The wide receiver position comes back with a vengeance, as the top of this year's crop is made up of mostly underclassmen. As many as six receivers have potential first-round grades, including the possible No. 1 overall pick – Georgia Tech's Calvin Johnson.
For the most part, the top five possess good size with all but Ohio State's Ted Ginn Jr. measuring at least 6-foot-2, but it could be interesting to see how teams favor this group. There is a solid foundation of prospects that could go anywhere between late in the first round all the way down to the third or fourth rounds.
Last season, the NFL Rookie of the Week honors went to a wide receiver on seven different occasions with seventh-round pick Marques Colston and undrafted free agent Hank Baskett accounting for four of those awards. Therefore, expect an early run on receivers.
However, a straying away from the position will allow several high-profile names to still be on the board come the second day of the draft.
TOP WIDE RECEIVERS
1. Calvin Johnson, Georgia Tech. Potentially the best pound-for-pound athlete in the draft as he stands 6-foot-4 and 235 pounds and has been timed in the 4.3-second range in the 40. He also has a vertical leap between 42 and 45 inches and a broad jump of 11 feet.
Johnson matches that athleticism with playmaker ability on the field and a quiet unassuming presence off of it. In fact, for a player of his talent level, there has not been a prospect with less of an ego or more of a workmanlike attitude to enter the draft in years. He acts and wants to be treated like he's just one of the guys, but he brings such a wealth of ability to the field that it would not be surprising to see him taken No. 1 overall.
He is very flexible and has a fluid stride that allows him to separate from defenders, although he needs to do a better job of locating the ball when it is in the air, especially when going to out-jump opposing defenders. He has great moves in the open field as he can take a short screen or slant route and deliver big yardage after the catch.
Without putting too much blame on his former quarterback (Reggie Ball), the accuracy and pocket presence of Georgia Tech's quarterback play was inconsistent throughout Johnson's college career. One aspect he could improve upon is breaking off his routes and coming back to the ball. Still, he shows adept footwork to keep or get himself inbounds along the sideline or in the end zone. He's a good all-around talent as he looks for players downfield to block and was able to cut-block defenders with the best of them in college.
One of the hardest workers at his pre-combine training with coach Tom Shaw in Orlando, Fla., Johnson has continued to work on using his long arms to get off the jam. He does not allow defenders to get into his body or use their hands to knock him off routes. The combination of his pure physical tools, high character and willingness to be a quiet, consummate leader should earn him high marks across the board. A 40 time in the 4.3-second range at the NFL combine or his pro day would further confirm that Johnson could be the No. 1 overall pick.
2. Ted Ginn Jr., Ohio State. The elevation of this versatile performer to a potential spot among the top 10 picks comes from the fact he possesses speed – and more speed. He is likely the fastest player in the draft in terms of straight-line 40-yard dash speed, and he also has the rare athleticism to change direction on a dime without losing any speed. Even rarer is his ability to gear right back up to full speed with a few steps.
Ginn has started to grow as a receiver, although he is still a bit thin-framed and has too many drops. His fast reflexes and hand/eye coordination have made him the most feared return man in college football since he joined the Buckeyes three years ago. His open-field moves are eye-opening as he is able to see a seam in a defense and accelerate through it.
Ginn needs to learn to get free or create space for himself in the middle of the field. He will also drop a few balls when he is too active in trying to make a play. He must work to become more flexible as he can round off his routes at times, and he also needs to increase his bulk/strength in order to defeat press coverage in the pros.
Right now, he brings the dimension of speed, versatility and game-breaking return skills, but he is not a finished product at receiver. He has also speculated on several occasions that at some point in his pro career he would like to play cornerback, the position he prefers to play. Should he run 4.3 or better, he could go as high as No. 7 to the Minnesota Vikings or No. 10 to the Atlanta Falcons. If not, he will not slip too far past the top 10 based on his upside.
3. Dwayne Bowe, LSU. Corrective Lasik eye surgery in the offseason helped him produce his best year to date and gave scouts reason to believe that he can become a No. 1, go-to receiver. He was a first-down machine in the SEC, with over 75 percent of his career catches moving the chains for the Tigers. He also showed the ability to constantly break initial defenders' attempts at bringing him down.
Bowe primarily lined up at the flanker (Z) receiver spot in order to take advantage of his size. Most defenders were unable to get up and jam or press him since he could use his long arms and strong hands to disengage and quickly get into his routes. The eye surgery helped him see the ball quicker and catch the majority of passes with his hands outstretched from his body. He will still juggle or secure a few balls against his body, though.
He breaks most of his tackles with power as opposed to making defenders miss with speed. He should time very well for being 6-3 and 217 pounds, but it takes him time to build up to full speed. He is better on intermediate or post routes as opposed to corner or go patterns, and he has ideal size and leaping ability on fade routes. However, he has struggled at times to adjust to the ball, with it falling incomplete or just out of his reach.
Bowe passed the eye test with flying colors at the Senior Bowl. Solid workouts should put him in position to be taken somewhere around the mid-way point of the first round.
4. Robert Meachem, Tennessee. This youngster came on this past season thanks to a move from "X" to flanker, where he became the Volunteers' new go-to receiver. He used a combination of size, speed and slippery moves to elevate himself to the upper echelon of receivers.
He catches the ball with his hands and has terrific balance and agility in the open field, where he'll accelerate without losing any of his top-end speed. He had a few drops when trying to adjust to the ball, but he has good leaping skills and sticks his landings along the sideline.
Meachem became a red-zone threat last season, as he knew how to get open quickly or use his long arms to break free along the back line of the end zone. The tall, rangy prospect increased his strength at the line of scrimmage; he is harder to jam and is working to get better against press coverage. He runs pretty crisp routes and isn't a long strider considering his size. He's also a willing blocker and was recognized by teammates as being well-liked and mature.
He is similar in some ways to former Volunteers great Carl Pickens, who was taken in the second round of the 1992 draft and went on to have four 1,000-yard campaigns during a nine-year career that included a pair of Pro Bowl appearances. Meachem could be an in-state favorite for the Tennessee Titans at pick No. 19.
5. Dwayne Jarrett, USC. A tremendous playmaker at the collegiate level, Jarrett is now being questioned about his ability to keep up that big-play style at the next level. Some have him rated as high as the draft's No. 2 receiver. Others are not impressed by his potential impact in the pros and feel he will slide greatly on draft day.
Jarrett's issues revolve around his lack of ideal straight-line speed, questionable work habits and unwillingness to be coached. However, there is no doubting his production, size and keen ability to grab the ball at its highest point. He does well along the sidelines, looking to create space or coming back to the ball, and he has made smaller defenders pay on a consistent basis, but many of those jump ball or fade routes will not be so easy to achieve against NFL defenders.
Where he slacks off is when he is not the primary target. While his straight-line speed is average for his size and position, the failure to be overly flexible and to cut in and out on his routes is probably a more pressing issue.
Jarrett banged up his left shoulder last season but came back and was productive in the Trojans' Rose Bowl win over Michigan. Coming out early was likely a sound judgment call as the issue over his lack of speed would not have gone away even with another highly productive college campaign.
He needs to be paired with the right type of scheme and position coach in order to get the most out of him. He seems to have a little bit of Antonio Bryant in his game in that he can become frustrated and sound off. However, Jarrett is such an interesting prospect because he has produced and consistently made big plays in college. Still, other factors could cause him to slide toward the latter part of the first round.