The top of this years wide receiver draft class is intriguing, if nothing else.
Flawed might be a better description, at least according to some draft experts.
Before this week, most of the concerns about the elite wideouts involved on-the-field issues:
No one doubts Tavon Austins play-making ability. But is the diminutive West Virginia standout durable enough to become a top-10 pick and a teams No. 1 receiver for the foreseeable future?
Size isnt a problem for Rock Hill Northwestern product Cordarrelle Patterson, who is 6-foot-2 and 216 pounds. But Patterson played only one season of major college football, and scouts question whether Pattersons five-month stint at Tennessee has sufficiently prepared him as a route-runner and a player who can read NFL defenses and master offensive schemes.
A couple of highly rated receivers had to deal with off-the-field distractions last week.
ESPN reported that Cals Keenan Allen, who grew up in Greensboro, had a drug test red-flagged at the scouting combine in February. But ESPN later back-tracked on the story when Allens agent provided documentation showing league officials asked Allen to have his ankle re-examined, not to undergo a second drug test.
In another alleged incident from the combine, ESPN also reported that Clemsons DeAndre Hopkins was one of two players whose hotel room was trashed in Indianapolis. Hopkins, considered a second-round prospect, tweeted that he had checked out of the room before the damage occurred.
The Panthers, who might be searching for Steve Smiths eventual successor, have taken a close look at several of the top receiving prospects. They had private workouts with Austin and Patterson, and attended Allens pro day, which was held at a Greensboro training facility owned by Panthers receivers coach Ricky Proehl.
A decade ago, Tavon Austin likely would have been selected in the third or fourth round of the NFL draft.
Seldom does a playmaker who stands just 5-foot-8 make it in the NFL, thus teams wouldnt invest too high of a pick on him.
Flash forward to the NFL of today where diminutive receivers like Wes Welker, Percy Harvin and Danny Amendola are the bulk of their respective teams receiving game and Austin has become a sure-fire first-round selection.
You think about where he can be in the NFL, hes got great potential to be an electrifying performer the way todays NFL is, ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. said in a recent conference call.
Now hes a top 16 pick because todays NFL allows him to be successful. I think he could go 16 to St. Louis and be a real good pick for (quarterback Sam) Bradford and company and give some juice to that offense.
Kiper said he could see Austin going to the Panthers at No. 14.
Austin caught 114 balls for 1,289 receiving yards. Counting his punt and kick return yards along with rushes, he accounted for 2,910 total yards for the Mountaineers last season.
His height can be considered both a detriment to his game as well as a boost in his draft status. Austin is projected to play slot receiver, a position that made Welker the New England Patriots Tom Bradys top target for six seasons before going to the Broncos this offseason.
Austin could land in St. Louis to fill the void left by Amendola, who was often compared to Welker for both production and size.
A lot of teams are looking for a guy who can do multiple things on the football field, Austin said at the NFL combine. I think Im that guy.
Ive been a little guy my whole life. Im a little guy, but I play big.
Though rarely does it hurt a top prospect, Austins Wonderlic test score was leaked this past week, and he reportedly scored a 7 on the test.
The test measures a players ability to think, learn and solve problems quickly. But Panthers general manager Dave Gettleman, speaking generally about the test, said its more of an indicator than anything else.
"If you have concerns about a guys learning, bring him in. (He) spends four hours with the coaches, they put him on the board, and you can make a better indication an indicator of sorts.
"Its just part of the process. Youre not going to draft a guy based on the Wonderlic test score or youd be taking everybody out of the Ivy League. Youre not going to do it. Its just part of the process."
- Jonathan Jones
The agent for Cordarrelle Patterson says the former Rock Hill Northwestern and Tennessee receiver doesnt have any bad habits.
Patterson didnt play major college football long enough to develop many habits at all.
The team that drafts Patterson will do so with the belief that it can take Pattersons immense physical gifts and mold them into a finished NFL product. Patterson, who spent last fall at Tennessee after two seasons at junior college, readily admits he is not a polished receiver.
But Patterson says hell be a willing student.
I know theres a lot of things I havent learned yet. Im ready to learn that and go on to the next level, Patterson told the Observer. I was just so much an athlete (in college). I know this is my job now.
There are frequent fliers who have had longer layovers than Pattersons one-semester stint at Tennessee. After breaking more than a dozen records at Hutchinson (Kans.) Community College, Patterson arrived in Knoxville last summer and could not have fit in better if hed been wearing a coonskin cap.
In his first game in bright orange, Patterson burned N.C. State cornerback David Amerson on a 41-yard touchdown pass. He added a 67-yard touchdown run later in the first quarter.
Patterson became the first college player in four years to score touchdowns four different ways.
Then he was gone, declaring for the draft before either the outgoing or incoming Tennessee coaching staffs could finish shaping him.
Is he raw? Sure, hes raw. But I dont think theres been a coach thats complained about his ability to learn football, said Joby Branion, Pattersons Chapel Hill-based agent.
He got there just before the season started. And for him to have done what hes done, given the extraordinarily limited exposure hes had, tells you a lot about the kid.
Patterson set a school record with 1,858 all-purpose yards last fall, and his emergence filled the void left when receiver DaRick Rogers transferred to Tennessee Tech. Patterson squeezed a lot into his lone semester at Rocky Top.
I didnt have much time. I was only there for a couple months, and had to learn the offense real quick, he said. I know my route-running is not where it needs to be. But I know it can get better. Thats easy. Thats something you can fix.
Patterson flew through the 40-yard dash at the combine in 4.42 seconds. But Pattersons stock has dropped in the two months since Indianapolis at least among draft analysts, who have become increasingly skeptical of Pattersons ability to transition to the NFL.
Mike Mayock of the NFL Network said last week Patterson could slip out of the top 20, while ESPNs Mel Kiper continues to describe him as raw.
I dont think he can help you necessarily as much as his talent indicates as a rookie, Kiper said during an April 10 conference call with reporters.
Patterson, who worked out for the Panthers last month, has become immune to the criticism.
I hear that almost every day. Of course Im tired of that, he said. But people are going to say what they want to say. At the end of the day its what I believe.
- Joseph Person
Keenan Allen didnt run at the combine because of a knee injury.
Allen ran at his pro day in Greensboro this month, although he wasnt particularly fast.
But Allen, who broke DeSean Jacksons freshman receiving records at Cal, says hes fast enough.
I know people have been doubting me on my speed, but I dont feel like Im a slow guy, Allen said in February at the combine. I feel like Im pretty fast, but I definitely put some effort into it.
Allen did little to silence the doubters when he needed 4.71 seconds to get the 40-yard dash at his pro day.
J.T. Johnson, Allens agent, said Allens left knee injury, which did not require surgery, hurt his explosiveness.
But Allen, who is 6-foot-2 and 206 pounds, has always been known more for his size and strength than his speed. Not surprisingly, the two receivers he models his game after are Detroits Calvin Johnson and San Franciscos Anquan Boldin, who out-muscled defensive backs all the way to a Super Bowl ring last season with Baltimore.
His physicalness, going up and making catches you dont think hes going to come down with, Allen said of Boldin. (Joe) Flacco just throws it up there sometimes, and he always makes incredible catches, including the Super Bowl. So thats what I like about him.
Besides his sturdy frame, scouts like Allens sure hands. He ranked in the top 10 nationally in 2011 when he caught 98 passes for 1,343 receiving yards from his half-brother, Cal quarterback Zach Maynard.
Maynard was a big reason why Allen, a Parade and USA Today All-American at Northern Guilford, went across the country for college. Maynard said he was used at multiple receiving spots with the Bears.
I played a lot in the slot. Third down, second down, I get in there with the linebacker and theyd get a mismatch, he said. So, they did that a lot. Im definitely comfortable in the slot.
Allen got pulled into the pre-draft rumor cycle last week when ESPN reported that his drug test from the combine had been red-flagged because of an excessive amount of water in his system.
ESPN later back-tracked on the story after Johnson provided documentation showing Allen had been asked to return to Indianapolis for a follow-up exam on his right ankle, not for another drug test. Allen had surgery to repair ligaments in his right ankle a year ago, according to Johnson.
Johnson, who provided the same document to the Observer, said he spoke with several teams and is confident the report will not affect Allens draft status.
I just hate that bad information (got out) there and the public is judging based on false information, Johnson said.
Allens speed likely will have a bigger impact of whether he is drafted in the first round or falls to the second. ESPNs Mel Kiper had projected Allen as a second-rounder, and dropped him a few spots after his pro day.
But Johnson said Allen is fast when it counts.
Some people play faster than they could run a straight-line 40, Johnson said. If you look at his tape, hes fast enough to play this game.
- Joseph Person
Top wide receivers ends in the 2013 NFL draft
The Observers top 10 wide receivers available in the 2013 NFL draft:
|1.||Tavon Austin||West Virginia||5-8||174||1||Slot receiver who could go in the top 10|
|2.||Cordarrelle Patterson||Tennessee||6-2||216||1||Raw talent that could be a star in a few years|
|3.||Keenan Allen||California||6-2||206||1-2||Greensboro native put up good numbers with half-brother as his QB|
|4.||Robert Woods||Southern Cal||6-0||201||2||Had 2,138 receiving yards and 26 TDs in last two seasons|
|5.||DeAndre Hopkins||Clemson||6-1||214||2||Nuke plays faster and quicker than his 4.51 40-time indicates|
|6.||Justin Hunter||Tennessee||6-4||196||2||Bounced back from knee injury to catch 73 balls last year|
|7.||Markus Wheaton||Oregon State||5-11||189||2-3||Good Senior Bowl and good combine give Wheaton a boost|
|8.||Terrance Williams||Baylor||6-2||208||2-3||Led the nation in receiving yards (1,832) without RG3 as his QB|
|9.||Quinton Patton||La. Tech||6-0||204||3||Junior college transfer who played for high-octane offense|
|10.||Stedman Bailey||West Virginia||5-10||193||3||Overshadowed by Austin but one of Geno Smiths top targets|
Panthers perspective: Carolina already has its top three wide receivers in Steve Smith, Brandon LaFell and Domenik Hixon, with the latter two fighting this offseason for the No. 2 role. The Panthers could go after Austin and immediately give Cam Newton a slot receiver, or polish Patterson to be Smiths heir in a few years.
Local connections: Aaron Mellette generated a lot of noise during the Senior Bowl as one of the smaller-school standouts. The Elon wideout caught 113 passes for 1,639 yards in his junior season with the Phoenix, and most draft analysts have him going around Round 5.
Sleeper: DaRick Rogers transferred from Tennessee to Tennessee Tech but took with him the skill set coveted by several NFL squads. Rogers caught 67 balls for 1,040 yards in his second year with the Volunteers and had 893 yards and 10 touchdowns last season.
Worth noting: South Carolina receiver Ace Sanders father, Tracy, played for Bobby Bowden at Florida State in 1976-79 as a receiver and defensive back. Ten years later he played one season with the Bills.
- Jonathan Jones
Top tight ends in the 2013 NFL draft
The Observers top 5 tight ends available in the 2013 NFL draft:
|1.||Tyler Eifert||Notre Dame||6-6||250||1||Six catches for 61 yards in title game where most Irish players looked bad|
|2.||Zach Ertz||Stanford||6-5||249||1-2||Andrew Lucks former favorite target went for 898 receiving yards last year|
|3.||Gavin Escobar||San Diego State||6-6||254||2||Big but not fast, and that could bump him down|
|4.||Vance McDonald||Rice||6-4||267||2-3||Benched 31 reps to go along with fast 40 time and large hands|
|5.||Jordan Reed||Florida||6-2||236||3||Former QB whose own QB at Florida struggled last season|
Panthers perspective: No one will be taking away Greg Olsens starting job this offseason. Olsen blossomed in 2012 after being the No. 2 receiving tight end with Jeremy Shockey in his first year with the Panthers. Olsen was second on the team with 69 catches for 843 yards and a team-high five receiving touchdowns.
Local connections: South Carolinas Justin Cunningham increased his production each of his four years with the Gamecocks. Hes a native of Pageland, S.C. Auburn tight end Philip Lutzenkirchen hauled in 15 passes, including five touchdowns from current Panthers quarterback Cam Newton in 2010.
Sleeper: Cincinnatis Travis Kelce has flown under the radar in the past few months due to a sports hernia. He ran the 40-yard dash in 4.62 at 6-foot-5, 255 pounds and could go between rounds four and five.
Worth noting: Scout.com rated Gavin Escobar as the 79th-best tight end prospect nationally when he came out of high school in 2009. Now he could be picked on Day Two of the NFL draft.
- Jonathan Jones
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