INDIANAPOLIS – There is a tendency to rush to judgment in today’s digital age, but it might not be a stretch to already say the NFL’s 2014 class of wide receivers was among the best in history — or at least the best since Twitter started keeping track.
They had star power, starting with the five receivers drafted in the first round who combined to catch 350 passes for 4,896 yards and 42 touchdowns.
They had signature moments, none more spectacular than New York Giants rookie wideout Odell Beckham Jr.’s meme-inspiring one-handed grab.
And they had strength in numbers, with 10 rookies snagging at least 48 passes — an average of three catches per game — in their first NFL season.
Might the epic Class of 2014 one day have its own ESPN documentary, too?
“Last year’s class was really, really good,” St. Louis Rams General Manager Les Snead said this week. “They’ll probably do a ‘30 for 30’ on those guys.”
If so, the Vikings might want to flip the channel that night.
Focused on finding a franchise quarterback and patching up one of the league’s worst defenses, the Vikings didn’t select a wide receiver with any of their 10 picks last May. After all, they seemed pretty set with veteran Greg Jennings, 2013 first-round pick Cordarrelle Patterson and others.
What a difference a season makes. Jennings is another year removed from his days as a No. 1 wide receiver. Patterson finished the season on the bench. And inexperienced Charles Johnson, signed off a practice squad in September, is now “far and away” the team’s best receiver, according to offensive coordinator Norv Turner.
The good news for the Vikings, though, is that this group of receivers runs deep, too.
“It’s a very strong receiver class again this year,” Vikings General Manager Rick Spielman said. “There’s a lot of different types of receivers. There’s some bigger receivers with great hands. There’s some speed receivers. Outside and inside receivers.”
The class is led by a trio of prospects. Alabama’s Amari Cooper, West Virginia’s Kevin White and Louisville’s DeVante Parker are projected top-20 picks. Two have ties to Vikings quarterback Teddy Bridgewater. Parker, who chatted with the Vikings this week, was Bridgewater’s top target at Louisville. Cooper played high school football with Bridgewater.
Beyond those three, a few other pass-catching prospects, including Michigan’s Devin Funchess and Missouri’s Dorial Green-Beckham, are candidates to go in the first round as well.
As Spielman noted, there is a variety of skill sets to choose from. White and Parker have leaping ability and ball skills. Funchess and Arizona State’s Jaelen Strong have size. And speedsters such as Ohio State’s Devin Smith and Miami’s Phillip Dorsett will try to make a statement on the fast track at Lucas Oil Stadium this weekend.
Receiver-needy teams are excited about their options, but still, it’s no Class of 2014.
“Last year’s wide receiver class was unique,” Pittsburgh Steelers General Manager Kevin Colbert said. “It was unique in terms of numbers and in terms of impact players. … I am not sure [this year’s wide receiver class] will have quite the impact of last year’s class. But in all honesty not many will going forward, because that was a special group of players.”
Five wide receivers flew off the board in the first round last year, starting with Sammy Watkins to the Buffalo Bills with the fourth overall pick. Three picks later, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers snagged Mike Evans. Beckham was selected 12th overall. New Orleans and Carolina took Brandin Cooks and Kelvin Benjamin, respectively.
Another seven receivers were selected in the second round and three more in the third made it 15 receivers off the board in the first 91 selections. By the end of the weekend, 33 wide receivers had been selected, tied for the most among positions.
Three of the first-round picks eclipsed 1,000 receiving yards, led by Beckham with 1,305.
Later-round selections and rookie free agents also delivered as rookies. Martavis Bryant, a fourth-rounder, scored eight times for the Pittsburgh Steelers. Big plays from John Brown, a third-round pick, helped get the Arizona Cardinals into the playoffs. And Allen Hurns, who wasn’t even drafted, led the Jacksonville Jaguars in receiving yards.
Time will tell if the 2015 wide receiver class can produce on the field like their predecessors and similarly garner lofty pixelated praise from the social-media set.
But this still appears to be a good group after the Vikings missed out on a great one a year ago.
“This is a very good class of receivers,” San Diego Chargers General Manager Tom Telesco said. “I’m not talking just first round, but really all the way through the draft.”