While the crop of wide receiver prospects in this year’s NFL Draft might not feature a transcendent star like Calvin Johnson at the top, it certainly appears to be a group full of talent from top to bottom.
That’s good news for the Rams, who enter the draft in need of dynamic play makers at a position that has only become more important in recent seasons. The Rams lost Brandon Lloyd to the Patriots in free agency while adding Steve Smith from Philadelphia.
Still, that leaves a clear impetus to finding pass catchers with the ability to make big plays in this year’s draft.
Headlining a deep and talented class is Oklahoma State’s Justin Blackmon. Blackmon is widely regarded as the top prospect in this year’s class at the position and is a named that is constantly bandied about as a possibility for the Rams with the sixth overall pick.
NFL Network analyst Charley Casserly, himself the former Houston general manager, believes Blackmon stands above a strong group including the likes of Notre Dame’s Michael Floyd, LSU’s Rueben Randle and Baylor’s Kendall Wright.
“I think Blackmon is a step ahead of everybody else and I see Floyd as the second best receiver in that group,” Casserly said. “I think there is a difference between the two of them. I think Blackmon is more fluid, I think his run after the catch and hands are better. I do think Floyd is good in those areas but Blackmon is a little more fluid and has better potential to get separation on routes.”
Blackmon isn’t expected to last past the Rams’ pick but could well go before. He visited the Rams on Monday afternoon and figures to be a strong consideration should he last to No. 6.
Although Blackmon sits at the top of the class, Casserly points out that while he’d still be a great choice, he doesn’t have the same pedigree as, say, A.J. Green, the Georgia wideout who went fourth to Cincinnati last year.
“I think he’s a 1A type guy, a 1A plus,” Casserly said. “I think in a normal year, he’s probably in the latter part of the top 10 type of receiver. If you had A.J. Green and him, you’d take A.J. Green but I think you could say the same thing about some of these other players that are going to be taken in the top part of that top 10. You can only take who is there this year.”
If Blackmon is gone, though, it’s possible the Rams could investigate Floyd, who has been getting some mention as a player who could break into the top 10. Floyd is bigger than Blackmon at 6’3 to Blackmon’s 6’1 but comes with a few more question marks off the field.
While Casserly sees Blackmon above Floyd in a clearer cut sense, his fellow NFL Network analyst Chad Reuter believes that it’s gotten closer.
“I don’t think it’s a huge difference between him and Blackmon,” Reuter said. “If Floyd was in Oklahoma State’s offense what kind of numbers would he put up? If Blackmon was at Notre Dame with inconsistent quarterback play would he have won two Biletnikoffs? That comes into play. I think it’s similar to last year when it was Green and Jones and people were thinking Jones had a huge combine; maybe he will jump over Green. Eventually people went back to the tape and figured out that Green was still the better player. I think Blackmon will still be ahead of Floyd but I think both could easily be top 10 picks.”
Like Blackmon, Floyd will also pay a visit to Rams Park this week to meet with Rams officials. In fact, it’s no coincidence that considering the Rams’ needs at the position; they plan to host a cadre of wide receiver prospects on their top 30 official visits.
Those wideouts that also are scheduled to visit the Rams between now and April 17 include LSU’s Rueben Randle, Wake Forest’s Chris Givens and Baylor's Kendall Wright, among others.
Most of those wideouts figure to go off the board before the end of the second round but with the Rams picking three times in the top 39 and having the second pick of the third round, it’s possible all could be in the mix at various times for the Rams. It’s also possible the Rams could take more than one if the value fits the need.
In that group after Blackmon and Floyd, you will find players that bring a little something different to the table. For the most part, the Rams figure to be looking for outside the hashes receivers because the likes of Danny Amendola, Smith and Greg Salas fit best in the slot.
Wright and Givens provide explosive speed and home run capability on the outside.
Randle, Quick and Jenkins are truer outside wideouts who can do a little bit of everything.
“True playmakers are difficult to find,” Reuter said. “You have a guy like Rueben Randle from LSU who barely got any chances at LSU because of a lack of a passing game there. But he’s a guy that could be a second round pick and be a No. 1 outside receiver if he lasts that far.”
Of course, the Rams aren’t limited to just the wideouts that they’re bringing on visits, either. Players like Georgia Tech’s Stephen Hill, South Carolina’s Alshon Jeffery and Wisconsin’s Nick Toon could also pique the interest of the Rams and others heading into the draft.
Despite the overall talent and depth of the class, though, Reuter is quick to point out that it’s a bit of a polarizing group of wideouts in the eyes of many.
“It’s a very strange class because there are so many guys, talking to guys around the league that are all over the place,” Reuter said. “One guy will have Juron Criner from Arizona as an early second round pick and another guy won’t touch him until the fourth. You can say that for about 20 different receivers so trying to get a fix on where guys are going this year is really difficult. Teams are going to find some contributors in the fourth round this year.”
The depth of the class combined with the varied opinions on certain players could provide multiple opportunities for the Rams to add talented pass catchers even into the middle rounds.
“I think you can find some pretty good outside receivers throughout the draft,” Reuter said. “You can find the guys that will stretch a defense.”
Rams general manager Les Snead has made no bones about the Rams’ need to get more dynamic on the outside and find play makers capable of scoring any time they touch the ball.
It remains to be seen how the chips will fall when the draft arrives but make no mistake, the Rams will likely emerge from that weekend with at least one wideout in tow.
Top Five Wide Receiver Prospects
1. Justin Blackmon, Oklahoma State
2. Michael Floyd, Notre Dame
3. Rueben Randle, LSU
4. Kendall Wright, Baylor
5. Chris Givens, Wake Forest
Sleeper: Brian Quick, Appalachian State