ENGLEWOOD, Colo. --The signing of Emmanuel Sanders on March 16 and the re-signing of Andre Caldwell five days earlier eased the pressure on the Broncos to add another wide receiver, particularly in the first round. But with quality and depth at the position this year, and expiring contracts looming for two starting wide receivers in Demaryius Thomas and Wes Welker, it's a good time for this pass-centric offense to find receivers to groom into larger roles.
The mid-second through fourth rounds are particularly deep with prospects this year. A breakdown of the prospects who fit into that range follows:
Jared Abbrederis, Wisconsin: Perhaps the best example of a "trust the tape" receiver in this year's class, Abbrederis was productive in spite of spotty quarterback play the last two seasons following the departure of Russell Wilson. Wisconsin's all-time leader in receptions (202) is arguably the best route-runner in this class, and looked to be the most pro-ready wide receiver at the Senior Bowl. Some middling Combine numbers -- including a 4.5 40 time (22nd of 45 wide receivers timed) and low bench-press total (four repetitions) were not a surprise. But he showed quickness in the three-cone drill (6.8 seconds, 12th of 38 wide receivers timed) and the short shuttle (4.08 seconds, 11th of 38 wide receivers timed). Abbrederis is a technician who could be a good fit in an intricate offense.
Davante Adams, Fresno State: Adams racked up 233 receptions, 3,030 yards and 38 touchdowns the last two years with Derek Carr as his triggerman, and displayed fluidity, consistently got separation and an ability to catch passes in at all ranges. There will be questions about the caliber of competition he faced and whether his production was a product of a favorable offense and a potential NFL starting quarterback, but Adams appears to have the requisite tools to make a smooth transition. Adams shaved .09 of a second off his Combine 40 time of 4.56 seconds when he ran at his Pro Day this week, and reportedly had an impressive workout catching passes from Carr.
Martavis Bryant, Clemson: The "other" Tigers receiver after expected high pick Sammy Watkins is much more of a projection. Clemson used him to stretch the field vertically, and he averaged 22.2 yards per reception in college -- although he caught just 61 career passes, including 42 last season. Bryant has excellent straight-line speed (4.42 seconds for his Combine 40 time), and if he can add 10 pounds to his 6-foot-4, 211-pound frame without sacrificing speed or quickness, will have some physical advantages. The questions will then revolve around whether he can refine his game and adapt to a complex set of duties in the NFL after having relatively straight-forward responsibilities at Clemson.
Isaiah Burse, Fresno State: Burse is more likely a late-round pick, so he doesn't fit in with the others mentioned. But he is a notable, potential slot receiver (99 catches for 1,026 yards and six touchdowns let year), the growing emphasis on three-wide receiver formations should give the quick 5-foot-10, 188-pounder a shot, and his return abilities (career averages: 11.9 yards on punts and 22.8 on kickoffs) enhances his value. The knocks on Burse are a relative lack of straight-line speed (Combine 40 time: 4.58 seconds) and small hands (8 3/8 inches, the smallest of any receiver at the Combine).
Bruce Ellington, South Carolina: The numbers don't jump out, but his scoring efficiency does; in the last two years, 15 of his 89 receptions were for touchdowns, and he capped his Gamecocks career with arguably his best game: six catches for 140 yards and two touchdowns in a Capital One Bowl win over Wisconsin. He plays bigger than his 5-foot-9, 197-pound size; a 39.5-inch vertical leap, honed by his basketball experience and third-best among 42 Combine wide receivers measured, helps here, and only 13 of 48 receivers at the Combine have bigger hands. But there's a lot of rough edges to his game -- particularly route running -- that will take some time to smooth. Now that he's focused on football instead of working to play two sports, he'll have the chance to do that.
Ryan Grant, Tulane: At 6-feet, 199 pounds, he likely has a future in the slot, as he is quick (fourth-best three-cone drill and 12th-best at the short shuttle among Combine wide receivers), but doesn't have notable straight-line speed relative to other wide receivers in this class (4.64 seconds). But he has the proper refinements to his game that translate to the NFL: he is a precise route runner, has excellent hands and uses his quickness, rather than his speed, to create separation underneath.
Robert Herron, Wyoming: Another Mountain West wide receiver worth considering, Herron has 4.48 speed (at the Combine), makes moves and eludes tackles well after the catch. His quickness numbers (4.27 seconds in the short shuttle, 6.84 seconds in the three-cone drill) were mixed, placing him 27th and 15th among Combine wide receivers, respectively, in those drills. Herron needs some polish, particularly on his route-running, and probably will take a year to grow into an effective pro, but he can be coached up in the areas in which he's behind other receivers.
Jeff Janis, Saginaw Valley State: His numbers, especially the last two seasons, are massive; in 2012-13, he caught 189 passes for 3,207 yards and 31 touchdowns. But Saginaw Valley's Division II status is the caveat, and Janis doesn't bring return experience to the table; he handled just seven kickoff returns and one punt return in college. By the numbers, Janis stands out. There's no concerns about Janis needing to add bulk to his 219-pound frame, and his 4.42 40 time at the Combine was impressive, considering his size. He showed quickness in the three-cone drill (6.64 seconds, third-best among receivers) and the short shuttle (3.98 seconds, sixth-best at the position). But despite his 6-foot-3 frame, his arms were only a bit above average (32 1/2 inches, 18th of 48 receivers) and his 9-inch hands were smaller than all but five other wide receivers. But the biggest question is whether Janis can take his impressive pre-draft work and apply it to the NFL level.
Jarvis Landry, LSU: Like Bryant, he's in the draft shadow of a college teammate, but it was Landry who was more productive than expected first-rounder Odell Beckham, Jr. in college. There's a lot to like from Landry's film. He averaged 5.3 more yards per reception last year than in his junior season, when he averaged 10.2 yards per catch, has a quick burst off the snap, cuts sharply, runs precise routes and could translate well to the slot. A poor 40 time at the Combine (4.77 seconds) likely moves his stock down a bit, but that could make him a bargain for the team that bites.
Jordan Matthews, Vanderbilt: Prolific (206 receptions for 2,800 yards and 15 touchdowns the last two years)He had the largest hands of any wide receiver measured at the Combine (10 3/8 inches), but was prone to dropped passes in spurts. These usually came when he tried to catch the football with his body, and not his ample hands. A bit more work should cure him of this and makes him an intriguing second-round-caliber prospect.
Donte Moncrief, Mississippi: His 4.4 40 time at the Combine drew notice, considering that that at 221 pounds, he was the sixth-heaviest wide receiver at the Combine, making him one of the best size/speed blends in this year's class. He blocks well -- as you'd hope for a receiver of his size -- makes tight cuts and runs precise routes, which helped him get the space he needed to average 15.9 yards per reception last year. Moncrief is not drawing the attention of other receivers in this class, but perhaps he should.
Paul Richardson, Colorado: He showed last year that he had completely healed from a torn ACL, and now the main concern for him isn't related to injuries, but his frame: he played last year at 161 pounds and added 14 pounds before the Combine. He retained his speed with the added bulk (4.4 seconds for his Combine 40, third-best among wide receivers), but had lost five pounds of what he'd gained by the time he was measured at CU's Pro Day. He said he watched the Broncos' Week 3 win over the Raiders last year in person and noted, "I couldn't help but picture myself being able to operate in an NFL offense such as that one." Now the question is whether that chance comes in Denver or elsewhere -- and what his role might be. His eventual bulk could determine whether he's working from the slot or outside.
Devin Street, Pittsburgh: Long and lean, only four receivers at the Combine had longer arms than Street (33 3/8 inches), and he saw a steady incline in his overall production at Pitt. Although his reception and yardage totals dropped from 73-975 in 2012 to 51-854 last year, he averaged 3.3 more yards per reception and scored as many touchdowns (seven) as his previous two seasons combined. Street's long arms will help him, and he's learned how to compensate for average speed (4.55 seconds for his Combine 40) by making plays in tight coverage and displaying excellent body control to fight for and win jump balls. He could be an excellent mid-round value pick. Others of note in the mid-to-late-round range: John Brown, Pittsburg State; Trey Burton, Florida; Michael Campanaro, Wake Forest; Brandon Coleman, Rutgers; Mike Davis, Texas; Quincy Enunwa, Nebraska; Shaq Evans, UCLA; Austin Franklin, New Mexico State; Jeremy Gallon, Michigan; Matt Hazel, Coastal Carolina; Josh Huff, Oregon; T.J. Jones, Notre Dame; Cody Latimer, Indiana; Kevin Norwood, Alabama; Tevin Reese, Baylor; Jalen Saunders, Oklahoma; Josh Stewart, Oklahoma State; Albert Wilson, Georgia State.