We've entered "Day 2" of my wide receiver rankings, which again mostly indicates that these are receivers whose "round grades" are determined based on a false world where every team is in the exact same situation as the Vikings. For a rundown on the criteria, which I'm including in every article, read below:
The split end will also be the player generally asked to operate the "constraint plays," which will be screens to stretch the defense horizontally and deep routes to stretch it vertically, so speed is good. Like I said above, however, it's not a controlling factor. Getting open and providing opportunities to move the ball are more critical parts of the offense.
Beyond that, the Vikings need receivers specifically to emphasize Ponder's strength and hide his weaknesses. That means receivers who can capitalize on extended plays by finding open spaces, receivers who know how to hit their breaks with correct timing and secure the ball in traffic to take advantage of what Ponder can do.
To cover his weaknesses, the best fits at receiver will have a wide catch radius to compensate for poor ball placement and a good ability to generate yards after the catch in order to consistently move the chains.
One could argue that the short, possession-style receiving game is a product of Ponder's arm strength or simply not having receiver talent, but Musgrave used similar playbooks with the Jaguars and Panthers in his tenures with both of those franchises. Those teams had Muhsin Muhammad, Jimmy Smith (perhaps the most underrated receiver in history) and Donald Hayes. It's wasn't just a question of receiver or quarterback (he had Byron Leftwich, Steve Beuerlein and David Garrard) ability-Musgrave simply likes to run shorter routes. If you don't believe that, Wobschall says the same.
Finally, evaluating Christian Ponder is a top priority. If the receiver is not ready to contribute right away, then there's not much they can do to help the front office evaluate Christian Ponder. It will be difficult to find a receiver who can do that. In the past ten years, the top 64 picks have produced 14 receivers who have had over 800 yards from scrimmage in their rookie year (out of 79 who played in games). Of those, only four chosen between pick 23 and 52 produced 800 yards (out of 36 who played games). This doesn't include those who haven't made an impact in games, like A.J. Jenkins.
So, finding one who can adapt to the NFL game immediately is a priority. I cannot emphasize the rarity of this trait and the importance of this point. You can find potential in any draft—since 1999, there has been at least one receiver who has recorded a 40-time of 4.35 or less and there is talk every year of raw "upside". Naturally, this board changes in big ways if the principles of immediate fit and instant impact are removed.
In this case, Tier Five receivers are receivers who I would give a 'Round 4' grade, although all of these receivers should fall much further than the fourth.
If you want to read about any of the rankings, please click on the tier title to learn more about a specific receiver you might be interested in reading about.
21. Uzoma Nwachukwu
22. Jasper Collins
23. Aaron Mellette
24. Charles Johnson
25. Javone Lawson
26. Alec Lemon
27. Emory Blake
28. DeVonte Christopher
29. Darrin Moore
30. Keenan Davis
31. Darius Johnson ***** ADDENDUM
32. Chad Bumphis
33. Conner Vernon ***** ADDENDUM
34. Cobi Hamilton
35. Erik Highsmith
36. Josh Boyce
37. Mark Harrison
38. Dan Buckner ***** ADDENDUM
39. Marcus Davis
40. Martel Moore
41. Ryan Spadola
42. Perez Ashford
43. Nicholas Edwards
44. Zach Rogers
45. Marlon Brown
46. Brandon Kaufman
47. Rodney Smith
48. Darryl Stonum
49. Terrell Sinkfield
50. Antavious Wilson
51. Jaron Brown
52. Denard Robinson
53. Sam McGuffie
54. Michael Smith
55. Rashad Ross
56. Taylor Stockemer
57. Reggie Dunn
58. Lanear Sampson
59. Ace Sanders
60. Justin Brown
61. La'Rod King
62. Drew Terrell
21. Uzoma Nwachukwu—Texas A&M, 5'11" 198 pounds, (Projected Round: 7, Athleticism Score: 7.4)
Nwachukwu is certainly being overlooked in favor of the admittedly more talented Ryan Swope. Unfortunately for fans (but fortunately for one NFL team), Nwachukwu has a lot of talent and physical capability. Not only do his numbers pop off the page (3rd highest athleticism score from the combine, 4th if you include the incomplete scores from Marquise Goodwin) with the exception of his average 4.50 40-time. A devilishly fast 3-cone (6.78), an astounding bench press (25, higher than any other receiver in the NFL except Greg Little), a great vertical leap (39.5 inches) and a very impressive broad jump (130 inches).
With that comes a solid set of receiving skills. The innate abilities—focus, toughness, intuition, etc.—are all there. He doesn't have technical deficiencies so much as areas of the game he needs to develop. As a route runner, he's smooth out of cuts, but still plays with suddenness and acceleration. He doesn't have sophisticated deception skills, but he knows how to set up defenders by forcing them to read the wrong route somewhat frequently. He still needs to work on route fakes and making sure his eyes look off his intended target. His route-running is nowhere near perfect and he can be a bit raw in his steps. While he cuts cleanly out of breaks, he needs to drop his weight and burst out more.
He knows where the boundary is, and keeps two feet in despite lenient NCAA rules. Nwachukwu hits his markers and can continue to generate separation throughout the route. He releases well against press coverage and his explosiveness off the line is an asset.
The only reason he's a 7th round pick instead of a 2nd round pick is because actually catching the ball is the most important part of being a receiver. It's not that he's a bad catcher. He's actually pretty good, and drops the ball rarely. He even keeps it secure through the process. It's simply that he's not very good at catching. He doesn't have "late hands" to gain an edge on defensive backs, he doesn't high-point the ball, loses 50/50 balls, and doesn't make difficult catches. He also juggles the ball quite a bit. All of these things are correctable, but will limit his development, perhaps by years.
He has experience at flanker, split end and the slot, but he may be relegated to the slot in the NFL. I think this would be a mistake, but he doesn't really have mastery over any of the particular positions or inherent route trees.
Incidentally, I would argue that Uzoma Nwachukwu is the best blocker in the class. And I'm not sure it's close. Great technique, extraordinary strength and I haven't seen a single mistake in his diagnosis. I would trust him to block a number of linebackers in the league.
22. Jasper Collins—Mount Union, 5'10" 180 pounds (Projected Round: 6-7, Athleticism Score: 4.1)
Collins is an interesting receiver who did very well in his only performance against top-tier competition was fairly good. At the Shrine Game, Collins showed an ability to generate separation against some of the top cornerbacks in the country, although the receiver talent outshone the cornerback talent at that all-star game. Nevertheless, Collins displayed a good combination of talents that predict success in the NFL.
He rounds off his routes, as you would expect any Division III receiver to, but he still is much more precise than some other highly rated prospects. Collins gets explosion out of breaks and knows how to sink his hips when transitioning at the stem. What's even better is his patience in setting up his breaks and then letting go. He knows how to use his hands to continue getting separation and has quite a bit of elevation for a receiver so short.
Collins is quick and has good balance, which is not just good for his route running, but his ability to generate additional yardage after a reception. Not only does he possess decent vision, he can make defenders miss and move upfield. His ability to turn and run is pretty good, and that short transition period will always translate into some extra yardage.
The Division III prospect also has good hands, and didn't bobble all too many passes his senior year. Knowing he can secure the catch against contact is good, too, as he'll probably be asked to go over the middle on a number of plays because of his limitations.
Collins' inability to beat press coverage will limit his ability to contribute at the NFL level, meaning he might simply be limited to playing as a backup slot receiver for some time. His height and straight-line speed both limit his usefulness as a split end, but he should end up as a solid contributor in the slot for quite some time.
23. Aaron Mellette—Elon, 6'3" 217 pounds, (Projected Round: 5-6, Athleticism Score: 4.0)
Another small-school prospect that began the scouting process rated much higher on boards, Mellette proved he can hold his own against solid competition at the Senior Bowl, although it would definitely be a stretch to say he impressed against the nation's all-stars.
What stands out about the Elon prospect is his agility, especially for his height and weight. He could even fill out more if he wanted to and should be able to push defensive backs around. He seems to play much smaller than his height (which can be good when he's trying to be elusive) so he doesn't overpower people he is just much bigger than. It does, however, let him avoid injury.
Mellette is neither impressive nor unimpressive as a catcher. He hasn't dropped a lot of passes in his time, but will act as a body catcher who has difficulty changing this habit. He might lose the ball on contact on occasion because of it. This is why his Senior Bowl practices also revealed a potential tendency to drop well-thrown balls.
He has excellent in-air adjustments and knows how to get to the ball, but he needs to deploy his basketball background more aggressively to outposition defenders when competing for the ball. He's good, however, at catching the ball with a short reaction time and saves a good number of poorly thrown passes, but is not necessarily consistent enough to be relied on as a clutch receiver.
An athlete who finished with three 1000 yard seasons at Elon (1408 his senior year, with 18 touchdowns), the former Phoenix has demonstrated a surprising refinement in his technique despite relative inexperience with the game. While he may occasionally lose focus on what he's doing, he's a very crisp route-runner who knows how to generate explosiveness at the cuts and create separation with his hands. While he may need to prove he can read defenses and execute option routes, it's very apparent that defenses have a tough time reading him. Running routes with false leans, head fakes and shoulder fakes, Mellette can find numerous ways to get open.
He's known as a hard worker, and Mellette has improved significantly in his short time playing football (having not played a down until his sophomore year of high school), but he doesn't seem to be a willing blocker. Much like how he plays on passing downs, Mellette simply doesn't play with physicality or assert his aggressiveness enough. It seems that he's not accustomed to his body yet and should be much better once he understands his physical advantage.
Despite having run the entire route tree, Mellette should be reduced to a flanker role unless he can prove that he will be consistently open deep downfield and/or he can more consistently beat press coverage, which almost always takes him out the action.
24. Charles Johnson—Grand Valley State, 6'2" 215 pounds (Projected Round: 4-5, Athleticism Score: 7.4)
Johnson has shot up draft boards as a result of a strong pro day and some strategically placed buzz by people like Mel Kiper. Aside from the fact that Johnson has an excellent agent, he also flashes quite a bit of skill. It wasn't just that his combine scores were excellent (they were) but that his nonmeasureable performance was good, too. He ran position drills with crispness and showed an ability to sink his hips and burst out of cuts—something that evidently surprised gathered scouts.
And it's hard to ignore a 4.36-4.39 40-yard dash at 6'2" and 215 pounds, and his broad jump (133") and vertical leap (39.5") speak to an explosiveness that is difficult to find. While his agility scores weren't amazing, neither were they worrisome. At his size, that's often the bet you can ask for.
An extremely productive receiver, Johnson accounted for almost half of all the team's receiving yards with 1199 on 72 catches. He had 16 touchdowns. He simply overshadowed his peers (in second place was Jamie Potts, who had 17 catches. 327 yards and 2 touchdowns), and has all the box score signs of a small-school breakout.
From what I could see on limited film available, Johnson has the ball skills to match NFL-ready receivers, and already carries good habits like a tendency to attack the ball and extend his arms to make the catch. I didn't see any examples of body-catching and he's maintained catches through contact.
Just like at his pro day, his route-running was impressive for a Division II prospect. He naturally sank his hips and had a suddenness that was impressive. While he needs to do a better job outpositioning backs in tight coverage, he was by no means deficient at creating space for himself. His biggest worry as a route-runner is his inability to prevent defensive backs from pushing him around in routes.
At the line of scrimmage, he has a good number of moves he can use to create separation, although he needs to be a bit quicker off the snap. I didn't see too many plays where he was asked to block, instead running routes to clear out defensive backs, although he seems to have a good understanding of where needs to be to block safeties and cornerbacks.
Overall, Johnson is a rare physical specimen who seems to be further along in his development than you would expect for a late "riser", and will be given a few years on an NFL roster. He has the ability to be the next breakout receiver, although it is too hard to tell without any games against top-tier competition—he's still raw in important ways and needs to learn more of the route tree. His suspension from Eastern Kentucky is worrisome as well, and should be thoroughly investigated before a team decides to invest in him.
ADDENDUM (Tier 7). Darius Johnson—SMU, 5'9", 179 pounds (Projected Round: FA, Athleticism Score: 1.4-2.1)
Darius Johnson will obviously be limited in the NFL by his height and weight, but he is a very intelligent player. He knows exactly how to manipulate coverages to create space and will use it to his afvantage. A very smart player on the field, Johnson knows what the offense needs and how he can best deliver. Not only does he option into and out of routes well against coverage, he knows when he needs to sit in a zone and when he needs to move to create space.
Like most prospects being discussed at his height, Johnson is quick and elusive. He's very good at generating YAC by making people miss and is a threat to run a short pass deep. This quickness shows up in his route-running as well, where he can create separation at the stem of the route
His best assets are his hands. With the ability to reel in catches with a surprising catch radius, Johnson is extremely underrated in his ability to reel in catches further away from his body. He makes a good deal of tough catches and he can make some highlight plays.
Unfortunately, his catch radius is only large relative to his size. He doesn't have an extraordinary amount of long speed, and won't likely find himself open deep. He also has a lot of problems running pass patterns despite his agility and deception. He can't release against jams and will get moved off his routes and won't always hit his depth markers and rounds off a number of his routes (negating the purpose of all his deception).
He might end up being a better kick returner than on-field receiver, but he certainly is worth a look. An extremely tough player that can take contact, Johnson could easily become a poor man's Wes Welker were he to master just a few routes.
ADDENDUM (Tier 7). Conner Vernon—Duke, 6'0" 196 pounds, (Projected Round: 5-6, Athleticism Score: 2.5)
Vernon did extremely well in the ACC, being the first player to post four seasons with 50+ catches and 700+ yards, and caught a pass in every game he's played for Duke. As the all-time ACC receptions and yardage leader, Vernon already has quite the accolades to go with his name.
Vernon is a tough player whose willing to make difficult catches over the middle, Vernon is more readily described as "reliable" rather than "dynamic". The Blue Devil is extremely willing to block and will consistently attempt to win with strength. Unfortunately, he doesn't play with a lot of technique as a blocking receiver and will get beaten fairly often,
His best quality is his ability to adjust to the ball in the air, bring his hands up late and maintain focus throughout the process of the catch. He hits his route markers on time and has a good understanding of how to create space. Vernon knows enough to catch the ball away from his body and maintains possession despite heavy hits.
As a precise route runner that doesn't waste steps when breaking. Vernon has a good grasp of the field and does well enough reading defenses. Having run every route from every position on the field, he also has an understanding of the responsibilities of each receiver. Given that, he does a good job finding areas of the field left open by zone coverage and how to gain leverage against man coverage, although this is something he could continue to improve.
Unlike many other prospects at his size who played in a less competitive conference, Vernon probably won't be limited to the slot for his career, given his ability to beat press coverage with strength. He will, unfortunately, be constrained by his physical capability. He'll need to rely more on savvy than athleticism to beat a cornerback deep and doesn't have extraordinary top-line speed.
He can block well and does a decent job running after the catch, although he'll find it harder to power through people in the NFL than he found in the ACC. Overall, his limitations will limit his value for the Vikings, but he's a hardnosed receiver that can do well in a possession role.
ADDENDUM (Tier 8). Dan Buckner—Arizona, 6'4" 214 pounds (Projected Round: FA, Athleticism Score: N/A)
Buckner will best be known for a regrettable incident when he was at Texas, when he was arrested and charged with criminal trespassing and resisting arrest. Choosing to transfer to Arizona, Buckner sat out a year before playing in Tuscan. While the burglary incident is extremely worrisome, Buckner has yet to run afoul of the law once more and is considered an excellent leader on the field and in the film room. Coaches don't often lie to scouts about players and he seems to have matured.
Nevertheless, it's wise to exercise caution. Buckner never had the year people were predicting for him, and so will likely go undrafted despite a number of natural skills that should propel him to Day 3.
Mike Loyko says Buckner is "one of the most underrated and least talked about wide receiver prospects in the country," although I'm not so sure that's the case. While I think Buckner doesn't garner as much attention as he should, he really is limited in his scope and value.
More than a height/weight/speed prospect, Buckner flashes technical skill that other 6'4" receivers do not. His frame is excellent for pushing defenders around, and he already knows how to box them out during the catch process. He can win catches in tight coverage thanks to his strength and is particularly excellent at tracking the ball and reacting to it in the air; sometimes making excellent catches without very much time to find the ball.
This sort of concentration and coordination would bode well for him, but he does let passes clatter off his hands from time to time. Still, once he has the ball in his hands, he does a good job generating yards after the catch and will generally make a few defenders miss when he can set himself (which sometimes takes more time than it should).
But he has his problems, too. Aside from hands that are just a little better than average, he plays at one speed and can't create acceleration (and therefore separation) at the stem of the route. He doesn't sink his hips to create that burst and also will round out a number of routes as well. When on his game, he can run more precise and crisp routes, but if he feels hurried, he'll take shortcuts. It's particularly worrisome that defensive backs an push him off his routes and he needs to run with power.
He's worth a look, but he needs to do a better job beating jams at the line before he can become a real split end. Given that his top-end acceleration is fairly low, he would also be constrained in his ability as a flanker, too. Unless he can improve in big ways, he will continue to fight for a spot on the roster.
The plan from here is to publish Tier Four by itself, then the top three tiers all in one article. I hope this has been fun!