Last March, things were looking good for the 2012 wide receiver class. Justin Blackmon, Alshon Jeffery and Malcolm Floyd were all returning to school, and each was projected to be drafted in the first half of the first round.
A lot has happened since then. Most notably, Michael Floyd was arrested for drunk driving later in March. He was reinstated to the team in August, but his draft stock had taken a significant hit.
The college football season got underway, and both Floyd and Jeffery struggled with poor quarterback play. Jeffery also gained weight and faced questions about his ability to separate against NFL defenses.
Meanwhile, Blackmon terrorized Big 12 defense on his way to 121 receptions, 1522 receiving yards and 18 touchdowns during his redshirt junior season. His on-field performance has made him the consensus No. 1 wide receiver in the 2012 NFL Draft. But how did three receivers who were once so closely ranked, become so far apart?
For starters, none of these receivers is an elite prospect. That title, and the top five picks in the NFL Draft, are reserved for receivers like Calvin Johnson, Larry Fitzgerald and Andre Johnson. A.J. Green was also that caliber of prospect. The rare culmination of elite size, speed and hands does not come around every season, so let's not manufacture something that is not there.
Diving deeper into these three prospects, I don't think there is as much separating them as people think. Justin Blackmon is a fine player, and his production distinguishes himself from his classmates. But since when is production the key component of evaluating a player, especially a wide receiver?
Blackmon is 6 feet tall but lacks elite speed. That's not a game-breaking combination. Granted, Blackmon is dangerous after the catch. He showed that week in and week out for Oklahoma State. However, at his size, and against players that don't play defense in the BIg 12, breaking tackles may become a bit more difficult. With that being the one true strength of his college game, Blackmon is really a jack of all trades, master of none type of receiver. He catches well, but has less than perfect hands, he does not possess elite speed and he has average size.
Compare that to Notre Dame's Michael Floyd, and there is an argument to be made that Floyd is in fact the better prospect. He is undoubtedly faster, as evidence by his 4.42 40-yard dash at the combine. Plus, watching him all year, it's clear that he is the faster receiver. Floyd is also a much bigger target at 6-feet-3-inches tall and 220 pounds. To go with his mesurables, Floyd has, in my opinion, the best body control of any wide receiver in this draft class, and his hands match up with any prospect in draft.
The biggest concern with Floyd is his off the field trouble. But this season, Floyd did everything he could to ease concerns about that, and I have to believe he accomplished that. While most Notre Dame seniors were living in off campus housing, living their last year off college to the fullest, Floyd moved back into the dorms, focusing himself 100 percent on football. The talented wideout stayed out of trouble and constantly worked hard on the field, turning in his most productive season with 100 catches, 1147 yards and nine touchdowns, despite poor quarterback play from Tommy Rees and company. Imagine if Floyd had been matched up against Big 12 secondaries with the seasoned Brandon Weeden under center. He may be a top five prospect in April's draft.
As it turns out, at least a few teams are in agreement with me on Floyd, according to Matt Miller. Miller says that as many as three teams have ranked Floyd as the top wide receiver in the draft.
Working the phones this morning and there are now at least three teams that have Michael Floyd (WR-Notre Dame) as top WR in the draft— Matt Miller (@nfldraftscout) February 29, 2012
Many had speculated that Kendall Wright could pass Blackmon and be the first receiver off the board. Now, Floyd has snuck into the conversation. If you'll recall, nobody snuck into the conversation as the top receiver in last year's draft. That title belonged to A.J. Green, and Green alone, as is the case with most elite prospects.
Blackmon is not elite, and this year's wide receiver class is a closely ranked group, despite common perception. Floyd has the unteachable size, athleticism and hands. So, could he be the first receiver off the board? I don't see why not.