Size trumps speed with Class of 2009
The 2008 class of wide receivers was arguably the deepest, most talented group this millennium. Last year's wideouts came in all shapes, sizes and speeds, but keep in mind that the little things will ultimately separate the good from the great. The 2009 class is good, but maybe not as deep.
Compared to last year's class, the 2009 class, in our opinion, has a few more speed guys within the top 30 wide receivers. The 2008 class had some of those rare guys who were big and fast. This class is a bit more separated into speed and size, but don't worry: There are a few guys who are still big and "sneaky" fast. The most notable trait of this group is that just six players ranked in our top 30 are shorter than 5-11, which shows that the trend of size at the position remains prevalent.
With college coaches looking for "space" players more than ever, I believe, we could see the trend move back toward smaller playmakers -- guys who stand between 5-9 and 6 feet -- who can be lethal after the catch. The spread offense is all about with the short-to-intermediate passing game. The big guys are great, but it is very difficult to find the larger, more physical wide receiver who also has great vertical speed and elusiveness in space.
We have placed prospects into four categories for our wide receiver superlatives -- most physical, fastest, best hands and best after the catch. We realize there are many worthy prospects who fit into these categories, but there has to be a cut-off point somewhere, or it would take you a week to read this piece!
What Scouts Inc. looks for: This category is about size, strength and the wisdom of a player to know how to use both to his advantage. It's the ability to handle press coverage, to outmuscle receivers for the ball, to create separation using one's frame, and not to go down immediately after the catch.
Brown measures close to 6-foot-6, and he knows of how to use his frame. His athleticism makes him very difficult to handle off the line and on contested matchups downfield. He can outmuscle defenders for the ball, and his leaping ability makes it difficult to gain any position on him.
Randle is a receiver with the measurables to be the complete package. He has the size-to-strength ratio you look for when both working off the line and matching up one-on-one downfield. He uses his hands well, he fights through traffic, and he can shuck defenders aside when attacking the football.
When all is said and done, don't be surprised if Kelly is one of the best receivers to come out of this class. He may have the best combination of pure speed and strength out of any of the bigger guys in this class. He is strong and tough to bring down in the open field -- much like Marlon Brown, but Kelly is faster.
Jefferson is a lot like Kendall Kelly both in dimensions and productivity. Jefferson is physical runner in the open field and can be utilized on reverses and screens, on which he can stiff-arm defenders to gain yards after the catch.
What Scouts Inc. looks for: These players are serious vertical threats for whom defenses must compensate in the secondary. They have the ability to stretch the field, affect coverage and potentially create big plays. Sometimes this speed is straight-line, and sometimes players possess some "wiggle" to their speed, which is ideal. Speed and fluid hips are a dangerous combination.
Explosive and lightning-quick, Richardson is a jet. He shows great versatility as a return man, and his role as Pahokee's QB proves his worth. He is shifty and can change gears in a hurry. He reminds us of current Florida Gators WR Deonte Thompson; Richardson, however, is not as tall.
He is the most fluid athlete of this group, but he needs to bulk up. He has a second gear and is very smooth. At 6-2, McNeal has decent height, but he relies on speed after the catch and getting vertical to make his big plays. His level of competition at the high school level is a concern.
He is one of those tall receivers with great speed; Boyd has an ideal height-to-speed ratio. He's a track guy who also happens to be a football player. As his frame fills out, he could end up being a very difficult guy to handle. Boyd is smooth and has a second gear and the height to battle in the red zone.
Heastie may be a bit straight-line, but he is among the best in this group in terms of pure deep speed. He also must continue to work on consistent pass-catching with his hands. He is tall and lean and decisive as a route-runner with the speed to run right by people. He also has good height.
Evans is sneaky fast and ultra-athletic; he's one of the premier kick-return men in the land. He possesses fluid speed and is a slashing type of runner with smooth change-of-direction. Evans has the bulk that Bryce McNeal must develop.
What Scouts Inc. looks for: These pass-catchers are focused on every play. They have the ability to show quick hands, pluck and tuck, and display ideal hand-eye coordination. This group of wideouts must show the body control to adjust to poorly thrown balls and extend to catch balls thrown outside their frame.
At 6-foot-3 and 214 pounds, Jeffrey is an absolute beast. In our opinion, he may have the best hands of any receiver in this class. They are big and soft, and he can make the acrobatic grab. He effortlessly plucks the ball, and you don't see him "fight" the ball. Jeffrey shows excellent focus.
Duron Carter's just like his dad, Chris. He has huge hands, knows how to use his frame and catches everything thrown his way. He shows great body control to adjust and snag balls thrown outside of his frame. He's a guy you can take chances with even if he is covered.
Hawthorne has quick hands and will snatch and tuck away very quickly. He does an excellent job catching the ball away from his frame and is a very good leaper. His long arms and strong hands allow for acrobatic grabs, and he shows excellent concentration along the sideline.
Brown has very strong and big hands. He has shown the ability routinely to make the spectacular grab. He is a big target who uses his size and strength to provide a wide catch radius. His hands and size make red zone tosses that much easier because he can haul the ball in when covered.
What Scouts Inc. looks for: Some guys are strictly downfield guys, and some are primarily underneath possession receivers, but the guy who can take the short pass and turn it into a spectacular event each time he gets the ball in space is the most coveted of pass catchers.
Carroll is a water-bug. When he has the ball in the open field, defenders better break down properly, or he'll make them look silly when attempting to tackle him. He is raw, but his physical gifts could make him extremely difficult to handle once he is coached on attacking coverage. Carroll is also a huge threat as a return man.
The most versatile of the group, DeBose could end up being a Percy Harvin-type player who is a the perfect fit for the spread offense. He moves suddenly and hits top gear quickly when changing directions without having to gear down to gauge his next move. He's a very instinctive open-field runner with the speed to go the distance.
Like Carroll, Heavens is extremely difficult to handle in space. He can make multiple defenders miss after the catch and make it look easy. He's not very big, but that makes it difficult to get a clean shot at him. He has eyes in the back of his head with the ball in his hands.
Given his size (6-1, 178 pounds), Stokes is a guy capable of turning the short gain into a big play. His lateral quickness and good feet give him great change-of-direction. He also possesses excellent speed. When he makes the first defender miss and gets a seam, he can take it the distance.
Tom Luginbill is the National Recruiting Director for ESPN's Scouts Inc. He has an extensive background in professional football talent evaluation and coaching. He played quarterback at Georgia Tech (1994) and Eastern Kentucky (1995).