Demaryius Thomas, Broncos
The NFL’s new lightning rod for criticism, Josh McDaniels bypassed Bryant to select Georgia Tech game-breaker Thomas at No. 22 overall. McDaniels was poised to enter the season with talent-challenged Jabar Gaffney and 2009 fantasy back-breaker Eddie Royal as his starting receiver after trading problem child Brandon Marshall.
Thomas, now 90 percent recovered from February foot surgery, has the size (6-3, 230 pounds), 4.4 speed, and downfield playmaking ability to emerge as the Broncos’ most dangerous receiver by October.
Arrelious Benn / Mike Williams, Bucs
Welcome to the land of opportunity, boys. The Bucs entered the draft with Reggie Brown, Maurice Stovall, and Sammie Stroughter atop the receiver depth chart, three receivers that wouldn’t see the field for most teams. Second-rounder Benn (Illinois) is already penciled into the starting lineup, and fourth-rounder Williams (Syracuse) may join him by the end of training camp.
Though Benn may have the best chance of any rookie wideout to lead his team in receptions, he’ll have to hold off Williams to do so. The latter was considered a first-round talent before a string of off-the-field woes.
Rob Gronkowski, Patriots
Bill Belichick’s offense doesn’t utilize the tight end in the passing game, right? I wouldn’t be so sure about that. Ben Watson finished as the No. 10 fantasy receiver as recently as 2006, when he posted a career-high 643 yards. Tom Brady simply stopped looking to Watson after too many dropped passes.
Enter the Gronk. A souped up Todd Heap clone at 6-6, 260 pounds with 4.65 speed, the second-rounder out of Arizona steps into the Pats’ vacuum at pass-catching tight end. Brady’s late-season swoon highlighted his lack of weapons downfield and in the red zone. If the athletic Gronkowski earns Brady’s confidence in training camp, he could finish third in receptions behind Randy Moss and Julian Edelman.
Ben Tate, Texans
Steve Slaton is an offensive asset if used correctly. He’s a fantastic receiver and dangerous in the open field, but he’s not built to carry a ground game. Gregg Rosenthal believes Slaton will still lead the Texans in touches, but that’s a dangerous proposition after a serious neck fusion surgery. Though Arian Foster closed out the season in strong fashion, Tate is the more talented early-down runner and the back to own in Houston.
In fact, NFL Network’s Michael Lombardi predicts the second-rounder will pick up 1,500 yards in Gary Kubiak’s offense as the Rookie of the Year.
Montario Hardesty, Browns
We warned Jerome Harrison owners to sell high after his furious finish last winter. The Browns traded up in the second round to grab power back Hardesty, which means he’ll be given every opportunity to at least form a committee attack with Harrison. GM Tom Heckert considers Hardesty a “potential feature back,” so Harrison could be relegated to the third-down role by the end of the season.
Brandon LaFell, Panthers
LaFell succumbed to Matt Leinart syndrome, staying in college one year too long. Considered by many the No. 1 returning senior receiver in the nation entering last year, LaFell dropped throughout the season due to mediocre speed and inconsistent hands.
In addition to idea size (6-3, 201 pounds), he does come a pro-style scheme, is a willing blocker, and shows up big in the red zone. Most importantly, the starting job opposite Steve Smith is wide open, with only slow-footed draft bust Dwayne Jarrett in the way.
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Images of player and fan reactions during the three-day 2010 NFL draft in New York.
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