As is the case with the running back class of 2011, there's a lot of talent among this year's soon-to-be rookie receivers beyond the marquee names. But when you get past speedsters like Boise State's Titus Young, reliable possession receivers such as Miami's Leonard Hankerson, and do-it-all sleepers like Kentucky's Randall Cobb, two names stand apart.
It all depends on what your offense needs – Georgia's A.J. Green pops off the tape with the kind of raw athleticism rarely seen at any position, while Julio Jones of Alabama intrigues with an extremely valuable combination of size, competitive spirit, and productivity – but both players are projected by most pundits to move to the NFL in the first 10 picks.
Here's a breakdown of what each player brings to the league.
A.J. Green, Georgia
Julio Jones, Alabama
Route-running: Worked in a pro-style system and his route palette reflects that. While his straight-line speed is impressive, he's also a potentially devastating player in routes requiring quick cuts because he can contort his body and reset to full speed so quickly. Especially good at plant-and-cut routes; slants and comebacks are specialties.
Route-running: Has a decent command of the route tree, though his overall form needs a bit of work. Tended to round off at times on games, though the pre-draft work he put in was obvious at the NFL scouting combine – his second post corner route in the drills was probably the cleanest route anyone ran all day. No fear when it comes to making cuts in and through traffic; reacts almost like a tight end when it comes to contact.
Release: Green is very quick off the line; his first-step speed allows him to elude press coverage and get in quick zones to head upfield or catch receiver screens. Not always physical enough to just jar press man corners with his hands; he has to use his short-area quickness to do it.
Release: Not a burner per se on the field, Jones is more reliant on his inline power than pure acceleration to get out of press coverage and past zone splits. He can get free quickly against slower defenders and is aggressive and quick out of slip screens and quick angle passes.
Body control: Absolutely ridiculous potential in this department – could be as good as anyone currently in the NFL. Not only does Green have more on-field ability to get vertical than his test numbers suggest; he also can grab errant passes in the air under extreme physical pressure from pass defenders.
Body control: Jones is tougher than he is flexible; where his control really shows up (and this is kind of a surprise, given that he's struggled with drops before) is in the ability to take and keep the ball over the middle under physical pressure and anticipating the big hit. Can get vertical, but almost has to stop and reset before he does so.
Hands: Will go into traffic and make the tough catch – refuses to resort to "alligator arms" under any circumstances. Extends his hands to grip the ball and brings the ball to his chest quickly to turn and get upfield as quickly as possible. Doesn't get flustered in key situations; he doesn't let his eyes get ahead of him.
Hands: Jones is an inconsistent hands catcher who has had issues with drops, though he's improved in this regard. Generally, the problem has been tied more to a tendency to hurry upfield before he's secured the ball.
After the catch: Decent at picking up extra yardage on slants and crosses, though his skill set may be better for longer speed routes and downfield passes where he's beating cornerbacks with jump balls. Relative lack of musculature and sheer physical power affects his production after the catch, though this is not a glaring issue. Willing to play through traffic and this could be a point of improvement with an NFL-level strength program.
After the catch: Jones' primary asset. He is a beast after the catch on any type of short pass because of his quickness and determination to get upfield. Will just bull through arm and ankle tackles especially at the second level and downfield. Once he gets free in space, will accelerate and become even tougher to bring down.
Blocking: Not really a factor here; build and strength get in the way, and Green is probably better off heading downfield to take whatever inevitable double coverage he's going to get out of the way.
Blocking: Willing and able blocker who will look for targets downfield – this is another area in which he acts and looks like a very fast tight end. Can plant and drive and use his strength to take on linebackers.
Intangibles: Green was suspended for the first four games of the 2010 season for selling one of his own jerseys, but you're barking up the wrong tree if you think this particular scouting report is going to ding him for that when college players make no merchandising revenue. Overall, Georgia went 1-4 in his absence and Green held himself responsible for the whole debacle. Green is respected by players and coaches with no obvious temperament red flags.
Intangibles: Jones burns to compete like few players at any level. Played through part of the 2010 season with a broken hand, and absolutely tore it up at the combine with a broken foot. Has improved consistently in nearly every football category through his college career. A community-oriented individual off the field.
Conclusion: There's absolutely no question that Green is a No. 1 receiver in waiting; the question is whether he projects more as a Randy Moss(notes) or a Calvin Johnson(notes) type. If he put on a few more pounds of muscle, he could be absolutely transcendent, and there's always that question of how long the Moss-like quick twitch speed will last in the few players lucky enough to have it in the first place.
Conclusion: The Terrell Owens(notes) comparison has absolutely nothing to do with Jones' personality; he is an intense, humble individual with a real desire to compete. If you could somehow take all the ancillary garbage out of Owens' career and take a trip back to his early career in San Francisco, when he was putting together a rare skill set, that's what Jones could be under the right circumstances.
Jones is a natural West Coast offense receiver who could also succeed in any offense in which short passes are the norm, and receivers are expected to make plays on their own, after the catch. Few players in this draft class seem as well-prepared to take advantage of what the NFL has to offer.
Comparison: Johnson, Lions.
Comparison: Owens, 49ers (early days).
Doug Farrar is a writer for Yahoo's Shutdown Corner blog, and a senior writer for Football Outsiders.