After the 2011 season, NFL fans were drooling over the rookies that were making an impact at the wide receiver position.
The 2012 NFL Draft has not delivered the same type of entertainment. While Justin Blackmon, Michael Floyd and Kendall Wright all received their fair share of hype, not one of them has delivered on the football field.
But will the 2013 NFL Draft class be able to deliver some playmakers at wide receiver? A pair of juniors, California's Keenan Allen and Tennessee's Justin Hunter, are making an interesting case.
Hunter is coming off an ACL injury, but has continued to make plays for the Volunteers. In six games, Hunter has 35 catches for 497 yards and four touchdowns.
Meanwhile, despite spotty quarterback play, Keenan Allen has 52 catches for 633 yards and five touchdowns in seven games this season.
Which receiver is the better prospect, though? Are any other wide receivers in the mix for the top spot? Does either player warrant top ten consideration? All that and more below.
The case for Justin Hunter
If not for a knee injury that ended his 2011 season, Justin Hunter would have gotten plenty of attention a year ago. He is blessed with ideal physical gifts for the wide receiver position. He stands at 6-feet-4-inches tall and weighs over 200 pounds. While he has lost a bit of his explosiveness coming off knee surgery, Hunter is still a smooth athlete with soft hands.
- Body Control - Given Hunter's size, his body control borders on insanity. He shouldn't be able to make some of the plays on the ball that he makes, but he exhibits outstanding leaping ability and a knack for adjusting to poorly thrown balls. This makes him a dangerous as a vertical threat and along the sidelines.
- Hands - Hunter has shown consistent hands and a wide catch radius throughout his career. He is a natural hands catcher with the long arms and toughness to go up and make catches over the middle of the field.
Biggest Question Mark
- Health - It's tough not to be concerned about Hunter's knee. His explosiveness clearly isn't on the same level it was before the injury, and without it, he is not the elite, difference-making prospect he was thought to be. Obviously, these things take time. Hunter should still be able to regain some of that explosion. How much and how quickly will be big factors in determining the type of draft grade he gets.
The case for Keenan Allen
Keenan Allen must get frustrated. I mean, I know Cal's quarterback is his half brother, but that doesn't mean Allen can't get annoyed with erratic play, right? Whether he's frustrated or not, Allen somehow continues to pile up numbers for the Golden Bears in spite of the poor play under center. His draft stock is reaping the benefits.
- Run after catch - Keenan Allen is one of the most dangerous receivers after the catch. His athleticism is evident, but it's his ability to make people miss and run through tackles that is particularly impressive. Allen has moves like a running back, displays excellent pad level and even has a fair amount of vision once the ball is in his hands.
- Physicality - Most view Allen as a burner, but he has shown that he can make plays over the middle of the field. He gets excellent body position on defenders and can out-muscle the opposition for the football. Being able to fight for the football and make tough catches is necessary to success in the NFL.
Biggest Question Mark
- Hands - Although Allen can make some tough catches due to an impressive catch radius, he is not a consistent enough hands catcher at this point. Drops have plagued him again during his junior campaign and will continue to until he gets more comfortable relying on his hands.
Which player is the better prospect?
Keenan Allen, for my money, is the best wide receiver prospect in the country at the moment. The biggest issue is Hunter's knee. His pre-injury explosion was rare, and until we see that again, Allen gets a slight edge. Allen shows abilities that give him the upside to be an NFL difference maker. Hunter has that upside as well, but there is slightly more uncertainty with him at this point.
Who else is in the mix?
Robert Woods deserves mention in this conversation, but he doesn't have the size that Allen and Hunter have. Woods is an effective route runner with solid hands and a fair amount of speed, but at 6-foot-1, he leaves a little something to be desired in that department.
Are any receivers worth a top 10 pick in the 2013 NFL Draft?
This obviously hinges on whether or not Allen and Hunter (and Woods for that matter) declare for the draft, as both are juniors. Assuming they enter the draft, both will push for top ten status. I don't think either is on the level of A.J. Green or Julio Jones, but these two both have a fair amount of upside. Allen and Hunter both look like better prospects at this point than any wideouts in the 2012 class.