Wide receivers appear to be the main targets in Round 1 of draft

After a one-year hiatus, NFL teams appear poised to resume an old habit: selecting wide receivers in the first round of the draft at a dizzying rate.

And with some prominent NFL wideouts on the trading block, there could be plenty of significant developments this weekend relating to pass catchers.

One of the oddities of last year's draft was that no wide receivers were chosen in the opening round. It was regarded as a relatively weak group of players available at the position, and an early rush on tackles made teams scurry to fill needs at that spot while figuring they could wait until the second round or beyond to address wide receiver issues.

But in the 10 drafts before that, 43 wide receivers were taken in the first round. One draft during that span had seven first-round wideouts, three more had six and another had five. So clearly, NFL coaches and general managers become enamored with wide receivers around draft time, despite the decidedly mixed results from clubs that chose those first-round wideouts.

This weekend's draft promises to resemble the rule rather than last year's exception, with many observers expecting five or six wide receivers to go in the first round.

"I think it's a talented group," Tennessee Titans General Manager Mike Reinfeldt said at the NFL scouting combine in late February in Indianapolis. "There are some young men in there that really have a great skill set. There are some wide receivers certainly capable of being taken in the first round, a number, much more so than last year."

The first wideout off the board is likely to be Michael Crabtree of Texas Tech, a wildly productive player in college who would have faced a few pre-draft questions about his speed. He didn't get a chance to answer them because he underwent surgery for a stress fracture in his left foot discovered during medical testing at the combine. Crabtree didn't get to run a 40-yard dash for scouts, so interested teams are left relying on their medical reports and their tapes of Crabtree's on-field exploits during college.

Crabtree indicated this week his foot is healing well.

"The recovery is going real good," Crabtree told the Associated Press while in New York for pre-draft tasks. "My foot is doing well. I feel like I'm taking it one step at a time."

If the league's talent evaluators focus on how Crabtree played at Texas Tech, he'll be a top 10 selection and probably a top five choice.

As Cleveland Browns General Manager George Kokinis said at the combine before the news of Crabtree's foot injury broke, "The only speed issue I've seen so far is him running by people."

The Browns have the fifth overall choice Saturday and might need a wide receiver to replace Braylon Edwards if they trade him. There was a report this week that said Browns officials didn't like Crabtree's attitude during a pre-draft visit, and that they had all but eliminated him from consideration for the fifth pick. But others around the league were left wondering if that was pre-draft subterfuge.

Missouri's Jeremy Maclin is widely regarded as the next-best wide receiver available and could go in the top 10 as well. Florida's Percy Harvin has eye-catching talent, but Fox reported this week that he tested positive for marijuana at the scouting combine.

Maryland speedster Darrius Heyward-Bey, Kenny Britt of Rutgers and Hakeem Nicks of North Carolina also are among the group of wide receivers considered possible first-rounders.

"I think this group is interesting in that they each bring something a little different to the table from the size standpoint," New York Jets General Manager Mike Tannenbaum said at the combine. "Some guys have better hands. There are some short-area quickness guys. I think it's a good year for the receiver position. They all bring something different to the table."

Heyward-Bey had the fastest, at 4.3 seconds, of the many fast 40-yard dash times wide receivers posted at the combine.

"When you find that kind of speed," Indianapolis Colts President Bill Polian said, "that's a rare commodity. (It's) clearly a good group, very deep and very exciting."

Said Atlanta Falcons General Manager Thomas Dimitroff: "You look at players who can get down field and separate. That's a big thing. ... You get a football player out there at the receiver position who can run, stop, start and adjust, has skills to catch and run, can run and ad-lib, and I think that will project to whatever system that you have."

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