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Eric DeCosta Expects Elite Receiver To Be Available At No. 26

Top-flight wide receivers usually don't last long in the NFL draft.

The playmakers often fly off the board, leaving the cupboard relatively bare by the time teams like the Ravens get on the clock near the end of the first round.

But that may not be the case this year.

Analysts and front-office executives around the league stressed that this year's draft features a deep group at wide receiver, and Ravens Assistant General Manager Eric DeCosta thinks Baltimore could get a dynamic talent with the No. 26 pick.

"Receiver has typically been a position where it's hard to get an elite receiver at the end of the first round," DeCosta said during an interview at the combine. "But we think this year might be an exception."

Adding a talented pass catcher in the draft could be a significant acquisition, especially as Torrey Smith is heading into free agency and Steve Smith Sr. will be 36 years old in May. Even if both Smiths return to Baltimore next year, adding a young playmaker would give quarterback Joe Flacco a talented receiving corps at his disposal.  

The receivers considered by most analysts as the top of the class are Alabama's Amari Cooper, West Virginia's Kevin White and Louisville's DeVante Parker. All three are considered "consensus top-20 picks," according to NFL Network's Mike Mayock, and will likely be long gone if the Ravens stay at pick No. 26.  

But the next group of receivers still has plenty of potential.

Dorial Green-Beckham (6-foot-6, 225 pounds) from Missouri may be the most talented receiver in the draft, and has drawn comparisons to Detroit's Calvin Johnson because of his size and speed. But he comes with off-the-field baggage and hasn't played football in 13 months after getting dismissed by Missouri.

The off-field issues may push him to the end of the first round.

"Dorial Green-Beckham is as gifted as anybody in this class, but you better do your homework off the field," Mayock said.

Other receivers projected as potential late first-round picks are Michigan's Devin Funchess, Arizona State's Jaelen Strong, Ohio State's Devin Smith and Central Florida Breshad Perriman.

They could all be available at pick No. 26, and some may even slip into the second round.

"We have a lot of guys slotted in the first round. We have a lot of guys slotted in the second round, which is a really nice thing for us," DeCosta said. "And we feel like we have options in every round. Obviously with the influx of juniors into this year's draft class, there's a lot of receivers in the junior category. That augments that as well."

Rookie receivers have shown in recent years that they can make an immediate impact in the NFL. The league saw five receivers taken in the first round last season, and all of them went on to have impressive rookie years.

Four of the five had at least 800-yard seasons: Sammy Watkins (pick No. 4, 982 yards), Mike Evans (No. 7, 1,051), Odell Beckham Jr. (No. 12, 1,305), Brandin Cooks (No. 20, 550), Kelvin Benjamin (No. 28, 1,008).

The rapid development at the receiver position is the result of a variety of factors, Mayock said. Football at all levels has shifted to more of a passing game, and receivers are getting more opportunities to develop at the youth and college levels before they get to the NFL. The NFL has also built rules around helping the offense succeed.

"I think the league is set up to be productive more so than ever for rookie wide receivers and tight ends," Mayock said. "I do believe [the receiver class] is going to be highly productive because, A, there's a bunch of talent, and B, the rules and the way we play in the NFL lend itself."

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