CHICAGO - So you think last year's wide receiver class was special? Believe it or not, we may be seeing a second straight bumper crop of brilliant young receivers.
"I think there's even more depth in this year's group than last year's group, which sounds crazy," Panthers general manager Dave Gettleman said Tuesday in a predraft news conference.
Crazy is right, because the NFL had one of its best receiving classes in years last year. Headed by Giants wideout Odell Beckham, who had 1,305 receiving yards and 12 touchdowns in just 12 games, the group also included Mike Evans of the Buccaneers, Sammy Watkins of the Bills, Brandin Cooks of the Saints, Carolina's Kelvin Benjamin, Jacksonville's Marqise Lee, Davante Adams of the Packers and Miami's Jarvis Landry, a teammate of Beckham's at LSU.
But there is a consensus emerging from many NFL personnel people that this year's group of wideouts could be just as special. That bodes well for a league that has adjusted its rules over the years to enhance the passing game. Last year, NFL games averaged a record 473.6 passing yards -- or nearly 100 more yards than in 1992, when games averaged 375.3 yards through the air.
The list of this year's top prospects is as long as it is impressive. Start with Alabama's Amari Cooper, who led the Crimson Tide last season with an eye-popping 1,727 receiving yards and 16 touchdowns. Then it's on to West Virginia's Kevin White, who had 1,447 yards and 10 touchdowns. DeVante Parker of Louisville is another sure bet for the first round. He missed the first seven games with a fractured foot, but came back to produce 855 yards and five touchdowns in just seven games. The foot is fine, and scouts are in agreement that Parker is a big-time NFL prospect.
Other promising receivers who will be off the board early in this year's draft: Breshad Perriman of Central Florida, Miami's Phillip Dorsett, Rashad Greene of Florida State, Nelson Agholor of USC, and Oklahoma's Dorial Green-Beckham (no relation to Odell). Green-Beckham's stock may fall because of two arrests for marijuana possession.
Agholor is one of the most intriguing receivers in the draft. He was a running back in high school and started out in the backfield at USC, but eventually made the transition to receiver.
"It was very valuable because it puts you in position where you have many tools. As a receiver, if you've been playing the position, you think reception, you're just worried about possessions," he said. "As a running back, you're thinking big play every time. To have that mentality as a receiver, to think big play every time, when you catch the ball, you're going vertical, and you're going for six."
All the more reason why this year's group can be as special as the last.
"I've got eight wide receivers with potential first-round grades," said veteran draft analyst Mike Mayock of the NFL Network. "Of those eight, I think six will go in the first round."
Six would be one more than last year's, which is saying something, considering the superior quality of the 2014 class.
Cooper likes to think he's a cut above his peers.
"I certainly want to be the best receiver, not just in this class, but overall, wherever I go, and I'm going to work hard to try to be that," he said. "I'm only 20 years old. I think I'm one of the youngest players [in the draft], so I definitely feel like I have a high ceiling and a lot to improve on."
White believes he and his class of 2015 receivers can be just as special as last year's group.
"We're all confident," he said. "We always talk about that. There's no doubt in our minds that we can do the same thing as last year's draft class."
That would be something. There were three 1,000-yard receivers last year -- Beckham, Evans and Benjamin -- and Watkins finished with 982 yards. Considering that receivers in previous years have generally operated on a slow learning curve, that's an impressive collective accomplishment.
And though nothing is guaranteed about how consistent last year's group can remain as their careers progress, there's certainly cause for optimism. Same with this year's group.