Immaturity issues cloud deep crop of versatile catchers

Posted April 23, 2012 @ 3:49 p.m.
Posted By Nolan Nawrocki

This is the third of a 12-part series that offers up scouting reports on PFW’s top five-ranked players at their respective positions in the 2012 NFL draft. Full scouting reports and the latest buzz on nearly 500 draft prospects, including results from roughly 200 pro days, can be found in PFW’s Draft Database.

This year’s receiving class is loaded with talent, but as has become very typical of a prima donna position, the class comes with its share of blemishes, including those involving Oklahoma State’s Justin Blackmon and Notre Dame’s Michael Floyd. Blackmon has been nearly unstoppable on the field the last two seasons but must still prove that he is willing to commit himself to becoming great. Floyd showed improved maturity as a senior, has acquitted himself well since the season ended and has steadily improved his standing. Baylor’s Kendall Wright could be dynamite in the slot, though he must become more focused. LSU’s Rueben Randle is a natural catcher who plays faster than he times but may be overtaken in the draft process by Georgia Tech’s Stephen Hill, who lit up the Combine with a sensational workout. The draft is heavy on talent at the X, Z and F positions, with quality talent to be found in every round.

1. Justin Blackmon, Oklahoma State (Jr.)
Ht: 6-0 7⁄8, Wt: 207, Sp: 4.56, Arm: 32 1⁄2, Hand: 9 1⁄4

Notes: Played in all 13 games in ’09, starting four, and totaled 20 receptions for 260 yards (13-yard average) and two touchdowns. Played in 12 games in ’10, starting 10, and caught 111-1,782-20 (16.1). Added 4-77-1 (19.2) rushing. Was arrested in late October for DUI. Also scored a touchdown on a punt return. Had another outstanding season in ’11, becoming the only two-time winner of the Biletnikoff Award after grabbing 121-1,522-18 (12.6) in 13 games (12 starts). 

Bottom line: Has drawn comparisons to Anquan Boldin from NFL evaluators, given Blackmon’s competitive playing temperament and lack of elite speed. Blackmon is not as strong or physical as Boldin but is more savvy playing the ball, with a wider catching radius. Can play inside or outside and bring a dependable, intense receiving presence to an offense but was not instantly impactful in college and might not possess the elite physical traits to scare defensive backs readily in the pros. A good, accomplished football player.

NFL projection: Top-10 pick.

2. Michael Floyd, Notre Dame
Ht: 6-2 5⁄8, Wt: 220, Sp: 4.44, Arm: 32 7⁄8, Hand: 9 3⁄8

Notes: As a true freshman in 2008, started 10-of-11 games and produced 48 receptions for 719 yards (15-yard average) and seven touchdowns. Managed 44-795-9 (18.1) in seven starts in ’09 — broke his left collarbone against Michigan State (required surgery) and missed five contests. Started 12-of-13 games in ’10, totaling 79-1,025-12 (13.0). Set career highs in receptions and yards after hauling in 100-1,147-9 (11.5) in 13 games (12 starts) in ’11. Two-time team captain has three alcohol-related incidents on his record.

Bottom line: A big, tough, competitive “Z” receiver who stands out most for his physicality and urgent style of play, Floyd tested better at the Combine than he shows on tape and displayed the type of maturity during his final season in college and during the interview process to alleviate concerns about his alcohol-related incidents. Has the football smarts to step into a starting lineup immediately and quickly become a legitimate receiving force.

NFL projection: First-round pick.

3. Rueben Randle, LSU (Jr.)
Ht: 6-2 7⁄8, Wt: 210, Sp: 4.54, Arm: 33, Hand: 9 1⁄2

Notes: Saw action in all 13 games (four starts in the three-WR set) as a true freshman in 2009, grabbing 11 passes for 173 yards (15.7-yard average) and two touchdowns. Hauled in 33-544-3 (16.5) in 13 games, with nine starts, at the “Z” receiver in ’10. Led the Tigers in receiving in ’11, registering 53-917-8 (17.3) in 14 games (12 starts at “X” receiver).

Bottom line: More smooth than sudden, Randle is a long, lean, fluid, athletic “X” receiver who flashes natural ball skills and first-round ability on tape, though his production was affected by poor quarterback play in a run-first offense at LSU. With continued refinement, could develop into a No. 2 in a vertical passing game.

NFL projection: Top-50 pick.

4. Kendall Wright, Baylor
Ht: 5-10 1⁄4, Wt: 196, Sp: 4.51, Arm: 30 1⁄2, Hand: 8 5⁄8

Notes: Set Baylor freshman records for receptions and receiving yards in 2008, when he started 11-of-12 games and recorded 50-649-5 (13-yard average). Started 11-of-12 games in ’09, snagging 66-740-4 (11.2). Played in all 13 games in ’10, starting eight, and totaled 78-952-7 (12.2). Had a record-setting season in ’11, establishing school records for receptions, receiving yards and touchdowns after recording 108-1,663-14 (15.4) in 13 games (12 starts). Also saw limited duty as a punt returner with 5-37-0 (7.4). Has 75 career rushes for 425 yards (5.7) and six touchdowns.

Bottom line: A small-framed, quick-twitch athlete, Wright teamed with Robert Griffin III to form one of the more lethal quarterback-receiver combinations in recent memory. Wright is not a finished product but is an electric playmaker whose explosiveness makes him a mismatch weapon at any receiver spot and enables him to stretch the field vertically and horizontally. Also has traits to excel in the return game. Produced an average Combine workout for evaluators, who might put heavy stock into how he looks in shorts and a T-shirt, but he continually shows up in a big way on the field.

NFL projection: First-round pick.

5. Stephen Hill, Georgia Tech (Jr.)
Ht: 6-4, Wt: 215, Sp: 4.33, Arm: 33 3⁄8, Hand: 9 3⁄8

Notes: Saw action in 13 games (started against North Carolina) as a true freshman in 2009, grabbing six passes for 137 yards (22.8-yard average) and one touchdown while rushing five times for 84 yards (16.8-yard average) and one score. Hauled in 15-291-3 (19.4) to lead the team and ran for 3-34-0 (11.3) while playing in 12 games (nine starts) in ’10. Led the team in receiving for a second time in ’11, posting 28-820-5 (29.3) with 4-29-0 (7.3) on the ground in 13 starts. 

Bottom line: Raw, athletic, inconsistent, outside-the-numbers deep threat with intriguingly rare measurables and playmaking ability. Boom-or-bust candidate who will require patience but has moldable physical ability and a high ceiling. Limited playing experience in a non-conventional offense. Could be considerably overdrafted on upside and is very much a gamble on greatness in a similar class as Chiefs 2011 first-rounder Jonathan Baldwin and Broncos 2010 first-round pick Demaryius Thomas.

NFL projection: Top-50 pick.

Click here for scouting reports of a number of intriguing, late-round wide receivers.