Williams leads deep receiving class

Texas WR Roy Williams headlines a deep WR corps that could be even better next fall.

Updated: October 15, 2003, 4:04 PM ET
By Nolan Nawrocki | Pro Football Weekly

Not since 1996, when Keyshawn Johnson was selected first overall, has a wide receiver heard his name called first on Draft Day. Just one other time, in 1984, when the Patriots selected Irving Fryar first overall, has it happened, but there's no doubt it could happen again the next two years with the pool of talent at the position.

Roy Williams
Roy Williams has 33 rec. for 485 yds. in six games this season.
As impressive as last year's elite crop of receivers was, with two being selected among the first three picks for the first time in NFL history, the 2004 draft class has the potential to be even better at the top if several juniors leave school early as expected. The 2005 class has the potential to be the best.

Texas WR Roy Williams, nicknamed 'The Legend,' is the headliner of next year's class. Had he come out as a junior, NFL insiders say the Texans, who are enamored with the home-grown product, would have made Williams the third player selected overall -- a move that could have put three receivers among the top five picks for the first time ever.

Williams and Oklahoma State senior wide receiver Rashaun Woods are sure-fire first-round picks. And a healthy dose of juniors, headed by Washington's Reggie Williams, LSU's Michael Clayton and Washington State's Devard Darling, will make for a strong 2005 draft class.

The pipeline of receivers gets only stronger with youth. Two of the nation's most talented receivers are true sophomores. Pittsburgh's Larry Fitzgerald and USC's Mike Williams are regarded among the top five receivers in college football and have rare physical abilities.

Fitzgerald, who attended prep school in 2001 and has played three years of football since high school, is as physically ready to adjust to the NFL as any receiver at the collegiate level. He has all the skills scouts look for in a receiver - excellent size, rare athletic ability, quickness in and out of his breaks, a second gear to get separation, excellent awareness in traffic, the ability to adjust to and sky for the ball and very sure hands.

Although only a sophomore, scouts say he has less chinks in his armor than Roy Williams, who has dropped more than a few easy balls this year. Williams' ability to turn a five-yard out into a 75-yard touchdown is what distinguishes his ability. Few players can create in the open field like he can. He is big, strong and acrobatic and creates a lot of mismatch problems for smaller defensive backs.

However, he must stay healthy. Dating back to high school, although he has yet to suffer a serious injury, Williams has not been able to stay injury-free for a full season, which has some scouts questioning his toughness. But he is mature beyond his years and really has emerged as a leader this year. After being the top player rated by both National and Blesto combines in the spring, he has solidified his position as the 2004 draft class's top pro prospect thus far as as senior.

Woods is not as big as Roy Williams, but he brings a lot of the same qualities - natural athleticism, playmaking ability and ball skills. He torments defensive backs, going up high to pluck the ball away and showing excellent body control and concentration, as he did vs. Southern Methodist on Sept. 20, when he broke a 34-year-old NCAA single-game record for touchdown catches with seven.

But the name Williams carries the most weight at receiver, with Washington junior Reggie Williams and USC sophomore Mike Williams in the wings. Reggie Williams is a physically imposing, gamebreaking receiver in the mold of Andre Johnson, and Mike Williams is even more intimidating at 6-41z2, 230. With the build of former Butkus Award winner Chris Claiborne, he looks more like a linebacker than a receiver and is the most gifted receiver at Southern California since Keyshawn Johnson, with the ability to turn it up the sideline or drag tacklers for five yards.

Not to be forgotten from this year's class is Wisconsin senior WR Lee Evans, who when healthy, potentially could be the best of the group. In 2001, he showed more potential than former teammate and current Dolphins wide receiver Chris Chambers, but barely more than a year removed from tearing his left anterior cruciate ligament, he has yet to show the second gear to separate as he did prior to his injury.

The senior receiver who is rising up the charts the fastest is Syracuse's Johnnie Morant. Like his father, Johnnie, a former Mr. Olympia, Morant is well-built with rare athletic ability, but he had never lived up to his press clippings coming out of high school as one of the most decorated athletes in New Jersey history until this fall. In his fourth year, he finally is showing maturity and has become a difference-maker for the Orangemen.

Other seniors who could hear their names called on Day One include Oregon State's James Newson and Marshall's Darius Watts. Fresno State's Bernard Berrian might stand a chance because of his ability as returner.

Several prospects in the 2004 wide receiver class have good size but lack blazing speed. Virginia Tech's Ernest Wilford, Ohio State's Michael Jenkins, USC's Keary Colbert, Colorado's Derek McCoy and Michigan junior WR Braylon Edwards fit that bill.

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