Scott Haynes, College Editor
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
Grabbing a wide receiver early in the NFL Draft has become fashionable recently and while it has paid immediate dividends for some NFL teams, the learning curve at that position is sometimes a lot longer. Receivers leaving school early has also become trendy and while the college landscape at that position has been ravaged of late, there is still plenty of talented pass-catchers that will grab the attention of the nation with each sprint down the sideline and acrobatic contortion in the end zone. With that in mind, here is the look at some of the better wideouts still in the amateur ranks.
1. DEREK HAGAN - Tempe, Arizona is the site of the nation's top wideout, as the 6-2, 200-pound Hagan has been a picture of consistency for Arizona State in his career. He would like nothing more than to post a monster senior season, perhaps even eclipsing a junior campaign that saw him grab 83 balls, for 1,248 yards and 10 TDs. He's big, strong, runs great routes, and is a great kid on and off the field. Pending an injury, those are the kind of qualities that get your named called early on Draft Day.
Derek Hagan has been a picture of consistency for Arizona State in his career.
2. DWAYNE JARRETT - The Trojans needed someone to replace Mike Williams last year and this near carbon-copy freshman fit the bill perfectly. At 6-5, 200 pounds, Jarrett still needs to add muscle to his frame, but no one can ignore the numbers from a year ago. With above-average speed and his obvious height advantage, Jarrett is a mismatch that Heisman winner Matt Leinart will utilize a lot in 2005. As a freshman, Jarrett caught 55 balls, for 849 yards and a whopping 13 TDs. With yet another full arsenal at USC's disposal, expect Jarrett to continue to thrive.
3. TRAVIS WILSON - This Sooner has patiently waited his turn in Norman and 2005 could be the year that Wilson makes a huge splash. It isn't as if Wilson hasn't been a big part of Oklahoma's offense, but with guys like Jason White, Adrian Peterson and Mark Clayton on that side of the ball, cutting out your own space doesn't come easy. However, the 6-3, 215-pounder has it all. He possesses great size, is tough in traffic, but can also take it the distance. Last season, with all that firepower at Oklahoma, Wilson still caught 50 balls, for 660 yards and 11 TDs. A breakout 2005 campaign could be in the cards for Wilson.
4. SANTONIO HOLMES - Last season, the 5-11, 185-pounder Ohio Stater led the team in receptions (55), receiving yards (769) and TDs (seven) and while those numbers aren't gaudy by any stretch of the imagination, Holmes remains one of the nation's premiere athletes, who has the ability to change the face of a game with a single play. With an ultra-talented youngster on the other side in Ted Ginn Jr, Holmes should improve on last year's numbers and be a real force in the Big Ten and beyond.
5. STEVE SMITH - At 6-0, 195 pounds, Smith lacks the size of teammate Dwayne Jarrett, but that shouldn't prevent him for rivaling Jarrett as the top receiver for USC. With tremendous quickness and sure hands, Smith is much more than a second or third option in the passing game. He suffered a broken leg last year, missing five games in all, but still put up great numbers over his eight game season, hauling in 42 balls, for 660 yards and six TDs. Healthy and ready to make his mark, the sky is the limit for Smith and his Trojans in 2005.
6. GREG LEE - Replacing everything that Larry Fitzgerald brought to the field was not going to be easy for the Pittsburgh offense in 2004, but the 6-2, 200- pound Lee helped assuage the loss with his outstanding performance. Last season, Lee became the go-to-guy in Western Pennsylvania, averaging just over 19 yards per reception, while leading the team with 68 catches, for 1,297 yards and 10 TDs. With the talented Tyler Palko at the other end of those passes, Lee has an opportunity to become a household name in 2005.
7. CALVIN JOHNSON - The ACC Rookie of the Year in 2004, Johnson made an immediate impact for Georgia Tech last season, picking up Freshman All- American honors in the process. At 6-4, 225 pounds, he already has an NFL body, despite his youth. In Tech's run-first offense, Johnson still managed to put up a solid freshman campaign, leading the team in receptions (48), receiving yards (837) and TDs (seven). His star is on the rise, so expect big things from him in Atlanta this year.
8. TODD WATKINS - This Cougar burst on the national scene last year, as one of the nation's top speedsters. With the ability to get behind defenses on a regular basis, Watkins put up some huge numbers in Provo in 2004. The 6-3, 185-pounder had four TDs of 68 yards or more and finished the season with 52 catches, for 1,042 yards (led the MWC) and six TDs, while averaging an even 20 yards per reception. Defenses will try to keep Watkins in front of them this year, but that is obviously easier said than done.
9. MARTIN NANCE - The last time this RedHawk played an entire season, he set school records with 90 receptions, for nearly 1,500 yards (1,498) and 11 TDs. Of course that was 2003, as a knee injury in 2004 prevented an encore performance in Oxford. If healthy again, expect big things from this 6-4, 210- pounder. He has great size and speed and although Ben Roethlisberger is no longer throwing him the ball, Josh Betts is starting to blossom under center. Both may benefit from one another in 2005.
Others to keep an eye on:
Ryan Moore - Injuries in 2004 prevented Moore from taking over as the playmaker for the Hurricanes last year. Healthy once again, Moore is the total package (6-3, 215 pounds). One that will be unleashed on the rest of the ACC in 2005.
Jarrett Hicks - Is it the system that makes the receiver in Lubbock? Most think so, but unlike the other wideouts that have put up gaudy numbers for Texas Tech, Hicks (1,177 yards and 13 TDs in 2004) brings much more to the table. At 6-4, 210 pounds, he is big and strong and ready to make a name for himself in 2005.
Courtney Taylor - His quarterback is gone (Jason Campbell), not to mention All-American backfield (Ronnie Brown and Cadillac Williams), leaving Taylor as the leader of the pack at Auburn. Still, with some help, the 6-2, 205-pounder is a playmaker that could emerge in the SEC this year.
Nichiren Flowers - Not known for his blazing speed, this Nevada receiver can still kill defenses with his production in the passing game. At 6-3, 210 pounds, he has the kind of size that creates mismatches downfield. In Nevada's pass-happy offense, Flowers will surely be the go-to-guy in 2005.
Maurice Stovall - Labeled an underachiever, Stovall has failed to live up to expectations in South Bend. Still, at 6-5, 230 pounds, he is a nightmare for opposing defenses, if utilized correctly. Charlie Weis is now in charge at Notre Dame and he could be the answer to Stovall's prayers.
Derrick Williams - Feeling the heat from the Penn State faithful, I had to get a Nittany Lion on one of these lists. On an offense void of home run- hitting power, this incoming freshman could make an immediate impact. Joe Paterno is as conservative as they come, but without other options, the versatile Williams (6-0, 195) may get a chance to shine right away.