With just a little over two months until the annual NFL draft, the college scouting and evaluation process is in full swing. The NFL combine event will be held Thursday, Feb. 24 through March 1st at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.

More than 300 top prospects for the 2011 NFL Draft will be invited to participate at the event. Hopefully, these evaluations will give all fans some ideas of who to focus on at each position of need. Be sure to comment and let me know who you might be interested in.

Position: Wide Receiver

Need Ranking: 5th

Top 5 Prospects –

Julio Jones: 6’3 – 220 (Alabama) – Julio Jones stole the show during combine weekend. I had an internal debate whether to even put him on this list because he could be gone so early. After the combine event was completed, there was a report saying Jones did the workout with a fractured foot. While this makes his monster workout all that more impressive, it does magnify his injury prone nature. On the other hand, he is the prototypical  number one receiver any NFL team would love to have in their offense. He has big play ability, strong frame and leaping ability to accompany his great hands. His route running does need improvement, but in the pre – draft process has already illustrated he can run better routes than he showed at the college level. If he slips down the draft board, the Patriots could move up and acquire a great talent.

Jonathan Baldwin: 6’4 – 228 (Pittsburgh) – Jonathan Baldwin is a guy that on paper, looks like a star in the making. When you watch him play, you see a bid bodied receiver with strong hands and the body control to make amazing catches. He has shown willingness to go over the middle and stretch the field. Similar to Jones, Baldwin could stand to upgrade his route running ability, but that is the case with many receivers coming to the pro level. I am concerned, as I am sure many NFL teams are, with the reported attitude and work ethic questions regarding Baldwin. This will definitely shy teams from taking him in the early tto mid first round range, but he could be available with their 28th or 33rd pick.

Torrey Smith: 6’1 – 204 (Maryland) – I have to be honest here, I am not the biggest Torrey Smith fan. No question this young man is talented and has the skills to play at the NFL level, but I am not sold just yet. I’m not saying I would not draft him, just not in the first round. Smith has elite speed and could develop into a solid receiver that can stretch a defense.  I love his leadership qualities, work ethic, and willingness to run block. He will need to work on maintaining speed throughout his cuts and ability to catch the ball in traffic. Never the less, he most certainly is a quality pick in the second round.

Leonard Hankerson: 6’2 – 209 (Miami) – Hankerson became one of the most productive wideouts in college football this past season. He has a great size and speed combination. While he does not possess great ability to separate from elite defenders, he is very capable of making acrobatic catches and adjusting for the ball in air. He has above average field awareness and is very tough but has shown an inconsistency with his hands. A big positive in Hankerson’s game, is his continued improvement throughout his college career. His overall skill set, along with solid upside, makes him a great pick – up  in either the second or early third round.

Randall Cobb: 5’10 – 191 (Kentucky) – Randall Cobb is this years “Jack of all trades” weapon. He does not have the capability to be a full time running back and is not polished enough to be a wide receiver. He is, however, a serious play making weapon. He can be utilized in a change of pace “scat back” role or even be placed in the slot. Cobb also is a deadly return man with good speed and athleticism. I believe he has that home – run type ability. He displays great vision and cut back ability when carrying the ball. My favorite aspect of Cobb’s game is his knack for showing up in the biggest moments of games. He could be an option in rounds three or four. * James & Jacquizz Rodgers (Oregon State) are also very similar weapons to keep an eye on. *


My Favorite Prospect: AJ Green: 6’4 – 211 (Georgia) – Similar to Julio Jones, there is a very good chance Green is gone in the top 5 picks in the draft. In fact, I would not even consider adding Green to this list  but during the combine, the Patriots were rumored to be very interested Green. Typically in my breakdown, I have picked a player from my list but I am making an exception in this case. Obviously, in order to acquire him, they would have to trade up very high. Mel Kiper was the source many quoted as linking the Patriots to Green. If the Patriots were to move up, that would be quite a surprise, but not necessarily a dumb move. In a draft were there is no consensus top pick, Green is widely considered a top prospect. He is one of the finest receiving prospects available in years. He has all the measurables, athleticism, hands, and play making ability to be a top receiver in the league. In fact, the only real weakness of Green’s game is his rare struggle against press coverage. He will be an elite receiving talent in the NFL shortly, so selecting him would be a great addition to the offense.

Sleeper Prospect: Greg Little: 6’3 – 220 (North Carolina) – Little was one of thirteen players at the University of North Carolina declared ineligible for the 2010 season. These suspensions were handed out due to recruiting violations, agent – players violations, or illegal benefits. Like may of the players suspended, he took full responsibility for his actions. Many scouts and team officials had great things to say about Little after team interviews. He has a big frame and is very strong. Little has great ball skills and the capability to make a difficult catch in traffic. While he does not have top speed, he has a real long stride and defenders often underestimate him. He is not a big play receiver but seems very well rounded and consistent. Little could be a steal in the middle of the draft.

Analysis: Similar to Running Back, the Wide Receiver position could use some upgrading. While this isn’t a top need for the team, there is definite room for improvement. How the draft board falls should play a large role in when a wide-out is selected. If a player such as Julio Jones falls into their lap at 17 , they should definitely pull the trigger. On the other hand, there are many targets in the subsequent rounds.

One player I hope Patriots fans do not forget about is Taylor Price. The third round pick from last years draft, who had a red-shirt type season, was extremely productive in college. His potential contribution this season could fly under the radar of many fans. Never the less, a veteran free agent and / or a young receiving prospect could go a long way in the coming season.

- Like what you have read on the site? Stay in touch with me on Twitter @DerekHavens! Whether you want Patriots updates in an instant or just talk about the team, be sure to look me up!