There are no can’t-miss wide receiver prospects in the 2013 NFL draft, but there are some highly talented athletes who might be worth a first-round pick.
Of those talented potential NFL receivers, there are three who seem to be ahead of the pack.
Let’s rank each of those top-three receivers based on where we think they will go during April’s draft.
1. Keenan Allen, California: Mid-First Round
Allen is, in my opinion, the best true route runner in this class and uses that ability to make up for his lack of top-end speed. Make no mistake about it, his 4.5-second 40-yard dash time is impressive, but he won’t be able to rely on that to take the top off of defenses at the pro level.
Using his awareness and route-running skills, coupled with the speed that he does have, will give him that ability.
Allen, who played in a very poor offensive system at California this year, demonstrated his excellent combination of size (6’3”, 206 lbs) and natural ability while recording 61 receptions for 737 yards and six touchdowns. He also missed the last three games of Cal’s season.
Finding a way to produce in a poor offense and during a shortened season are both positive marks.
2. Justin Hunter, Tennessee: Bottom of First Round
There isn’t much not to like about Hunter on the surface. The standout wide receiver has it all: size, speed and ball skills. He’s the type of guy that you can send down the sidelines and heave the long ball to, and he will go up and get it.
There are some concerns after he suffered a season-ending ACL injury in 2011, but he seemed to recover fully in 2012. He finished the season with over 1,000 yards receiving and 73 catches, despite competing with Cordarrelle Patterson for targets.
Overall, Hunter runs solid routes and has the quickness and fluidity in those routes that helps him use his speed to get past defenders.
Hunter is thin for his height (6’4”, 200 lbs) but could easily add bulk through strength and conditioning with a pro coaching staff in his corner.
That didn’t affect him at college buy could at the pro level. Cornerbacks are definitely more physical and aggressive at the line of scrimmage, and he will need to address that.
3. Tavon Austin, West Virginia: Bottom of First Round
Austin presents a unique skill set to a team that is willing to take a risk on him. He is best-suited for work in the slot and used for quick plays that aim to get him the ball in the open field.
Speed kills, even in the NFL, and Austin has that in bunches. He demonstrated it time and time again as he produced explosive plays from both the wide receiver and running back positions for the West Virginia Mountaineers.
A negative for the speedy skill player is his small size and frame. However that has not killed the careers of players like DeSean Jackson at the pro level. It all matters how well Austin can bulk up and withstand the hits he takes from NFL defenders.
The biggest advantage Austin brings to the table is his speed, followed closely by his versatility and vision.
A pro comparison for Austin would be DeSean Jackson, at best, and Dexter McCluster at worst.