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Reshuffling the wide receivers

Posted Feb 28, 2012

Results of 2012 NFL Scouting Combine will cause teams to look again at top wide receivers

The NFL Scouting Combine is best used as a tool, not an end-all.

That’s what most scouts and personnel people will tell you, and as the 2012 version of the event nears an end, one of the most respected draft analysts – Mike Mayock of the NFL Network – said that’s particularly true this year of the wide receiver position.

The position is generally considered strong this year, and entering the combine, the focus was on how more than a few players projected in the first and second rounds would run.

Would Justin Blackmon be fast enough?

How about Malcolm Floyd? Or Alshon Jeffery?

Neither Blackmon nor Jeffery ran the 40-yard dash Sunday, and Floyd ran well enough to solidify himself as a first-round pick, but the results thereafter were scattered enough that Mayock said teams will need to do extra work to make sense of the data.

“You're going to see a bunch of teams kind of re-shuffling the deck a little bit at the wide receiver position to make sure they understand what a guy's real football speed is, not manufactured track speed,” Mayock said Sunday at the combine, which concludes Tuesday at Lucas Oil Stadium in downtown Indianapolis.

The two receivers who perhaps helped themselves the most this weekend were Floyd and Georgia Tech wide receiver Stephen Hill.

Floyd officially was timed at 4.47 seconds in the 40-yard dash Sunday, a time that some believe could push him as high as the top 12-to-15 selections, prompting Mayock to say Sunday, “I thought Floyd had as good a day as just about anybody out there.” Hill, projected as a second-round selection by many analysts, ran a 4.36.

Blackmon, projected by some as a Top 10 or even a Top 5 selection, opted not to run the 40 because of a hamstring injury, but was impressive in other drills and is expected to run the 40 at his March 7 Pro Day. He exits the combine as the consensus top receiver, and while he and Floyd are the lone consensus first-rounders at the position, some believe Hill’s performance could push him into the first round.

The biggest disappointment at receiver?  Kendall Wright of Baylor.

Wright was projected by many as a first-rounder entering the combine, and while some still have him there, he was officially timed at 4.61 in the 40.

“On tape . . . I thought he was DeSean Jackson, just a notch below him from a speed perspective,” Mayock said. “To see him run 4.6, I was stunned.”

Wright will need to perform better at his Pro Day in March, with another key Pro Day being that of Jeffery, the South Carolina wide receiver who also opted not to run this weekend.

With the Jaguars selecting No. 7 in the draft and having an obvious need at wide receiver, speculation will continue to center around Blackmon, but debate remains on whether he will be a top five overall selection.

That status usually is reserved for perceived franchise-turning players. A.J. Green (No. 4 overall to Cincinnati in 2010) and Calvin Johnson (No. 2 to Detroit in 2007) are the only receivers selected in the Top 5 of the last five drafts.

Draft observers are split over whether Blackmon is worth such a selection. While some analysts have him as high as No. 2 on their value board, Rob Rang of NFLDraftScout.com said the difference between Blackmon may be smaller than many believe, and that the Top 5 is no certainty.

“Blackmon’s one of the wild cards,” Rang said. “Blackmon is not in that category of receivers who usually are Top 3, Top 5 picks.”

Elsewhere from the combine:

*While running back Trent Richardson of Alabama is widely considered one of the elite talents in the draft, Mayock shares the opinion of many in the NFL that his position may not merit such a high selection. Mayock said at one point during the network’s combine coverage he listed every first-round running back over the last five years. “What it tells you if you're not Adrian Peterson you probably shouldn't be a top five or top ten running back,” Mayock said. “Because of injuries or lack of talent or whatever, if you go back to every class to Adrian Peterson, you can't make a case for a top ten running back. And there are so many good running backs you can get later in the first. . . . You just keep going down the draft at the running back position and go, 'Wow. Why not go down a little bit further and get somebody worth two backs for the price of one?’’’

*Hill’s combine performance Sunday made him one of the big stories of the weekend. “Stephen Hill killed it,” Mayock said. “I had a bunch of scouts tell me before the combine this kid might blow the roof off of it, and he did.” More importantly, Mayock said Hill performed well in the catching and route-running drills, making him another receiver scouts will need to reevaluate in the two months leading to the draft. “When he got on the field and caught the football, he didn't double-catch balls,” Mayock said. “He made hands catches out in front of him. From a football perspective, every team in the league now has a lot of homework to do. . . . You've got to do your homework on this kid. And trust me, he's kind of pushed himself right up in the forefront of this wide receiver thing.”

*Defensive linemen and linebackers worked Monday, with the spotlight on a few high-profile pass rushers and a tackle class that some consider the best position in the draft. The star of the day easily was Memphis defensive tackle Dontari Poe, who on Sunday had registered a combine-best 44 reps bench-pressing 225 pounds. On Monday, the 346-pound Poe turned in an official 40-yard-dash time of 4.98. Poe is among five or six tackles projected as potential first-round selections, with Devon Still of Penn State and redshirt sophomore Michael Brockers of LSU considered the top two. Jerel Worthy of Michigan State, Fletcher Cox of Mississippi State and Brandon Thompson of Clemson are also first-round possibilities.  In addition to the top-tier prospects, Mayock said it’s a deep position into the fourth or fifth round.

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