2011 draft watch: Underclassmen Green, Jones will battle for top spot

The top four receivers selected in the 2011 draft could be underclassmen, which would sustain a trend from last April’s draft, when the first five wideouts chosen were underclassmen. Look for a hot debate over whether A.J. Green and Julio Jones—both top-level prospects—will be the first wideout drafted.

After breaking down game film all summer, here is our scouts’ rankings for the top junior and senior wide receivers entering the college season:

1. A.J. Green, 6-4/207, Georgia (junior)
Green exploded onto the national scene as a true freshman in 2008 when he became Matthew Stafford’s go-to guy. He has excellent height and top-notch athleticism to go with very good hands and the speed to make big plays. He can get separation on deep routes and should continue to do that in the NFL. He has consistently shown the ability to adjust and make great catches on off-target passes. The only issue is Green’s thin frame and whether he’ll be durable in the NFL. Projection: First-round pick.

2. Julio Jones, 6-4/211, Alabama (junior)
Alabama’s go-to receiver since he showed up on campus, Jones has the size, strength and athleticism to maintain a high level of production in the NFL. He has a thick body and catches passes in traffic without hesitation. He also consistently breaks tackles to gain extra yards. He has very good hands and the ability to pluck the ball away from his body with ease. The one concern is Jones’ lack of rare explosiveness, which could prevent him from getting separation on deep routes in the NFL. Projection: First-round pick.

3. Jonathan Baldwin, 6-5/225, Pittsburgh (junior)
He has surprising athleticism, consistently displays the ability to win jump-ball battles and is fearless catching passes in traffic. With his size, strength and competitiveness, he can gain yards after contact. Few 6-5 receivers have his ability to consistently make big plays—both running after the catch and catching deep passes. After a relatively quiet freshman season, he had a huge sophomore year in which he averaged nearly 20 yards on 57 catches. Projection: First-round pick.

4. Ryan Broyles, 5-11/178, Oklahoma (junior)
Broyles is a super-quick, explosive receiver who has been a big-play star at Oklahoma despite being surrounded by many talented pass catchers. He easily gets separation from defenders, makes tacklers miss and makes big plays when he gets into space. He has very good hands and has displayed the ability to make tough catches. However, his thin frame raises concerns about his ability to be durable in the NFL. Broyles should make an immediate impact as a punt returner. Projection: Late first-round or early second-round pick.

5. Niles Paul, 6-1/215, Nebraska
Paul is a well-built receiver with the size and strength to make plays after the catch. He has no fear and will catch passes in traffic, takes hard hits after the catch and holds onto the ball consistently. He is quick and agile, which really shows up in his ability to make big plays as a return man. Niles is not as well-known as many other receivers because Nebraska doesn’t have a high-powered passing attack. But NFL people have taken notice of his size, strength, athleticism and skill running with the ball. Projection: Second-round pick.

6. Dwayne Harris, 6-0/205, East Carolina
Harris is an explosive player who has made the bulk of his plays from the slot. He has the quickness, agility and burst to get off the ball and into his routes quickly and has the burst out of his cuts to separate from tight coverage. He has consistently shown the ability to get open and make clutch catches in key situations. He has the vision, instincts and running ability to make big plays in space, which shows up even more in his success as a return man. Projection: Second-round pick.

7. Michael Floyd, 6-3/220, Notre Dame (junior)
Floyd is a big, tall receiver whose draft stock could move up significantly depending on his play. When he has been healthy, he has shown the combination of athleticism, size, strength and hands to be a potential first-rounder. However, he has dealt with injuries during both his seasons at Notre Dame, and there are questions about his durability. Floyd has been productive when healthy, though he doesn’t appear to have elite speed—much like former Irish wideout Golden Tate. Projection: Second-round pick.

8. Greg Little, 6-3/215, North Carolina
Little is one of the most interesting prospects because this will be only his second full season at receiver; he formerly was a tailback. He is a big, well-built player who looks more like a tight end than a receiver, but he has the athleticism to make plays outside. He is a sure-handed receiver who has shown the ability to make tough catches with a defender on his back and break tackles to gain yards. However, he is not a quick-twitch athlete, leading to questions about whether he can consistently get separation in the NFL. Projection: Second-round pick.

9. Jerrel Jernigan, 5-9/184, Troy
Though he clearly lacks ideal size, his rare quickness, explosiveness, athleticism and speed give him the ability to consistently make big plays. He has shown the hands to make tough catches, gets upfield in a flash after the catch and has the top-end speed to take plays the distance. He has the tools to get open easily against tight man coverage and consistently makes big plays in key situations. He also has the talent to be an impact returner. Projection: Third-round pick.

10. Stephen Burton, 6-4/220, West Texas A&M
This small-school receiver has the attention of scouts. He is a tall receiver who has the quickness and explosiveness to run away from defenders and make big plays. He is a very raw prospect who needs work on his fundamentals. But if he continues to improve as much as he did in 2009, he has a chance to move up draft boards because of his combination of size, athleticism, speed and open-field running ability. Projection: Third- or fourth-round pick.

Former NFL scout Russ Lande evaluates college players for Sporting News’ Pro Football War Room and GM Jr. Scouting LLC.

The top four receivers selected in the 2011 draft could be underclassmen, which would sustain a trend from last April’s draft, when the first five wideouts chosen were underclassmen. Look for a hot debate over whether A.J. Green and Julio Jones—both top-level prospects—will be the first wideout drafted.

After breaking down game film all summer, here is our scouts’ rankings for the top junior and senior wide receivers entering the college season:

1. A.J. Green, 6-4/207, Georgia (junior)
Green exploded onto the national scene as a true freshman in 2008 when he became Matthew Stafford’s go-to guy. He has excellent height and top-notch athleticism to go with very good hands and the speed to make big plays. He can get separation on deep routes and should continue to do that in the NFL. He has consistently shown the ability to adjust and make great catches on off-target passes. The only issue is Green’s thin frame and whether he’ll be durable in the NFL. Projection: First-round pick.

2. Julio Jones, 6-4/211, Alabama (junior)
Alabama’s go-to receiver since he showed up on campus, Jones has the size, strength and athleticism to maintain a high level of production in the NFL. He has a thick body and catches passes in traffic without hesitation. He also consistently breaks tackles to gain extra yards. He has very good hands and the ability to pluck the ball away from his body with ease. The one concern is Jones’ lack of rare explosiveness, which could prevent him from getting separation on deep routes in the NFL. Projection: First-round pick.

3. Jonathan Baldwin, 6-5/225, Pittsburgh (junior)
He has surprising athleticism, consistently displays the ability to win jump-ball battles and is fearless catching passes in traffic. With his size, strength and competitiveness, he can gain yards after contact. Few 6-5 receivers have his ability to consistently make big plays—both running after the catch and catching deep passes. After a relatively quiet freshman season, he had a huge sophomore year in which he averaged nearly 20 yards on 57 catches. Projection: First-round pick.

4. Ryan Broyles, 5-11/178, Oklahoma (junior)
Broyles is a super-quick, explosive receiver who has been a big-play star at Oklahoma despite being surrounded by many talented pass catchers. He easily gets separation from defenders, makes tacklers miss and makes big plays when he gets into space. He has very good hands and has displayed the ability to make tough catches. However, his thin frame raises concerns about his ability to be durable in the NFL. Broyles should make an immediate impact as a punt returner. Projection: Late first-round or early second-round pick.

5. Niles Paul, 6-1/215, Nebraska
Paul is a well-built receiver with the size and strength to make plays after the catch. He has no fear and will catch passes in traffic, takes hard hits after the catch and holds onto the ball consistently. He is quick and agile, which really shows up in his ability to make big plays as a return man. Niles is not as well-known as many other receivers because Nebraska doesn’t have a high-powered passing attack. But NFL people have taken notice of his size, strength, athleticism and skill running with the ball. Projection: Second-round pick.

6. Dwayne Harris, 6-0/205, East Carolina
Harris is an explosive player who has made the bulk of his plays from the slot. He has the quickness, agility and burst to get off the ball and into his routes quickly and has the burst out of his cuts to separate from tight coverage. He has consistently shown the ability to get open and make clutch catches in key situations. He has the vision, instincts and running ability to make big plays in space, which shows up even more in his success as a return man. Projection: Second-round pick.

7. Michael Floyd, 6-3/220, Notre Dame (junior)
Floyd is a big, tall receiver whose draft stock could move up significantly depending on his play. When he has been healthy, he has shown the combination of athleticism, size, strength and hands to be a potential first-rounder. However, he has dealt with injuries during both his seasons at Notre Dame, and there are questions about his durability. Floyd has been productive when healthy, though he doesn’t appear to have elite speed—much like former Irish wideout Golden Tate. Projection: Second-round pick.

8. Greg Little, 6-3/215, North Carolina
Little is one of the most interesting prospects because this will be only his second full season at receiver; he formerly was a tailback. He is a big, well-built player who looks more like a tight end than a receiver, but he has the athleticism to make plays outside. He is a sure-handed receiver who has shown the ability to make tough catches with a defender on his back and break tackles to gain yards. However, he is not a quick-twitch athlete, leading to questions about whether he can consistently get separation in the NFL. Projection: Second-round pick.

9. Jerrel Jernigan, 5-9/184, Troy
Though he clearly lacks ideal size, his rare quickness, explosiveness, athleticism and speed give him the ability to consistently make big plays. He has shown the hands to make tough catches, gets upfield in a flash after the catch and has the top-end speed to take plays the distance. He has the tools to get open easily against tight man coverage and consistently makes big plays in key situations. He also has the talent to be an impact returner. Projection: Third-round pick.

10. Stephen Burton, 6-4/220, West Texas A&M
This small-school receiver has the attention of scouts. He is a tall receiver who has the quickness and explosiveness to run away from defenders and make big plays. He is a very raw prospect who needs work on his fundamentals. But if he continues to improve as much as he did in 2009, he has a chance to move up draft boards because of his combination of size, athleticism, speed and open-field running ability. Projection: Third- or fourth-round pick.

Former NFL scout Russ Lande evaluates college players for Sporting News’ Pro Football War Room and GM Jr. Scouting LLC.

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