By: Matt Horn, KCOU Sports
The 2014 rookie wide receiver class could be the one of the best ever. Five first years tallied over 800 yards in their rookie campaigns, and the offensive rookie of the year conversation didn’t include many non-receivers.
It’s hard to believe that the 2015 class could be more talented. But this year it’s not just about the rookies, free agency is stacked with talent at receiver as well.
Set aside Dez Bryant (franchised), Demaryius Thomas (franchised), and Randall Cobb (resigned for 4 years, $40 million) and what’s left is an array of talent ranging from top tier playmakers to veterans who can contribute on the field and help rookie development.
Below is a ranking of the receivers available through draft and free agency. Rankings are based on contribution to a team over the next four years.
Five Star: Jeremy Maclin (age 26), Torrey Smith (26), Amari Cooper (R), Kevin White (R)
Jeremy Maclin is expected to reunite with former head coach Andy Reid in Kansas City. The Chiefs are a great fit for the Pro Bowl receiver- KC was last in the league in receiver receptions, yards, and touchdowns (0).
Torrey Smith is one of the most dangerous downfield threats in the league. He thrived playing with a strong arm quarterback in Joe Flacco and would be a good fit with Colin Kaepernick San Francisco.
Amari Cooper v Kevin White is a toss up for the first receiver off the board. Cooper has astounding route running and catching ability and White is a 6-3, 215 lb bulldozer who ran a 4.35 40-yard dash. They should both be top 10 picks and Week 1 starters.
Four Star: Percy Harvin (26), Michael Crabtree (27), DeVante Parker (R), Jaelan Strong (R), Dorial Green-Beckham (R)
This is a group with a really high ceiling. Percy Harvin could be one of the best tools in the league, but his inability to stay healthy raises questions about his worth. While it could be fun to see him play with Marcus Mariota, the acquisition of Brandon Marshall makes it seem the new regime under Todd Bowles will let Harvin go.
Injury concerns come with Parker, but he had a strong performance in the six games he played in 2014. Strong is going to be a steal for a team late in the first or early second round. He has good size, soft hands and could be a top 5 pick in a class without Cooper or White.
Dorial Green-Beckham has the largest upside out of any receivers available in the 2015 off-season. His athletic ability has been heralded since his days in high school but his potential has been clouded by off the field issues. A team is taking a chance going for DGB in the first, but it could a risk highly worth the reward.
Three Star: Kenny Britt (26), Eddie Royal (28), Andre Johnson (33), Devin Smith (R), Sammie Coates (R)
Eddie Royal is a guy who goes under the radar but is a solid option for a slot receiver. Even as Philip Rivers’ fourth option, Royal racked up 778 yards in 2015. King Andre Johnson still has a few years left of playing, and could help a team with lots of youth at receiver. The Texans have yet to make a move on the all pro wideout, but multiple sources suggest he won’t be in Houston next year.
Devin Smith and Sammie Coates represent two very different players, each with the potential to be incredibly dangerous. Coates is the kind of guy who can turn a three yard out into a first down with his ability to run through tackles. Smith can stretch the field and burn by safeties while opening up routes underneath.
Two Star: Brian Hartline (28), Hakeem Nicks (27), Reggie Wayne (36), Phillip Dorsett (R), Devin Funchess (R), Breshad Perriman (R)
Hakeem Nicks and Reggie Wayne are both fresh cut from Indianapolis and both have a Super Bowl ring to their name. Wayne is a future Hall of Famer who said he hoped to play for Indy for another year, but isn’t closing the door on sticking around for 2015. Don’t expect a 60+ catch season, but Wayne would serve as a big help to rookie pass catchers on a team building their receiving core.
Phillip Dorsett only caught 36 balls in 2014, but averaged 24.2 yards per reception. He hasn’t been enough of an onfield presence for a first or second round pick, but could be a valuable, speedy asset to a team down the road.
Devin Funchess and Breshad Perriman are big targets who would be good fits for an inexperienced quarterback. Funchess has the size to play tight end but his slow speed in the open field makes him more useful on underneath check-down routes
One Star: Cecil Shorts III (27), Mike Williams (27), Denarius Moore (26), Leonard Hankerson (26), Vincent Brown (27), Brandon Gibson (27), Antwan Goodley (R), Rashad Greene (R), Ty Montgomery (R), Chris Conley (R)
Sleepers: Harry Douglas (30), Nelson Agholor (R), Tyler Lockette (R)
Harry Douglas has played as the Falcons’ third or fourth man for years and has done a good job in that role. He would make a good contribution to a team looking for a solid player to play across with a superstar – a team like Dallas or Chicago. When you talk about reliable receivers, you have to talk about Nelson Agholor and Tyler Lockette. They were the number one target at USC and K-State respectively for the last two years- Nelson caught for 2231 yards and Lockette went for 2777.
In what has been one of the most exciting off-seasons in recent memory, this may be the greatest all around class of free agent receivers the league has ever seen. The NFL free agency officially opens Tuesday, March 10, at 3 pm central. The 2015 NFL Draft will be held on April 30 in Chicago for the first time in more than 50 years.