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NFL Draft preview | Wide receivers

NFL Draft features potential game-changing receivers

Amari Cooper was consistently the best receiver for Alabama for three years, asked to line up all over the field.
Amari Cooper was consistently the best receiver for Alabama for three years, asked to line up all over the field.Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

The 2015 NFL Draft class at wide receiver is considered strong, with a few potential stars and game-changers.

This year’s class has a lot to live up to: the 2014 group also was believed to be deep and talented, and when the games began, evaluators were proved right. Of the five receivers taken in the first round last year — the most since six (mostly busts) were chosen in 2009 — four were among the top 25 receivers in the league in receiving yards, with the Giants’ Odell Beckham Jr. leading the way for the rookies with 1,305 yards on 91 catches, 12 for touchdowns.

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But while taking a receiver high isn’t quite the gamble it once was thanks to pro-style offenses at the college level, the always fascinating argument of production vs. potential has come into play once again this year when it comes to the top two players at wideout.

Alabama’s Amari Cooper had been considered the top available receiver for months based on his incredible career with the Crimson Tide. But West Virginia’s Kevin White, who did have a solid season for the Mountaineers last fall, wowed scouts with his Combine workouts, and now is considered by some to be a better prospect than Cooper, if only by a slim margin.

White, who measures 6 feet 3 inches, 215 pounds, is the prototypical size/speed player: He clocked 4.35 seconds in the 40, and had 23 reps in the bench press, impressive for a receiver. His three-cone drill time was 6.92 seconds.

Cooper, at 6-1, 210 pounds, ran a 4.42 in the 40 at the Combine, though his three-cone drill, a solid test of agility and change-of-direction ability, was better than White’s at 6.71 seconds.

But to look at what they did on the field, there seems to be little comparison: White played one season at a junior college, Lackawanna College, before heading to West Virginia. With the Mountaineers, he had 35 receptions for 507 yards and five touchdowns in 2013, and 109 receptions for 1,447 yards and 10 TDs last year.

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His second year was no doubt impressive, but Cooper was consistently the best receiver for Alabama for three years, asked to line up all over the field. As a freshman in 2012, Cooper had 59 catches for 1,000 yards and 11 touchdowns. Dealing with foot and toe injuries as a sophomore, he had 45 catches for 736 yards and four TDs.

Last year, Cooper won the Biletnikoff Award, was Southeastern Conference offensive player of the year, and was third in the Heisman Trophy balloting on the strength of his 124-catch, 1,727-yard, 16-touchdown performance.

His 31 career receiving TDs are the most in the history of the storied SEC, and his 3,463 yards are second-most.

“There’s certain people that love raw-tools prospects,” one current NFL personnel executive said when asked why some would favor White over Cooper. “Absolutely [White is a flavor of the month]. You see some of the tools in terms of size and speed and you’re like, ‘Wow.’ There will always be a group of people in personnel, coaches too, that get completely seduced by size and speed, and/or production.”

White said at the Combine that the jump from his 2013 season to 2014 came down to “motivation.”

“My junior year I put bad film out there. That’s not the kind of receiver, the kind of player I am,” he said. “Going into my senior year, I just put everything on the line and did what I had to do. Like I’ve been telling teams, it finally clicked. I’m going to work hard and do anything and everything possible that I can.”

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Asked if work ethic was a problem as a junior, White flatly said no and pointed to the Mountaineers’ quarterbacks and receivers not being on the same page.

Cooper dealt with a new starting quarterback and offensive coordinator last year, with coordinator Lane Kiffin moving him around to create mismatches.

“I take good pride in the way I release off the line and coming out of my breaks. That’s really the only two ways you can get open,” Cooper said. Though he wants to be the top receiver in his class and in the NFL, he recognizes there’s work to do.

“I think I can be more consistent in everything that I do,” he said. “There were definitely times when I didn’t look the ball all the way through when I should have, which could’ve propelled me [yardage-wise]. There were definitely times when I could’ve high-pointed the ball, and again could have made my numbers look better. Just consistency in everything that I do.”

The NFL exec prefers Cooper.

“Amari Cooper is far more accomplished and polished as a player,” he said. “He runs routes better, he’s functioned in an NFL-style offense. There are some people that like White more, but I’m not one of those people. I respect the kid’s tools, but he doesn’t have the volume of production.

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“Some of those guys succeed and some of those guys fail. Amari Cooper is the total package.”

Of course, time will play a major role in how things shake out with Cooper and White. In the short term, we’ll know on Thursday night who is chosen first. In two to three years, we’ll have a better idea of whether Cooper’s stellar college production was a precursor for the NFL, and whether White’s amazing senior season was simply a flash in the pan.

PLAYERSCHOOLHEIGHTWEIGHT40 TIMEROUND
WR Amari CooperAlabama6-12104.401
Great size-speed combination, terrific hands and major production in toughest college football conference with 124 catches, 1,727 yards, and 16 TDs last season. What's not to love?
WR Kevin White*West Virginia6-32154.351
If Cooper is No. 1 receiver in draft, White is 1A. A JUCO transfer in 2013, White exploded with 109 catches, 1447 yards, and 10 TDs in 2014. Might go in top 10.
DeVante Parker Louisville6-32094.451
Polished, big-bodied possession receiver who ran faster than expected at Combine, he missed seven games with broken foot but still had 43 catches for 855 yards and five TDs in 2014.
WR Jaelen Strong*Arizona State6-22174.441-2
Big, physical possession receiver ran faster than expected at Combine and had dominant 2014 season with 82 catches, 1,165 yards, and 10 TDs. Fractured wrist could drop him a few spots.
WR Nelson Agholor* Southern Cal6-01984.421-2
Doesn't have elite size or speed, but a polished route-runner with deceptive quickness. Caught 104 passes for 1,313 yards and 12 TDs last season and had clutch catches in biggest games.
TE Maxx Williams* Minnesota6-42494.771-2
Came out of school after two seasons, but he's best tight end of a weak crop. Had 569 yards and eight TDs last season, and showed decent blocking ability in the Gophers' run-first offense.
WR Dorial Green-Beckham*Oklahoma6-52374.491-3
Based on pure talent, he's an elite talent and draws comparisons to A.J. Green. Was kicked off Missouri's football team for several marijuana issues and an alleged assault.
WR Phillip Dorsett Miami5-91854.331-2
Draws comparisons to Mike Wallace and Santana Moss with speed and body type, and could be best playmaker in talented WR crop. Height might scare teams, but he gets great separation.
WR Breshad PerrimanCentral Florida6-22124.551-2
Wowed NFL scouts at Pro Day with blistering 4.25 in 40 and may have launched himself into first round. Has big body for red zone and has breakaway speed for big gains on short passes.
WR Devin Smith Ohio State6-01964.422-3
Speedy vertical threat who only caught 32 passes last season, but had 12 TDs and 886 yards on a ridiculous 27 yards per catch. Needs to add more routes to his tree, but speed is enticing.

Best of the rest: WR Sammie Coates*, Auburn (6-1, 212, 4.43, 2-3), TE Nick O’Leary, Florida State (6-3, 252, 4.94, 2-3), TE Clive Walford, Miami (6-4, 251, 4.79, 2-3), WR Tyler Lockett, Kansas State (5-9, 182, 4.40, 3-4), WR Rashad Greene, Florida State (5-11, 182, 4.53, 3-4), TE Blake Bell, Oklahoma (6-6, 252, 4.80, 3-4), WR Ty Montgomery, Stanford (5-11, 221, 4.44 4-5), WR/TE Devin Funchess*, Michigan (6-4, 232, 4.70, 4-5).

*underclassman

BEN VOLIN BEN VOLIN


Follow Shalise Manza Young on Twitter at @shalisemyoung.