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Top 5 wide receiver prospects
Marqise Lee leads a talented group heading into the 2013 season
Originally Published: May 13, 2013
By Mel Kiper Jr. | ESPN Insider
Stephen Dunn/Getty Images
Marqise Lee will be the top receiving threat for USC this season.
The 2013 NFL draft was, by historical standards, somewhat sparse at wide receiver. There simply wasn't that "sure thing" prospect going into the 2012 season and, for the most part, the evaluation process that followed the season made it clear how much on-field performance hadn't provided a clear pecking order.
Wide receivers are notoriously tricky to project because the system players are drafted into, as well as the guy throwing the passes, determines so much.
Here's a look at five players I consider the top prospects at the position heading into the 2013 college football season, and another handful who could be in the picture. But, as I always caution at this early juncture, there's still plenty to be sorted out, both during the season and once it ends and the draft evaluation process gets underway.
1. Marqise Lee, Junior, USC
At maybe 6-foot-1, 195 pounds, Lee isn't the kind of physical presence that you'd expect of a game-changing matchup problem like recent top-10 picks A.J. Green, Julio Jones or even Calvin Johnson. But he plays a little bigger than his size, is extremely reliable and productive, and we just witnessed a draft where a 5-8, 175-pound wide receiver went in the top 10 -- and a team traded up to get him.
Lee has proven extremely difficult to cover, and as you watched USC last year you'd see teams roll extra coverage to him -- and it still didn't work, as evidenced by the 118 passes he caught. His challenge this year is to stay productive, and to not get frustrated by both the coverage attention and his new QB. Say what you want about what happened with Matt Barkley in the draft, but the guy was an accurate QB at the college level and got his best players the ball.
2. Sammy Watkins, Junior, Clemson
This ranking is based more on talent than production from 2012, because Watkins actually took a step back last season. He needs to stay on the field and take advantage of the fact he has a very good QB in Tajh Boyd, a guy who will deliver the ball all over the field, and can exploit the speed of Watkins if he can beat teams over the top.
Watkins has good size at 6-2, strong hands and is a big threat once he catches the ball. I'd be surprised if he didn't come back with a good season, but he needs to have a good August, too. That Clemson team is going to score points, so Watkins needs to be motivated to be a part of it.
3. Mike Evans, RS-Sophomore, Texas A&M
A big-time matchup problem, Evans has the length of an NFL tight end, and maybe even a bigger catch radius, because he has long arms on a 6-5 frame. He redshirted as a freshman to get more familiar with football after a late arrival to the sport, but burst on the scene last year with 82 catches and more than 1,100 yards. As the No. 1 target for Johnny Manziel, he should remain productive, and I'd expect Kevin Sumlin and staff to be creative in how they use him.
That said, you don't have to be too creative to get him open, because you can throw to him anytime and expect that he'll come down with the ball. The question for Evans will be if he can show enough quick-twitch explosiveness and strength to beat jams and the straight-line speed to beat defenders over the top.
4. Brandon Coleman, Junior, Rutgers
Like Evans, Coleman is a huge target at 6-5 and about 220 pounds. He didn't put up massive totals last year, but almost a quarter of his 43 catches went for touchdowns. He's a big play waiting to happen.
What I love about Coleman is the combination of skills he brings. He has really soft hands, is a big threat after the catch, using his long strides to break away from defenders, and has the size and willingness to go over the middle.
5. Jordan Matthews, Senior, Vanderbilt
Highly productive, Matthews is coming off a 94-catch season where some really good defenses couldn't stop him. He caught eight passes each game against Florida, Georgia and South Carolina, going for more than 100 yards in each of those contests. Quicker than he is fast, Matthews does a good job of setting up defenders and creating a little space, as well as simply helping his QB by going up for the ball and using strong hands to make catches in traffic.
Donte Moncrief, Junior, Ole Miss
Listed at 6-2, Moncrief plays bigger and will be the No. 1 target for fellow prospect Bo Wallace.
Cody Hoffman, Senior, BYU
Reliable and productive, Hoffman does a good job of working underneath, and isn't afraid to make catches in traffic.
Devin Street, Senior, Pitt
Put up solid numbers even with a lot of uneven QB play. Good length, but should get stronger.
Malcolm Mitchell, Junior, Georgia
Will be focused on catching passes, not also defending them. A ton of natural talent, he just needs reps.
Tevin Reese, Senior, Baylor
A multipurpose player who is explosive with the ball in his hands. Shifty, but not explosive to an eye-catching degree.