Top WR prospects
Scouting reports on the five highest-ranked wide receivers
By Nolan Nawrocki
April 6, 2008
This is the fourth in a series of eight articles for this Web site, in which we're presenting excerpts from “the bible of the draft,” our 2008 Draft Preview book
, which is on now sale at the PFW store
. Each of the remaining articles in the series will be posted daily, through April 10. Please note that the top five players at each position are listed in the order in which they were ranked in the pre-draft issue of our print edition, published March 31.
E-mail your draft questions to Nolan Nawrocki at ASKquestions@pfwmedia.com
. He'll be answering selected questions every Wednesday preceding the draft.
1. WR Limas Sweed
(6-3 7/8, 215, 4.54) Texas
: Scored on 31-of-72 career receptions (43 percent) in high school. Also lettered in basketball and track, finishing fourth in the Texas Class 4A state meet in the 110-meter hurdles (14.10 seconds). Redshirted in 2003. Started 7-of-11 games in which he played at split end in ’04, posting 23 receptions for 253 yards (11.4). Started all 13 games in ’05 and totaled 36-545 (15.1) and five touchdowns. In ’06, started all 13 games and grabbed 46-801-12 (17.4). Broke Detroit Lions WR Roy Williams’ single-season school record by catching a TD pass in seven straight games. Wore a protective cast in fall ’07 camp to protect a sprained left wrist. After starting the first six games, re-injured that wrist against Iowa State and only finished with 19-306-3 receiving.
: Plays faster than timed speed. Very naturally athletic. Possesses excellent size, very good vertical speed and the leaping ability to take the ball away from defenders. Can catch in a crowd and is strong-handed. Good body control. Can pluck the ball in a crowd and make acrobatic catches. Powers off the line of scrimmage and can beat physical press coverage. Shows sideline awareness. Tracks the deep ball well over his shoulder and can adjust to the ball. Good concentration. Can make the one-handed grab. Eats up a lot of ground with his long strides. Has consistently produced big plays in the clutch. Excellent work ethic — is very driven.
: Not a sudden starter. Could do a better job of using his size to post up defenders and exert his will on defenders. Relies on his athletic ability too much. Not creative after the catch and will not elude many defenders in the open field. Lacks confidence.
Texas' Limas Sweed (left) andSummary
Michigan State's Devin Thomas
: Tried competing through a wrist injury during the season before having surgery and was not fully recovered at the Senior Bowl when he returned. When healthy earlier in his career, he showed that he could be a clutch, big-play performer. Does not realize how good he could be and works incredibly hard at his craft. If he continues to make strides in the pros like he did in college, he could be a legitimate No. 1 receiver.
2. WR Devin Thomas (junior)
(6-1 7/8, 216, 4.42) Michigan State
: Attended Coffeyville (Kan.) Community College from 2004-05. Tallied 33 receptions for 674 yards (20.4-yard average) and five touchdowns and returned three punts for 92 yards (30.7) and 15 kickoffs for 339 yards (22.6) as a redshirt freshman in ’05. Transferred to Michigan State in ’06 and started 1-of-10 games in which he played in a five-WR set vs. Indiana. Grabbed 6-90-1 (15.0) and returned punts 1-17 on the season. Started 12-of-13 games in ’07 at the “Z” spot, giving way to a two-TE set vs. Notre Dame. Caught 79-1,260-8 (15.9), rushed 27 times for 177 yards (6.6), and returned punts 7-18-0 (2.6) and kickoffs 39-1,135-0 (29.1). Led the Big Ten in receiving yards, set the conference single-season record for kickoff-return yards and the school single-season record for receptions.
: Exceptional size-speed ratio. Has great size and looks the part, with a muscled-up physique and big hands. Will catch the ball in traffic and is strong after the catch. Has a nose for the endzone. Shows big-play capability. Can beat physical press coverage and separate with speed. Was used extensively on reverses and end-arounds and has natural run skills. Outstanding production. Shows a good short-area burst returning kicks and good balance keeping his feet through traffic.
: Only a one-year starter. Is raw and still learning the game. Has not had to run a full route tree and was used a lot on short digs and slants. Does not make sharp cuts and is a bit herky-jerky in his routes. Could take time to adjust to an NFL playbook. Is a bit tightly wound and a bit straight-linish.
: An intimidating physical specimen with major-league speed, Thomas emerged as a big-time playmaker and strong kickoff returner under a new coaching staff. Could contribute as a kickoff returner as a rookie but may need some time to develop as a receiver and absorb a playbook. Has a lot of upside if he can stay focused.
3. WR Mario Manningham (junior)
(5-11 3/4, 181, 4.62) Michigan
: Cousin, Bubba Paris, was an All-America offensive lineman for the Wolverines and a second-round pick of the San Francisco 49ers in 1982, playing nine NFL seasons. Mario also lettered in basketball as a prep. Named Parade
All-American in football. Started 3-of-12 games as a true freshman in 2005 and caught 27 balls for 433 yards (16.0-yard average) and six touchdowns. Started 9-of-10 games in which he played in ’06, missing three midseason contests after undergoing surgery to repair a partially torn right meniscus and medial collateral ligament. Finished with 38-703-9 (18.5). Had another knee surgery in January 2007. On April 25, was arrested following a traffic stop after police found a couple of 500-milligram tablets of Vicodin in Manningham’s pockets and a couple more in a suitcase in the trunk of the car plus a small amount of marijuana in his friends’ possession. Was cleared of possible felony charge for possession of a controlled substance after Michigan’s team physician verified that Manningham had surgery on Jan. 8 and had been prescribed Vicodin. Started all 12 games in which he played in ’07 but was suspended for the Eastern Michigan contest for a violation of team rules. Corralled 72-1,174-12 (16.3) and also rushed 19 times for 119 yards (6.3). Recorded the second-most productive receiving season in school history (behind only Braylon Edwards, 1,330 yards in ’04). Named as one of three finalists for the Biletnikoff Award as the nation’s top receiver.
: Has sleek movement skills and can swim off the jam, make himself skinny and work around defenders. Is quick into his routes and can separate with sharp cuts and double moves. Shows the competitive speed to gain a step on defenders, tracks the ball extremely well and adjusts to its flight. Has great body control, makes some very acrobatic adjustments in the air and highpoints the ball. Is quick-footed and elusive and flashes the ability to turn a short slant into a huge gain. Wants the ball in crunch time and makes plays when it counts (see Michigan State game).
: Too thinly built and almost appears knock-kneed. Shows marginal run strength and does not run through contact. Takes some choppy steps out of his breaks. Rounds his cuts on slants and leaves break points open for defensive backs. Shows some untimely lapses in concentration (see Ohio State). Not a great practice player and will talk too much. Can grate on a coach and will need to be monitored. Moody and immature. Durability could be an issue given his lack of bulk.
: Needs to get a little bigger and stronger to fend off injuries, and his lack of timed speed at the Combine could turn off some teams seeking blazers. However, he is field-fast and when he sets his mind to a task, he has shown he can make an impact. Could be difficult to coach, like too many of the good receivers in the game today, but has potential to become a No. 1 receiver if he stays focused.
4. WR Malcolm Kelly (junior)
(6-3 3/4, 224, 4.55 est.) Oklahoma
: Started 7-of-11 games in which he played as a true freshman in 2005, catching 33 passes for 471 yards (14.3-yard average) and two touchdowns. Started 13-of-14 games in ’06 and caught 62-993-10 (16.0). Suffered a torn meniscus in the Fiesta Bowl, underwent offseason knee surgery and sat out ’07 spring practice. Returned to start 13-of-14 games in ’07 but suffered a hip pointer vs. Oklahoma State and was limited to one series in the Fiesta Bowl vs. West Virginia by a deep thigh bruise. Finished with 49-821-9 (16.8).
: Creates mismatches with tremendous size and wingspan. Goes up to attack the ball in the air and has strong hands. Eats ground with his long strides. Moves very naturally. Works back to the ball and competes hard for it. Good body control. Can adjust to poorly thrown balls behind him and haul in the ball without breaking stride. Adjusts well to the low ball. Outstanding hands and catching radius. Good feet. Will cross the middle, take a hit and hold on to it. Shows good strength after the catch to shake the first defender. Willing and strong blocker.
: Too streaky and inconsistent — started junior season strong but could not sustain success. Not a burner. Struggles to escape coverage when it’s rolled his way. Shows some tightness in his lower body and is not quick getting in and out of his breaks. Not as strong after the catch as his size would indicate. Can be frustrated when he does not get the ball. Needs to learn what it means to work. Could take some time to absorb an NFL playbook. Showed up out of shape and overweight at the Combine and could be difficult to manage.
: Blessed with tremendous size, hand strength and body control, Kelly drew a lot of double-teams as a junior and helped open up the short-passing game. However, he must learn what it means to work and become more of a team player to reach his potential and perform at a consistently high level. A high-risk/high-reward pick with bust potential.
5. WR James Hardy (junior)
(6-5 3/8, 217, 4.54) Indiana
: Has a son. Redshirted in 2004 but played basketball for the Hoosiers, starting 3-of-23 games in which he played. Started 10-of-11 football games in ’05 and registered 61 receptions for 893 yards (14.6-yard average) and 10 touchdowns. In May ’06, was arrested and charged with domestic battery and interfering with the reporting of a crime when he allegedly attacked his girlfriend and infant son. When the police arrived at the scene, the girlfriend’s shirt was torn and she had marks on the side and back of her neck. The charges were dropped after he participated in a pretrial diversion program. Started 10-of-10 games in which he played in ’06 but was suspended for two early-season games for unspecified personal reasons apparently unrelated to the arrest. Finished with 51-722-10 (14.2), including a 6-83-4 (13.8) performance against Michigan State. Started all 13 games in ’07 and amassed 79-1,125-16 (14.2). Set a school record with 36 career TDs.
: Natural athlete with rare size. Good hands and balance. Difficult to defend in the red zone. Very agile for his size. Makes some acrobatic, circus catches and can slide to the ground to catch the low ball. Adjusts to the ball very well above his head, plucking it out of the air. Outstanding career production.
: Not a blazer. Shows too many concentration lapses. Not as physical off the line as his size would suggest. Not a disciplined route runner. Knows how gifted he is and takes advantage of it. Too inconsistent. Struggled to produce against better competition (see Illinois and Wisconsin games). Cannot transition in and out of his breaks quickly or accelerate away from tight press coverage. Lacks concentration and makes easy drops (see Oklahoma State). Is still young and immature.
: Has shown some signs of maturing but still has a long way to go before he grows up and learns to be a pro. Rare size could create matchup problems, but he has shown he can be slowed against physical press coverage and needs to become a more crafty route runner to uncover vs. NFL-caliber competition.