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Marqise Lee, Jordan Matthews, And The Best Wide Receiver Prospects For The 2014 NFL Draft
Image via Neon Tommy/Flickr
Image via Neon Tommy/Flickr

If you are a college football or NFL Draft die-hard, you came to the right place.  This article will help you stay on top of the college football world and know about the best prospects before everyone else does.  Be sure to check out these other prospect articles too:

Teddy Bridgewater, AJ McCarron, and the best Quarterback Prospects for the 2014 NFL Draft

Methodology

Using the Phil Steele preseason magazine, I ran all 80 draft eligible wide receivers through my formula.  Because we don’t have workout data, I made some neutral assumptions about how they might perform.  I then used the RotoViz College WR Graph app to help me refine my results.  Finally, I researched their high school grad year, which acts as a proxy for their age, as that data is sometimes hard to find.  Note that 2011 grads are the youngest draft-eligible players, while guys from the HS class of 2009 might be considered “older prospects”.  I’ve also included their Rivals.com grade to indicate their football pedigree coming out of high school.  Without further adieu, I present my rankings for the top draft-eligible wide receivers for the 2013 college football season!

The Undisputed #1

Player School Height Weight HS Class Rivals Grade My Rank Phil Steele’s Split
Marqise Lee USC 71.8 195 2011 6 1 1 0

Lee profiles as one of the highest graded Wide Receivers in my database, appearing in a cluster of players that includes Randy Moss, Larry Fitzgerald, Calvin Johnson, and Dez Bryant.  While he doesn’t have the physical gifts of those studs, it’s hard to argue with the production.  Lee averaged an outstanding 10.2 yards per target on a ridiculous 168 targets and, judging by the College WR Career Graph app, he falls just shy of passing the Eric Decker test.  In 2012 he set the Pac12 record for receptions and receiving yards and was just shy of the TD record.  Some worry that his production will fall off without Matt Barkley and Robert Woods, but until someone stops him, I’ll stick to my guns.  Rumor is he might even play some defense this year.  Wow–sign him up!

The Challengers To The Throne

Player School Height Weight HS Class Rivals Grade My Rank Phil Steele’s Split
Jordan Matthews Vanderbilt 74.6 205 2010 5.5 2 3 1
Cody Hoffman BYU 74.5 215 2009 5 3 4 1

In 2012 Jordan Matthews posted arguably the best receiving season in SEC history, posting an average stat line of 7 catches, 110 yards, and .6 TDs in conference play (see the chart in the DeAndre The Giant article).  This becomes even more impressive when you consider that Vanderbilt was only the 7th best passing offense in the conference.  Despite his #2 ranking, I truly believe he could be the 1st receiver taken in the 2014 draft as teams will love his top notch performance against SEC defenders.  Check him out on opening night against Ole Miss and throughout the season against South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida.

Cody Hoffman matches the physical profile of a #1 receiver; he’s big and strong with the high TD total you love to see.  However, eight of his 11 TDs came in two games and his red zone TD rate fell from 62% in 2011 to 29% last year.  Similarly, he saw his yards per target fall from 10.3 in 2011 to 8.6 last year, indicating a regression; not something you want to see out of an “older” prospect.  That said, the production and measurables are still there and he will have a great chance to prove his mettle against several BCS conference foes (UVA, Texas, Utah, Georgia Tech, Wisconsin, and fellow independent Notre Dame)

The Next Generation

Player School Height Weight HS Class Rivals Grade My Rank Phil Steele’s Split
Donte Moncrief Ole Miss 73.6 224 2011 5.8 4 17 13
Davante Adams Fresno St 73.6 205 2011 5.3 5 33 28
Allen Robinson Penn St 74.6 205 2011 5.5 6 10 4
Mike Evans Texas A&M 76.3 225 2011 5.5 7 6 -1
Josh Stewart Oklahoma St 69.6 185 2011 5.7 8 55 47
Eric Ward Texas Tech 71.3 206 2009 5.8 9 26 17

Notice that five of the six players in this tier are 2011 high school grads, meaning that this will be their first draft eligible year.  They’re also a big-bodied group with the exception of Stewart.

FEED MONCRIEF!  Averaging nearly 15 yards per catch, Moncrief is one of the more explosive receivers on this list.  Also impressive is his 42% msTD, showing that he is a dominant red zone target.  That said, he could improve upon his 29% red zone TD rate, so be sure to focus on him when the Rebels get in the red zone.  Foreshadowing a big 2013, Moncrief tallied 13 catches, 334 yards, and five TD’s in the last two conference games of 2012 (@LSU, Mississippi St).  Moncrief will have three marquee games in September to show his talent; opening night @ Vandy, @ Texas, and @ Alabama.

2012 was Davante Adams’ first season of major college football and HOLY COW does this guy have game.  While he might be a little raw, you can’t argue with touchdown catches in 10 of 13 games.  Additionally, he maintained solid market share numbers and a respectable 30% red zone TD rate.  Paired with Derek Carr in a pass-happy environment, Adams has a chance to post huge numbers in 2013.

Penn State WR Allen Robinson quietly turned in an 11TD season last year, the 13th best B1G Ten performance since 2000 and three better than his closest 2012 challenger.  Robinson showed dominant ability with three multi-TD games, but he needs to be more of a downfield threat against his tougher opponents.  In year 2 of the Bill O’Brien era, it will be interesting to see if Robinson can step up and be a playmaker for a new QB.

Mike Evans was on the receiving end of 82 Johnny Manziel’s passes last year and people have high hopes for him given his Brandon Marshall like size.  However, Evans still has work to do, as he caught only two touchdown passes in SEC play last year (by comparison, Chad Bumphis caught a conference-leading eight).  One encouraging sign for Evans is his 36% red zone TD rate, indicating that he does convert in the red zone; he just needs more attempts.  Kevin Sumlin will undoubtedly find ways to get Evans in ideal situations, but I will be watching closely when he faces Alabama to see how far he has come.

Josh Stewart?!?!  At number eight?!?!  Hear me out.  I think he can become this year’s Stedman Bailey.  In 2012 the Oklahoma State offense was injury riddled at both QB and WR.  As the season went on Stewart evolved from being a complementary piece to being THE guy.  He jumped from 291 yards in 2011 to 1,210 last year, finishing with 101 catches; three times more than the #2 receiver.  In 2012 the Cowboys will get big-bodied Tracy Moore back and should have more health at QB, meaning that Stewart should run wild.

If we played the blind resume game with Texas Tech receivers Michael Crabtree and Eric Ward (and fellow Big12 alum Justin Blackmon), you would be hard pressed to differentiate the three.  The interesting thing is that, despite the Texas Tech stereotype, Ward has played entirely under Tommy Tuberville, indicating that maybe there is something more to the story.  While I can’t say if Ward is in the same athletic class as Crabtree and Blackmon (which, honestly, isn’t that elite) I can tell you that Ward merits watching during two early season weeknight games;  @ SMU on 8/30 and vs TCU on 9/12.

The Big Conference Ballers

Player School Height Weight HS Class Rivals Grade My Rank Phil Steele’s Split
Kasen Williams Washington 73.6 216 2011 5.8 10 16 6
Corey Brown Ohio St 70.1 187 2010 5.9 11 46 35
Sammy Watkins Clemson 72.5 205 2011 6.1 12 2 -10
Alex Amidon Boston College 71.6 186 2010 5.4 13 18 5

Kasen Williams was a bit of a numbers-by-volume guy in 2012, but he posted an outstanding 38% red zone TD rate, while maintaining 32% market share of yards and touchdowns.  He has the physicality and pedigree to emerge as the #2 receiver in the Pac12 this year and should have room to work with TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins patrolling the middle of the field.

Corey Brown made a big jump from 2011 to 2012 and I think he can continue that improvement in year two of the Urban Meyer era.  Brown is a receive/run/return triple threat who will be a lethal counterpoint to Braxton Miller.

You might be thinking, “Jon, why do you have Sammy Watkins ranked as your #12 receiver when everyone else has him at #1 or #2?”  While I have no doubt of his super-elite pedigree, as evidenced by his 6.1 Rivals grade, I do have doubts about his productivity; he disappeared in 2012.  He caught zero touchdowns on red zone targets and accounted for only 10% market share of TDs.  Yes, DeAndre the Giant Hopkins stole the show, but if Watkins is truly elite, why did all of his ratios fall off so severely from 2011?  If there’s a saving grace, it’s his 9.3 yards per target.  While I fully expect him to go bananas in 2013, I can’t rank him higher at the moment.  To steal a line from the Moneyball movie, “if he’s a good hitter, why doesn’t he hit good?”

Meanwhile, white-boy fresh Alex Amidon hauled in nearly 40% of both yards and TDs for an inept Boston College squad.  Who knows about his athletic ability, but if he can produce against USC on September 14, watch for his stock to quietly start rising in the scouting community.

Names To Know

Player School Height Weight HS Class Rivals Grade My Rank Phil Steele’s Split
Devin Street Pittsburgh 74.6 192 2009 5.4 14 9 -5
Brandon Coleman Rutgers 77.3 220 2010 5.8 15 8 -7
Mike Davis Texas 73.6 195 2010 6 16 7 -9
Austin Hill Arizona 74.3 210 2010 5.7 17 35 18
Brandin Cooks Oregon St 69.6 182 2011 5.8 18 20 2
Michael Campanaro Wake Forrest 69.6 195 2009 5.7 19 14 -5
Jamison Crowder Duke 68.8 175 2011 5.5 20 72 52
Jared Abbrederis Wisconsin 73.1 188 2009 n/a 21 5 -16
Alex Neutz Buffalo 73.8 205 2009 4.9 22 51 29

6’5’’ Brandon Coleman has a chance to be the next stud from Rutgers.  He caught 10 touchdowns last year—12th best performance in Big East history—and is the most physically imposing receiver on this list.  If there’s one guy that can make a huge leap up this list, it’s Coleman because of his rare attributes.

Mike Davis from Texas was a premium recruit who flip-flopped on leaving for the pros after a strong 2012 season.  As the Longhorns have a veteran line and an outstanding young QB, watch for Davis to finally realize his potential this year.

The sky was the limit for Austin Hill from Arizona as he posted one of the best metrics-based seasons in 2012.  He would be much higher on this list had he not torn his ACL in spring ball.  He’ll be an “older” prospect when we get to the 2015 NFL draft and has a long way to get back to his top 5 perch, where he would be sans-injury.

While he may not look the part, Jared Abbrederis is quietly one of the deadliest receiving weapons in America.  In 2011 he averaged an otherworldly 12.6 yards per target while catching passes from Russell Wilson.  To follow it up, he posted an 11.8 yards per target in 2012, among the best in America.

Shoutout to Buffalo WR Alex Neutz who caught 48% of yards last year and 71% of TDs.  That’s two straight years of premium metric-focused production.  Unless he’s surprisingly athletic, his NFL future is dim, but how often do you get to plug a wide receiver from Buffalo.  Get it while you can, right?

The Best Of The Rest

Player School Height Weight HS Class Rivals Grade My Rank Phil Steele’s Split
Sean Price Appalachian St 76.3 219 2011 5 23 39 16
Chris Boyd Vanderbilt 75.5 205 2010 5.5 24 34 10
Kenny Bell Nebraska 72.3 180 2010 5.7 25 12 -13
Shaquelle Evans UCLA 72.6 210 2009 5.9 26 32 6
Justin Hardy East Carolina 71.3 186 2011 n/a 27 50 23
Tevin Reese TCU 69.6 172 2009 5.4 28 15 -13
Keyarris Garrett Tulsa 75.1 207 2011 5.6 29 77 48

Disagree with my rankings?  Continue this conversation with me on Google+ or Twitter.

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