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Year of the wide receiver


It is possibly the best crop of wide receivers in NFL draft history, and that makes it a good place to begin's position-by-position draft preview. This installment will take a look at the top wide receivers and tight ends in this year's draft class.

Five names would seem to be at the top of everyone's list: Larry Fitzgerald, Kellen Winslow and the Williams "brothers," Roy, Mike and Reggie. Four of those players could go in the top 10, and most draftniks will tell you all five might rank as the top receiver in any normal year.

Fitzgerald is coming out of Pitt as a true sophomore, yet, he is regarded as a fully polished receiver. At 6-3, 225, Fitzgerald is an outstanding route-runner who has soft hands and a great sense of timing. draft analyst Tony Pauline says Fitzgerald "makes the important catch. He's deceptively fast; great body, very strong but also very fluid. He doesn't run like a 225-pound guy."

The Jaguars would love to pair Fitzgerald with quarterback Byron Leftwich, but Fitzgerald figures to be taken in the top five picks, provided he works out well in Pitt's pro day on March 22.

"I think he'll be very good. He played against good defensive backs in the Big East in DeAngelo Hall, Sean Taylor and Antrel Rolle," Pauline said.

As many as eight wide receivers could be selected in the first round, and Texas' Roy Williams is at the head of that group in raw talent. The 6-2, 212-pound Williams can be a dominant player. "When he's on top of his game, he's a game-impacting and game-controlling receiver. Look at the Cotton Bowl in his junior year against LSU and he was an unstoppable force," Pauline said. "Unfortunately, he doesn't always play that way. He has an attitude like he can take it or leave it. He has as much upside as anybody in this draft but doesn't always play to it."

Washington's Reggie Williams, 6-4, 229, is more of a Fitzgerald-type receiver. He's productive, smooth and sneaky fast. He was scheduled to work out today, and the results of that workout will go a long way toward deciding his position in the April 24-25 NFL Draft.

USC's Mike Williams became the hottest receiver in the draft when he was declared eligible just a few weeks ago. Like Fitzgerald, Williams is coming out as a true sophomore, but Williams doesn't have Fitzgerald's polish or grace. At 6-3, 230, Williams is a bull of a pass-catcher.

"He's good, but he's overrated," Pauline said. "A lot of natural skill – goes up against three defenders and comes down with the ball – but, that said, he's not quick, looks heavy-legged and his routes are not good. He's had two great quarterbacks. Some people are saying he's going to be a top-five pick. Unless he has a great workout, I don't see it. He doesn't have a lot of speed to his game. He's a long-loper."

Everyone is rooting for Lee Evans. Following his junior season, Evans decided to remain at Wisconsin for his senior year. Then he blew out his knee in spring practice and missed the '02 campaign. He returned to action in '03, knocked off the rust, and is in the process of convincing scouts in his personal workouts that he's recovered from the knee injury and is worthy of a first-round selection. At 5-11, 197, he's a speed receiver who is the "best receiver to come out of Wisconsin since Al Toon," Pauline said. "Excellent hand-catcher. Will stretch the defense and make the game-breaking catch. Smart player and very fast. Plays to his 40 time, which is a 4.4."

Oklahoma State's Rashaun Woods, 6-2, 202, is a natural pass-catcher who single-handedly beat Oklahoma two years in a row. The problem is Woods isn't fast and doesn't have the size you like in a possession receiver. Some team will get a steal late in the first round.

Michael Jenkins, 6-4, 221, didn't have a good senior season last fall. But a good Senior Bowl has the Ohio State wide receiver moving up draft boards again. If he continues his climb, he could be a first-round pick.

LSU's Michael Clayton, 6-2, 209, is ultra-productive, but he's not a top workout guy, and that hurts his stock. He's not a top athlete and his route-running needs work, but he catches the ball and could be this year's Anquan Boldin.

Clayton's teammate, Devery Henderson, 5-11, 198, is the "prototypical West Coast receiver," Pauline says. "Great explosion, quickness, route-running ability and constantly gets separation. Has really improved his draft stock in the postseason." Henderson looks like an early second-round selection.

Washington State's Devard Darling, 6-1, 213, is also a second-round candidate. Whatever his route to the NFL, it's a first-pick-of-the-draft story. Darling's brother, Devaughn, died tragically from a genetic disease in Florida State's spring practice. Florida State said it would honor Devard's scholarship but would not permit him to play. That caused Devard to seek out another school and Washington State passed him medically. He's coming out as a junior and his ability may interest a team, though his game needs to be polished.

Other first-day-of-the-draft wide receivers include Ernest Wilford of Virginia Tech, Keary Colbert of USC, Jerricho Cotchery of North Carolina State and Bernard Berrian of Fresno State.

The tight ends class is led by Winslow, a certain top 10 pick who raised his stock significantly with an impressive workout in Miami's pro day. At 6-4, 251, Pauline says Winslow is "Jeremy Shockey squared. He's a receiver in a tight end's body. Not a bad blocker; gives effort in blocking. He creates mismatches; too fast for linebackers and too big for defensive backs."

The only knock on Winslow is that he's a high-maintenance player who has a reputation for being arrogant and making stupid remarks. "He's working to change that reputation," Pauline said.

Florida's Ben Troupe, 6-4, 265, is a cut beneath Winslow but Troupe is an excellent pass-catching tight end. He has natural hands and is a good athlete. He got a rap for being a bad blocker, but that may be the result of not having been used much as a blocker, which caused him to get lazy at it. Troupe appears to be a second-rounder.

Ben Watson, 6-3, 258, of Georgia has freakish athletic ability. He's the fastest and most athletic tight end in the draft. In scouting combine drills, Watson outran the ball. But he doesn't always play up to his abilities. He wasn't real involved in the passing game at Georgia, but some team will probably fall in love with Watson's measurables and make him a second-round pick.

Pitt's Kris Wilson, 6-2, 248, is an excellent pass-catcher who was under the radar for two years because almost all of the attention at Pitt went to Fitzgerald. Wilson jumped up in the postseason at the Senior Bowl and at the scouting combine.

Utah State's Chris Cooley, 6-3, 265, is a "complete tight end," Pauline said. "Good pass-catcher, good blocker but not outstanding in any single skill."

Pauline will provide with updates up to the draft. His draft guide may be purchased by visiting his web site at

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