This year's wide receiver crop is bigger and faster

                                                                                                                                                                                                   
  • Alabama wide receiver Amari Cooper, catching a 50-yard pass against Mississippi State last season, will go high in Thursday's first round of the NFL draft in Chicago.

    Alabama wide receiver Amari Cooper, catching a 50-yard pass against Mississippi State last season, will go high in Thursday's first round of the NFL draft in Chicago. Associated Press

 
 
Posted4/27/2015 5:30 AM

Last year's class of big, fast, talented wide receivers was exceptional.

This year's group is bigger, faster and better.

 

In 2014, three wideouts were snagged in the first dozen picks, five in the first round and 12 in the first two rounds. More of the same demand for pass catchers is expected this year because the supply remains plentiful.

By the end of last year's draft, 33 wide receivers had been selected, and ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper believes 35-40 could get the call this year.

As deep and talented as the current crop of wide receivers is, Alabama's Amari Cooper and West Virginia's Kevin White generally are considered the top two. Both are considered top-10 selections on many draft boards, and there's at least a 50-50 chance that the Bears will be able to acquire one or the other at No. 7.

But would a team with holes at every level of its defense use it's top pick on offense?

The Bears recently had White at Halas Hall for a personal visit, but this time of year, that's just as likely a smoke screen as genuine interest.

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Still, either player would be an ideal replacement for the banished Brandon Marshall. Both have very good size and are much faster than Marshall, which would make them better complements to Alshon Jeffery, who can win jump balls down the field but doesn't have elite speed to stretch a defense.

It will be interesting to see how the Cooper-White debate plays out early on the first day of the draft. Cooper is the safer pick, having produced at a high level in each of his three years in Tuscaloosa.

In his second and final season at West Virginia, White exploded for 109 catches and 1,447 yards. White backers believe he has a higher ceiling than Cooper, although both are expected to be difference makers early on.

"I'm still going (with) Cooper," Kiper said. "I've been consistently with Cooper all along. It doesn't mean White won't be a great player. (But) I think Cooper has a better chance of coming in right away (and making an impact). He's a great route runner, (and) he's had three years of productivity, so I would give Cooper the edge.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

"I don't know about right away, but I think White's going to have a great career. Cooper is not only quick, he's fast, and he's probably the hardest working player in this draft. That's why I would give Cooper the edge."

If the Bears want to wait on adding a wide receiver, there will be plenty still available in the second and third rounds on Day 2.

Georgia's Chris Conley was an under-the-radar prospect after four years in a run-heavy offense. He never caught more than 45 passes or had more than 657 yards in any season, but he's 6-feet-2, 213 pounds and he used the NFL Scouting Combine as his personal showcase.

Conley's 4.35 40-yard dash tied White for fourth fastest in Indianapolis. His 45-inch vertical jump set a Combine record, and his 11-foot-7 broad jump was second only to UConn cornerback Byron Jones' 12-3, which is believed to be a world record.

On Day 3, Northern Illinois wide receiver Da'Ron Brown is just hoping for a chance. The Bears would be a nice landing spot for the Chicago native who played at Morgan Park High School

"That'd be a nice thing to be a hometown hero," Brown said. "But I'm here to play for anyone. Whoever wants me, I'll play for them."

Brown's measureables don't compare with the elite wide receivers, but he has nice size at 6-feet and 205 pounds with average speed (4.54 in the 40). He caught 68 passes for 1,065 yards and 6 touchdowns as a senior after scoring 9 TDs on 46 catches a year earlier.

Brown said he benefited from practicing against former NIU safety Jimmie Ward, the San Francisco 49ers' first-round draft pick (30th overall) last year.

"Competing against Jimmie Ward, you might want to be ready every time you step up," Brown said. "He's not going to take a play off, so neither are you. Be at your best. Iron sharpens iron. So (it helped) just having that competitive edge and mentality against him."

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