of using his size and long arms to release versus press coverage, and exhibits flexible hips to sink and break suddenly as a route-runner. Despite his sub-4.5 40 time, Patton doesn't consistently pull away at the 2nd level and is susceptible to being slowed by bumps and contact down field. He plucks the ball nicely off his body and does a good job of securing it before turning up field. If he can learn to put his speed to better use vertically, he'll have the potential to be a No. 1 or No. 2 at the next level, but as of now, Patton looks like an immediate slot/3rd option who can sit down in space and extend plays after the catch.

9 Terrance Williams WR Baylor rSr 6'2 208

Williams has dropped on most boards, and deservedly so as I've felt all along the first-round projections were too high for him. He has good but not great size, isn't a burner, flashes strong hands although inconsistent ones, and is a bit stiff as a route-runner. He was a consistent, go-to target at Baylor though, and has shown that he can play with a level of physicality that could help him to overcome some of his limitations. I like Williams as a 3rd or 4th round WR, who could have No. 2 target upside if he can continue developing and learning to use his frame to create space.

10 Marquise Goodwin WR Texas Sr 5'9 183

Goodwin is really really strong in a few areas, and lackluster in others. He's blazing fast - perhaps the fastest athlete to come out in the past 5 years or more - and he's a reliable, consistent pass-catcher. He's elusive in the open field and can really make you miss. Where he struggles is in getting a release from the line.

He's pretty easy to toss around when bigger corners come up and press him, and he's not a savvy enough route-runner to make up for it with his feet. The world-class speed and reliable hands to go with make-you-miss ability could make him a higher pick than his pure WR tape suggests he should be at this point. Look for him to be gone by the end of round 3.

11 Ryan Swope WR Texas A&M rSr 6'1 205

Positives: Sturdy frame with long arms and good muscular definition. Exhibits strong initial burst off the snap. Flexible hips to sink, burst and separate across the field. Displays strong awareness and anticipation of zone windows, and exhibits suddenness to flip, sit and locate the ball. Plucks the ball routinely, then looks it in and secures it before turning upfield. Fearless over the middle, and looks to extend plays after the catch. Possesses quick, agile feet and has a knack for shaking coverage with jukes and stabs.

Shows strong awareness of mismatches with linebackers and safeties, and possesses the 2nd level acceleration to beat either one. Tracks the ball well vertically, and adjusts his body nicely to throws off his frame. Effective 2nd-level cut-blocker when asked to support the run or quick WR screens. Consistently gives good effort to the whistle. Does not shy away from contact after the catch and flashes some power on contact to drag a defender.

Negatives: Struggles to break down and redirect rapidly, particularly when asked to plant and burst out of a pivot on underneath routes. Could be more physical against press, as he doesn't always utilize his solid frame to create space like he could. Isn't a real "burner", and relies more on quickness and fakes to create separation vertically. Will sit down and wait for the throw at times rather than drive back to the ball. Doesn't possess a huge "catch radius" and isn't a guy you can necessarily just throw it up to and rely on to go get it.

Compares to: Brandon Stokley, WR, Denver Broncos - I look at Swope as a bigger, more athletic version of the veteran Stokely, but similar in terms of route-running efficiency, smarts, and craftiness in creating vertical separation. Although there are more athletic, explosive receivers in this year's group, few are more refined and ready to contribute than Swope, who probably falls somewhere between rounds 2 and 4, but is capable of putting up first-round numbers in the right offense. Has been designated by many as a pure "slot" target at the next level, but I see some tools that suggest he could be effective on the outside as well.

12 Chris Harper WR Kansas State rSr 6'1 229

Harper is one of my favorite WRs in the class. He's probably the most physically imposing of the group in terms of pure muscular build and strength. He's not the precise, fluid route runner who can stop or cut on a dime and shake defenders with regularity, but he exhibits an understanding and knack for using his body to seal off defenders and beat you with his physicality.

He tracks the deep ball well, possesses strong hands and good coordination, and exhibits good body control and timing with going up for the jump ball. An underrated pass-catcher who could surprise and play a significant role his first year.

13 Aaron Dobson WR Marshall Sr 6'3 210

Dobson is a big, rangy WR who isn't afraid to get physical and compete for the ball. He has soft hands, uses his length well to keep himself clean versus press, extend and pluck balls off his frame, and exhibits some ability to extend plays after the catch.

He's not very explosive and won't beat you vertically, and he lacks suddenness when asked to cut or come back to the football. It's really Dobson's size and reliable hands that could make him a go-to possession type receiver at the next level.

14 *Kenny Stills WR Oklahoma Jr 6'1 194

Stills reminds me of Hopkins in some ways. One, in that he overcomes lack of great football speed, with fluid, shifty movement to create space. Another, in that he consistently catches the ball with his hands and exhibits similar craftiness in his route running.

He doesn't play as fast as his 40-time suggests, and he's not a sudden route runner who will consistently shake defenders with stops or stabs, but he's aware of what's going on around him and does a good job of exploiting out-of-position defenders to find windows and space. He's surprisingly aggressive versus press and isn't afraid of contact after the catch, often extending plays with surprising drag-power.

15 *Stedman Bailey WR West Virginia rJr 5'10 193

Bailey, like Patton, does a lot of things well, but isn't tremendous in any one area. He has good hands, runs clean routes, can sneak past you vertically but won't blow by you, and isn't going to break your ankles in the open field. He can be relied upon to find space, and make the catch. A possession WR with some play-making ability and toughness on contact.

16 Aaron Mellette WR Elon rSr 6'3 217

Mellette is a case of a guy with a clear understanding of how to best put his size to use, but who lacks a lot of refinement otherwise. He lacks suddenness as a route runner and struggles to cut sharply when asked to dig, comeback or flatten to the sideline, and he certainly won't beat you with speed. Where he's as good as anyone in the class, though, is in using his body to seal off defenders, timing his jump to reach the high-point, and securing the ball off his frame.

He's a "post-up" receiver who could be an immediate red-zone upgrade for a team, with potential of becoming a bit more regular if he's to improve as a route runner and learn to separate with some consistency. Comes off the line sluggish, and as a result can get swallowed up by press.

17 *Josh Boyce WR TCU rJr 5'11 206

Boyce is a tough competitor who possesses a thick, long-armed frame and good athleticism. He's a bit stiff-hipped and will round off routes at times, and needs to learn to take advantage of his strength better when facing the jam on the outside as he tends to rely solely on his feet which are only marginally quick. He'll compete for the ball and isn't afraid of contact after the catch, often extending plays with his toughness.

His struggles to get off the snap and separate on the outside will probably limit him to a slot role, at least initially, at the next level. But he does possess length and natural strength that suggest he could develop into an outside target down the road. Strong, reliable hands, but needs to avoid the body catches.

18 Tavarres King WR Georgia rSr 6'1 189

I watch King, and I love the speed and agility that he brings, to go with impressive length at 6'1. However, while a good athlete, he doesn't play with a degree of physicality that would suggest he's ready to man-up with press-corners at the next level, and he's not a guy who I would want to send over the middle very often due to his seemingly frail build. Is there a place for him at the next level? I think so. I could see him being highly effective from the slot where he could put his speed and quickness to use on deep outs and seam routes. Good hands, and clean route-runner.

19 Conner Vernon WR Duke Sr 6'1 196

Vernon is a classic possession receiver. He's quick in a short area, is seemingly always open, exhibits some of the most reliable hands in the class and displays a fearlessness and toughness over the middle that you love. He's not a vertical threat and lacks athleticism to consistently make big plays after the catch, but there's something to be said for a guy who gets open consistently and can be counted on to make all the catches.

20 Cobi Hamilton WR Arkansas Sr 6'2 212

Positives: Ideal length and athleticism to play on the outside at the next level. Gets up to speed rapidly off the snap. Possesses long, smooth strides and exhibits impressive suddenness and sink to shake defenders on hitch and comeback routes. Shows good hip flexibility when asked to sink and break in or out on routes, and displays decent burst out of cuts to separate. Is surprisingly shifty in space despite his long strides, and will make a guy miss in the open field. Accelerates quickly from a stop, and can beat defenders with his first step despite lacking elite straight-line speed. Flashes strong, quick hands to pop his opponent and create space versus press.

Negatives: Drops far too many easy passes, due to getting his eyes upfield before securing the catch. Relies heavily on his chest plate when catching the football, and rarely secures it with his hands first. Is not a burner, and lacks a 2nd gear to pull away down the sideline. Does not make best use of his length, too often waiting for the ball to drop into his chest, rather than extending and attacking it in the air. Lacks physicality after the catch and won’t extend many plays beyond initial contact. Relies more on his feet than his hands versus press, which won't work for him consistently at the next level. Won't shake defenders when asked to break down and redirect in small spaces.

Compares to: Todd Pinkston, WR, Philadelphia Eagles (retired) - Hamilton possesses tools and exhibits big-play flashes that suggest he could be something special. However, as was the case with Pinkston, fundamental inconsistencies have neutralized some of his "plus" tools, and he'll need to be committed to improving if he's to realize his potential. Looks like a 4th rounder at this point.

21 *Ace Sanders WR South Carolina Jr 5'7 173

Though Sanders may be substantially undersized, he plays with a toughness and fearlessness that NFL coaches desire. He's extremely fast, lightning quick, and possesses solid, reliable hands as a pass-catcher. He could refine his routes a bit, and certainly isn't a guy who'll ever be a regular on the outside, but you can put him in the slot and line him up to return kicks from day one. Probably falls to the 5th or 6th due to size, but I've got a high 4th round grade on him at this point.

22 Corey Fuller WR Virginia Tech rSr 6'2 204

Positives: Long, athletic-looking frame with room to add bulk. Smooth long-strider with flexibility and quickness to shift and redirect with suddenness. Has displayed rapid improvement and natural instincts as a football player after beginning his college career as a track athlete at Kansas, and only switching to football as a walk-on at Virginia Tech in 2010. Has pull-away speed to challenge any secondary, and can be deadly down the seam where he’ll create mismatches with linebackers and safeties.

Is thinner than he could be, but displays aggression and willingness to be physical after the catch. Flashes soft hands and solid coordination to secure the ball off his frame. Flashes flexible hips to sink and cut without telegraphing, and is still developing as a route runner. A willing blocker in the run game, who sustains to the whistle despite still being a bit raw technically in this area. Displays physicality and quick hands to shed press at the line, and gets up to speed from "go" rapidly.

Negatives: Is unpolished as a route-runner often rounding off when he clearly has the flexibility and agility to be much sharper. Struggles to locate the ball early when tracking over the shoulder at times, and doesn't always appear to properly adjust his throttle on balls that aren't thrown in stride. Possesses the athleticism to win the jump ball, but doesn’t always time it right, and is still learning to control his body in the air. Uses the chest-plate to catch the stick throw when facing the QB, and will juggle as a result. Needs to be more consistent about coming back to the football.

Compares to: Domenik Hixon, WR, New York Giants - Like Hixon, Fuller possesses impressive straight-line speed for his size, and can pose major matchup problems down the field, which is where his immediate impact will probably be felt the most. However, his upside is greater than Hixon's in that he possesses flexibility and agility to run a more complete route tree, and has more potential to make guys miss after the catch. A project who will probably go somewhere between the 4th and 6th rounds, with Vincent Jackson-like upside if he can put it all together.

23 Rodney Smith WR Florida State Sr 6'5 225

Smith is a guy who could fly under the radar simply because he's not the exposive athlete that many of the other bigger WRs in the class are. He's lanky and lacks the muscle you'd like to see in a guy his size as well. He's deceptively fast though, and exhibits a strong ability to track and finish on the deep ball, and puts length and body control to good use on the jumper.

He's raw as a route-runner and may need to bulk up a bit, but there's clearly some ability with Smith that could land him on an NFL roster with upside of competing for time as a 3rd or 4th WR and perhaps Red Zone target down the road. Could see a team considering him as a potential TE project as well.

24 Marcus Davis WR Virginia Tech rSr 6'3 233

Athletic looking frame with prototypical lenth and thickness. Deceptively quick feet and suddenness to evade press at the line. Gets up to speed quickly from a stop. Displays hip flexibility to sink and burst on sharp routes. Quick, active hands at the line to shed the jam and release. Hands catcher who attacks the ball in the air. Locates the slant pass early and adjusts his body to position for the catch.

Good timing when asked to high-point the ball. Exhibits suddenness to break and separate on slants, from full speed. Displays strong hands to secure high-velocity throws off his frame. Can break down in space after the catch, and make defenders miss. Lacks aggression and urgency when asked to run block. Isn’t always as sharp as he's capable of being on his routes, and will round them off from time to time.

Needs to fight for position better and display willingness to get physical with defenders when asked to compete for the ball in the air. Doesn’t seem to always be on the same page with his QB - will break routes off or cut in the wrong direction. Occasional concentration lapse - will turn his head up field prior to securing the ball and drop the easy one. Needs to become craftier at getting separation by utilizing hesitation, jab-step, etc. Still has an element of rawness to his game.

Davis is a freakish athlete who is still growing as a football player, but has the talent to be a No. 1 receiver at the next level. He has to continue to develop as a route-runner, and needs to play with better focus, but he possesses an extremely rare combination of size, athleticism and ball skills that could catapult him up draft boards come April.

25 Denard Robinson WR Michigan Sr 5'11 199

Robinson is a gifted athlete with elite explosiveness, quickness and speed. He's obviously raw at this point though, and will need ample coaching to get his routes up to par as a receiver. Early on, is a guy I could see making a team as a kick/punt returner and "gadget" type athlete who could line up at a few spots on select offensive plays.