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Houston Texans

Path to the Draft: WRs


Texas receiver Limas Sweed shows his soft hands to scouts at the Longhorns' annual Pro Day.

When the Texans re-signed André Davis last February, they rounded out a deep unit of wide receivers. Davis, who last season returned three kickoffs for touchdowns and averaged 17.7 yards per reception, joins Pro Bowler Andre Johnson, starter Kevin Walker and talented 2007 rookie Jacoby Jones.

Jones, a third-round draft pick from tiny Lane College, proved that hidden draft gems can make a large immediate impact. Many talent evaluators are wondering who will be such a player in this year's class of wideouts.

Top prospects

1. Devin Thomas, Michigan State (6-2, 216): Thomas racked up impressive numbers during his junior year. He started all 13 games at receiver, in addition to seeing action at tailback and handling kickoff return duties.

Last season, Thomas averaged 15.9 receiving yards and set a school season-record with 2,590 all-purpose yards, the second-best total in Big Ten annals, as he averaged 199.23 yards per game.

Scouts also are impressed with Thomas' vision and his ability to make sharp cuts and change direction without losing speed.

Thomas possesses arguably the best combination of strength and speed, which he showcased at the scouting combine. The receiver's 40-time was 4.40, and for the broad jump his distance was 10'6". Those measurables have helped make him the top receiver in his class.

2. Malcolm Kelly, Oklahoma (6-4, 215): Kelly looks the part of a premier NFL wide receiver. He is fluid for his size and a natural pass-catcher. Many scouts think Kelly has the strongest hands in his draft class.

Kelly is not as fast as the Texans' Johnson, but, like Dre', Kelly possesses the strength to gain tough yards at the end of runs and even drag defenders for extra yardage.

There was a time when teams thought Kelly would go as high as No. 11 overall to the Buffalo Bills, but that was before Kelly decided to skip his pro day because of the thigh injury that also caused him to sit out his combine workouts.

The receiver is planning a private workout in Norman on April 9, and an impressive performance there could push him back into the top 15.

Kelly, a native of Longview, averaged a team-best 16.8 yards per catch this season and was second on the team with 49 receptions for 821 yards and nine touchdowns. As a sophomore, he had 62 catches for 992 yards and 10 touchdowns.

3. Limas Sweed, Texas (6-3, 215): Sweed entered last season rated the best receiver in college football, but a left wrist injury forced him to the sidelines for stretches throughout the first six games of his senior season. He finally underwent surgery in mid-October to repair ligament damage and is back on the board as a top wideout prospect.

"The wrist is 100 percent healed," Sweed said at the scouting combine. "I've been going through a lot of MRIs, x-rays and it's 100 percent healed.

"The range of motion, out of 100 percent is I'd say about 65 percent – more than halfway, which is good. I talked to a lot of people in there and they said considering the amount of time that's a pretty speed recover. So I'm happy and I'm on my way back to being 100 percent."

Sweed, who is projected as a mid-to-late first rounder, impressed a hoard of NFL scouts in March during UT's annual pro day. The receiver ran a 4.40, shaving nearly a tenth of a second off of the time he ran at the combine last month.

4. DeSean Jackson, Cal (5-9, 170): Despite being bothered by a sprained left thumb and deep thigh bruise last season, Jackson recorded a career-high 65 catches for 762 yards and six touchdowns.

Jackson proved himself as a vertical threat, making explosive cuts and blazing downfield for spectacular catches. The junior also does a good job of reading defenses and breaking down zone coverage.

At the scouting combine, Jackson ran a 4.35 in the 40-yard dash and recorded a 10'0" in the broad jump. Recently, he has been working out with NFL legend Jerry Rice, who thinks Jackson is a surefire first-round selection.

5. Andre Caldwell, Florida (6-0, 204): In his senior season, Caldwell notched 56 catches for 761 yards (13.6 average) and seven touchdowns in 11 games. He was forced to miss two games because of a ligament sprain in his right knee and missed the majority of another game because of right hamstring strain.

Those injuries seem to be behind him as Caldwell emerged as one of the stars of the Senior Bowl, where he scored the game-winning touchdown on a two-yard catch.

Caldwell has proven he can drive defenders off the line of scrimmage and find open spots in zone coverage. He also runs hard after the catch and will come with a more modest second round price tag.

Honorable Mention: Mario Manningham, Michigan (5-11, 181) was a productive playmaker in Ann Arbor and would be a second-round steal. Indiana's James Hardy(6-5, 217), LSU's Early Doucet(6-0, 209) and Houston's Donnie Avery(5-11, 912) are other athletic receivers who could shine at the next level.

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