INDIANAPOLIS – Similar to the quarterback position with Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota, two wide receivers are beginning to separate themselves as top-tier, can't-miss prospects in the 2015 draft class.
West Virginia's Kevin White and Alabama's Amari Cooper came into the NFL Combine with puffed-up expectations and both passed the proverbial poking and prodding of NFL teams with flying colors.
Let's start with White, who blew the lid off Lucas Oil Stadium on Saturday when he ran a 4.35-second 40-yard-dash. White's straight-line speed had been one of the minor knocks on his game, and his time was tied for the third-best of any receiver in Indianapolis.
White rose from obscurity his senior year with the Mountaineers after admitting his junior year was unacceptable. A Lackawanna (Pennsylvania) junior college transfer, White increased his catch total from 35 to 109, his yardage output from 507 to 1,447 and his touchdowns from five to 10.
"I've been telling teams it finally clicked," White said when he met with reporters Friday. "I'm going to do what I have to do. I'm going to work hard and do anything and everything possible that I can."
White measured in at a shade below 6-foot-3 and checked in at 215 pounds. His strengths jump off the tape – physicality to beat press coverage, smooth route running, acceleration with the ball in his hands for scintillating yards after the catch and he's a can't-miss target in the red zone who will attack the football while it's in the air.
And while White is an upstanding young man who said his parents preached a simple smile goes a long way, he turns into a different person on the football field. Part of White's persona with a helmet on is to incessantly yap at opposing cornerbacks.
"When you talk trash, you got to back it up, (and) that just puts more pressure on me to back it up," White said. "I love getting in defenders' heads. Once I do that, it's definitely game over."
If a team is hesitant on White because he only balled out for a year, then it should look no further than Cooper.
In three seasons at Alabama, Cooper totaled 31 touchdowns and saw his production soar to new heights as a junior – 124 catches, 1,727 yards and 16 touchdowns. When new offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin arrived in Tuscaloosa, the Crimson Tide centered its offense on getting Cooper the football. And Alabama's new passing attack paralyzed other defenses because of Cooper.
Perhaps no other player in the draft has less question marks than Cooper. Other than the need to improve his run blocking, Cooper is considered by a vast majority of draft experts and scouts to be the most polished offensive player in the draft.
He consistently beat SEC cornerbacks every week and was a major threat in traffic over the middle. He plays much bigger than his 6-foot-1, 210-pound frame would suggest. He's both speedy and quick, extremely smart and a hard worker – the true total package.
The Browns aren't the only team in need looking to upgrade at wide receiver. Both White and Cooper have been linked to the Raiders at No. 4, the Jets at No. 6, the Rams at No. 10 and the Vikings at No. 11. Further, both players are considered to be so talented that teams in the bottom of the draft may trade up to acquire their services.
There's still 10 weeks until the NFL Draft commences in Chicago, but let the great debate begin: Is the best receiver White and his tremendous upside or the steady, always reliable Cooper?
This article is part of the Road to the Draft series, driven by Liberty Ford.
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