By John Paulsen (Director of Forecasting), last update Jun 6, 2012
John was named the Most Accurate Fantasy Football Expert by FantasyPros for the 2010 and 2014 seasons, and has finished in the Top 6 in seven of the last eight years. Cumulatively, John has been the most accurate expert from 2010-17 while also winning the 2011 Fantasy Sports Trade Association award for the most accurate draft rankings.
The NFL Draft starts this Thursday, and teams are in the process of finalizing their draft boards. As we do every year, we'll be providing real-time analysis during the 2012 NFL Draft, analyzing player situation and fantasy impact as skill position players come off the board.
In the meantime, we thought we'd provide an overview of the top skill position players in the draft. Last week, we covered the top QBs and RBs and this week we're going to tackle the WR and TE positions.
Below you'll find a list of the top players at each position, ranked by their average score at NFL.com and ESPN (out of 100), listed first and second, respectively. There is also a highlight video for each player, but be warned -- the music for fan-made highlight videos is usually dreadful and/or offensive, so we suggest you watch them with the sound off.
Blackmon followed up his terrific sophomore season -- 111 receptions for 1,782 yards and 20 TDs -- with 121 catches for 1,522 yards and 18 TDs in his junior season to earn his second straight Biletnikoff Award (given to the country's top WR). He has prototypical height and weight for a wideout to go along with excellent ball skills (strong hands, attacks the ball, great adjustment, etc.). He didn't run the 40-yard dash at the combine, but ran it in 4.46 seconds at the OSU pro day. That would have ranked 12th out of the 41 WRs who ran at the combine and is comparable to the times of previous draftees A.J. Green (4.48), Demaryius Thomas (4.50) and Jeremy Maclin (4.43). The main knocks are his lack of explosion off the line of scrimmage and his route running, which is not sharp due to his long stride. In recent mock drafts, he has been a popular pick to go #6 to the Rams, and he'd be a good fit in St. Louis. If he doesn't go to the Rams, the Jaguars, Dolphins, Panthers and Bills also have a need at WR.
Floyd caught 100 passes for 1,147 yards and nine TDs in his senior season in South Bend. He is bigger than Blackmon and possesses similar speed, running a 4.47 40-yard dash at the combine. Physically, he has a great combination of size, weight and speed. He has good body control and ball skills, though his route running is a little sloppy at times, so he may need time to improve in that area to become productive at the next level. He has had several alcohol-related incidents that led to a suspension from the team, but he has apparently matured during his senior year. He has been mocked in the #7-#9 range (to the Jaguars, Dolphins and Panthers), but could go in the mid-teens or later. His 2012 production will depend largely on his role with his new team. If he's drafted as a WR1 or WR2 (for example, to the Dolphins), he could be a sneaky mid-round fantasy pick, but if he lands in Arizona or with the Jets, he won't be as likely to make an immediate impact.
Wright had a terrific senior season, racking up 108 catches for 1,663 yards and 14 TDs. He did not run well at the combine (4.61) but his pro day time of 4.44 seconds is more reflective of his football speed, which enabled him to catch the deep ball frequently while at Baylor. He's on the small side, but is quick off the line and is able to create separation in the secondary. Lack of overall strength is common for a receiver of his size, but he has the speed and quickness to contribute immediately. He has been projected to go in the late first round to the Bears, Browns, Bengals, Texans or 49ers. He'll be a fantasy sleeper depending on where he lands.
As a junior, Hill caught 28 passes for 820 yards and five TDs. That's a gaudy 29.3 YPC, which is reflective of his world class speed (4.36 40-yard dash). He played in a run-heavy offense, so his targets were somewhat limited. He was mainly a deep threat, so his route running is pretty limited at this point. Fantasy-wise, he will be a boom-or-bust type player depending on how many snaps/targets he gets on a weekly basis. Hill is projected to go in the late first round to WR-needy teams like the Bengals, Browns, Texans and 49ers.
Randle caught 53 passes for 917 yards and eight TDs as a junior. He has good size, but his speed was somewhat average (4.55 40-yard dash) for his position. His production was limited by shaky QB play at LSU. He is not a polished route runner and is still developing so he may not be ready to contribute immediately. He's a player to keep an eye on as he goes through training camp and (hopefully) climbs the depth chart. He has been mocked anywhere from the late first round through the second round.
Jeffery racked up 88 catches for 1,517 yards and nine TDs as a sophomore, but caught just 49 balls for 762 yards and eight TDs as a junior. This was partially due to the loss of Stephen Garcia at QB. In the five games Jeffery played with Garcia, he was on pace to post bigger yardage numbers (863) with a comparable number of receptions. He has great ball skills and solid big-play ability. One concern was his top-end speed, but after slimming down, he ran a 4.47 40-yard dash. He projects to go in the second round and could make an immediate impact as a situational, jump ball-type WR.
Quick caught 71 passes for 1,096 yards and 11 TDs during his senior year at Appalachian St. Despite quick feet and good agility, he ran an average 4.55 40-yard dash at the combine. He has very good size for the position which translates to a superior catch radius. The biggest knock is his lack of experience. Scouts seem to think he can be a star if he responds to coaching. Since he's raw, he's unlikely to make a big fantasy impact right away, but is worth a look in dynasty formats. He'll likely go in the second or third round.
Jenkins was very productive in his senior season at Illinois, racking up 90 catches for 1,276 yards and eight TDs, including a 12-catch, 268-yards, three-TD performance against Northwestern (which he followed up with a 6-182-2 outing against Indiana). He has outstanding speed (4.39 40-yard dash) and good ball skills. Durability seems to be the biggest concern. He's slight of frame and was nicked up a lot in college.
Fleener finished his senior season with 34 catches for 667 yards and 10 TDs. Playing with Andrew Luck didn't hurt, but Fleener has great size and reportedly ran a 4.45-4.50 40-yard dash at the Stanford pro day. He is a savvy route runner, but needs to increase his strength to improve his blocking and to avoid being jammed at the line of scrimmage. Drops were an issue, but otherwise has good ball skills. He should go in the late first round (or early second) and has a chance to play right away if he lands in the right situation.
Allen is an early entry junior who caught 50 passes for 598 yards and eight TDs en route to the John Mackey Award (given to the top TE in the country). He has a reputation for being a good athlete, but ran just a 4.89 40-yard dash at the combine, though on tape he looks to have good speed. Otherwise, he doesn't have many glaring weaknesses in his game and could contribute immediately if given the opportunity. He's projected to go in the second round.
Charles caught 45 balls for 574 yards and five TDs as a junior. His good ball skills were utilized in the short passing game at Georgia and despite his strong, athletic frame, he'll have to prove that he has the speed and/or route running to create separation downfield. Charles grades out as a third round pick.