Senior Wide Receiver Rankings
New contributor Jeremy Hyde unveils his latest rankings.
1. Cody Hoffman – 6’4” / 215 – Brigham Young
Hoffman caught a career-high 100 balls as a junior, totaling 1248 yards and scoring 11 touchdowns. His combination of size, athleticism, and excellent hands make him a viable candidate to play the ‘X’ receiver position in the NFL. Hoffman lacks great top-end speed, but he gains separation with quickness out of his breaks or by using his large frame to shield defenders from the football. He is a natural hands catcher with impressive athleticism and body control, enabling him to make tough sideline catches or win jump balls over smaller defensive backs. He is both a physical and elusive runner after the catch. In addition to a productive senior season, Hoffman needs to have strong showings, both during Senior Bowl week and in agility drills at the combine, to eliminate concerns about his ability to separate against NFL cornerbacks.
2. Jordan Matthews – 6’3” / 205 – Vanderbilt
Matthews caught 94 passes for 1323 yards and eight touchdowns in 2012, earning first team All-SEC honors from both the media and coaches. He runs in the 4.5’s, but accelerates quickly and does a nice job tracking the football over his shoulder, forcing defenders to play a lot of off coverage against him to prevent big plays. As a result, he is frequently open on underneath routes. While his quickness and speed make him effective at picking up yards after the catch, Matthews is not as physical as his size would indicate, and typically goes down on initial contact. He is also prone to dropped passes on short slants when he hears footsteps, despite generally showing good hands. He will need to become more precise and explosive with his routes, and be more physical in all aspects of his game in order to maximize his size and athleticism in the NFL.
3. Noel Grigsby – 5’11” / 175 – San Jose State
Grigsby had his best season in 2012 (82 catches for 1307 yards and nine touchdowns), and quickly emerged as the favorite target of JUCO transfer David Fales. Grigsby does an excellent job of gaining separation with his routes, displaying quick feet, precise cuts, and a knack for selling fakes to defensive backs. He is very lean at 5-foot-11 and just 175 pounds, but still manages to effectively shield defenders from the ball, and is not adversely affected by contact at the catch point. What makes him stand out among this class is his body control and ability to adjust to catch the football. He simply makes catches other receivers do not. While he is best classified as a possession receiver, Grigsby has ample speed to stretch the field as well, a part of his game that may become more prevalent with a more accomplished deep passer than Fales.
4. Jalen Saunders – 5’9” / 160 – Oklahoma
With all the attention surrounding Tavon Austin leading up to the 2013 draft, you can expect NFL teams will keep a close eye on this year’s dynamic offensive weapons. In just nine games in his first season at Oklahoma, Saunders caught 62 passes for 829 yards and three touchdowns. While he was not utilized in the running game the way Austin was at West Virginia, Saunders may possess the more natural receiver skills of the two. He is adept at finding pockets in zone coverage, and is a nightmare for defenders charged with covering him on a “two-way go”. He needs to add bulk to help him break tackles, but he is very elusive after the catch, and has the acceleration and speed to turn missed tackles into six points. Apart from having a quiet year off the field, Saunders could improve his draft stock by making more frequent trips to the end zone in 2013.
5. Josh Huff – 5’11” / 205 – Oregon
In three years at Oregon, Huff has evolved from a multi-purpose offensive weapon and kick returner to the Ducks’ leading receiver. Despite playing in an Oregon offense that features its ball carriers more so than it does its pass catchers, Huff caught 32 passes, and led the team with 493 receiving yards and seven touchdowns in 2012. He also did an excellent job blocking for the aforementioned ball carriers. He is still very raw as a route runner, but he has the requisite balance and short-area quickness to develop at the next level. He exhibits good hands and shows no fear of making tough catches over the middle. Huff is tough to bring down after the catch. He is like a halfback in the open field, using excellent speed, quickness, and power to escape or fight through tacklers.
6. Eric Ward – 6’0” / 205 – Texas Tech
Ward emerged as Seth Doege’s go-to receiver in 2011, and totaled an impressive 166 catches for 1853 yards and 23 touchdowns over the past two seasons. He exhibits exceptional quickness in and out of breaks and runs crisp routes, enabling him to consistently separate from defenders. He possesses a solid build at six feet tall, and is physically able to beat press coverage and fight through tackles. Ward does an excellent job selling the double move, and has the speed to make defenders pay for their missteps. He shows good hands to pluck the ball out of the air, and is capable of making defenders miss once he hauls in the pass. Ward has the ability to catch passes from the outside in the NFL, though his skill set will make him difficult to cover from the slot as well.
7. Mike Davis – 6’2” / 193 – Texas
Davis showed vast improvement in a number of areas of his game during his junior year at Texas. His 57 catches, 939 receiving yards, and seven touchdowns were all career highs. He showcased his vertical speed with nine catches of 35 yards or more, exploiting single coverage on the outside and victimizing cornerbacks on deep post routes. He was also much more aggressive and physical blocking for the running game. Davis is a bit of a one-trick pony as a receiver, and struggles to make an impact when the safeties play back to take away the deep post. He has a tendency to round off routes, and is not very elusive or physical after the catch. Even so, his overall development is encouraging, and his ability to stretch the field will not go unnoticed by NFL teams.
8. Shaquelle Evans – 6’1” / 211 – UCLA
Evans made major strides under new wide receiver coach Eric Yarber in 2012, emerging as the Bruins’ top receiver, and catching 60 passes for 877 yards. At 6-foot-1 and 210 pounds, Evans is as physical as he is fast. He does an excellent job of fighting through contact to make the catch, and shows no fear of going over the middle of the field. He needs to further develop as a route runner, particularly when it comes to selling fakes and making more precise cuts, but he has the quick feet for that part of his game to become a strength in time. Evans will see more red zone targets with Joseph Fauria now in the NFL, and should easily top his 2012 total of three touchdown receptions. If he improves his route running and continues to stretch the field for the Bruins, look for Evans’ stock to rise in his final season at UCLA.
9. Mike Campanaro – 5’11” / 195 – Wake Forest
Campanaro has been one of the more productive pass catchers in college football over the past two seasons, totaling 152 receptions for 1596 yards and eight touchdowns during his sophomore and junior campaigns. He is an advanced route runner, who possesses quick feet and a good feel for finding open pockets in zone coverage. He is not a big target, so he requires an accurate quarterback, but he shows good hands on catchable passes thrown his way. He is not afraid to work the middle of the field, and does a good job of making catches in traffic. He exhibits good vision, excellent stop-and-start quickness, and the ability to make defenders miss after the catch. Campanaro lacks great deep speed, and has dealt with both hand and ankle injuries while at Wake Forest, but a healthy and productive senior season should cement his draftable status.
10. Devin Street – 6’4” / 190 – Pittsburgh
With an ideal combination of length and speed, excellent body control, and great hands, Street seemed a natural successor to Jonathan Baldwin as the featured receiver in the Panthers offense. He does a good job of finding open pockets in zone coverage, but his wiry frame and limited short area quickness cause him to struggle against man coverage, especially when he is jammed at the line of scrimmage. His inability to beat cornerbacks off the line with initial quickness negates his ability to stretch the field. Potentially even more concerning is the fact that, despite his height and natural hands, Street is seldom targeted in the red zone. Adding weight will help him to better hold up physically, but his future in the NFL is more likely as a possession receiver from the slot than as a vertical threat from the outside.
Thanks to DraftBreakdown video editors @Jmpasq, @ahufinger7, @AaronAloysius, and @DB_JoshD for the videos included in this piece.