2011 NFL Draft: Strong Year For Wide Receiver, Cornerback Prospects

LSU's Patrick Peterson should be the first cornerback selected in the 2011 NFL Draft. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

Smart NFL teams, in attacking the NFL Draft, target upgrades at positions that have the most talent in a given draft class. In 2011, those smart teams will be drafting wide receivers and cornerbacks.

Every year, no matter how strong or weak an NFL Draft class is, there is one positional group that stands out above the rest as being the strongest of the bunch. NFL talent evaluators can typically find one position at which they believe the highest number of stars, or starters, will emerge -- and smart NFL teams will target those positional groups on draft day.

Teams looking to double up on strong positional groups in the 2011 NFL Draft, like New England, Baltimore and St. Louis did at tight end last April, will be focusing on the very strong wide receiver and cornerback groups coming out.

The receiver group is headlined by some big-name underclassmen, with Georgia's A.J. Green and Alabama's Julio Jones chief among them -- names sure to be high in most NFL mock drafts. Notre Dame's Michael Floyd and Pittsburgh's Jonathan Baldwin got a significant amount of pre-season hype, as well, and remain excellent prospects despite slow 2010 seasons thus far.

The star power of that top-level group has overshadowed the efforts of a fantastic group of receiver prospects receiving less publicity. That group includes Oklahoma's Ryan Broyles, Ohio State's DeVier Posey, Miami's Leonard Hankerson and Boise State's Austin Pettis, among many others.

The situation is nearly identical at cornerback, where LSU's Patrick Peterson and Nebraska's Prince Amukamara get most of the hype as potential Top 5 overall selections. Meanwhile, players like Florida's Janoris Jenkins, Miami's Brandon Harris and Texas' Aaron Williams are perfectly legitimate first-round prospects -- all of them are talented enough to be Top 15 selections -- but aren't discussed nearly as often as Peterson and Amukamara.

Even beyond that second group, players like Virginia's Ras-I Dowling and a couple of Colorado Buffaloes, Jimmy Smith and Kalil Brown, are barely noteworthy at this point in time.

Think the Houston Texans wouldn't take one or more of those defensive backs on their roster right now? Think again.

A year ago, one of the strong positional groups -- and clearly the most underrated positional group, given their overall NFL draft position -- was tight end. Despite yielding just one first-round draft pick, the NFL's current crop of rookie tight ends is outstanding. At least four players have immediately emerged as legitimate starters for their teams, and two of them -- Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez -- play on the same team.

It's no small wonder that Bill Belichick -- a man who holds a reputation as a strong drafter despite several weak classes of late -- found a way to add Gronkowski and Hernandez to his team. New England hadn't had satisfactory production out of the tight end position for years, and picked the right draft class to make significant changes at the position. On the season, Gronkowski and Hernandez have combined to catch 55 passes for 689 yards and nine touchdowns.

Of course, we're not claiming that the best, or most fool-proof, way of drafting is to draft multiple players at strong positional groups. That is clearly not the case. Simply put, if your team is hurting for talent and depth at receiver or cornerback, they're in a great position to do a lot about it next April.

Can't get enough of the NFL Draft? Be sure to check out Mocking the Draft, SB Nation's blog devoted year-round to player evaluations, mock drafts, news and more leading up to the annual selection event in April.

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