This is the fourth in a series of position-by-position stories on the NFL Draft by newyorkjets.com.
Controversy continues to swirl around Dez Bryant as draft weekend nears. No other pass catcher in this 2010 class was anywhere near as dominant as Dez when he was on the field, but the Oklahoma State product missed the final 10 games of his junior season after lying to NCAA investigators about his relationship with Deion Sanders.
The 6'2", 225-pound Bryant was sensational as a sophomore, hauling in 87 balls for 1,480 yards with 19 receiving TDs. He was a game-changer at OSU, a physical marvel who would go up in traffic for the long ball or take a short pass and rack up the YAC. But many folks have questioned Bryant's character after the Sanders incident and there have been reports that Bryant was often late to team activities while in school.
"I'm not the type of person that will try to confront somebody but now I feel like it's gone too far. It's gone too far," said a disgusted Bryant in a recent interview with the The Associated Press. "I ain't never got in trouble with nobody. I never said anything. I don't say anything wrong to nobody. I'm friendly. This here is too far."
Bryant's workout for NFL scouts, held in Lufkin, Texas, did not impress all onlookers. He posted 4.5 times in the 40-yard dash, and some thought he looked gassed at various points and he wasn't clean out of all of his breaks. But Bryant's a heck of a talent and he's also willing to get after it when blocking in the run game.
It would be really something if Bryant slipped to late in the first round, but don't expect that to happen. The Miami Dolphins have already met with the Ok-State product and they could use their 12th overall selection to get Chad Henne a big-time target who has also displayed good return skills.
Georgia Tech's Demaryius Thomas had the misfortune of breaking his left foot a week before the combine, so his predraft season has been marked by inactivity to this point. Thomas (6'3", 224) was a dangerous downfield weapon in G-Tech's triple-option attack as he averaged 25.1 yards per grab last season to break school and ACC records. The Yellow Jackets completed 78 balls and had 11 TD passes in 2009 and the young man nicknamed "Bay-Bay" had 46 catches and eight receiving scores.
A running back in high school, Notre Dame's Golden Tate did not tarnish his reputation with an impressive performance in Indy. He was clocked at 4.42 seconds in the 40-yard dash, lifted 225 pounds 17 times and also had a 10'0" broad jump. Tate, who is scheduled to catch passes from Jimmy Clausen at a Friday workout, set a school record in 2009 with nine 100-yard receiving games. His 1,496 receiving yards last season and 2,701 in his three-year career also set ND marks. Teams aren't going to love Tate's size, but you can't argue with the 5'10", 199-pounder's production.
Slowed by injuries as a junior, Arrelious Benn had 38 receptions on his way out of Illinois. He contributed on special teams with a 26.5-yard kickoff return average that was the fifth-best mark in school history. A team captain the past two seasons, the solidly built 6'1", 219-pounder averaged 15.8 yards a catch on 67 receptions in his sophomore campaign.
This year's tight end class is led by Oklahoma's Jermaine Gresham. The 6'5", 261-pound Gresham probably would have been selected earlier had he declared for the 2009 draft, but he tore ligaments in his right knee last August and never played another down for the Sooners. That followed a banner season in which he caught 66 balls from Sam Bradford, 14 of which went for touchdowns. And of Gresham's 37 receptions as a sophomore, 11 resulted in six points.
Arizona TE Rob Gronkowski won't be available by Round 3 and he might become a surprise first-round selection. He missed all of the 2009 season due to a back injury, but he came up big in '08 with 47 receptions, 672 yards and 10 TDs (despite missing three games with mononucleosis). Gronkowski (6'6", 264) has great size and figures to be a solid contributor in the run game.
Mardy Gilyard is the only Cincinnati Bearcat to have scored a touchdown receiving, rushing, on a kickoff return and on a punt return in the same season. An All-American as a senior, Gilyard set a UC record with 87 receptions and he averaged an eye-popping 206.92 all-purpose yards per game. The Big East's Special Teams Player of the Year as a junior, Gilyard returned two kicks for scores each of the past two seasons. He's overcome a lot of obstacles in his life and will soon be able to cash an NFL paycheck.
It would only be natural to wonder if Mark Sanchez talked up USC wideout Damian Williams to the Jets' scouts. Williams had a stat line of 58 receptions, 869 yards and nine TDs in Sanchez's final collegiate year and then he improved in '09 with a line of 70-1,010-6. For his efforts, the 6'1", 197-pound Williams was voted team MVP and also earned All-Pac-10 first-team honors. Serving as Pete Carroll's returner, Williams flashed with a 14.2-yard PR average and scored on two returns.
Dexter McCluster was a do-it-all dynamo for Mississippi. He has the skills to be a successful slot receiver in the pros, but he also can double as a change-of-pace back. A 4.4 runner in the 40 at the Ole Miss pro day, he averaged 6.5 yards a carry last season on his way to a 1,169-yard campaign. But he also hauled in 44 passes for 520 yards and his 1,717 all-purpose yards was the second-best total in school history. McCluster (5'9", 172) might be small but he's a game-changer who won't last past the second round.
Brandon LaFell (6'2", 211) passes the eye test and was named All-SEC first team after he amassed 63 receptions (including eight touchdowns) for 929 yards. Texas product Jordan Shipley caught more balls (248) than any other target in UT history and he's coming off a 116-reception season in '09. And who will take a flyer on Syracuse WR Mike Williams? There's no questioning his talent, but he missed the 2008 season due to an academic suspension and then quit the Orange last November.
Riley Cooper, WR, Florida; Eric Decker, WR, Minnesota; Dorin Dickerson, TE, Pittsburgh; Ed Dickson, TE, Oregon; Jacoby Ford, WR, Clemson; Aaron Hernandez, TE, Florida; Shay Hodge, WR, Mississippi; Blair White, WR, Michigan State.